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)

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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

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!


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