June 2018 Review Round Up

June felt like a productive month. I got through a decent amount of albums while making sure everyone got their fair due in terms of attention. Pretty happy about how it all came together.

Some impressive stuff passed through my ears, but the best of the best is Craft’s latest, White Noise and Black Metal. It’s a perfect example of what modern black metal should sound like.

July will hopefully be as good. I’m keen for Deafheaven and Obscura’s new albums.

Hit me up on Facebook if you want. Always up for a chat.

Album of the Month
Craft – White Noise and Black Metal
(Black Metal – Sweden)
Season of Mist – 2018/06/22

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Not a lot of noise going on here, but there are eight tracks of blackened gelid malevolence. It’s a veritable soundtrack for a frolic through the joyless expanse of Cocytus. Too often black metal finds itself trapped within its own tropes, but Craft have taken these tropes and unleashed them in a storm so furious that everything seems new after the destruction wrought.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Abstracter – Cinereous Incarnate
(Blackened Sludge – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/06/08

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When I was a young boy, someone once told me that there was no greater sin, even surpassing the seven deadly sins, than despair, as it meant you believed God was powerless. Abstracter capture this notion of blasphemous misery and turn it loose in an almost weaponised display of sonic might. It’s cacophonous, tumultuous, and savage.

At the Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
(Melodic Death Metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2018/05/18

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A slower, more brooding At the Gates is on display here. The anger that has driven their sound to this point has manifested here as smouldering bitterness. It’s not bitter in the sense of hating what their doing. The band still clearly loves performing. It’s bitter about pretty well everything else though. It’s a new plateau of jaded misanthropy.

The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer
(Avant-garde Metal – United States of America)
Thrill Jockey – 2018/05/11

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Albums like this really highlight the divide between amateur writers, such as myself, and proper music journalists. I just don’t have the vocabulary to do this album justice. It’s ominous. It’s oppressive. It’s sinister as all hell. And bleak doesn’t even begin to describe its emotional darkness. And even with all that laid out, you need to know it goes further and weirder than I can explain.

Funeral Mist – Hekatomb
(Black Metal – Sweden)
Norma Evangelium Diaboli – 2018/06/15

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Not sure if any of you have spent an extended period of time with a crazy street preacher. I have and this reminds me a lot of that experience. An almost overwhelming raging of fevered mania is peppered with moments of terrifying lucidity. It’s the sort of unhinged blasphemous rite that so many black metal acts aspire to, but taken to an extreme beyond expectation.

Genghis Crack – Genghis Crack
(Grindcore – Chile)
House Gore Records – 2018/04/07

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I’m finding South America to fertile ground for excellent grind. From Lxs Jugadxs in Argentina to Kharma in Venezuela, there is a strong trend towards pissed off blasting violence. Feel free to add Genghis Crack to this. I don’t understand all the samples used, but I know anger when I hear it. This is wire garrotte taut and as pummelling as 80s heyday Mike Tyson.

Ghost – Prequelle
(Heavy Metal – Sweden)
Loma Vista Recordings – 2018/06/01

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“Surely the gimmick has worn thin by now?” I hear you asking. And the answer remains no. To be honest, the people in silly masks thing will always be easy to ignore so long as they keep on delivering on quality like they have here. It leans hard into rock territory, making it just as much Bon Jovi as Black Sabbath and that swagger makes it an utter joy to listen to.

Grave Upheaval – —
(Death Doom – Australia)
Nuclear War Now! – 2018/04/15

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I don’t normally enjoy death doom and really only bought this to flex my critical skills. But then it completely kicked my arse. I mean this floored me. It’s so damn heavy that it creates its own atmosphere. It could shatter a diamond. And the vocals sound like a cthonic god slowly tearing into our reality. It’s got me completely turned around on the genre.

Marduk – Viktoria
(Black Metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2018/06/22

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Marduk is really starting to feel like a spent force. None of their post-Wormwood albums have aged well and Viktoria starts off feeling worse than that. Even when they lean into the controversy surrounding their politics, it feels hollow; it feels like they’re trying to cash in on scandal because it’s all they have left. I know they’re capable of so much more.

Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma
(Funeral Doom – Australia)
20 Buck Spin/Osmose Productions – 2018/03/23

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It might be the clinical depression talking, but I found this to be profoundly soothing. I’m sure that’s not what they were aiming for, but at the same time, it’s not me being critical. It hits that nadir of despair where all of life’s iniquities become a warm blanket, as they allow you to feel something. Anything. It embraces misery in its utter totality.

Necros Christos – Domedon Doxomedon
(Death Metal – Germany)
Sepulchral Voice – 2018/05/18

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I hope everyone is up on their Qabbalistic rituals; pre-Nicean Christian mysticism; and Abrahamic gnosticism, because Necros Christos just assumes you are. For their (alas) swansong they have crafted a complex three disc spiritual meditation that both hyper intelligent and crushingly heavy. I doubt they could have crafted a more fitting farewell. Safe travels, noble initiates; may you find the apotheosis you seek.

Nervosa – Downfall of Mankind
(Thrash – Brazil)
Napalm Records – 2018/06/01

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What you have here is a straight forward thrash album and that needs to be celebrated. It’s not blackened; it’s not crossover; it’s that dying breed of true, fast as hell, angry as a swarm of hornets thrash. It’s a real conflagration of an album too; starts off a bit slow but builds to an intensity that will level whole city blocks and leave a satisfyingly smouldering ruin.

Ritual Necromancy – Disinterred Horror
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Dark Descent – 2018/05/25

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This album earns the critical praise I have seen said of it. And so long as as I’m wearing my critic hat, I’ll recommend it. But as a listener, there’s something not quite to my personal taste here. I think it’s because underneath the blistered exterior of fire and savagery, there’s an unbeating heart of cold, almost alien sterility. It’s uncomfortable to be honest.

Wayfarer – World’s Blood
(Atmospheric Black Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2018/05/25

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I’m a firm believer that USBM is at its best when it wholeheartedly embraces its American-ness. The gonzo nihilism of Cobalt. Panopticon’s bluegrass/black metal hybrid. And, now, Wayfarer and their desolate, tenebrific distortion of country. There’s no high plains sing-along here. This is all grim paranoia and foreboding cynicism.

Yob – Our Raw Heart
(Doom Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/06/08

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Despite there being no evidence to back it up, I like to think there’s a competition between Pallbearer and Yob for the USA’s best doom act. And Our Raw Heart puts Yob into the lead. Sure, it’s heavy as a Jovian hell, but it’s the raw emotional heft that makes it such a stunning album. It’s heartfelt, almost touching in places, and bleak without being despairing.

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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.