My Top 15 Albums of 2014

Another year has come and gone and a lot of great music has been released. Here are my picks for best albums of the year, counting down from 15. Also, below is a playlist of the recommended tracks from each album.

15. Austrian Death MachineTriple Brutal

Austrian Death Machine isn’t a groundbreaking endeavor by any means but the band is good at what they do. The brainchild of Tim Lambesis delivers punishing metalcore that could incite some seriously epic pits of all varieties (traditional, circle, wall of death,etc.). Sure, there’s a bit of a bias here on my behalf as I’m a big As I Lay Dying fan (just thought I should disclose that) but that doesn’t change the fact that there is some serious growth on this record. Musically, that is, lyrically it’s still pretty ridiculous. I say this because the music is powerful enough to bring a little seriousness to those lyrics, check out the Conan-themed tracks “Prepare To Be Conquered” and “Crom” and you’ll get what I mean. The band haven’t departed from the Schwarzenegger theme and this tongue-in-cheek attitude with superb musicianship make for a record that’s fun to listen to. Austrian Death Machine isn’t here to reinvent the wheel, this band exists to entertain and it knows its place. Triple Brutal does what it was meant to do, lay down some heavy music to rock the hell out to.

Suggested track: “Crom”

14. Black Crown InitiateThe Wreckage Of Stars

Progressive metal can be a tricky thing but Reading, PA quintet Black Crown Initiate do it well. The music covers much ground, from chugging riffs and guttural growls to intense melody and clean vocals. The Wreckage Of Stars takes the listener on a voyage of exquisitely crafted songs with twists and turns that keep it interesting. They dance between simplicity and technical complexity in a way that serves the song at hand. Black Crown Initiate is definitely a band to keep an eye out for, still a relatively young band (they were founded in 2012) and with an album as intense and mature as The Wreckage Of Stars, I can only imagine what the future holds for these guys.

Suggested track: “Withering Waves”

13. OpethPale Communion

Pale Communion is mind-bending affair with so many peaks and valleys it’s practically an aural workout listening to the album. That may sound like a complaint but it’s completely the opposite. Opeth’s eleventh opus is a refreshing set of songs that takes you on a vast journey of sound that is both nostalgic and modern. The record features a 70’s prog rock style with lengthy tracks and epic arrangements that keep the listener wondering what could possibly come next. The audio visualizers that have been released for several of the tracks are adequate representations of the music. There is not a single hint of death metal found on the album but that doesn’t mean the album is not intense as hell. The album features guitars that are slightly overdriven at most but everything is as it should be and where it should be. The effort by Åkerfeldt and company is not lacking in creativity and certainly entrances the listener with all everything that’s going on.

Suggested track: “Moon Above, Sun Below”

12. CrobotSomething Supernatural

I can’t remember the last time I heard a band that sounded anything like Crobot do. Listening to Something Supernatural, I feel like I’ve traveled back in time to the seventies. The Pennsylvania rockers deliver a well-crafted mix of psychedelic-sludge rock that would make your parents (or grandparents depending on how old you are) reminiscent of their youth. Crobot rock and they rock hard with heavy riffs, soaring vocals, and lots of groove. Though the band was only founded in 2011 they’ve got a bright future ahead of them, because on top of great tunes the band put on a fantastic live show. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Suggested track: “Fly On The Wall”

11. BloodbathGrand Morbid Funeral

Bloodbath are back to pulverize you with their new offering of old school death metal. The album kicks off like a bat out of hell and doesn’t cease until it’s done. The band continues to carry the torch for classic Swedish death metal with Grand Morbid Funeral. New vocalist Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) is a fitting replacement for former frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, delivering low, guttural vocals that match the sawblade guitar sound that is a Bloodbath staple. Grand Morbid Funeral is an old school death metal album through and through that doesn’t stop from opening track “Let The Stillborn Come To Me” to the closing title track.

Suggested track: “My Torturer”

10. Pianos Become The TeethKeep You

This album is noteworthy because of the completely new style adopted by Baltimore rockers. Keep You features clean vocals and the music itself is also less aggressive but that doesn’t take away from the songs at all. This record goes to show that Pianos Become The Teeth are more than just a screamo band but a very talented group of musicians that aren’t afraid to change it up and go in a completely different stylistic direction with their music. Whether their next effort will continue along this path, be a return to form, or a mix of styles it’ll be something to

Suggested track: “Repine”

9. Thomas GilesModern Noise

Between The Buried And Me frontman Tommy Rogers’ sophomore effort under the Thomas Giles name is a record that is full of emotion and fantastic compositions. The album is a pretty experimental affair, touching on various genres and running wild and free with creativity. Thomas Giles delivers a diverse album that captivates the listener with everything that’s going on. And while there is a lot going on on Modern Noise it’s not so much that it creates a cacophonous amalgamation of sounds. Everything you hear plays a role that adds to the atmosphere of the record and makes for a pleasant ride.

Suggested track: “We Wander Lonely”

8. In This MomentBlack Widow

Starts off strong and provides a varied experience of pop, metal, rock, and even electronica. This band gets a lot of flak for doing what many other are hailed for: branching out and experimenting. Critics be damned, In This Moment deliver on Black Widow and they have definitely come a long way musically. The band have been working hard at honing their craft as evidenced by their changing style, however slight or drastic that change might be. The band started out as another metalcore outfit with Beautiful Tragedy, shape-shifted into an arena rock band on The Dream, and have continued to transform themselves with subsequent releases. In This Moment shine on Black Widow as a band that’s done listening to the naysayers and are comfortable in their own skin.

Suggested track: “Big Bad Wolf”

7. Bloodshot DawnDemons

Brutally melodic death metal that will make you relentlessly headbang your neck into oblivion. That is what Bloodshot Dawn’s Demons brings to the table. Though the band have been around for a little over a decade this is the first I’ve heard of them and I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of them sooner. The band are melodic death metal to the core. Stellar musicianship and sick riffs abound on Demons, there is no lack of heaviness throughout the album. It’s not just brutal for the sake of being brutal though, there’s plenty of melody throughout that adds texture to the barrage of skull-crushing metal and takes it to soaring heights.

Suggested track: “Smoke and Mirrors”

6. The HauntedExit Wounds

The Swedish melodic death metal outfit are back with a vengeance on their 8th studio album. Exit Wounds also marks the return of vocalist Marco Aro, who departed after One Kill Wonder. In a modern metal scene replete with bands trying to outplay each other The Haunted stick to making some quality melodic death metal. The songs are well structured, trading off between fast, pit-inducing tracks, mid-paced grooves, and melodious licks that make for a killer record. Aro delivers an outstanding performance with screams/snarling vocals that suit the vibe of the record and the band in general; I’m definitely happy to hear the band brought him back to replace Peter Dolving. This record is also the first to feature new lead guitarist Ola Englund. An impressive musician in his own right, he fits right in. Overall, the band are still in good shape and this record is definitive proof that The Haunted are a force to be reckoned with.

Suggested track: “Psychonaut”

5. MastodonOnce More ‘Round The Sun

The Atlanta, GA psychedelic sludge quartet have done it again with their latest opus Once More ‘Round The Sun. The band continue down the progressive rock path that they’ve been following since 2009’s Crack The Skye. The reason this album stands out is because the band continues to separate themselves from the pack by refining their already unique sound. As usual, the album showcases the impressive talents of each member. One of the things that really gets me about the record is how the band divides vocal duties. Whether it’s one member singing at a time or harmonized vocals, they work together like a well-oiled machine, and that goes for the instruments as well. The album sounds massive, weaving a complex tapestry of sound that should satisfy any fan of Mastodon.

Suggested track: “Diamond In The Witch House”

4. ExodusBlood In, Blood Out

The bay area thrash outfit’s latest record is a bruiser that starts off strong and doesn’t disappoint. The follow-up to 2010’s Exhibit B and first effort with returning vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza is just what you’d expect from Exodus: fast, pissed off metal with great riffs and amazing solos. The entire band is in excellent form considering they are approaching 40 years as a band, which says a lot given how hard they rock. Souza’s vocals are as solid as they were on Tempo Of The Damned, Gary Holt and Lee Altus still shred like ripe, hungry 20-something musicians, and drummer Tom Hunting and bassist Jack Gibson, also in top form, provide a solid rhythmic foundation throughout.

Suggested track: “Blood In, Blood Out”

3. Slipknot.5: The Gray Chapter

Like their previous affairs the masked Iowan juggernaut’s fifth effort opens with an intro track, the eerie “XIX” sets the tone for the album before kicking it into high gear. To be honest, I’d written off Slipknot as a mediocre band since Vol. 3 and wasn’t particularly impressed with All Hope Is Gone but .5: The Gray Chapter really is a phenomenal album. It’s a return to form of sorts but also a step forward. I would describe the album as equal parts self-titled and Iowa with a dash of the commercial friendliness found on Vol. 3. There was concern surrounding this album since it’s the band’s first output since the passing of bassist Paul Gray and ousting of drummer Joey Jordison but rest assured this album is not lacking in any department. It’s heavy and dark with plenty of atmospherics and aggression that reflects the trying times the band have been going through the past four years.

Suggested track: “Custer”

2. Job For A CowboySun Eater

This album ushers in a new chapter for Job For A Cowboy. The Arizona death metal outfit continues to evolve and the skillfully crafted masterpiece that is Sun Eater goes to show that. Although they transcended the deathcore label with their sophomore release Ruination, many hoped the band would return to their roots. Three albums post-Genesis and the band have made it clear that there’s no going back. They’re moving forward in terms of their musical technicality and diversity and upwards with regard to their status among the modern death metal elite. I’d go on but the record speaks for itself, you should really just listen to it.

Suggested track: “Sun Of Nihility”

1. At The GatesAt War With Reality

Godfathers of melodic death metal return with their first batch of new songs in 19 years to remind everyone why they are pioneers of the Gothenburg sound. The album picks up right where Slaughter Of The Soul left off. The band sound as tight as ever, attacking with precision. The production is crisp but not overly done and vocalist Tomas Lindberg’s vocal delivery is superb. The musicianship is just what you’d expect: ripping riffs, thunderous drums, melodic, fast, heavy, I could go on. It’s going to be a tough one to top.

Suggested track: “Death And The Labyrinth”