It’s been great to see that increased attention serve as a gateway to New Zealand’s metal underground. Whether that’s been new fans encountering contemporary New Zealand bands for the first time. Or discovering bands that played pivotal roles in the history of New Zealand metal. The point is, people are talking louder than ever about New Zealand metal. And that’s long overdue.
When I sat down to write compile my list of homegrown favourites from 2014, there was no shortage of New Zealand metal that had been hailed overseas to choose from. You’ll note that the following list of my top picks from the past year isn’t ranked in any order. And that’s because deciding winners and losers isn’t the objective of the following list.
I mean, let’s be honest. How do you decide if this year’s Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus’ split release was more powerful than Diocletian’s Gesundrian album? Both were wholly intimidating. Or how do you determine if Exordium Mors’ The Apotheosis of Death was any better than Bulletbelt’s Rise of the Banshee? Both of those albums saw their respective creators pour their (black) hearts and (twisted) souls into bold releases. Good luck trying to choose whether Open Tomb’s Dead Weight was any more soul-destroying than Meth Drinker’s Oil as well. Because both those albums were bruising masterpieces of misery.
Picking who is better or best isn’t what this list of New Zealand metal releases is about. I’m here to recommend a raft of homegrown albums that I thought were compelling releases this year. So here are my favourite New Zealand metal albums from 2014. Impressive and imposing. One and all.
**** ****Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus – S/T (Iron Bonehead)
This year’s alliance between black metal titan Vassafor, and death and doom colossus Sinistrous Diabolus, resulted in one of 2014’s strongest split releases. Of course, that’ll come as no surprise if you’re already a fan of Vassafor or Sinistrous Diabolus because both are renowned for their unwavering commitment to crafting formidable music.
That’s exactly what their split release provided. Vassafor contributed two tracks, including the diabolic 15-minute requiem, “Ossuary in Darkness”. Sinistrous Diabolus provided, “Aeon Tenebris – Aeo Lacrimis – Aeon Mortem”. A 20-minute bone-chilling dirge that was filled with monstrous lurching guitars. Together, Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus displayed extraordinary levels of iron-fisted forcefulness on their split, and more of the same is due soon. A highly anticipated full-length release from Sinistrous Diabolus is due in 2015. While a split release between Vassafor and Australian black/death merchants Temple Nightside is promised soon as well.
** Diocletian – Gesundrian (Osmose Productions)**
What can you say about the might of Gesundrian that hasn’t already been repeated ad infinitum around the globe this year? How about this: Sit Gesundrian alongside Teitanblood’s Death, and Dead Congregation’s Promulgation of the Fall, and there are the three most imposing death metal albums of this or any year.
Gesundrian was a 40-minute master class in expertly administered barbarity and belligerence. However, what made the album was that Diocletian never overplayed their hand. The band concentrated on delivering one superbly executed (and bludgeoning) transition after another. Ensuring that Gesundrian was Diocletian’s best and most brutal album yet.
(Also, keep an ear out in early January for Vritra, the new EP from Dioceltain’s Doom Cult kin Witchrist. Tracks from the EP are streaming, and they sound indomitable.)
**** Exordium Mors – The Apotheosis of Death (Iron Blood and Death Corp)
Black and thrash metal brutes Exordium Mors showed total commitment to a grand vision on their full-length debut, The Apotheosis of Death. The album began with a mammoth and multi-part 30-minute opus, and then Exordium Mors followed that up with even more hell-hammering hymns.
Exordium Mors threw everything into the mix on The Apotheosis of Death. But far from being a jumble of their many influences, Exordium Mors showed astute judgement in making sure every element was gauged for maximum effect. The Apotheosis of Death was one of New Zealand metal’s finest full-length debuts ever. And it was great to see the album being deservedly hailed on so many overseas sites this year as well.**** ****
** Bulletbelt – Rise Of The Banshee (Headless Horseman)**
Changes were afoot on Bulletbelt’s second album, Rise of the Banshee. New vocalist Jolene Tempest stamped her presence hard on the album. Bulletbelt upped the ante by diversifying their sound on Rise of the Banshee too. They pushed well beyond their black metal past, and the result was a bigger, broader, and more bloodthirsty sound than ever before.
That expansion of Bulletbelt’s sound meant a larger audience tuned in too. But what Bulletbelt revealed most of all on Rise Of The Banshee (as the other groups on this list did) is that strong-willed New Zealand metal stands up in comparison to any likely offshore challengers. Certainly, there was nothing hesitant about Rise Of The Banshee. Bulletbelt just laid it all on the line, and the result was a hugely successful creative endeavour. (Also, let’s not forget the excellent community service Bulletbelt did this year. Spreading the word, in the finest fashion.)
**** Malevolence – Relentless Entropy (self-released)
Malevolence were there at the birth of New Zealand extreme metal, and their 2014 album, Relentless Entropy, proved that they’re still a force to be reckoned with in 2014. Grindcore sits at the heart of Malevolence’s sound. But that’s all twisted and corrupted by plenty of black and death metal too. That beastly and brain-battering brew smashed and crashed on Relentless Entropy’s turbo-charged tracks. While Malevolence’s gnashing and gnawing bulldog spirit was always in full view too. If you’ve not heard Relentless Entropy before, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted with what you’ve been missing out on.
(Note: this version of the Relentless Entropy track “Legalize” is taken from the sterling Axiom of the Elite Issue 2 Compilation.)
Verberis – Vastitas (Iron Bonehead)
It’s hard to keep a secret for very long in a metal community as small as New Zealand’s. Case in point: Verberis. The band suddenly appeared out of the mists to release their vitriolic Vastitas demo on Iron Bonehead this year. And by suddenly I mean that basically no one had any idea who was behind the project, or where it had sprung from. Still, as mysterious as Verberis’ arrival was, it only took a couple of days before a lot of folks knew exactly who was behind the project.
However, that revelation didn’t get spread around online. And it’s great to see that the anonymity surrounding Verberis remained intact. It certainly added to murky atmosphere surrounding the sphinx-like black and death metal on Vastitas’ four ferocious tracks. Vastitas is well worth tracking down, especially if New Zealand-based bands like Heresiarch and Witchrist appeal.
**** Heresiarch – Wælwulf EP (Iron Bonehead)
Heresiarch’s 7” Wælwulf EP from 2014 only contained three songs. But that was more than enough savagery to slay contenders with entire albums of blackened death metal at their disposal. Sure, a few more tracks would have been nice. But then, Heresiarch don’t play nice. And nor should they.
It’s that unrepentant side of Heresiarch that taps right into black and death metal’s evilest and stubbornest veins. Barbarity is what Heresiarch does best, and the militant bombardments on Wælwulf only increased the anticipation for the band’s next album due to be released on label Dark Descent. Wælwulf’s tracks saw stylistic edges sharpened, and more detail added in amongst all the raw chaos too. Death’s embrace lay heavy in Wælwulf’s thick and oppressive atmosphere, and Heresiarch reminded us of just how villainous New Zealand metal can get.
**** Vomit Storm – Mudge Or Be Mudged! (self-released)****
To understand why Vomit Storm’s 2014 album Mudge Or Be Mudged! is something you really need to hear, you have to understand the meaning of one word: rungas. Obviously, if you’re reading this from New Zealand’s shores, then you don’t need rungas defined. But for anyone else, rungas is a word you’d use to describe a variety of squalid scenarios. When it comes to Vomit Storm’s music, it essentially refers to the fact that the band’s punked-up thrash is made by scumbags for scumbags. You know, scumbags like you, and me, and Vomit Storm.
Vomit Storm are my favourite live band in New Zealand right now. Because when the trio step on stage, what you get is no bullshit and stench-ridden crossover thrash, played at a million miles an hour. Of course, transferring that kind of energy onto an album isn’t an easy task. But that clearly wasn’t an issue for Vomit Storm. Because Mudge Or Be Mudged! was as rungas as rungas as rungas can get. It’s all Ritalin-snorting, bud-smoking, beer guzzling, and downright filthy fucking magnificence. Highly recommended for aficionados of red-raw tunes and unmitigated mayhem.
Sabbatic Goat and Trepanation – S/T (Iron Bonehead)
** Sabbatic Goat – Imprecations of Black Chaos (Vault of Dried Bones)**
Sabbatic Goat featured on two releases from 2014 that are well worth tracking down. The band’s Imprecations of Black Chaos demo featured beastly black, death, and doom metal. And plenty of the raw knuckled and ritualistic fervour that underground New Zealand metal is famed for. *Imprecations of Black Chaos *showed some fine advancement in the songwriting department from Sabbatic Goat as well. Raw and ragged it might have been, but *Imprecations of Black Chaos *contained exactly the kind of feral and slaughtering sound that defines a great blackened death melee.
That same sense of carnage and disorder featured on Sabbatic Goat’s tracks on their 2014 split with blackened grinders Trepanation too. Last year, Trepanation released a fiendish and vicious demo, Hideous Black Abyss, which you can find on Bandcamp. The band’s alliance with Sabbatic Goat on their split, which was co-released by Iron Bonehead and Black Chaos, was a perfect meeting of murderous minds. Sabbatic Goat took side one of the split, providing two fire and brimstone scorchers. While Trepanation powered through four storming numbers on side two of the 7″ in record time. All up, it was a glorious whirlwind of throughly ill-bred metal.
The House of Capricorn — Morning Star Rise (Svart Records)
Calling The House of Capricorn a metal band is stretching the truth. Although, black and doom metal did play a role on the band’s third album, Morning Star Rise. In the main, Morning Star Rise featured more Stygian punk, deathrock, and gothic rock than it did metal. But the album still seethed with über-infernal intent.
The House of Capricorn’s apocalyptic devil-rock is unique among New Zealand-based bands. Because no one else is creating anything remotely like their Luciferian gospels down this end of the world. However, Morning Star Rise wasn’t just a great album because it featured a novel take on occult rock. It was a tighter album than The House of Capricorn’s last as well. And it benefited greatly from having more stripped-back and hook-filled songs. All the album’s Ave Satanas devilry packed a punkier punch than before, and combined with the grim gothic aura shrouding all, Morning Star Rise was pure black magic.
Open Tomb – Dead Weight (Dry Cough Records)
When I reviewed Open Tomb’s Dead Weight earlier this year, I made two important points. The first was that Dead Weight is gloomier than a funeral, and more twisted than a snuff movie. But the second point I made, that Open Tomb’s best trait is that they sound so wantonly torturous, is the one to keep in mind.
A lot of bands talk up the punishing aspects of their sound. However, Open Tomb’s über-slow subterranean trawls just reek of the band’s delight in maltreating their audience. Dead Weight had a raw, haemorrhaging sound. And the gravity of all the tar-thick doom and rancid sludge therein isn’t something easily explained. There’s no doubt that Dead Weight is a testing experience. But it’s also the perfect album to listen to before you tell all your workmates to go fuck themselves on a Friday afternoon, and then head off to spend the last of your paycheck on some really shitty weed. I’m presuming we’ve all done that, right?
Also, make sure you check out the Open Tomb-affiliated Spiteful Urinator. The “black metal, d-beat, and poo-punk” found on their Work Crimes album from 2014 is absolute solid–albeit exceedingly crusty and fetid–gold.
Meth Drinker – Oil (Always Never Fun Records)
Meth Drinker delivered another sludgecore classic with their Oil LP this year. Oil was full of feedbacking riffs and sewage-ridden noise, with Meth Drinker lurching from one heinous crime scene to the next. Oil delivered every disgusting element so beloved by Meth Drinker’s fans. It was obnoxious, cruel, and distasteful. Just like the band’s video for “Destroy the Flesh”. Not that my stomach allowed me to make it through more than a minute of that video nasty.
Of course, Meth Drinker is supposed to be really fucking unsavoury. That’s kind of the point. They wrap punk rock in sludgecore’s doom and gloom. And then grind along like an Antipodean (and even heavier) version of Eyehategod at the end of a self-destructive bender. Meth Drinker’s debut was sonically and emotionally devastating. And the band’s subsequent split releases have layered on even more of the misery. Yet, on Oil, Meth Drinker showed that there’s always further depths of depravity and despondency to be mined. Oil was wretched and sordid. In the best way possible. But most of all, as you’ll discover, Oil will leave an indelible stain on your psyche.
Two Wolves – Sand Purgatory (self-released)
I guess the one bonus with making your own end of year list is that you can cheat whenever you damn well please. So when I saw that countrified punks Two Wolves had released a brand new song today, I immediately put it on this list. Is “Sand Purgatory” one of the best tunes of 2014? Well, sure. Why the hell not? It’s got that fantastically dirty slide guitar blues that Two Wolves do so well. Plus, greasy harmonica, corpulent bass, and spitting vocals. There’s that stench of stoner rock that made Two Wolves’ 2013 debut The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder so goddamn good rumbling away on “Sand Purgatory” too. So, all in all, I don’t think I cheated much at all.
Still, if mentioning “Sand Purgatory” allows me to mention The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder once again, then I’m leaping on that opportunity. Previously only available on vinyl, The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder is now on Two Wolves’ Bandcamp page for a ‘pay what you want’ download. You’ll want that album too. Believe me. The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder featured on my 2013 list of top heavyweight New Zealand albums. And its cowpunk and Cormac McCarthy-inspired roots rock and doom painted a picture of blood-red sunsets, warning of dangers real and imagined lurking in the dark. Check out “Sand Purgatory” below. And then download The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder forthwith. I insist.
Into Orbit – Caverns (self-released)
Much like The House of Capricorn, you’d be hard pressed to make a case that instrumental duo Into Orbit are a metal band. Yet, also like The House of Capricorn, metal plays a role in Into Orbit’s sound. The band harnesses metal’s grit and grunt as they explore musical boundaries, but unlike the majority of bands on this list, Into Orbit don’t go in for misery and murder.
Instead, Into Orbit craft enlivening and heavily textured suites that draw from post-rock, post-metal, and varying strains of experimental, progressive, and ambient rock. Into Orbit’s 2014 debut, Caverns, counterpointed sweet-tempered and stentorian passages. With each song on the album adding another distinct chapter to the larger narrative, Caverns traversed jagged peaks, dived into maelstroms, and launched into blissful treks across the cosmos. And that was all captured on Into Orbit’s full-length video for *Caverns, *which provided apt visual accompaniments to what was a dazzling journey overall.
**** Lord Of Tigers – S/T (self-released)
Lord of Tigers self-titled debut in 2014 was a testament to two things. The rip-roaring success that a power trio can achieve when their musical chemistry is balanced just right. And the raw energy that can be captured by a band recording straight from the gut.
Lord of Tigers’ debut was recorded in two brisk sessions. The direct result of jam sessions between musicians from noted New Zealand bands Cobra Khan and Sommerset. The album features swaggering sludge and blues, along with plenty of hardcore’s sneer. And the best thing about Lord of Tigers was that the band was locked-in tight. The album might well have been recorded on the hoof, but there’s nothing remotely unfinished about Lord of Tigers. It was an exhilarating excursion through the realms of electrifying rock.
Slavedriver – Marauders Of The Wasteland (self-released)
I know it’s a all tad clichéd to say it, but Slavedriver’s debut, Marauders Of The Wasteland, really was the definition of all killer no filler. Slavedriver didn’t waste a second on any superfluous doodling on an album that concentrated on blitzkrieg bouts of powerviolence, sludge, and hardcore. The band fortified their sound with sampled dialogue, barbed metal, and noisescape atmospherics. And while Marauders Of The Wasteland‘s tracks were all cutthroat and curt, they weren’t rudimentary bursts of noise at all.
Sure, Marauders Of The Wasteland flew past at rapid-fire speed. And harshness and loathing were all amplified to the nth degree. But as gnarled and hostile as the album was, there was also a lot to admire about Marauders Of The Wasteland’s visceral production and Slavedriver’s deft arrangements therein.
Stormforge – Sea Of Stone (self-released)
Fallen Order – The Age of Kings (self-released)
I don’t keep up to date with what’s happening in the power metal world these days. But I still stumble on a lot of grittier traditional metal that perks my interest. Stormforge combined the two on Sea Of Stone this year, indulging in plenty of dramatic theatrics and maestro musicianship on the album. Sea Of Stone was all slick sweeping melodies, operatic wails, and hell bent for leather shredding. And the album’s wonderfully crisp and crunchy production framed all the over-the-top histrionics that make power metal such a joy to behold.
Fallen Order work a gravelled power metal road. More street-wise Manilla Road than full-blown Manowar. The band’s The Age of Kings release this year was gruff and bristly, and its rawer bite clamped down on NWOBHM-inspired melodic metal. There was rough edge to the guitars on The Age of Kings as well and that added a (welcomely) tarnished finish to Fallen Order’s gutsy classic metal sound.
That wraps up my picks from the heavyweight end of New Zealand’s music spectrum this year. But it’d be remiss of me not to say goodbye to one of New Zealand’s greatest bands while we’re here.
Earlier this year, psychedelic and stoner metal trio Arc of Ascent called a halt to their artistic career. And I don’t mind saying, that was kind of heartbreaking. Arc of Ascent’s music was rich in Eastern influences and ’70s lysergic rock. But what the band brought most of all was an all-encompassing mantric stomp. Arc of Ascent released two fantastically hypnotic albums in 2010’s Circle of the Sun, and 2012’s The Higher Key, and both are available on Bandcamp. Arc of Ascent were an incredible live act too. I only ever saw the band play three times but those sets are ingrained in my mind as three of the most powerful musical experiences of my life.
Bands and trends come and go. We all know that. But Arc of Ascent searched for deeper meaning and made deeper connections with their music. They’re one for the ages. And they’ll be greatly missed.
Cheers for checking out my favourite New Zealand metal releases from 2014. Before I go, I want to pass on my thanks to everyone who supported me in my writing and broadcasting ventures this year. If you allowed me to scribble on your pages or yabber on the airwaves about New Zealand metal this year, know this: it’s been an honour, and a goddamn privilege.