Welcome, one and all, to the Heavy Blog Is Heavy Album of the Year list! This year, we did something a bit different. Instead of running staff members’ top 25 or top 10 lists, we went all sophisticated and created a composite Top 50 list. We’ll leave the statistical games behind the scenes but suffice it to say that we didn’t just vote on the list and its order. More subtly, this list represents the different rankings staff members gave albums on scale of 1-25. After we’re done running the complete list, we’ll also have a section where you can peep each member’s top 10 and an Outliers list: albums that made individual top 10’s but not the final Top 50.
The albums that you see below, from 50-26, are many of which we might call “wildcards.” Many of these albums either took us by complete surprise or are in genres we don’t normally cover on the website. Rather than restrict our list to just metal releases though, we wanted this list to be a true reflection of the full tastes of our eclectic staff.
I’ll shut up now, OK? Head on over the jump for the full list. 2014 was an amazing year and we thank each and everyone of you for being with us for it. We can’t wait for 2015! Let’s get to it.
50) The Contortionist – Language
It seems that everyone has an opinion on The Contortionist’s new album, Language. Most them are drastically different from one another, as well. They range from critical praise of the albums spacy and enveloping approach to the prog formula, all the way to crying foul because it seems like they tore a few pages from Cynic’s musical notebook. I subscribe to the former opinion, but I’ve been around so many people who hold the latter opinion that I began to question whether I was on the right side of it all. I had to really analyze what I loved about this record, and what I came away with was that it made me feel something. Every vocal line masterfully delivered by one Michael Lessard, every synth stroke and every well placed drum hit took me further down the band’s rabbit hole and wrapped me tightly in the atmosphere of the record. I came away from it realizing that I wasn’t wrong for liking the album, nor were others wrong for disliking the album. It was made with the intent to make the listener feel something. It was meant to speak to us in one way or another. In that light, I think we can all agree that it was a success. (Ryan Castrati)
49) Trap Them – Blissfucker
Trap Them sit in a strange place. One that finds them peddling dark, metallic and filthy hardcore in a niche they helped carve out and that seems to become more and more populated as the years go on. However, each entry in Trap Them’s history has been nothing short of a brilliant and solid collection of thick, HM-2 distorted riffs, rapid-fire drumming and an almost anthemic assortment of abstract, horrifying (and still unfortunately unprinted) lyrics. Blissfucker, as its name would suggest, is no different. From the energetic bursts of ‘Habitland’ to the icy march of ‘Savage Climbers’, Trap Them continue to cement themselves as one step ahead of the pack with a ferocious and potent combination of songs that want to get to into your head as much as tear it right off. (Damien Leech)
48) NYN – Eventuality
First, let me preface this by saying Noyan is both an editor of Heavy Blog and a personal friend of mine, so I’ve tried to go into this with as little subjective bias as possible. That said, Eventuality is, in my opinion, the very best technical/progressive death metal album this year, up there with Archspire and Beyond Creation. The sheer amount of “But wait, there’s more!” on this album is a bit overwhelming, in the best ways possible. Just when you think a song is done, it transitions into a surprise surf-metal section (yes that’s a real thing). The amount of passion and talent on display here is evident from the very beginning, and I’m as jealous of the technicality as I am in awe of the songwriting. Don’t miss out on this. (Colin Kauffman)
47) Skyharbor – Guiding Lights
Sounding smoother and sleeker whilst staying inventive and demanding, this latest model from Skyharbor takes the band away from their bumpier, grittier debut. Driven by the triumphant, emotion-soaked vocal of Daniel Tompkins, the album delves deep into the realms of post-rock and dream pop. Earworms like ‘Evolution‘ and ‘The Constant’ suck you in, whilst the sheer beauty of ‘Halogen”s construction and the heart-rending pain that inhabits ‘Patience‘ will demand continuous repeats. The organic ebb and flow of the album ties neatly in with the themes of life, evolution and entropy as they present a work of art that will toy with your senses and reduce grown men to tears. Skyharbor are going places and Guiding Lights is proof that sharing their journey will be something of a delight. (John Skibeat)
46) Babymetal – Babymetal
For all the hate the project gets, BABYMETAL is not only a fine meeting of Japanese idol pop and death metal with a slight electronic edge, but manages to be one of the most well-produced and downright fun albums of 2014. The thick and simplistic riffings underlaid by bubblegum synths create such a stark contrast that it’s impossible not be to taken aback in sheer confusion. Yet, after a while, you find yourself bobbing your head and even singing along despite your (supposed) lack of understanding of the Japanese language, thanks to the soaring lead melodies of Suzuka Nakamoto (Sumetal), or even taking a backseat with the adorably pleasant backings of Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) and Yui Mizuno (Yumetal). Whatever your feelings are regarding the group, one thing is for sure—BABYMETAL has become something of a cultural force and is truly impossible to disregard. (Kyle Gaddo)
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45) Within the Ruins – Phenomena
Within the Ruins truly do have their own sound, they’ve retained that sound over the years while only slightly falling off on their previous release. Phenomena brought them closer to their glory days of Invade. The lyrical content of Phenomena is quite different from their previous releases as well, this time telling stories of famed comic book characters in a melding of nerdy metal goodness. I’ve always found WTR to be inspiring, mostly on the musical front. This album really does suit the band, even if it feels a bit rushed, as if to fulfill a contract requirement. I can’t recommend this album enough to people looking for something with over the top technicality and groove. It received countless listens on drives and nights of Dark Souls. (Anthony DiGiacomo)
44) Swans – To Be Kind
Michael Gira has long been in the running for the title of music’s biggest oddball, and since Swans’ triumphant return to the scene back in 2010, he has only further cemented his claim. I mean this in the best way possible, mind you – the sonic experience Swans provide is a truly unique one that is esoteric, yet twice as rewarding. To Be Kind is no exception. A melting pot of disparate subgenres ranging from post-rock and drone to noise and blues rock, this album sees the perfection of the band’s formula. Many of the songs follow similar structural patterns with their zealous devotion to minimalism and repetitiveness, slowly building up tension into a whirling climax. It’s a patent that is used time and time again yet always takes on a different shape – for every riff-driven ‘Oxygen’ there is a hauntingly atmospheric ‘Kirsten Supine.’ In the end, though, even the calmest compositions on To Be Kind evolve into pummeling aural assaults. That’s what makes this record a mind-numbing take on catharsis unlike any other. (David Aleksov)
43) Gates – Blood & Breathe
We often like to point out when albums take two different styles and merge them together to some form of success, but Gates have taken that art form to the next level. Blending the unique sounds of post rock with the emotionally laden themes of melodic hardcore, Gates have created an album that is intelligent, mature and mostly just down right moving. Bloom & Breathe has so many unique songs and this amazing ability to forge them into a whole as well. All of these qualities come together to create an album that hasn’t been far from my playlist since the day it came out, hooking itself into me firmly. I fully predict that I will be exploring its unique sounds for years to come, since there is so much to discover behind and betwixt its emotionally appealing melodies. (Eden Kupermintz)
42) Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite
Allegaeon been steadily climbing the ranks to achieve melodic death metal excellence since their 2010 debut, Fragments of Form and Function, and with their latest opus Elements of the Infinite, they reached their climax as a band, at least for now. Hailing from my home state of Colorado, Alleageon are just one of the bands from this great region proving that Rocky Mountain metal is a force to be reckoned with in the modern metal scene. Elements is the band’s heaviest effort yet, as they seamlessly juxtapose heavier, groovier elements with the classically-tinged guitar work that lead guitarist Greg Burgess is becoming known for. Simply put, Elements of the Infinite is a masterwork of modern melodic death metal that can’t be missed. (Aaron Lambert)
41) Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
It seems the more popular Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) gets, the more he’s determined to push the limits of what his listeners think they want to hear. Since establishing himself as a pack-leader of the west-coast electronic/hip-hop scene with 2008’s thumping Los Angeles, he’s created a hyperactive kaleidoscope of dub, free jazz, and whirlwind electronics (Cosmogramma), a fluid dreamscape of beauty, dread, and serenity (Until the Quiet Comes), and now a straight-up jazz fusion concept album about death. You’re Dead! is, at its heart, a celebration of life and the essence of ourselves that, while complex and oftentimes messy, lives on well past our own time (either through the legacies we leave behind or in the otherworldly/spiritual sense if you are a subscriber to that strain of thought).
Musically-speaking, the album is at times the most difficult/impenetrable FlyLo has gotten for listeners not already on-board or steeped in the sonic linguistics of late 60s/early 70s jazz, particularly in the absolute trippy cyclone that stretches over the first few tracks of the album. But just as easily as he’s capable of confounding and creating complex tension, You’re Dead! is a showcase for Ellison’s immeasurable compositional talents and abilities to turn on a dime and transform that tension into transcendent energy, as is the case with tracks like the Kendrick Lamar-aided ‘Never Catch Me’ or the skin-crawling ‘The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep’ (fronted by Ellison himself as his rapping alter ego Captain Murphy). In the end, the album, like all of FlyLo’s best work, is a perfect blend of the cerebral and emotional. This is not an album whose sounds will appear on many dance floors, but nevertheless it’s worthy of a party and its own celebration, be it in a group or wholly personal. (Nick Cusworth)
40) Gridlink – Longhena
It’s hard to keep from heaping as many superlatives on this album as I possibly can. One of the most important, interesting and intense bands in the world delivering one of the best grindcore albums of all time, as their swan song, no less. In the space of 24 minutes, Gridlink cover more ground than other bands do in fifty, and they do it without a second of filler. They may never be as visible and acclaimed as bands like Napalm Death, but they should be. What a note to end on. (Colin Kauffman)
39) The Mire – Glass Cathedrals
Post-Metal is a genre filled with little variation, which makes it insanely hard for new bands entering the scene to stand out. The Mire found a way to do that however with their newest release Glass Cathedrals in many different ways. Incorporating some awesome cleans, writing tasty riff after tasty riff, and expanding on the sound the include something that borders on jazz at some parts is a feat that is not easily achieved. However, the band released this album with a definite, solid idea of what they wanted, and they definitely got it. Glass Cathedrals is an incredibly rewarding sonic journey, driven by one of the best up and coming bands in the metal scene. I am incredibly excited to see what the band will do next, and if this record is any indication, then we’re all in for a treat. (Spencer Snitil)
38) YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Better get used to the term Doom Revival™ because we are not going to stop using it. Perhaps one of the records that best explains what it’s all about is YOB’s Clearing the Path to Ascend. Where others preferred to use the doom basics as a launching point for experimentation, YOB dug deep, hooking their guitar cords and drum kit into the tellurian pillars of the slow moving doom. The vocals orchestrate over crushing instrumentation, preferring to invoke fear or rage instead of sadness. That exists in heaps as well, as the album takes a refreshing and original turn before its last track begins, setting the stage for one of the most touching and effective tracks in the form of ‘Marrow’. When all I said and done, the rest of the bands aboard this Revival movement might be remembered for further building upon the monolith that is the long career of doom metal but YOB shall be described as its eternal guardians. Operating from the very dawn of the style, they have lost nothing to age. Instead, they have become relentless, stalwart and sincere. (Eden Kupermintz)
37) The Algorithm – OCTUPUS4
French electronic/metal crossover act The Algorithm continued its impressive evolution in this year’s OCTOPUS4. Mastermind Remi Galego is becoming more comfortable as a musician and is further exploring the possibilities of what The Algorithm can actually be; trace, hip-hop, djent, and retro-futuristic funk litter the soundscapes of OCTOPUS4 as The Algorithm is developed a touch further as an electronic-based project. The transformation into a live act certainly influenced the feel of this record, as synths dart angularly through grooving breakdowns and bass wobs with a refined sense of songwriting. The Algorithm is moving further away from the avant-garde metal sound that was hinted at in early demos and EPs, but the streamlined approach is doing more for this act as an oddity in the tech-metal music scene. (Jimmy Rowe)
36) Full of Hell & Merzbow – Full of Hell & Merzbow
Long story short: noise legend Masami Akita, more popularly known as Merzbow sent the Full of Hell dudes an hour of material to work with and they created a cerebral experience of a record split into two parts. The first part of the record, entitled Full of Hell & Merzbow, is consisted of ~70% Full of Hell, and ~30% Merzbow. This side of the record is much better in my opinion, as it pushes the limits of what both of these artists can do and it’s much more accessible (whatever that means in a grindcore/harsh noise perspective). The songs transition very well into one another with noise segments, while the chaotic song structures really resonate with the listener as his aural organs are slowly broken to bits by the abrasive insanity that lives even in this part of the album.
The second part of the record, entitled Sister Fawn is much less accessible than Part I, as it is composed of ~70% Merzbow, and ~30% Full of Hell. If you really enjoy harsh noise and power electronics, you’ll enjoy this part of the record, but if you don’t, Part I still kicks major ass. This side of the record barely contains any vocals, aside from on ‘Aphid’, which adds to the claustrophobic sensation that something in this album just hates your fucking guts. Full of Hell remain one of my favorite artists, live shows especially, and hopefully this killer album leads to more collaboration in the future. Maybe Merzbow will even grace the US with his presence? We’ll see. In the meantime, spin this album for some killer noise, harsh hardcore and a down right brutal experience. (Maclyn Bean)
35) Pyrrhon – The Mother of Virtues
My album of the year came straight out of left field and left me reeling after the first listen. Having never heard Pyrrhon until the album dropped into my inbox I had no preconceptions about what I was about to experience. When I sat down to review it late at night, sitting by candlelight (seriously), I was so completely immersed that I reached a point where none of my other senses were being used. I could hear every drum skin being attacked with poignant authority, each outrageous string bend wretched from guitar and bass.
The nightmare grind that begins with the opening note and bleeds out slowly with the closing moments of the album is a full blown joy ride through places unknown. I carve out time every week to sit and just listen to this album end to end. It is not a casual listen whatsoever and I get why people haven’t jumped on the Pyrrhon train yet, I just really wish they would. Mother Of Virtues is a kaleidoscopic and claustrophobic journey through experimental metal, signposted with classic moments of sludge and grind. Imagine a cocktail of your most secret phobias and inner yearnings, all processed together with an umbrella of technical metal precision poking out of the top, just to keep things pretty. (Matt MacLennan)
34) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
When this album dropped, it was two in the morning where I was and I wasn’t expecting for it to just appear out of nowhere. I had heard their first album and enjoyed it, so I thought that I might check this one out, as it was better than sleeping. Little did I know that it would become my album of the year. After I had finished my first run through of the album, I ran it back immediately and listened to the whole thing again because it was just so damn good. The duo, consisting of Killer Mike and El-P, have the tag team aspect of their sound down to a science. The way they trade flows and blows over El-P’s killer production throughout the album’s almost 40 minute runtime makes this album so easy to return to time after time. Not to mention the intense amount of quotables (“You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks”, “Top of the mornin’, my fist to your face is fuckin’ Folgers”, etc.) that keep you laughing. The album isn’t just funny, it’s also thought provoking. It challenges recent issues such as police brutality, religious control and unfair governments. Really, the album has it all. If you aren’t running the jewels, you’re falling behind. (Ryan Castrati)
33) Tides of Man – Young and Courageous
Relatively few bands are able to write one fantastic album in one genre, but to then come back in a completely different musical oeuvre and utterly destroy there as well? That takes a truly special group of musicians. That is exactly what we have here though in Tides of Man. Once a progressive rock outfit that had already built up a considerable fanbase, after their previous record’s release Dreamhouse found the group bereft of their lead vocalist, they soldiered on as a fully instrumental band. That takes some serious musical cajones. The resulting album, Young and Courageous, though, displays the confidence and maturity of a band who has no time for hand-wringing and self-doubt. It’s an exceedingly powerful and fluid post-rock album that wears the skin of its genre conventions well while maintaining the same kind of progressive sensibility that endeared them to fans in the first place. It’s impossible to know at this time where the band will go from here, but as my colleague Paul Meisner so perfectly wrote in his review of the album, “Regardless of the answer, there’s no doubt that we’ll want to hear it.” (Nick Cusworth)
32) Raunchy – Vices. Virtues. Visions.
Having recently parted ways with Intervals, vocalist Mike Semesky can still rely on Denmark’s Raunchy having his back. The poppy nature of Raunchy separates them from other melodic acts that would otherwise infuse electronic/industrial elements into their tunes, creating an interesting-yet-cohesive “divide” between the harsh melodic death elements and those a touch more canorous to be found in music fit for popular radio play. Head bobs and bounces abound in Vices.Virtues.Visions. as the album has hooks upon hooks while playing up influences ranging from the obvious melodic death metal and industrial themes to the tinges of power metal and reaching into standard heavy metal territories. The best part is that no one influence defers to another while it takes its place. Instead, each of the pieces plays with one another in a fun game and building the other higher instead of stagnating in a simplistic trade-off. (Kyle Gaddo)
31) clipping. – CLPPNG
At this point in the countdown you’ve had to deal with a few hip-hop and electronic submissions, and you can rest easy going forward, as this is the last “surprise” outlier in terms of genre you’ll see on our Top 50. However, let me make a case for West Coast noisemakers clipping before you scroll any further into a list you’re sure to disagree with anyway. clipping are smart, vicious, and everything Death Grips should have been. CLPPNG explores lyrical themes such as dealing drugs and gang violence, but does so through challenging flow and wildly experimental compositions; MC Daveed Diggs raps in 5/4 and 7/4 time on the harrowing ‘Story 2’ (potentially the best hip-hop track ever?!) and over an alarm clock on ‘Get Up.’ clipping reach well past their audience for a bizarre and mind-bending experiment and sociological treatise for hip-hop culture. (Jimmy Rowe)
30) Son of Aurelius – Under a Western Sun
This album was admittedly a latecomer to my year-end list, but once I “got” it, it ended up becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. Son of Aurelius are one of the most adept and exciting technical/melodic death metal bands on the scene, and Under A Western Sun is a gosh darn masterpiece. Sure, it’s a little on the longer side, clocking in at just over 70 minutes, but since when was more music a bad thing, especially if it’s THIS good? Similar to Allegaeon, who appeared earlier on this list, Son of Aurelius have a classical music element in their compositions that’s simply irresistible, and Under A Western Sun is a testament to their complete and utter mastery of their craft. (Aaron Lambert)
29) Decapitated – Blood Mantra
Decapitated are one of death metal’s greatest mainstays, and they are as legendary as they are excellent. The band’s motto has become “From Pain to Strength”, and in spite of the many hardships they’ve faced over the years as a band, Decapitated mastermind Vogg has remained vigilant is still churning out some of the greatest and grooviest death metal can buy. Blood Mantra is no different, as it features Vogg’s most focused and streamlined songwriting to date. If you like your death metal to cause whiplash as much as you like it to shake ya ass, then Blood Mantra is the album for you. Check out the title track if you want to know what I’m talking about. (Aaron Lambert)
28) Revocation – Deathless
Another year, another stellar release by Boston death/thrashers Revocation. Their fourth new outing in as many years, Deathless also holds a special place as the band’s first album on Metal Blade Records. By now we’ve come to know exactly what to expect from Dave Davidson and co, which Deathless delivers in spades, but that doesn’t leave it without its unique merits and identity. Slight improvements are present on all fronts – the production is crisper, the playing is tighter, and the songwriting is more refined. The album also takes a turn for the darker, as hinted by its ominous cover art, and actually reminds me of debut LP Empire Of The Obscene more than anything. It’s bewildering then, how the songs on display here are some of the band’s heaviest and most pummeling material yet, while remaining as some of their catchiest. Dave’s vocals in particular sound gnarlier than ever, resulting in perhaps his best performance to date. For these reasons and more, it’s easy to see why Revocation are one of modern metal’s most exciting and talented bands, and Deathless only further solidifies that claim. (David Aleksov)
27) Thou – Heathen
Heathen is the most sonically massive and daunting album since Cult of Luna’s Vertikal. It towers above you like some massive pillar of blackened sludge metal, enticing you, daring you forward. And you cannot resist. Heathen is as suffocating as it is liberating, and the band drags you headfirst into the deepest darkness before you’re thrust back, ever so briefly, into the warm, beautiful light. The only other records that even come close this kind of emotional rollercoaster this year are Inter Arma’s The Cavern and Mono’s The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness, and Thou have written an album that blends the two extremes even more cohesively than the aforementioned acts. Heathen is another masterpiece from a criminally underrated band that deserve even more recognition than they’ve already received. Let the towering presence of Heathen drown you in darkness and light. It’s worth the ride. (Colin Kauffman)
26) Panopticon – Roads to the North
To the surprise of pretty much everyone, one-man black metal project Panopticon demonstrated that black metal and bluegrass actually work quite well together with the released the breakout 2012 album Kentucky. After the initial shock of the novelty wears off, it begins to make more sense; black metal and European folk music have gone hand in hand for decades, so why has it taken this long for someone to meld the genre with American folk? The follow-up in this year’s Roads to the North was just as potent, further expanding the Panopticon playbook to include melodic death metal and further elaboration on the act’s post-rock influences. What really sells this record is the fact that it’s all done in earnest. Roads to the North feels like an epic that is unafraid of branching out, not some ADD-addled collection of vignettes. Panopticon is perhaps one of the most important modern acts when it comes to the furtherance of black metal, and hopefully the trend continues. (Jimmy Rowe)
Check back tomorrow for the second half of our Top 50 list, feel free to voice your inevitable displeasure below, though remember: it’s okay to not like thing.