Metal music, and its many forms, is a major part of who I am today. The first time I heard Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" was a turning point in my life. Fast forward to today, and I'm still consuming anything I can that is labeled as metal.
Normally I just do a top 10 list with friends, but this year, I thought I'd try something new by posting it to Giantbomb! I'm not sure how many duders listen to metal, but maybe I can introduce you to a genre you never gave a chance!
#10 - Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral
Bloodbath is a death metal supergroup. The lead singer has changed a few times over the years, with a mostly consistent lineup of instrumentalists. This year's release saw a brand new vocalist introduced, of whom I was initially not a fan. But, as with other Bloodbath releases, multiple listens were needed in order to get a full understanding. Grand Morbid Funeral feels more fun, and thrashy, than previous works. But still present are some of the most crushing riffs you'll ever hear. You can check out the full album here. I think this is my least favorite album from them, but it's still a competent release.
#9 - Occultation - Silence in the Ancestral House
This is Occultation's sophomore album, and man is it an excellent follow up. Their first album was good, but it lost me at times due to some meandering passages within songs. This band isn't heavy in the sense of blast beats and down-tuned guitars, but heavy enough to where you'll find yourself banging your head. Featuring a female lead singer, Occultation builds dreamscapes that are both beautiful and terrifying. The band could be labeled as doom, but there's no sludgy slow riffs here. The guitar is fuzzy and fast, with constant tempo changes to keep it interesting. Check out "Laughter in the Halls of Madness".
#8 - Mortuus - Grape of the Vine
Another sophomore release, Mortuus falls within the black metal genre - but not due to incessant tremolo picking or blast beats, but from the dismal atmosphere they create. This album has a bit more accessible vocals (only a bit) than their first. Instead of screaming or screeching, Mortuus employs more of a gravelly, quiet, chant - and brings the vocals forward in the mix compared to the previous album. Grape of the Vine is dark and contemplative, with a slower pace than normal in the black metal scene, and is a complete album with no chaff - every song has a purpose. Favorite track: Sulphur
#7 - Behemoth - The Satanist
I wouldn't call myself a big fan of Behemoth. I've liked certain songs from certain albums over the years, but never did I like an entire album like I did with The Satanist. (Though their previous album, Evangelion, got close). I don't subscribe to any religion, including satanism, so what I took away from this album was 100% the music - fast, heavy and heartfelt. I may not agree with the band's views, but you can feel their conviction, and that alone makes this album an excellent experience. Behemoth has always blurred the lines between black and death metal, and you can expect more of that here. Favorite riff: Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
#6 - At the Gates - At War With Reality
At the Gates is one of the original Swedish death metal bands, and they had been split up for almost 20 years since their previous release, (and one of my favorite death metal albums ever), Slaughter of the Soul. Comebacks are hard to do, and after last year's triumphant returns from Gorguts and Carcass, there were high expectations for At the Gates. I honestly hoped for more, but this is a great album on its own. I wanted more At the Gates, and that's what they did. Check out "The Book of Sand". If you've never heard of At the Gates, I implore you listen to Slaughter of the Soul before anything!
#5 - Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Every time I think Primordial may disappoint me, I end up kicking myself. Can they do no wrong? Primordial shifted from folk-inspired black metal to a more toned-down folk heavy metal band quite some time ago. But let's emphasize heavy. They may have evolved in terms of sound, but their raw energy has not. The lead singer has an epic, empowering clean voice that can devolve into primal, gutteral screams that will make your blood freeze. Primordial has a knack for making me feel like I've been wronged by the world, and that I should stand and fight. A smattering of songs can be found here.
#4 - Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise
What's this? A band that hasn't been around for 20 years, let alone 5? Thantifaxath is a breath of fresh, but suffocating, air. I had never heard of them until this release, and I'm very glad I did. Sacred White Noise is a progressive, black metal piece that leads the listener down a dark path of despair and hopelessness. But amidst the misery, there is something uplifting about this record, that can only be explained through listening. Check out their bandcamp.
#3 - Blut Aus Nord - Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
BAN is an enigma of sorts. Yet another band that has been around since the 90's, BAN has gone from black metal, to industrial, to experimental, back to black, and so on. The main man behind the project, Vindsval, is superbly talented at juggling multiple schools of thought in music. This year's album is a return to black metal, and is part of a "trilogy" that started all the way back in 1996. This is the form of BAN I prefer: fast, cold and focused. Vindsval is another example of a vocalist who can balance clean vocals with scratchy, grating growls. You can stream the entire album here.
#2 - Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere
This was a tough call for #2. Agalloch has been pumping out excellent albums for a long time, and they didn't decide to just phone it in for 2014. This is a band that pushes themselves on every release, never quite sounding the same, and always evolving in some way. They're much more than black metal. This album will beat you to a pulp, pick you up with intermediate acoustic passages, until you're carried away again by walls of sound. Agalloch is excellent at creating gorgeous imagery with music alone, a talent not many bands possess. Bandcamp.
#1 - Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity
In only a short 6 years since their first release, Winterfylleth have gone from a standard folk-tinged black metal band to a top-notch folk black metal band. There was never enough time for stagnation with these guys. Every release saw them refine their sound until they arrived at The Divination of Antiquity, which is their full length in those 6 years. Nothing is perfect, but this album is damn close, and has my favorite closing track of 2014. Another complete, worthwhile listening experience with no wasted space. Check it out.
I'd love to hear some more opinions on this year's metal releases, there were a lot! Here's some honorable mentions that I just couldn't squeeze into the top 10:
Mayhem - Esoteric Warfare listen
Triptykon - Melana Chasmata listen
Morbus Chron - Sweven listen
And last but not least, my EP of 2014:
Bolzer - Soma
Bolzer is easily one of the most interesting new bands to the scene. They have a wholly unique sound that I had never heard before, and so far they only have a demo and 2 EP's. I'm anxiously waiting for a full length.
Thanks for reading!