It speaks volumes about this phase in Mastodon’s career that a just-okay Mastodon album still murders most other releases from this year in cold blood. I was a massive fan of the song-driven turn these guys took on The Hunter, and this admittedly feels like an album of Hunter B-sides – “Chimes At Midnight” was way more awesome when it was called “Spectrelight,” for example. But “The Motherload” is the hookiest single in Mastodon’s history (at least out of what’s not called “Blood and Thunder”), “Aunt Lisa” has one of the greatest left-field finales of any Mastodon song, and something about the whole thing feels more cathartic and personal than any previous Mastodon album. When it connects, it’s a knockout.
Key track: “The Motherload”
Though 2014 was weirdly not nearly as good of a year for thrash as last year – Ramming Speed and Power Trip DID set the bar high, to be fair – death-thrash stalwarts Revocation managed to release their most complete album yet in Deathless, and that’s always a good thing. The jump to Metal Blade seems to have revitalized the band, who are becoming better songwriters than they’ve ever been while retaining their famed chops. Just check out the subtle climactic build of opener “A Debt Owed to the Grave,” where it becomes apparent that the whole song was orchestrated to blow everyone away in its final minute – or “The Blackest Reaches,” which is equally as epic as anything on Fallujah’s new album (more on that in a moment). 2011’s Chaos of Forms now has a realistic challenger for title of best in Revocation’s catalog, and if anyone tries to argue, crank up “Scorched Earth Policy” and singe their hair off in retribution.
Key track: “Scorched Earth Policy”
One of metal’s greatest releases of this year was also among its most boundary-pushing, and we shouldn’t expect anything less from Cynic. The band who famously introduced vocoder to death metal with 1993’s Focus made one of my favorite albums of the past decade with 2008’s mind-blowing comeback Traced in Air, and now they’ve managed to push firmly into the world of progressive music with very little regard for genre in the process. Cerebral yet highly satisfying, it’s rare to find a prog record that can go in the directions this goes while still being catchy as all hell. Though the growling is gone on this record and certain moments trend closer to Weather Report-type jazz fusion than Cynic ever has, it’s got just enough crunch – and more importantly, presents enough of an openly defiant challenge – to feel as metal in concept as the rest of their catalog. And if you’re missing the riffs, take comfort in knowing that their melodies have never been more memorable. With Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert coming out shortly after the album’s release, 2014 as a whole was triumphant for Cynic on a lot of levels. Few bands in metal march to their own rhythm so perfectly.
Key track: “The Lion’s Roar”