Best of 2014 – Peter Atkinson
1.) Panopticon – Roads to the North
Black metal and bluegrass/Appalachian folk music would seem unlikely companions. But over the last few years, Austin Lunn’s one-man “band” Panopticon – hailing, fittingly, from the “Bluegrass state” of Kentucky, before a recent move to Minnesota – has proven that they are not mutually exclusive styles. After experimenting with folk/bluegrass accents on earlier work, Lunn went all in with the Appalachian vibe on 2012’s mesmerizing Kentucky, capturing a sort of Aaron Copland meets Bathory sonic effect. With Panopticon’s fifth full-length, Lunn – this time assisted by a bevy guest musicians and vocalists – accentuates old school Scandinavian-influenced black metal and flavors it, albeit quite liberally, with Americana. It makes for an incredible contrast, yet in the hands of someone with the genius and versatility of Lunn, this “blackgrass” treatment works brilliantly.
2.) Lord Mantis – Death Mask
Chicago’s Lord Mantis revel in filth and obscenity, and wear their profound ugliness as a badge of honor. And they lay it right out there from the get-go. Just look at the cover of Death Mask. Crikey! Death Mask is as dense and all-consuming as it is grotesque, and surely one of the most punishing efforts of the year. Magnificent in its malevolence, this album is everything everyone says you should be afraid of about metal.
3.) Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
The English/American duo Anaal Nathrakh – California-based guitarist/bassist/programmer Mick Kenney, an English transplant, and Birmingham, England-based vocalist David Hunt, also known fittingly as “V.I.T.R.I.O.L” – have been producing a chaotic shit-storm of black/death metal, grindcore, industrial and electronic music since forming in 1999. Over time, the band’s music has grown bigger, brasher and more calamitous. Desideratum, Anaal Nathrakh’s eighth album, is their most massive and thunderous effort yet. Amazingly, it’s also their most immediate and easiest to warm up to, thanks in part to Kenney’s slashing hooks and crushing grooves, some surprisingly infectious rampaging melodies and Hunt’s vocal gymnastics. The apocalypse never sounded so awesome.
4. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
The Tom G. Warrior/Fisher-led ensemble Triptykon seem to have grown a bit more comfortable in their own skin in the four years since the band’s seething debut Eparistera Daimones emerged in the aftermath of the implosion – yet again – of Celtic Frost. Eparistera seemed more about capturing the essence of Frost, and using it as vehicle to vent spleen – metaphorically and literally – about that band’s acrimonious dissolution. Melana Chasmata, by contrast, has more of its own personality and a less vengeful vibe, even though the overall sound is not that dramatically different. Melana is more ferocious and aggressive, but at the same time looser and less calculating. It’s a hell of a lot easier to warm up to, even if it is still rather expansive and bleak. Each of Melana’s nine tracks is an epic unto itself, but here, they feel more like a journey, instead of mere catharsis.
5.) Behemoth – The Satanist
Though it could be argued The Satanist is fitting for just about any of Behemoth’s releases, it unquestionably fills the bill here. And while the title leaves little to the imagination, the album itself offers a broad palette with plenty to explore, from its classical tinges to its magnificently epic finale. It’s a bold step in a new direction, but it also is smart enough to cover some familiar ground along the way.
6.) Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain
It’s Cannibal Corpse’s remarkable consistency that has allowed them to make a rather nice career out of Grand Guignol death metal for 25-plus years. They’ve stuck to their guns with only minor tweaks as they’ve gone along to keep the music relatively fresh without doing anything to tarnish “the brand.” And it’s been a winning formula that certainly continues with A Skeletal Domain – incredibly Cannibal’s 13th studio album – which gives you everything you’d expect from the band, and just a little bit more.
7.) Revocation – Deathless
Boston’s Revocation certainly have been one of the most productive bands in metal of late. Deathless is the band’s fifth album since 2008 – with the 2012 EP Teratogenesis thrown in for good measure. But quantity don’t mean jack if it’s all throwaways and half-assedness. And Deathless is just about the total package when it comes to technical death/thrash metal. Great performances, memorable songs and the proper balance of muscle, melody and menace.
8.) Prong – Ruining Lives
Prong mainman Tommy Victor certainly has righted the band’s ship over the last couple of years. After the rather dreadful comeback albums that followed Prong’s six-year hiatus, he’s got the band sounding pretty much like they did during the stellar Beg To Differ-Rude Awakening era and playing with a vigor and fire that harks back all the way to 1988’s corrosive Force Fed. Ruining Lives embraces the sleek grooves, crisp, clean sonic sheen and elastic rhythms that set Prong apart from the rest of the metal crowd back in the day while introducing contemporary elements that keep the sound vibrant and fresh.
9.) Divine Chaos – A New Dawn In The Age of War
It may have taken England’s Divine Chaos a while to really get things rolling – the band formed in 2005 and A New Dawn In The Age of War is their debut full-length – but during that time they have made themselves into a force to be reckoned with. Taking a page from post-Tempo of the Damned Exodus and pre-”Black Album” Metallica, Divine Chaos revel in technical thrash metal extravagance loaded with crunching hooks, dogfight leadwork, turbulent rhythms, a multitude of parts and grand scale, all of which is bolstered by Scott Atkins’ crisp and clean, big and bombastic production. It is quite a departure from the typical old-school roughness many current “re-thrash” bands insist upon, and a welcome one to be sure.
10.) At The Gates – At War With Reality
Sweden’s At The Gates released their landmark fourth album, Slaughter of the Soul, in 1995 – and then broke up a year later. After reuniting in 2008, and then again two years later, the band finally got around to delivering a proper follow up. While the band members are 20 years and many miles removed from where they were back in the day, At War With Reality makes for a fitting new link in the At The Gates chain. What it may lack in the buzz-sawing aggression and urgency that made Soul so immediate and fierce, it makes up for in variety, depth and finesse. At War With Reality still is plenty abrasive and heavy, it’s also more mature, cleverly conceived and nuanced, providing a musical journey that transcends mere instant gratification.
11. Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
12. So Hideous – Last Poem/First Light
13. Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite
14. Animals As Leaders – The Joy of Motion
15. Monuments – The Amanuensis
16. Hour of Penance – Regicide
17. Alterbeast – Immortal
18. Obituary – Inked in Blood
19. Machine Head – Bloodstones and Diamonds
20. Job For A Cowboy – Sun Eater
Best Live Album
Gojira – Les Enfants Sauvages (Live)
Nader Sadek – The Malefic: Chapter III
Meshuggah/Between The Buried And Me at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md.
Best new band
Divine Chaos (see #9 above)
Inanimate Existence and Soreption, both of whom have actually been around for a while.
Major events in the metal world
For their mindblowing and perverse artistic endeavors, and ability to constantly freak people the fuck out, the death of Gwar’s Oderus Urungus/Dave Brockie and metal favorite artist/sculptor H.R. Giger.
Predictions for 2015
I’m hoping the new Slayer album is better than many people think it will be.