December already? That’s another year that’s pretty much flown by with just a couple of blinks, which means every blog and website is trotting out their end of year lists (as is tradition of course). If you have little to be doing with your time and have read this blog before you’ll notice that I’ve chosen a different format for this year’s list. Usually I break it down into a couple of parts, looking at albums, EPs, demos, and splits. I felt it was a tired concept and opted for one lengthier list this time around, which is probably what I’ll stick with for the future.
Speaking of the future, I have not forgotten that I have largely neglected The Grind That Annoys this year. Real life got in the way. However, I’ve some things that I’m planning for 2015 that will keep the site active on a semi-regular basis. I think it could be pretty cool but could just as easily fall flat on its face. Riveting times.
Back to the here and now though. 2014 was a strange year for music (well, the music that falls into the remit of The Grind That Annoys). Unlike last year, there was no one, two or three truly standout records that stood head and shoulders above everything else. In case you’re wondering last year’s album of the year was Altar of Plagues, a record that was simply otherworldly. There was nothing quite like that in 2014 but that is certainly not to say that it’s been a bad year. Anything but. There’s no such thing as a bad year for music. If you feel that way, your ears are failing or you’re just too lazy to seek out great music.
Yes, 2014 was another good one. I feel like this top 50 touches a lot of bases, representing a vast cross section of bands and styles. Of course there will be some glaring omissions here and there while some records were just a little too late to the party for consideration (looking at you, StarGazer and Ascension) but nevertheless I’m happy with this list as a representation of the year. So read on and as always, the comment section is below for all love letters and threats.
50 Ea – A Etilla
Mysterious funeral doom outfit Ea have taken a step away from total gloom with A Etilla and flirted with some (very slightly) more up tempo sounds and the end result has worked a treat.
49 FE Denning – Light and Dust
Born from a world of harsh noise, FE Denning’s Light and Dust is more attuned to dark ambient on this occasion and is something to get completely lost in.
48 Nebelung – Palingenesis
This year has been peppered with some impressive neofolk records from both sides of the Atlantic and German trio Nebelung’s Palingenesis was the first real standout.
47 Marissa Nadler – July
July is by far and away Marissa Nadler’s best record to date. Her beautiful vocals and folky guitars are stunning in their lonesome vibe, complemented perfectly by sporadic pianos and cello throughout but unsurprisingly it’s songs like ‘I’ve Got Your Name’, which are all about the vocals, that steal the show.
46 Downfall of Gaia – Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay
Downfall of Gaia’s third LP Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay sees the band take some more steps towards post black metal territory and it worked effectively for them, especially in the vocal department making some highly-welcomed adjustments.
45 Anathema – Distant Satellites
Distant Satellites is a difficult album for Anathema but a grower. One half is the band at their current best while the second sees them play around with a lot more electronics than before and is perhaps an indication of sounds to come. One way or another, it’s something that still has to be heard.
44 Vircolac – Codex Perfida
A late addition to the year’s releases, Vircolac are the latest death metal animal spawned in Dublin, releasing their first demo Codex Perfida. Having only made their live debut last month, this is still very early days but rather encouraging ones nonetheless.
43 IRN – Sewer Disease
Toronto’s IRN waste no time in getting their aesthetic across with this album title, which perfectly describes the sickly sludge doom held within its three monolithic tracks and it all turned out to be one of the year’s best doom records.
42 Bvdub – A History of Distance
It would be strange if we ever went more than 12 months without a Bvdub record. I’ll Only Break Your Heart released earlier this year was another heart wrenching record of electronic ambience and the latest Tanto is still sinking in but it’s A History of Distance that sees the man also known as Brock Van Wey at some of his best.
41 Dúnmharú – The Light
The fourth album, The Light, from the Dublin black metal duo, Dúnmharú is easily the band’s most evolved and focused piece of work, while at the same time they’ve allowed a healthy level of melody to seep into their sound and all for the better.
40 Woods of Desolation – As the Stars
The man known simply as D. continues to take his Woods of Desolation moniker into decidedly less black metal territory and As The Stars is the latest proof, incorporating more and more post rock and shoegaze elements.
39 Ellorsith – 1959
Tackling a somewhat unconventional concept (the Dyatlov Pass deaths), Scotland’s Ellorsith’s brand of savage death metal sheened with BM is every bit as murky and mysterious as the story they’re telling. Released on tape and online earlier this year, the band hasn’t provided too many details on what’s happening next for them though.
38 Anopheli – A Hunger Rarely Sated
Featuring Light Bearer vocalist Alex CF and members of Monuments Collapse, Anopheli spent a while in gestation but their crusty emotional hardcore was more than worth the wait. This is definitely one for fans of Remains of the Day and Ekkaia.
37 PLF – Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration
Grinders PLF tend not to miss a step and their 2014 contribution Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration is no different. Much like its 2013 predecessor Devious Persecution and Wholesale Slaughter, it’s a relentless and violent blastfest. Sure, it sticks to its old beaten but sometimes when it’s not broke…
36 Nemorensis – The Lady in the Lake
One of the more mysterious black metal projects of the year, Nemorensis’ The Lady in the Lake was released by Sol y Nieve early on in the year. The tape is every bit as murky and lo-fi as the artwork would suggest and the 27 minute piece can be a difficult listen but the strange aura is oddly inviting at the same time.
35 Tumbleweed Dealer – Western Horror
The score to the best ‘70s horror film that you’ve never seen, Montreal’s Tumbleweed Dealer’s second LP Western Horror sees the band craft a compelling score-like tone for their instrumental stoner rock. On first glance the two styles don’t feel like they should mesh so well but Western Horror proves that to be very wrong.
34 Owl’s Blood – Cold Night of Meditation
Sometimes the right dosage of orthodox black metal is what the doctor ordered and Basque black metallers Owl’s Blood’s first LP Cold Night of Meditation fills that void just perfectly with the right balance of scathing old school BM vocals and punkish guitar tones to offset the traditional blast beats. Meanwhile the production is just at the right side of the mire so as to capture the band’s grit yet not bury their riffs, of which there are many.
33 Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity
Manchester’s Winterfylleth have had this record brewing in them for a while. Each of its predecessors have been very solid efforts but The Divination of Antiquity has definitely caught a moment where the black metal band has put their finger on their sound perfectly, crafting a massive and compelling melody-tinged black metal album that’s equally invigorating as it is accessible.
32 Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down
The third album from JR Robinson, under the signature Wrekmeister Harmonies, sees him and a slew of guest musicians once again traverse many different musical plains across one lengthy composition that takes in doom, sludge and anything you can slap an “avant-garde” tag onto, jumping between calm and gentle string sections and crushing avalanching guitars. Challenging but very much worth it.
31 Barghest – The Virtuous Purge
Bitter, spiteful, and hateful are just a handful of the words one could use to describe the latest full-length from Barghest and their particular variety of black metal on The Virtuous Purge. Heaving with low end, the band has definitely taken the odd cue from their kin in Thou but this is a relentless and murky listen entirely to itself. The debut self-titled album was impressive and their split offering with False showed flashes of brilliance but this is on another level.
30 Godflesh – World Lit Only By Fire
The age of the reunion metal album rolls on and Godflesh can safely lay claim to a victory with World Lit Only By Fire. Opting for a sound closer to Streetcleaner but with some faint but tasteful melodic touches, this LP is everything Godflesh needed to make in a return album. It harks back to times of yore but without being hooked up to an unnecessary nostalgia drip while still sounding very modern but not too polished. Peerless masters etc. etc.
29 Naðra – Eitur
Iceland’s black metal pedigree is near unrivalled at this stage. See Svartidaudi and Wormlust for further listening but you can add Naðra to that roster of bands now with their demo tape, Eitur, released earlier this year. The trio’s blend of black metal shares some sonic connections with their Icelandic brethren but often contains just the right amounts of Scandi-BM for good measure. Definitely ones to watch.
28 Cormorant – Earth Diver
Multi genre tangling can get messy but Cormorant pull it off with aplomb, nailing their sound perfectly on latest album Earth Diver. Healthy doses of latter day Enslaved and early ‘00s Opeth can be heard swirling around in this heady brew of prog metal. As cheesy as it sounds, the band have crafted a sort of “journey record” with several peaks and troughs and sharp turns, which make it all the more interesting with each listen.
27 Teitanblood – Death
As far as album titles go, this is as handy and convenient as it gets. Teitanblood’s Death is the Spanish death metal duo’s second LP, the follow up to the much-lauded Seven Chalices. This time around they’ve opted for a slightly (slightly) better production job and it’s worked to their advantage because killer riffs like that of ‘Burning in Damnation Fires’ get the attention they really deserve.
26 Twisted Mass – Isaiah
Twisted Mass‘ Isaiah (plug: which is streaming here) is the Dublin crust band’s first LP released online earlier this year with a physical in the works supposedly. The band’s 2011 EP was an unbridled rager but Isaiah is whole other beast, it’s relentless but catchy and easily one of the best records out of Ireland this year. Unfortunately the band hasn’t gigged in a while so we’ve heard little of this stuff live for now, nevertheless, a definite win.
25 Dying Sun – Transcendence
Transcendence was one of the first standout albums released in the first couple weeks of 2014 and unsurprisingly makes its way onto this list. The Maryland post metal band capture a very particular atmosphere on their first album here, one of total desolation, which is complemented by just the right layers of melody to counteract the doomier shades that dominate the record.
24 Prison of Mirrors – Until We Find the Hive
The Pacific Northwest’s black metal scene is usually associated with Wolves in the Throne Room but several bands, from Seattle especially, are making their own noise. One man outfit Prison of Mirrors is among them with this latest album Until We Find the Hive, a record that veers more towards the post BM flavour but with several splices of the orthodox for good measure while on the title track he flirts with styles that are reminiscent of Blut Aus Nord’s Cosmosophy.
23 Gas Chamber – Hemorrhaging Light
Easily one of the most interesting, and equally perplexing, hardcore bands there is, Gas Chamber continue their tortuous sonic experimentations with Hemorrhaging Light. With what appears a paltry 27 minutes, Gas Chamber forces an overwhelming degree of ferocity and numbing atmosphere into this record but there’s also a refreshing level of quality control too. Gas Chamber could probably play for hours but rather they’ve left you wanting more.
22 Panopticon – Roads to the North
After a disappointing showing in his split record with Falls of Rauros, Austin Lunn’s Panopticon wiped the slate clean and returned to his triumphant ways with his latest LP Roads to the North. All the usual hallmarks of a Panopticon record are here, folk and bluegrass and all, but never once does it sound tired. More like the bit is between his teeth again as this record has some of the best riffs he’s written to date.
21 Crows – Better Off Dead
Seething and burning vitriol best describes Crows’ first LP Better Off Dead that saw the band really capitalise on their first demo. This is simply unforgiving hardcore from start to finish, taking no prisoners by unleashing its spite with tracks like ‘Suburbia Nervosa’ and the title track. Not much else to say really. (pause for a second plug: stream it here)
20 Old Iron – Cordyceps
Seattle’s Old Iron hit that lovely sludge sweet spot between the heaviness of Isis or Neurosis and the memorability of Floor. It sounds like a difficult task and it is but Cordyceps accomplishes just that. While songs like ‘Lerna’ and the title track are soaked in reverb and discordant, lethargic riffs, there are big riff unforgettable riffs on a song like ‘Ahnighito’.
19 Alaskan – Despair, Erosion, Loss
Canada’s Alaskan have been threatening an album like this for a while. Previous records were solid to very good but Despair, Erosion, Loss is a whole other breed for the hardcore turned post metal band. Every aspect of the band has been dialled up to new heights from the corrosive vocals to the shattering riffs. This is easily an album that Alaskan should be very proud of.
18 Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall
Talk about an overdue album. 2008’s Graves of the Archangels feels like it was a lifetime ago at this stage but finally in 2014 we were treated to a new LP from one of Greece’s finest death metal exports, Dead Congregation. Graves… is usually held up as a recent DM gem so Promulgation of the Fall had massive boots to fill, which it more than accomplishes. Is it better than Graves…? We can argue that endlessly, and how it holds up after time will tell, but for now it’s definitely on par.
17 Thou – Heathen
Thou spent an uncharacteristically long time working on this full-length, Heathen, which to be fair is actually in line with other bands. But the wait was worth it as Heathen is without doubt the finest piece of music from the Baton Rouge sludge band to date, proving once again why they so often receive fawning praise within their circles; it’s certainly never misplaced.
16 Godstopper – Children Are Our Future EP
Toronto noise rock band Godstopper laid down a stellar debut album in 2012 with What Matters but this latest EP Children Are Our Future take a slightly new path that may serve them very well. Firstly, it’s a little more accessible but without sacrificing any of the grit in their sludgier Sonic Youth-isms and faint grunge undertones. However songs like ‘An Old Photo’ and ‘Young Queen’ are so shamelessly hook-laden and memorable. They’ve struck a perfect balance on this EP. New album, please.
15 Keeper – MMXIV
California’s Keeper and their first record MMXIV is the one nihilistic slab of wretched sludge doom that many other records of this ilk released in 2014 should be measured up against. Tectonic riffs that Corrupted and Eyehategod would proud of collide with creeping flairs of melody throughout this record, which always keeps the listener on their toes, like on ‘Perception/Prescription’ and the chilling atmosphere of closer ‘All It Needs to Be Pt. 2 & 3’.
14 Mastodon – Once More Round The Sun
Have Mastodon ever released a bad album? Probably not. Last album The Hunter marked a new frontier for the band, leaving its adventurous prog metal tendencies behind (for now? Who knows) by tinkering with instantly catchy metal that’s still wondrously heavy at the same time. Once More Round The Sun is the next step in this new journey and is every bit as memorable and catchy as its predecessor.
13 Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Mark Kozelek has never been one for cheery tunes but Benji is on a whole other level, with songs detailing several friends and family members that have all died over the years, which is still all presented with Kozelek’s unmistakeable drawl and beautiful guitar work; and like most other Sun Kil Moon records, it strikes that lonely spot between bitter and gorgeous.
12 Baring Teeth – Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins
Baring Teeth’s first album Atrophy was a personal favourite around these parts and since that time we’ve had new records from Gorguts and Ulcerate, placing a new focus on complex, labyrinthine death metal and Baring Teeth aren’t allowing themselves to be left behind with this new full-length Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins. It’s wholly difficult and challenging but worth it.
11 Gridlink – Longhena
Sadly Longhena is the farewell record for Gridlink with the grind band now calling it a day but this LP writes the textbook on going out in a blaze of glory. It’s every bit as searing, unforgiving and puzzling as you would expect with Takafumi Matsubara in particular peeling off some of his best (but jarring) riffs while Jon Chang sounds every bit as maniacal as before. Unfortunately it’s for the final time but who knows where each of these guys will end up next.
10 Woman is the Earth – Depths
US black metal is flooded with pine-scented Agallochian black metal so it really takes something special to stand out from the pack of also rans and cookie cutter bands. South Dakota’s Woman is the Earth had a few solid records under their belt but Depths is where the band has really found its sound and nailed it perfectly. There are strains of WITTR and Skagos in here but also a European flavour too for good measure – one of 2014’s most essential BM records.
09 Lantlôs – Melting Sun
Oftentimes change is inevitable and such is the case for Lantlôs. Led by Herbst, the now full band has left its black metal ideas in the rear view with Melting Sun’s gorgeous post rock helmed by all-clean vocals. If you listen back to its predecessor Agape, in hindsight, there were hints of where the band was going but nevertheless, Melting Sun is a new frontier for the band, pulled off perfectly.
08 Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
Toronto’s Thantifaxath challenge the definitions of what black metal is, though admittedly those definitions have become more and more blurred of late. Nevertheless, Sacred White Noise, the eventual follow up to the 2011 EP, is a brutally challenging and esoteric listen. The guitars and vocals are simply grating and the atmosphere is altogether angular and discomfiting, refusing the listener even an inch in getting comfortable with the record, which makes it all the more engrossing.
07 Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
Little did we know that the Memoria Vetusta series of records was incomplete. Five years on, Blut Aus Nord has released Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry, the third and final part of the concept (well, we’re assuming it’s a trilogy). Clearly there was much left unsaid from Vindsval’s tale, which saw him take a detour through cold avant garde black metal with the 777 trilogy but on Saturnian Poetry, he returns to utterly glorious and triumphant melodic black metal with its sprawling vistas and gripping crescendos. Blut Aus Nord continue a winning streak of albums that appears totally unbreakable at this point.
06 Musk Ox – Woodfall
Woodfall, the latest full-length from Canadian Neofolk outfit Musk Ox is easily one of the most strikingly beautiful records of 2014. The instrumental trio, comprised of guitar, cello and violin, create overwhelming oeuvres like that of an expansive orchestra with emotional weight that so few instrumental bands can pull off. Clocking in at 65 minutes, the five-part movement demands listening in one full go but the closing track of ‘Serenade the Constellations’ and its ebb and flow from start to finish must be heard to be believed.
05 Damascus – When Last We Met
Damascus just about scraped it getting on this list with When Last We Met, released in late November, but it’s wholly deserved as this is the finest that the New Jersey post rock band have sounded to date. Their instrumental rock is pretty shameless in its elegant melodies and could easily have some catchy vocals layered on top but the riffs and tertiary strings and pianos are too strong on their own for that.
04 Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Yob already have an impressive run of records to their name but Clearing the Path to Ascend may very be their best since Catharsis. It also marks an important point of evolution for the band. Whereas their sound has always been affecting in different ways, Clearing… is wrought with a fevered emotion we haven’t quite heard from Scheidt and co. before. This manifests itself primarily in the vocals but can be heard too in the rich guitar work. All the while they are still being tectonically heavy (anything else would be unacceptable after all), which makes Clearing the Path to Ascend such an inspiring accomplishment for a band that didn’t really have anything to prove in the first place.
03 Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
Dropping their screamo traits may have been the best decision that Pianos Become the Teeth ever made. While their output has always been solid, Keep You, which sees the band go all out on sleek melodic rock and all-clean vocals recalling Brand New, is a total triumph for the band. There’s nothing particularly fancy and over ambitious about the vibrant short songs on this record. They’re simply catchy and memorable tune, and of this year no band has done that better than Piano Becomes the Teeth.
02 The Contortionist – Language
This time last year you probably wouldn’t have seen The Contortionist next or near The Grind That Annoys. Their blasé djenty metal and deathcore attempts weren’t worth the time of day. Oh what a difference a quick line-up change can make. With a new vocalist in tow and presumably a fire lit under them, Language is an overwhelming record for the band. Several comparisons have made to Cynic and for good reason; the influence is uncanny but the quality of the songs and musicianship on display in incredible. Vocalist Mike Lessard shines brightest but the riffs are memorable while also challenging. Language is one of the few so called progressive metal records from The Contortionist’s whole ‘scene’ where the band has actually, you know… progressed.
01 Ghosts of Glaciers – Decay
Denver’s Ghosts of Glaciers sort of popped up out nowhere. The band and their second full-length Decay falls into the admittedly broad ballpark of post metal and the instrumental trio’s sound incorporates a wide of array of genres shoehorned into Decay’s three sprawling and expansive tracks.
Usually this sets off alarms bells though. Save for only a handful of bands, when records try utilising too many styles in one body of work, the end result can be a patchwork of messy execution. Ghosts of Glaciers can safely count themselves exempt of that rule.
Decay is an exhilarating record that meshes glistening post rock and damning sludge with flourishes of post BM. First track ‘Maelstrom’ sets this chaotic tone from the off before lunging into shamelessly hook driven riffs but it’s with second song ‘Feeding the Maw’ that the three-piece truly lays out their wares with dizzying peaks and troughs a la Cloudkicker before topping it off with a stunning guitar solo climax.
The 15 minute ‘Inversion’ closes the album off by treading through Cult of Luna-esque tones before falling into blinding maze of post-black metal drumming and scythe-like riffs that sound worlds away from the opening seconds of the record but still, bizarrely, very cohesive. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest (but pleasant) surprises of 2014 and for that reason, it takes the top spot.
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