Not With A Whimper, But With A Bang – Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s Outliers Of 2014

outliers-2014

Hello once again! We’ve already written a whole lot about albums from this year that we loved, but as you could probably tell from our individual staff top 10 lists, there were a whole slew of albums that individuals in the group adored but were unable to crack our aggregate top 50. We all try to listen to as much music as humanly possible throughout the year, but we are also humans with jobs and lives and families, and there are times that some of us just flat-out miss out on some great stuff. So that’s what the below entries are about. Consider these a few of our personal “honorable mentions.” And if there are any albums from our lists or here that you still think we missed out on, feel free to share them in the comments.

Aminals – Dead Air

Thanks to Metal Injection, I stumbled across one of my favourite new bands this year. Equal parts chaos and tongue in cheek behaviour, the debut album from Boston noise merchants Aminals, Dead Air, is a collection of short blasts of spastic metal mayhem. I can’t get enough of their no frills approach to writing guitar orientated modern metal. I will not stop championing this band, just try and stop me. Metal is only ever this fun when the guys from Every Time I Die are involved. You just have to check out the video for ‘Dirty Habits’ to get a feel of exactly how these guys operate. In terms of just how good the album sounds, every instrument is crystal clear, with a dirty, low slung bass popping in and out between sharp guitar licks.The vocals are wretched and vitriolic with some impossibly catchy hooks thrown in for good measure. A debut album for the ages, and yes, it is spelt Aminals. (Matt MacLennan)

 

Ancient Ascendent – Echoes and Cinder

Another of the UK-based bands I loved this year, Ancient Ascendant were a surprise for me, and their album Echoes and Cinder is bound to be a sleeper hit from this year. This album is an awesome mish-mash of different subgenres of metal executed flawlessly. Think Bay Area thrash swagger and Polish death metal destruction accompanied by black metal shrieks, all wrapped up in an undeniable and infectious groove; that pretty much sums of Ancient Ascendant, and yes, it is as fantastic as it sounds. Echoes and Cinder may not have generated as much buzz as it deserved this year, but it’s definitely worth your time. (Aaron Lambert)

 

Cimmerian – Hollowing

I know there are a lot of different ways to judge a new piece of music but for me the most important thing I look for is a commitment to composition and song-writing.  On Hollowing, suburban Chicago’s Cimmerian shows off song-writing chops that far exceed many bands twice their ages.  For more than half of a year, this January-release was my daily obsession record.  Brothers Dean (lead guitar/lead vocal) and Tim (bass) Nagel along with cousin Evan Dale (guitars) take the listener on an amazing journey through Black Metal, Death Metal, and Progressive Metal sections that all weave together to form a cohesive whole.  It’s not just the shred (and as a tech death lover the shreds are impressive) but how they get to the shred and resolve out of it that leaves me with jaw agape even after repeated listens.  It’s unfortunate these young men but the project on hiatus late in the year but sometimes real-life gets in the way.  Still Hollowing is a record I expect to be obsessing on for many years to come. (Brian Shields)

 

FKA Twigs – LP1

As uninteresting as the title of her debut album as FKA Twigs’ is, Tahliah Barnett’s style of trip hop and contemporary R&B is immensely revitalizing and captivating. (Scott Murphy)

 

The Ghost Inside – Dear Youth

This album quickly became deeply personal for me, pairing up with Skyharbor’s Guiding Lights as a therapy tandem to cling to during a tumultuous time of unwanted change and emotional strife. Dear Youth boasts an honest simplicity, driving home tried and true song structures and melody with lyrics spit forth in the most stripped down and passionate manner possible. There is no metaphoric underbelly, no hidden layers to dig through to get to an underlying message. This is exactly what I needed at this point, and more than likely thousands of young kids the world over needed it too. The appeal of The Ghost Inside for me is to see a band with members in their thirties still struggling, saying goodbye to their youth and dealing with the humility of rebelliousness in adulthood. “Life’s swinging hard, but I’m swinging harder” is a line most of us can probably identify with, and I will be right up front screaming those lyrics with the band for as long as my body can stand it. (Dan Wieten)

 

Godflesh – A World Lit Only by Fire

Newly reformed and clearly back with a vengeance, Godflesh return to the eighties and their groundbreaking industrial metal roots for an album that puts many of their younger peers to shame. (Scott Murphy)

 

Hadal Maw – Senium

Australia had an exceptional year of death metal releases. My personal highlight from Down Under was the debut full length from Melbournes Hadal Maw. Late to the show, as ever, it took me a long time to actually get on to this but the wait was worth it. Not since the early Decapitated material have I enjoyed free flowing death metal quite like this. Massive sounding percussion is the perfect building block for the guitarists of this young band to let their brutal low end riffs and scything leads do the talking. Senium is consistently brutal and keeps its finger on your pulse just long enough to establish there is still breath being drawn by your lungs. No sooner has life been established when the metal comes crashing back down, rendering life as you know it obsolete. Yet another incredible debut album, backing up many of the staff here when they say that 2014 has been an outstanding year for death metal in all of its forms. (Matt MacLennan)

 

Have a Nice Life – The Unnatural World

After a six year hiatus following the release of their acclaimed debut Deathconsciousness, the tortured combination of shoegaze, industrial, ambient, drone and post punk signature to Have a Nice Life’s style returns for a more than worthy follow up. (Scott Murphy)

 

How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?

One of the strongest voices in contemporary R&B, the latest How to Dress Well project from Tom Krell is as inventive and infectious as has come to be expected of his music. (Scott Murphy)

 

Inanimate Existence – A Neverending Cycle of Atonement

Another record that’s all about great songwriting and musicianship, Inanimate Existence‘s 2014 release A Neverending Cycle of Atonement is a must-listen record for anyone who appreciates both great brutal tech death and shreddy prog.  This is a record that at times is reminiscent of everything from Spawn of Possession to Colors-era BTBAM.  Throughout it all, lead guitarist and principle songwriter Cameron Porras guides us through transitions from riff driven death metal to female cleans, that because of the songwriting, actually work when they possibly shouldn’t.  This is a record that will please both those who love pure no frills tech death and those who like to mix that with some real progressive surprises. (Brian Shields)

 

Inferi – Path of Apotheosis

As a tech death aficionado, I can honestly say I’ve never heard a Malcolm Pugh project that disappoints.  From his legendary work on Diskreet’s classic Engage the Mechanicality through his performances with A Loathing Requiem to this year’s latest from Inferi Pugh offers everything a lover of tech shreds could ever want and then some.  I was happy to see Path of Apotheosis get a lot more love in our Reader’s poll than it did from my fellow HBIH’ers.  For me this is a definite contender for Album of the Year and if you get a salacious thrill from guitar porn the way I do, you absolutely must check out this record. (Brian Shields)

 

Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Melodic death metal has always been a double-edged sword for me: I love its evocative themes and emphasis on vocals both clean and harsh but a lot of its members often delve in the melodramatic and immature. Shadows of the Dying Sun is perfect me then since it still manages to illicit the internal response I yearn for while never falling into cliche or antics. At its core lies an amazing vocal performance and a heady mix between folk music and death metal. It knows when to be heavy and relentless but mostly to let go when a more subtle approach is needed. I got the chance to first listen to this album during spring and its bleak textures are a perfect contrast to last rains and warming days. The small measure of hope to be found near its end was also refreshing and endearing. In short, a great melodeath album and one of the best albums this year. (Eden Kupermintz)

 

Kayo Dot – Coffins On Io

Kayo Dot has always been one of those groups who I could appreciate in abstract but could rarely click with me for the entirety of an album, always a risk when you’re dealing with things that can be categorized as “avant-garde.” From the second I clicked play on Coffins On Io though and heard the deceptively cool grooves of ‘The Mortality of Doves’, I knew I was in for something wholly different and unexpected. The album is steeped in 80s new wave synth pop for sure, but it’s the equivalent of hearing that music through the filter of a David Lynch film — a constant interplay of light and dark, warm and cool, that obscures as much as it reveals and entices while simultaneously unsettles. Enough cannot be said about how much the range of Toby Driver’s prowess as a musician and vocalist plays into all of this. Even as many of the compositions fall into intentional patterns of repetition, Driver’s subtle changes in vocal melody and delivery consistently provide all the momentum the music needs. Throw in some wickedly sexy sax solos in there, and consider myself more than sold. Bravo, you magnificent human. (Nick Cusworth)

 

Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]

Mick Jenkins is a Chicago-based emcee whose third mixtape, The Water[s], is one of the few hip hop projects that actually stuck with me throughout the year, despite the plethora of great ones released. This makes it stand out even more, as does the fact that it is a conceptual mixtape, a rarity on its own. Loosely based upon its namesake, The Water[s] sees Mick introduce several water-themed metaphors and outline its figural and literal roles, powers etc. While he does dwell on this concept and on a particular set of imagery a bit too much (in my opinion the record’s only real flaw), he also goes beyond it and explores other topics. More important, however, is Mick’s killer flow and delivery; he murders each of these fifteen tracks without ever straying too far from his laid-back, reserved approach. His interplay with the instrumentals is also something to behold, as are the instrumentals themselves, with plenty of the highlights on here dating back to the soothing, lavishly detailed production. While it might not have the grandeur typically associated with concept albums, The Water[s] is full of consistently top notch songs that only benefit from the unifying lyrical theme. (David Aleksov)

 

Nexilva – Eschatologies

Nexilva barely missed out on releasing my favourite album of 2014 and, in doing so, released possibly my favourite debut album of the last decade. This group of extremely talented young guys from the North of England go from track to track leaving fretboards and mosh pits battered and bruised. Technical riffs and atmospheric synths are the backbone of this modern death metal tour de force. Out of the still expanding list of albums I have digested this year, Eschatologies has not left my playlist since its release. Slabs of grim yet polished metal mayhem like ‘Necromancer’ and ‘Evil Will Prevail’ whip from furious blasts to bouncing breakdowns with an ease that bands with far more experience simply cannot muster. Subliminal Groove did themselves a mighty solid by snapping these guys up. (Matt MacLennan)

 

Objekt – Flatland

Londoner-turned-Berliner T.J. Hertz has been one of the more promising producers to come out of the UK post-dubstep scene, but with his full-length debut, he has completely distanced himself from any current or past trend in the electronic music. Flatland blends all the styles Hertz has touched on in his young career, with techno, electro, IDM, and the aforementioned dubstep all popping up at some point during this mechanical journey. Yet if there’s any single word to describe the album, it wouldn’t be a genre tag, rather just “weird.” It’s an experience that’s hard to describe – sometimes I can’t even tell myself why I love this album as much as I do. But the design behind Flatland is definitely an orchestrated one, and its quirky nature is rooted in well-known ideas (‘Ratchet’ is everything I wanted Aphex Twin’s Syro to be). As the robotic mantra on ‘First Witness’ suggests, Hertz’s main pursuit is just to find different ways of expressing and approaching what has already been stated. On Flatland, he does so superbly. (David Aleksov)

 

Outrun the Sunlight – Terrapin

When sitting down to write about this album I am simply filled with an abundance of joy. This record represents everything I’ve ever wanted from a fusion album, melding the much-loved sounds of post-rock with more modern jazz and metalcore influences. I think its strongest point is the way everything simply fits together, carrying you from first note to eventual conclusion. Any fans of emotions, technicality and expanse in their music owe themselves to give this album many a listen. In addition, the band took a complete DIY approach to this and came out victorious: instead of ridiculous press stunts the band simply relied on their honesty and love for music. You’ve got to appreciate that and I salute them for it. (Eden Kupermintz)

 

Parasitic Ejaculation – Echoes of Depravity

Traditionally slam is not subtle music.  It’s work that is extreme, brutal, and filled with fantastic imagery.  Santa Cruz, California’s Parasitic Ejaculation includes all of these elements but at the same time seems to be on a mission to bring slam to the masses.  As a follow up to the innovative Rationing the Sacred Human Remains, Echoes of Depravity does just enough to spread the slam Gospel to a new audience.  Vocalist Jonathan Neel’s added range means there’s more than just his patented sound to this release.  It’s a record that will delight existing fans of extreme death metal while opening a new vista for those who look for more than just the brutal in their music. (Brian Shields)

 

Pharmakon – Bestial Burden

Margaret Chardiet penned her latest album as Pharmakon shortly after a nearly fatal medical emergency, and the result it a horrifying death industrial romp that provides immaculate sonic encapsulation of the fragility of the human body. (Scott Murphy)

 

Planning for Burial – Desideratum

Perpetually soothing, Planning for Burial’s latest offering is able to find a remarkable balance between being both calming and engaging within its melodic shoegaze drones. (Scott Murphy)

 

Polyphia – Muse

Look, I like the New Wave of American Instrumental Progressive Shred (yes I just made that up) like Scale the Summit, Animals as Leaders, and CHON as much as or more than the next guy, but let’s face it, they’re an awfully serious bunch.  Well take that serious commitment to technicality and musicianship and mix in a little groove and party spirit, and you have what Polyphia has achieved with Muse.  These young men from suburban Dallas fill that shreddy sound with so much energy and excitement that you can’t help but smile.  These guys have built on the reputation they earned as YouTube playthrough sensations to create a unique twist to this brand of guitar porn.  Can’t wait to hear what’s next. (Brian Shields)

 

The Room Colored Charlatan – Primitives

The Contortionist may not be interested in doing Exoplanet style music anymore but there are plenty of other bands who have taken that formula and run with it with varying results.  One of the very best of the bands making music in this space is The Room Colored Charlatan.  With Primitives, the band embraces all of the elements that made Exo-Planet such a thing, the juxtaposition of the cleans and the harsh vocals, the soaring leads and the crunchy riffs.  This is a band that has taken what TC started and truly made it their own.  The songwriting and composition is solid and leaves you waiting and asking for more. (Brian Shields)

 

Seprevation – Consumed

When deciding on my favorite albums of the year, I noticed that a lot of the bands I discovered this year that I loved are based out of the good ‘ol UK; those British folks really know how to make good metal. Seprevation are a death/ thrash metal act who very obviously worship some of the forefathers of death metal, such as Sadus, Possessed and Death, and the minute I laid ears upon their debut Consumed, I was completely floored. This album contains some of the best riffs I’ve ever heard, and it is near-perfect worship of the aforementioned bands; it’s so good, in fact, that it surpasses some of the efforts of the bands Seprevation themselves look up to. A controversial statement, but one that holds true for me nonetheless. Consumed is like a jackhammer to the gut or a chainsaw to the skull, and you’ll love every minute of it. (Aaron Lambert)

 

Serdce – Timelessness

At the time I wrote my ultimately lukewarm review of Cynic’s latest album earlier this year, I really wish I could have already had Serdce’s Timelessness in my possession so I could basically just point and yell “THIS. THIS IS HOW YOU DO THE PROG THING.” It’s the perfect mixture of off-the-wall composition, jazzy technicality, beautiful clean bass tones and vocals, and heavy calamity. There isn’t a dull moment in the 65 minutes that occupy the album, whether it’s a serene piano passage, BTBAM-like technical and genre acrobatics, emotion-laden vocal melodies, or sax-filled proggy jazz riffs (at this point you may be noticing a theme with my entries here, HELLO I AM SAX MAN). For those who feel that the Cynic-like progressive metal ball has been dropped, look no further than the work of bands like Serdce who have picked up the ball and have run it in entirely new and awesome directions. (Nick Cusworth)

 

The Shaolin Afronauts – Follow the Path

In between superb releases from Stimpy Lockjaw, The Bad Plus, and Snarky Puppy, jazz enjoyed quite the fruitful output this year. In my eyes though, it was Adelaide’s The Shaolin Afronauts that stole the show with their third full-length, Follow the Path. This double album is a vibrant and colourful venture through afrobeat, funk, and Sun Ra-style jazz fusion, evoking folk influences from African and Latin music alike. The first half boasts a myriad of high-energy jams full of infectious grooves and lush instrumentation, while the second sees the band experiment with texture and atmosphere to create layered, multi-part epics. It all adds up to a 90+ minute masterpiece that displays a tremendous love for one’s craft and has something to offer for almost any occasion or mood. (David Aleksov)

 

Stimpy Lockjaw – Stimpy Lockjaw

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ll listen to pretty much anything that incorporates jazz influences in an interesting way. So when you take the already very proggy metal jazz stylings of Ever Forthright and throw in even more dizzying technical fusion that could compete with the likes of Return to Forever, I’m pretty much automatically going to be on board with whatever the result is. Thankfully, the debut from Stimpy Lockjaw doesn’t in any way disappoint. Representing some of the most intelligent and gripping jazz/metal fusion out there right now, the group effortlessly blends head-spinning compositions and group interplay with blazing solos (in particular from the immensely-skilled Nicholas Llerandi, who I don’t think gets discussed enough as a top-tier guitarist). The potential is vast and immense for this group, and I sincerely hope to see more come from them in the future. (Nick Cusworth)

 

Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers

I’m a huge fan of techno, largely because I view it as the most forward-thinking form of club-friendly music out there. One slight downside I see with the genre, though, is its difficulty to translate into full-length albums, which at times end up merely as collections of singles. Andy Stott is perhaps the quintessential album artist in techno for me, and judging by the universal acclaim he received for 2012’s Luxury Problems, I’m not the only one to hold him in such high regard. Now he has presented us with the follow-up in Faith In Strangers, a record that is a continuation of past styles as much as it is a departure from them. Stott is still working with the same brooding atmosphere and employing his approach to minimalism to similar effect, but he also spices up the album with more variance than ever. Throughout Faith In Strangers there are nods to organ-driven psychedelia (‘No Surrender’), post-punk basslines (‘Faith In Strangers’) and even trap (‘Violence,’ ‘Damage’). It all comes together masterfully, of course, making it my favorite electronic record of the year, bar none. (David Aleksov)

 

Vampire Squid – Nautilus World

Two guys meet in high school and less than two years later they’ve put out not one concept album or even two but three full length records that track the story of the Vampire Squid from the ocean to outer space. That would be amazing enough just on the surface but add a solid commitment to driving, relentless death metal, and you have quite an accomplishment.  With Nautilus World, Vampire Squid has created music that captivates and demands multiple listens.   These Southern Californians have all of the elements to make it big in this kind of music.  Don’t miss out. (Brian Shields)

 

Whispered – Shogunate Macabre

I got really into folk metal last year, and was really hoping for a new Wintersun record this year. That didn’t happen, and I was really bummed…until our very own Kyle Gaddo turned me on to Whispered. Hailing from Finland as well, Whispered more or less do what Wintersun do, but they do so donned in samurai armor as opposed to that of a viking. Shogunate Macabre might be the best melodic death/ folk metal album I’ve heard since Wintersun’s self-titled album, and their use of Japanese instruments such as the koto and the shamisen is just delightful. I love music that makes me feel like charging into an epic battle on a valiant stallion, and Shogunate Macabre did just that for me. (Aaron Lambert)

 

White Arms of Athena – White Arms of Athena

Disclaimer:  The men who make up White Arms of Athena are some of my favorite humans ever but I was fully prepared to not like their follow up to the 2011 masterpiece Astrodrama.  After all I knew this record was going to be almost all cleans, it was going to be more prog and less metal and bassist Tom Sifuentes had been telling me for three years that I was going to HATE it.  Well guess what, he and I were wrong, I LOVE it.  Unlike several other high-profile bands who went down this same path, this self-titled 2014 White Arms of Athena release fucking rocks. It’s upbeat, energetic, fun music that makes you want to keep listening.  Even though the vocals are clean, Josh Everett has a timbre to his voice that gives his sound an edge.  This record is the perfect mix of intelligent, progressive, accessible, and fun. (Brian Shields)

 

Wovenwar – Wovenwar

I did not expect to love this album as much as I did, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t hear a catchier album than this one all year. We all the know the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the inception of Wovenwar and the creation of their first album, but as much as I love As I Lay Dying, Wovenwar has me saying, “As I Lay Who?” Give it a few years, heck, maybe just give it one year, and As I Lay Dying will be but a distant memory in the colossal shadow of Wovenwar. Huge choruses, catchy melodies and thundering heavy metal backbeats are but a few of the wonderful qualities this album has to offer, and every fan of heavy music owes it to themselves to listen to this gem. (Aaron Lambert)

-HB