Top 15 Albums of 2014

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Rude – Soul Recall

Rude - Soul Recall

Old school death metal in 2014. Rude brings back the sounds of Death and Morbid Angel to create a solid, refreshing throwback to what death metal was all about.

Watch the video to the title track “Soul Recall”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeB0_E6r2YY

14. Spectral Lore – III

Spectral Lore

I’m a sucker for atmospheric, epic black metal. Spectral Lore’s III album hits the nail on the head with this well-crafted work. Layered with plenty of soundscapes, this album truly defines the cold.

Listen to the entire album here: http://spectrallore.bandcamp.com/

13. Yautja – Songs of Descent

Yautja

This is sludge at its finest. Bass pounding with beats, distorted guitars, and a rally cry with the drums. This debut album by this relatively unknown band deserves the recognition it gets here. (FYI, Yautja is the name of the alien species the Predator is).

Listen to the entire album here: http://yautja.bandcamp.com/

12. Evergrey – Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey - Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey returns to their pre-2001 days with this powerful new album. While the band seems to slowly depart from their gloomier lyrics, the music is still-ever emotional and also driven by a refreshing new sound with their old song-writing style.

Watch the video for “The King of Errors”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmmh69G-pt0

11. Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool

casualties-of-cool

Although Devin Townsend released three friggen’ albums this year, Casualties of Cool is the only one on my list. This country rock album experiments with a little bit of everything he’s done in the past. There’s a little bit of his “mediation” album Ghost, his rock album Ki, and his dark ambient/noise album, Devlab. A concept album, Casualties of Cool is really something that stands out amongst not only his discography, but in the general sphere of “music.”

Listen to the song “Forgive Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNlLqvZPfI8

10. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

judas-priest

The last arguably “good” Judas Priest album was 1990’s Painkiller. After a few flubs, Redeemer of Souls truly is a redemption for the band. While it doesn’t showcase anything new, it shows that Judas Priest still has everything they did back when they started: powerful song writing, great lyrics, and offering awesome, head-banging momments all throughout the album.

Listen to the song “Halls of Valhalla” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VddfDsrVdcs

9. Falconer – Black Moon Rising

falconer

If you’re a fan of well-constructed riffage, this is what you need to listen to. Incredible song writing skills, and of course, epic vocals from Mathias Blad, this hits the sweet spot of finely-crafted power metal.

Listen to the title track “Black Moon Rising”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv05oHDjus4

8. Freak Kitchen – Cooking With Pagans

freak-kitchen

Cooking With Pagans is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. For the uninitiated: a similar style of Motorhead with jazz, metal, and pop music, Freak Kitchen shows off impressive songs with silly lyrics and catchy choruses, making you to grow a smile across your face. Their music video below, Freak of the Week, was also given a $100,000 budget. They opted to hire cartoonists to make it happen.

Watch the video to “Freak of the Week”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2vzBdIejVY

7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry

blut-aus-nord

There’s some real, damn good black metal here. The guitars are really what make this album an outstanding piece of work. Rich with emotions, it pained me to put this album in seventh place. Alas, you’ll soon learn why.

Listen to the entire album here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/blut-aus-nord-memoria-vetusta-iii-lp

6. Sólstafir – Otta

solstafir

This band is always pushing the boundaries to what “rock music” is. The album offers a wide encompassing amount of different styles – often in the same song (see below). There is no real way to describe Sólstafir’s sound. They’re a forever-evolving band, which is really great for people who like to hear something they never have before.

Watch the music video to “Lágnætti”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8n8Uy5KmvU

5. Gridlink – Longhena

gridlink

Out of all of the albums I’m putting on my list, this is the one I feel most people wouldn’t enjoy. Gridlink is a grindcore band at heart. However, their newest release “Longhena” is truly the most beautiful grindcore I’ve heard. In its glorious chaos, the songs are ripe with emotion and complicated orchestration. While the album barely clocks over twenty minutes, it’s incredible how much wonder was put in it.

Listen to the entire album here: http://handshakeinc.bandcamp.com/album/longhena

4. Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere

agalloch

These American folk/black metallers release, yet again, another gorgeous album. A completely different shift from the other two black metal albums on my list, Agalloch is more based within folkore and slower paced songs. While the momentum shifts throughout the album, their music is certainly breathtaking, if not awe-inspiring in its allure.

Listen to the entire album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHk5EnSuOV0

3. Anathema – Distant Satellites

anathema

Much like Sólstafir, Anathema is constantly pushing the boundaries to what rock is. While they lean more on the progressive rock side of things, this album showcases yet more incredible song writing by the band. Wonderful vocal harmonies, symphonic atmospheres, technical moments. . . this album is absolutely beautiful. Words cannot explain.

Can you even handle this music? The time signature! The beauty! Listen to “The Lost Song Pt. 1” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v30RadD_aiI

2. Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us

cynic

This album took me by surprise. Cynic was a technical death metal band. They featured harsh vocals and technical know-how with their instruments. With “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” they dropped their old selves – and death metal vocals – and turned into a progressive rock band. What they still keep is the incredible instrumentation, complexity in their songs, and the immense strength they have as a band through showcasing their talents. Being a band with only three musicians, you would feel as if there is more to the band than what you hear. The album is overwhelmingly complicated, but careful with how it lets the listener focus on particular parts. Nothing is actually overwhelming, but the song ideas as a whole are. It’s a great, great album.

Watch the lyric music video to “Kindly Bent to Free Us”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ6MXHOXLq4

1. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

triptykon

Between this album and Cynic, I had the hardest time deciding which would be number one. However, Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot.

Only in their second album, Triptykon’s lead singer, Tom G. Warrior, continues with his thought-provoking song writing and emotional output through this raw, energy-filled album. Triptykon is not only distorted with their song writing, but their sounds as well. In fact, the sound which the band produces is on another level of musical standards.

From the crushing bass of Vanja Slajh, to the echoed despair of Norman Lonhard’s snare; the rhythmic pounding from Santura’s guitar, and the melting intensity of Warrior’s guitar and vocals – “Melana Chasmata” is an album which will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think a week went by since its release in April where I hadn’t listened to it.

One of the best things to take away from the album is how the band is not afraid to do whatever they want. Case-in-point with the two music videos below. Getting variety like this on an album is only one of the many reasons to why “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to the slow-paced and haunting “Aurorae”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmyWeOvF_Sg
Watch the music video to crushing first track, “Tree of Suffocating Souls”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMamBKqz_8U

Honourable mentions:

Devin Townsend – Z2: Sky Blue

Valnacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

Overkill – White Devil Armory

Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

Electric Wizard – Time to Die

Most Disappointed:

Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope

Yes – Heaven & Earth

Devin Townsend – Z2: Dark Matters

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

Top 15 Albums of 2015

I have been doing this annually since 2005, but I rarely mention it publically. I usually post these things on Facebook for friends, but I had a few people tell me they wish to see this on my website. So here we go!

15. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Iron Maiden

With the band’s first double album, The Book of Souls explores many progressive concepts that really seem to harken back to 1984’s Powerslave. With three songs over ten minutes, the album expands on Maiden’s already great musicianship shows off their compositions. Save for the single, the rest of the album has a lot more technical prowess to it.

Watch the music video for the single, “Speed of Light”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F7A24f6gNc

14. Himinbjorg – Wyrd

Himinbjorg

Folk black metal band Himinbjorg have always been rather absent from the music scene. Featuring the somewhat lackluster albums in the past, their newest release, Wyrd, steps up their songwriting and production game to a new level. With a vast array of song styles within the rather moody album, I have to say I was super impressed of the band’s change.

Listen to “The World of Men Without Virture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUWCtX5K3JM

13. Symphony X – Underworld

Symphony X

Breaking new ground with 2002’s release, The Odyssey, the band now had to live up to certain expectations. With 2007’s Paradise Lost, they really pushed it to the limit. 2011’s Iconoclast fell flat. Now in 2015, Underworld brings them back up – not to previous standards, but pushing different standards and setting a new precedent for themselves. Unlike traditional SX fashion, the first few songs – while impressive – are not nearly as good as the last half of the album. Underworld mixes with new sounds and shows the listener that the old progressive metal band they once were is gone. With Underworld, we hear SX aren’t afraid to try something new and experiment again.

Listen to the opening track “Nevermore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z3AHbjeb1U

12. Frank Zappa – Dance Me This

Frank Zappa

Even though he passed away in 1993, he had enough music recorded to be released up until now. Dance Me This, both Zappa’s 100th and final album, features Frank predominately performing with a Synclavier – a digital sampling device – along with Siberian throat singers. While the album is definitely an acquired taste, I can honestly say that even twenty-plus years after his death, Frank is still pushing the musical envelope with this album – making me hear things I’ve never heard before. This rings especially true with the final track, Calculus.

Listen to the opening title track and what is considered Frank’s final guitar solo, “Dance Me This”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHns_UnyWZQ

11. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud

Amorphis

Another year and unsurprisingly another Amorphis album makes my list. Can this band do no wrong? They have a formula and they stick to it. However, unlike previous albums, Under the Red Cloud plays around with more musical themes outside of their traditional Finnish roots. Always impressing and improving on their sound, there’s no wonder why this band still dominates in the music world.

Listen to the single, “Sacrifice”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiOX2axSWvg

10. Venom – From The Very Depths

Venom

Where did this come from? Never did I expect to see new Venom in a top fifteen list of mine, and yet here we are! While credited as one of the originators of the black metal genre, Venom has grown far away from that to the point. Fom the Very Depths sounds like a cross between bands like Testament, Overkill, and Motörhead. Pulse-pounding and relentlessly heavy, this new release breathes fresh air in the band and excites me for their next release.

Listen to the single, “Long Haired Punks”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KwCOoEI0rM

9. Sigh – Graveward

Sigh

As expected, this Japanese band gives the listener more than they could ever expect. From the far-extreme to the slow-mellow, Sigh have always gone with the strange, purposeful “under produced” sound with incredible quality in their music. Graveward never ceases to impress throughout the entire album.

Be surprised! Listen to the single, “Kaedit Nos Pestis”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iczcILBMlcs

8. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed

Nile

This American tech-death band features a return-to-form after the disappointing 2012 release, At the Gate of Sethu. With crushing riffs and pulse-pounding drum beats, Nile’s newest release is perfect for the listener who’s looking to be blown away from the intensity the album provides. As usual, expect lengthy write ups about each song’s meaning in the linear notes.

Listen to the single/opening track, “Call to Destruction”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSVqclCr4fI

7. Nordic Giants – A Séance of Dark Delusions

Nordic Giants

The debut full-length album from this English duo is nothing short of impressive. Almost as if each song is a soundtrack from a movie, it is difficult to explain what Nordic Giants are. With each song different from the other, featuring keys, trumpets, drums, guitar, operatic vocals – they are a rock band but with unconventional instruments. An absolutely breathtaking album. I’m confident it will impress.

Watch the music video to “Rapture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K79YFZLXobM

6. Torche – Restarter

Torche

After 2012’s lovely Harmonicraft, Restarter ups the ante and gets heavier, dirtier, and sludgier (new word) with overdriven bass, pounding kicks, and gruff vocals. Still keeping true to their song-writing roots, Torche simply makes the same music they always have, but they made it heavier. While that defaults as a bonus in my books, the band does so naturally without losing who they are. That alone speaks volumes to both the quality of the band and of this album.

Watch the music video to “Annihilation Affair”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWt7V-E9S7U

5. Arcturus – Arcturian

Arcturus

As a band known for helping change the sound of black metal, some would say their newest, Arcturian, is far from it. And you know, it certainly doesn’t sound like it would be considered black metal – yet it still is. Always different and never boring, Arcturian is the band’s first album in ten years and still sounds as if they never stopped being themselves along the way.

Listen to the first track/single, “The Arcturian Sign”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uWIg5hI7hE

4. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

My Dying Bride

As expected with a band name like this, My Dying Bride pushes your chest in and holds you there as you experience the sheer brutal sorrow of this album. From the gothic, poetic lyrics and dark sounds, Feel the Misery absorbs you into it and refuses to let go. Hands-down, one of the band’s – if not the band’s – best release.

Watch the video of the title track, “Feel the Misery”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e_c3XAPoUI

3. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred

Ozric Tentacles

Another first double album for a band in this list, the instrumental band Ozric Tentacles, release their fifteenth album in spectacular fashion. As a band that always seems to do something stranger than the last, Technicians of the Sacred still manages to pull some punches with the hefty variety of music it brings. Spoiler alert: I’m a big Ozric fan. I can say that this is their best album since 1993’s Jurassic Shift.

Listen to the full album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmg7wXhy41I

2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson

What Steven Wilson does for music is like what the sun does to plants for Earth. His newest release, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is bold, touching, emotional, driven, brilliant, moody, intense, beautiful, and oh-so much more. Blending both pop music and progressive rock, the album still features a concept, unlike most pop albums: and the concept of the album is remarkable, if not a bit depressing. Guest vocalist, Ninet Tayeb, provides a balanced contrast and freshness to both the album and Wilson’s production.

Watch the gorgeous music video to “Perfect Life”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOU_zWdhAoE

Watch the heart-breaking music video for “Routine”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCn-CNanD_g

1. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

Riverside

After the release of 2005’s Second Life Syndrome, the Polish band, Riverside (much like Symphony X), seemed to lose themselves in a couple of stale albums. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine changes everything and puts the band up on a pedestal that surpasses everything they’ve done.

Never slowing down, but hardly ever breaking the precedent set by the first track, Riverside finds their stride with the opening notes and continues through to the end. LF&tTM keeps a constant sublime and melancholic feeling throughout the album – right up until the final note is played. The album is calming, yet still intricate enough to satisfy the listener with the layers of beauty within each song.

Often upbeat, despite the rather relaxed mix and mastering of the album, LF&tTM features a variety of tunes that all share familiarity to each other while still being completely different in structure and theme.

For these reasons, and because it’s my most listened to album this year, does Riverside take the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to “Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)” – which pretty much captures the feeling of the album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN0uSZ8xNcs

Listen to the single, “Discard Your Fear”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc4MSBVLF2c

Honourable Mentions:

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

Kamelot – Haven

Moonspell – Extinct

George Kollias – Invictus

Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Faith No More – Sol Invictus

Kylsea – Exhausting Fire

Spectral Lore – Gnosis

Most Disappointed:

Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror

Annihilator – Suicide Society

Royal Hunt – Devil’s Dozen

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?