Another year of music in the books. Every year I think I’ve got a better “Best of” list than the previous year. But this year…. WOW! Scanning back through all of the artists that released albums this year reads like a who’s who of my faves–Cyanotic, Bassnectar, The Haunted, Within Temptation, Opeth, Slipknot, Celldweller, Blue Stahli… This list is rich with great music, if you give the artists a spin.
How rich is this list with talented artists? Cyanotic had my favorite album of 2010 (“The Medication Generation”). The Haunted had my favorite album (“Unseen”), Within Temptation my third favorite album (‘The Unforgiving”) and Blue Stahli my ninth favorite album of 2011. Bassnectar had my second favorite (“Vava Voom”), and In This Moment had my fourth favorite album of 2012 (“Blood”).
Coincidentally — or maybe because Apocalyptic discourse is so common and trendy now — there are many albums that deal with fire, light, the sun, death, and the end of the world in this list. On the surface, this is a somewhat bleak collection of music, less obscure than the darkness of 2013 when IAMX reigned supreme with “The Unified Field” — a statement on the necessary secularization of humanity. This list has a shadow stretched across it, laid down by the bands that stand tall at the front of this list.
Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2014. Please share your favorite albums of 2014 in the comments attached to this blog. I’d love to get recommendations for my 2015 respun list (albums that I missed in 2014), and you can help with that list. So, please enjoy.
As loud as possible.
20_Godflesh – “A World Lit Only By Fire”
Favorite Tracks: “New Dark Ages”, “Carrion”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/9KqLUHqipI8
Press Review: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19896-godflesh-a-world-lit-only-by-fire/
My Take: The attached review called it relentless; that sums up Godflesh’s return to form perfectly.
19_Kanute – “Ursa Minor”
Favorite Tracks: “Ursa Minor”, “Hurricane” , “Waking Up In California”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/NjgbeBz2rHU
Press Review: https://cubicscats.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/ursa-minor-by-kanute-it-will-grab-you-by-the-metaphoricals/
My Take: It was almost by accident that I came across Rachael Gray’s angelic vocals as part of Rob Overseer’s “Wreckage” album over a decade ago. I was a fan of Kanute’s debut album “Standing Room Only”, and was very excited to see new work from Kanute. “Ursa Minor” is a sweet, touching, trip-hopish album of magic, highly recommended for anyone with a softer side.
18_Opeth – “Pale Communion”
Favorite Tracks: “Eternal Rains Will Come”, “Voice of Treason”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/CoW3Sywb5xQ
Press Review: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19520-opeth-pale-communion/
My Take: I feel like I’ve got an identity crisis with Opeth. Once a favorite band of mine, I haven’t been a fan of their last couple of albums, including this one. Even though it is on my Top 20, it is nowhere near one of Opeth’s best albums. “Damnation”, the first album that took Opeth from blistering death metal to folksy doom rock, will always be my favorite album. There is an inherent beauty and darkness that tugs at my soul with every listen. Opeth has continued to try to recapture that sublime creative brilliance over their last two albums, but has lost the way. This album is certainly good, and Mikael Akerfeldt is a favorite artist of mine. But, admittedly, I want “Blackwater Park” back.
17_Insomnium – “Shadows of the Dying Sun”
Favorite Tracks: “Revelation”, “While We Sleep”, “Black Heart Rebellion”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/GPznX5XWnYs
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-insomnium-shadows-of-the-dying-sun
My Take: Vast and powerful and immense. Beautiful, gloomy musicianship from the Finns.
16_Sixx A.M. – “Modern Vintage”
Favorite Tracks: “Stars”, “Drive”, “Gotta Get it Right”
Google+: +Sixx: A.M.
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/IzrOf5NULpA
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-sixxa-m-modern-vintage
My Take: Not much I want to say about this album, to be honest. I still listen to their previous two albums religiously, and liked better when Sixx AM had a story to tell about the pain of addiction. I feel like Sixx AM went from heart-and-soul rock-and-roll to party-and-drink rock-and-roll with “Modern Vintage”. Nikki Sixx can do drinking and rock-and-roll with little effort, stemming back to his Crue days; what has been compelling about Sixx AM is the honesty, the humility and the humanity of the band, all of which seem to be dialed down for “Modern Vintage”. The album is full of great mainstream rock radio songs, but lacks the soul of previous albums.
15_Everything Goes Cold – “Black Out the Sun”
Favorite Tracks: “The Iron Fist of Just Destruction”, “IAMERROR”, “When the Sky Rips in Two You Are Free”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/QRmV6MrS2uQ
Press Review: http://regenmag.com/reviews/everything-goes-cold-black-sun/
My Take: 80s synthpop, metal, and industrial all spun into one comically awesome musical experience. With previous song titles like “I Will Harness the Power of Darkness to Destroy You” and “I’ve Sold Your Organs On The Black Market To Finance The Purchase Of A Used Minivan” and “Bitch Stole My Time Machine”, you know you’re in for a bit of a trip with Everything Goes Cold; “Black Out the Sun” does not disappoint. Brittany Bindrim of I:Scintilla is a powerful part of “The Iron Fist of Just Destruction”, and was one of my most listened to songs of 2014.
14_The Pretty Reckless – “Going to Hell”
Favorite Tracks: “House on a Hill”, “Heaven Knows”, “Going To Hell”
Google+: +The Pretty Reckless
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/dzuSVxuGW64
Press Review: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/going-to-hell-20140318
My Take: I really wanted to hate The Pretty Reckless. In my opinion, the Taylor Momsen tortured-femme act is done by Maria Brink of In This Moment, and she has done it better historically. I’m not in synch with the sincerity of The Pretty Reckless’s trip to “Hell”. In fact, I think it’s another case of rock angst overplayed through the religious lens. But, the tunes are catchy, and while listening to “Going to Hell”, I heard shades of old-school Poe, with Sheryl Crow thrown in for twang. Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless are talented musicians, packaged and presented well for the masses, with a story that is neither distinctly creative, nor refreshing, but is solid and somewhat sexy.
13_Overkill – “White Devil Armory”
Favorite Tracks: “Armorist”, “Bitter Pill”, “Another Day to Die”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/g6Jvf2Pps2E
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-overkill-white-devil-armory
My Take: I grew up with Overkill, and they’re still shredding, 30 or so years later. While their catalog has been somewhat inconsistent the last ten years, “White Devil Armory” is solid and brutal — not a return to form, as they never left, just a direct, powerful hit to the jaw and slam to the gutter.
12_Celldweller – “End of an Empire (Chapter1: Time, Chapter 2: Love)”
Favorite Tracks: “End of an Empire”, “Lost In Time”, “Down To Earth”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/6i4x8PC25nY
My Take: You probably have heard Celldweller, just don’t know it. His music is featured in many commercials, TV spots, movie previews. While Celldweller has few complete “albums”, he has hundreds of songs, remixes and instrumentals. Unfortunately, this turned his catalog into a fractured map of creations that seem spread too thin. “End of an Empire” is an example of this — an exploratory, chapterized album of a few actual songs, and many instrumentals or remixes or instrumental tracks of finished songs. To Celldweller and Blue Stahli, “Chapter” has become synonymous with EP — chapterized releases of a few core songs plus their raw pieces, along a content or concept path that, when assembled together, complete one full album. We may have to wait another year or so for the full “End of an Empire” album to be completed and released– until then, we are offered the chapters of “Time” and “Love”. Both are great in their own right, but I can’t escape the feeling of wishing Celldweller would just get back to creating albums — instead of stringing us along a story line as chapters are finished.
11_Behemoth – “The Satanist”
Favorite Tracks: “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”, “In the Absence ov Light”, “The Satanist”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/Czx-OIyrQwQ
Press Review: http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3275832/album-review-behemoth-the-satanist/
My Take: Earcandy for the true metalhead, this album is immensely, darkly powerful. I can’t say anything about the album that reviewers haven’t already said. It is ranked near or at the top of most “Best of 2014” collections for the metal genre. Even though I’m not as death metal as I once was, I can appreciate the awesomeness of this album. Listen with care.
10_In This Moment – “Black Widow”
Favorite Tracks: “Big Bad Wolf”, “Sick Like Me”, “Black Widow”
Google+: +In This Moment
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/zMEQ4aWnK2s
Press Review: http://www.metalsucks.net/2014/11/11/moments-black-widow-90s-mainstream-industrial-throwback-youve-waiting/
My Take: “Black Widow” reminds me of “Blood”, only on a bigger label with bigger production, autotuning and experiments into industrial/electronic sounds. The Black Widow concept is cute and catchy, but Maria Brink can only play so many archetypes. Previous albums featured her as Alice In Wonderland and a Blood Queen, but now she seems lost in a mix of mythological, artistic identities, trying to reinvent her creativity with every album. “Black Widow” has nifty songs, very radio-friendly and sexy compositions, but doesn’t have the unique venom of previous albums. She went from a “Whore” on her last album to a “Black Widow” on her present — most of all, I think it’s an alert to the male gender to steer clear of Miss Brink.
09_Rabbit Junk – “Pop That Pretty Thirty (EP)”
Favorite Tracks: “Pop That Pretty Thirty”, “Crutch 2014”, “Precipice”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/lmcQDut0lig
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/64120/Rabbit-Junk-Pop-That-Pretty-Thirty/
My Take: It’s always difficult to notch a place on the list for EPs. For bands that don’t have big label representation and/or wallets, small collections of songs serve as signposts along their creative path. It has been a while since Rabbit Junk has put out a full new album, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on their game. JP Anderson and Sum Grrl are back with a bang. A short EP with deliciously hooky electro metal.
08_Cryptex – “End Silence”
Favorite Tracks: “Rowdy”, “In The Stratus”, “Transcendence”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/h-s3N37J-nw
Press Review: http://www.prweb.com/releases/cryptex/endsilence/prweb12387376.htm
My Take: Deliciously glitchy and sonically adventurous, “End Silence” is solid and a great debut album from an up-and-coming name in music, but less spectacular than his side projects, or “Isolated Incidents”. Considering Tyler’s been working in the industry since he was 15, and this crisp album comes at his 21st year, I expect awesome things from Tyler Chase in the coming decade. “End Silence” is a great start to the Cryptex catalog, but be sure to check out his remixes and other works to compliment your enjoyment of this piece.
07_The Haunted – “Exit Wounds”
Favorite Tracks: “Cutting Teeth”, “Eye of the Storm”, “Time (Will Not Heal)”, “Ghost in the Machine”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/RN7HMG4tVI0
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-the-haunted-exit-wounds
My Take: When considering the history of The Haunted, I’m of the Peter Dolving (vocalist) camp. “Unseen” and “The Dead Eye” and “rEVOLVEr” are some of my favorite albums– not just from The Haunted, but of all time. I spin those three albums with enough regularity that I know the albums front to back. When Peter Dolving left the band, I essentially gave up on The Haunted. 2014 surprised me with a new album, and with the return of veterans Aro (vocals) and Erlandsson (drums) to the band. This old-become-new version of The Haunted is relentlessly brutal, consistent, and growly — a stark change from the last four albums of The Haunted. Aro certainly gives The Haunted a more mainstream bruiser metal sound, which seems to resonate better in the US. Personally, while I like the new music and “Exit Wounds” is certainly a solid effort, I liked The Haunted better with Dolving. “Exit Wounds” pierces through your system and leaves a bloody mess on the other end, but lacks the sinister sarcasm of “rEVOLVEr” (see “Fire Alive” or “Burnt to a Shell”). Still, it’s power cannot be denied, as evidenced by “Cutting Teeth”, one of my most-played songs of 2014.
06_Blue Stahli – “The Devil (Chapters 1  & 2)”
Favorite Tracks: “The Fall”, “The Fall (Premonition)”, “Ready Aim Fire”, “Enemy”, “Down in Flames”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/WeeivC7ZtHk
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/63653/Blue-Stahli-The-Devil%3A-Chapter-01/
My Take: Blue Stahli makes some of the best polished electronic music in the world today. His music is optioned for commercials, video games, movies and movie trailers. It’s no surprise why: Blue Stahli has an awesome, aggressive, dark electronic, hooky style. Blue dropped two Chapters of his Devil album at the end of 2013 and in 2014, and it is essentially 4 songs (see the faves above) with snippets, remixes and variations of each song making up the content of each album. Much like Celldweller’s “End of an Empire” chapterization, “The Devil” is taut and clean and crankable. Blue Stahli knows how to make great music, and it shows over and over again — whether you realize it or not.
05_Cyanotic – “Worst Case Scenario (Vol 1)”
Favorite Tracks: “alternating dilemmas”, “borderliner”, “cause + effect”, “sudden fragments”,
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/Tq3r2wpI0bo
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/news/32424/cyanotic-release-new-album/
My Take: Cyanotic (driven by glitchmaster and friend Sean Payne) has been a favorite of mine since I discovered them in 2009. They feature heavy, dark industrial with glitches and switches and the bleeding edge of digital consciousness, the soundtrack of man metamorphosing into machine. “Worst Case Scenario” isn’t as hooky and catchy and resonant and anthemic as their last release in 2010, “The Medication Generation”, but it is beautifully atmospheric and sublime, requiring many listens before real appreciation can occur. Unlike previous Cyanotic albums that were loud, in-your-face and sounded like a scene cut from “Terminator”, “Worst Case Scenario” sounds more like a bad day for Blade Runner Rick Deckard.
04_Bassnectar – “Noise vs Beauty”
Favorite Tracks: “Gnar”, “Noise”, “Lost in the Crowd”, “Don’t Hate the 808”, “You & Me”, “Now”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/yX6Y1TqgCbg
Press Review: http://livemusicblog.com/2014/07/02/album-review-bassnectar-noise-vs-beauty/
My Take: Lorin can do no wrong. If you don’t know who Bassnectar is, and his style of sound, it would be difficult to capture in a single take and I’m not going to try. Synopsis: Dubstep and electronic danceable beats from a longhair whose roots are in the gardens of Metallica and Megadeth and other old school kings of metal. “Noise vs. Beauty” includes lots of accompaniments by newcomers to the fold (TURSI, Jenna Sousa, Lafa Taylor, Rye Rye) and old standbys (Zion I, Amp Live). Another great album to add to the Bassnectar discography, one that will be respun constantly over the next year.
03_Within Temptation – “Hydra”
Favorite Tracks: “Paradise”, “Let Us Burn”, “And We Run”, “Edge of the World”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/h4JrGMZwnrM
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-within-temptation-hydra
My Take: Early in 2014, I was sure that “Hydra” would be my album of the year. After hearing Sharon den Adel team up with Tarja for “Paradise” before the album was released, I was excited about the potential of “Hydra”. I can’t say that I am disappointed in “Hydra”, but I will say that it isn’t the album that I expected from Within Temptation. The title of the album is fitting, as many songs feature guest vocalists/duetists, such as Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage), Tarja Tarunen (Nightwish), and Xzibit. And there are truly great songs on this album. But it does feel overproduced, created to target a US Market that has been elusive to them, to introduce their talent to a different landscape of audiences. It was exciting to hear Dave Pirner’s name mentioned again for the song “Whole World is Watching”, but it is a rather dull, uninspiring tune. Within Temptation’s last effort, “The Unforgiving”, is on my “respun list for 2014“, but is a very different album than “Hydra” — in composition, in direction and in purpose. “Hydra” is probably their most-polished, made-for-masses effort yet, with catchy songs that will appeal to the US Mainstream, but it is not their best effort. Still, one of my favorite albums of 2014.
02_Slipknot- “.5 The Gray Chapter”
Favorite Tracks: “Killpop”, “The Devil in I”, “The Negative One”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/jtZwvGh3rLc
Press Review: http://www.revolvermag.com/news/review-slipknot-5-the-gray-chapter.html
My Take: This was a difficult album for me to swallow–not because of the quality, but because of the content. As both a Slipknot and Stone Sour fan, I have traveled the road since both bands were fresh and new and distinguishable as separate entities. Now, I don’t feel like there’s much separation between the musical personality and identity of Slipknot, and that of Stone Sour. “The Gray Chapter” is far more heart-felt than previous Slipknot works, and feels like a balancing of the two bands. It is a very dark album, rooted in the loss of original member Paul Gray. Corey Taylor can do no wrong, even though he’s edging on his own level of rock/metal overexposure. I still have a long way to go in unwinding this album, and have loved the experience so far. While I prefer their previous album “All Hope is Gone” (my personal fave Slipknot album), I’m sure this chapter of Slipknot will haunt me, just as Paul Gray’s passing haunts members of this talented band.
01_Sanctuary – “The Year the Sun Died”
Favorite Tracks: “Arise and Purify”, “Exitium (Anthem of the Living)”, “Question Existence Fading”, “Frozen”, “I Am Low”
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/tI07kqOoLLA
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-sanctuary-the-year-the-sun-died
My Take: In 1988, one of the first cassette tapes I received from the Columbia House music subscription service was Sanctuary’s “Refuge Denied“. Produced by Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, featuring art by legendary Ed Repka and introducing one of the greatest metal vocalists of a generation in Warrel Dane, I was instantly an addicted fan. As a freshman in High School, I was the only one that knew who Sanctuary was. I ordered the “Refuge Denied” t-shirt, and still have its art as permanent fixture on the back of my high-school jeans jacket. Needless to say, I have been waiting for this album since Sanctuary broke up and formed Nevermore in 1992. Eighteen years and many black mirrors later, they have returned with one powerful album. With art done by long-time cover king Travis Smith and Warrel Dane’s signature obscure lyrics, I am deeply proud of their return to the fold, even if they will never get a sniff by popular radio and the genre forgot about them decades ago.
2014 Honorable Mentions (The Bug – “Angels & Devils”; Afrojack – “Forget the World”; Septicflesh – “Titan”; In Flames – “Siren Charms”; Better Than Ezra – “All Together Now”; Lacuna Coil – “Broken Crown Halo”; Skrillex – “Recess”; Thou – “Heathen”; Vallenfyre – “Splinters”; The Oath – “The Oath”; Scar Symmetry – “The Singularity”; Liquid Stranger – “The Renegade Crusade EP”)
2010: (See Artemis Sere’s Facebook)