Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I HAVE OPINIONS: Best Metal Albums of 2014 So Far

I know, I know; if you wanted arbitrary, poorly-substantiated nonsense, you would go to the Supreme Court. So, let’s keep this brief.

It’s worth noting that formative bands like Mayhem and Pretty Maids have again released new records not worth the time it takes to skip through them. The latter basically re-recorded a bunch of Pretty Maids classics and called it a full-length. Think Exodus’ Let There Be Blood—yeah, it’s that bad. Then again, Mayhem’s latest abomination achieves a feat scientists previously thought impossible by sounding both uncomfortably strained and remarkably lazy. I think there’s Grammy for that. The new Burzum, for its part, isn’t worth these words I’m typing, and Varg’s run-ins with the French police are less entertaining than Niklas Kvarforth’s tumblr. Speaking of Shining, that traveling spectacle of high art is sure to announce a co-headlining tour with Butcher Babies any day now.

My therapist told me to vent more. So, with that satisfying bit of snobbery out of the way, I’ve realized that this year has actually been most killer in terms of both full-lengths and shorter releases. The whole motörcult black thrash thing is still going strong and, with so many classic and upstart acts simultaneously firing on all cylinders, there hasn’t been a better time for traditional heavy metal records since the '80s. Who cares about filling stadiums? Less posers. Now your glass is half full, ain’t it?

Let’s begin.

Demos and EPs

Bat – Primitive Age demo (Tankcrimes Records): Municipal Waste doesn’t really do it for me, but I hail Ryan Waste’s descent into beer-soaked, black-thrash depravity. This demo has some serious punch! 

Sacrificio – Sacrificio demo (Down with the Most High Records): It’s like Vulcano and Hellhammer had a vile goatbaby.

Evilnight – Stormhymns of Filth demo (Hells Headbangers): You can’t spell slaughter without laughter. Most rethrash and norsecore black metal bands are so far up their own rectums that this musically sophisticated, lyrically lowbrow approach is way beyond their reach.

Athanatos – Unholy Union (Iron Bonehead Productions): Last year, it was Black Magic Mountain Goat’s debut demo that got my engine revving; this year it’s these Chilean beasts. While much of the bestial black/death underground suffers from a severe deficiency of basic musicianship, leaning heavily on sheer vibes, these guys are disgusting as all hell and good at their instruments to boot.

Blade – 2014 demo (self released): Yeah, so this demo isn’t even out yet. They have one song but it totally slays. Uber-pious King Diamond worship.

Khthoniik Cerviiks – Heptaedrone (Iron Bonehead Productions): On the heels of Demilich’s brilliantly short discography being rereleased, I had an ominous run-in with this demented death metal band. This is the sound of you losing your mind on the surface of some distant moon.

On Top – Top to Bottom EP (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions): Their previous full-length left much to be desired, but this newest EP is a landmark moment. Snotty punk sensibilities and an unabashed love for glam combine to make for a damn good time. There’s also something of later Turbonegro in there, a band whose party rock tends to hit the spot.


High Spirits – You Are Here (High Roller Records): After the de-facto unraveling of Superchrist, I was deathly afraid of having to settle for tedious Dawnbringer records in order to enjoy Chris Black’s songwriting talent. The upbeat hooks on this record are so melodically delicate that the whole album comes off strangely melancholy.

Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun (Century Media): Melodic death metal may have largely gone out of style, but self-pity never will. Despite chord changes you can set your watch to, Insomnium can still craft a very smooth, memorable, and listenable album. This, I suspect, is fueled largely by Niilo Sevänen’s love of cinematic scores.

Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem (Hells Headbangers): Just another set of sleazy motörcult anthems, recharged and reloaded.

Ambush – Firestorm (High Roller Records): These guys might owe Accept a royalty check or two but it’s just so damn tasty that Wolf and the guys might let ‘em slide. Spin “Molotov Cocktail” and just try and tell me this isn’t the best thing since Enforcer.

Cloven Hoof – Resist or Serve (High Roller Records): I am far from an expert on this band, though A Sultan’s Ransom was one record I made sure to get familiar with early on. There’s only one original member left in the fold, but getting the band back together is the new br
eaking up, so Cloven Hood was not about to be left out. “Northwind to Valhalla” is much jam.

Children of Technology – Future Decay (Ripping Storm Records): As someone who sits in traffic often, I’ve always been fascinated by the prospect of total civilizational collapse. It may be that—or maybe it’s the beefy, nearly HM-2ish tone on display, here—but there’s something that sets these Italians apart from the swathes of crusty thrash clones. DeathLörd Astwülf’s vocals also make Future Decay sound eerily similar to early Sodom.

Diocletian – Gesundrian (Osmose): One of this year’s few death metal releases that stuck with me. This is everything I wanted Centurian to be way back when—barbaric death metal themed after everyone’s favorite Roman persecutor of early Christians.

Domains – Sinister Ceremonies (The Sinister Flame): Seeing as Morbid Angel puts out baby shit and Sadistic Intent puts out nothing, I’ve found fleeting solace in this Spanish release, the first from Domains and the best death metal album year to date.

Nightfell – The Living Ever Mourn (Southern Lord): There’s an unmistakable air of Dissection and Unanimated on this release, the kind of overtone that’s unexpected considering Tim Call’s involvement in Semiternal Dusk, Weregoat, et al.

Exmortus – Slave to the Sword (Prosthetic Records): Another circus of fretboard acrobatics isn’t all that you get with this one. Exmortus have built out their best set of tunes yet.

Edguy – Space Police: Defenders of the Crown (Nuclear Blast): I mean, look at that album cover. It’s like Savage Grace got all stoned and made a concept album about Lost in Space. As if you needed another reason to buy this, but songs like “Baba Yaga” totally rip.

Grave Digger – Return of the Reaper (Napalm Records): Only recently started delving into this discography, but man, even this newest record sounds fresh. Dia de los Muertos is a neckbreaker! 

Аркона – Явь (Napalm Records): Nobody does folk metal quite like this band. Instead of letting things degenerate into dwarven pub music, motifs are somber and dignified. Even when they churn out low-end power chords, the songs retain a brooding quality. Yav is Arkona’s densest record to date, one full of rewarding tunes, among which it is impossible to pin down anything resembling a single. The 13-minute title track is a great microcosm of this maze of a release.

Crystal Viper – Possession (AFM Records): Here again is a band that I shouldn’t be writing about, since in my eyes they can do no wrong. Having dropped some of the speed metal in favor of a more epic metal approach, Possession threw some fans for a loop but damned if you won’t find yourself humming “Prophet of the End” or “Fight Evil with Evil” throughout the day.

Castle – Under Siege (Ván Records/Prosthetic Records): Three albums and counting, Castle has been a doom band that’s just as much Venom and Mercyful Fate as they are the Obsessed. Liz Blackwell’s voice sounds smoother. Mat Davis’ riffs have been streamlined. Al McCartney’s drumming is busy as ever. This will make my year-end list for sure.

The Dagger – The Dagger (Century Media): Dismember may not be getting back together any time soon but at least we can say that some of the guys have honed the '80s Deep Purple sound down to utter perfection.

Skull Fist – Chasing the Dream (NoiseArt Records): Overproduced butt rock. Hi, haters.

The Spell – Full Moon Sessions (Hard and Heavy Records): This Vancouver, BC band throws down the kind of tunes Ghost BC doesn’t quite have the chops to play.

Waldgeflüster – Meine Fesseln (Black Blood Records): When talking about black metal as it should be—carefully composed, melodically haunting, endlessly layered, lyrically ambitious—there’s Germany and then there’s everyone else.

Midnight Chaser – Lion’s Choice (self released): I think these guys got dropped by Earache after Heavy Artillery records folded, but they’re back with a new album featuring a song called “White Denim” and more delightfully overplayed songs than a Guitar Hero party at Don Dokken’s house.

See ya at the end of the year! And be sexcellent to each other!

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