Music of 2014: A year in review

The last 12 months were interesting ones in music. Ignoring pop and rap, because I don’t listen to or enjoy those genre’s – nor do I really think there’s anything interesting happening in them – the rock/metal genres took interesting turns in 2014. One of the most important to note was the complete dearth of new and interesting music in hard rock.

The Foo Fighter’s release, Sonic Highways, was excellent, and a very interesting example of a unique way to record an album, but it didn’t completely blow me away. The new Rise Against album, The Black Market, stood out to me, but again, it wasn’t groundbreaking, it was simply good. Even the “new” Pink Floyd album, The Endless River, failed to blow my mind (nor was it designed to, it was basically a B-sides album for The Division Bell).

Rock was, seemingly, a let down for new music in 2014. A few of my friends have said so as well. Which left me with a single genre (with many sub-genre’s) to fill the void: Metal. Now, I am a self-professed metal head (not a purist, however), so this may not come as much surprise to anyway, but about 90 percent of the music I listened to last year was metal in one form or another. There were quite a few excellent albums released, although none that I would call truly groundbreaking or mind-blowing (I’ll touch on this again later).

This said, here’s a look at my top 10 (metal) albums from 2014:

10. Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown (maybe?)
Number 10 is a bit of a toss up for me. There are about five albums I’d like to slot in at number 10 but I think I’m going to give it to ETID based on the fact that I saw them live this year, and they put on a phenomenal stage show (as always). Also, “Moor.”

If you haven’t given the new ETID album a listen I recommend starting with track 6 – “Moor” – first. If you’re familiar with ETID, this track will come as a surprise. If you aren’t, will offer an interesting look into their particular brand of metalcore. Beyond “Moor,” the rest of the album is a solid offering from the Buffalo-based group, highlighting Buckely’s impressive vocals and demonstrating how a band nearly two-decades old can still bring some new, impressive force to their music.

9. Caliban – Ghost Empire
Number nine is another metalcore album, with no apologies. Caliban is a fairly recent discovery for me (yeah, I know, weird), and I honestly blown away by this album. The ninth release from the German five-piece, Ghost Empire picks up where I Am Nemesis left off in the evolution of Caliban’s sound and takes it the one step further this band needed I think. The album blends in clean vocals more smoothly than their earlier releases and has some pretty heavy-hitting stand outs on it – specifically tracks 5, 6 and 7, “I Am Ghost,” “Devil’s Night” and “yOUR Song.” If you’re not a Caliban fan, check this album out and maybe give them a second chance, they’ve certainly won me over very quickly.

8. Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
A fairly later release of 2014, the eighth album from old-school folk metaler’s Primordial was an excellent addition to the year. With their particular blend of black metal and Irish folk music, Primordial has been a favorite of mine since I was introduced to folk metal and they continue to impress. Where Greater Men Have Fallen provides a solid entrant into the annals of folk metal that I believe holds up equally well against the subgenre’s earlier contributions and modern metal. If you’re a fan of black metal, folk metal or even Irish folk music, I highly recommend giving the album a listen.

7. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
Mastodon certainly make waves with their followup to 2011’s The Hunter. While I personally wasn’t a huge fan of The Hunter, it was arguably a critical step on the path from the band’s earlier releases and Once More… Between the controversy over twerking in the music video for “The Motherload,” and the immediate fanfare over the album’s first single, “High Road,” Once More ‘Round The Sun made it onto a lot of top metal album lists this year, and mine is no exception. It’s difficult for me to pin down what I like so much about the album, other than it’s true to form for a band that hasn’t disappointed me yet, even with my general “meh” feelings about The Hunter, and continues to evolve their sound in interesting ways. *The below video is potentially NSFW.*

6. Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere
Somehow I managed to miss the existence of this band until earlier in 2014. Though they’ve been around for almost 30 years, The Serpent & The Sphere is only Agalloch’s fifth studio album, but it’s an impressive one. The album capture’s much of what I love about doom metal, the atmospheric dissonance and carefully constructed waves of sound that seem to lull me into a peacefulness. It also offers a very organic, natural sound, lending credence to the band’s other subgenre labeling of neofolk. I’d recommend this album to fans of nearly any subgenre of metal, and folk as well.

5. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
The Great Old Ones are a relatively unknown band, signed to an indie French label, but with their sophomore release they have won a place in my heart. Oh, did I mention they’re a Lovecraft-themed black metal band?

The Great Old Ones first album, Al-Azif, introduced their particular brand of Lovecraftian black metal to the world, and Tekeli-Li is an impressive extension of that first album. Themed after Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness” (which also happens to be my particular favorite of his stories,) Tekeli-Li is moody, immersive and a truly haunting example of modern black metal (or post-black metal) – fitting its theme perfectly.

4. Insomnium – Shadows of a Dying Sun
Melodic death metaler’s Insomnium’s sixth studio release was a breath of fresh air in the death metal scene this year. Interestingly enough, death metal is perhaps my least favorite subgenre of metal, but Shadows of a Dying Sun managed not only to make my top 10 list, but worm its way to number four for several reasons. The first of which is how much of an ear-worm track two, “While We Sleep,” is. A solid album from start to finish, Shadows of a Dying Sun provides a flow that few death metal, even melodic death metal, albums manage.

3. Volumes – No Sleep
Metalcore, and it’s offshoot Djent in particular, is a hotly debated topic in the metal community. While metal purists argue it’s not true metal, all things evolve and I think metalcore is a natural growth out of the technical death metal, progressive metal and nu metal sub genre’s that already exist. And I think few people would argue that metalcore is worse than nu metal.

Despite the argued place of metalcore in the metal genre, Volumes has quickly become of my favorite bands this year with their sophomore album, No Sleep.

Music is typically about emotions, and not just those that go into the songs, but also those that they invoke from the listener. My love of Volumes comes from the fact that they invoke similar feelings that the band Thrice does/did in me. Track three, “Erased,” in particular is an amazing, slower and more emotional track in the midst of a heavy hitting album that does the band’s talent justice and offers up an interesting look at where the metal genre as a whole could be heading.

2. Eluveitie – Origins
While Eluveitie’s Origins may not have been my second favorite album of the year based on the music alone, it earned the spot in part due to its theme – getting back to your roots. Track seven, “The Call of the Mountains,” in particular invokes some extreme emotions that draw the listener not just to a place of comfort, but also fond remembrance. These concepts might seem rare in the metal genre by folk metal has blended the extreme, brutal, often angry themes of metal with calmer, more introspective ideals, and Eluveitie has mastered the integration of these concepts with its particular blend of celtic folk metal.

1. Opeth – Pale Communion
Many in the metal community might take issue with my selection of Opeth’s Pale Communion as my top metal album of the year for the simple fact that it isn’t really a metal album. Opeth has evolved more than any other metal band over the years, from black metal into progressive metal to what some have called jazz metal, with the culmination into their 11th studio release, which could be considered more progressive rock than metal.

What appeals to me from this release, other than the band’s unique evolution, is that it demonstrates so clearly how metal can be more than most people think. Metal has stronger roots in classical than many other genre’s, taking directly from the complexities and intricacies of classical composers while blending all-too-modern distortion and instrumentation, and I don’t think anyone showcases this better than Opeth. Pale Communion is the marriage of metal, classic, jazz and progression rock in a way that I don’t believe has ever been done before, and it was the only album to be released in 2014 to blow my mind and worm its way into my list of favorite albums of all time.

So those are my thoughts on music in 2014. If you feel I may have missed an amazing release in another genre, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll check it out. If you’d like to check out my full playlist of the Best of 2014: Metal, you can listen on Spotify.


About Ian E. Muller

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