I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not a big fan of end of year lists. They often feel too authoritative for my liking, too arbitrary, too restrictive. But the biggest problem faced when making this list was simple, and quite a good problem to have: there were too many records that felt worthy of inclusion. By a comparable token, there are numerous records that I’m sure would be included had I more time to spend with them. Excluding the likes of Primordial, Blut Aus Nord, and the Sunn 0)))/Scott Walker colaboration felt wrong, to give just a few examples; but at the same time, I don’t feel I’ve spent enough time with the records to have formed a concrete opinion on them.
Even so, after much thought and many drafts, here are what I feel to be my favourite 15 releases of 2014, in alphabetical order. Not necessarily the best, but my favourites.
Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
After each Anaal Nathrakh release, I find myself wondering the same thing: “how will they top this?” And yet somehow, they constantly do. Intense, frantic, and not caring one fuck for the conventions of what black metal should be, beyond an expression of fury and hatred. The inclusion of stronger industrial elements took a few listens to process, but this is another remarkable release by a band that truly demonstrate how extreme metal can be.
Bane – Don’t Wait Up
One of the few hardcore bands that still manage to produce records that mean something to me as I get older, Bane released arguably the best record of their career in Don’t Wait Up. As intelligent and emotional as ever, without ever sounding less than confident and resolute, this is hardcore with heart, soul, intelligence, and brilliant songs.
Dead Congregation – Promulgation Of The Fall
Graves Of The Archangels was a classic death metal record for our times, but Promulgation Of The Fall is a release that should remove any doubts that Dead Congregation are a classic band. Even going in to this knowing what to expect – heavy, cavernous death of the blackest kind – it was still startling to hear just how dark and depraved this release is.
Ewige Schlangenkraft – Enlightened Violence
For every release that grasps what the fusion of black metal and punk should be like, there’s a dozen more than come across as weak and tame. All of which makes Enlightened Violence all the more impressive in its fusion of raw punk and Les Legions Noires style black metal. Hugely impressive, almost ritualistic in feel, this is the sound of a band that gets it.
Full Of Hell & Merzbow
Full Of Hell are one of the most exciting bands around today, and the prospect of them recording with the legendary Merzbow seemed too good to be true. Thankfully, the results are very real, and as good as anyone could have hoped for. Merzbow’s noise additions compliment Full Of Hell’s depraved power-violence fury in a very impressive way; and that’s to say nothing of Sister Fawn, the bonus noise collaboration.
Lord Mantis – Death Mask
As if the artwork weren’t nasty enough already, the sound of Death Mask compliments it perfectly. Some of the nastiest, most vile metal you could hope to hear, there is still something deeply addictive about this record, keeping you coming back for one more hit even though you know you shouldn’t. Sludge this evil should not be so damn catchy. “Possession Prayer” also has one of the most disturbing videos I have had the pleasure to watch.
Necronautical – Black Sea Misanthropy
As nasty as I normally prefer my black metal to be, Black Sea Misanthropy took me by surprise with its more melodic style, blending classic Scandinavian sounds with a strong sense of what makes metal – especially older, classic metal – work. Solos, leads, rousing song structures and a hugely epic feel – it’s all here, and it’s all hugely enjoyable, kvlt be damned.
Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
Sometimes, you can believe the hype. Say Yes To Love is noisy, loud, brash, and in its unapologetic nature, one of the most important punk releases of this year. It sounds like a celebration even when the lyrics are honestly painful, like a total endorphin rush. Few records have made me feel quite so alive as this one. The only comparison that makes any real sense to me is to Bikini Kill, and Perfect Pussy could well end up being just as important as that band.
Plaids – Plaids
Bringing to mind the sound and feel of classic DC Revolution Summer bands, Plaids followed the lead of many of their influences in releasing an amazing emo record before disbanding. The theme of space loosely links these songs; what’s more important is how energetic and addictive they are. No doubt in ten years time, this will be considered an underground emo classic, and rightfully so.
Sargeist – Feeding The Crawling Shadows
Shatraug is one of the most prolific names in underground black metal, and the latest release by his once solo project only enhanced his reputation. This is a band that understand the dark heart of black metal, and are masters of their sound. Expertly blending the melody and brutality that are at the heart of black metal, this is a record that does not need to reinvent its sound, but instead refines it to a hugely impressive degree.
Sunwolf – Beholden To Nothing And No-One
An ambitious offering over two discs, Beholden To Nothing And No-One blends the ugly side of sludge with beauty in a way that few other bands would even consider, let alone have the talent to do successfully. A record for late nights and very early mornings, this is reflective, haunting, and beautiful. It seems to have flown under the radar of many, which is a real shame.
Swans – To Be Kind
It may possess some of the worst artwork of an album in recent memory, but To Be Kind continues the upward ascent of Swans. Standing utterly alone in approach, genre, and execution, this is an album made by a band brimming with self-belief, knowing that there is no greater strength than allowing yourself to be vulnerable, that taking risks is what life is all about, and that nothing is more important than to love and be loved.
Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
The surprise is not that Melana Chasmata is good, but how good it is. Expanding upon the foundations laid down by Eparistera Daimones, this release continues the rebuilding from the collapse of Celtic Frost, producing something that can stand as a rival to the mighty Monotheist. Ambitious, dark, and breath-taking, this stands as one of the strongest releases in Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s considerable discography.
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity
This may be the release that sees Winterfylleth take their rightful place amongst the black metal heavyweights. Fulfilling the promise their previous releases hinted at, The Divination Of Antiquity is proud, triumphant black metal that has clear influences but no true peers. It’s quite possibly the best UK black metal release in a long, long time.
Young And In The Way – When Life Comes To Death
Combining the best elements of hardcore and the more mainstream side of black metal, When Life Comes To Death is striking in its savagery and hate, single-minded in its expression of pain and violence. What is most impressive is just how sincere it all sounds. This is music that wants to hurt you.
Feel free to comment below, telling me which records I missed, and which albums really did it for you over the past twelve months.