The Best of 2014

This post was originally written for No Clean Singing. It’ll go up there in a couple of days (hopefully), but for the non-zero number of people that might see this, here it is early.

Another year, another list. I’ve always enjoyed doing these lists, starting way back in 2009 when I made my first post on The Number of the Blog. Since then I’ve managed to make one every year, with various amounts of effort put into them. It’s weird that I consider my main stretch of internet blogging to have been with Number of the Blog, yet I only made two lists for that, while this will be the fourth I’ve written for No Clean Singing. Anyways, my adoptive home has asked me back to write for them again, and I’m all too happy to do so.

2014 wasn’t quite the year 2013 was. Last year it felt like there was a huge deluge of just great releases coming from every corner of the planet. This year I really had to think about my top 20. The top 10 was easy, but after that it was a struggle to think of the truly great great albums that came out this year. Not to say that numbers 20 through 11 are forgettable albums. I think they’re all great. It’s just that last year the struggle came from whittling it down to twenty as there were so many albums I wanted to talk about that I couldn’t fit on the list. Some of this might be jadedness as I’ve listened to a lot of stuff that people have thought is awesome, and if I had heard it like two or three years ago I would’ve been all aboard that shit. But now I just get a “yeah that’s cool” reaction to so much shit. It’s kind of depressing, but it does make the stuff that breaks through all the better.

What follows is my list. The honorable mentions are in alphabetical order. Click the name to go to an album stream or youtube clip or whatever. For my top twenty, most of them should have the streams beneath the album art. Some I couldn’t find embeddable links so just click on the album art to get to the music.

PS: If you’re wondering where Dead Congregation is, it’s not on here because it’s a mediocre mass of nothing riffs wrapped in drums that sound like butt.

Honorable Mentions: Items in bold I strongly recommend
Ad Infinitum – Woven Within
Alcest -Shelter
Anthem – Absolute World
Anthropomorphia – Rites ov Perversion
Arizmenda – Stillbirth in the Temple of Venus
Bölzer – Soma
Ceremonial Castings – Cthulu
Children of Technology – Future Decay
Corpsessed – Abysmal Thresholds
Darkspace – Dark Space III I
Deathhammer – Evil Power
Deep Mountains – Lake of Solace
Diocletian – Gesundrian
Divine Ascension – Liberator
Domains – Sinister Ceremonies
Dragonforce – Maximum Overload (Yes I’m serious)
Earth and Pillars – Earth I
Empyrium – The Turn of the Tides
Execration – Morbid Dimensions
Fen – Carrion Skies
Have a Nice Life – The Unnatural World
High Spirits – You Are Here
Impetuous Ritual – Unholy Congregation Of Hypocritical Ambivalence
Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijousten
Marissa Nadler – July
Midnight – No Mercy For Mayhem
Nuclearhammer – Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer
Phlebotomized – Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact Reissue
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Reverorum Ib Malacht – De Mysteriis Dom Christi
Saor – Aura
Satan’s Satyrs – Die Screaming
Schammasch – Contradiction
Skull Fist – Chasing the Dream
Solstafir – Otta
Spectral Lore – III
Teitanblood – Death
Tengger Cavalry – Ancient Call
Triumphant – Herald the Unsung
Valdrin – Beyond the Forest
Vanhelgd – Relics of Sulphur Salvation
Volahn – Aq’ab’al
While Heaven Wept – Suspended at Aphelion
Woods of Desolation – As the Stars

And now, the top 20

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The Glass Cage

I wrote this story a few years ago for an English class. It’s alright I guess, but it could probably be a lot better. I’m posting it anyways because why not?

She curls herself into a ball upon the bed, the fresh bruises painful. They mix with the more colorful ones, the older ones that have turned brown and purple and yellow. The puncture marks where they had stuck the needles were barely visible. Tears streamed down her face. She hated it here, within her glass cage. It wasn’t really glass she knew. She didn’t know what it was made of truthfully, but it didn’t really matter to her. All she knew, all she needed to know, was that those clear walls stood between her and the outside world. She also knew, deep within herself, that she could easily escape. Destroying the glass cell would be merely a trifle, something so easily within her power that by all rights she should have done so within her sleep. But she didn’t. For as much as she hated the glass cell, she hated what lay outside its walls more.

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Corsair – S/T

If you’re at all a fan of the old school metal sound of the 70s and 80s you should be following Shadow Kingdom Records, because they are currently the best label on the planet for that sound (they have Dark Quarterer and Virtue, how can you go wrong?). Just by going through their Bandcamp page I have found so much great shit like Stygian Shore, Revelation, Reactor, Dragonslayer, Ritual, Energy Vampires, Sinister Realm, and Corsair. Obviously from the post title and the album cover above, it is Corsair that I wish to cover.

While the Bandcamp description of this album says it was released in November 2012, the Shadow Kingdom store page says it’s a 2013 release, and since these guys don’t have a Metal Archives page to conveniently reference, I have no clue when exactly this came out. Regardless of when this album was released, I’ve been listening to this album a lot recently. Like way too much.

I was first drawn to this album by the very attractive woodblock style of the album cover. It had a very classic 60s/70s feel to it, and gave off the sense that the music on the album would be a journey of sorts. The first track, Agathyrsi, is an instrumental that features a lot of noodling and riffing on the guitar. There’s a heavy sense of groove throughout the riffing (not the Pantera style groove though, fuck that), and the song is very much in the vein of 70s prog rock, though right at the end there’s a very Sabbath-y heaviness to the whole thing. The next song immediately lets us know who this band draws their primary influence from. From the almost thin sounding melodic guitars to the heavy bass presence, and the singer that is doing his best Phil Lynott impression, it’s quite obvious that Corsair worships Thin Lizzy.

Though highly evocative of Thin Lizzy, the best part of this album is how the band is able to maintain their own sound while still drawing heavily from their obvious influences. The production and duel guitar melodies seem straight out of Jailbreak, yet the overall song structures are far more reminiscent of 70’s prog and space rock bands like Hawkwind and Spooky Tooth, with a little bit of very early Journey thrown in. However, despite my constant referencing of older bands, the blend that Corsair have managed to create honestly sounds like their own thing. With the exception of a few melodies and the vocal influence, it’s not obvious where each element of the songs come from, other than the mind of the brilliant young songwritiers.

It’s really refreshing to hear such a young band nail the classic 70s rock/metal sound so perfectly, to the point where I was honestly wondering if Shadow Kingdom had managed to pick up and rerelease some obscure band from the 70s with Corsair. The fact that they have hit the 70s sound so perfectly without sounding derivative is what probably impresses me the most. The shortness of Corsair’s self titled is pretty much its biggest downside, but whenever your biggest problem with something is its shortness (unless it’s like a 3 hour video game you payed sixty bucks for), you know you’ve hit upon something good. Corsair have a promising future of bringing back the past.

On a scale of pop Journey to prog Journey, I give Corsair’s Self-Titled debut a Thin Lizzy.

Satan – Life Sentence

Satan - Life Sentence

If you have never listened to Satan before, stop whatever you are doing right now and go listen to their classic 1983 album Court in the Act, which is probably the greatest NWOBHM album made by a band not named Iron Maiden. I was introduced to this band when I heard Blind Guardian’s cover of Trial by Fire, and I was instantly floored by it beccause it was easily the best thing I had heard from Blind Guardian up to that point. Court in the Act itself floored me again. Every song on it was absolutely perfect, everything metal should be. So yeah, go listen to Court in the Act before you do anything else. So after Court in the Act, Satan’s history becomes messy and convoluted, with changes to both the line-up and the name (I think  they changed the name like three times over their career). But what matters here is that this is Satan’s first new material in 26 years, and that the line-up here is the same that was on Court in the Act.

In the past few years, there has been a trend in old NWOBHM bands reforming and releasing new stuff. Sadly, most of them either suck or are just kind of there, The only ones who have escaped that fate that I can think of are Pagan Altar and Trappazat, but in both those cases all their stuff was written back in the 80s, and they’re just now getting around to releasing shit (though Pagan Altar’s stuff was floating around on bootlegs since the 70s). I can gladly say that Satan have managed to join those hallowed few. This album is seriously good. Insanely good. The songs are not boring (Angel Witch), they did not drastically change their sound to try and appeal to the “kids these days” (Cloven Hoof), and the modern production is neither annoying nor distracting (Hell). Satan have still got it to a ridiculous degree.

I read on the Terrorizer stream of this album that when they were writing the music for this album, singer Brian Ross says “Rather than just do a new album why don’t we try and get our heads into the way we would have been in 1984 and had we stayed together, the songs that we would’ve written, the songs that we would’ve put together to follow ‘Court In The Act’ is the album that I think we should write now.” This is pretty much the exact attitude all these reforming NWOBHM bands should take. Trying to modernize their songs to appeal to new fans is ultimately a doomed effort, because the NWOBHM for anyone not named Iron Maiden is such an obscure niche, that the only people who care about these bands reforming are the die hard fans of the 80s material.

So the old school mindset has really paid off for Satan, because from this album it sounds like Satan has not missed a single beat.

Satan has always walked the line between heavy metal and speed metal, with songs like Trial by Fire leaving many of the band’s contemporaries in the dust. So it comes as no surprise that the most stand out tracks (Time to Die, Testimony) on this album border more on speed metal than traditional NWOBHM. The crisp burst of guitars that opens the album immediately pump the listener up, and give them a taste of what’s to come. What follows is an amazing meld of speed and old-school melodicism wrapped up in excellent songwriting that few bands can hope to match.

Given the band’s track record, I knew that the songs themselves would probably be pretty good. But going into this album my biggest question was about how Brian Ross’ voice would sound, since singers are usually the band member most affected by time, and 30 years is a long time for a singer. I was happy to discover that Ross still sounds amazing. He obviously isn’t hitting the falsettos like he was back in the day, but otherwise he sounds great. His mid-range vocals manage to be both energetic and emotive, perfectly able to carry the songs on his own if he has to. Luckily for us, he doesn’t need to.

Ultimately, this album is good. Real fucking good. Amazingly good. Age hasn’t slowed the band down, nor has the time apart. Satan managed to come back after 30 years and put so many younger bands to shame. Probably the best album I’ve heard all year.

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance

At this point in their career, Darkthrone are known primarily for two things.

1.) Fenriz being a really super cool dude.

2.) Doing whatever the fuck they want.

Over the course of their long career, they’ve drifted further and further from the classic black metal sound that they defined along with Burzum. And now they have arrived here, on The Underground Resistance. This album is a blatant throwback to 70’s and 80’s metal, but it still manages to sound like a Darkthrone album. To be quite honest, I think they changes that have occurred over Darkthrone’s career are overstated. The main thing that has changed is the asethetics, the production, the way everything is presented. The core of the their music has remained fairly consistent. I just think people have been blinded by the change from this to this.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this Blaze in the Northern Sky pt. II and everyone is to blind to see it. I just hear a lot of similar riffing, even if one album is clearly black metal and the other is pure old school metal. There is a somewhat repetitive droning quality to the riffs here, and I say that in the best possible way. The cores of these songs are all simple and solid old school riffs that generally leave one banging their head. There is nothing fancy here, just blunt no-bullshit metal. In addition, I’ve always been a fan of Nocturno Culto’s clean singing. I think he’s pretty good.

Not much to say about this album really. It’s good, it’s fun, it’s fucking Darkthrone.


Enforcer – Death By Fire

Enforcer - Death By Fire

Sweden’s Enforcer return for a third album. Since their last album, 2010’s Diamonds, they’ve lost the talented guitarist Adam Zaars, who left to focus more on his death metal project Tribulation (I’ll get to The Formulas of Death, because holy shit that album). Despite the loss of such a talented individual, Death BY Fire manages to greatly improve upon Diamonds. To be honest, I was never really that big a fan of Diamonds. With the exception of the opener “Midnight Vice,” none of the songs on that album really managed to grab me. I could appreciate how ridiculously 80’s the band managed to sound on that album, but I found most of the songwriting uninteresting. The problems with that album are mostly fixed on Death By Fire.

The first thing I  noticed upon pressing play is that this album is much faster, much more energetic than their previous stuff. They mostly have dropped the midpaced rock/NWOBHM sound and, taking a page from the Skull Fist playbook, crafted a slightly glam infused speed metal album. Pretty much every song rockets out of the starting gate, never slowing down, but never sacrificing the catchiness that was their strongest asset on their earlier work. Every song has ridiculously catchy parts, though the chorus for “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” takes the cake in terms of getting stuck in your fucking head.

As mentioned, this album takes a lot of cues from 80’s speed metal, so we aren’t exactly looking at entirely original riffing here. However, every riff on this album is extremely solid, and sounds good both alone and in the context of the song. The melodic leads take their cues most obviously from Maiden, but there’s a hint of some heavier acts like Satan and Trojan. The bass is extremely audible, and like every Trad band since 1978, sounds like Steve Harris. I have no problems with this, and really like the bass playing on this album, probably one of my favorite aspects of this album. Olof Wilkstrand’s vocals are mostly unchanged, being that high-pitched classic 80’s singer, but the intensity of his voice has stepped up along with the speed of the songs.

Enforcer aren’t even coming close to trying to reinvent the wheel, just polishing their own chops. Seeing as how this is Enforcer’s best album, they’ve done that fairly well. Ultimately a very fun and solid album, if nothing else. If you’re looking for some good 80’s Trad-Revival, you could do much worse.

On a scale of Poison to W.A.S.P., I give Death By Fire a Dokken with George Lynch.

OLD MUSIC: 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room

40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room

Salvaging one of my few Number of the Blog reviews that I could find.

Pat Walker is one of those unfortunate musicians that will probably never escape their past. Walker will pretty much always be best known for the album Watching From a Distance, and he really should feel no shame about that, seeing as how WFaD is widely considered a classic of modern doom metal. Even though there is no shame being associated with that album, the shadow that a monolithic album like that can cast over one’s career is hardly enviable. Everything Walker does now will inevitably be compared to that album. With that little intro out of the way, let’s move on to the album at hand: The Inside Room by 40 Watt Sun.

So yeah, this album sounds like Watching From a Distance, but “different”. How is it different? Well, all the same elements are there: slow plodding guitar riffs with a faint hint of melody rising above the distortion, lyrics about love and loss, and of course Pat Walker’s amazingly emotional vocals over the top of everything. The difference lies in the feel and the atmosphere of the album. Whilst Watching From a Distance was bleak and pitch black, with not a glimmer of hope, The Inside Room offers some hope. Like standing on a thin grey ledge, with darkness and despair below, but with a light at the other end of the ledge (if that makes any sense). Looking at that description, it sounds pretty stupid, but that’s the best way I could phrase it.

Musically, this album is pretty damn simple. It plods along, hammering out funeral doom riffs that just happen to be sped up. The guitars are extremely fuzzy and distorted (for the most part, there’s an occasional acoustic break), so a lot of the riffs are a bit hard to discern, but not too hard. Occasionally you will hear melodies rise above it all, but on closer listens it becomes apparent that those melodies are pretty much omnipresent throughout the album. Drums and bass aren’t anything spectacular or standoutish, as they serve their purpose and never take center stage (The drums you don’t notice tend to be my favorite kind of drums). It’s fine that there’s nothing spectacular about the instruments on this album, as this is not an album that one showcases their technical ability on. Rather, the instruments serve more as a soundscape for Pat Walker’s vocals to soar over.

And that brings us to one of the main draws of this album: Walker’s vocals. Walker’s nasally voice (which is never annoying) is highly emotive, though not always completely clear. It can be hard to make out some of the lyrics at times, though you are never in the dark as to what the lyrics are trying to convey emotionally (as Walker’s voice expresses them perfectly). The band also does not release lyrics, so I’ve had to puzzle them out on my own. From what I can tell, they’re far more hopeful than Warning’s stuff.

So yeah, I think this album is absolutely amazing in every way shape and form, and can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it (it’s too short, maybe. But at 47 minutes, that’s more just me not wanting it to end than anything else). We shall see if this album stands the test of time to become a classic doom album that will be spoken of with reverence in the future. For what it counts, I think The Inside Room completely deserves that status.