Anatomy of Habit, Ciphers + Axioms (Relapse): Featuring members of Tortoise, Indian, and Bloodyminded, this Chicago noise rock supergroup has joined forces with producer Sanford Parker to create a spellbinding two-track, 40-minute opus that expertly blends dissonance and melody, aggression and introspection. The overall effect is not unlike that of Psalm Zero’s excellent debut from this year, coming across as simultaneously formal and languid. Carcass, Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel (Nuclear Blast): A year after putting out Surgical Steel, one of the best metal albums in recent memory, the guys in Carcass have released a five-track quickie EP comprised of B-sides and bonus tracks, including “Zochrot”, which appeared on Decibel’s October 2013 flexi-disc. All tracks are good, but there’s a reason why they didn’t appear on Surgical Steel: they pale in comparison to the songs on that album. It’s still a worthy purchase for fans – “A Wrath in the Apparatus” and “Intensive Battery Brooding” both hold up decently – but casual listeners might want to stick with the original album, which still sounds incredible.
Downfall of Gaia, Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay (Metal Blade): These Germans often remind me a little of Dragged Into Sunlight, Nihill, and Celeste, with their epic-length, punk-infused black metal that creates palpable, cathartic energy. But what sets this band apart is the tendency to pull back on the reins a little, to let melodies creep into the music more, to slow down momentarily and let the music breath, as on the splendid “Carry Myself to the Grave”.
Foreseen HKI, Helsinki Savagery (20 Buck Spin): Simple, crossover thrash at its most savage, this is the best such album since the ones by Noisem and Power Trip last year. This record is as to-the-point as you could possibly hope for, so why bother going into further detail? You need to hear this. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Ghost Brigade, IV: One With the Storm (Season of Mist): The latest by the Finnish band is another strong effort that mines the same gothic doom territory as Katatonia and Swallow the Sun, but the more I hear this album, the more Manne Ikonen’s singing starts to grate. He increasingly adopts a “yarling” style, that marble-mouthed post-grunge delivery that’s so easy to parody and impossible to take seriously. It gets to the point where his Aaron Lewis affectations distract from the otherwise very good music. It’s not all bad – “Electra Complex” works best – but Ikonen is doing no one any favors singing like that.
The House of Capricorn, Morning Star Rise (Svart): New Zealand metal bands have been tearing things up lately – Diocletian, Exordium Mors, Bulletbelt among the impressive Kiwi bands of 2014 – and now you can add The House of Capricorn to that list. An energetic blend of the gothic doom of Type O Negative, the rawness of first-generation black metal, the simplicity of punk, and the devilish blasphemy of occult rock, this is a refreshingly direct, incessant, catchy little record that wastes no time leaving an impression on listeners. Don’t miss out on this one. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Job For a Cowboy, Sun Eater (Metal Blade): Just when I’d given up on Job For a Cowboy, adding them to the pile of extreme metal bands that don’t have a clue how to write an interesting song, they come along with a bold new album that shows there might be potential for them yet. No longer the rote deathcore of their earlier work, the band’s music has now moved in a decidedly more progressive direction, but in a way that complements the music rather well. There are complex moments, but they never overwhelm the songs, and better yet, the band is conscientious enough to let the music breathe when it needs to, making it by far the most dynamic work of their career. It’s an impressive step forward, a sign of actual maturation, and although they still have a long way to go, it’s still a very encouraging sign.
Machine Head, Bloodstone & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast): As strong as underground metal is at the moment, the bigger problem is on the mainstream side of the genre, where the biggest-selling bands are severely, severely lacking in quality. Until Slipknot’s latest album a few weeks ago, the most popular mainstream metal record of 2014 was by Godsmack. Yeah. Thankfully Robb Flynn and Machine Head have stepped up with an album that not only caters to mainstream metal fans but succeeds incredibly well. I still think 2011’s Unto the Locust fell far short of the near-masterpiece The Blackening four years earlier, but Bloodstone & Diamonds regains that classic form, a sprawling opus that swings for the fences connects in a big way. 71 minutes is a lot to take in, and I’m as big an advocate of the 40-minute album as anyone, but to Flynn’s credit every single one of these songs works well. Thematically they run the gamut, from storytelling, to fact-based tales, to social and political commentary, to flat-out vitriol, and nary a misstep is taken. I highly recommend this album based on its entire content, but if I was to single out the best songs, they’d be the ferocious Manson-inspired epic “Night of Long Knives”, the bitter state-of-America address “Here Comes the Flood”, and “Game Over”, which is not only a wicked kiss-off song, but one of the finest metal tracks of 2014. This is the kind of album mainstream metal needed in 2014, one that kicks the scene in the pants and compels even the extremest of metal extremists to declare this one of the best albums of the year.
SSS, Limp Gasp Collapse (Prosthetic): Another predictable but undeniably fun effort by the UK band, gleefully and skillfully skittering back and forth between crossover thrash and straightforward hardcore. They bite off a little more than they can chew on the aptly-titled 10-minute epic “Crushed By Drudgery”, but aside from that, it’s one of those simple pleasures for a lot of us. Metal comfort food.
Usnea, Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse): At first the second album by the Portland band feels somewhat rote, a decent yet unspectacular attempt at the sludgier side of doom, but every once in a while it offers faint glimpses of genuine promise, predictability giving way to neat little surprises, from post-punk influences, to actual singing, to some effective, atmospheric production. Although it’s nowhere near on par with 2014 works by Triptykon, Pallbearer, YOB, Indian, and The Body, album highlight “Detritus” shows one and all that this band is on the right track.