It's that time again. Another year, another 365 calendar days of new music. Instead of thinking about New Year's resolutions, I've been putting my final 2014 thoughts into this list and the one that will follow in the next several days. As always, I like to begin with the harder stuff.
I'll be honest up front. This has been a weird year for me and metal music, for many different reasons. First of all, I just haven't listened to that many new albums/bands this year. My attention has been on all of the non-metal music, because this year's offerings in that category were stellar. That leads me to my second point, which is that I just feel like it's been a rather weak year overall metal-wise. There weren't any albums that particularly blew my mind away, unlike the previous two years. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it appears that my music tastes aren't really in sync with what is "in" in today's metal scene. For example, nearly every end-of-the-year metal list I've looked at is composed of almost 75% black metal. I'm not into black metal. Black metal was huge this year; therefore, my list may look a little different or incomplete, depending on who you ask. Looking over it, it's definitely a silly list.
I do this for fun, so of course my opinion is unprofessional. I've shifted away from numerical lists because they feel largely arbitrary. To avoid that, I tried to find my own unique categories for each album mentioned here. I hope you enjoy them.
Now that that's out of the way, let's begin. I apologize in advance to the black metal fans :(
HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND
Darkest Hour - Darkest Hour
In last year's list, I mentioned that I was looking forward to new music by this band. Their eponymous 8th album is the first one I've really paid attention to since 2009's Eternal Return. Their last album passed me by without much attention, but I'm glad I was keen on them this time. This album crushes. Fans might be put off by the heavy implementation of clean vocals, but I find them to be a welcome addition. Don't be fooled - this is still Darkest Hour at their best, with songs like "Rapture in Exile" and "The Great Oppressor" seeming right at home on any other DH album.
Listen to "Rapture in Exile"
THAT ALBUM TITLE MAKES SENSE
Intervals - A Voice Within
I downloaded these guys' debut EP off of the "Best free djent albums of 2012" section on gotdjent.com over two years ago. Since then, they've put out another amazing EP (made my list in 2012) and transitioned their bassist Mike Semesky to full-time vocals, leaving the instrumental life behind. The change was a brilliant idea, giving clarity to their choice of album title. Semesky also sang clean vocals on The HAARP Machine's 2012 album Disclosure which - you guess it, made my list then. If progressive metal is your thing, give this album a go!
Listen to "Moment Marauder"
NO LONGER THE PUNCHLINE
Job For a Cowboy - Sun Eater
Hey man, it's my list. These guys were the kings of Myspace and deathcore back in 2005, when deathcore wasn't considered a joke. I never gave them serious thought, and I always thought the pig growls and high-pitched shrieks on "Entombment of a Machine" were hilarious, fitting every stereotype you could conjure about a Myspace-made deathcore band. But this is 2014, and JFAC is no longer that stereotype. I gave this album a listen after hearing that they were a death metal band, and had been for a while. I'm glad I did. This album sounds straight up evil. You remember the Rancor beast from Return of the Jedi? That's how I picture their vocalist. I haven't actually looked up his picture, so it's possible I'm correct. Plus, I'm a sucker for bands with amazing bassists - and the bass is clearly on display here.
Listen to "Sun of Nihility"
GIVE ME THE THRASH!
Revocation - Deathless
After last year's self-titled album, I don't get how these guys could turn around and put out another thrash-filled offering so quickly. That album was on my list of honorable mentions, meriting nothing more than that because I had only just started listening to them. This year, I looked forward to Deathless, so much so that I went to FYE and bought the CD the day it came out. That's right, I still buy CDs. Consequently, I blast this in my car all the time, because sometimes, a man just has to have his thrash music, you know? Blistering riffs and brutal vocals abound on Deathless, if you're into that kind of stuff.
Listen to "Deathless"
MAKING THE BEST FROM THE WORST
Wovenwar - Wovenwar
If you're even remotely interested in metal, you're probably aware of what happened to former As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis. If not, let me fill you in. Not many people get away with attempted murder, and because of this, the dude is behind bars (rightly so). So what did the rest of the members of the San Diego-based metalcore band do? They started a new band, featuring Shane Blay of Oh, Sleeper on vocals. That's how you recover from something like attempted murder mishaps. The trademark sonic attack of AILD is there, and bassist Josh Gilbert offers soaring harmonies alongside Shane's powerful voice. It's basically all clean vocals, but Shane has always had an amazing voice - and it fits in so well next to the rest of the band's sound. They should have saved themselves the trouble and just started out this way. Except a world without Oh, Sleeper would be a sad one.
Listen to "All Rise"
DON'T LISTEN TO THIS AND DRIVE
Rings of Saturn - Lugal Ki En
I always loved it when bands had those indecipherable names styled in the silly jagged death-metal fonts. I previously mentioned that deathcore as a genre is sort of a joke, and I don't rescind that, but I won't say that this album isn't fun. It's deathcore at its heaviest, peppered with snippets of ridiculously technical riffs and passages. It's brutal, loud, and makes you want to punch things - which is what deathcore is really all about, am I right? The alien and space themes just make things so much cooler. Best album art on this list, too.
Listen to "Senseless Massacre" (try not to hit anyone)
MY FAVORITE OF 2014
The Contortionist - Language
I've had an unsteady relationship with this band. I fell in love with their 2010 debut Exoplanet, listed their 2012 album Intrinsic as one of my favorites for that year, and have enjoyed seeing them twice. However, right before the first time I saw them live their vocalist called it quits because he was having a son. He also played synths, so when they toured with Within the Ruins last year, the trademark atmospheric sounds were lacking. Mike Lessard of Last Chance to Reason took over touring vocals, and while no one can deny his talent, it didn't quite feel like the same band. Language changes all of that. Lessard is fully in command of this band's sound ever since they named him the permanent vocalist. Oh, and they added a synths guy too. You'll not find the deathcore origins of Exoplanet here. Instead, you'll find a progressive metal band defining their sound with beautiful soundscapes and intelligent, evocative lyrics. Language is a journey, one that I enjoyed and will continue to to enjoy.
Listen to "Language I: Intuition"
Allegaeon - Elements of the Infinite. For fans of tech death.
Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia. A progressive, instrumental superband of ridiculous talent.
Archspire - The Lucid Collective. This album sounds like a machine gun. Technical and heavy, good luck discerning one word of the lightning speed vocals.
Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown. Do these guys ever put out a bad album? The answer is no.
Monuments - The Amanuensis. British-based prog and djent? Yes please. Saw them this year on their first American tour and it was amazing.
At the Gates - At War With Reality. Well hello, where have you been? Too absent from our lives. Welcome back, old friends.
Best show? Scale the Summit, with Monuments, Reflections, and Erra as support.
Biggest disappointment? Probably Within the Ruins.
Anyways, that will do it. Like I said, 2014 was a weird year metal-wise for me. I would have laughed at this list this time last year, and I know I will this time next year. In fact, I'm laughing now, right before I hit "publish."
I'll follow up with a list of my favorite non-metal stuff later this week. If you want a complicated list fraught with musical gems, be sure to read it. I took it much more seriously than this list.