I'm going to keep this succinct, as you've no doubt already pored over a ton of wordy lists by this point and just want to get to the money shot. Once again I'm leaving my picks unranked, for two primary reasons: 1) I think the extreme music spectrum has splintered enough to defy direct comparisons, so I'm no longer confident that we can, say, put Godflesh head-to-head with Giant Squid and come up with any kind of useful objectivity; and 2) in all frankness there were quite a few notable releases that I simply wasn't able to listen to multiple times – if I didn't review it personally it probably got two spins tops – so I don't want any favoritism to be dictated by the random whims of the reservation pool.
That said, I make no pretense that these are objectively the best albums of the year, just the ones that had the biggest impact on me personally. There are plenty of those lists out there, and they mostly consist of the same handful of albums jumbled into slightly different orders, so let's do something a little different, even if I come off as abundantly full of shit in the process.
Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
Admittedly, I've always been a bit of a homer for Justin Broadrick. Godflesh were my last "favorite band" back in the early 90's, before fracturing tastes in various forms of music made such absolutism untenable for me. Even in the pre-digital days of special ordering small pressings and imports, I always went out of my to stay up to speed on his side projects. The last few years the man seems to have largely curbed his farflung collaborations to focus on his o.g. foundational gig, the seminal Godflesh. The focus has really paid off, as first the Decline & Fall EP and now A World Lit Only By Fire have witnessed one of the all-time great comeback efforts. As much as we all love(d) Jesu let's hope this reunion is something that sticks.
Alcest – Shelter
This may seem like cheating a bit since Alcest is inarguably no longer "proper" metal, but whatever… fans make excuses all the time for bands that have ostensibly sold out under the guise of artistic progression ("what, do you expect them to just keep remaking Master of Puppets forever?"), so when a guy like Neige actually earns it by setting course toward art rather than commerce I'm inclined to keep his name in the mix. Shelter lacks the visceral appeal that drew metalheads toward the similarly shoegaze-influenced Sunbather last year, but if anything it actually exceeds the Deafheaven effort in terms of scope and ambition… and I'm not even a Deafheaven hater.
Indian – From All Purity
Heads seem to be forgetting about this already, it having been released all the way back in January. 'Tis shame, as these guys are staking a claim to best band in Chicago, itself a smoldering fucking hotbed of metal talent. For that matter, while From All Purity garnered plenty of accolades upon its release, it didn't seem to maintain traction much beyond its immediate release radius, in spite of a strong showing at SXSW in March. This is why we can't have nice things, y'all.
Yautja – Songs of Descent
Another early one that no one seems to talk much about another winter later, Songs of Descent really set the bar for debut full lengths in 2014. Yautja's sludge-infused grind isn't anything you haven't heard before, but they bring the one thing that's necessary to stand out in the velocity sweepstakes: riffs. Discernible, discreet riffs. The commanding gang vocals aren't too shabby either.
Swallowed – Lunarterial
I don't know that any single album unexpectedly knocked my dick in the dirt quite like this one, as frosty an aural evocation of cosmic horror as these ears have witnessed. Is this what Erich Zann played to keep the extradimensional beasts at bay? Probably not, since it's brand fucking new, but that's what reboots are for.
Archspire – The Lucid Collective
As instantly affected as I was by this one upon its initial release, it's only grown in stature with me over the past six months. That means something, as it's the exact opposite with most albums for me: there aren't a whole lot of albums that I out-and-out hate on the first spin, but as forgiving as I might be toward the mediocre shit that first time around, it'll start to grate on me if I dive back into it a second or third time. The Lucid Collective should've ensured Archspire a place on this year's tech-heavy Summer Slaughter tour, so hopefully 2015 sees the band get reparations for the slight.
The Oath – The Oath
Well that was fast. Some things are too good for this world, and it didn't take long for this German trio (there's a male bass player in the official lineup, he just wasn't sexy enough for the cover) to just straight break the fuck up. Before they did, though, they left us this 44-minute minor classic of old school trad metal mixed with 70's rock and a hint of doom. The Oath, we hardly knew ye.
Devin Townsend Project – Z2
I'm not a huge fan of the kitschy Ziltoid narrative, but take out the corny voiceovers and the music itself is fairly legit. What really put Z2 over for me, though, was the Ziltoid-free Sky Blue disc, as ambitious a compendium of top flight metal anthems there's ever been. I would never go so far as to say that any given musician can do no wrong, but Devin Townsend is the closest we've got to full on bulletproof.
Coltsblood – Into the Unfathomable Abyss
I'm a doom whore, admittedly. Especially on the more extreme end of the genre, I find the bleakly abrasive atmosphere just that much more consistently compelling than what I see in much of black metal today. Coltsblood mostly stick to a sludge-informed doom sound, but their inherent Satanic filthiness obviously makes them blood brothers with the Norwegian tradition, even if they eschew its aural dynamics.
Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
On first listen I was pleasantly surprised, but never would have thought at the time that Redeemer of Souls was quite top 10 material. Top 15, top 20 maybe… but this was one of those albums I listened to over and over as I had a review to get in the books and each subsequent spin sparked major tweaks in my opinion. Eventually I decided that it was exactly the career summation that this long-in-the-tooth band sorely needed, either for closure or as a springboard to new sounds. It's not their masterpiece, for the simple reason that there is no individual song on here that can shoehorn its way into the band's ten (arguably 20) best, but consistency counts for something, and even among the top of the canon there a number of songs here skirting "instant classic" status.
Again, these are subjective picks – they kind of all are, although you can obtain a semblance of objectivity if you're willing to get all "popularity contest" about it – but I'm sure the comments telling me that I'm wrong will be measured and well thought-out, so it's all good. Onward to 2015…