Joshua Overbey Best-of 2014

Saturday, 20th December 2014

Well, here we are once again, wrapping up what’s been, in my opinion at least, a pretty solid year in the metal world. After all, as I mentioned in my midyear review, 2014 saw the release of a new Judas Priest album. How cool is that?

Anyway, Priest fanboyism aside, 2014 saw some great releases from bands all across the hard rock/metal spectrum. Some bona fide names stepped back up to the plate to show us they still have the fortitude to stick with the ever-evolving world of metal. Likewise, more-current heavyweights proceeded with business as usual, but ended up releasing what may be their strongest material to date. (Behemoth, I’m looking at you for that one.) Arguably even more significant, though, is that we also saw a slew of solid releases from younger bands who may only have one to two, if that, records under their belts, signifying the future of metal, despite its occasional ups and downs and strange trends, is lying in some capable hands. So in honor of metal’s past, present, and future, here’s my rundown of the top ten most memorable albums of 2014.

triptykon






1. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (Century Media) My pick for album of the year goes to the sophomore LP from Triptykon, the project masterminded by black/doom/thrash metal pioneer and innovator Tom G. Warrior (or Tom G. Fischer, if you prefer). Reminiscent of some of my favorite albums from years passed, such as Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao and Portal’s Vexovoid, Melana Chasmata provides an aural descent into the greatest anxiety, pain, and despair imaginable. Old school Celtic Frost riffage meshes with Iommi-style nuance, and at times even gothic passages reminiscent of Type O Negative’s bleakest material, to completely ensnare the listener and drag them kicking and thrashing into the abysmal void of melancholy it harvests. This isn’t an album that will brighten your day, but it is a record that can facilitate reflection and soul-searching. If that’s not exactly what you look for in your metal, then no worries, it’s still a kickass record with enough primal attitude and unflinching brutality to sate even the most hardened listener.

killer be killed






2. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed (Nuclear Blast) Max Cavalera’s second appearance on my list comes with respect to his involvement in the “supergroup” project Killer Be Killed, alongside Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato. Bucking the curse of the supergroup as hard as anyone has before, these guys’ collaboration yielded one of the most interesting sonic experiences in hard rock/heavy metal this year. The heaviness and intensity listeners expect from the likes of Cavalera and Puciato are well-accounted for, while the more progressive and near-psychedelic components associated with Mastodon also rear their heads from time to time. Offering diverse tracks that range from headcrushing heaviness to catchy, melodic numbers that wouldn’t sound out of place on hard rock radio, Killer Be Killed is a rollercoaster of rock musicality that deserves to be heard.

mayhem






3. Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare (Season of Mist) Mayhem is in no hurry to release new material, preferring instead to let their earlier work do most of the talking and strike only when the moment is absolutely right. Thus, seven years after the excellent Ordo Ad Chao, Mayhem returned with the almost equally brilliant Esoteric Warfare. The album’s overall attack is much sharper than the thick-as-mud sound of its predecessor, and the songwriting combines elements of Mayhem’s older, pure-black-metal style with the experimentation and progressiveness that has come to define the band since its reformation. While it’s true that this record doesn’t quite recapture the magic of their 2007 release, the fact that it comes as close as it does and certainly deserves its spot in the same conversation illustrates just how much the band has left to offer.

cavalera conspiracy






4. Cavalera Conspiracy – Pandemonium (Napalm) Always keen for experimentation and changing up the old formula, Max and Iggor Cavalera’s third collaboration under the Cavalera Conspiracy banner is a merciless beast of a record. Delivering on their promise to write an unapologetically straightforward, grindcore-oriented album, pandemonium really is the only appropriate word to encapsulate the insanity found herein. Classic Sepultura-style thrash elements and the occasional Soulfly groove have a hard time finding a home amid the downtuned, punk-tinged slobberknockers that permeate this record, but are welcome when they do. Add to this that Max’s vocals are lower and more brutal than they’ve sounded in years, and you have a record that truly stands out from the rest in the Cavaleras’ voluminous catalog.

carnifex






5. Carnifex – Die without Hope (Nuclear Blast) I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not overly fond of the deathcore subgenre in general, so Carnifex had their work cut out for them. Against all odds, though, they found a way to maintain their loyalty to said style while crafting a richly detailed and compelling juggernaut of a record that would not only make a perfect introduction to deathcore neophytes, but also a beacon of excellence for what similar bands can achieve through ingenuity and passion. Rife with haunting and sinister melodies, with breakdown-oriented riffs still present but used more sparingly and thus more emphatically, Die without Hope is excellent. Perhaps Carnifex’s greatest mistake here is that they’re now tasked with following it up.

behemoth






6. Behemoth – The Satanist (Metal Blade) Behemoth doesn’t need much of an introduction these days as they’re one of the most revered extreme metal acts going, with a track record of quality that’s difficult to match. They’ve almost reached a point to where they could rest on their laurels if they wish, but instead, they dropped what may actually be their best album to date. The Satanist oozes a creepy and unsettling atmosphere from the opening chords of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” to the closing throes and incantations of “O Father, O Satan, O Sun!” championing the black metal spirit without deriving too much stylistically. Sounds in the interim vacillate from more traditional black metal stylings to flashes of rock and roll influence, such as in the title track. Fans of the band don’t need to be sold on this; they already know what lies in store. But if you haven’t heard The Satanist yet, you will be committing heinous self-atrocity by delaying a spin any further.

fornicus






7. Fornicus – Storming Heaven (Negative Earth Records) Kentucky doesn’t appear too frequently in metal news, but it certainly deserves to this time around. This state’s black and death metal purveyors Fornicus dropped not only what is one of my favorite records of the year but one of the best debut records I’ve heard in the genre for several years. Expertly crafted songs push, pull, soothe, and strike listeners through an aural odyssey that serves as a definitive case study in favor of style and songwriting over technical mastery, although the musicians clearly show they aren’t slouches in this regard either. Storming Heaven is simply an album that needs to be heard by fans of the genre. Fornicus have set the bar high for themselves. If they can actually top it, then subsequent albums are must-listen.

calm hatchery






8. Calm Hatchery – Fading Reliefs (Selfmadegod Records) No one really challenges Poland’s credibility when it comes to offering bona fide death metal acts to the rest of the world, and with groups like Decapitated, Vader, and Behemoth on its list of contributions, it’s no wonder. Calm Hatchery follows in this tradition with its latest release. Simple enough without being dull, but technical enough at times without becoming meaningless fretboard wankery, Fading Reliefs is a solid entry in these chaps’ catalog that combines classical elements of Polish extreme music with hints of influence from elsewhere in the metal underground, especially regarding Eastern-hued segues that strongly evoke memories of Nile.

devilment






9. Devilment – The Great and Secret Show (Nuclear Blast) Just about any project featuring Dani Filth will attract its share of criticism from the metal community, and time has borne out that Devilment is no exception. Opinions vary for sure, but my opinion is that while Devilment’s debut LP isn’t likely to stir the deeper emotions and lead to hours of self-reflection and existential pondering, it’s sheer energy, rhythmic and melodic sensibilities, and hooky nature never fail to get the listener’s head banging and offer a supremely fun experience. Mixing some of the best elements of goth rock, thrash/hardcore riffing, and even a flash or two of electronic influence, there’s much variety on display here that should appeal to a sizeable metal demographic.

the graviators






10. The Graviators – Motherload (Napalm) Attentive readers may recall that I often resent when bands are too derivative of classic rock and metal acts as I much prefer originality in style and composition. Sweden’s Graviators stand out as the exception to the rule, however, because although their sound is firmly rooted in the style of 1970s groups like Rainbow, Pink Floyd, and, of course, Black Sabbath, the unique amalgam of these rather disparate sounds creates a truly compelling experience for retro rock fans. The production is spot-on with emulating the time period in question, and it’s incredibly easy to forget you’re listening to a new, young band. And while the style itself may be looking backward, the lyrics are timely and often poignant, but the socio-political nature of the lyrics mesh well with the older stylistics and yield a congruent listening experience as opposed to an anachronistic disaster.

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