Critics' Choice: The Metal Hammer Top 50 Albums Of 2014

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  1. MESSENGER: ILLUSORY BLUES (Svart) It’s rare nowadays to find a debut as measured, beguiling and accomplished as Illusory Blues, a languid, pastoral timewarp of blissful acoustic strumming, emotional vocal harmonies, burnished flutes, solemn strings and even the odd tasteful rock-out. These savvy London hippie musos – from a wide variety of underground musical backgrounds – channelled their old soul through a modern, metropolitan sensibility, rejecting the lazy straitjacket of contrived retro with confident, considered craftsmanship.

29. PALLBEARER: FOUNDATIONS OF BURDEN (Profound Lore)

The rise of Pallbearer has been incredible to watch. Following their low-key demo of 2010, and their debut full-length, Sorrow & Extinction, in 2012, this year’s beautifully rendered Foundations Of Burden epitomised the Arkansas quartet’s knack for percolating mournful music shot through with hope. Transcending their genre boundaries to provoke a widespread buzz and deeply personal emotional response in anyone who strayed into its path, Pallbearer arguably became this year’s Deafheaven.

28. ORANGE GOBLIN: BACK FROM THE ABYSS (Candlelight)/o:p With 2012’s return to form, A Eulogy For The Damned, steadying the good ship Orange Goblin, the stoner rockers set sail for uncharted waters on eighth album Back From The Abyss. The sound of a band rejuvenated, the opus flirted with Maiden-like gallops and Motörhead-esque punk bursts, while retaining their trademark grooves, yielding one of their best records yet. /o:p

27. SKINDRED: KILL THE POWER (Cooking Vinyl)/o:p

Everyone knows that Skindred are one of the most entertaining live bands on the planet, but Kill The Power reaffirmed that they consistently nail it in the studio, too. With plenty of gleaming hooks to balance out the bowel-rattling bass and slamming grooves, tunes like Ninja, World’s On Fire and the title track took the band’s sound to a new level. Meanwhile, Saturday was simply one of 2014’s most irresistible pop songs./o:p

26. VOICES: LONDON (Candlelight)/o:p Contemporary extreme metal is as susceptible to box-ticking sterility as any other subgenre, but Voices are true mavericks with no interest in repeating other people’s hackneyed ideas. Instead, London plunged the listener into the capital’s cracked and dizzying shadows, evoking notions of psychosexual torment and profound urban alienation via some of the most wildly inventive brutality ever conceived. A stylish and intelligent work of warped wonder./o:p

25. GRAND MAGUS: TRIUMPH AND POWER (Nuclear Blast)

Vigorously stripped down, sinewy and bullish anthems of glory, Triumph And Power confirmed – most triumphantly and powerfully – Grand Magus’s enviable ability to strike a note of hypnotic epic adventure with the simplest of tools. These Swedish marauders are by now reliable bastions of true metal onstage and on record, and their scrupulously economical riffs, primal, rousing choruses and resolute, hammering drums continued to engorge and enchant with each enamoured spin./o:p

24. BEARTOOTH: DISGUSTING (Red Bull)

Who would have thought Caleb Shomo, formerly of Attack! Attack!, a band more famous for being a joke on the internet rather than for their music, would release an album like this? From the opening coughs to the closing cries, Disgusting was an emotional purge delivered in the form of blistering metalcore, with a furious punk energy and a whole smattering of ear-worms gleefully scattered throughout./o:p

23. CASUALTIES OF COOL: CASUALTIES OF COOL (Self-released)

The first of the year’s three discs from one of metal’s foremost pioneers almost broke the internet by reaching 100% of its crowdfunding target mere hours after launch and a staggering 545% by its close. If that alone was not sufficient vindication of Devin’s excellent adventures in cosmic, rolling country rock, then the album’s introduction of the sublime chanteuse Ché Aimee Dorval certainly should be./o:p

22. ARCHITECTS: LOST FOREVER//LOST TOGETHER (Epitaph)

After 2012’s Daybreaker brought Architects back on course with aplomb, the stage was set for something truly special. If the mission was to up the ante, then consider it smashed. Lost Forever // Lost Together was a beast on par with the Brighton crew’s finest work, with the likes of Gravedigger proving to be some of the year’s most defining anthems./o:p

21. WOVENHAND: REFRACTORY OBDURATE (Deathwish Inc)

Fronted by David Eugene Edwards, a committed Christian whose rapt, otherworldly conviction has resonated with metal fans on the other side of the spiritual coin for over two decades, Wovenhand turned up the volume for their seventh album proper. Refractory Obdurate brought their devout American gothic into post-punk territories and the result was a record that retuned your brainwaves to the most exhilarating and incendiary of frequencies./o:p

20. AT THE GATES: AT WAR WITH REALITY (Century Media)

Anyone predicting that the Swedish legends would fail to live up to the immortal Slaughter Of The Soul with their long-awaited follow-up was proved spectacularly wrong as soon as this melodic death metal monster reared its head. Overflowing with razor-sharp riffs and clouded in the darkness of Tomas Lindberg’s horrific tales, At War With Reality proved At The Gates are still masters of the craft./o:p

19. WINTERFYLLETH: THE DIVINATION OF ANTIQUITY (Candlelight)

Winterfylleth’s fourth offering to the world was one that has truly solidified their status as the UK’s finest black metal act with the passage of time making this band better and better. The Divination Of Antiquity was a creation of sweeping, grandiose and affecting black metal that was incredibly cinematic in scope and one that will shape the landscape of British black metal for years to come./o:p

18. YOB: CLEARING THE PATH TO ASCEND (Neurot)

Mainman Mike Scheidt’s most personal and least thematically abstract album released under the Yob moniker, Clearing The Path To Ascend moved seamlessly between cathartic, almost transcendentally repetitive yoga-doom, Neurosis-like tribal percussion and surprisingly emotional, almost post-metal subtleties. Throughout an album that sought to prove the redemptive qualities of doom, the Portland trio created perhaps the most complete singular work of their career.

17. SWANS: TO BE KIND (Mute/Young God)

A laudable antidote to banality and short attention span culture, Swans’ third post-comeback outing was a monumental splurge of ingenuity. Two hours long and remorselessly compelling, the band’s ongoing creative metamorphosis reached its ultimate expression here, with countless jaw-dropping moments and tectonic levels of heaviness that frequently threatened to defy the laws of physics. A force of nature that steadfastly refused to be tamed./o:p

16. SCOTT WALKER + SUNN O))): SOUSED (4AD)

When the undisputed kings of drone joined forces with the ultimate avant-garde icon, no one expected the results to be less than mindblowing. The reality of Soused was even more spellbinding, however, as Walker’s nightmarish vision erupted from a bedrock of shattered, rumbling mantras and skewed, disorientating anti-music. Soused was more than just an album – it was a sustained and surreal headfuck that wielded monstrous hypnotic power./o:p

15. PRIMORDIAL: WHERE GREATER MEN HAVE FALLEN (Metal Blade)

Both extreme metal’s most skilled rabble-rousers and its tortured conscience, Primordial sounded like the turbulent course of history was running though their veins on their eighth album. Where Greater Men Have Fallen found the band at their most wrought, most musically wide-ranging and conduits for a well of unfiltered emotion that took universal themes of heroism, betrayal and belief and turned them into charged, resonantly timeless anthems./o:p

14. ALCEST: SHELTER (Prophecy Productions)

Shelter was the bittersweet sound of longed-for summers and for Alcest marked a significant change in direction with the French duo taking a sound that they had made their own into an altogether more shoegaze-led territory. The dreamlike tendencies of the band were still beautifully present, but the stark blackened aspects of previous works had been left in the cold. Shelter instead oozed warmth from every ethereal note./o:p

13. DEVIN TOWNSEND: Z2 (Inside Out)

Z2 was a double album extravaganza, a long-anticipated intergalactic struggle between breathtaking vistas of pop-metal perfection and the outrageously ambitious bombast of Ziltoid’s scatological war-mongering, replete with choir, orchestra and an expanded cast of characters. With more ideas in one release than in most artists’ entire back catalogues, this was yet another elaborate statement of genius from a musician light years ahead of the game.

12. SUICIDE SILENCE: YOU CAN’T STOP ME (Nuclear Blast)

The challenge of replacing an iconic frontman like Mitch Lucker cannot be understated, but Suicide Silence and incredible new vocalist Eddie Hermida rose to the challenge – and then some. In the face of adversity, this collection harnesses everything that’s always been great about Suicide Silence and raises the bar further than ever before. The ultimate triumph over tragedy./o:p

11. TRIPTYKON: MELANA CHASMATA (Century Media)

One of the year’s earliest highlights, Triptykon’s sophomore outing was an absorbing showcase of dark atmospherics, provocative experimentation and, of course, punishing salvos of string-bending riffage. A thrilling extension of Monotheist, Celtic Frost’s 2006 comeback outing, Melana Chasmata expertly balanced dizzying rhythmic aggression against sprawling interludes of brooding fragility. Three decades into his peerless metal legacy, Tom G Warrior once again showed the kids how it’s done./o:p

10. KING 810: MEMOIRS OF A MURDERER (Roadrunner)

Though they continue to split public opinion for all manner of reasons, the quality of King 810’s debut album cannot be called into question. Varied and visceral in equal measure, Memoirs Of A Murderer was a sprawling collection of intense spoken-word, haunting murder ballads and straight-up, face-ripping aggression. One of the year’s most interesting and challenging albums./o:p

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9. ANATHEMA: DISTANT SATELLITES (Kscope)

Anathema’s 10th album continued their mission to make the most heartbreaking and beautiful progressive music possible, bringing even the hardest metallers to joyful tears in the process. From the majestic peaks of the three-part The Lost Song to the title track’s sublime electronics, Distant Satellites dazzled and delighted, with Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas’s achingly gorgeous vocals one of the year’s highlights./o:p

8. MARMOZETS: THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL MARMOZETS (Roadrunner)

It’s been years since a band came along to shake up what people construed as ‘cool and interesting’, but Yorkshire’s Marmozets strolled into the world of rock and metal with ease. Progressing their earlier material into chorus-heavy, intricate soundscapes that can flit between mathed-up flailing and heartfelt serenades in the blink of an eye, the new lines of what music fans want had been redrawn./o:p

7. ELECTRIC WIZARD: TIME TO DIE (Spinefarm)

Four years after the patchy Black Masses, Dorset’s premier proponents of drugged-out doom returned with their finest effort since 2002’s seminal Dopethrone. Inspired as much by the Ricky Kasso ‘acid king’ murder and early Detroit rock as by harsh, mind-warping herbs, with original member Mark Greening also returning behind the kit, Time To Die was the sound of a band at their absolute ‘highest’ peak./o:p

6. OPETH: PALE COMMUNION (Roadrunner)

Opeth’s 11th album was the most cohesive since the gradual shedding of their skin that began with Blackwater Park in 2001 and accelerated a decade later with Heritage. Growls were out, replaced by progressive song structures, masterful musicianship and the exquisite Elysian Woes, River and Cusp Of Eternity. You couldn’t call it metal anymore, but this was a hypnotising hard rock record./o:p

5. SÓLSTAFIR: OTTA (Season Of Mist)

With Ótta, Sólstafir didn’t challenge the rules so much as sidestep them altogether, conjuring an untamed and captivating new reality. Against a windswept backdrop of bleak post-rock minimalism, the Icelanders adorned this odyssey with spectral melodies, luminous atmospherics and bone-powdering crescendos. Metal’s fractious subgenres laid down their arms and hailed the new definition of ‘heavy’./o:p

4. SLIPKNOT: .5: THE GRAY CHAPTER (Roadrunner)

The tragic death of Paul Gray, along with the drama surrounding Joey Jordison’s departure, meant that Slipknot’s return was met with as much trepidation as excitement. Concerns were quickly put to rest, the likes of AOV had the sort of gargantuan choruses that we’d come to expect from latter-day ’Knot, while songs like the deranged Custer offered callbacks to their twisted origins./o:p

3. MASTODON: ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN (Roadrunner)

During their formative years, Mastodon were often tagged as a combination of cold Northern drums and chickin’-pickin’ hot Southern licks. As their popularity grew, the words ‘progressive’ and ‘psychedelic’ nudged their way into the descriptive mix. Once More ’Round The Sun included all those elements in a cohesive and often exhilarating manner. Tack on some playfulness and tons of muscular shredding and the result was another masterstroke./o:p

2. MACHINE HEAD: BLOODSTONE & DIAMONDS (Roadrunner)

Expectations are always high when Machine Head make a new record, but in contrast to the somewhat polarising Unto The Locust, the band’s eighth studio effort is already being compared favourably to their very best work. Huge riffs, massive melodies, razor-sharp lyrics and plenty of epic grandeur were the order of the day here. Twenty years on from Burn My Eyes, Machine Head are unstoppable.

1. BEHEMOTH: THE SATANIST (Nuclear Blast)

We all love a comeback: a tale of triumph over insurmountable odds where the protagonist defies the challenges thrown in his path to emerge stronger than ever. Behemoth frontman Nergal may not be your typical Hollywood hero, but his battle with leukaemia, while also fending off archaic religious laws in his homeland of Poland to emerge victorious on both counts, is about as metal as it gets.

Going through this is enough for Nergal to be carried aloft through the streets, but the most astonishing part of the tale is the colossal, fervent and vital statement that was The Satanist. Channelling all the turbulence of being faced with bans, prison and death into Behemoth’s blackened death metal hybrid, this wasn’t just a phenomenal extreme metal or even rock album, but one of the most riveting and compelling musical experiences of recent times. Despite an incredible year for metal, such was The Satanist’s monolithic impact that every record released since it emerged in January never stood a chance.

“I’m speechless,” says the frontman. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that such extreme and radical music could compete with bands with more record sales, recognition and exposure. We’re eternally grateful. I’m so fulfilled and satisfied with it. It still represents where I am now in life. I strongly stand behind what we’re doing with The Satanist.”

From the conquering opening riffs of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel; Amen’s maelstrom of intense tempos and caustic fury; In The Absence Ov Light’s mournful descent; and O Father O Satan O Sun’s affecting, extraordinary finale, The Satanist was a journey into the band’s souls as they’re opened bare, with drummer Inferno even claiming that you “could feel the cancer pouring out of the riffs.”

“The album was written about life,” reflects Nergal on the reasons behind the album’s impact. “I really mean that, surviving what I’ve been through. The fact that you do something that is you and is honest, and you pass it over to people who appreciate and identify with it – it gives you such extra virtue to your life.”

From the self-empowering lyrics, the exceptional musicianship from fellow guitarist Seth and bassist Orion, even down to the artwork that included Nergal’s own blood, The Satanist was a musical masterpiece. Its impact continues to be felt as the band take it to every corner of the globe.

“I’m still living this record,” Nergal concludes. “The potential of the album is vast and we’ll be exploring it to its maximum. I’ve invested so much of myself, my life and my emotions into this record, I want it to last as long as possible and want to make a solid statement.”/o:p

50. ACCEPT: BLIND RAGE (Nuclear Blast)/o:p

49. ANAAL NATHRAKH: DESIDERATUM (Metal Blade)/o:p

48. AUTOPSY: TOURNIQUETS, HACKSAWS AND GRAVES (Peaceville)/o:p

47. BIGELF: INTO THE MAELSTROM (Insideout)/o:p

46. BLACK LABEL SOCIETY: CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN (Eone Music)/o:p

45. BLACK MOTH: CONDEMNED TO HOPE (NHS)/o:p

44. BLACK STONE CHERRY: MAGIC MOUNTAIN (Roadrunner)/o:p

43. BLUES PILLS: BLUES PILLS (Nuclear Blast)/o:p

42. BONG: STONER ROCK (Ritual Productions)/o:p

41. CROWBAR: SYMMETRY IN BLACK (Century Media)/o:p

40. DOWN: IV PART II (Roadrunner)/o:p

39. GODFLESH: A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE (Avalanche)/o:p

38. HELLYEAH: BLOOD FOR BLOOD (Eleven Seven Music)/o:p

37. JUDAS PRIEST: REDEEMER OF SOULS (Columbia)/o:p

36. KILLER BE KILLED: KILLER BE KILLED (Nuclear Blast)/o:p

35. MAYHEM: ESOTERIC WARFARE (Season Of Mist)/o:p

34. THE DWARVES: THE DWARVES INVENTED ROCK ’N’ ROLL (Greedy)/o:p

33. THE HAUNTED: EXIT WOUNDS (Century Media)/o:p

32. UPON A BURNING BODY: THE WORLD IS MY ENEMY NOW (Sumerian)/o:p

31. XERATH: III (Candlelight)/o:p