Kyle McGinn Best-of 2014Monday, 8th December 2014
Last year, it seemed difficult to select tracks rather than viewing the entire album. Even though we are in an increasing digital landscape where “shuffle” plays a part in many people’s mp3 players, metal usually has a consistency to it (due to the lack of bands needing “radio” hits). But in hearing literally hundreds of albums through 2014, not to mention the Bandcamp offerings, some songs began to have a life outside of their album context. There is something to be said for a song that can carry its own weight and feel like something special.
With 2014 being as exceptional as it was, it seemed fitting to grab from what the rest of the year had to offer rather than to re-tread songs from my top ten albums. Spread the wealth, you know (‘tis the season right?). It is still with plenty of difficulty that these ten killer tracks were chosen, as I could have easily placed another ten with ease. In some ways, it seemed more of a challenge to choose which songs would get into this list than the definitive top 10 albums category. Hopefully 2015 will provide an equally enjoyable challenge.
1. Son of Aurelius – “Blinding Light” (from Under a Western Sun)
Highlighting Riley McShane’s emotive croons, this one isn’t quite representative of the entire album but certainly one of its finest moments. Building to a powerful chorus and adding the short-lived but killer riff at the end, this is ample enough evidence that this band has risen above a mere “tech death” band and on to greater things.
2. Anathema – “The Lost Song Part II” (from Distant Satellites)
Another one on the softer side, this song lets Lee Douglas take the vocal reins and boy does she shine. Gorgeous vocals, moving lyrics, and grandiose keys/piano craft a real spellbinding song (of which Anathema often succeeds with). Regardless of their “metal” tag, Anathema still create emotionally resonating music and “The Lost Song Part II” really epitomizes it.
3. Casualties of Cool – “Bones” (from Casualties of Cool)
Yes, another mellow one! A tough call between this one and “Flight,” but Che Aimee Dorval really soars on “Bones.” Particularly the chorus which can only be described as hauntingly beautiful. Devin Townsend’s Casualties of Cool project certainly diverts from what he’s known for, but provides the proof that good songwriting is good songwriting, end of story.
4. Equilibrium – “Uns’rer Floten Klang” (from Erdentempel)
The feel good hit of the spring! There’s just something about those overtly upbeat (and somewhat goofy) synths that is sure to put a smile on just about anyone’s face. The type of song that Equilibrium excels at writing, the balance of fun and metallic crunch is kept in check (mostly), insuring that whomever hears this one will be doing a jig in a matter of seconds.
5. Sabaton – “Night Witches” (from Heroes)
Bands take note, this is how you open an album! A real up-tempo, sing-a-long friendly number that is sure to get you pumped for whatever is coming next, this is the kind of energy that should introduce an album. Being one of the few crowds that got to hear this one live this fall with Amon Amarth was just the icing on the cake.
6. Arch Enemy – “No More Regrets” (from War Eternal)
War Eternal really helped to put Arch Enemy back on the map after a few less than stellar efforts. Certainly, the injection of a bit of new blood didn’t hurt matters. “No More Regrets” showcases exactly what Arch Enemy 2014 are all about: fantastic melodic yet aggressive riffing, blazing solos, and Alissa White-Gluz’s throaty roars. An addictive combination indeed.
7. Liv Kristine – “Love Decay” (from Vervain)
A duet with under-rated vocalist Michelle Darkness (of End of Green) sets up a darkly gothic number with some ‘80s new wave undertones as well. Darkness and Kristine’s vocals mesh perfectly together, providing plenty of trade-off and the chorus really seals the deal. Vervain has plenty of fantastic tracks, but this one is the clear centerpiece.
8. Decapitated – “The Blasphemous Psalm to the Dummy God Creation” (from Blood Mantra)
The year’s best face-melter. Decapitated blister through a mere 2:31 of sonic obliteration but it’s enough to cause massive destruction to any nearby objects. Absolutely unrelenting and one-dimensional in its form, the rest of Blood Mantra sees Decapitated expanding their palette, but this one shows they can still bludgeon with the best of them.
9. Shores of Null – “Kings of Null” (from Quiescence)
My first exposure to Shores of Null made me immediately seek out the album. In the first listen alone you just feel there is something special about the band. The exceptional vocals (Shores of Null’s finest asset personally speaking) and a “bore a hole into your skull” melody of the chorus captures the essence of these Italian gentlemen.
10. Insomnium – “Collapsing Words” (from Shadows of the Dying Sun)
Admittedly one of the more straightforward numbers on the album (as compared to say, the epic grandeur of “The River”), the driving main riff is what makes this one special. A mostly speedy track, the brief slowdown into more melancholic territory also helps the track reach some added diversity towards the end. No one really beats Insomnium at this gloomy melodic death material.
Biggest surprise – Arch Enemy lineup changes. Originally, this was going to be titled for the lack of drama on the vocalist switcheroo of Angela Gossow to Alissa White-Gluz. With a quick announcement and near-immediate presence of a new song probably aided matters in this case, but there seemed to be more or less an acceptance of Alissa’s new role as front woman. Unusual for such a prominent band (in metal circles at least), it also didn’t hurt that War Eternal was the strongest Arch Enemy album in years. But then the recent (and equally surprising) news of the addition of legendary shredder Jeff Loomis is sure to give some joy at the potential if he sticks around for an album recording (he’ll be with the band through next year’s touring schedule). Amott plus Loomis seems like there’s a definite potential for greatness here!
Best newcomer of 2014: Shores of Null. Sadly bumped off my best-of as the year progressed but certainly in the top 15, there’s a lot to like about Shores of Null. Their combination of gothic, black, death, and rock vibes, with those killer clean vocals definitely left a mark. A massively impressive debut that hits all the right marks, and identifying a path that is theirs to follow, the future is a bright one for this Italian bunch.
Disappointment of 2014 – One Machine. For all intents and purposes, there wasn’t much in 2014 that didn’t hit the projected marks. But early on in the year, the “supergroup” One Machine brought a significant bummer with The Distortion of Lies and the Overdriven Truth for any old Mercenary followers. Being a huge Mikkel Sandager fan, I was psyched to hear what the band had to offer until hitting play. Sandager not sounding anything like his massive Mercenary presence, instead sounding more awkward and uncomfortable more than anything else. I don’t think it was surprising to many when he left the band not soon after Distortion was released.
Best cover art – Inanimate Existence’s A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement. Best cover art could have easily been turned into its own feature this year. Rambling off the top of my head with some absolutely killer pieces from Abysmal Dawn, Fallujah, Artificial Brain, or even newcomers Flub, there’ just something about A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement that won me over. The risky move of creating a “bright” tech death cover, one that could have easily adorned a more folky or power metal album helps to make the disc stand out. But the fact that it perfectly encapsulates a scene from the “story” of the record is what brings this one over the top. It’s a stunning piece of work that captures the imagination that I’m happy to have hanging on my wall (in flag form).
Most anticipated release of 2015 – Fear Factory. Despite some chomping at the bit to hear some new stuff from Cattle Decapitation and former local boys Skinless (and isn’t Katatonia’s seemingly 3-year cycle up as well?), I have to give it to Fear Factory. Mechanize was an excellent “come back” and The Industrialist would have made a great EP (did we really need two instrumentals to pad the runtime?). Fear Factory is the band that brought me into metal in 1995 with Demanufacture and I can’t help but feel excited whenever they announce a new album.
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