Thumbs up: +7
I doubt I'll have the time to sample enough music to match the 201 albums I covered in 2013, but hopefully I'll be able to listen to a fair few things and pass on me ol' thoughts.

Created by: musclassia | 08.02.2014

1. Ortega - Crows
2014 [8.8] - Another extended single-track release from these guys, and one to embrace. The track is on the surface admittedly somewhat repetitive, but the repeated riffs are engaging and general sound of it makes the whole thing very entrancing and somewhat hypnotic. As it develops, it continues to stay fresh and interesting, and by the end you're fully won over. If you loved The Serpent Stirs like I did, you won't be disappointed.
2. Mechina - Xenon
2014 [8.6] - Following hot on the heels of last year's great Empyrean, these guys are back with another fine album of industrial/djent-laced symphonic death metal. The album does slightly blow its load with the opening title track, which is likely going to be in the top 10 best metal songs released this year - it's that good. After that atom bomb, the rest of the album isn't quite as stunning, stabilizing at a 'really good/great' level which is still very enjoyable. The album is something of a progression from Empyrean - more impressive clean vocals, heavier death parts, more ambitious instrument choices - but still has a fairly similar sound. Clearly a band comfortable in their sound and producing great stuff from it.
3. Dirge - Hyperion
2014 [8.6] - An extremely accomplished atmos-sludge/post- album with a nice heavy sound. It occasionally vies a somewhat cold, slightly industrial vibe, but often pulls out powerful, emotionally forceful material that really makes an impression. Tracks like Circumpolaris, Hyperion Under Glass and Filigree, really show what they're capable of, whilst huge closer Remanentie is a brooding, hypnotic closer comparable to Cult of Luna's Vicarious Redemption. I was slightly turned off on first listen, but much like their previous record, subsequent listens have awakened me to its greatness. The first great post- release of the year.
4. Cormorant - Earth Diver
2014 [8.5] - A remarkably strong progressive black album which ups the ante on their previous album. The first track or so don't quite shine, with a little too much of the full-pelt black, but when they move away from that into great melodic guitar leads, neat guitar grooves and riffs, intriguing build-ups and accomplished long songs like the final three, along with some nice occasional clean vocals, they have a very well-conceived and performed album that knows when to be intense and when to breathe a little and bring out the great stuff.
5. Hark - Crystalline
2014 [8.4] - Another fine stoner release, following up from the likes of Windhand, Weedpecker and New Keepers Of The Water Towers from last year. Perhaps not quite up there with the best of those releases, there's still a whole bunch of great riffs and talented songwriting going on here that should keep you plenty entertained if this is your thing. The highlight is the stunning, multi-faceted closer Clear Light Of..., featuring Clutch's own Neil Fallon. Great.
6. Behemoth - The Satanist
2014 [8.3] - I consider myself a greater fan of this band's 00s death metal phase than the blackened death period prior to that; however, the mentions of returning black elements on this album did get me excited, as did the rest of the furore over the album. Time to report: it's quite a varied album - starts with a plodding riff intro before ending the opening track with a big ol' cacophony. The album clearly has a far greater black vibe than the 00s stuff, and it works really well on the album, whatever type of track is going on. Throughout the album there's more intense tracks like Amen, groovier mid-tempo ones like Ben Sahar and Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer, and ones that mix both well, like the title track. There's also some great guitar solo work, examples on said title track and Messe Noire, and even some curved balls, like the acoustic mid-part of In The Absence Ov Light. Is the album as great as some are saying? Perhaps not; the slower tracks aren't uniformily hits and can occasionally appear a bit meandering, particularly with some of the more one-note black riffs, and tracks which have a bit of an Immortal/I (the band) vibe don't match up to some of the more intimately Behemoth stuff. However, songs like the title track and emphatic epic closer O Father O Sun O Satan rank among their finer songs, and, even if I do love several tracks off Evangelion, this is their best album since Demigod.
7. Aenaon - Extance
2014 [8.2] - I did hear this group's previous album, but have little memory of it. However, this one was very impressive. A good mix of black intensity, restrained avant-garde quirkiness, and melodic tendencies, both with clean vocals and instruments, to keep the package an engaging listen. I will agree with others that Funeral Blues doesn't work quite as well as the other songs, but that aside it's very solid across the board, and Palindrome is a crack finale.
8. Cynic - Kindly Bent To Free Us
2014 [8.2] - A very weird-sounding album, like most of Cynic's comeback stuff I guess, but this is far more enjoyable than, say, Carbon-Based Anatomy. I've been truly hooked by the epic The Lion's Roar, which is clearly the standout cut on the album, but there's plenty of other intriguing songs throughout to perk your curiosity. I can't imagine it being for everyone, especially due to the vocals, which have pushed the vocoder effect even further than previously, but also the songs do have an offbeat sound that even Traced In Air didn't have; plus the extreme elements that lingered on that album have truly left the building now. Wit the potential to be highly divisive, but I really enjoyed it.
9. Bast - Spectres
2014 [8.1] - A pretty cool black/doom album. The first couple tracks maybe lack a little that the other tracks have, but throughout there's a solid mix of intense and sometimes groovy extreme doomy riffing, some really nice atmospheres and buildups (Psychonauts works especially well as an example of this) and some creepy croaks with occasional cleans mixing things up.
10. Helms Alee - Sleepwalking Sailors
2014 [8.1] - Some really nice mid-tempo melodically-inclined sludge/stoner riff-driven stuff here. The songs could maybe have been a bit more developed, and some vocals parts don't quite work or feel rather lacking, but for the most part it's very engaging and enjoyable.
11. Major Parkinson - Twilight Cinema
2014 [8.0] - A good fun piece of work, described as a trip by prog rock to the cabaret by some. It's got a similar quirky-yet-accessible feel to Diablo Swing Orchestra, and a similar air of fun to that band too. Very solid left-field album.
12. Morbus Chron - Sweven
2014 [8.0] - A rather unusual and subdued prog/death album, which has a multitude of calm melancholic sections with clean guitar chords, and a relatively small number of outbursts into old-school tech death-esque quirky extreme metal. Comparison's to Tribulation's colossus from last year are a bit misleading given the calmer nature of this album, and IMO lesser nature of it, but there's a fair amount of good stuff to be found here, including the really nice closer, with it's gradual wind-down led by a neat guitar ostinato. Some rather cool stuff here.
13. Hannes Grossmann - The Radial Covenant
2014 [7.9] - A pretty neat tech-death album from a member of genre big guns Necrophagist and Obscura, so the guy clearly knows how to do this music well. In all truthfulness, there are times when the more extreme parts get a tad tedious, even though good riffs are provided, but each song has a chance to shine, often in the more melodic parts. Aeons Illuminate and The Radial Covenant I. II. show this off pretty well. Also, the piano cover of Euclidean Elements from Obscura's Omnivium was quite dull and very unrewarding, and a bit of a bum note to end the album. Still, rather nice.
14. Nasheim - Solens Vemod
2014 [7.9] - A pretty darn solid black metal release. One that is fuzzy but not tinny, and which can go blasty-fast, or more midpaced, and with howls of anguish, or haunting cleans. It even pops into slowed-to-a-halt single-tone guitar segments or acoustic sections. Not groundbreaking at all, but rounded and nice to listen to.
15. Vanden Plas - Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld (Path 1)
2014 [7.9] - A progressive power metal with the ambitious musical style, technical ability and pleasant melodic tendencies of that style, but one which perhaps lacks the important hooks that albums namedropped in related threads (e.g. Kamelot's brilliant The Black Halo) have which holds it back from being a truly great album.
16. The Great Old Ones - Tekeli-li
2014 [7.8] - An impressive album, one with predominantly aggressive black metal features (well-produced though, so no saw to the ears), but which ambitious atmospheric aspirations. However, aside from perhaps The Ascend, it never truly won me over and got me to pay full attention to it during the run-through. Maybe further listens would give more reward, but it just doesn't have quite enough on first listen to shine in the atmos/post-black crowd. Very cool artwork though.
17. Ancient Ascendant - Echoes And Cinder
2014 [7.8] - A rather enjoyable black/melodeath/thrash release, with aggressive but hooky riffs that very from midpaced to rather faster, and features growls and shrieks. The music isn't hugely challenging or particularly variable, but there are some really neat riff grooves to headbang along to, particularly towards the end of the album (The Toll Of Mourning is very nice), and the calm interlude Embers is rather neat too. Good fun.
18. Tuomas Holopainen - The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck
2014 [7.7] - I gave this a listen merely out of slight curiosity, despite being a big Nightwish fan, just because their more recent work (particularly Imaginaerum) had been come increasingly willing to let symphonics take over from the band, and had at the same time declined in quality, so I really didn't know what to expect. However, this album clearly beats at least Imaginaerum, and is certainly not all that far off Once and Dark Passion Play either (and I like both albums quite a bit). The album is almost entirely non-metal, purely a piece of somewhat folky symphonic stuff, but it conjures up plenty of pleasant melodies and arrangements, and the female vocals that dominate the album are enjoyable and well-judged, rather more subdued than the likes of Tarja. The most memorable tracks are The Last Sled, Goodbye Papa and A Lifetime Of Adventure - give those a listen, and if you dig, try the whole album, it's actually rather nice and enjoyable.
19. Ea - A Etilla
2014 [7.7] - A pretty solid funeral doom album, but one which doesn't necessarily sound FDM all the time. There is clearly a slow, plodding riff&drum feel throughout, with sections that focus on the crunch or others which lay guitar lines over prominently. However, it is willing to vary; around 10 minutes in there's an uptempo part which wouldn't sound out-of-place on a melodeath album, whilst there's one section where isolated choral mourns transition into a single guitar playing. This shifting around keeps the album fresh, but does give off an impression at times that the band isn't confident enough in the core sound to stick with it, in the way that Monolithe IV was so successful at being. In the end it has plenty going for it in terms of being a heavy, sorrowful piece of work that doesn't get too tedious before its time is over, but one which doesn't wholly captivate either.
20. Benevolent - The Covenant
2014 [7.7] - An interesting ambient djent album, with variation from more intense extreme tendencies to mellowed clean vox sections. The latter are more successful - whenever the album is into the heavy djent-driven growly parts it loses a fair bit of its appeal as it fails to offer much in the way of interesting rhythm, riffs or melodies. However the album is capable of pulling some good stuff out in the more melodic parts, and songs such as standout track Ascension show what the band is capable of.
21. Appearance Of Nothing - A New Beginning
2014 [7.6] - A reasonable follow-up to the really neat All Gods Are Gone, but most of the tracks go by with nothing of true note happening to really elevate the music, lacking something as exciting as 2nd God or as offbeat as The Call Of Eve. In the end it's a perfectly enjoyable melodic prog album but nothing to truly shine.
22. Woods Of Desolation - As The Stars
2014 [7.6] - A slightly disappointing follow-up to one of the best albums of 2011. Gone is the melancholy, longing feel of Torn Beyond Reason's depressive BM, and in its place is a 'euphoric' sounding blackgaze album not wildly dissimilar to Deafheaven's Sunbather and Alcest's Ecailles De Lune. As it is, it's a reasonable but flawed attempt at the genre, with the harsher sections failing to produce the level of atmosphere they previously achieved, and the uplifting tone not so naturally suited to them. I went to check the previous one after hearing this to see if I was overrating it at all, but I agreed with my previous assessment, and feel this is a slight step down, if still a decent album.
23. Thou - Heathen
2014 [7.5] - A perfectly reasonable sludge doom album, with lengthy tracks packing crunchy slow riffs. However, this has been done before better, and it does eventually become somewhat monotonous, as the music is mostly one-note (although occasional diversions, even if sounding like interludes more than anything, offer some welcome respite). Considering last year SubRosa released a rather good album in a very similar style, this album does fall short of great in comparison. Nevertheless, very decent sludge doom that works fine as background music.
24. Kypck - Имена на стене
2014 [7.4] - A reasonably decent doom album, with a good range of riffs, melodic guitar arrangements and so on, but one which ultimately fails to fully engage, particularly in it's more drawn-out funeral-y moments, and one where the vocals could do with a fair bit of work to reach a standard befitting the music.
25. Alaskan - Despair, Erosion, Loss
2014 [7.4] - A reasonable sludgy post- album with some decent stuff on, but one which seems ultimately too focussed on being overly heavy than producing a fine atmosphere. The first track starts with some needlessly violent playing, but does eventually calm into a really nice heavy riff. Some other tracks try to go soft or brooding without real success, and one or two even include strings, maybe to try and manage what SubRosa have accomplished, without the same success. It's generally good but not a whole lot more than that.
26. Mayan - Antagonise
2014 [7.3] - Something of a drop down from 2011's great debut. It's not really obvious what's the difference, as the musical style is very similar, with a heavy melodeath-ish base with growls and occasional cleans, all sprayed with a coat of synths. However, for some reason, the songs just don't come across as nearly as interesting as they were on the previous album, and sound really quite by the numbers; plus, the lyrics really leave something to be desired at times (the first few lines to Capital Punishment really wouldn't cut it in primary school).
27. Wijlen Wij - Coronachs Of The Ω
2014 [7.3] - A reasonably decent funeral doom album, although its best moments are when it's not funeral doom. Some moments, especially in the 3rd track, where a trudging drum beat and guitar chords, just bored me to tears, as there was so little going on, but then when they diverged from that, most notably in the almost epic black metal-esque finale of A Solemn Ride To Ruin, they came up with good stuff, and that finale, followed by the decent synth outro track, left a good parting impression. Still, nothing too extraordinary, even in its best moments.
28. Dephosphorus - Ravenous Solemnity
2014 [7.3] - As someone who definitely wouldn't class as a grindcore fan, I found certain things in this worth liking. For a start, whilst there is the typical overdose of blastbeats (although even these sections have their appeal more than some other grind bands), the album's actually capable of moving away from that, such as the death n' roll featured in earlier tracks and the start of the closer, and certain more black metal-orientated moments on the album. The album peaks on the penultimate track, with a really slowed down almost atmos-black feel, with a nice guitar lead and even acoustics interlaced into the sound. Even though I struggle to enjoy the genre, the amount of variety and songwriting ability when they stick to the typical sound helps this album stand out.
29. Blood Stain Child - Last Stardust
2014 [7.2] - Clearly an extension of what they did on Epsilon, although this isn't at that album's level for two reasons. First, the new vocalist just isn't as infectious as Sophia was. Second, the trance has gone into overdrive on this one, and it's reaching a point where it's more focussed on being a bowl of super-hyper music that been the hookfest that Epsilon was. Still, the two original tracks are fun enough and suggest that they might be able to avoid Epsilon being one brilliant flash in the pan as far as this stylistic move is concerned.
30. Blut Aus Nord - Debemur MoRTi
2014 [7.1] - My only encounters with BaN are the 777 albums; I would place the music on this album somewhere in between the dissonance of Sects (my least favourite of the three) and the atmospheric industrial pounding of The Descantification (my favourite). The first track, whilst more accessible than the Sects material, was a little too chaotic-sounding to appeal to me. However, the second track and the bonus cover were closer to the more atmospheric sound I was quite fond of, sounding like a black metal esoteric-sounding version of Ministry's Scarecrow. Not great, but a reasonable package.
31. Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon
2014 [7.1] - This received it's fair share of negative criticism upon release, so I was quite skeptical about listening to this, especially since my once-huge interest in the band has considerably dwindled in the last couple of years. Nevertheless, although this is clearly inferior to Dystopia, it's certainly not a failure. The songs do generally sound like B-sides for the previous album, but the title track, If I Could See You, Peacemaker and others have interesting parts to them, whether riffs, choruses or solos. There's nothing here to overly excite you but as a listening experience it's sufficiently pleasant to not be too disappointing, and it definitely doesn't beat The Crucible Of Man for their worst.
32. Altar Of Betelgeuze - Darkness Sustains The Silence
2014 [7.0] - Traverses an unusual line between fuzzy groovy stoner and punishingly oppressive death/doom metal, without a real working balance between the two. The stoner is decent enough, although not as good as some other recent releases, and the d/d is suitably imposing but not that enticing, and the two sides either exist completely separate, or sometimes try to fuse together with middling results. Interesting idea but feels more of a jack than a master.
33. Alcest - Shelter
2014 [6.8] - Alcest have completely abandoned their black metal roots and released a post-rock/dream-pop album, albeit with clearly notable elements of their sound. What this achieves is producing a pleasant background album with moments of excitement, but also one that sounds highly derivative of bands within the genres that actually specialize in the sound, and which ends up being ultimately forgettable. Whilst Deafheaven are off making the blackgaze genre their own and blowing it up into levels of mainstream unthinkable of extreme metal (even if I don't ultimately buy the Deafheaven hype), Alcest have abandoned the genre they helped popularize and were so good at (Ecailles de Lune easily warrants Sunbather's accolades), and instead become a follower of other, better bands. There's promise here, and the album's pleasant enough, but I can only hope they manage on the next record to make something more substantial, and noteworthy.
34. Murmur - Murmur
2014 [6.4] - A promising idea iffily implemented. The mix of murky esoteric black metal with a progressive-driven approach could've been great, and there's definitely evidence throughout the album that it yet could. However, the production job is a real obstacle to enjoyment, a really fuzzy, messy, poorly-mixed job, and the songs all too often sound aimless, with some technical parts coming across as just a mess, and some slower, repetitive parts can get really boring. Plus, the clean vocals leave a lot to be desired. It's a shame, because there's more than a few times during the album where you actually enjoy it, but all too often it fails to satisfy.

Disclaimer: All top lists are unofficial and do not represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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