Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014

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Pallbearer best metal albums of 2014

In the first half of the year, it didn’t look like 2014 was going to be all that remarkable for metal. And it wasn’t because there was less metal to go around; that’s perhaps part of the challenge. When there’s so much out there, it takes a lot more to stand out. Plenty of bands put out perfectly listenable, heavy releases ranging from thrash to crust and everything blackened in between, but few of them seemed to break through from decent to great. You don’t have to step outside the power chord to get heads banging, but it helps. Slowly but surely, however, that started to change, and what looked like a slow 12 months became a pretty unstoppable 7 or 8. It’s hard to say that metal, as a whole, is going through growing pains when it’s too widespread and unwieldy to speak to on the whole, but a lot of bands could certainly stand to take a few more risks. That being said, those who did this year did some amazing things, particularly under the umbrella of doom metal. More than half of the albums here could comfortably be called doom, and just about all of them contain at least doom elements — and that’s pretty interesting, given that we’re talking about the primordial ooze of the genre as a whole. And yet, none of these albums really sound all that much alike when you get down to it — aside from the loud guitars, of course. Metal in 2014, like some of its best songs this year, took a while to get going, but once it did, it was truly a sound to behold. So, on that note, behold! Our Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014.

Nux Vomica album10. Nux VomicaNux Vomica

The greatest developments in metal this year largely belonged to metal’s oldest subgenre: Doom. Interesting, then, that some of the most epic sounds in metal this year can be heard on a record more strongly rooted in hardcore. Portland’s Nux Vomica draw heavily from the crust-punk tradition of groups like Nausea or Amebix, yet turn that anarchic fury into something massive and sprawling on their three-track, self-titled album. With song lengths that seem more natural on a Yob or Neurosis album, Nux Vomica treat each composition like a journey, some of it beautiful and some of it menacing, yet all of it powerful. From the gothic atmosphere of “Reeling” to the roaring gallop of “Sanity is for the Passive,” Nux Vomica is one of the most exciting things to happen to crust-punk in a long time. – JT

top 10 metal albums of 2014 godflesh9. GodfleshA World Lit Only By Fire

When Justin Broadrick returned to his work with Godflesh (and, by extension, industrial metal music) in 2013 after a productive stint performing as Jesu, this return likely polarized Godflesh fans between a group that was enthusiastic about the new approaches Broadrick may have developed during his other projects and a group that was afraid that this new Godflesh sound might somehow be impure or pale in comparison to the heavy industrial greatness of the band’s classic period. Fortunately for both camps in this scenario, the album that Godflesh did ultimately came out with, A World Lit Only by Fire, both manages to bring enough crushing intensity to allay any possible concerns about Broadrick’s stagnation or “softening” and transform the chaotic sonic superflux of earlier albums (e.g. Streetcleaner) into a lean, dark, and unstoppable metal machine. – CB

Thou Heathen8. ThouHeathen

Somewhat quietly, while most of the other albums on this list (by Pallbearer, Godflesh, Triptykon, etc.) were released to huge anticipation or acclaim, Thou  — currently Louisiana’s most underrated musical act — dropped Heathen, their fourth full-length album. Although 2010’s Summit may still stand intact as the pinnacle of Thou’s career, the monumental achievement of Heathen — which has a run time of well over an hour and does not waste any substantial part of it — represents a bold and important step forward for Thou’s stylistic trajectory. While still working in a mode that could technically be described as “sludge metal,” Thou explores introducing novel elements into this proven formula in order to expand upon their sonic palette; in particular, Thou’s newfound emphasis on clean vocals and harmonies throughout Heathen functions as a perfect contrast for the band’s otherwise-brutal metal bombardment, ultimately allowing for the advances in overall expressive ability that rank Heathen one of the top metal albums of the year. – CB

Primordial where greater men have fallen7. PrimordialWhere Greater Men Have Fallen
(Metal Blade)

It’s more than a little mystifying that Ireland’s Primordial have been making music for 27 years. They emerged a little bit later than the first wave of black metal, and yet they’ve taken their soaring extreme metal seemingly tens of thousands of miles from its lo-fi origins. Theirs is a big metal — immense in scope, rich in sound, and unusually earnest for underground metal. Where Greater Men Have Fallen feels just that much bigger, taking an already jaw-dropping metal fusion and stretching it further until it becomes something that transcends genre. Not that this isn’t absolutely a fantastic metal record — it wouldn’t have been included in our list of the best metal albums of the year if it wasn’t. But Primordial have finally reached the stage where their music feels bigger than metal itself.  – JT

Atriarch top 10 metal albums of 20146. AtriarchAn Unending Pathway

Three of our top metal picks this year come from bands based in Portland, Oregon, as did at least one of the runners up, which says a lot about Portlandia’s cred when it comes to extreme music. Even more notably, each one seems to exist in its own realm — comfortable alongside other, familiar sounds but not necessarily cut from the same cloth. Atriarch, for one, is a seemingly unique band in metal, owing just as much to the gothic rock of Christian Death and the Virgin Prunes as they do to metal or hardcore. An Unending Pathway is a dark and ominous piece of work, and yet an accessible one at that. I’m not saying they’re going to start bumping Atriarch at goth clubs anytime soon, but there’s a crossover appeal in tracks like “Collapse” that allow for a lot of movement beyond expected metal tropes. The group explores some of the ethereal atmosphere well beyond metal’s comfortable climes, while maintaining a heaviness throughout its seven tracks. It’s an awesome reminder that there’s still plenty of territory to be explored in music’s darkest spaces. – JT

Triptykon Melana Chasmata5. TriptykonMelana Chasmata
(Century Media)

Much like Bill Steer and Carcass did last year, Tom G. Warrior reinvigorated his career this year with the release of a masterful and well-acclaimed “comeback” album that functioned as a clarion statement of his statesman’s authority in metal. However, unlike Steer, Tom Warrior (as Triptykon) has earned his career-long acclaim by continuing to both reinvent and challenge his sound radically (just consider his choice to cover Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” on a death metal album). The utterly idiosyncratic and stylistically radical Melana Chasmata, with its considerable utilizations of dark ambient, art rock, and experimental elements, is the most recent (and one of the most clear) examples of this tendency at work. Perhaps if the darkness that Warrior evokes so strongly on Melana Chasmata doesn’t consume him before he creates again, we listeners will continue to benefit from his continued, uncompromising exploration of possibilities in metal music. – CB

Mutilation Rites Harbinger4. Mutilation RitesHarbinger

Black metal’s been kicking for quite a few decades, so the unholy heathen hordes can be forgiven if they decided to take this year off. Not that black metal was without its highlights, of course, but there wasn’t much in the way of excitement or innovation in 2014 that came backed by a blast beat. One notable exception is Harbinger, the second album by Brooklyn’s Mutilation Rites. With one foot in vintage thrash metal, and a better ear for melody than most, the group approaches extreme metal by simply writing great, muscular songs, rather than bothering with a “kvlt” measuring contest. Harbinger is loaded with riffs galore, of course, but Mutilation Rites add to that a variance in style and tempo that keeps any one track from ever staying in one place for too long. Extreme metal should take you places — Mutilation Rites are happy to provide you the lift. – JT

Yob top 10 metal albums of 2014 Clearing the path to ascend3. YobClearing the Path to Ascend

On Yob’s seventh album, Clearing the Path to Ascend, their first on fellow doom metal act Neurosis’s label, the Oregon trio reach what appears to be, by consensus, the creative peak of their career to this point. As Yob’s relationship with Neurosis may immediately indicate, the band places a great deal of stock in holding true to doom metal tradition, as evinced by the many clear stylistic traces of Yob’s predecessors in the four massive compositions that comprise the album. However, the greatest strength of Clearing the Path to Ascend is not its adherence to these conventions, but instead it is the unique response that Yob offers to this tradition, synthesizing their influences and creating an epic metal album that is certainly heavier than the sum of its parts. – CB

Tombs top 10 metal albums of 20142. TombsSavage Gold

Brooklyn’s Tombs crowned a lot of best-of-2011 lists with their remarkable album Path of Totality, but despite the acclaim, weren’t as satisfied with the end result as they had hoped. So they regrouped, teamed up with metal producer extraordinaire Erik Rutan, and emerged from the studio with their most colossal and ferocious album to date. Yet the qualities that make it so aren’t necessarily the volume or heaviness. Production-wise, it’s a beast, but in the end it’s the fact that this is the best batch of songs Tombs have ever written that make it the destructive force that it is. The ominous lurch of opening track “Thanatos” is like Swans gone sludge metal, while “Echoes” contains shades of post-punk and goth-rock in its melodic approach. But no track here feels quite as cathartic and mesmerizing as “Edge of Darkness,” the group’s own trip down a psychedelic thrash metal K-hole. There’s a great deal of diversity and energy on Savage Gold, which makes it both thrilling and exhausting. Perhaps brewing a pot of Savage Gold coffee is in order, then?  – JT

Pallbearer foundations of burden top 10 metal albums of 20141. PallbearerFoundations of Burden
(Profound Lore)

While the incredibly dense and layered compositions that Arkansas’ Pallbearer offered for listeners on 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction left some people wondering how the band could possibly build on their sound for a following album, the confidence and majesty that emerges within the first few minutes of “Worlds Apart” on this year’s Foundations of Burden necessarily annihilated any doubts in that respect. Indeed, on this album Pallbearer not only matches the heaviness, technical mastery, and progressive sensibility displayed on their earlier debut, but also renders these same aspects and ideas more powerfully than before. This “more is better” approach executed by skilled musicians such as the ones in Pallbearer and accompanied by a significant improvement in production and songwriting, results in an ornate classic and the top metal album of the year. – CB

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