Vitek’s Top 10 albums of 2014
The end of another year is upon us and the Metalholic staff is working diligently to compile its Top 50 list for 2014. Individual tastes are as varied as the many sub-genres our beloved metal can conceive of. So with that while we engage in our ritual of creating the big list, our staffers have compiled their own individual Top 10 lists of which this is one. Enjoy!
After Jonas Kjellgren’s exit, I was highly doubtful whether the band would be able to carry on with their trademark sound, especially since he composed most of the heavier and well-received material. But virtuoso Per Nilsson has definitely proved me wrong. Not only has he stepped up as primary composer, but he has also handled the production on the album; something which was done by Kjellgren on all the previous albums. Tracks like “Cryonic Harvest”, “Neohuman” and “Technocalyptic Cybergeddon” are testimony of Nilsson’s fantastic songwriting chops. The guitar work is simply splendid; notably the leads on the record are some of Nilsson’s finest works. This is probably due to the fact that the music was solely Nilsson’s creation, which gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted to on the record. The duo of Lars and Roberth on vocals brings in a wide and unique range. Obviously, for die-hard Scar Symmetry fans, Älvestam cannot be replaced, but Lars and Rob definitely do a fine job on the vocals front. Lars is blessed with an excellent clear voice, which he aptly uses for soaring melodies as well as the execution of impressive robotic-sounding voices. Rob’s monstrous growls go hand in hand with Lars’ clean vocals. Henrik Ohlsson has done a marvelous job on the skins. His drumming brings in the groove in the music. While his drumming isn’t very complex, it nonetheless steals the spotlight on “Neuromancers” and “Technocalyptic Cybergeddon”. This album has easily managed to lay the groundwork for the trilogy and will make listeners eagerly look forward to Phase II and III.
A lot of bands get flak for straying from their musical ‘roots’, or under the pretext of not catering to their fans’ needs anymore, which I think is ridiculous. Experimentation is how an art form thrives without becoming stale, and an environment must be created that encourages artists to experiment and explore the boundaries of art. While some bands are not that successful in retaining the emotion of their earlier records, bands like Sólstafir are exemplary examples of successfully creating free-flowing and genre-defying music. Sólstafir started out as a black/Viking metal band, and later on introduced progressive metal and post-rock into their music. With one amazing release after another, I came to a conclusion that these guys can never release anything less than flawless music. And my prediction was bang-on with Ótta. Ótta is Sólstafir’s fifth full-length album that once again efficiently epitomizes the landscapes of Iceland in a sonic manifestation. The album starts off calm and composed, and gets progressively heavier before slowly receding into tranquility. The amazing vocals only make me wish I knew Icelandic, but the emotion here transcends language.
Ótta had been a much awaited album for me and the melodies in the album made my stomach curl into itself (in a good way). The album is stuffed with amazing instrumental arrangements and we get to see beautiful use of violins and keyboards. The flawless vocals and the atmosphere that is created would make me visit this album again and again for years to come. This is a great addition to their flawless catalog.
After a staggering 25 years, Sanctuary is back with a new album The Year the Sun Died. Without doubt Brad Hull and Lenny Rutledge’s knack for engaging riffs and inspired melodies has only improved over the years. There really are not enough superlatives in the English language to sufficiently describe the utterly jaw dropping virtuosity on display. Squealing guitars aided by Dane’s inhuman humming make it really difficult to get this album off loop. This is a demonstration of the soul of metal music. If you really invest some time and effort into the lyrics, you will understand why goosebumps will be the regular bodily reaction while listening to this album. The album artwork is modern, artistic and is a straight-forward pictorial representation of the title: a dying, disintegrating ball of fire being engulfed by the darkness of death as it breathes its last. The band tapped Chris “Zeuss” Harris to produce, and as always, he does a masterful job. When no two songs sound alike, and all the tracks sound electrifying, refreshing and amazing, you get an excellent album. Take all that and give it a soul, and you get Sanctuary’s The Year the Sun Died. That is the definition of this masterpiece. Sanctuary is a group who after over two decades are still raw in their inspiration, and positively gifted with their music.
Blind Rage is yet another notch in these Germans’ bullet belts, pulverizing to dust any lingering doubts that the loss of Udo Dirkschneider would doom the band. Surfacing after a great effort in Stalingrad, the pressure was on for Wolf Hoffman and team to deliver the goods, and they deliver it flawlessly. The final result presents itself as a whole structure and not as a bunch of single entities. The songs themselves are memorable and impressive, but the conceptual line and overall impression is particularly outstanding on this record meriting its courageous title. The album unites everything Accept stood and still stand for.
Accept is a very creative heavy metal band. Many times, (actually, most of the time) – heavy metal bands become very clichéd, and their music tends to get very old. Not Accept; they like to keep things alive. Everything from the chunky, harmonics-infested guitars, to the vocals that sound as if someone had drunk a cup of acid; everything sounds great, heavy, anthemic, chaotic – and original. Not many metal bands can do that. Blind Rage is about as good as heavy metal gets in my eyes. You can really tell that Accept is a band that cares about every little detail, because there is hardly any filler material. Nestled nicely in between two classics, Blood of the Nations and Stalingrad, this one easily stands tall along with their aforementioned albums.
Blood in Blood Out is a landmark record for Exodus since 85’s Bonded by Blood. It is an orgy of riffs and heroin for the thrasher. It is proper thrash metal straight from its golden era, and I strongly appreciate the fact that they have not meddled with it. It is what thrash is/was supposed to be: fast, anarchized and in-your-face. Vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza has done full justice to this one, and I was very pleased with what I heard. What he lacks in depth, he totally makes up for in speed and intensity. Founder and guitarist Gary Holt does what he does best, which is being Gary Holt. I credit this man for being true to himself and his group despite all the other things going on around him. Exodus gets far less recognition and respect than they deserve, and I hope that this record changes all of that. If the Big 4 is planning on an expansion of interests and ideas, then this album should serve as some food for thought.
Our own Mattie Jensen said it best: This year Swedish progheads Evergrey released a masterpiece titled Hymns for the Broken. If you can’t tell, I can’t think of a single moment on this album I don’t absolutely love. As someone who could never get hooked by an Evergrey album, I can assure you this is not just ‘fandom’ talking. Hymns for the Broken is a perfect album that even after weeks of constant play, I cannot get enough of. Perhaps it is indeed perfection, or perhaps it just hit me at the right time in my life, either way I am in love. The tempo keeps changing throughout the album, but the flawless movement in the instruments keeps it absolutely enthralling. The conversations between keyboard, bass, and drums is something that I could listen to on repeat for hours, especially when the haunting lead melody soars above it all.
Easily a current contender album of the year, it’s so full of beautiful melodies and amazing arrangements that any fan of power or progressive metal will absolutely love. I don’t doubt that all previous fans of the band will appreciate this album as much as I do, but I sincerely hope that new listeners give this record a fair and objective chance as well. This is definitely their most ambitious release yet, and they absolutely nailed it!
When Ne Obliviscasris came out with Portal of I in 2012, it took the progressive metal world by storm. All the years of hard work prior to their debut album paid off when critics and listeners alike hailed the album as monumental to the progressive extreme metal genre. It still is one of my favorite albums of all time. They gathered a dedicated fanbase after that release, and their successful crowdfunding experiment proves that fact. Citadel is another quintessential Ne Obliviscaris record – a great combination of heavy and delicate music with generous experimentation and heartfelt melodies. For me, the violins have always been a highlight in the band, and they really shine in this album. The atmosphere and the emotions that the violins create is something ethereal. The clean vocals are top-notch as well. One moment we are listening to a mellow section and falling in love, while in the next moment, we are back to the heavy parts and breaking things; all of this executed perfectly and without abruptions. Towards the middle of the album, Ne-O goes all progressive rock over us, with some heart-wrenching clean vocals and violin solos.
Considering how brilliant Portal of I was, Ne Obliviscaris had to live up to a huge amount of expectations, and I would say that they have definitely succeeded handsomely in satisfying their fans. As to whether this will surpass Portal of I’s effect on the fans, only time will tell.
Eparistera Daimones was a perfection of the latter-day Celtic Frost formula, albeit it was driven by a heightened sense of rage and exasperation than the more brooding and pensive Monotheist was. The primary tool employed by Fischer when creating his sound-scapes is the guitar tone, superseding the intricacy of the riff itself. This is not to say that it is lacking in the latter department, as the muscular, finesse-laden riffing and decrepit grooves of songs like “Tree of Suffocating Souls” or “Breathing” (parts of which will certainly make the Hellhammer/Celtic Frost fan smile) will attest to. Rather, the less is more formula serves its purpose when it has such a monolithic tone to lean back on, which is precisely why this textural quality make songs like “Black Snow”, “Altar of Deceit” or “In The Sleep of Death” such suffocating emotive experiences, painting utterly morose images of doom and death as opposed to being mere droning chug-fests. Thomas Gabriel Fischer and V. Santura’s guitar work invokes a certain gargantuan majesty that is primitive at heart but cultivated and seasoned in its execution, as if to analogically project Fischer’s journey from both a personal and creative perspective. Creative profundities and musical intricacies aside, Triptykon’s sophomore effort is an album that not only stands proud within the context of metal music but as a piece of art in itself. It is a far more pensive and introspective experience than Eparistera Daimones, an admittedly more outright heavy and furious record. Melana Chasmata is cathartic, it is theatrical and full of a poetic sense of existential agonizing and yet has exuberant moments, and as a whole the integrity and sheer honesty of the artists at hand is more than evident in this type of music, which is both otherworldly and fantastical in its purview, utterly bleak in aesthetic and yet so incredibly intimate and personal.
With their impeccable balance of doom, death and gothic elements, Novembers Doom is arguably one of the best practitioners of this style of music today. Being a tapestry of various elements, two aspects are key to the band’s signature sound – its impeccable mix of the death/doom/gothic metal aesthetic and prog rock ideas. These elements are reintroduced in a distinctive and unique way relative to their older material on Bled White. Unlike many of the bands that Novembers Doom often finds itself being compared to, the duration of the compositions are sufficient enough to present their ideas by means of cyclic repetition and dabbling in progressive song-writing, while not coming off as overtly mechanical in the alternating set of chord progressions and overall riff phrasings, which have a palpable sense of undulation. Paul Kuhr’s vocal melodies are doleful and thus appropriately baritonal yet with an almost liberatingly empyrean sense of finality. The harsher vocals on the other hand are strident and raucous with a high sense of enunciation. Despite being cast from the same clay, endless comparisons with the Peaceville triumvirate is at the end of the day intellectually dishonest and sells short the sound Novembers Doom has forged for themselves. The band certainly has a distinctive manner in which it presents the various eclectic elements of its compositions – it is elegant and balanced, with a song-structuring that befits its lofty vision and brooding emotional value, while still being plainly memorable within the range of the recursive songs, managing to invoke the intended gamut of somber moods. It is majestic, melancholic and emotionally stirring without any of the pretense, a testament to the honest sense of artistic expression alongside its cultivated conceptual dramatism that the band has honed.
Riding the waves of success off their 8th studio record, The Great Mass, comes the best Septicflesh record to date. Titan is a brilliant blend of death metal and classical music that will give you the familiar urges to burn things down as well as an overwhelming sense of beauty that cannot be ignored. Septicflesh brings this much-needed change of pace from the constant brutality to a mix of savage guitar work and truly epic symphonic elements.
With this new record, there is definitely a stronger presence of the orchestral elements that really separates Septicflesh from the rest of the death metal world. You can tell from just casually observing the artwork or just a quick listen the incredibly amount of detail and thought poured into this record. Having gone from more stock type death metal to this incredible hybrid of metal and classical was probably the best move they could have made. Not only are they markedly unique and as original as it gets, but they seem to be paving the way for a new style of metal that I really hope takes hold. This is a record that easily sits above the rest due to the sheer amount of musicianship and extravagant beauty that radiates from every note. I cannot stress enough how much you need this in your collection, or if you don’t have one, this is a perfect place to start.