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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.