Matt Coe Best-of 2014Wednesday, 10th December 2014
2014: another banner year for heavy metal. Now that the model has reversed for bands to somewhat make a living at their craft (these days touring, touring, and touring at hopefully a break even proposition and spreading out their recording endeavors), I went to more shows as if it were my college years when metal in North America was at its commercial peak (1989-1993). And I consumed a LOT of releases. At least 600 according to my e-mail account, trying my best to give accurate write ups based on my brain, my ears, and my word flow.
Highlights for me included a couple of road trips to visit the editor and co-editor of this very website: David and Kyle, where we were able to take in some shows and talk shop for hours about the genre that we love. Which now culminates in this very year end list you see before you. Not as easy you might think to collect your thoughts and rate one album against another – because metal has always been to me a love thing, not a competition to see who is the biggest, the most evil, or the heaviest in the land. So without further ado, here is what I loved about the year 2014 in heavy metal – a genre now that I’ve invested ¾ of my life as a labor that gives as much in deep thoughts and entertainment value as I am able to get out of it.
1. Anathema – Distant Satellites (Kscope Music) Evolving from their metal roots to more of an alternative, atmospheric, and progressive style, this UK band continue to astound. The three part “The Lost Song”, sparse yet lush ballad “Ariel”, and stunning builder “Anathema” sound awe-inspiring upon the first, hundredth, and beyond exposures. The long-lasting treasures touch you when you least expect on a multi-layered odyssey – Distant Satellites does all this and more.
2. Riot V – Unleash the Fire (SPV) Looking at this record purely from a musical perspective (as guitarist Mike Flyntz clearly explained their decision and approval from the Reale family to use the Riot name in an earlier DR chat), Riot V for version five set about honoring their fallen leader Mark Reale in the best way possible. Unleash the Fire makes me a believer because of its tact, grace, and mighty traditional/power metal songwriting. “Bring the Hammer Down”, “Return of the Outlaw”, and “Take Me Back” should be future set list mainstays, and reminders of the importance from Fire Down Under to Thundersteel of the greatness they brought to the international metal world.
3. Ne Obliviscaris- Citadel (Season of Mist) Their debut album The Portal of I also made my top 10 list two years back. Australia’s avant-garde progressive/extreme metal act Ne Obliviscaris return for a second go around with Citadel, mesmerizing again through one-of-a-kind music melding, dual clean/extreme vocal patterns, and violin use that is more in line with perennial rockers Kansas than folk bands. The band encompasses divergence, strength, ingenuity, and talent beyond borders. Hard to believe what album three will bring to the table.
4. Insomnium- Shadows of the Dying Sun (Century Media) Half way through the year, this was my number one pick: Finnish melodic death metal of the mightiest degree. Contributions from Markus Vanhala (Omnium Gatherum) give the Insomnium template of darkness, grooves, and melodic guitar lines infinitely more impact. Occasional forays into morose, clean vocals helps “While We Sleep” convey a haunting, outer worldly vibe. Slow or fast, growly or clean, when executed the Insomnium way, there’s just something exquisite and brilliant taking place that can’t be denied.
5. MindMaze – Back from the Edge (Inner Wound) When an American band can impress from a traditional, power and progressive metal configuration in 2014, you know that there’s something special at hand. Pennsylvania’s MindMaze on their second album Back from the Edge synthesize decades of forerunners in the genres they enjoy, yet make these songs their own. Be it older Queensryche oriented for “Through the Open Door” or mesmerizing and epic for the 10 minute theatrical arrangement “The Machine Stops”, this will be an album talked about for quite a while in the annals of the Internet.
6. Ghost Brigade – IV: One with the Storm (Season of Mist) I’m a long time Ghost Brigade fan – all in as they say in the no-limit poker world right from the first note of their debut album Guided by Fire back in 2007. Their fourth record IV: One with the Storm continues on melodic doom/death, post-metal guideposts, swirling in deep seated emotion that appears to be a characteristic of the best Scandinavian metal to my ears. “Wretched Blues”, the hellish doom marching “Stones and Pillars”, and reflectively layered “Long Way to the Graves” are three of the ten songs from this record that receive permanent fixture status in their catalog.
7. Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) Combining Celtic Folk and Black Metal to make it their own, Irish quintet Primordial answer to no one but themselves. Where Greater Men Have Fallen is another textbook offering to keep your heart firmly on the underground – the riffs bludgeoning, the bass echoing, the drums signaling a tribal quest of eminent domination. Add in Alan Averill’s piercing voice and if the end were near, I wouldn’t be afraid.
8. Exodus – Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast) Exit Rob Dukes, re-enter Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza on vocals. Blood In, Blood Out dominates for thrash maniacs like myself, because it’s all about adrenaline here folks. Lacerating melodies, thick riffs, loads of up tempo drumming and the right transitions, Exodus prove they belong near the top when it comes to this genre. “Btk” and “Honor Killings” recall classic Fabulous Disaster annihilation, and Gary Holt seems to be doing just fine spitting out ideas for Exodus while being in Slayer too.
9. Space Vacation – Cosmic Vanguard (Pure Steel) This Bay Area band performs a tried and true classic heavy/speed metal style – very NWOBHM influenced and outpouring a boatload of twin guitar spider web harmonies and multi-part catchy choruses that got me hooked into this genre for life. Cosmic Vanguard is their third album – and should be mandatory for those into the old brigade (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy) and the new (Stallion, High Spirits, Air Raid). Fun times indeed.
10. Evergrey – Hymns for the Fallen (AFM) One of the first bands back in the late 90’s to inject a little bit of that passion of dark metal in a progressive manner, Sweden’s Evergrey keep plugging along. Hymns for the Fallen is a testament to putting everything out there in their music – all emotions, all facets, and creating a style that really is all their own. Solitude Dominance Tragedy is in my top 5 all-time metal records – and I sense this record could be their best since that time.
Honorable Mention: High Spirits – You Are Here (Hells Headbangers); Mors Principium Est – Dawn of the 5th Era (AFM); Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media)
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