By Jason Roche
Just when we think there is nowhere left to explore in the world of metal, a flood of excellent releases both reinforce what we already love about the genre, and push the boundaries of what we know it to be. Below, we celebrate the top 10 heavy metal albums of 2014 that accomplished both of the above for us.
Death by Burning
This German punk-metal duo goes full blast on its dirty din and manages to pull it off with just a guitar and a set of drums. The lack of bass does not detract from their mighty roar. Guitarist/vocalist Hanno excels at balancing his blackened punk screams with groove-laden riffage that occasionally gives off a desert-rock vibe. The phrase "Satanic Kyuss" will likely come to mind as the listener balances the urge to tap their toes and go full-tilt headbang.
It's been eight years since the last release from this Bay Area grindcore outfit. Band leader Marissa Martinez -- formerly Dan Martinez -- underwent gender reassignment in the time since, but its time to go back to paying attention to the grimy filth of their music. Cretin's brand of grind has always had an air of beautiful ugliness to it, and the break just amplified it more. Lyrically and musically, they continue to go to the delightfully dark places that won over die-hard grindheads on previous works.
The opening track on this latest volley from Celtic Frost mastermind Thomas Gabriel Fischer -- aka "Tom Warrior" -- is titled "Tree of Suffocating Souls." The word "suffocating" can be applied to the entire album, a deeply layered opus that consumes the listener in a rich world of avant-garde metallic darkness. Fischer's trademark barks and obscenely thick production help keep the journey on the rails, but there is no light or room to breathe once subsumed in the aura he creates.
Where Greater Men Have Fallen
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This Irish outfit succeeds at making everything about their epic folk metal sound big. Every vocal inflection from Alan Averill sounds like a rallying cry for battle, while the band puts together majestic, progressive compositions. We haven't seen the 45-minute battle scene in Peter Jackson's new Hobbit movie, but we figure whatever music he is using, this is probably a better -- and more appropriate -- soundtrack. Fans of Dio and Iron Maiden searching for more classic storytelling metal would be well advised to seek this out.
Winning a battle against a life-threatening leukemia diagnosis has only furthered Behemoth band leader Nergal's resolve to put out the most blasphemous death metal known to man. Nergal's venomous fury is in full force on their latest effort. The Polish trio continues the push the boundaries of the genre with their sonic assaults. Musically, the group has peppered in tasteful helpings of mosh-groove on The Satanist, but the groove is a mere respite from an otherwise pummeling onslaught.
The World We Left Behind
Band mastermind Blake Judd made headlines this year with some rather sketchy off-stage behavior. But the demons that potentially drove that behavior also drove what may be his most compelling album. Judd steers his magnificent psychedelic black metal ship through waters filled with pockets of shoegaze and post-punk. But things are darkest on the lyrical side of things. Judd gives every last bit of his essence over to the listener, screaming frantically as if his demons are conquering him, and he is aware of it.
Foundations of Burden
This Little Rock quartet is at the forefront of a new breed of bands equally capable of emoting melancholia and beauty through their sound. The slow-tempo doom-metal blueprint is infused here with dashes of psychedelia and beautiful guitar harmonies. The overall subject matter is still suitably depressing, but catharsis is attained thanks to wonderfully crafted, harmonized vocals from guitarist Brett Campbell and bassist Joseph D. Rowland. Campbell also creates a chilling atmosphere on guitar along with Devin Holt, reminiscent of Euro-doom greats like Paradise Lost and Katatonia.
3. Take Over And Destroy
This Phoenix sextet tweaks the death 'n' roll genre hallmarks popularized by Swedish acts such as Entombed and Dismember -- groove-laden death metal with a rock & roll swagger -- and adds flourishes of psychedelia and goth-rock to embellish the proceedings. Delightfully creepy organ work from Pete Porter provides remarkable heft and texture. Vocalist Andrew Leemont is equally adept at razor-gargling barks and goth-rock croons. Altogether, the band attains a mix that is equally healthy in terms of both riffs and atmosphere.
Roads to the North
This one-man outfit from Kentucky has created an atmospheric black metal masterpiece. Appalachian folk influences are weaved masterfully into a sprawling progressive black metal blueprint. Banjo and mandolin interludes would be out of place on almost any other metal release. But the care that band mastermind Austin Lunn takes in dispersing those interludes throughout his already compelling metallic soundscapes leads to one of the more exciting and artistic visions of how metal can be shaped and formed.
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Primitive and Deadly
Band leader Dylan Carlson may have fully left Earth's early drone-metal era behind, but there is still plenty of thunderous riffage to be found on their new album. Integration of Americana influences since the group's return in 2005 has flavored the group's current direction, but the pants-ruining rumble has not been diluted. Their latest work continues Carlson's trek into crafting post-apocalyptic doom-metal soundscapes, as he dabbles in some of the heaviest guitar work he has composed since the band's pioneering days