David E. Gehlke Best-of 2014Thursday, 4th December 2014
A regular back-and-forth yours truly has with Matthew Bowling is song length. Mr. Bowling finds value in songs that stretch well beyond normal conventions; the sort of “song within a song, plus another song” method. It’s a great way for bands to pad their epic songwriting resume, but also brings about the notion that simply by divvying up the ideas in said long song into additional songs, you’re going to get more bang for your buck. It’s the classic repetition method: The more you hear something in a confined context, the better chance it has at being memorable.
Anyway, lots ‘o variety here, with Kai Hansen and friends leading the way with a future classic call-to-arms about metal. (Aren’t we all “hellbent for metal” in some way?) Some not-so-obvious inclusions, ones that are more about mood than anything else, although Tankard’s “Fooled By Your Guts” couldn’t be further apart from Kari Rueslatten’s “Hold On.” Good times, anyway.
1. Gamma Ray – “Hellbent” (from Empire of the Undead)
Songs like “Hellbent” are solid gold in Gamma Ray’s homeland of Germany, where heavy metal is the law. (If you caught the Helloween reference, then good for you.) It’s certain that such a jam could be considered cheesy, although when you dig deeper into Hansen’s words about metal being his sanctuary, it all makes perfect sense.
2. Insomnium – “The River” (from Shadows of a Dying Sun)
The most climatic song in an album full of similar excursions, “The River” is a winding, triumphant epic. Balanced out by a nimble, if not jolting speed-picking run, the song’s dynamic scope is breathtaking, showing just how advanced of songwriters Insomnium have become.
3. Devin Townsend – “Universal Flame” (from Z2)
If Devin Townsend ever got around to writing an album totally comprised of songs like “Universal Flame,” then he’d be huge. Instead, Devin has a few hits…and a few misses on his double Z2 outing. “Universal Flame,” though, is a stirring, feel-good cut that only Mr. Townsend could pull off.
4. Voyager – “A Beautiful Mistake” (from V)
A bouncy, near-pop/progressive number, “A Beautiful Mistake” is the finest cut out of many found on Voyager’s new V effort. Special nods to vocalist Danny Estrin, whose easy-on-the-ears delivery makes crossbreed jams like this (there’s a hint of djent, albeit subtle) so remarkable.
5. Kari Rueslatten – “Hold On” (from A Time to Tell)
No metal here, but considering Kari Rueslatten was a member of Norwegian Goth forerunners The 3rd and the Mortal, she’s worth inclusion. On “Hold On,” the songstress melds coffee shop sensibilities with an uplifting lyrical tone. It’s a feel-good song all the way through, yet not even remotely cheesy. That’s how it should be.
6. Winterfylleth – “Whisper of the Elements” (from The Divination of Antiquity)
England’s Winterfylleth may have hit somewhat of a creative wall with The Divination of Antiquity (read: the album lacks variation), but “Whisper of the Elements” is a real charmer. Headed up by a melodic, scathing charge, the song’s acoustic break is simply gorgeous, and indicative of what the band can really do when it’s not kicking around the same ‘ole ideas.
7. Tankard – “Fooled By Your Guts” (from R.I.B.)
This scribe has gotten quite familiar with the Tankard dudes over the past year (their first deal was with Noise Records), therefore, a new-found appreciation for their beer thrash sound has been generated. “Fooled By Your Guts,” rounded out by a hilarious music video is R.I.B.’s punchiest – and catchiest jam; the story about a guy whose stomach started producing alcohol. How fitting!
8. Evergrey – “A New Dawn” (from Hymns for the Broken)
Hymns for the Broken was a quasi-comeback for Evergrey, who at one time, were a serious Swedish metal threat circa 2003 and their Recreation Day album. “A New Dawn” is a song that most closely resembles that promising period, with a memorable keyboard pattern, and Tom Englund’s hulking, but no-less-tender vocals merging in perfect harmony.
9. Decapitated – “Nest” (from Blood Mantra)
One of the better examples of just how good of a guitar player Decapitated’s Vogg is, “Nest” is a staccato nightmare, bludgeoning heavy, and rhythmic at the same time. It’s advanced-level death metal without resorting to fretboard gymnastics, and further proof that Decapitated are one of the style’s most reliable acts.
10. Alcest – “Voix Sereines” (from Shelter)
Alcest bid farewell to metal with Shelter, a move many saw coming from a mile away, but it didn’t slow their progress on creating ethereal numbers such as “Voix Sereines.” Ever the master of gentle dynamics, main dude Neige builds this song carefully, then wistfully, then caps it off in dramatic, but not fussy fashion. Surely they’ll come back to metal (they all do), but more songs like this should suit the band’s new direction just fine.
Biggest surprise of 2014: King Diamond’s near-sold-out North American tour. Rewind to 15 years ago, and ‘ole King couldn’t fill smaller clubs. Now, he’s packing rooms that hold a thousand and more, even without a new album to tour off of. Not sure where all of these fans came from, but good for the King – after multiple heart surgeries and a brief hiatus, he’s as good as new.
Best newcomer of 2014: Shores of Null. A bunch of Italian metal scene vets team up to form a band with a firm eye on dynamics, structure, and melody, Shores of Null have positioned themselves as a European metal force for the foreseeable future with their Quiescence debut.
Biggest disappointment of 2014: In Flames. It has to be them, right? Who else in metal has jumped the shark in such a profound manner than the band many once considered to be the rightful heirs to Maiden’s melodic metal throne? With Siren Charms, the Swedes continue their gradual push downward to irrelevance. No riffs, bad vocals, and half-assed arrangements usually spells disaster. It did here.
Best cover art of 2014: Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen. For album artwork to be effective, it doesn’t vast swaths of Photoshop work, or elaborate colors, or a reaction-inducing visual. Case in point, Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen, where a statuesque man rests his head bedside of a fallen comrade. It doesn’t get any more compelling than that.
Most anticipated album of 2015: Katatonia. Three of this scribe’s favorite bands of all-time have new albums coming out next year: Helloween, Katatonia, and Omnium Gatherum, but the nod goes to the dark rockers in Katatonia, who underwent a lineup overhaul the last 18 months that may or may not affect the course of their sound. With the style found on Night is the New Day and Dead End Kings seemingly exhausted, curiosity remains as to how the combo of Nystrom and Renkse will proceed.
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