Let’s keep it brief, okay folks? This is the second part of our Top 50, Album of the Year list. At the end, you’ll find our Top 10, while tomorrow we’ll have individual staff members’ top 10 lists and our Outliers section: albums that were placed on individual top 10’s but didn’t make the Top 50 list.
The albums you’ll find here were ones that had broad consensus among our large group of staff writers and editors as truly excellent representations of the worlds of metal and other heavy music this year. No doubt you’ll find things to quibble with, but we’re proud of this list and the entries therein.
If you haven’t yet, check out Part I of this list, listing numbers 50 to 26. Alright, OK, no more words. Let’s get to it!
25) Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool
The drug-free, post-SYL career of Devin Townsend is sometimes difficult for old school fans to swallow. He’s more prolific than ever, stretching himself so thin that a lot of his output in the past few years comes off as slightly derivative (Epicloud from Addicted, Sky Blue from Epicloud). All of them are great albums no doubt, but one thing Devin is best at is creating an entirely new musical landscape from the ground up; a separate world unto itself i.e.- Ocean Machine, Terria, Ki, and now Casualties of Cool. He has professed in interviews that this is the most honest and up-to-date representation of his musical self, and the result is one of subtle, brooding, and beautiful mystery. Casualties of Cool is the aural equivalent of being deserted on a random moon in space, which is exactly what he was going for given the concept. “Haunted Johnny Cash songs” is a fitting description, with renowned sticksman Morgan Agren propelling many of the tracks forward with a country shuffle. Che Dorval returns from Ki as the mysterious “voice” in the radio that lures the traveler to the sentient planet described in the concept. Casualties of Cool is the perfect album for a brisk, slightly windy spring or summer night in solitude. (Dan Wieten)
24) Inter Arma – The Cavern
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of doom, sludge and all their myriad meeting points and this year has been great for that. The Doom Revival™ has brought us some truly astonishing albums this year and many of them are on this list. But the best one is by far Inter Arma’s The Cavern. It blends all the different styles found within the larger genre with such grace it sometimes sounds as if three or four bands are playing on this record. Faster sludge-rock a la Mastodon, slower, older stuff that echo YOB and violin and vocal passages to break the heart with longing and sadness. It’s important to also recognize the amazing guest appearences this album enjoys and wields so effectively; from Meg Mulhearn (Divine Circles) on the violin to Dorthia Cottrell (Windhand) in an amazing vocal passage, this album utilizes every inch of talent it has been graciously given and wields it to precise effect. Now, with the length of a month or so from its release, I can also say that it only grows more powerful with time. Like a map of a land you’re not familiar with or a massive Renaissance painting, there are levels and layers to this album which can have you gazing into it for hours. And when you gaze long enough into the feedback, sometimes the feedback gazes back at you. This is a communicative album like no other, containing a message for just about anyone. (Eden Kupermintz)
23) Intervals – A Voice Within
With the proliferation of djent in the metal scene, it’s often easy to disregard or even completely write off bands that jump at the chance to carry a “gimmick” outside of the proliferated pursuance of palm mutes. Intervals began life as an instrumental outfit full of furious fretting and gaggles of grooves, but evolved into something greater when Mike Semesky stepped out from behind the bass and made the transition to vocals. This dynamic took the band into the stratosphere, adding a brand new element with which to garnish the already present hooks. Semesky’s vocals were a delectable complement to the superb riffing that both Aaron Marshall and Lukas Guyader brought, as well as the rhythmic pounding of Anup Sastry’s drumset. From the headbanging onslaught in ‘Ephemeral‘ to the somber outro of the title track, A Voice Within is a landmark for the scene in 2014. (Kyle Gaddo)
22) A Sense of Gravity – Travail
Early in this year I was sent Travail by fellow writer and editor (and artist earlier on this list), Noyan. His description mentioned Between the Buried and Me and was pretty enthusiastic so I thought I knew what was waiting for me. Boy, was I wrong. From start to finish, Travail is what progressive metal always should have been: fresh, exciting and always changing. No song on this album sounds the same and the sheer amount of influences one could cite here are absurd. However, due to a common voice and a very solid sense of identity, A Sense of Gravity have managed to pull all the disparate parts into one whole. And that whole is fantastic. Beyond the impressive technical skills displayed by all members of the band (and they are impressive indeed) this album is simply sincere and carries across the digital media with an astonishing impact. Lastly, it’s replayability value is immense: a lot of these prog creations get tired after several plays, as the veneer and flash of technical skill fades away. Not so here for a special core and heart lie at the base of this album, and it’s a joy to discover it each time, again and again. (Eden Kupermintz)
21) Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
When you’ve been kickin’ for as long as metalcore vets Every Time I Die have been, the task of creating an album capable of surprising can undoubtedly become daunting. Admittedly, I went into my first listen to their seventh full-length, From Parts Unknown, a little jaded, expecting more of the same southern rock-infused metalcore sound that has become unmistakably their own over the past decade and a half. Not to say that’s a bad thing. Rather, I simply did not expect to be surprised by this release. By the end of my first listen, however, to say I was surprised would be an understatement. With From Parts Unknown, ETID solicits a sound more characteristic of their earlier works (dare I say Hot Damn!?) featuring a raucous intensity that, though not completely lacking from recent releases, was noticeably scaled back, and that I didn’t entirely realize I’d missed until this album hit me like a tonne of bricks. Perhaps it was a fresh perspective provided courtesy of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who was enlisted for production duties on this album, that inspired this reversion. Perhaps it was a simple desire to return to their roots. Whatever the reason, From Parts Unknown comes as a breath of fresh air. From the moment Keith Buckley unleashes a guttural “blow your fucking brains out” just seconds into the opener, this album rages forth and never looks back. Though From Parts Unknown clocks in at just thirty-two minutes, it is thirty-two minutes of relentlessness featuring some of the most memorable music moments of 2014. (Elizabeth Wood)
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20) Behemoth – The Satanist
Even when we heard that Nergal had won his battle with cancer and would be going back to making music, I was sure that Behemoth would never be the same again. The only question was, how different it would be? The band has always been his vehicle for channeling his emotions, and The Satanist is his response: He is angry and he is reborn. With this album they’ve put a new spin on their sound that they have been long teasing at, the black metal sound has finally completely merged with the death metal and it’s impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. This is perhaps a feature of 2014: albums that we expected to be somewhat strong but came out monolithic in power. The Satanist is nothing more than the culmination of Behemoth’s career, sinking two hands deep into their roots and tearing out the bowels of what made them so successful for so many years. The end result? A thrill ride of death metal riffs, black metal backbone and a whole lot of power, grace and, of course, the dark lord himself. Hail Satan. (Noyan Tokgozoglu)
19) Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together
I had fallen out of love with Architects with the release of The Here And Now and put them even further into the naughty corner with Daybreaker. Both albums could not hold a candle next to the impeccable Hollow Crown for me, and I had written them off altogether until this year. Lost Forever//Lost Together has the Brits back to their beautiful, brilliant best. The cleans, gang vocals and positive messages are still here but there is a far more mature edge to tracks like ‘C.A.N.C.E.R’ and ‘Colony Collapse’. I am a sucker for huge sounding choruses which grow like that warm feeling you start to feel when you begin tucking into a delicious yet devilish dessert. At first you’re going to feel guilty for enjoying it but it won’t take long for that feeling to subside, leaving all of the glorious melodic metalcore in this album to be devoured sans gluttony.
Not since ‘Follow The Water’ and ‘Early Grave’ have Architects combined mosh and melody together to create the uplifting and riotous sound that has seen them playing on some of the biggest bills of the year. Lost Forever//Lost Together is the culmination of experimentation, hard work and a touring schedule that borders on masochistic. A giant leap forward for the boys from Brighton. You have my vote again lads. (Matt MacLennan)
18) Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain
I love pretty much everything Cannibal Corpse have released. Even some of their more recent material still gets a spin now and again in Chez MacLennan. When lucky number thirteen, A Skeletal Domain dropped into our grubby laps however, the long haired, bass playing teenager that lies dormant within me got to freak out and join the world again for a short time. I was playing the air bass and tapping double bass patterns on the train to and from work for weeks upon hearing this for the first time. The death metal heavyweights have not done anything here which would have critics turn up their nose, except maybe in Russia, as this is death metal at its purest. Every juddering bass note and every burst of powerful kick drum hits is precisely where they should be, making instant Corpse classics, i.e. ‘Kill Or Become’ and ‘High Velocity Impact Spatter’. Stellar performances from Corpsegrinder and my personal death metal hero Alex Webster are brought to life (death) by an exemplary job in the studio, produced to a precise, stabbing point by Mark Lewis. A Skeletal Domain is the finest Corpse album in some time and I am probably just being greedy when I say that I just want even more. (Matt MacLennan)
17) Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed
If you had told me that Max Cavalera, in all his redundancy with Cavalera Conspiracy, was putting together a supergroup, the eye roll that followed may have knocked you and I both unconscious. However, when you get Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and Dave Elitch (ex-The Mars Volta) involved, the miniscule glimmer of hope suddenly becomes a glorious and iridescent beam of light. Filled with the bouncy rhythms that Cavalera Conspiracy is known for, but adding in elements from both The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon take what would otherwise be an incredibly formulaic project and turns it into something really special. Underlaid by Elitch’s superb drumming, the entire album is littered with superb tracks, ranging from blisteringly aggressive to surprisingly melodic. (Kyle Gaddo)
16) Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion
In the five years since Animals as Leaders’ debut, their niche in the progressive metal genre has faced an overabundance of talented shredders in their bedrooms, painstakingly putting together instrumental music that likely would have been considered complex beyond comprehension for the once relatively sparse genre not more than a decade ago. But Tosin Abasi and company continue to lead the pack with The Joy of Motion, pushing forward with a sound that is unmistakably theirs yet expanding the boundaries of eight string guitar-based sound with unbridled experimentation. Tracks such as the jazzy ‘Air Chrysalis’ and the lovely (if incredibly fast-paced) nylon-stringed guitar piece that is ‘Para Mexer’ provide as much fare for absolute guitar diehards as they do for casual listeners; their complexity plainly apparent, yet restrained enough to still remain within the boundaries of good taste as instrumental music goes in this day and age.
Where The Joy of Motion really succeeds, however, is where the band decides to push into darker territory: ‘Lippincott’ is an exercise in dark augmented riffs and quiet atmospheres, ‘Crescent’ unrelentingly roars ahead for most of its duration (a glimmering fingerstyle sequence halfway through being the only solace from the seemingly incessant riffage) while ‘Mind-Spun’ is more or less an ineffable season in hell and back. I’m not going to pretend that my favourite record of theirs still isn’t the electronically tinged Weightless, but there’s no denying Animals as Leaders have well and truly hit their stride with this record. (Ahmed Hasan)
15) Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
Fans can argue to Hell and high water whether Leviathan or Crack the Skye is the superior Mastodon album (Come on, guys, it’s Crack the Skye), but the fact remains is that the crunchy nature of Mastodon’s past is long gone, having paved the way for the modern progressive giant that we know today. With Once More ‘Round the Sun, however, we see what some may consider the “missing link” between Leviathan and Blood Mountain, carrying with it the aggression of the former in many places while still enjoying the progressive essence of the latter. Heavier than its predecessor, Once More ‘Round the Sun manages to not only create a threatening atmosphere in key spots throughout thanks to the efforts of the Atlanta foursome, but some of the tracks here could certainly stand and enjoy radio play, which speaks volumes of the odd-yet-charming juxtaposition of riffs. For an album thematically about death, Once More ‘Round the Sun is very much alive. (Kyle Gaddo)
14) Bloodshot Dawn – Demons
When Bloodshot Dawn released their self-titled debut, I called them the saviors of melodic death metal. It was the shot in the arm the genre needed, but I had a nagging fear that they would never be able to top their incredible debut. I was so, so wrong. Demons surpasses the S/T in almost every way. The songs are heavier and catchier, the super-long solo section in ‘The Image Faded‘ is crazy (features a bunch of legendary dudes), the polyrhythms, soaring choruses, blast beats… this is everything that melodeath needs to be. While a majority of the genre is stuck in 1995, Bloodshot Dawn are pushing the genre forward while keeping the essentials that make it great. The production is perfect as well, which makes it that much easier to headbang to the crushing rhythms and yell along with the vocal lines. I really can’t say enough positive things about this album, and I love it more and more every time I listen to it. Demons just oozes pure quality from every orifice and is an instant shoe-in to the hall of fame for its genre. (Noyan Tokgozoglu)
13) Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Melbourne, Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris may not be the first metal band to employ a lead violin (check out Hung, for instance) but this self-styled progressive/extreme/melodic metal band is certainly one of the most successful at using the instrument to its full potential of brutality. On Citadel, violinist and clean singer Tim Charles shows us why using such a bowed string instrument in heavy music can be so compelling. Instead of being a niche or even gimmicky thing, “Ne O” employs songwriting that pulls people in, that appeals to everyone from the most KVLT black metal fan to those who favor a more progressive and melodic bent to their darkness. It’s that ability to reach out to a fractured metal world that makes this band so prepared to really explode in popularity and creativity going forward. (Brian Shields)
12) Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails
2014 was a year in music in which several previously “heavy” acts chose to forgo metal in favor of pure beauty. With The Flesh Prevails, Fallujah proved that there’s no need to choose one over the other, that you can create beautiful, evocative music that is still heavy as fuck. The San Francisco Bay Area-based band added atmospherics, Cynic-style cleans and expanded songwriting vistas, but from the first moment of this record there’s never any doubt that this is Fallujah — a Death Metal band producing music that lives up to and surpasses its 2011 debut The Harvest Wombs. Fresh off a full spot on the Summer Slaughter line-up and a year-ending European tour with Dying Fetus, Fallujah has demonstrated an ability to find a mix of the brutal and the pretty that has achieved both artistic and commercial success, something all too rare in this kind of music. (Brian Shields)
11) Devin Townsend Project – Dark Matters
We love Devin Townsend. You love Devin Townsend. Is there really anything more to say about the issue? Actually, there is. Year after year, we are astounded that Devin can continue to impress with his various albums, of which this year he has dropped three. One of the most important being the sequel to Ziltoid the Omniscient. This new album, Dark Matters, is much like Devin himself: Complex, funny and driven by a particular brand of insanity that only resides within an evil genius. The epic, which plays out like an old radio play, puts Ziltoid in a whole new story where he is real and ready to take over the Earth for his Ziltoidian Overlords. Within, there are poop jokes, heavy riffing and the return of certain smasher of planets. Prepare your ultimate cup of coffee for Ziltoid and your pants for your shit. This is Devin’s magnum opus, and is so for good reason. (Ryan Castrati)
10) Monuments – The Amanuensis
Monuments may likely be one of the few bands in existence where people will forever prefer the sophomore album to the debut. This is thanks in part to the addition to vocalist Chris Barretto, who expanded the group’s sonic palette to include powerfully haunting vocal hooks that ensured repeated spins. The mystique of The Amanuensis makes for a listen that is captivating on a technical level, but also doesn’t shy away from appealing to pop sensibilities. Between the bouncing grooves and Barretto’s voice, Monuments’ The Amanuensis may be the closest thing possible to metal’s answer to Michael Jackson (an influence that the band proudly wear on their sleeves), and believe it or not, we’re all better off for it. (Jimmy Rowe)
9) Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Aborted is one of those bands that found a style and stuck with it. However, over time, that sound has manifested (hue) itself into a fierce force of nature that is determined to make your ears drip with the goodness that is Aborted death metal. This album is a blistering journey into the deepest depths of all things doom, gloom, and gore. Guest appearances from the likes of Vincent Bennett from The Acacia Strain only enhance the demonic and brutal message this album conveyed to us. The band just seem to get better with age, like a fine wine, and The Necrotic Manifesto is surely one of the band’s best, if not the best album the band has ever released. In the end, the band only has one message for us: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; make it faster, louder, and heavier. (Spencer Snitl)
8) Archspire – The Lucid Collective
Technical prowess and melody are often perceived at being odds with each other. Archspire’s The Lucid Collective scoffs at that notion, and shows that you can be very melodic even at breakneck speeds. Blazing fast guitar sweeps, gravity blasts and frantic vocals are Archspire’s thing, and they do their thing very well here. The thing that sets them apart from a lot of their peers is that they know how to write songs that aren’t just endless chromatic notes – their songs are full of catchy hooks and memorable lines. And they know when to slow it down and add some groove to their songs. Archspire may not be reinventing the wheel here, but they’re taking what has already been done and laughing at how far behind everyone else is. Since the music is simultaneously so oblique and accessible, it always feels fresh – constantly noticing new things while being swept away by the hooks and furiously nodding to the blast beat grooves. Archspire are very self-aware musically, and their embracing of the genre’s idiosyncrasies and playing along with them is what makes this album so great. (Noyan Tokgozoglu)
7) Destrage – Are You Kidding Me? No.
To be honest, I don’t particularly recall how I ended up stumbling onto the Are You Kidding Me? No. full album stream shortly before its release. I do, however, vividly remember how the monstrous opening riff of ‘Hosts, Rifles & Coke’ exploded through my ears like a runaway 18-wheeler the first time I heard it – and it seems that no amount of successive listens have done anything to lessen that effect. Steamroller riffs abound, while impeccably precise tapping figures and catchy vocal lines jump to-and-fro as Destrage unleash their tightly-plotted assault on the listener on top of a mathematically precise rhythm section. Every good thing modern progressive metal has to offer is jam-packed within the album’s ten tracks (one of which features an extended mariachi band section, no less) yet it remains focused, awe-inspiring, and full of personality throughout. All things considered, Are You Kidding Me? No. strikes an impossibly fine balance between relentless technicality and somewhat self-aware silliness, making for one of the best – and most fun – records of 2014. (Ahmed Hasan)
6) sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography
Aussie post-rockers sleepmakeswaves had already firmly established themselves as a band to watch with their majestic debut full-length …And So We Destroyed Everything. Mixing elements of ambience, electronics, and soaring exploration, the band possessed a sound that was refreshing in a sea of generic gloom and predictable crescendos. Expectations were certainly high for their sophomore effort, Love of Cartography, and somehow the band managed to exceed pretty much all of those by finding an entire new level of sonic bliss to their sound. There is really no other way to describe tracks like ‘Perfect Detonator,’ ‘Great Northern,’ and ‘Something Like Avalanches’ as anything other than pure sonic bliss. It’s the kind of music that immediately invigorates and makes you want to do great things. That isn’t to say that the album is all light fare though. ‘Emergent’ and ‘The Stars are Stigmata’ are dark, mysterious, and thrilling, and closer ‘Your Time Will Come Again’ matches the more serene moments of their earlier work before blowing the lid off in the final climax. Their freewheeling energy is absolutely contagious, making it the perfect soundtrack to your next big adventure, whether it’s out in the vast Australian expanses or right in your own backyard. (Nick Cusworth)
5) Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars
It’s not exceedingly common for a band to come along that is able to consistently strike a balance between technicality, melody, and heaviness to my liking, so when a band releases an album capable of doing so, I consider it an album to relish. For me, Black Crown Initiate’s debut album The Wreckage of Stars epitomizes this level of both consistency and diversity, and in doing so earned their place at the top of my list of 2014 releases. Where other bands sometimes exaggerate to the point of redundancy elements that shine in order to compensate for elements that are lacking, Black Crown Initiate are flat-out consistent across the board, from their fretwork, to their rhythm section, to their vocals both clean and harsh, all of which are showcased in their own right on The Wreckage of Stars. Simply put, this band has one helluva line-up and well-oiled group dynamics, especially considering they are still very much in their infancy. The Wreckage of Stars comes as an extremely impressive debut, both in terms of musicianship and production, and eludes of great things to come from these Reading, Pennsylvania up-and-comers. (Elizabeth Wood)
4) Mono – The Last Dawn / Rays of Darkness
It takes a lot to genuinely surprise me when it comes to most post-rock, in particular a band with as long a track-record as Mono. I thought I had them all figured out, particularly given their most recent releases and their growing emphasis on orchestral and “big” music. So color me surprised — dare I say shocked even — when I listened to the Japanese group’s double album The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness and found so much more. More than a mere “back to basics” album, TLD/RoD is a hauntingly beautiful opus on life, fragility, nostalgia, and their flip-sides of death, weakness, and hollow bitterness. Yes, they stripped down their sound for much of it, but more than that, they found ways to wring pure emotion — sometimes uplifting and calming, sometimes aggressive and ugly — and continued to scrape away at it until there was nothing left but noise (the final track is literally just static and drone). It’s an emotionally exhausting ride, but one that is worth it time and time again. (Nick Cusworth)
3) Beyond Creation – Earthborn Evolution
When Beyond Creation announced a sophomore album in the works, I expected the follow-up to their excellent 2011 debut The Aura to largely continue in the same vein, in that it would more or less just feature blazing tech death riffs interspersed with odd flourishes of progressive metal-influenced experimentation. I did not, however, expect a sprawling mass of enormous, atmosphere-laden riffs; nor did I expect prevalent jazz fusion influences, extremely memorable hooks, and solos that just sound straight up snazzy. Indeed, Earthborn Evolution brought meaningful atmosphere to the tech death genre in a way I felt a certain other 2014 release promised but ultimately failed to effectively deliver on, and it did so without remotely feeling forced or sacrificing its integrity for the briefest moment. The real magic, however, lies in how the band avoids the usual mix of intricate yet sledgehammer-to-the-face inaccessibility tech death generally espouses; rather, Beyond Creation choose to slowly pull the listener into a rich tapestry of massive and beautifully constructed sequences, their execution equal parts sinister, dazzling, and consistently focused. Of all the excellent tech death releases this year, few can claim to be nearly as much a feat of cohesive songwriting as Earthborn Evolution, and even fewer retain as high a level of replayability. (Ahmed Hasan)
2) Devin Townsend Project – Sky Blue
Do I really need to tell you why a Devin Townsend album is good? Continuing his infectious turn towards pop that began with Epicloud, Devin has further solidified himself as just as talented at catchy, choir oriented, over the top albums as he was at whatever the hell you want to call the start of his career. I dare you to listen to tracks like ‘Midnight Sun’ or ‘Warrior’ and not want to go running down the streets, shouting in time to their lyrics. Except don’t resist that urge; play this album for amazing vibes that buoy you up like no other, unleash unbridled joy and energy on your soul and are produced like no other. The utilization of Anneke van Giersbergen as on point as usual, with her voice acting as a more focused counter point to Devin’s own powerful singing. She has been giving a role separate from the choir on this album and I could not be happier that she has. When I first listened to the album all the way through, its ending appeared to be a bit weak, tapering out into air. However, repeated listens have shown me the beauty and majesty contained in their more restrained forms, closing off the album with a caress where the rest is a bombardment. They showcase Devin’s ability to delve into all emotions handled by music, whether epic or modest. As always, we remain hugely expectant of the future that is Devin Townsend and whatever else the man has to infuse us with. Sky Blue remains one of the best albums of the year for the sheer energy it grants its listeners and its somehow-still-existent subtlety. (Eden Kupermintz)
1) Job For a Cowboy – Sun Eater
When I wrote my review of this record a couple of months ago, I called it not only the band’s defining work, but also a defining album in the genre. After letting it sit for a couple more months, that mentality has not changed at all. As the overall album of the year, the staff felt that not only was this album a sign of the band’s maturity, but also a sign of growth over the years. Listen to the first two tracks, which are progressive death metal odysseys, and tell us otherwise. This album is not your typical death metal album; flourishes of jazz, ambient music, and even some grindcore elements all pop up at some point on this album. The foundation this album was built upon was perseverance, and the end result is ideal, and very much methodical. This album was crowned the album of the year by our staff for a reason, and you would seriously be missing out on some of the best music the genre has to offer by not checking this record out properly. (Spencer Snitil)
And that’s it! We’ll be back with individual staff members’ Top 10 lists and our “Outliers” list tomorrow. In the meantime, remember: It’s okay to not like thing!