I had a really hard time narrowing down what my top album would be when putting this list together. I know; I say that every year. But it’s true. There are always will be lots of really good albums to choose from. However usually only handful stand out as something exceptional. It’s those albums that make the decision hard. Steel For Brains bypassed all that this year and simply didn’t rank their top picks at all. Instead they just listed them alphabetically. Right about now I’m thinking that was a smart idea.
Initially this wasn’t an issue at all. The Atlas Moth’s The Old Believer was hands down the best thing I heard all year. But then Atriarch put out An Unending Pathway and things got a bit dicey. Both albums were stellar in their own unique way. It seemed like each week I was leaning towards one, then the other. But the year is coming to an end and no matter what order I place things in, it doesn’t change the fact that both bands put out incredible, career defining albums.
I spend about 7 hours a day at work with my headphones on. So you ever walked by me Monday to Friday and wondered, “What the hell is he listening to all day?” Now you know. Odds are it was one of these 20 albums.
01. Atriarch – An Unending Pathway
Sometimes it’s kind of embarrassing when you realize how much music you own and haven’t really listened to. With the convenience and affordability of music now, it can be really easy to consume more than you can digest so to speak.
Because of this once and while I stumble across an album on my iPod and realize I’ve had it for quite some time, but never really given it a good listen. A couple of months ago one of those albums was Atriarch’s Forever the End. Even though it was released in 2011, it took me this long to give the album the attention it rightfully deserved. Initially I was disappointed that I waited so long to give it a chance, but it actually worked out kind of good because the band was about to release a new album – An Unending Pathway. So now I had not one, but two Atriarch albums to dive into.
When I initially listened to Atriarch, my ears picked up on the doomier and heavier elements of their sound. But it was the shades of post punk and goth that really appealed to me. All of which were somewhat subtle on Forever the End, but became much more prominent on An Unending Pathway. Resulting in the album sinking it’s hooks deep into me.
While definitely is heavy, Atriarch belong to the select group of metal bands who understand heaviness isn’t just about huge riffs and screaming. Heaviness can also be established by more subtle elements that give songs a layer of darkness and mood that has more weight than simply being pummeled by riffs. Which is exactly what makes An Unending Pathway stand above so many other albums that came out this year. I don’t know what possessed me to revisit Atriarch, but it was a really good decision on my part.
02. The Atlas Moth – The Old Believer
Like many great albums, The Old Believer is a grower. Yes, there are things that stand out right away and grab you. But much like Atriarch’s An Unending Pathway it’s the more subtle elements in the songs that make the album really stand out. Where 2011’s An Ache for the Distance was bold and immediate, The Old Believer sneaks up on you over repeat listens. Each song has it’s own unique personality, but the band makes you pay attention to discover what makes each song unique. Which makes The Old Believer a highly rewarding listen as you spend more time with it.
There’s also a strong sense of consistency that runs through these songs that ties them together and makes the album ideal to be experienced as a whole. This carries over to The Old Believer’s stunning design and packaging as well, which features an innovative wet reveal album cover created by Invisible Creature. Despite what you hear, the art of making an album is not dead and the Atlas Moth is more than capable of showing you why.
03. Have a Nice Life – The Unnatural World
Before this year I had never heard of Have a Nice Life and I can’t remember how I ended up listening to The Unnatural World. But I’m so glad I did. For a period of time this Spring I found myself digging deep into bands with strong dark wave/post punk influences. I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to those genres. Right or wrong, I just hear hints of what I assume dark wave and post punk should sound like in certain bands like Have a Nice Life. I might blindly making incorrect assumptions, but does it matter? Not really. I just know what sounds good to my ears. So somewhere along the way Have a Nice Life showed up at the party and struck a chord with me. As a result, I discovered something new and expanded my musical palate once more.
04. The Body – I Shall Die Here
Here’s what my friend Aubrey Tweeted after I gushed about the latest offering from the Body, “Interesting. Great atmosphere, but too much of a ‘serial-killer-plodding-dragging-a-dead-body-behind-you’ sound for me.” I get where he’s coming from with that comment. Only I’m totally down with the ‘serial-killer-plodding-dragging-a-dead-body-behind-you’ sound. This is some dark, twisted and dense stuff that perfectly suits guitarist/vocalist Chip King’s deranged screams. But focusing on the vocals alone really doesn’t do the band justice. Musically speaking they are one of the most unique and original things I’ve heard in a long time. If you consider yourself a true fan of music and have an open mind, I highly recommend checking out I Shall Die Here.
05. Salem’s Pot – …lurar ut dig på prärien
Everything is in slow motion. None of them blink. They just stare blankly at you. It’s uncomfortable, but you can’t look away. There’s some sort of ritual happening. This isn’t going to end well. There’s music playing in the background. It’s …lurar ut dig på prärien. Welcome to the coven.
06. Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
Each year it seems that I stumble across a small number of artists who don’t quite fit with what I normally listen to. Wovenhand, along with Have a Nice Life would be a couple examples of those in 2014. But as many of you know, discovering something new can be a very rewarding experience from a listener standpoint. Which made Refractory Obdurate a very refreshing listen and even a little familiar by times. One thing I kept thinking as I listened to is is how much it reminded me of the Cult’s more gothic and psychedelic moments. Which is a little strange because none of these songs really sound like the Cult. I don’t necessarily think Wovenhand is influenced by the Cult either. I think I just wish the Cult would make an album that sounded like this. Something that gave me a stronger sense of appreciation of these well crafted songs and another reason to enjoy them. I really hope someone has played this for Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy.
07. Monolord – Empress Rising
There’s two things that are really important to me when it comes to heavy music. Riffs and tone. If you lay down killer riffs that sound amazing, you’ve got me right out of the gate. Monolord has both of those things in spades. Lead off track “Empress Rising” starts with a subtle repetitive riff with a few cymbal flourishes, then one of the most colossal riffs you will ever hear topples over like a brick wall. This continues for the next 47 minutes over five lumbering behemoths/songs that make up Empress Rising. This is riff worship of the highest order. Albums like this make me realize why I’m still passionate about music after all these years.
08. Tombs – Savage Gold
Tombs’ previous release – 2011’s Path of Totality was an obvious choice for the top spot in my year end list three years ago. I enjoyed the band’s previous output, but on that album the increased focus on their post punk and gothic influences really struck a chord with me and made the Path of Totality a stellar listen. On Savage Gold the band dials those elements back a bit and pushes the heavier aspects if their sound forward. All of which is enhanced by a thicker sound from a production standpoint which gives Savage Gold plenty of heft and weight sonically. While not as moody as it’s predecessor, Savage Gold is a more than worthy follow-up.
09. Drones of North America – Self Titled
For those not in the know, Drones of North America is the new project from ex-Buried Inside guitarist Andrew Tweedy. While Buried Inside created a dense wall of sound, Drones of North America has more of a sparse, noise rock based approach which Tweedy’s playing (and now singing) is perfectly suited for. There are still some familiar sounds that link back to his previous band, such as the tension that builds throughout “Exit Through the End”. Fans of Tweedy’s previous output and current Canadian noise rock ambassadors KEN mode, will find lots to dig into here. Here’s hoping we hear and see lots more from these guys in 2015.
10. Lantlôs – Melting Sun
This year saw Lantlôs take a giant step back from their black metal influences. Which is something I had mixed feelings about initially. I’ve always been a fan of the contrasting styles on their previous two albums where black metal rubbed shoulders with dream-pop, shoegaze and post rock. So with such a prominent element of their sound being muted, what would the results be like? Pretty damn good actually. With the focus shifted more to the less heavy aspects of their sound it’s still Lantlôs, but just with slightly different shades and stokes. I still miss the touches of black metal. But Melting Sun proves that was just one small part of what helped make up the band’s eclectic DNA.
11. The Picturebooks – Imaginary Horse
I’m still a little bothered by the lack of cymbals in this band. But despite my skepticism going in and wondering how a drummer with no cymbals was going to hold my attention for an entire album, the Picturebooks quickly put me in my place. After taking the initial plunge, I couldn’t stop listening to Imaginary Horse. This two piece from Germany pound and stomp out one hell of an infectious batch of blues driven songs. They even find other creative ways to make up for the lack of cymbals. See guitarist Fynn Claus Grabke’s boot in the “Your Kisses Burn Like Fire” video for proof. I’m officially a convert. Fuck cymbals.
12. Eyehategod – Eyehategod
There’s been lots of talk over the last year or two about the comeback albums from the likes of Carcass and At the Gates. Obviously the former received a ton of praise last year and the latter looks to be getting the same this year. That’s all well and good, but being a fan of all things thick, slow and drenched in feedback, I’m way more interested in Eyehategod’s first album in 18 years than anything you would file under grind or death metal. Despite having to overcome everything from natural disasters, jail, death and drug addiction, they’ve made one of the best albums of their long career. Here’s hoping we don’t need to wait another 18 years for it’s follow-up.
13. Electric Citizen – Sateen
Music made in the 1970’s just sounds better. The songs, the production, the lack of bullshit. Bands knew something back then. Unfortunately this seems to be lost on many artists today. Thankfully Electric Citizen don’t fall into that category. I have no idea what inspired the band when making Sateen, but from front to back these 10 tracks are infectious, riff driven, psychedelia at it’s best. The icing on the cake comes when vocalist Laura Dolan lays down her gritty, soulful wail. However Sateen came to be, Electric Citizen definitely is doing something right. Pay attention to this band, you might learn something.
14. Boris – Noise
Despite being a long time fan of Boris, I’ve drifted away from them over the past few years. The band has always been ambitious in terms of both their output of albums as well as the many styles they cover. Not all of which have really hit the spot for me recently. So I was kind of indifferent about Noise initially. But leading up to it’s release I started to hear lots of praise for it and many were comparing it to their critically acclaimed 2005 album Pink. So naturally I was interested in checking it out. Noise doesn’t necessarily sound like Pink, but it’s similar in that it’s a very focused album where Boris set their targets on a style they are really good at. Most of the songs are pretty straight forward, full of heavy riffing and are pretty accessible. If you have yet to see what all the fuss about Boris is about, Noise is a great starting point.
Of course I can’t write this without mentioning album centerpiece “Angel”. At close to nineteen minutes, the song has a slow, subtle build that gets strong momentum around the eight minute mark courtesy of a jaw dropping solo laid down by guitarist Wata. That alone is worth the price of admission.
15. Sterilizer – Sterilizer
There’s lots to take in while these eight tracks abuse your speakers. The most obvious being a strong industrial influence, but to call Sterilizer industrial would be misleading to say the least. The sharp, mechanical tone of the riffs and pulsing programmed drums make a logical connection with the likes of Skinny Puppy and vintage Ministry. But repeat listens reveal layers of dark electronic elements and noise influences that make Sterilizer far from just another industrial project. What’s most impressive is how addictive these songs are despite their harshness and intensity. Make sure you know where the repeat button is. You’ll be looking for it when playing this.
16. The Well – Samsara
Joining five other artists from the Riding Easy Records roster (Salem’s Pot, Monolord, The Picturebooks and Electric Citizen) on this list is Austin, Texas’ the Well. Connoisseurs of stoner, doom and psych already know the name Riding Easy equals quality and on the Well’s debut full length they definitely hit the high mark set by their peers. If you appreciate massive riffs played, lots of low end and a drummer who knows how to lay down a killer groove, then sign up to the Riding Easy Support Crew and get yourself a copy of Samsara.
17. DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
Despite comparisons made by me in the past, DZ Deathrays is no clone of a certain Canadian bass/drum duo with a fondness for elephants. Yes, there are some similarities, but on Black Rat the band has taken a huge step forward, expanded their sound, honed their craft and established a sound they can lay claim to. Lots of ground is covered here, but at no point does the album sound disjointed. It’s this willingness to experiment and introduce new styles that make Black Rat one of the best alt rock albums you’re going to hear all year. They also know a thing or two about making music videos.
18. Mono – The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness
I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Mono over the years. Actually, I don’t hate anything they have done per say. I just find my mind wandering occasionally during some of the quieter portions of their songs. Take 2002’s One More Step and You Die for example. Right out of the gate they’ve got me with “Com(?)”. But when they let off the distortion and feedback I start to lose interest. So it’s been a while since I’ve checked out a new Mono album. However I’m very glad I decided to give their two new albums The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness a listen. Instead of my attention wandering, I found myself immediately being pulled in by these 10 sprawling post rock tracks. The subtle moments all suit a purpose and help create a stronger impact when things ramp up. Nothing drags or tempts me to start scrolling through my iPod to find something else. Instead when the “The Last Rays” winds things down, I go back to for another round. These albums snuck in late in 2014, but it was pretty obvious that Mono made some of the best music you’re going to hear from this past year.
19. The Bug – Angels & Devils
Even though traditional guitar/bass/drums don’t play a prominent role in the Bug’s music, much of what appeals to me when listening to Angels & Devils hits on the same aspects of the doom, stoner and metal albums on this list. These dubbed out tracks may be composed using keyboards, drum machines, computers and samplers, but they are still heavy and resonate a level of density which could sit comfortably beside anything from the Body’s discography. To provide a bit more context for those not familiar with the Bug, but have stumbled across Snare’s Sabbath Dubs, picture that but with an eclectic mix of vocalists/MCs spread over an entire album of original tracks instead of giving Black Sabbath the Space Eco treatment.
20. Wolvhammer – Clawing Into Black Sun
I was going to talk about how Wolvhammer infused a new-found sense of groove to their already well respected blackened template. But then I wandered over to the Profound Lore Bandcamp page and saw what Mike from Ireland had to say about Clawing Into Black Sun, “There’s ne’er a superfluous nanosecond to be found on Wolvhammer’s gloriously wicked blackened sludge manifesto. Demonic incursion strategies salvaged from the gravitational collapse of the morning star.” Sold? I thought so.