Monday, December 8, 2014

From Out of the West Comes the Best! The Way's Top Ten of 2014

I knew well before this year had begun that 2014 was going to be a special year for music, metal in particular. I can honestly say that not only was this an almost abnormally great year, there were really no big letdowns either (hell, I even thought that the latest Incantation album was pretty fucking good). Obviously it was a bit difficult to whittle down all of the year's best releases to a mere list of ten, but, as tough as the decision was, here it is...

Before I continue, I must mention the fact that while I knew earlier in the year that there were going to be a few albums off of the Dark Descent label on here on this list, I was constantly in a state of amazement by damn near each album that was put out by the label this year. DD has really grown and matured by leaps and bounds and have earned my respect for not only having an almost preternatural sense of picking out and signing the best and most creative bands of this era but also for their diversity as well. Without a doubt, Dark Descent has become this generation's Earache Records in terms of importance and relevance and I genuinely look forward to the years to come in terms of their output.

10) Vallenfyre - Splinters

Just as good, if not better than their debut.

Splinters is a play by play account of 'how to get it right' in terms of writing a death metal album.

I am beyond stoked that not one, but two members of Paradise Lost have decided to revisit their death metal roots and though I quite enjoyed the latest Bloodbath album with Nick Holmes fronting the band, it is Vallenfyre who have ultimately made the list.

9) Swallowed - Lunarterial

I've never been the biggest fan of Autopsy (sorry, just never "got it") and the same goes for the majority of bands that have shamelessly aped them through the years, however, even though it is rather obvious where Swallowed gets the lion's share of its inspiration from, there is something downright addictive about what they are doing. I knew that they were going to be a great band after hearing their 2010 self titled 'ep' but this... this really blew me away beyond the point of comprehension! Sure, the "blackened" Autopsy" thing is still there, to be sure, but there is so much more to it than that. WAY more!!

8) Moab - Billow

While still heavy as fuck, Moab have opted to take a more "accessible" approach this time 'round. Don't let that statement fool you into thinking that Moab sounds like Green Day all of a sudden. If anything, this album reminded me a lot of Kyuss or Vista Chino with, of course, a MUCH heavier guitar tone. In a perfect world, THIS is the kind of band you would be hearing on the radio all the time had the mainstream not taken a turn for the worse somewhere back in the mid-'90's.

7) Salem's Pot - ...Lurar ut dig på prärien

NOT a fan of the band name. At all. However, the riffs and the vibe they create cannot be denied. There is some fairly gloomy shit going on here and I was quite glad that I decided to ignore the gay name and venture fourth unto the mental landscape wherein the strange and morbid mysticism of the sounds provided here were originally wrought.

With bands such as Salem's Pot and Saturnalia Temple (who are set to release their sophomore LP in early 2015), I think it's safe to say that Electric Wizard's days on the throne are severely numbered from here on out.

6) Blut aus Nord - Triunity

There were three releases by BaN to choose from this year and even though this is merely an 'ep' (a split, at that), Triunity was the one that spoke closest to my heart.

I'll always favor slower, more brooding music over constant blasting or albums that consist of a primarily faster tempo. Not that I don't like that stuff, but it has always been the slower stuff that caught my attention and BaN did just that here, and then some. Truinity is the perfect travel pick for a trip to the brain. Brooding and hypnotic ghoulishness best listened to at night.

5) Electric Wizard - Time to Die

After two extremely lackluster albums, EW is finally back on track. No, this is not the follow-up to 'Dopethrone' that everyone had hoped for. Nevertheless, it would appear that the band has employed hindsight to engineer a sort of "mash-up" of their previous incarnations and have delivered their strongest album since 'We Live'.

While never slowing down to the level of 'I, Witchfinder' or 'Eko Eko Azarak', the band has largely managed to recapture the "occult" vibe of their earlier albums while retaining the structural accessibility of their last two outings. I know that for some reason this is a divisive album, why, I have no idea as I found it to be infinitely superior to both 'Witchcult...' and 'Black Masses'.

4) Corpsessed - Abysmal Thresholds

Monstrously crushing!!!

THIS is how death metal should sound. Forget the cringe-inducing influx of technical wankery or the zombie apocalypse of misguided Incantation wannabes aimlessly wandering around for the last 1/2 a decade or so... THIS is how it's done, folks!

Planet shattering guitar sound? Check.

Evil tremolo riff onslaught wrought from deep within the caverns of planet Earth? Check.

Colossal, mountainous passages of doom and dread liberally placed throughout? Check.

Ultra-demonic vocals drenched in hatred and all-consuming rage? Check.

This could easily have been released twenty or so years ago. It's that good!

3) Verma - Sunrunner

Wouldn't be a proper "year-end" list from me without some sort of "space-rock/kraut/prog/pychedelia" floating around somewhere, so here it is!

While just as "spaced out" as anything they've done prior to this, Verma's latest sees the band going back to the accessibility of 'Salted Earth'. Perhaps even more so. Personally, I'm glad, as while I certainly love to zone out, dazed and confused, drooling and traipsing through a vast mental landscape wrought by master strokes of aural psychedelia, I actually prefer the more confined and direct approach of Verma's songwriting capabilities and am grateful to see the band has not forsaken the ability to do so. Why this band hasn't become "the next big thing" is beyond me.

2) Emptiness - Nothing But the Whole

And here we have the second album on the list to showcase some four-eyed figure on the album cover.

It's really almost impossible to categorize any one album by Emptiness and this one is by far their most scatterbrained and surreal.

Obviously the platform here is a sort of death metal/black metal hybrid (though which of the two comes out stronger is up for debate) yet the band spares no expense in reaching out well beyond the framework of expectation, pulling in some severely bizarre riff sequences ranging from the tranquil and serene to dizzying and hallucinogenic. Morbidly exotic, I find this band to be the most exciting prospect since the days when Blut aus Nord chose to follow their own path and left the traditional approach of songwriting forever behind.

1) Today is the Day - Animal Mother

As I get older, the need to listen to something over and over, no matter how good it may be, has lessened dramatically. I was actually starting to worry about that and began to wonder if I was finally becoming one of the "pod people", immune to the magical effect that good music has on my mind and mood. Then I heard this...

Holy shit!!

It's actually rather funny as I sort of wrote TitD off a while back after a slew of seemingly uninspired outings. I honestly didn't expect much this time 'round. Mistake. BIG time.

While it's easy to say that Steve Austin "went back" to the sound of the GODLY 'Temple of the Morning Star', it's really not that simple. While it certainly can be argued that 'Animal Mother' is a return to the quality of that era, it is really more of a clever recap of the band's career high points with 'Temple...' and 'Sadness Will Prevail' being the most noticeable.

Really, after 'Kiss the Pig' (which was just really not that good) and 'Axis of Eden' (which was much better, musically, but had the misfortune of being drenched in an awful, over bass-y production), I figured that Steve Austin's best days were behind him as usually seems the case with most aging artists. I was wrong and I have never been so happy to admit that in all my life!

Honorable mentions:

Funereal Presence - The Archer Takes Aim

Stellar album that manages to create so-called "orthodox" black metal while adding in a multitude of other elements, keeping things interesting. For a debut this sounds fantastic!

Lumerians - Transmissions From Telos Vol. III

One of my favorite bands returns with yet another outstanding excursion into the warm and fuzzy expansion of the mind's eye. MUCH better last years 'The High Frontier'.

The Cult of Dom Keller - The Second Bardo

Miss the '60's or wish you were alive during that mystical and tumultuous time? Pop on this bad boy and feel yourself warmly slip away. Though this is far from the political crooning of Bob Dylan or Country Joe and the Fish, mind you. This is the kind of shit that'll have you starting a cult of your own, partaking in LSD fueled orgies and going on mass murder sprees. Beware.

Skaphe - Skaphe

Well composed and recorded black metal with moderate death metal leanings. Pretty evil shit and it won't surprise me if you start seeing this band's name all over the place in the years to come.

Godflesh - Decline & Fall

While the inevitable full length had a few stellar tracks, to be sure, I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed with how "same-y" it all ended up sounding. Oddly enough, this little "warm-up' 'ep' proved to be far superior .

Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know, I had mentioned earlier that there weren't really any big let-downs this year, but I almost forgot and so I now present to you...

The Stinker of the Year:

Exodus - Blood In Blood Out

When I first heard that Zetro was back in Exodus I was beyond psyched. Personally, my favorite Exodus albums are fronted by Steve and so I was fairly confident that this would be a triumphant return to form. I mean, hell... his work with his kid's band Hatriot was pretty venomous sounding. I figured his return to Exodus would be a flawless endeavor.

Not quite.

Vocally this album sounds like Steve Souza is a social retard. There are so many cringe-inducing moments that had me wondering "what the fuck were they thinking?"

To be fair, much of this has to do with the absolute retardation of the lyrical content, which I'm fairly certain is written by Gary Holt, therefore absolving Mr. Souza of that particular crime against humanity. Nonetheless, a different, perhaps... less "flamboyant" approach may have lessened the blow some to some extent, so he's not totally in the clear here. Honestly, Souza's been on a downward spiral since 'Fabulous Disaster', vocally, though again, the lyrical content does not help. They may have worked back in the '80's but in this day in age they are an absolute abomination.

The other, and perhaps greatest offender here is the production. While the riffs are mostly bloated and lazy sounding, they may have come across slightly better had they not undergone the overproduction that ultimately ruined them beyond repair. Had the production been a bit leaner and Souza's antics toned down some, this may have been a little better. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's seemes to have gotten the better of whoever the decision-maker is in the band and out came this steaming pile of over processed shit.