September 2018 Review Round Up

We’re reaching the crunch point for the critical year. August was impressive, but September really stepped it up as bands and labels try to maximise their visibility. I can’t wait for October.

The album of the month is from Florida death metal veterans, Deicide. You have no idea how surprised I am to have written that. But credit where credit is due, they absolutely nailed that super-hostile sound.

Not too much else to say. Starting to look towards my end of year list, which is always fun. And given that 2019 is just around the corner, I’m starting to look seriously at my best of the decade list too.

As always, for comments and critiquing, you can reach me via Facebook. And I’m still always in need of Red Bull, if you don’t mind the panhandling. I wish I could get the fancy widget to work, but alas, I’m not that competent.

Album of the Month
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2018/09/14

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If you thought this was going to be another piece of stodgy filler in Deicide’s extensive catalogue, get to the back of the class! It’s easily their best since Stench of Redemption, and I’m going to have to realisten to that to make sure it’s still their best. I have my doubts to be honest. This is laser beam focussed and whip cord taut. Fuck it; it’s their best album ever.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Archgoat – The Luciferian Crown
(Black Metal – Finland)
Debemur Morti – 2018/09/14

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Archgoat’s best album. Just going to put that straight out there. I buy Archgoat for their signature blend of Fimbulwinter cold and sulphurous balefire. This album more than delivers on those fronts, but is also unexpectedly loaded with sinister groove and infernal sexuality. It’s rare to find a black metal album that so ably encapsulates damnation.

Aura Noir – Aura Noire
(Blackened Thrash – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2018/04/27

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Aura Noir’s intertwining of thrash and first wave black metal has always yielded razor sharp riffs. Aura Noire continues this trend. They haven’t exactly built extensively on what they’ve done before, but that’s not what this is about. This is, as it always has been, about cramming venomous thrash all the way down your throat.

Black Matter Device – Modern Frenetics
(Mathcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/04/06

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Fast music for the short tempered. Modern Frenetics is an album for people who don’t have the patience for soft things. It helps that Black Matter Device are (appropriately) mathematically precise. The relentless pummelling that ensues is one of the smartest arse-kickings you will experience. It’s like getting mugged by a mortarboard.

Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions
(Rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker – 2018/09/07

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It’s funny how after all these years Clutch still find a way to deliver just what you want while still surprising you. Book of Bad Decisions comes across as rawer and dirtier than the high octane output of their previous few albums. Real music for smokey dive bars and, by God, it’s beautiful. It gets you right in that part that knows a bit of grime is good for the soul.

Common Eider, King Eider – A Wound of Body
(Black Ambient – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/09/21

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Dealing only in the bleakest of black ambient, Common Eider, King Eider have turned loose an audio horror upon this world. It creeps and slithers and contorts its way around your psyche; never pushing all the way through, but never letting you get comfortable. Albums that do their work quietly are a challenge, but I recognise darkness when I hear it.

Drawn and Quartered – The One Who Lurks
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Krucyator Productions – 2018/07/27

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How on earth have I managed to get to 2018 without hearing about Drawn and Quartered? These guys have been pounding out old school death metal for ages now and it’s taken until this monster landed for me to know they existed. It’s an appalling oversight on my part. Guttural, almost brutal, The One Who Lurks is a visceral gut ripper.

Grave Dust – Pale Hand
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/08/24

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What is up with 2018 and top notch death metal releases? I’m running out of superlatives; I’m either going to start repeating myself or start using nonsensical adjectives. But, dead set, Pale Hand is another death metal monster. It’s a rumbling, aggressive, menacing beast, but it comes with that vital element of catchiness that lodges the songs in your brain.

Hyperdontia – Nexus of Teeth
(Death Metal – Denmark)
Dark Descent – 2018/09/06

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Nexus of Teeth is a fine death metal record that may not set the world on fire but is definitely enjoyable. It suffers a little from repetitiveness, but in Hyperdontia’s defence, they do a couple of things really well, so it makes total sense that they play to their strengths. You can put this on in a room of genre buffs and they will be headbanging all over the place.

Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
(Technical Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2018/07/13

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This is different. Cacophonous black metal played with a level of technicality that should require an engineering degree all wrapped up with Fritz Lang-esque noir. This is what a smokey jazz dive sounds like in hell. I like this a lot, but I’m not going to lie; it’s a tough album to get into and even once you’re in, it can be overwhelming. Extremity done differently.

Kaerulean – The Orwellian Dream
(Blackened Death Metal – Australia)
Truth Inc – 2018/08/10

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It makes a hell of an entertaining racket. But, more than that, it impresses on multiple levels and you will get more out of it with each subsequent listen. For starters, I genuinely didn’t expect the clean vocals to be as good as they are. And the rhythm section is just a fucking beast underneath. This band deserves much broader exposure.

Mantar – The Moden Art of Setting Ablaze
(Sludge Metal – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/24

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Finally getting around to Mantar and I totally get why they are, and rightly should be, considered sludge’s premier arsonists. Their incendiary songs roll along with a pyroclastic flow that ensures that everything in their path is obliterated. I know I’m not the first to say it, but it’s amazing that this sonic firestorm is made by just two people. Incredible stuff.

Nadja – Sonnborner
(Ambient Doom Metal – Canada)
Broken Spine Productions – 2018/09/14

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Open your ears and marvel; Nadja have produced a masterpiece of dreamy, inspired doom. The 30 minute opener is an album in and of itself. It’s awe-inspiring too. It weaves, lilts, and flows beautifully. The following four tracks include dramatic and jarring tonal shifts, giving the ambience some unexpected, but welcome exhilaration.

Primordial – Exile Amongst the Ruins
(Blackened Folk Metal – Ireland)
Metal Blade – 2018/03/30

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I can only assume that Primordial are sick of Metal Blade, as this sound like nothing more than a contractual obligation album. All the hallmarks of a Primordial album are there, but they’re so listless and seemingly dialed in. It’s tough to listen to something that sounds like nobody cared. It’s especially tough when it’s a band as hugely talented as Primordial.

Thou – Magus
(Doom Metal – United States of America)
EVP Recordings – 2018/08/31

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Other bands must wish they could match Thou’s ability to be both prolific and talented. Magus is their fourth release this year, the second to get a review by me, and easily the best thing they’ve done recently. Which is impressive, because they are consistently excellent. The raspy growls, the subtle melodies, the monstrous low end; it is amazing.

The Vintage Caravan – Gateways
(Rock – Iceland)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/31

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I love what The Vintage Caravan have done previously, so it really pains me to say this: Gateways is boring. At best it’s dull, at worst it’s tedious, and it all balances out as boring. There’s nothing on display here to get the listener actively involved in the music. It just kinda plods along without doing anything noteworthy. At least it’s easy to forget.

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February 2015 Review Round Up

Happy March, everyone.

2015 is shaping up nicely already. Napalm Death’s new album is an absolute wrecking ball of an album. It has that effortless quality to it, as though the band were so confident in what they were doing that the album was always going to come out perfect.

There was a fair bit of competition for the honourable mention too, but I eventually settled on KharmA. Incendiary grind at its best, SubReal is sonic arson.

I have finally got around to setting up a Facebook page too. Drop by and give me a like. If you like.

Until April, enjoy.

Album of the Month
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
(Grindcore – United Kingdom)
Century Media Records – 2015/01/27

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The Godfathers of grind are back with their fifteenth album. They’re not struggling for material either. Greenway’s vocals, sublimely harsh and expertly spat, are an intelligent examination of the relationship between consumerism and slavery. The music itself is a way more catchy than grindcore has any right being. It still has the visceral hostility that has made them one of the all time greats, but is delivered as a rally cry not raw invective.
Try before you buy: Metaphorically Screw You (YouTube)

Honourable Mention
KharmA – SubReal
(Death grind – Venezuela)
Self-released – 2015/02/06

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I’m a pretty chilled out sort of guy on a day to day basis. I don’t have great insight into revolutionary zeal. KharmA, on the other hand, are made of fiery conviction. Their uncompromising blend of grind and death angries up the blood like few releases I’ve heard recently. The brutal vocals and severe guitars assault the ear drums, with the blasting drums beating a death march for the speed addled. I’m impressed by how well they use music as a medium for rage.
Try before you buy: Obliterados (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Addaura – …And the Lamps Expire
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/01/19

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I probably shouldn’t have listened to this while feeling a bit bummed, as it turned a mild funk into a spiralling depression. Then again, every band should be seeking to make a genuine emotional impact on the listener, so in this regard, Addaura is a raging success. The two long-ish tracks (separated by a short interlude) hit the right combination of guitars, keyboards, and vocals to make a poignant listening experience. Stunningly harrowing.
Try before you buy: Amid the Tumult and Clamor (I Look for the Light Through the Pouring Rain.) (Bandcamp)

Annúlond – The Baker of Aljubarrota
(Blackened folk metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2015/02/17

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An Australian band who self-describe as viking metal doing an album about a figure from Portuguese folklore. Good to see another female folk figure getting some attention. A seven foot tall woman with six fingers on each hand and innate knack for killing is pretty metal. Surprised the good baker doesn’t get more attention to be honest. The music itself is on the dour end of folk, like someone sucked all the joy and energy out of Finntroll. An interesting diversion.
Try before you buy: Rise of Penthesilea (Bandcamp)

Antareth – The Mask of Truth
(Doom metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2015/02/12

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Didn’t have high hopes for Antareth. That cover art set off all sorts of alarms. Being described as avant-garde didn’t sit well either. Pointless weirdness played slow didn’t sound appealing. Happily, the Mask of Truth exceeded my expectations. It’s a little bit dull, but not nearly as excruciating as it could have been. The clean vocals need to be scrubbed from future recordings too. Yes, it’s dull, but it does at least manage to sound original. A small victory.
Try before you buy: The Pearly Road (Bandcamp)

Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator
(Black metal – Finland)
Debemur Morti Productions – 2015/01/27

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If you want a blueprint for straight to the point, straight for your throat black metal, you could do worse than following Archgoat’s lead. The Apocalyptic Triumphator is an anti-cosmic high mass, leading the profane in worship most blasphemous. It does this through one of the finest combinations of guitars, drums, and vocals in black metal today. They’re not particularly strong on innovation, but given the performance, they don’t need to be.
Try before you buy: Grand Luciferian Theophany (Bandcamp)

Cowards – Rise to Infamy
(Blackened sludge – France)
Throatruiner Records – 2015/02/09

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I feel slightly uneasy about the thought of hearing this live. The malice broadcast through these ten songs should whip a live audience into a dervish of hatred that would tear apart the venue. They strike a fine balance between the heft of sludge’s mighty riffs and black metal’s coruscating fury. Balancing these elements creates an atmosphere of primal anger that the band only just contained long enough to successfully put to wax. Scary stuff.
Try before you buy: Beyond My Hands (Bandcamp)

Death Engine – Mud
(Sludgey hardcore – France)
Throatruiner Records – 2015/03/02

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I love Throatruiner. The label make all their releases available for free download. Rest assured, I went back and purchased a copy of Mud. Death Engine’s speciality is harsh and unrelenting music. Sludgey hardcore doesn’t seem entirely appropriate as a descriptor, but it’s as close to a specific genre as I can get. The raw barks of the vocalist collide with the pitiless melodies in a jagged rhythmic battleground. It’s an exhilarating experience.
Try before you buy: Organs (Bandcamp)

Eall – Scents of a Wandering Ghost
(Atmospheric black metal – France)
Self-released – 2015/02/07

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I detect the fear of failure in this demo. There are some movements that have the potential to be truly spectacular, but they always pull up too short, leaving the listener feeling short-changed. It’s like the band doesn’t fully trust their skills, which would explain why they so readily slide back into the murk of generic Burzum worship. This intermingling of the awe-inspiring and the insipid leaves the demo sounding disjointed. It’s disappointing rather than bad.
Try before you buy: That Brought Shining Visions In A Cold Water Stream (Bandcamp)

Ethereal Shroud – They Became the Falling Ash
(Blackened doom metal – United Kingdom)
Grimoire Cassette Cvlture – 2015/02/21

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This is more grandiose than I expected. In many ways it is a union of miserable metal’s soul mates, dsbm and funeral doom. There’s not an once of doubt that the three long tracks are bleak, but there’s definitely something else to it. There’s a grandeur to it that would be equally appropriate for an epic doom act, were it not so depressing. It’s the guitar movements. There’s a sweep to them that allows the band to generate a dark energy to hammer home the misery.
Try before you buy: Look Upon the Light (Bandcamp)

Gomgoma – Medicine Apophthegms
(Doom metal – Greece)
Self-released – 2015/02/07

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It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The vocalist would be better served in a funeral doom act, rather than this somewhat sludgey affair. The drummer is wasted here; easily an A+ performer in a C band. Lays down a triumphant beat that gives the songs at least some semblance of energy. The guitar work is a buzzkill; there’s not a lot to enjoy here. They either need to be slower to pack some wallop or faster to build some energy. Tempo limbo is a killer.
Try before you buy: Asstray (Bandcamp)

Karmageddon – Preborn
(Southern metal – Hungary)
Self-released – 2015/02/08

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Southern metal: typically a term used by bands who owe so much to Dimebag and Vinnie Paul, they might as well drop a sack of royalties off directly at the House of Abbott. Karmageddon don’t exactly distance themselves from this assessment. They’re pretty hard to hate though. The vocals aren’t brilliant, but the rest of the music has an infectious energy to it that you can’t help but enjoy. They’ll never be critical darlings, but they are good, solid fun.
Try before you buy: Faith in Me (Bandcamp)

Marduk – Frontschwein
(Black metal – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2015/01/19

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This is a punch in the face with black metal. The military theme is well executed, turning the album into a mighty blitzkrieg. I think what appeals to me more is that Frontschwein manages to arrest the Funeral Mist-ification that Marduk was undergoing. I love Mortuus’ other band, but I got into Marduk with Panzer Division Marduk. I’m all about the war themes and the militaristic rhythms, which this album delivers on in a big way. Brutal and hellish.
Try before you buy: Afrika (YouTube)

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
(Black metal – Iceland)
Fallen Empire Records – 2015/02/07

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This is a fine addition to world of intellectual black metal. It sounds like it belongs to the wonderfully fruitful French scene that spawned Deathspell Omega and Arkhon Infaustus. Rhythm and melody are tortured into twisted abominations. The vocals, while mostly harshly intoned venom, have a range not commonly seen in this particular neck of the blackened woods. It’s an album that revels in bleak inhumanity. As monstrous and unforgiving as hell.
Try before you buy: Friðþæging blýþungra hjartna (Bandcamp)

Mortum – Ascending Calamity
(Black metal – United States of America)
Vanguard Productions – 2015/02/14

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Mortum, we need to talk. It’s about your intentions. Do you plan on remaining an underground act, only heard by the trve and the occasional falsey (such as myself) who stumbles upon you? Or do you want to be bigger and have wider exposure? I hope it’s the later, because your talent is wasted on basement recordings. I’m very grateful to Vanguard. They did put this out for you and I heard it as a result. But you have talent that deserves to be heard above tape hiss.
Try before you buy: Scourge of Suffering (Bandcamp)

Rusco – Demo 2015
(Grindcore – Italy)
Self-released – 2015/02/22

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As relentless and destructive as an archetypal slasher film villain, Rusco’s demo doesn’t mess about. There isn’t even the illusion of respite during the ten tracks on offer. Bass heavy and jammed to overflowing with blastbeats, they still manage to make each song stand out on its own; they have succeeded in cultivating relentlessness without falling into the trap of monotony. It’s also good to hear organ-gargling vocals outside of goregrind.
Try before you buy: Cloaca (Bandcamp

Seventh Dimension – Recognition
(Progressive metal – Sweden)
Self-released – 2015/02/13

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An entertaining effort from Seventh Dimension. They’re out on the power metal end of prog’s spectrum, so expect something closer to Symphony X, albeit without their panache, than Dream Theater. It maintains an upbeat pace and avoids self-indulgence. It’s crowd pleasing. The cynic in me thinks they have a specific label they’re trying to woo, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that they have produced an album geared up for broad appeal.
Try before you buy: Third Eye (Bandcamp)

Sumac – The Deal
(Post-metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/02/17

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Aaron Turner’s latest musical venture, in collaboration with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook, sees him once again venturing into the realms of post-metal. It’s an impressive release. The Deal comes across like Jovian gossamer; delicately crafted but astronomically heavy. It’s so heavy it forms its own gravitational pull, keeping the listener drawn in until the final note fades. But it’s effortless in its heavyness, allowing the listener to bear the full brunt of its atmosphere.
Try before you buy: Hollow King (Bandcamp)

January 2015 Review Round Up

A new year and some changes with it. Looking over my Best Of for 2014, I realised that there weren’t many surprises because of how I structured my monthly reviews. Too many Honourable Mentions gave the game away. So from here on, one Album of the Month and one Honourable Mention.

I’ve also changed my tag cloud. Thought it would be a good idea to add some extra details. Probably still not perfect, but I like it.

On to the music, I was originally planning to give the Album of the Month to a January release, but Primordial killed that notion. Spectacular is an understatement. Had I followed through with my original intention, Marilyn Manson’s new album would have got the nod. He’s been in the wilderness quality-wise for a while, but he finally pulled himself together.

Enjoy.

Album of the Month
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
(Blackened Celtic metal – Ireland)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/11/25

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Are Nemtheanga’s vocals some of the most powerful in metal? In terms of emotional content and raw volume, absolutely. He serves up a real tour de force on Where Greater Men Have Fallen. Fortunately, the rest of the band don’t just back him up; they shine brighter than the vast bulk of their contemporaries. Few bands can do what Primordial do; fewer still could match this effort. Frankly, I’m surprised they pulled it off do spectacularly too.
Try before you buy: Ghosts of the Charnel House (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
(Gothic electric blues – United States of America)
Hell, etc – 2014/01/19

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I was hoping Manson had one last fantastic album in him. Born Villain gave me hope, even if it didn’t quite deliver. The Pale Emperor justifies my hope. It’s a very different album for him, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s the work of a man looking back at his legacy and taking stock of all his missed opportunities and regrets. Bitterness and isolation are recurring themes and are delivered with an achingly soulful approach. It’s a welcome return to form.
Try before you buy: Mephistopheles of Los Angeles (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
(Grinding industrial blackness – United Kingdom)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/10/24

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I was worried that Anaal Nathrakh had hit peak misanthropy with Hell is Empty. Black Widow had its moments and Passion was lucklustre. Vanitas was an improvement, but that’s like saying Death Magnetic is better than St Anger; it’s true, but it’s a low bar. Desideratum is a welcome return to form. It’s the sound of trying to wash flaming acid off your face with frozen lye. It burns in ways unimaginable. It’s pure sonic masochism done properly.
Try before you buy: The One Needful Thing (YouTube)

Ancient VVisdom – Sacrificial
(Occult rock – United States of America)
Magic Bullet Records – 2014/10/28

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I was hoping for a return to form from these occult crooners. Their previous album sounded like a compilation of shitty b-sides. But this is a roaring comeback. I mean that literally too, as this is a much heavier release. It’s almost a metal album. Almost. It works though. It enables the band to set a suitably dark tone to compliment the anti-cosmic lyrics. It sounds fantastic and feels like you are having your own damnation broadcast directly to you.
Try before you buy: I Am Your Sacrifice (Bandcamp)

Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
(Atmospheric black metal – France)
Debemur Morti Productions – 2014/10/10

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Blut Aus Nord have that special knack for taking archetypal black metal and tweaking it into something unique. Feels weird about saying that about the third album in a series, but it’s true. And of the Memoria Vetusta series, Saturnian Poetry is the one I’m most likely to return to. It’s an album that, knowing it already speaks to the other, seeks to engage rather than alienate. This gives the album an appropriately poetic touch and an air of sophistication.
Try before you buy: Forhist (Bandcamp)

Caïna – Setter of Unseen Snares
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Broken Limbs Recordings – 2015/01/20

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Thank you, internecine scene politics; I had forgotten about Caïna. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure if they’re worth the fuss, as regardless of where they sit on the ideological spectrum, they sound like just another black metal act. The punk-esque drumming is a nice touch, and the closer, Orphan, is monstrous, so there are some things that separate Setter of Unseen Snares from the pack. It doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t push far enough to distinguish itself.
Try before you buy: I am the Flail of the Lord (Bandcamp)

The Datsuns – Deep Sleep
(Garage rock – New Zealand)
Hellsquad Records – 2014/10/03

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The Datsuns are a rock band that keep me engaged with the genre and it’s criminal that my collection doesn’t have more of them. Deep Sleep helps redress that. Glad to get it too. It’s less frenetic than their, frankly, fantastic self-titled album, but it’s much more finely balanced; the sort of album that when it slows down, it doesn’t fall off the rails. Truth be told, the slower tracks are where it’s at. The fast tracks jab away, but the slow ones lay you out like a haymaker.
Try before you buy: Bad Taste (YouTube)

DawnRazor – Deus Ex Machina
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/01/05

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Deus Ex Machina has smatterings of promise, but it’s a pretty dull effort overall. There are some catchy melodies and some memorable vocal work, but the pickings are slim. As the album rolls on, it becomes more and more of a chore as the songs all merge into one slightly chuggy snorefest. Oddly enough, I don’t thoroughly hate it. The opening few tracks do hold my attention. I can see why some folk would like it. But it wears out its charm.
Try before you buy: Ego Echo (Bandcamp)

The Grudge – Fortress Sessions
(Sludge metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/01/05

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Okay, I get it, you guys really like Down. That infatuation creates a big problem, as Down really like Black Sabbath, so we’re way down the recycled riff rabbit hole here. Familiarity breeds contempt is an old saying for a reason. It also doesn’t help that the vocalist sounds like a Muppet Show version of Phil Anselmo. ‘Felt Anselmo’ may be appropriate for The Electric Mayhem, but it’s a distraction here. It’s a shame because there’s some potential buried in there.
Try before you buy: Rise of the Death Rates (Bandcamp)

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/11/11

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I had to get in the right frame of mind for this. Listening to it while lying on the couch watching sport left me thinking, “It’s good, but so what?” Change of scenery and energy levels. Started doing yard work. Got the blood pumping. Then I got it. This is a visceral album. It’s not blood and guts like death metal, nor is fire and fury like black metal. It’s deeper than that. There’s a primalness to it that can’t be enjoyed passively. Turn it on and work up a sweat.
Try before you buy: Shoulder Meat (Bandcamp)

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/11/11

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This is the superior of the Apes of God. The four long tracks hammer home with expertly delivered sludginess, but what really sets it apart is the incorporation of finely nuanced ambient noise. They’re not mere interludes; they are critical elements to each song, deftly crafting mood that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. There is a certain dark majesty at work here. Much like a mad emperor, it effortlessly commands you, but you cannot be at ease.
Try before you buy: Arrows to Our Hearts (Bandcamp)

Voices – London
(Blackened death metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2014/11/17

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I miss Akercocke. Seriously, Voices does nothing for me. In their effort to distinguish themselves from their predecessor, they seem to have stripped out all the passion and replaced it with faintly gothic melodrama. It’s a shame, as opening track, Suicide Note, demonstrated some genuine sophistication. But it quickly descends into a half-hearted display of disjointed rhythms and inconsistent vocals. It’s not for me at all.
Try before you buy: Vicarious Lover (Bandcamp)

Releases of the Year for 2014

It’s finally here. A bit later than most annual lists, but I stand by my policy of waiting to review everything. Some amazing albums turned up late in the year and no list would be complete without them.

I’ve put the list together differently this year. Last year’s list was just a collection of my previously unreleased reviews. Reposting old reviews didn’t seem right, so I went back, relistened to everything, and tried to reflect on the year.

So without further adieu, here’s my best of 2014.

Album of the Year
Sólstafir – Ótta

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Season of Mist – 2014/08/29

What I said then: If you can’t appreciate the wonder of this album, I weep for you.
What I say now: This album really does improve with every listen. By the time I’m two tracks in, I’m already choked up. It’s raw and devastatingly emotional, but it’s so beautiful I will take the pain.

Some Other Top Things Worth Mentioning
Best Live Act: Death Angel

I saw these guys supporting Kreator. They completey blew their Teutonic compatriots off the stage. I haven’t been so thoroughly entertained by a band for a long, long time.

Best cover art: Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable by Ola Larsson

It’s a remarkably evocative piece of art, perfectly suited to its album. It doesn’t just convey a sense of palpable darkness; it conveys the futility of even attempting to fight it.

My Other Picks for 2014
2) Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen

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Metal Blade Records – 2014/11/25

What I said then: Few bands can do what Primordial do; fewer still could match this effort.
What I say now: I really didn’t expect another album to muscle its way into the top three, but underestimating Primordial was foolish on my part. Awe inspiring and heart wrenching in equal measure.

3) Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

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Century Media Records – 2014/04/14

What I said then: [The] album is replete with the seething contempt and haunting introspection that make his work so engaging.
What I say now: The darkness only deepens the more you listen to it. Hardly a surprise though. Triptykon are masters of the inky depths. Few bands can juggle beauty and despair this well.

4) Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite

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Artemisia Records – 2014/07/08

What I said then: It takes alienation and isolation, and makes them beautiful.
What I say now: Easily the most soothing release on this list. I can lose myself in their ambience for a long time, reclining into their subtle blend of delicacy and tension. It’s a thing of beauty.

5) Opeth – Pale Communion

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Roadrunner Records – 2014/08/24

What I said then: Rich, evocative rhythms are woven through with striking string passages and delicate accoustic movements, creating sumptuously dark listening experience.
What I say now: I figured Pale Communion might have lost some lustre over the passing months. Wrong. Very wrong. It drew me in as easily now as it did when it was released in August.

6) Swans – To Be Kind

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Young God Records – 2014/05/12

What I said then: That an album can be so dense and seemingly impenetrable, but be utterly compelling is a mark of true genius.
What I say now: It admittedly isn’t an album I’ve returned to often, but that’s because every time I start, I’m compelled to listen to it in its entirety. It’s an album that demands to be experienced.

7) Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate

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Deathwish Inc – 2014/04/29

What I said then: Just as the band deftly tiptoes around classification, so too do the songs dance gracefully across the emotional spectrum.
What I say now: Wovenhand really have put together something wonderful. It’s contemplative in a way that shouldn’t be possible given the album’s pacing. Excuse me while I rock out while meditating.

8) Trap Them – Blissfucker

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Prosthetic Records – 2014/06/10

What I said then: You are pummled with fury and defiance, and yet, track by track, desperation and exhaustion creep in.
What I say now: The fury of this album is still the chief selling point of this album. Lots of bands do angry; few do it with the absolute lack of restraint on display here. Relentless, malicious abandon.

9) Devin Townsend Project – Z²

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HevyDevy Records – 2014/10/28

What I said then: This double album hammers home both Townsend’s talent and his bizarreness.
What I say now: Devin Townsend makes his music so damn easy to listen to. It’s big and bombastic, successfully filling any empty space in your mind with ridiculously good music.

10) Decapitated – Blood Mantra

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Nuclear Blast – 2014/09/26

What I said then: Blood Mantra is polished death metal perfection, delivering non-stop pummelling action.
What I say now: The polish has endured; not a hint of tarnish to be seen. It remains an album that blows you away from the moment you press play. It deserves it’s ‘2014 best death’ crown.

11) Various Artists – One and All, Together, For Home

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Season of Mist – 2014/05/23

What I said then: Serious, moving, and proof that black metal can have some pride without going full Varg.
What I say now: The contributing artists clearly throw everything into these songs, as the raw emotional heft remains as potent today as it was in September. Best compilation in years.

12) Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere

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Profound Lore Records – 2014/05/13

What I said then: The rhythms and melodies flow with a natural progression that turn lengthy songs into meaningful reflective experiences.
What I say now: The Serpent & the Sphere is the model modern black metal album. It doesn’t piss away its energy with mindless fury; rather, it cultivates a mature, yet devastating ambience.

13) At the Gates – At War With Reality

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Century Media – 2014/10/27

What I said then: 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.
What I say now: The comparison to Slaughter of the Soul may have been a whisper generous, but this is still some of the best melodeath out there. Easily the best thing out of Gothenburg for a long time.

14) Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity

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Candlelight Records – 2014/10/07

What I said then: 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.
What I say now: Winterfylleth improve with every album they do. And The Divination of Antiquity is far and away their best effort to date. Technically proficient and emotionally mature metal.

15) Death Fortress – Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable

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Fallen Empire Records – 2014/11/15

What I said then: Their take on darkness is a contagious invocation of malice and domination, infecting your soul with hatred most profane.
What I say now: When it starts, you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. By the end, you’re pretty sure you can’t live without it. Congratulations, Death Fortress has recorded damnation.

16) Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

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Season of Mist – 2014/06/06

What I said then: It’s easily the best thing they’ve done since they defined the genre all those years ago.
What I say now: Alienation and obliteration. That’s what Esoteric Warfare serves up. This isn’t just Mayhem; this is Mayhem at their most ruthless. Which is a terrifying thought.

17) Plebeian Grandstand – Lowgazers

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Throatruiner Records – 2014/03/31

What I said then: It’s a combination of avant-garde darkness and technical fury that creates an atmosphere of relentless misanthropy.
What I say now: That it sounds like a combination of blackened horrors, Deathspell Omega, and jazz metal weirdos, Shining, is reason enough to get this. It remains a dark revelation.

18) Grand Magus – Triumph and Power

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Nuclear Blast – 2014/01/31

What I said then: Triumph and Power has everything you could possibly want in a metal album: anthemic choruses, towering solos, fist-pumping rhythms.
What I say now: It’s an album I have listened to a lot this year. I keep on getting the itch and it can only be scratched by Grand Magus’ particular brand of metalness. Rousing good times.

19) Earth – Primitive and Deadly

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Southern Lord – 2014/09/01

What I said then: It can bring a tear to the eye while simultaneously destroying speakers.
What I say now: Sublime in its contemplativeness, Primitive and Deadly is an album that, four months on, is already demonstrating that it will stand the test of time. Irresistible and immovable.

20) Horsehunter – Caged in Flesh

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Self-released – 2014/09/30

What I said then: Even the weakest track on the album will kill the competition.
What I say now: Horsehunter justifiably took home the crown for best self-released title for the year. What they’ve done on their own, most of their labelled genre-mates couldn’t hope to achieve.

21) Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

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Profound Lore Records – 2014/08/19

What I said then: It draws you in and keeps you nestled in its heart.
What I say now: Pallbearer have put together a benchmark album here; it’s the album by which they, and many others, shall be judged from here on out. It’s a defining moment in quality doom.

22) Gnaw Their Tongues & Alkerdeel – Dyodyo Asema

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ConSouling Sounds – 2014/01/01

What I said then: Be transported to a scene of abject horror.
What I say now: Sweet Jesus, this is bleak. I’m used to Gnaw Their Tongues’ brand of horror, but the introduction of Alkerdeel’s maddening sludge took this to an unexpected realm of darkness.

23) Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun

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Reprise Records – 2014/06/24

What I said then: It’s a beautiful expedition into progressive expanses, that is challenging, uplifting, and hard rocking.
What I say now: There was a 50/50 chance I was going to return to this and feel let down. But I wasn’t; it’s held up over the passing months. It remains an album dedicated to rocking the great riff.

24) 铁骑 [Tengger Cavalry] – 远古呼唤 / Ancient Call

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Metal Hell Records – 2014/02/01

What I said then: Ancient Call is more blackened than their last album, but it is still an utter joy to listen to.
What I say now: I fretted that maybe Tengger Cavalry were, dare I say it, a one trick pony. But I can’t argue with results. They put out consistently high quality blackened folk that begs to be heard.

25) Woundvac – Woundvac

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Self-released – 2014/02/25

What I said then: Woundvac’s self-titled debut is the sound of emerging from a mosh pit, covered in sweat and blood (not all of it mine), nose busted across my face, spitting teeth, and smiling like a madman.
What I say now: Why did I rate this so highly? Oh yeah. That’s right. It kicks the living shit out of everything in sight. It’s easily the best pure grind album in a year populated with excellent grind releases.

26) Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry

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Debemur Morti Productions – 2014/10/10

What I said then: It’s an album that, knowing it already speaks to the other, seeks to engage rather than alienate.
What I say now: I’m glad that this is another addition to the Memoria Vetusta series. As much as I love Blut aus Nord’s more avant-garde material, what they do with trad black metal is amazing.

27) Lord Mantis – Death Mask

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Profound Lore Records – 2014/04/29

What I said then: Death Mask is a concentrated mass of metastasised malignancy.
What I say now: It hasn’t so much aged like fine wine as it has putrefied like a corpse in a swamp. It was nasty when I first got it and has somehow grown into something much worse in the interim.

28) Eyehategod – Eyehategod

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Housecore Records – 2014/05/27

What I said then: Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and their own personal demons, the notorious sludge lords truly have been through hell and back, [which] has translated directly to their music.
What I say now: I enjoyed revisiting this. I had forgotten just how punk it was. Unmistakably metal, don’t get me wrong, but still punk as fuck. It makes an already grimey band sound extra dirty.

29) End Silence – The Waters

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Self-released – 2014/09/19

What I said then: Everything from the vocalist’s range to the intriguing solos is near perfect.
What I say now: The year’s best thrash album, right here. The fact that it doesn’t play to either the traditional thrash tropes or a frat house mentality helps. That it kicks ass is more important.

30) Rotten Soil – Los Caretas

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The Olmo Records – 2014/06/02

What I said then: Aside from the in your face immediacy, Los Caretas succeeds in combining hardcore rhythms with death metal tuning in a way that few of their genremates do.
What I say now: I continue to be a huge fan of their deathcore for the attention deficient. The album snaps by a breakneck speed, but still somehow allows the music room to breathe.

31) Tombs – Savage Gold

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Relapse Records – 2014/06/10

What I said then: Densely symbolic. Thematically complicated. Tantalisingly unknowable.
What I say now: I have always been a fan of Tombs’ smart metal. I love to be challenged intellectually by music. Savage Gold takes the intellectual approach and adds extra layers of nasty.

32) Lxs Jugadxs – Demo 2014

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Self-released – 2014/07/02

What I said then: There is more to this than naked rage; there’s something darker in there, possibly grief, possibly melancholy.
What I say now: A grimey grindcore nasty, Lxs Jugadxs’ most recent demo stands as a firm reminder that some of the world’s best grind comes from deep in the underground. ¡Viva grind!

33) The Haunted – Exit Wounds

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Century Media Records – 2014/08/25

What I said then: This is a seemless blend of thrash and melodic death metal, keeping the invigorating energy of the former and the naked aggression of the latter.
What I say now: The simple joy of Exit Wounds makes you wonder why they’re the only ones nailing it. It has a familiarity that allows you to drop staight in at the deep end of the mosh.

34) Alcest – Shelter

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Prophecy Productions – 2014/01/17

What I said then: The end result is a sun-drenched journey through the ether.
What I say now: Neige’s full embrace of shoegaze is a welcome thing. I loved his previous trvegaze work, but Shelter is a step apart. It allows his dreams to bloom out of the shadow of nightmare.

35) Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind

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Century Media – 2014/08/05

What I said then: Bitterness, regret, and occasional self-pity make for a surprisingly honest outcome.
What I say now: Blake Judd may have gone out of his way to act like a colossal, steaming turd, but that’s no reason to take it out on The World We Left Behind. It’s a striking, stark beauty.

36) YOB – Clearing the Path Ascend

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Neurot Recordings – 2014/08/29

What I said then: Another fantastic addition to Yob’s already outstanding catalogue of American heaviness.
What I say now: As ominous and oppressive as a looming thunderstorm, Clearing the Path to Ascend is a literal embodiment of doom. It has some rough edges, but that’s not a bad thing.

37) Panopticon – Roads to the North

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Bindrune Recordings – 2014/08/01

What I said then: Roads to the North is absolutely coruscating black metal that incorporates Southern song structure and fiddles in a way that pays due homage to the band’s Kentucky heritage.
What I say now: I’m willing to add Panopticon to the list of bands that get heritage metal right. Right up there with Primordial, Winterfylleth, and Drudkh. Heartache and fury abound.

38) Ancient VVisdom – Sacrificial

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Magic Bullet Records – 2014/10/28

What I said then: It sounds fantastic and feels like you are having your own damnation broadcast directly to you.
What I say now: Coming across as less folksie and more like a lower, slower Ghost (B.C.) has worked wonders for the band. It sounds like they actually have forward momentum again.

39) Ofghost – Eeva

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Self-released – 2014/08/01

What I said then: The driving rhythms speak to a post-humanity environment; mankind is dead and this is the music of the machines.
What I say now: I’ve heard lots of industrial influenced black metal in my time, but Ofghost’s synthesised approach sets it apart. It adds some novelty to a genre that is normally far too staid.

40) Shores of Null – Quiescence

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Candlelight Records – 2014/03/24

What I said then: You don’t often get to associate the word ‘beautiful’ with death metal, but that’s what Quiescence is: beautiful death metal.
What I say now: This is somewhat more aggressive than memory served. But so it should be. I remembered the excellent gothic parts, but I needed the reminder of how kickass the death passages are.

41) Außerwelt – Our Lives Out of Balance

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Self-released – 2014/09/21

What I said then: It truly is a remarkable ep; every listen unearths something new, nuances in song structure that, while not immediately noticeable, make every song completely and truly vital.
What I say now: As much as I love Our Lives Out of Balance, I still feel I’ve underrated it. It plays with black metal tropes like a cat with its prey. It sounds familiar but is remarkably different.

42) Black Khox – Akab

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Self-released – 2014/04/20

What I said then: Once the sample fanfare ended and the rock started, I was left with an ear to ear grin.
What I say now: There’s way more fun contained here than should be legal. I’m sure some will say it needs more polish, but they’re the sort of people who think no social event is complete without doilies.

43) Vermin Womb – Permanence

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Throatruiner Records – 2014/09/01

What I said then: Its merciless, pitiless, remorseless blast-driven beat underscores some of the nastiest guitar work I’ve heard this year.
What I say now: Permanence goes way past nasty. This is the sonic equivalent of violently hate-fucking in filth. It’s hateful, malicious, and contemptuous. It would kill you if it could.

44) Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God

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Profound Lore Records – 2014/11/11

What I said then: Much like a mad emperor, it effortlessly commands you, but you cannot be at ease.
What I say now: The decision to write fewer tracks but make them substantially longer paid dividends. This isn’t only the superior Ape of God; this is an outstanding album in its own right.

45) Twilight – III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb

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Century Media Records – 2014/03/17

What I said then: Twilight is black metal that embodies the death of light of their namesake phenomena.
What I say now: It’s a crying shame that Twilight have gone their separate ways, as they improved with every release. Beneath Trident’s Tomb is sinister black metal performed at the highest standard.

46) Anopheli – A Hunger Rarely Sated

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Self-released – 2014/04/24

What I said then: The combination of harsh, crusty guitars and more elegant string sections create an e.p. that is beautiful in its anger, furious in its eloquence.
What I say now: It still seems somewhat antithetical for a crust album to not be 100% grimey, but credit to Anopheli, they have successfully incorporated lighter, cleaner elements without losing impact.

47) ACxDC – Antichrist Demoncore

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Melotov Records – 2014/06/24

What I said then: The sheer level of audio violence crammed into these twenty odd minutes is truly inspiring.
What I say now: Wild and anarchic, I had forgotten just how punishing this album was. There is no safe volume level for this. Played at one, it’ll start a fight. At eleven, it’ll start wars.

48) Amnesian – No Atonement

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Self-released – 2014/02/08

What I said then: I could easily ramble about the quality of the performers, but I’d rather marvel in the creation of a sound that is distinctly, and uniquely, Amnesian.
What I say now: It may seem a bit low on the list, but I love Amnesian. They approach grind in a way that still seems fresh almost a year after this was released. An amazing new band.

49) Fvck Mountain – Dead Dogs

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Self-released – 2014/10/02

What I said then: As I listened to Dead Dogs it slowly dawned on me that I may be listening to the best hardcore release of the year.
What I say now: I was right; it is 2014’s best hardcore release. They strike a balance between technical skill and pure vitriol that is desperately lacking across the genre as a whole.

50) Morbus Chron – Sweven

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Century Media Records – 2014/02/24

What I said then: Their music has an otherworldly quality to it now, which allows them to expand their songwriting into progressive territory, while still indulging in the supernatural.
What I say now: Sweven remains a stand out album for straight up death metal. What it trades out in tempo it more than makes up in composition. Swedeath has a bright future here.