Culling the HerdIn previous years I've been cute with my end-of-year lists. I did a top 13 of 2013, a top 12 of 2012, a huge number of lists and a top 25 of 2011, and back in 2010 I did best-of by subgenre. It would seem I'm done with that, for this year at least.
As I pondered 2014 in metal, I wondered where I'm going with this blog and how long I can keep doing this. Over 2,000 unread e-mails weigh on a person psychologically. I need to find a way to manage it with less time.
For a moment, I felt like my tastes have stagnated, at least in metal. The albums that stuck in my head were all from artists I've featured in previous year-end lists. But going back over the year, I was pleasantly surprised at how many standouts I had momentarily forgotten. A few of them made this list. And that's really the best reason to read these lists anyway, so you can remember to pick up the records you meant to buy.
As always, this represents how I feel about these albums now, not necessarily when I first reviewed them and not necessarily how I'll feel about them in a month. It is going to skew mostly toward the people who send me promos, but that's not all the list.
10. Wolvhammer: Clawing Into Black Sun
Another cycle of blackened sludge albums (a repeat of 2011) found Wolvhammer head-and-shoulders above contemporaries like Tombs and Castevet. For some reason this band once again slipped my mind when I first compiled this list, but taking another listen it's undeniable how great and even catchy these riffs are.
9. Impetuous Ritual: Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence
I can pretty much count on Profound Lore to release at least one fantastic, impenetrable death metal album each year, and 2014 found Impetuous Ritual the answer to Portal and Vasaeleth. I still can't explain why one band can do this and be brilliant, and another can be terrible, but I can theorize that they're doing something that works on a subconscious level to make my lizard brain respond.
8. Botanist: VI: Flora
I'll forgive you if you don't love Botanist, but I'll never apologize for loving it. Given a guitar playing these same melodies and "riffs" in the black metal mode, maybe it wouldn't come off as brilliant. I can't really say. But with the hammered dulcimer (and harmonium, etc.) it certainly is enough to blow my mind.
7. YOB: Clearing the Path to Ascend
Previously, I liked YOB but thought they were overrated. Over four crushing, truly epic tracks, YOB have convinced me of their greatness.
6. High Spirits: You Are Here
Through most of my life, I probably would have cringed at High Spirits. "Feel-good" isn't a word I had ever associated with anything I like about metal. But an older me loves this and appreciates these wonderful hooks for what they are. It's not like this is exactly Quiet Riot, anyway. This is the great singer-songwriter Chris Black's gift to metalheads who don't always need to hear music that can only be described with the language of violence, and maybe even a gift to the families who are subjected to it.
5. Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden
Pallbearer is another band that I didn't fully appreciate before. I liked them a lot, sure. But it wasn't until now that I fully appreciate their unique combination of crushing riffs and human sorrow in beautiful melody. I can firmly say it's no accident that everyone seems to love this band.
4. Mastodon: Once More 'Round the Sun
I shouldn't have to justify this choice, but I do. If a band had always played heavy metal with huge choruses, and that band hadn't achieved some measure of mainstream success, then they would be revered among the metal faithful much like Clutch. But this is the same band that released prog masterpieces like Blood Mountain, and now they're playing Jimmy Kimmel and Dave Letterman. Don't let that fool you: This is no "black album."
3. Agalloch: The Serpent & the Sphere
At first I thought Agalloch had hit a plateau--albeit at the top of their game. And maybe it's because I saw them live, but I've rethought that take on The Serpent & the Sphere. Instead, this is the album where they've (somewhat) gotten away from the epic, soundtrack-style writing of their past and gone a little bit more toward writing songs in the traditional rock and roll sense. It's not exactly sing-along choruses, but it's less about the epic scope and more about the great melody. It might even be better than their previous work, which is saying a lot.
2. Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate
I've talked and talked about Wovenhand endlessly now, and if you're not on board by now then I don't think I can help you. This is my favorite band, bar none. The sheer emotional weight of David Eugene Edwards' voice was always enough for me, but now there are metal parts and post-punk parts and even some light glimpsed through the darkness. If it doesn't make you rethink the mandolin, then your ears are not open.
1. Triptykon: Melana Chasmata
Thomas Gabriel Fischer is going through a Johnny Cash American Recordings phase. The man was already a legend, but somehow, inexplicably, he is going through an unprecedented period of late-career creativity that simply blows away all of his classic work. Just like Eparistera Daimones, this nonspecific extreme metal masterpiece stands as one of the best metal records of the new millennium. Eerie, crushing, despondent, crushing, frightful, and everything else you could possibly want out of extreme metal. There are no substitutes.