Almost at the end of the year, which is normally the time big releases dry up. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing of consequence coming through though. Devin Townsend’s Z² is a spectacular example. A double album covering different styles, both of which are brilliantly done. Few acts are this capable.
Backing up are killer releases from Winterfylleth and the returning At the Gates. So it’s hard to say that all big releases dry up completely. On the independent side of things, Of Doomed Morale have put out one of this year’s better slabs of crushing doom.
You may have noticed that last month I failed to provide a link to Herod 2014, my preferred track from Soused. I still haven’t found one. I’m sure it’s out there. Somewhere. But I have found a link to the almost as good Brando over at Muzu. Enjoy.
Album of the Month
Devin Townsend Project – Z²
(Progressive metal – Canada)
HevyDevy Records – 2014/10/28
This double album hammers home both Townsend’s talent and his bizarreness. Disc 1, Sky Blue, is pure progressive metal wonder. Engaging, energetic, emotive, and as a result it’s one of this year’s most stunning releases. Disc 2, Dark Matters, sees the return of Ziltoid in all its cheesy metal musical glory. Songs about a coffee obsessed alien, a fluffy death machine, and poozers are patently ridiculous, but are rousing good fun. Brilliant all round.
Try before you buy: Universal Flame (YouTube)
At the Gates – At War With Reality
(Melodic death metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2014/10/27
At the Gates are back and it’s like they never left. They have released an album that sounds exactly like it came out of the creative high-point they were in for Slaughter of the Soul. It’s got the high-tempo melodeath guitars, the brain-hijacking drums, and Lindberg’s trademark vocal strength. Sensibly, they have not tied At War With Reality to previous releases; this isn’t a sequel and it rightly deserves to stand on its own as testament to their enormous talent.
Try before you buy: Death and the Labyrinth (YouTube)
Of Doomed Morale – Ritual on Black Mountain
(Doom metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/11/04
There’s more than a little bit of Dopethrone to this. It may not be quite the masterpiece that Electric Wizard laid down, but it does share the grinding misanthropy and the flagrant ambivalence towards the listener’s well-being. This duo absolutely nail the tone; just the right amount of distortion and drumming designed to assault. Throw in desiccated vocals that sound like they eminate straight from the earth and you have a brilliant example of doom.
Try before you buy: The Haruspex (Bandcamp)
Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2014/10/07
There’s something very reassuring about having a Winterfylleth album turn up. They’re onto their fourth full length and, once again, it’s a masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon black metal. Few bands, in any genre, maintain such a high level of performance. The key to this success is their attention to detail. The guitars are furious but clockwork precise, the drums are captivating in their intricacy, and the vocals have a nuance rarely seen in black metal. Brilliant once again.
Try before you buy: A Careworn Heart (Bandcamp)
The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Afterwalker – Afterwalker
(Ambient black metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/10/19
Definitely one of the most challenging albums of 2014. Four songs are drawn out over the course of over two hours, so don’t expect an easy listen. It’s two hours well spent though, as Afterwalker lead us through stark, dehumanised soundscapes. It’s a soundtrack for a world of windowless concrete edifices and legions of faceless human drones. There is a certain remarkable talent here; that the run time is so long, yet it never loses focus and is never a chore.
Try before you buy: Denied (Bandcamp)
Bloodsuckers – Cheap Trip
(Raw punk – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/07/04
The spirit of punk is alive and kicking, spitting, stomping, and drinking in Russia. Bloodsuckers are so punk, you can see their mohawks from space. The songs are catchy examples of staccato abrasiveness. The almost blackened cries of the vocalist are totally appropriate for this brand of punk. It’s deliberately raw, but played with such relentless intensity that you can’t help but be dragged along for the ride. An incendiary blast of dirty punk.
Try before you buy: Под политическим штампом (Under the political stamp) (Bandcamp)
Cop Guts – Off the Pigs!!!
(Raw punk – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/10/13
There’s such a thing as being too stripped back when putting together a raw punk release. This is a prime example. It’s way too repetitive and it sucks the energy out of the whole affair. It’s the sonic equivalent of someone bursting into a government office, spouting polemic and dousing the place in petrol, then leaving sheepishly because they forgot matches. It’s volatile and aggressive, but it’s sorely lacking necessary ignition.
Try before you buy: Best Day of my Life! (Bandcamp)
Día Final – Demo 2014
(Raw punk – Mexico)
Self-released – 2014/07/16
This is unreservedly hostile stuff. Everything from song structure through guitar tone to vocal quality is a merciless assault on the eardrums. They even make the brave decision to trade catchiness for more vitriol. I say brave because it worked. I may struggle to remember specific riffs or vocals, but I was left in absolutely no doubt about just how devastatingly angry Día Final are. It may be the sonic equivalent of being glassed, but that’s what it set out to do.
Try before you buy: Lluvia de Fuego (Bandcamp)
Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
(Industrial metal – United Kingdom)
Avalanche Recordings – 2014/10/07
The return of Godflesh is complete with the release of A World Lit Only By Fire. They’ve done the tours, released a teaser ep, and now the full length. It serves as a monstrous reminder of just how menacing good industrial metal can be. Broadrick has always had a keen ear for atmosphere and, along with Green, he comes through with a cold, mechanical display of inhumanity. The throbbing riffs and the looped drums and synths are hypnotically harsh.
Try before you buy: Life Giver Life Taker (Bandcamp)
Iron Reagan – The Tyranny of Will
(Crossover thrash – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/09/18
Two full lengths in two years for Iron Reagan. That’s some serious productivity. Importantly though, The Tyranny of Will doesn’t sound like an album of material that didn’t make the cut first time round. It’s actually a solid improvement on Worse than Dead, in that it has its own sound; it doesn’t come across as a compilation of grumpy Municipal Waste songs. It’s a blitzkrieg of an album, forging ever forward with as much force as possible.
Try before you buy: Miserable Failure (YouTube)
Job for a Cowboy – Sun Eater
(Death metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/11/11
Four albums in and I still hate that name, but it really is the only thing to grumble about when it comes to Job for a Cowboy. They are purveyors of consistently high quality near-techdeath. Sun Eater finds them, once again, in scintillating form. To be fair, they’re not exactly pushing themselves creatively, but they’re not resting on their laurels either. Sharp riffs, excellent drumming, and sophisticated bass lines abound. It’s really hard to fault.
Try before you buy: Sun of Nihility (YouTube)
Landskap – II
(Stoner rock- United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/11/18
I can hear lots of influences here. A dash of Sabbath, a touch of Clutch, pinches of The Doors and Jex Thoth, and so on; they’ve drawn in a lot, but have done it in a way that allows them to sound somewhat fresh. This isn’t going to anyone’s critical darling, but it’s fun to listen to. Nothing wrong with that either; too many bands try to nail critical appeal and flop. I do grow a bit weary of the vocalist after a while, but that’s really the only serious complaint I have.
Try before you buy: Through the Ash (Bandcamp)
Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
(Thrash – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/11/07
I think Machine Head need to move on just a little bit. The Blackening was a masterpiece of modern thrash. Unto the Locust kept up the momentum without deviating much from the previous album. That brings us to Bloodstone & Diamonds. There’s a lot to like as usual, but it still sticks to the same formula laid out by The Blackening. Make no mistake, this is a good album by most measures, but it just sounds like it’s been done before.
Try before you buy: Eyes of the Dead (YouTube)
Neurotech – Infra Versus Ultra
(Synthmetal – Slovenia)
Self-released – 2014/10/27
In the long, long ago, there was a time when I didn’t know heavy music existed and I got most of my music via weekend morning countdowns. During this period Pet Shop Boys released Very, a masterpiece of synthpop. I mention this becsuse Infra Versus Ultra really sounds like it’s taken that particular sound and tweaked it into a metal album. It’s remarkable; it works surprisingly well and I can truly say I have never heard anything quite like it.
Try before you buy: The Longest Time (Bandcamp)
Oak – Oak
(Hardcore – Sweden)
Woodhammer Entertainment/Hoborec/Miss the Stars Records – 2014/07/06
A healthy dose of intelligent hardcore out of Sweden. Oak goes a long way to proving that a little bit of thought can produce huge dividends. The overtly narative structure to the album, which groups songs into chapters, gives it a sense of balance and flow that is often lacking in the genre. This would mean nothing if the band couldn’t back up the smarts with some talent. Fortunately, the trio are more than up to the task. A well-constructed display of smartcore.
Try before you buy: Chapter II: Haze (Bandcamp)
Obituary – Inked in Blood
(Death metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/10/24
Inked in Blood sees Obituary return with what I think is their best release since Cause of Death. They’ve had a lot of releases in between, so I realise that’s a big call. But I haven’t had a death metal album implant itself in my memory this firmly in a long time. They play it slow and sinister, but they do it with their signature redneck stomp. The stomp has always separated Obituary from their peers, but it’s used with such flair here that it obliterates their recent discography.
Try before you buy: Within a Dying Breed (YouTube)
Revocation – Deathless
(Death thrash – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2014/10/14
Good to see Revocation bounce back so quickly after last year’s lacklustre self-titled album. Methinks the change in label did them some good. They’ve moved closer to a death metal sound, rather than a particularly heavy brand of thrash. It’s a bit less technical too. But it sounds so much better. They’ve stripped back the fripperies and focussed on songcraft. The result are songs that stay in your head. Not just riffs; whole songs. A massive return to form.
Try before you buy: Deathless (YouTube)
Serpent View – From Darkness to Light
(Psychedelic doom metal – France)
Self-released – 2014/10/25
I never really thought of doom as appropriate for a purely instrumental band. As a genre, its grave-ness would, on face value, seem too sparse to get by without vocals. But Serpent View have shown my assumption to be flawed. The lack of vocals allows the listener to truly luxuriate in the riffs. And, believe me, From Darkness to Light contains some sumptuous guitar work. Few releases get this level of sonic richness right.
Try before you buy: The Sun is Going Down (Bandcamp)
TarLung – TarLung
(Doom metal – Austria)
Self-released – 2014/11/22
TarLung encapsulates the sound of waking up after a month long binge; fingers are nicotine yellow, hair is matted beyond belief, and there is persistent odour of stale alcohol; dank resin; and assorted undefinable chemicals. It’s fuzzed out and upbeat without necessarily being bright. It’s the sound of existence being restarted; it moves along as fast as it needs to, but it fights every step. It comes awfully close to sludge, but is still absolutely doom.
Try before you buy: Last Breath (Bandcamp)
Today is the Day – Animal Mother
(Noisecore – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2014/10/14
A deliberately exhausting listen, Animal Mother spends its entire run balanced on the fine line between tension and release. It never allows itself to tip over into blessed release, continually building pressure until the intensity starts to fold in upon itself. It is thoroughly unforgiving, but is rewarding in a way few bands can manage. They’ve turned a half-hour album into an ultramarathon, complete with all the pain and all the satisfaction.
Try before you buy: Heathen (Bandcamp)
The Tovver – The Tovver
(Blackened doom – Costa Rica)
Self-released – 2014/11/22
An unusual release, but one that is very much worth your time. It’s instrumental if you discount the liberal use of samples, but that gives it ample room to show off their considerable talents. The remarkable thing is that the band is capable to segue seamlessly transition between creeping doom and blackened fury. The changes in tempo are so natural that any potential for a disjointed sound quickly evaporates. The Tovver is a band of consummate skill.
Try before you buy: To Sleep and Wake Unafraid (Bandcamp)
While Heaven Wept – Suspended at Aphelion
(Progressive power metal – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/10/24
I can’t help but feel let down. Their previous album, Fear of Infinity, was soaring and majestic; this is merely hovering and pretty. It’s still a pretty good album, but when you know exactly how good a band can be, it’s always a disappointment when they don’t live up to expectations. The main problem I have is it seems underdone. Every track feels like it’s missing something. It does have excellent narative flow, but it’s just not enough.
Try before you buy: Reminiscence of Strangers/Lifelines Lost (YouTube)