I really did not come into 2014 expecting to see 2012 and 2013 topped for metal records, but this year was nothing short of historic. It’s almost criminal I can’t just make a top 30 this year and be done with it, really. Any of my honorable mentions this year would be top 10 in any other, and I feel almost criminal in holding Godflesh and Trap Them out. So consider this a slight disclaimer: come find me a month from now, and I’ll likely disagree with the order of everything past the top 3 considerably. Now then, let’s do this thing!
10) Hoth, Oathbreaker (self-released)
The concept behind Hoth is admittedly too good – what if a band took the coldness of the ice planet from The Empire Strikes Back and applied it back to black metal? Their logo is a TIE Fighter. It’s amazing. And yet, this survives far beyond gimmicks because Oathbreaker is a purely great combination of melodic death, thrash, black metal and progressive extremity. Reminscent of early Opeth but with its own fingerprint, it’s the finest debut album of this year (though Black Crown Initiate had a good shot at taking that title). Somebody get these dudes a record label, stat!
Key track: “Unending Power”
This was the summer of Converge’s shadow, as Kurt Ballou’s signature production hand rained chaos upon the masses via both Every Time I Die’s From Parts Unknown and Trap Them’s Blissfucker. You’d be welcome to choose your poison, between Trap Them’s hard-as-nails, suffocating loom and ETID’s dependably frantic English-major-with-a-deathwish careening. For me, ETID gets the edge, just slightly, because Trap Them tends to make me want to listen to either Converge or Eyehategod (rather than both at once with a dash of grind, which is kind of what Trap Them is) whereas ETID has never sounded more powerfully like themselves. Maybe it’s the extra energy in the drums, or the fact that their guitars sound like they want to kill you on heavier moments like “If There Is Room To Move, Things Move,” but this band is growing up in a big way. Ex Lives was a watershed record, and yet this manages to shoot it directly in the face with new-found lethal power.
Key track: “If There Is Room To Move, Things Move”
Who ever guessed that this long-running melodic death act could write their far-and-away best album yet this deep into their career? Somehow, that’s exactly what Insomnium did. With equal parts propulsion, atmosphere and melancholy, Shadows of the Dying Sun doesn’t reinvent the wheel – but it sure as hell greases it. The things I love about Agalloch and found missing from their last couple of albums (sorry dudes) are the same things I love about this record, a high water mark for a band that deserves a second look from a much larger audience.
Key track: “Black Heart Rebellion”