Best of 2014 (Part 2)

A little later than anticipated, here are 12 of my metal picks for 2014, presented in no particular order. I’m probably not as tapped into the genre as I once was but I do try to keep my eye out for good new stuff. Metal still remains my main backdrop for writing, as some of my editorial comments will demonstrate. After editing this, I realized half my comments involve bitching about these albums’ failure to live up to past releases so I guess this was not the most mind-blowing year of metal for me. Or maybe I just need to find some new bands to get into.

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Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden
Even better than their last one and critics have (rightly) been all over it. An almost lush and relaxing brand of doom metal.

Woods of Desolation: As the Stars
My best new metal discovery of the year. A distillation and progression of the whole Alcest/Deafheaven post-black metal schitck.

Alcest: Shelter
I really do miss the black metal vocals and the stark light and dark dichotomy of past works, but they do retain some of the emotional peaks of their earlier stuff (see Voix Serenes). And in a history tangent that may interest no one, I incidentally love listening to Alcest when I write about expositions and World’s Fairs. More than anything else, the band captures the sheer exuberance of these gatherings. Its an excellent soundtrack to a sun-kissed yet frozen winter day.

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Horseback: Piedmont Apocrypha
Because of their experimentation and willingness to push the boundaries of what metal, folk and Americana can mean, every thing Horseback puts out is essential in my book. Piedmont Apocrypha tackles the dark past of my new home North Carolina. I prefer the hard-driving intensity of Half-Blood but I love the proliferation of acoustic and Americana interludes here. Wish I could track down the lyrics to this one, but the ominous drones and acoustic sections sure do bring to mind the tragic history of my state.

Agalloch: The Serpent & The Sphere
This one grew on me more and more as the year went by, probably because the tumultuous transition from fall to winter is prime Agalloch time. More meandering and folky than their last frost-bitten chunk of black metal, its still a great listen.

At the Gates: At War with Reality
The old masters briefly were able to rekindle my old (high-school era) love of the Gothenburg sound.

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Panopticon: Roads to the North
Years after its release, Kentucky, a concept album based on the tortured history and exploitation in the Bluegrass State, remains one of my favorite black metal albums of all time. Roads to the North sacrifices the political edge of Kentucky for a more introspective journey tracing a cross-country move. Like Kentucky, this one contains a skillful blend of Appalachian-inspired folk elements with black and melodic death metal. Can’t get enough of the banjo sections!

Saor: Aura
We continue our tour of one-man black metal projects with this project from Scotland. Epic blasts of folk evoke the mysteries and majesty of northern Scotland. Living in the NC mountains, with a backdrop not unlike the Scottish Highlands, give this one even more relevance. A perfect fit for a foggy day.

Nux Vomica: Nux Vomica
As we age, sadly the youthful spirit of rebellion sometimes ebbs, replaced with the mundanity of the 9-5 existence. I guess as a college professor I shouldn’t complain about this, but if you ever suffer from this sad malady, blast this shit. Crust punk and black metal elements combine for a potent brew.

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Thou: Heathen
Dense as fuck sludge from New Orleans. The DIY/radical political lyrics add icing to the hefty cake. Got into a serious groove writing about yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans over the summer and this record was perfect.

Inter Arma: The Cavern
A single 40-minute song from this Richmond band that also graced last year’s best list. Love the thematic continuities and the graceful transitions between chugging progressive metal and clean-vocal buildups.

BABYMETAL: BABYMETAL
J-Pop sadistically blended with death metal. I probably lost a lot of metal cred by putting this up here but this album works way better than it should. The minds behind this know their metal, and it certainly pushing the boundaries of the genre to new domains.

As an aside, I almost put the records from my old metal favorites, Mastodon and Opeth up here but while they are solid efforts, they just didn’t make the cut, and I figured I’d write more about new discoveries. As for next year, I am beyond stoked for new stuff from Baroness, perhaps my favorite metal outfit.

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