Black Metal & Brews’ Favorite Albums of 2014

 

black metal & brewsIt’s that time again. After I was blindsided by Stillborn Fawn’s magnificent release Heathen early in 2014, I decided not to be surprised twice and I’m publishing the Black Metal & Brews list of top albums in January, lest a late contender be so strong. While in years past I’d have had a hard time filling more than twenty slots in a sincere fashion, this year I had to severely question my own placement to keep the list down a bit. Since the site has grown more comfortable addressing a diverse array of music over the past year, I felt that separating lists by genre was a silly and wasteful practice. I love a large amount of music, as do many of my readers. The site’s specialty will always be black metal and its related genres, but I feel fortunate to know that my readers are excited to have their boundaries pushed. Most of us are still hooked on the thrill of discovery, which means trying new flavors. This is probably one of the most “untrue” metal lists you’ll see, but it fairly represents what I listened to and loved in 2014, with a few exceptions. In mid-December, I decided that I’d have a great time making a list of the best submissions I received that I neglected to review, so a few strong releases are going to be featured on that list instead. I won’t give away too much, but if you’re going to knock me for leaving out Vorde’s stellar LP, don’t get too excited just yet.

Since this is a list of fifty(-ish) releases, let me explain how I’m running this show. First off, we’re going to visit 5 reissues that were totally worthwhile this year. This is pretty self-explanatory and might be a good introduction to some albums you missed the first time around. After that is a list of the top “singles” of the year. Since I’m not talking about individual songs, I decided to feature any release with two (brief) songs as a single. Whether it’s meant to be a single, a demo, or an EP may be up to the artist’s discretion, especially in genres where demos are often as important as albums, but I’m filing all of these shorter releases here. The section for split albums should be pretty obvious. We all love a good split, and this year was full of ’em. I could have easily added five more and still had a few to mention. Finally, the “albums of the year” section is mostly alphabetical save for the top five, which are all held in equal regard for different reasons. I felt that trying to quantify a list of things I loved was a futile exercise, and I actually lost sleep over number placement when I began drafting this. Instead of fussing with that stress, I’d rather share some great music with my readers and hope you guys will share your favorites with me. Thanks for reading, let’s get to business.

Top 5 Reissues of 2014

5. Swans– Filth (Young God Records)

I’m pretty sure I spent years hearing rumors that Michael Gira and friends would never revisit the Swans back catalog on vinyl. Perhaps I was talking to the wrong people or maybe the popularity of their last two albums inspired the folks at Young God Records to have a change of heart, but it looks like most of Swans’ recorded output will finally see a widespread vinyl release over the next number of months. Filth is the only one that was let out in 2014 but it’s a damn good place to start. There’s nothing too fancy about the packaging or presentation, but this is well worth it if you’re too young to have been there the first time around.

4. Ulver– Silence Teaches You How to Sing/Silencing the Singing (Ampullae Audio)

While some mighty metal warriors either heard Ulver’s black metal era first or have simply disowned the band’s experimental works, I was a bit late to the game with these Norwegian geniuses and first happened upon them through a used copy of Silencing the Singing in the miscellaneous bin at a record store where I used to work. I was told to put it back, but I couldn’t help myself. Finally hearing these sparse, chilling compositions in an analog format brings out the crisp and haunting nature even more. If you’re into ambient or experimental music and haven’t yet heard these companion EPs, let this be your formal introduction.

3. Caustic Window- Caustic Window (Self-Released)

Caustic Window troubled me this year. With the grand announcement and release of a new Aphex Twin album, I felt a bit guilty that this was of greater interest to me. I also am not sure if this even counts as a reissue since these tracks were buried until 2014. Regardless, as a fan of electronic music and the overall discography of Richard D. James, it was impossible to ignore the hidden brilliance captured on these tracks which were unearthed to the internet. It’s hard to say what would’ve happened if these had come out twenty years earlier, but I have a feeling the Caustic Window project would have contended against Aphex Twin for popularity in the electronic music community.

last letters

2.  Image of Life- Last Letters from the Leper Colony (Self-Released)

Image of Life’s debut cassette, Last Letters from the Leper Colony was initially released in a painfully small run back in 2012. I didn’t even know of the project’s existence until Chondritic Sound issued their 7″ single for the painfully addictive “Weight Loss in Wartime” last year, and assumed I’d never hear a note of the album from which it was culled. Then in June or July, I found out that Image of Life’s cassette was reissued to coincide with Pure Ground’s European tour this summer. With such a strong take on minimalist coldwave, it comes as little surprise to find that this is J. Short of Pure Ground, and it’s a wonderful thing that the world can finally enjoy this in a wider release. This run of tapes has also sold out, but bandcamp downloads are limitless.

1. Ulver- Trolsk Sortmetall (Century Media)

You probably saw this coming before you even clicked on the link to this list. Despite Century’s serious flubs in the release (but thankfully not the presentation) of this massive box set, the final product is still well worth it. While the CD set is surely a fine one, the vinyl box is in my possession and goodness is it a beauty. Ulver are easily one of my favorite bands of all time, so this is just a treasure. It was also priced much lower than one would expect for four records and a tape from such a well reputed act. It’s disappointing that discogs hounds are already putting these out there for between two and five times the original cost, but I guess it’s unavoidable with something so good.

Top 5 Singles of 2014

5. Yellow Eyes- Stillicide (Sibir Records/Prison Tatt)

As with each of these, its brevity is the only reason it’s not listed as a top album. To tell the truth, I could have just as easily dropped in The Desert Mourns and been just as pleased with the inclusion of one of USBM’s hardest working talents. These two tracks further display the blending of melody and dissonance that have made Yellow Eyes so noteworthy from day one. If anybody’s still wasting their time trying to compare these guys to other bands, Stillicide should be the statement that forces writers and fans alike to start using Yellow Eyes as the new barometer to which young acts are compared. They may not have had the opportunity to do a national tour yet, but it’s hard to imagine this band being a “well kept secret” for much longer.

4. Devouring Star– Demo (Tridroid Records)

Devouring Star’s first offering was technically a 2013 release digitally, but with broad exposure coming shortly after Tridroid Records dropped this tape in January, it feels appropriate to include this one. This Finnish act committed these songs to tape as the vision of just one man, but the group has already expanded to a full lineup and issued a promo track from an upcoming full-length. It’s great to see such a dedicated work ethic from a group whose art displays the same ferocity, binding passion and performance seamlessly. Folks who may have lost interest in Deathspell Omega’s veering course seem to have had their hope kindled by Devouring Star. If the opening of “Chaos Omega” doesn’t immediately drop jaws, then the oddly catchy churning of the last two minutes of “Todestrieb” will be what forces the masses to pay attention.

3. Beach Pneumatic- Demo (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

The collaborative effort of Colloquial Sound Recordings’ own Damian Master and Das Oath legend Aaron Aspinwall, Beach Pneumatic’s brief introduction to the world is as entrancing as it is confusing. It’s instantly addictive, but I’ll admit I still haven’t even figured out why this appeals to me. There are new corners of each song that I find myself getting lost in with each listen. Nothing is intentionally obscured, but the murky somberness of this release is often more apparent than the individual components. As Aspinwall sounds like he’s fighting for air, Master retains a constant march onto which his bandmate clings for dear life. These are the sounds of a glorious loss and the peace of mind that comes with determination. This sold out instantly but is available for streaming and digital purchase on bandcamp.

2. A Pregnant Light– Purple Pain b/w Ultraviolet (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

I was initially under the impression that these two songs were destined for inclusion on A Pregnant Light’s debut LP (which followed this 7″ by only about a month) but even as a teaser for what was to come, each of these tracks made their mark on my year’s listening. Neither overshadowed by nor necessarily superior to My Game Doesn’t Have a Name, this 7″ shows that A Pregnant Light’s tradition of brief releases isn’t hampered by some of the more melodic, inviting changes that have occurred over the last year. Indeed, to say this bears much black metal at all would be absolute folly, but as a fan of melodic hardcore and aggressive, guitar-driven music as a whole, this hits so many sweet spots that it’s hard to properly describe. Ambition was both promised and delivered upon in every second of this release, making it hard to believe that a complete album shortly afterward would be so well realized. As you’ll see later on in this post, Master’s drive and dedication pushed him to be more heavily featured in this list than any other musician and yet the quality isn’t diluted by the large amount of creative output he released in 2014. If you’ve only got ten minutes and want to know why A Pregnant Light has captured the ears of many metal listeners, this 7″ is a perfect starting point.

Publicist UK

1. Publicist UK– Demos (Static Tension)

Bending the rules a bit here, but this is an important inclusion as these two tracks were both available on soundcloud for the majority of 2014. While the world can’t own a piece of Publicist UK until March of this year, we’ve all had ample opportunity to digest these two pieces of swirling, anxious post-punk that comprise Publicist UK’s initial statement. Despite their moniker, these four individuals are all musicians from here in the states, a couple of whom are in well-known heavy metal groups. While I’ve got nothing but love for the complete package, my interest was initially piqued upon learning that Publicist UK was fronted by Zachary Lipez, a music writer whose works have served as an inspiration for my admittedly amateurish efforts. The dizzying build of “Slow Dancing to This Bitter Earth” is offset by the surprisingly jagged tightrope walk of “Never Gone to School,” with its awkward yet apt cymbal-work from drummer Dave Witte and a crushing denoument after a frail bridge. Readers who keep up with me personally know 2014 was a challenging year for me and I’d gladly admit that these two tracks never left my head during the most chaotic moments of the last few months. Thanks for the tunes, guys, and I look forward to the Relapse Records debut to come later this year.

Top 5 Split Albums of 2014

5.  Myopic & Torrid Husk- Crawling Mountain Apogee (Grimoire Records)

When two of Grimoire Records’ brightest acts collaborated for a split, it was little surprise that the results were so enjoyable. With two tracks from each artist, this split highlighted the strengths of both bands. Myopic continue to establish themselves with their sprawling, sludgy songs, especially on the massive opening track “Unction in Passing.” The slow build into a pure frenzy feels passionate and inspired. Similarly, Torrid Husk’s black metal has its place here and carves with precision. As with all Grimoire releases, the production is so on point that while the rawness is retained, you can actually hear the bass (which is a great thing) and the band just sounds as tense as ever. The beast that is “So howled out for the world to give him a name” is easily one of the year’s most slept on tracks, but it doesn’t need to be. Check this one out. This is a must-have for those keeping up on the USBM scene as well as folks who want their albums to be well packaged–the artwork by Brandon Geurts is among the finest of the year. Grimoire’s also aware that not everybody has the capacity to play tapes, so in addition to the cassette release, there’s a beautifully packaged CD version of the album as well.

4.  Lágrimas & Prisionero 13 Split (Obrero)

Chicano power electronics label Obrero made a stirring statement with its first release, this split between two acts whose works were previously unknown to me. Prisionero 13 opens things up with one of the most overwhelmingly bleak PE songs of the year in “Noche de Ilicitos.” Cascading static cuts through a black tapestry while the artist narrates the goings on somewhere in the distance. “Ojo por Ojo” is markedly more aggressive, yet the aggression feels like the release of something long held back instead of the hypermasculine chest-pounding of many current PE acts. These are the sounds of oppression, the inescapable vortex of poverty and the unavoidable sense of “otherness.” It imparts a pain many listeners can only imagine. This appears to be the debut of Lágrimas, whose tracks here are no less evocative, but the approach is slightly different. As with Prisionero 13’s tracks, this is a glimpse into a suffering to which I can listen and respect but obviously have never experienced. This is the power of music. In many ways, this communicates on a level that isn’t verbal, it’s simply felt. This isn’t as easy or comfortable a listen as most of the releases on this list, but that’s what makes it so important.

3. Grst & The Will of a Million Split (Glossolalia Records)

I already had quite a bit to say about this one earlier in the year, but it remains relevant. While Grst went on to garner serious attention later in the year with a demo of Weakling covers and their debut LP Plague Seed, this initial offering was worthy enough to demand my full attention. Ferocious and uncompromising, “Wrathfully Trodden” may have been recorded years ago, but it’s as present and notable as anything else the band has done to date. Partnering up with the slightly more tranquil beauty of The Will of a Million’s “Smoke” makes perfect sense, serving as a balm in a sense to Grst’s violence. The Will of a Million hasn’t made headlines in the same way, but this solo project of sound engineer Stephen Parker is more than worthy of your attention, as I have it on good authority that the best from this project is likely to be delivered in the year to come.

2. Mania & Mizmor (Self-Released/Eternal Warfare Records)

Hypnotic and vicious death metal paired with one of the best solo doom projects around? This one was a no-brainer in terms of this list. Mania’s two contributions display diversity on their own. While “Sick” lumbers in as some of the most engaging death metal of the year, “Duality, Unity, Finality” shows a more nuanced and intricate side to the Mania formula. It’s a beautiful surprise and the pairing of these two songs works nicely to complement Mizmor’s inclusion. On the other side, A.L.N. of Hell and Urzeit continues to build his already lofty reputation as Mizmor with “VIII-Orual,” 16 minutes of feedback, misery, and trudging doom. While his drumming and vocals are his trademarks in other projects, the guitar work here lacks nothing, the samples are placed nicely for dramatic effect, and the churning ambiance only makes me cringe with delight.

Urzeit and Akatharsia split

1. Urzeit & Akatharsia (Self-Released)

I already released a rather glowing review and premiere of this one a couple of months ago, but this placement on my list should show my sincerity. Easily one of the most compelling releases of the year, this split features two bands who are new yet noteworthy forces in North American heavy music. Portland’s own Urzeit slow things down considerably with their song here, and the effects are astonishing. This staggering piece of black doom stands among my favorite songs of the last number of years, easily earning this the top spot on this list. Similarly, three bursts of black noise from Akatharsia show this act growing into something truly formidable. These groups are touring the west coast together in February, so don’t miss out if you’re anywhere near a show.

Honorable Mentions of 2014

Before I even begin this list, I need to make mention of a few albums that would’ve likely placed here but I simply didn’t have enough time with them to accurately state their rank. First off, industrial legends Einstürzende Neubauten released an album too huge to absorb in Lament, which has only seen a few plays in my home and is just so dense that I can’t begin to touch upon its scope. Another strong contender came from Poison Ring, whose Book of Seeds was a fascinating drone experience with some of the most intriguing packaging of the year, but it arrived during my mid-summer meltdown and I didn’t give it the time it deserved. That’s on me. Also of note was Lotus Thief’s fantastic release Rervm which I only discovered in the last three days of 2014 after it was recommended to me on Twitter. I’m really enjoying it but I can’t pretend I’ve given it more than three listens. Finally, a few albums from certain labels were cut not because of lack of quality but because I could have easily given five or ten slots each to a couple of these labels and had way too heavily biased of a list. If you see a label make even a single appearance here, I urge you to check its roster, but the few who appear more than once could have easily appeared twice as many times. Thanks again for taking the time to sit with me. Let’s dive into this massive list, which is really more of an unnumbered “best of” list than it is an “honorable mentions” list.

All Your Sisters– Modern Failures (Belaten)

While I know to expect greatness from just about any release on Thomas Martin Ekelund’s Belaten label, the cold yet highly emotive post-punk of All Your Sisters’ Modern Failures was a surprising success. This two-piece from San Francisco exceeded expectations and wrote some of the catchiest music of the year. Sometimes it’s upbeat and sometimes it’s not, but the mood rarely shifts from its default gloom, which is altogether a good thing. I’ve never heard self-loathing sound as good as it does here. Each listen to this cassette leaves me wondering what else to put on afterwards. To tell the truth, I typically listen to this album multiple times in a row because it sets a mood that nothing else can really touch upon.

Aureole- Alunar (Fallen Empire)

Aurole’s debut was yet another cassette release in a roster of almost pure excellence from long-time favorite label Fallen Empire Records. This beautiful demonstration of ambient black metal mastery overshadowed most contenders in one of my favorite little corners of the black metal world. I can’t pretend I understand a single word, but it comes as little surprise that such an album with such constant atmospheric control would revolve around a theme or story of some sort. This is worth losing yourself in time after time. The weight of the universe may be bleak and foreboding, but Aureole’s future is bright nonetheless.

Blue Krishna

Blue Krishna- Repeat Until Death (Nostilevo)

Blue Krishna is the project of Alex Jarson, best known for his work in synthpop duo Body of Light. With Repeat Until Death, Blue Krishna sets the soundtrack for dancing into oblivion with varying shades of madness and self-deceit. Bare industrial rhythms set a cold spine for this beast of an album while hypnotic synths urge the listener to give in beneath the beauty of futility. All life may cease, yet the sun will still rise to greet this empty planet.

Blut Aus Nord- Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry (Debemur Morti)

French legends Blut Aus Nord delivered the third installment in their Memoria Vetusta series with Saturnian Poetry, a sprawling, gorgeous piece of black metal majesty. In keeping with the tradition of its peers, this is more of a traditional take on the genre, lush and beautiful. Still, for all their weight as an experimental powerhouse, Blut Aus Nord offers up a remarkable set of songs here that are memorable and worthy of all the accolades they’ve received this year. Some folks say this album is a bit heavy-handed with the synths, but I’ll beg to differ. If anything, this is driven by guitar melodies that hit all the right spots. With Blut Aus Nord paying visits to so many themes of their back catalog, it’ll be exciting to see what they come up with next.

Body of Light– Limits of Reason (Ascetic House)

Emotive, addictive, and seemingly standing out of time, Limits of Reason was Body of Light’s contribution to the Ascetic House January Program. The duo of brothers Alex and Andrew Jarson have been one of my favorite synth-pop/minimal wave/whatever you’d like to call it bands since I first heard a rip (yeah, I’m late to the game) of the incredible Wayside City cassette. While the majority of this tape is comprised of smooth shifting synth lines, precise pulsing beats, and Alex’s soaring vocals (which have been getting better and better with each release, to be honest), the closing track “To Destroy Sin” is a massive noise collage that still feels like it has a place here, displaying potential for this pair to explore darker, deeper territories with future releases. While this isn’t listed in the “top 5” section below, this was easily my favorite electronic album of any nature in 2014, for what it’s worth. It’s been a year since this dropped; let’s hope the next release comes soon.

Cepheide De Silence et de Suie (Self-Released)

I’ve often said that France is surprisingly overlooked in discussions about black metal, and this debut offering from Cepheide supports my conviction. Drawing from ambient and atmospheric palettes, De Silence et de Suie is one of those black metal tapes that caught my attention out of nowhere and didn’t let go. I often have week-long fascinations with a particular release, but this one has still got my full attention. Cepheide are one of many new names on here, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a fair shot.

Decades/Failures- 002 (Dead Tank)

I’m bad at giving a name to the music played by Decades/Failures. Despite the name, this isn’t pure Joy Division worship. Is it coldwave? Synth pop? Darkwave? I’m not sure. 002 is the soundtrack to driving aimlessly, cold beds, and empty night-time streets lit by neon signs. It’s dark and electronic but with a human heart that bleeds to the beat of every song. This is one of the most addictive things I heard in 2014 and with a follow-up LP landing in early 2015, it’s likely this band will be making more appearances on my site in the near future.

Eblis- "Knowing"

Eblis– Knowing (Self-Released)

If my recent review wasn’t glowing enough to get your attention, please take Eblis’ inclusion on this list as a display of my sincerity. Sparse black metal atmospheres leave enough room for the listener to fully detach from their present surroundings, allowing Eblis to lead the way. The journey on Knowing may be brief in actual run time, but somehow the sensation that it’s been going on forever is inescapable. This one still isn’t out on tape yet, but one can only imagine how great this will sound as a physical artifact. For now it’s a free download, so treat yourself to one of the year’s best black metal releases.

Emanation- The Emanation of Begotten Chaos from God (Monad Press Ltd.)

Churning, twisted, and hypnotic black metal have always been trademarks of Spanish act Emanation, but their most recent release really hit the spot for me. On The Emanation of Begotten Chaos from God, the complete packaging is breathtaking (which I rarely find myself saying about a CD these days) and the music itself is spot on. I would say this is haunting or otherworldly, but it’s very much rooted in the here and now, which is what makes this such a chilling album. Listen in low light and look for spirits.

Golden Raven– Consecrated Host (Belief Mower)

While many of the albums featured on this list can be said to retain a theme or mood, this tape from Golden Raven is consistent only in excellence. As the project of Servile Sect/Ash Borer member Count Nhate, Golden Raven captures the dark, synthesizer driven elements of his other works yet follows a decidedly psychedelic path, unrestrained by the confines of other instrumentation or any outside ideals. Sometimes the work manifests itself as ethereal and calming, while at other times the influences of black metal creep in. Unlike the droning work displayed on his split with Sadness Saturn, Nhate uses Consecrated Host to show off more ambitious and meandering soundscapes, hopefully setting the stage for future performances and recordings.

Grafvölluðr– Grafvölluðr (Fettered Redwoods)

This deeply personal musical offering was one of my most frequently played cassettes this year. While this tape made an appearance in a beer video of mine, I hardly did it justice. The three tracks of this debut release are available for download from Cloth Bodies, and are captivating beyond words. Whether it’s the driving guitar work or the almost feral vocals, this one grips hard and doesn’t let go. It was followed by a highly limited demo cassette, Surtr just a month or two ago and it looks like Grafvölluðr will keep busy in 2015 with the vinyl release of this demo at the very least, so get acquainted and keep an eye out for what comes next.

The Great Old Ones– Tekeli-li (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre)

The works of H.P. Lovecraft may be a bit of a predictable source for heavy metal bands by this point. However, this only makes The Great Old Ones’ massive beauty that much more poignant. Taking these heavily tread paths and finding new inspiration for music isn’t easy, but these guys have done it twice now, and Tekeli-li easily tops their massive debut, Al-Azif. This is crushing, post-black weight that could bring about the end of the world. I know The Great Old Ones are already getting plenty of attention, but it’s a wonder they haven’t yet made their stateside debut. When they do, expect things to escalate for the better.

Have a Nice Life- The Unnatural World (The Flenser/Enemies List)

Cult act Have a Nice Life returned from a lengthy absence with one of the bleakest pieces of post-punk infused metal I heard all year. Genre descriptors do little justice to the despair that envelops the listener, but who needs genres when you’re listening to something so dark and heavy it sucks the light out of the room? Each song on this album could easily be listed as a standout track. When every component is so memorable and depressing, it’s hard to really piece together something grand to say, but The Unnatural World will likely cling to the corners of my brain for years to come.

Herukrat- I Bear Witness (Total Black)

One of my favorite noise releases of the year came from Herukrat, whose I Bear Witness was a painfully beautiful display of faith and passion. Pairing his recent conversion to Islam with his anti-terrorist sentiments, Jackson used this release to capture something brilliant and bright. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with the artist about this release, which only enhanced my personal experiences with this beautiful album. While not every release from this project will necessarily be Islamic in focus, this was a challenging and engaging experience from an artist on the rise.

Korean Jade

Korean Jade- Interiors (Locust Leg)

Korean Jade showed up in 2014 with three separate releases out of the ether. I was turned onto them through their inclusion in the most recent Locust Leg batch and man, this is a trip. Each side of Interiors follows it’s own cracked, twisted, and captivating course. I can only imagine this as the soundtrack to having a breakdown in a crowded dance club, both oddly euphoric and wholly uncomfortable. Dance yourself to the edge and try not to lose it when you feel yourself detach from your body. I know I’m selling this short with my words. Just listen to it.

Nemorensis- The Lady in the Lake (Sol y Nieve)

Nemorensis’ The Lady in the Lake was a piece of haunting, shape-shifting atmospheric black metal that helped Sol y Nieve continue its tradition of unearthing excellent unknown acts. This composition’s twenty seven and a half minutes grow slowly, but each variation adds another layer to the cold, beautiful tapestry. I’ve been listening to The Lady in the Lake all year and I still haven’t come to a point where I fully understand why I love it so much, I simply have accepted that I do. Give it a listen and you’ll probably feel the same way.

Nicholas Szczepanik- Not Knowing (Desire Path)

I wrote a lengthy review of this droning beauty for Hammer Smashed Sound in early 2014 and the weight of this release has not diminished for me in the months that followed. Not Knowing was the soundtrack to a lot of my struggles with depression, alienation, and my apparent lack of direction in life. This isn’t just included for personal value, however, as this is a true work of beauty on its own. Set aside an hour and give this a thorough listen at high volume or with good headphones. It’s like having your hand held by an angel as you are escorted through the darkest places you’ve been.

Nuit Noire– A Beautiful Belief (Prison Tatt)

What kind of music does Nuit Noire even play? The only true descriptor that fits is the band’s self-given tag, “faerical blasting punk.” The black metal roots of Nuit Noire’s early days make themselves apparent on A Beautiful Belief, but the primary elements these days are Tenebras’ howling vocals and punky guitar work. Many songs here take on an almost “sing-song” form, capturing the childlike wonder that Nuit Noire’s music often dwells upon. While this single-sided 12″ is a bit shorter than I would want, it’s one of the most joyful and fascinating extreme releases of 2014 and begs repeat plays.

Panopticon- Roads to the North (Bindrune)

My first listen to Panopticon’s Roads to the North was a slightly tumultuous experience. Melodic death metal riffing seemed more prominent than black metal and the acoustic portions seemed to appear suddenly. While not lacking in cohesion, I didn’t know what to make of it all. I couldn’t turn the album off, but I couldn’t really process what I was listening to. Then I made it to closing track “Chase the Grain” and knew within seconds that this album was meant to leave me uncertain and tense. Instead of an easy ride through familiar territory, Austin Lunn’s most recent effort as Panopticon is a magnificent and challenging endeavor that does not easily give itself up but instead demands the listener’s full attention. It’s rare that an album this prominent and popular catches my attention, but I have a feeling that even the surliest of underground metal listeners will be won over by the broad spectrum of metal displayed here.

Paramnesia

Paramnesia- Paramnesia (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre)

From the moment I first heard Paramnesia, I knew this album was going to happen. It sounds silly, but I knew from their demo tracks that this beast was sure to come eventually, and it came sooner than I’d have imagined. These two tracks, each surpassing the twenty minute mark, are a beautiful fusion of French black metal brilliance and the influence of post-2000 USBM, but served up as an homage rather than a blatant imitation of somebody else’s sound. These guys may still be making references to Ash Borer in most of their publicity, but their work stands on its own two feet as some of the only black metal worth hearing for twenty minutes at a time.

Profetus- As All Seasons Die (Svart Records)

One of my readers (who I’d like to consider a friend) tipped me off to this, the most exciting doom release of 2014. Profetus captures melancholy and majesty in such a way that time escapes the listener. I’m not often into sitting through funereal music of this nature anymore, having taken in my fill years ago, but As All Seasons Die was one of those albums that got away from me with each listen. I’d realize its entirety had passed in what felt like minutes, and not for lack of attention on my part. Profetus make truly beautiful music that deserves your attention yet won’t prove to be any sort of endurance test. I realize I’ve left out a lot of prominent doom releases this year, but I truly feel this belongs on any list of the best metal of 2014.

Predatory Light- MMXIV (Self-Released/Psychic Violence)

To my mind, this demo was an instant classic. Black doom that manages to still feature crisp production and decent musicianship? Things like this don’t come along every day, and when they do they’re seldom this interesting. Seeing Predatory Light offer up a rare live show helped drive these songs home. These two songs stretch to nearly eighteen minutes, which is long enough for a demo but not nearly long enough for how enjoyable Predatory Light’s music is. If you’re into black metal’s ever-expanding strangeness and heaviness and haven’t heard these guys yet, keep an eye out for what comes next.

Purple Light- Different City (Strange Rules)

If the name isn’t a giveaway enough, Purple Light is an electronic and experimental project of Damian Master of A Pregnant Light. Rather than maintaining “side project” status, Purple Light has begun building a worthy catalog of quality releases. In Different City, a two cassette offering, Purple Light explores dark, fluid environments, equally beautiful and foreboding. Broad synth drones and oscillating frequencies blur the mind and allow Master to walk you through the darkest corners of his own creation. Gorgeous in the most unsettling of ways.

sempiternal dusk

Sempiternal Dusk– Sempiternal Dusk (Dark Descent)

Easily one of the most interesting death metal records of the year by any set of standards. This is cut from the doomier side of the genre, but this is no dreary trudge. Sempiternal Dusk’s self-titled debut LP is seething with aggression and seems to shake under its own weight at times. Even the slowest moments feel like the work of a band utilizing self-restraint to avoid going entirely out of control rather than a band working at a sluggish pace. The drumming and vocal work of the legendary Tim Call are as strong as ever here, creating a filthy low-end drive around which his bandmates offer up some of the most exciting death metal riffs of the year. If death doom hybrids are your thing, this is as good as it gets.

Thestral- Y Canu Brud (Vanguard Productions)

How long has Thestral been around? I feel like it’s been nearly two decades, and in 2014 they finally dropped their debut full-length, Y Canu Brud. This offering of traditional black metal is everything I had been waiting for and was well worth it. Galloping drums and riffs are accompanied by beastly vocals, a true triumph. I was slightly surprised at the inclusion of a Joy Division cover here, but it’s surprisingly well executed and tasteful. It took Thestral a long time to release this, but let’s hope this gets things rolling for more releases soon. This is absolutely brilliant.

Tollund Men- Donar’s Oak (Ascetic House)

Tollund Men has been depressing listeners for a few years now with muddy synths, buried vocals, and heavy percussion. With Donar’s Oak as part of the Ascetic House January Program, Tollund Men got a little bit upbeat and a little more melodic, but without sacrificing their trademark sound. Songs like “The Night” are simply some of the most beautiful things released in 2014 while “Body Problem” moves and doesn’t stop. Main man N. Samples seems more focused on his rhythmic industrial project Xakatagawa right now, but let’s keep our fingers crossed for more quality from this project soon.

V. Sinclair- Memoirs of a Twin (Unseen Force)

This is one of the few 2014 releases that sold out before I even knew it existed. After picking up V. Sinclair’s incredible The Veiled Garden from Zen at Strange Rules, I looked into V. Sinclair a bit further only to find this gem just floating around on YouTube. Grating sound collages open the album, but the album transcends the apparent harshness and aggression, offering up moments of calm, contemplation, and serenity as well. The depth of Sinclair’s work here is admirable. For an artist whose career is still so young, these recordings indicate great promise.

Veil and Lamentation- Demo I (Summer Isle)

Here’s another one I reviewed so recently it’s difficult to come up with new words to share. This demo was possibly the only synth-heavy black metal releases to really impress in 2014, but this one demo more than makes up for the lack of other worthy contenders. Veil and Lamentation may have appeared with little fanfare on a brand new tape label, but there are already many eyes on both label and band, waiting for what will come next.

Window- Salvation (Fallow Field)

Unknown to me until I witnessed their violent live spectacle, Window is the duo of Dylan from Some Ember and Reuben from Hollow Sunshine. These three songs have little resemblance to either project, however, instead channeling dark and hypnotic industrial beats and fusing them with Reuben’s over the top vocals. The live performance only added to the effect, but even on tape this is a gripping listen. It’s short, repetitive, and ominous. Let it drain you of will.

Yersinia Pestis- Finis Gloriae Mundi (Self-Released/Vanguard Productions)

With the creative mastermind behind Morthylla as its songwriter, Yersinia Pestis was a guaranteed victory in my book from day one, but even I was a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Eschewing Morthylla’s mid-paced melancholy for a faster, more traditional black metal approach, Finis Gloriae Mundi is relentless and aggressive yet still highly melodic and engaging. One of USBM’s strongest releases of 2014 without a doubt, and one I’ll likely be listening to for years to come. Don’t sleep on this.

Top 5 Albums of 2014

Each of these five albums has its own place here for its own reasons. I’m going to be a royal pain by not announcing any given “top album” as each of these five received heavy play in my home and each is unlike its peers presented here. I can only hope that all of these will resonate with you as they have with me.

A Pregnant Light LP Cover

A Pregnant Light- My Game Doesn’t Have a Name (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

This one probably comes as no surprise to my readers. What made this more than just a great album to be lumped in with the rest? A Pregnant Light’s shape-shifting has been the only true constant over the past number of years, and with this debut LP Damian Master has pushed his own boundaries even farther, setting a new standard for musicians into all forms of heavy music. The melodies are instantly memorable, the production is better than it’s ever been, and if you survive the closing barrage of “You Cut Me From a Magazine I Didn’t Know I Was In” into and through “Purple Light” without a lump in your throat, you might have lost your ability to feel. No genres, no limits, just purple metal forever.

Ethereal Shroud album cover

Ethereal ShroudAbsolution|Emptiness (Grimoire Cassette Cvlture)

This one probably comes as something of a surprise to my readers, but Ethereal Shroud’s very early 2014 release on Grimoire Cassette Cvlture was a tape of atmospheric black metal that set an almost unattainable bar for me. I’ve always been a sucker for bands that pair gloomy black metal with over the top melodies and this was an absolute masterpiece for me. Other things may have really impressed me in moments here and there, but Absolution|Emptiness is a tape that I would frequently put on when nothing else came to mind. It still hits just as hard.

Longhena

Gridlink- Longhena (Handshake Inc.)

This one didn’t show up in a review in any way because, to be honest, just about every single website on earth gave favorable coverage to Longhena and I felt I couldn’t add much to the conversation. That said, Gridlink’s swansong was everything I’d been waiting for and more. I couldn’t be more deeply saddened by their decision to call it a day, especially with guitarist Takafumi Matsubara’s health issues potentially preventing him from playing again, but this is a testament to their creative strength and brilliance. I’ve long held Jon Chang’s works in high regard and this shimmering and frail beauty is easily the best way to call it a day. While I might long for more, is there really any way this could be followed up?

ill omen

Ill Omen- Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

If you’re here looking for the coldest, most violently bleak black metal album of the year, then I offer up Ill Omen’s most recent offering. I’ve always enjoyed what I heard from this solo endeavor of IV from Austere, Woods of Desolation, Nazxul, and others, but Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence took my appreciation for this project and turned it to reverence. This is music from the other sound of the void. Hate, despair, and fear seep out of every note. This is ominous, precise, and hits every nerve in just the right way. Given that this site was started initially with the focus of purely celebrating music like this, I’m glad to champion such an overwhelming and challenging release. Easily the best “traditional” black metal album of the year.

Lasher Keen- Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy

Lasher Keen– Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy (Self-Released)

The site’s archives are a sturdy document of how Lasher Keen won me over this year, and my “best of 2014” list would be painfully weak without mention of Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy. This lengthy collection of songs takes the listener through all manner of sounds, from mournful to playful to contemplative, all with a knowing wink of the eye. The true beauty in these songs is displayed in Lasher Keen’s live performance, in which the three-piece artfully replicate almost every moment of this album, despite the many layers. Seeing such a gifted group of multi-instrumentalists doing justice to a lush and gorgeous album is always a thrill, and I feel honored to have witnessed this beauty twice in 2014. I can only hope that their current recording sessions yield another album and tour soon. This band is forever on my watch list now.