Last year's top records list was a real pain in the ass for me. There was so much that came out that I ended up falling in love with! How could I choose which to display and which to neglect? It was like asking me to pick a favorite child! I mean, I don't have kids, but I would imagine that's what it's like.
That being said, 2014 was much easier. There are fifteen records I've loved throughout the year and continue to love more than the rest. Obviously there are more records outside these 15 that I'd love to show you, but I don't think anyone has time to read a list that long. So here's what I've been spinning above all throughout the year!
Let's set some ground rules for this list before we jump into the meat of the content.
- This list is going to include some non-metal choices alongside the usual heavy affair. This is a list that's indicative of my personal favorites this year and does not reflect the sentiments of other writers here at Metal Injection.
- Some of the releases I've listed on here are EPs. I don't think distinguishing between LPs and EPs via two lists makes much sense. Not all releases are created equally and this list abides by that rule.
- This list isn't saying one release is definitively better than another, so there's no need to take offense. You're still allowed to like what you like despite my preferences. I promise.
Got it? Good.
The Endless River is based heavily on material guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Manson and now-deceased keyboardist Richard Wright recorded in 1993 and 1994 during the Division Bell sessions. The tracks on The Endless River are all Wright's original parts and the music around them is reworked to varying extents, so think of it as a beefed up jam in a way.
The Endless River is absolutely Pink Floyd, just a very different style. The album is largely instrumental and is split into four movements. The music is coherent, the jams are interesting and if this is what leftover Pink Floyd sounds like then I'm hoping to whatever progressive rock god there is that more gets released.
Horror-based metal is nothing new. King Diamond has been doing it for years and Alice Cooper has been trying to sufficiently shock audiences before the dawn of recorded history. Lorelei has taken that theme and ran with it in a totally separate direction.
What if, instead of overtly terrifying lyrics, the stories crept up on you and progressively got more and more unsettling? What if the music was a cross between the soundtrack to slasher flick and something genuinely heavy? Enter Lorelei's Lore of Lies album, where only those with a distaste for great music will be disappointed.
It's so easy to describe punk music as some type of physical altercation or bodily harm, yet not every band described as such lives up to their respective descriptors. There's a fine line to be drawn between genuinely pissed off music and bands that're just passively miffed about something. Gust falls into the former of the two.
Gust comes off so angry in their music that it's almost infectious, much like a smile… but meaner. It's music that runs the gambit from violent to mid-paced face-stomping grooves, but never once should you think Gust is going to let up in their quest to bust all the skulls!
Junius wasn't even on my radar until 2011 when people started talking about their newest record Reports from the Threshold of Death. With a name like that I went in with pretty low expectations, thinking I'd be hearing another technical death metal band singing about nature, physics and the human condition. The world just doesn't have enough of those, you know? Fortunately, what I got was an earful of massive music that exuded sorrow and emotion.
Days of the Fallen Sun took that sound and one upped it with additional percussion, a bigger mix and keyboards that add the much-needed brushstrokes to elevate this audible painting from vivid to downright realistic. Cue the apocalypse because we've got the soundtrack!
When Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt quit Bloodbath, I wasn't sure where the group was going to turn for a new growl. When it was announced Paradise Lost's Nick Holmes had taken the XLR-connected reins, I was still leery. When their first single came out off Grand Morbid Funeral, I publicly hated the song and had next to no interest in hearing the rest of the record… but I ended up hearing it anyway. Good thing.
Grand Morbid Funeral needs to be listened to as a work for the listener to really grasp what it's all about. Grand Morbid Funeral is slices of the old-school death metal scene thrown into a disgusting stew and stirred about. One song might incorporate in some d-beat work and crusty riffs while the next might be tuned to drop fuck (which is a real tuning) and rip your head clean off. Bloodbath knows diversity.
Technical death metal done right, plain and simple. Former Obscura drummer Hannes Grossmann nailed down the balance between blinding technicality in his writing and catchy little hooks that'll get stuck in your head for approximately one forever. Did I mention some of the instrumental work on the record is done ex-Nevermore guitar Jeff Loomis, Scar Symmetry's axe-slinger Per Nilsson, Noneuclid's bassist Linus Klausenitzer and about ten others?
Sure, Grossmann wrote the music for the album, but each one of the players he got to rip it up on the recordings sprinkles in their own little zest to make the album something special. The bar has been set, folks!
†††, or Crosses, is the collaboration between Deftones frontman Chino Moreno, Far guitarist Shaun Lopez and handler of electronics Chuck Doom. The group has been around since 2011 and released two EPs then and in 2012. This year, they compiled those two releases into their self-titled debut LP. ††† includes five new songs too, which were supposed to be a third EP… but why have all that awesome scattered around?
††† is a unique musical beast in that it stands right on a fence post between hip hop/trip hop and electronica-based rock. ††† never really leans one way hard enough where it can be considered one or the other, so labels be damned we'll just have to refer to the album as "great music" for a genre.
Gridlink labeled Longhena as "grind 2.0" and they were dead on. Longhena is neither your typical riff-laden grindcore record that speeds through itself toward an abrupt end, nor is it mindlessly written to be heavy. Longhena is a composed grind masterpiece that puts a legendary cap on the career of Grindlink.
The speed comes when it needs to be present, but there's a whole slew of other interesting dimensions present on the record. For instance, "Thirst Watcher" is two minutes of violins and clean guitars, leading up a triumphant sounding "Stay Without Me" that showboats around lead lines that any melodic death metal band would be jealous of. If you're looking for art in grind, check Longhena out.
Another comeback-type band, though Slipknot's story is a little bit different. .5: The Gray Chapter is the result of a band whose members have gone through hell and back due to the tragic loss of former bassist Paul Gray. Then, to add an extra boot to the testicles, drummer Joey Jordison was quit and/or fired from the group before serious work got underway on the record. Kick 'em while they're down!
.5: The Gray Chapter is a heavy record. Period. You can try to argue that Slipknot isn't heavy and I need to go back to the early 2000's, but just keep in mind that it's that kind of opinion that's probably keeping you from hearing some seriously cool shit on a daily basis. Slipknot wrote a record that harkens back to their early days as a band but utilizes their new found anger in a way that simply bleeds moshpits.
After one listen through Toothgrinder's Schizophrenic Jubilee, I was a mixture of very confused and very intrigued. What the hell just happened to my ears for the last 17 minutes and why isn't this damn iPod starting the album over?
Schizophrenic Jubilee is an absolutely manic listen that takes you from Dillinger Escape Plan-flavored dissonance to Deep Purple organ grinding and every single stop that comes between those two distant destinations. It might sound like a lot to pack into such a short amount of time, and that's because it is… but just like Tetris, there can be a method to that madness to make it work. Therefor, Toothgrinder is Tetris.
Haken is an unstoppable, infallible force in the progressive rock world at this point. With three perfect full-length efforts out by now, you'd think an EP is where Haken might get themselves a little tripped up. Surprise! You're wrong.
Restoration is the reworking of Haken's older demo material, material that is available out there on the Internet. The demo material was never bad to begin with, but Restoration takes these rough cuts and polishes them into something worthy of every music fan owning. The songs err a little bit on the long side, but I guarantee you as sure as I'm sitting here right now you'll be wondering where the time went once you get the end of the release. Captivating is an understatement for what Haken achieved here.
A lot of Scar Symmetry's fans called it quits on the group after they lost vocalist Christian Älvestam in 2008. That statement only further proved to be true with the group's 2009 release Dark Matter Dimensions. Perosnally, I never saw it as that big of a departure from the group's Holographic Universe days. It's what they've always been doing with extra catchy riffs and a concentration on the hook rather than the progressive elements. What's so wrong with that?
The rift continued in 2011 with The Unseen Empire and when 2014 rolled around, most were wary of the group's coming album. Fortunately The Singularity, Phase One: Neohumanity proved to be one of the group's best damn records to date! It has everything, from the hookier new Scar Symmetry sound to the older death metal stuff and even some cool new electronica elements thrown in there. Is it time we get the second and third parts yet? Please?
Imogen Heap's Sparks is an inventive, beautifully written album that still trumps most of what came out this year in my daily listening. Sparks includes field recordings manipulated to fit different compositions, MIDI gloves Imogen Heap built herself to make and record music only with hand motions, odd keyboard patches, foley bits and enough melody to keep you humming for the next month or so.
Imogen Heap surprised me with this record because between 2005's Speak for Yourself and 2009's Ellipse, I wasn't sure I could love her music anymore than I already do. Here we are in 2014 and Heap has managed to release her third masterpiece in a row. I wonder if she and Haken are having a contest of who can consistently be more great?
I enjoyed Opeth's polarizing 2011 release Heritage just about as much as any other progressive rock nerd enjoyed it, though I felt like something was missing. All those progressive elements present on 2008's Watershed seemed to have disappeared for more organic tones and a flatter mix. What happened?
The answer is simple- you assumed Opeth was making a mistake and that's why you ended up being disappointed. If you thought for one second Opeth was losing it then you're the only one that's going crazy here. Pale Communion is exactly what should have been between 2003's Deliverance and 2005's Ghost Reveries, but with heritage as the precursor it makes just as much sense. Pale Communion is the album Opeth been have been wanting for quite some time- a heavier, aggressive version of the softer side of the group. So more of a softer side filled to the brim with thorns.
1. Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Ne Obliviscaris captured the attention of the metal world in 2012 with their debut record Portal of I. The record propelled the band to minor stardom with their sound of classical, heady black metal and away they went. Portal of I was definitely an interesting record with its violin playing, genre changes on a dime and the band's obvious knowledge of music theory, but it never really grabbed me to listen to more.
Citadel fixed all those problems and blew me right the fuck away. Citadel is essentially three long songs that are the equivalent of a classical symphony being played by a metal band. Citadel is perfectly written and has an undeniable flow to it. Essentially, the record touches on untouched ground for the genre thus far, or at least untouched to this level of perfection. Ne Obliviscaris have given the world a record that is a contender for one of the best of the decade and easily one of my favorite records of all time.
Hello, perfection? Yeah, you've got a visitor.