It never ceases to amaze me how much great music is produced every year. You want to believe that ideas will reach a low point, or even dry up, but music fans around the world keep receiving wonderful gifts from the artists we all love. Looking back on this list of releases for the year, one word comes to mind: technicality. There were a lot of great albums that displayed a greater ratio of technicality than in previous years of recent memory. Granted, not all of the albums on this list are technical masterpieces, but I guarantee that every one of these albums kicks ass. Yes, there are likely some notable albums missing from this list, but keep in mind that I didn’t get a chance to hear every great album released this year. So, without further adieu, here are the best albums I heard in 2014:
15. Animals As Leaders – The Joy Of Motion
There are few things on this planet you can rely on, but fantastic music from Animals As Leaders is one of them. They really took the metal scene by storm with their debut in 2009 and have exhibited no signs of fatigue. Tosin Abasi and crew are really at the top of their game at the moment. The Joy Of Motion is another victorious display of incredible musicianship that many similar bands strive to achieve.
14. Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain
Say what you will, but Cannibal Corpse really have been a model of consistency since the release of Kill back in 2006. A Skeletal Domain isn’t fancy or groundbreaking; it’s just a damn good album prone to cause plenty of headbanging trauma. People may complain that they are repeating themselves with each release, but how is that a bad thing when it all kicks ass?
13. Inanimate Existence – A Never Ending Cycle Of Atonement
This is an album that I just stumbled upon one day and to say it was a happy accident would be like saying Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter tastes ok (if you have never tasted it, get a jar and prepare to feel alive). This is no-frills tech-death that is guaranteed to break your fingers and wrists as you feebly attempt to air guitar your way through the album. A Never Ending Cycle Of Atonement is uncompromising and relentless, a stunning exercise in precision and top-notch songwriting. There wasn’t much fanfare surrounding this album, so check it out if you missed it. You will be glad you did.
Adding classic orchestral components to metal is certainly nothing new. However, Xerath has taken the idea and spun it into a unique incarnation of symphonic metal. The band has struck just the right balance of symphony and metal, so as to not be overpowering either way. The fact that singer Richard Thomson sounds like a carbon copy of Strapping Young Lad-era Devin Townsend may deter some people, but I dig it and think it fits the sound perfectly. Xerath have released a killer album in 2014.
11. Vainaja – Kadotetut
There is something to say when you hear an album that is truly heavy and crushing. Finland’s Vainaja did just that with their debut album Kadotetut. Although all the lyrics are in Finnish, it’s not difficult to understand that Vainaja set out to create something gigantic with their mix of doom and death metal. Of all the albums I heard this year, this was simply the heaviest of them all.
10. Job For A Cowboy – Sun Eater
This album was the last album to make this list, but it made it on here because, damn…it is solid. Many people have written JFAC off because they have been branded as a deathcore band, people think their name sucks, or both. If you have written them off for any reason, give them another shot. Sun Eater is the most complete and dynamic album the band has ever released, replete with diverse songwriting and some tasty bass work.
9. At The Gates – At War With Reality
Reactivating bands that have been long gone and recording new music has been a bit of a trend recently. Carcass did it last year with Surgical Steel and this year, fans were treated with new music from At The Gates. Few expected them to exceed or equal their grand opus, Slaughter Of The Soul, but hopes were still sky high. Thankfully, their first album in nearly 20 years did not disappoint. At The Gates have returned triumphantly and the metal community is better off for it.
8. Crowbar – Symmetry In Black
By my own admission, I never got into Crowbar. It wasn’t because I thought they were bad, I simply never took the time to open my ears to them. That all changed with Symmetry In Black. As soon as I heard “The Taste Of Dying,” I knew I had to hear the rest. Needless to say, it did not fucking disappoint. This album is an absolute beast and immediately showed me the error of my ways. It has all the sludgy grime that fans love, the stuff I’ve been missing out on for all this time. Symmetry In Black hits like a ton of bricks and I kept returning for more. If you’ve been depriving yourself of Crowbar like me, start here.
7. Alcest – Shelter
This is the oldest release on the list. Appearing in January, there was no doubt that Shelter was going to make the list at the end of the year. Warm and enveloping shoegaze isn’t really my thing; at least it wasn’t until I heard this album. It’s akin to listening to a wonderful dream, filled with lush atmosphere and bright passages. Although Shelter is a vast departure from the band’s early metal days, it really is gorgeous. It almost made me want to hug someone after listening to it. Almost.
6. Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails
2014 was certainly a breakout year for Fallujah, as they garnered critical and fan acclaim for The Flesh Prevails. There are great tech-death bands on the scene (like our band at #13), but few pull it together as well as Fallujah. The album has the right amount of technicality without being guilty of wankery. In addition, the atmospheric elements throughout the album add another layer of depth that keeps everything interesting. Great stuff from a promising band.
5. Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
I guess you can say I’m a bit of a sucker for classical instruments used in metal. Xerath made an appearance earlier on our list, but Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris absolutely knock it out of the park with Citadel. Instead of splashing in an entire orchestra to accent the music, violinist Tim Charles masterfully wails with a single weapon in a way that perfectly melds itself throughout the record. Beyond that, the music as a whole is beautifully woven and layered. It’s heavy. It’s proggy. This is definitely a band that needs your attention right now.
4. Cynic – Kindly Bent To Free Us
Cynic transcends metal. Yes, there are plenty of metal aspects to the music, but they really are so much more than that. They’re like metaphysical musical gurus that harness their gifts from mysterious forces that are unattainable by us mere mortals. Their latest effort, Kindly Bent To Free Us, simply further elevates their greatness. The album really takes you through a wonderful journey that bends expectations and defies boundaries. Cynic really is in a universe of its own.
3. Opeth – Pale Communion
I would be sad that Opeth is no longer a death metal band if this evolution didn’t sound so good. After completely eschewing their death metal past with Heritage, the band returns with an even bigger tribute to 70s prog with Pale Communion. It’s a more cohesive effort than the previous outing and further cements their status as one of the best bands today. I wanted to be upset that Opeth is no longer a heavy metal band, but they make it hard with such quality music.
2. Allegaeon – Elements Of The Infinite
Colorado’s Allegaeon have been on a steady upward trajectory since their full-length debut in 2010. With their third album, the band has reached peak performance. Elements Of The Infinite takes everything great about this band and packs it into a shred-tastic, focused effort. The guitar work has always been the point of emphasis for Allegaeon and they really exceed everything they’ve ever done here. This would have been my #1 album if it weren’t for…
1. Tryptikon – Melana Chasmata
Thomas Gabriel Fischer has done it again. Tryptikon’s second effort is simply seething with dark emotion from beginning to end. Upon first listen, this album immediately jumped to the top of my list. There were a couple albums that tried to knock it off its perch, but none were successful. This album is gritty, intense, and brooding. Of all the albums I heard this year, this was the one that I simply could not lay to rest. With no shortage of piss and vinegar, I can’t wait to hear what Fischer does next.