So, it’s that time of the year again. It’s snowy, it’s cold, it’s dark, and we’re about to change the last numeral on our calendar… Most of us will have to take some time to anchor this change in their head and will probably still write “2014” whenever they’re asked what year it is, but still. 2014 has been a great year in music releases, and I’ve had the honour of sharing almost all the music I’ve discovered and enjoyed with you guys (whoever reads this blog, if any!), and it’s my pleasure to do so, as always!
Now comes the hard and heartbreaking part: picking the best among the rest. Let’s put every album and EP I’ve really enjoyed on this list, in no particular order. Although I will separate the big releases from the more indie ones we usually cover on the blog.
Here it goes!
Blood & Banjos – Blood & Banjos
This album was a real kick to me. Putting metal into bluegrass instead of the opposite, at least in my opinion, was a winning combinaison! The first song, after the introduction one, really sets the tone well: it begins as a pretty standard bluegrass jam, but turns more and more metal as it goes. Even though, on the metal side it’s nothing too fancy or complicated, even less novel, there’s a pretty twisted black metal section on the closer song that’s rad, and it’s the mix of the two genres that makes this so awesome, rather than the depth to which each one is fletched out. Really good, I listen to the album regularly still!
Cryptic Ruse – Chains of Smoke
Microtonal is way too rare, and the bands that use it are seldom any good, and often use the now-almost-common quarter-tone (or 24-EDO) tuning system. Few indeed use various microtonal, or xenharmonic, tunings, such as this one. The variety really brings up the listening experience and replayability value of the album. More than tuning variety, it has stylistic variety, too, with a wide range of metal subgenres being exploited on this one. It’s a really well-crafted album, and it really stands out on its own because it’s so much different than anything else! Read our full review here.
Soulmass – Despairing Fates
Drenched int the lore of arguably some of the best games of ever, that album is just as dark, twisted, and at times depressing as the stories it’s based upon. They succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of the games and putting it into metal mayhem. There’s probably nothing on this album that will rewrite history or reinvent the wheel, but all that’s done is done well, and the songs are varied and really enjoyable to listen to. Definitely one of the bests of 2014, and that’s why it’s here. Read our full review here.
Blue-Eyed Hawk – Under The Moon
This is one album that truly blew me away since the first time I heard the first teaser for their then-upcoming album. The blend of metal and jazz, guitars and horns, all accompanying a beautiful voice, was just too great to be true, and yet it turned out it was. The whole album is indecently good, tasty with its well-crafter dissonances and rhythms. I still cannot believe this album, and I’m still in awe before it! Read our full review here.
Clément Belio – Contrast
On the jazzier and mellower side of metal-meets-jazz, this one is a gem of musical beauty and thoughtful construction. The songs flow and it’s like [the overused comparison to] a river, with its rapids and meanders, highs and lows. The compositions are flawless, and the production is nearing perfection. Read our
review novel about this amazing album here.
Amogh Symphony – Vectorscan
There is so much to say about that album that I [still] don’t know where to begin! It’s an imposing piece of obscure music that isn’t often metal in its obvious sense, although, after listening you couldn’t call what you heard other than “metal”. Kind of like listening to Wagner’s Ride of the Walkyries, it’s not metal, but it’s definitely metal. This one uses microtonality, ambient sounds, field recordings, uncommon traditional instruments, and countless other things to craft one of the weirdest, most ear-challenging, most rewarding, and ultimately best releases of the year [and ever]. It’s also probably the best concept album of all times, putting the story into music perfectly and without any artistic limitations. Read our full review here.
Jute Gyte – Vast Chains & Ressentiment
We can only admire (besides enjoying) the music of Adam Kalmbach. He uses the 24-EDO or quarter-tone system to its best, treating each note as equal rather than treating quarter-tones as inferior, and that really gives interesting chords, chord progressions, licks and riffs which you cannot hear anywhere else. The greatest part about that is his productivity with music. Releasing around two albums per year with consistent quality and length, this is the reason why we’ve had to put his two albums on that list. They’re equally as good. Read our full review of Ressentiment here.
Through My Eyes – Victoria
With a name like that, I really thought at first that I had to deal with some kind of Dream Theater, Scenes From A Memory ripoff band. I couldn’t be farther from the truth however, as this band doesn’t sound a thing like the aforementioned and it turns out all this is a huge coincidence. Oh well! I’m glad I didn’t stop there because I wouldn’t have heard this great, blood-pumping progressive symphonic death-metalcore release with neoclassical passages here and there! It’s nothing revolutionizing, but it’s all really good!
The Helix Nebula – Meridian
This one really hits you in the face. It’s fast-paced and intense, beautiful at times and brutal at other times, but the skill of the players is just mind-blowing here. The guitars are way out there, and the bass is just incredible, and let’s not forget the drums too, which are indeed technical and supportive. I’ve been waiting for this album for a long time, since I was a fan of the band since they first released the first demos of the songs, more than 3 years ago. At release, I really wasn’t disappointed, and the album is really just what I expected. It’s enjoyable in every meaning of the term, and it’s definitely one of the bests of 2014.
As We Draw – Mirages
A follow-up to the greatly acclaimed [and justly so] Lines Breaking Circles. This one doesn’t let down, building up on the bases cast by their first album, they were able to extend on them and make a more mature sounding release in the end. It’s still bass-heavy, with lots of distortion, but this time more well-crafted buildups, more good ideas being better developed through songs, and overall it’s just a better band now than it has ever been. This album is awesome. Read our full review here.
Peculate – In Two (A) & The Chain Industry
Conform to his release rate, Peculate has put out two full-lengths this year (which is still slower than his usual production rate). In Two (A) is the first of a two-part concept album about binaries, while The Chain Industry is the second part of the Collateral Damage trilogy about imperialism. Heavily politicized, his music is utterly complex and really interesting to listen to and analyze, although I rarely take the time to do so. His writing is based on a loose form of the twelve-tone row system also used by Ron Jarzombek in Blotted Science, but invented by Arnold Schoenberg. Each of the albums are different both in overall sound and in composition, but they all share crazy tonal variety, hectic rhythmic patterns, multilayered vocal harmonies and technical proficiency. These two albums, like the rest of Peculate’s work, are really good, and they’re worth grabbing (and they’re free!) Read our full review of The Chain Industry here.
Spectres – Ghosts Of Revolution
This band came out of nowhere and released probably the best thrash record this year. It’s progressive, has a lot of death metal and other metal genres influences, but it’s still some kind of thrash metal at the core. Like most well-made thrash, it’s fast-paced and really make your head bob on its own, and when you listen more closely, you get in it, and your feel like your body’s starting to secrete adrenalin as your veins constrict and your heart pumps faster. That’s really a sign of a good thrash album, and upon repeated plays, the album still stands tall, all the progressive metal elements that were merged in the composition style really help keep the album interesting in the long run. Read our full review here.
Torrential Downpour – Truth Knowledge Vision
Definitely one of the more out-there albums in here. It’s equal parts psychedelic, progressive, and experimental metal. At times reminiscent of Car Bomb with crazy pitch-modified guitar leads, too, and other times there’s a lot of vocal modification and throughout the album recurrent atmosphere changing. It’s one of the funniest albums to listen to, that’s for sure! Read our full review here.
Fixions – Invisible Walls
With its old-school 80’s style synthesizers, this one is really joyful and easy to listen to. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, quite the contrary in that case. The music recalls us of 80’s movies’ and video games’ music, and is really an upbeat, summer album that everyone reading this should have a listen to. The best song on the album, in my opinion, is Elevator Eyes, just because it has that gorgeous voice over it, which really adds that little touch, the cherry on the sundae. All the album is really, really great, but that song is just an inch above the rest because of that. Read our full review here.
Autumn Electric – Flowers For Ambrosia
The indie scene has seen the arrival of one of its best releases this year, with Autumn Electric’s fourth full-length album, and definitely the best one, in my opinion. The closer epic Orange Stars really take the bands to new lands and allows them to develop their ideas over longer song structures, and it’s really a treat. On that album, the music is more varied than ever for them, and they go from folk-rock to mellow pieces, to a progressive rock Genesis-kind of song, to the said 22 minute prog-folk-rock epic. Really an album to get. Read our full review here.
OhBree – Death By Broomstick
Filthy horn section, drunken vocals and musicians, tipsy song forms and lyrics that are taken out of a weird dream… That is OhBree, and they’re really great. I can’t get enough of that album, it’s sounds so dirty (in the not clean meaning), so human, and so imperfect that it’s got to be perfect! The horns are just epic, the vocals are just on spot and everything’s at the right place at the right time! That folk-ish music is gypsy and you really, really have to give it a listen and grab the album right now if you haven’t already! Read our full review here.
Numbers – Three
With heavy electronic sounds sprayed on top of progressive metalcore’s breakdowns and long song structures, you get something that’s pretty unique. What’s there else to say? Their music is great and you should listen to it! Go now! Read our full review here.
The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
What a great post-black album, seriously! It’s dissonant, droning, eerie and oppressing! The album’s long enough to put your mind in an old cavern where sects conduct rituals to unhuman spirits, and that’s what’s awesome about post music: it takes you somewhere else! Often times, it’s a place where you should really fear for your life, and that’s great because we don’t get that feeling often in our secure day-to-day lives! Grab that album, and read our full review here.
Plebeian Grandstand – Lowgazers
The grind is strong in this one. The album’s heavy, grindy, noisy, brutal, and it will just get you in a mood to punch everybody around, so I’d label it NSFW (where people tend to be asking for a punch in the face sometimes). Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about it! It’s good, that’s it! Grab it!
Mammoth – Polymorphism
Technical and progressive, that mostly-instrumental prog-rock album is one of the best this year. The songs are intricately woven and played with great skills, and the one sung track has awesome vocals and a great feel about it. The album’s got a good variety of sounds and structures, which makes it interesting to listen to upon many repeats. Read our full review here.
Deux Pouilles En Cavale – Tambour Et Temps Morts
Experimental rock is awesome. This album is awesome. Coincidence? I think not! Angry French vocals, uncommon time signatures, great riffs, outstanding drumming, all the while being somewhat upbeat and fun to listen to. That album is a great sophomore album, building on what they’ve built on their first, eponymous, album, and making everything they do better! Great great album! Read our full review here.
Itzamna – Metnal
In quite the same vein as Clément Belio’s music, Itzamna takes on the jazzier side of djazz on their instrumetnal album. It’s fun to listen to, and there’s nothing (or not much) to challenge your ear or mind, which makes so the album just flies by, almost unnoticed. That’s certainly a quality, as it can be put on when friends are around and they won’t complain about the “usual weird music you listen to”, but a more trained ear will still find it enjoyable to listen to. Read our full review here.
Snailking – Storm
Post-metal at its best, here. Long, carefully crafted songs with one or more climaxes, building up on many drony repeating riffs which takes you in on a bleak journey. It’s a great album, fully enjoyable! Read our full review here.
Existential Animals – Surrealith
These guys put out one of the best instrumental progressive metal releases this year! Melodies come and go, get thrown around like rag dolls, and get fused together to unleash their true potential, and finally understand their place in this world. The songs are great, the music is great, great! Read our full review here.
Stimpy Lockjaw – Stimpy Lockjaw
Wow! That album, seriously! I was expecting a lot from these guys, and they delivered! Oh they delivered! This true merger of jazz and metal is a great example of how it should be done! Long, progressive song structures dotted with few and scarce vocals give a special aura to this record, almost angelic, perfect! The musicianship is, as should be expected, stellar, and everything’s just over the highest standards with this one! Read our full review here.
Zachary Huff – Laniakea
Can you appreciate some dnb? I bet you can! Less dreamy than its first release Dreamsura, Laniakea is more groovy, more rhythmic drum and bass electronic music, and it’s really good and thoroughly enjoyable! Grab it, it’s free!
Travis Orbin – Projects
That album is mathematical… literally! That might be the most mathy math-metal release that’s ever been made. Almost everything on this album has its root in some kind of handwritten mathematical formula. The musicianship is out of this world, and it’s really a must have for any aspiring musician!
Icosa – The Skies Are Ours
That one is hella groovy, djenty progressive metal done right, in a special unique manner, rather than a ripoff of something else. It’s really a great album that I haven’t had the time to review fully, unfortunately. However it shouldn’t hinder you from grabbing that free release and it certainly doesn’t hinder it from being on our best of the year!
XYAX – Ode To The Universe (In Three Parts)
I better tell you right now my bias towards this album: I made it, with Ben of the band Peculate. However, I truly feel proud about that EP. I’ve released 3 albums this year, with 3 different bands, but I feel this one should appeal to most of you looking out for crazy, alien, progressive technical death metal with weird, haunting ambient passages and multilayered vocal harmonies and inhuman playing and rhythmic patterns. Inhuman, mostly because no humans are playing the instruments here. All [except vocals] has been recorded with synthesizer instruments in a procedure developed by me and Ben in order to make it sound as realistic as possible. And, let’s be honest, it doesn’t sound more inhuman than Origin, or Rings of Saturn, for example, yet we’re totally transparent about it: we didn’t record it. In fact, I wrote that album knowing that nobody would play it, so that’s why I came with all these unplayable riffs, leads, and rhythmic patterns. Grab it, it’s free! Read our full review here.
Closure In Moscow – Pink Lemonade
They’re really what I found best to fill up the void left behind by the fall of The Mars Volta. Their songs are the same vein of crazy, fast-paced progressive rock with high-pitched vocals. They really are more than just a Mars Volta-like band, however. Their music has its own personality and that’s what makes it so awesome! It’s a great album and you should definitely listen to it!
Now, I feel like I’ve gone through all the albums I greatly enjoyed that came out this year and that are not big names. However, I think it’d be unfair to hide said big names albums from you, while they certainly can be insanely good and enjoyable to listen to. So, for the only time in the year, I’m going to talk about major bands that blew me away this year. I will keep it short, however.
Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
What a great album. These progressive/avant-garde black metallers from Australia really know how to write insanely good songs. That album is really good, and you should really get it!
Opeth – Pale Communion
Some didn’t like Opeth’s move out of metal and into progressive rock. I personally really liked Heritage, and Pale Communion is awesome too. Maybe more mature than Heritage, it’s definitely more rhythmic, and well I like it!
The Contortionist – Language
The Contortionist has sick grooves and with now Last Chance To Reason’s singer Michael Lessard, things get really LCTR-ish. Seriously, Language and Level 3 are almost identical. But who am I to complain? These are two great albums and who cares if they sound alike if they’re good!
Trioscapes – Digital Dream Sequence
An awesome sax (and other things)-bass-drum jazz-meets-metal trio who puts a lot of place to improvisation in their music, kind of like jazz bands use to do it. In a metal context, however, it takes a whole new meaning and it’s really great. They’re all outstanding musicians, and I can’t wait for new music from them!
Animals As Leaders – The Joy Of Motion
What hasn’t been said about them and that album, seriously? If you don’t know who they are or if you haven’t listened to that album yet, you’ve been living in a pineapple under the sea.
Jordan Rudess – Explorations
The main piece of this album is Explorations for Keyboard and Orchestra, and classical-style piece written by keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess in order to incorporate said instrument into the classical, traditional, orchestra ensemble. And it’s really amazing! The other songs on the album are more straightforward and less interesting, but that single 25 minute piece is just awesome!
Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope
A truly high-quality release from Transatlantic, the monster supergroup of progressive rock madness. Although not their best, in my tastes, it’s definitely a highlight of the year.
Primus – Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble
Primus’ take on the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’s original soundtrack is weird. The kind of weird that makes you feel like you’re in a bad place. That’s why I love it so much, it’s a contemporary, desecrating take on the original, and that’s why I love Primus.
Dirty Loops – Loopified
This album is a take at making jazz fusion pop music. And it’s freaking unbelievable! I’ll tell you right away, if you sing, play keyboards, bass or drums, don’t ever listen to, or worse watch a video of, these guys, you’ll just want to quit playing forever. These Swedes are inhumanly talented! There are a few covers on the album where they keep the original melody and add a bunch of crazy dissonant chords and fusion-y progressions under it. Most of the songs here are actually original songs, although I always had the feeling like I already heard that somewhere before, to the point where I believe they were all cover songs, but that just shows how talented they are at making it sound like pop music… I won’t even talk about the monstrously technical playing there, just listen for yourself.
Haken – Restoration EP
On this EP, they make a modern take on their 2007-2008 demo album Enter the Fifth Dimension. Those songs were really, to me, some of the best ones from Haken, along with their debut album Aquarius, before they lost their charm and sounded just like a Dream Theater wannabe, but that’s only my thoughts. It’s cool to hear those songs reimagined, and with a killer modern production too.
Beyond Creation – Earthborn Evolution
Unreal progressive death metal with fretless bass. What more can i say?
Well… that’s it for now! I hope I’ve made you guys discover a few great bands this year, and I really hope that you keep coming back for more new and amazing music! Unlike other blogs, I take no holiday time off. If there’s good music coming out in the next month (and there will be, I can assure you), I’ll be there to report about it and let you all know!
Thanks for reading, have a nice Christmas, and a great holiday season!