Top 10 Albums of 2014

Yesterday I made a brief post for my Metal Monday column sharing some of my favorite songs from the year but after putting together a top 10 list of my favorite albums this year for my often neglected YouTube channel I decided to do a cross-feature and write up my list here as an extra post. I’ve always preferred the written format so I wanted to try my hand at writing the list instead of talking into a camera.

Without further ado, here is my list of the best albums from 2014:

10. Blood for Blood by Hellyeah

Hellyeah wrote Blood for Blood coming out of a major lineup change as both guitarist Greg Tribbett and bassist Bob Zilla left the band. Despite this, the new album feels so full of energy and power that I think stands out as their best album to date. Hellyeah have been consistently improving with each release and they finally hit their stride with this album. Blood for Blood leaves behind the southern hillbilly theatrics that were present on their first two albums, and to an extent 2012’s Band of Brothers, and delivers a crushing combo of groove metal and alternative metal.

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Tom Maxwell delivers some of his best guitar work in with the band with big crushing riffs and guitar melodies and harmonization. Vinnie Paul goes all out on the drums with some of the fastest, technical drumming he’s performed in Hellyeah. Chad Gray gives a fantastic vocal performance with his gruff singing and screaming and his haunting clean vocals. The lyrical themes explored on this album are deeper and more introspective than those found on the band’s previous three albums which tended to be a bit cheesy at times. Blood for Blood also features a diverse set of tracks from heavy agressive songs like “Sangre por Sangre (Blood for Blood)“ and “Say When” to more melodic numbers like “Moth,” “Hush,” and “Black December.”

9. Redeemer of Souls by Judas Priest

After forty-five years as a band and sixteen albums, metal pioneers Judas Priest keep going, putting out their seventeenth album, Redeemer of Souls. This is a great album all the way through despite these guys getting on in years. It sounds like a blend of old school Priest and Painkiller era Priest and it sounds great, even without long time guitarist K. K. Downing.

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Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner deliver big heavy riffs and soaring melodies with an old-school rawness to the production that just screams Judas Priest. Ian Hill keeps up on the bass but I would have liked him to be a bit louder in the mix. Scott Travis fits in perfect with the Judas Priest sound with that fast and simple drumming style. And of course there’s Rob Halford, the Metal God himself. Despite his age, his voice is still in great shape. He can’t hit the same high notes he used to but he still has a fantastic range. Judas Priest haven’t lost their touch at all. Standout tracks include “Dragonaut,” “Redeemer of Souls,” “Halls of Valhalla,” and “March of the Damned.”

8. White Devil Armory by Overkill

Judas Priest have over ten years of a head start on Overkill yet they both put out their seventeenth records this year. The New Jersey thrashers are nothing if not consistent. They’ve been putting out great albums for thirty four years and show no signs of stopping. White Devil Armory is an awesome record all the way through and feels like the perfect blend of old school thrash and modern sensibilities. It has tight production yet feels raw and aggressive.

Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer play the guitar hard and fast with thrashy riffs all the way through and a ton of melodies and shredding. The guitar solos are so shreddy and amazing. D. D. Verni’s bass is turned up so loud and it just rattles and rumbles along doing all kinds of crazy stuff. The man is super underrated thrash bassist. Ron Lipnicki is a fast a technical drummer and is a powerhouse keeping up with Dave, Derek, and D. D.. If that weren’t enough, Bobby Blitz shows why he is one of the best thrash metal frontmen. His voice is a unique as it soars above all the music with such power.

7. At War With Reality by At the Gates

Nineteen years after their masterwork Slaughter of the Soul, Swedish melodic death metal pioneers At the Gates finally gave their fans a new record. After a less-than-amicable break-up in ‘96 and a ten year gap, the band reunited for some reunion tours for seven more years until delivering At War With Reality. This is a heavy and crushing album all the way through, laced with aggression and somber melodies. Of course it is hard to live up to the legacy of Slaughter of the Soul, but this is still a solid album.

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Vocalist Tomas Lindberg doesn’t hit the same high screams he did on Slaughter of the Soul but the man can still belt out screams and growls with the best of them. Guitarists Anders Björler and Martin Larsson deliver crushing riffs layered with lovely lead playing and solos much like they did back in the 90s. Jonas Björler is a bit hard to hear on the bass but he does do a great job of keeping up with the guitar. Adrian Erlandsson is a beast on the drums with fast double bass and arms that travel all over the drum kit. After all these years not writing new music together, these guys have not lost their chemistry at all.

6. Shadows of the Dying Sun by Insomnium

Shadows of the Dying Sun is the sixth album from Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium. These guys always put out amazing work and this album is no different. Shadows of the Dying Sun is packed full of Insomnium’s signature layers of guitar melodies and keyboards. The music can only be described as beautiful, I get chills every time I listen to this album.

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New guitarist Markus Vanhala fits right in with the band in his first appearance on an Insomnium album. He and fellow guitarist Ville Friman work together with amazing guitar work. It is just so melodic and conveys so much emotion. And they harmonize so well together. Drummer Marcus Hirvonen keeps things simple but never boring. He blends in perfectly with the layers of sound present on this album. Frontman Niilo Sevänen does a good job on bass and also delivers a great vocal performance. His growls sound amazing and they blend into the music so well. Ville compliments Niilo’s harsh vocals with some melodic singing in places to keep things varied a bit.

5. Bloodstone & Diamonds by Machine Head

Machine Head almost split up due to rising tensions with founding bassist Adam Duce but after making the tough call to throw him out of the band, they returned to deliver the absolutely crushing Bloodstone & Diamonds. This is one of the heaviest Machine Head albums to date with brutal songs like “Now We Die,” “Killers & Kings,” and “Night of Long Knives.”

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Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel are an amazing guitar duo. The insanely powerful riffs and ridiculous shredding and harmonization they bring to the table really shine on this album. The guitar work is miles ahead of their previous album, Unto the Locust. New bassist Jared MacEachern fits right in with the band and does a great job not just keeping up with Robb and Phil but doing some interesting stuff instead of just following along. Dave McClain is a beast behind the kit, playing fast and technical. Robb Flynn gives one hell of a vocal performance as he screams, shouts, roars, and sings he way through Bloodstone & Diamonds. His voice just has so much raw aggression to it and it really shines on this album. I’ve never heard him with so much energy before.

4. Kindly Bent to Free Us by Cynic

Kindly Best to Free Us is the album I didn’t see coming this year. Cynic started as a technical death metal band but they have become so much more. Their third album Kindly Bent to Free Us sounds like a blend of modern progressive metal and 70s progressive rock. These songs are beautiful and dreamy, with fantastic musicianship blended with interesting sound effects.

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Frontman Paul Masvidal has a beautiful voice that I can’t get enough of. His singing is one of the best parts of this album. He also brings great guitar playing to the table. Bassist Sean Malone is very audible in the mix and consistently deviates from Paul’s guitar and frequently takes the lead. The two work very nicely together. Sean Reinert is a great drummer as well. These three musicians came together to create a truly unique sounding album. If you’re a fan of progressive rock or metal then give Kindly Bent to Free Us a listen.

3. The Lives I’ve Ruined by My Missing Half

My Missing Half is a local melodic death metal band here in Boston, Massachusetts. I actually attended high school with their frontman but that’s beside the point, we barely new each other. I’ve been following this band since shortly after their inception and this year they finally put out their first album, The Lives I’ve Ruined. For an independently released album the production quality is insane on this album. If you’re a fan of melodic death metal then give these guys a listen.

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Guitarists Bijan Hennessey and Patrick Powers work well together with heavy and melodic riffs and lots of cool harmonized parts. Bijan also delivers a great vocal performance with his great range of screams and growls. He mostly goes for the mid range but he throws in plenty of highs and lows in to keep things varied. John Matthews is a beast behind the kit, playing fast and technical and throwing tons of cool fills in to keep things interesting. Alex Elwell is turned up nice and loud on the bass and deviates from the guitars in many places which I always like to see. This is a great start for this band I see them going places. Hell, they’re opening for Dark Tranquillity and Insomnium at their upcoming show in Massachuetts next month so they really are getting the recognition they deserve.

2. War Eternal by Arch Enemy

Arch Enemy fans were left doubting the future of the band after long time frontwoman Angela Gossow stepped down from the band. But she hand-picked The Agonist frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz to replace her and she did not disappoint. War Eternal is another great album from the Swedish melodic death metal stalwarts and feels like nothing’s changed. This album is packed full of the thrashy and melodic riffs that Arch Enemy are known for and Alissa fits right in. Standout tracks include “Never Forgive, Never Forget,” “War Eternal,” “As the Pages Burn,” “No More Regrets,” and “You Will Know My Name.”

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Alissa’s vocals are amazing on this album as she growls and screams her heart out. She just brings so much energy to the table and it shows on every single track. Angela could not have picked a better woman to replace her. This was also the first album to feature guitarist Nick Cordle and also the last as he left shortly after the release of War Eternal. He and Michael Amott packed this album full of thrahsy riffs and big guitar melodies. The guitar work is just amazing on this album. The melodies they wrote just give me chills. And when they harmonize, it’s just amazing. Then there’s the relentless drumming of Daniel Erlandsson. This guy never stops and he throws in so many fills and changes into his playing that it never gets stale. Sharlee D’Angelo rounds the lineup on bass. He throws in a lot of cool and interesting parts although he can be a bit hard to hear at points. Overall, this album turned out great and shows that it will take more than vocalist change to slow Arch Enemy down.

1. Watchers of Rule by Unearth

Watchers of Rule blew my mind and may just be the metalcore pioneers’ best album yet. The moment I heard this album I knew it was going to be my favorite of the year. They just crammed so much amazing music into this album. There are just so many brutal riffs and just insanely fast melodic leads throughout. Standout tracks include “The Swarm,” “Guards of Contagion,” “Never Cease,” and “Trail to Fire” but there isn’t a single bad track on Watchers of Rule.

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The musicianship on Watchers of Rule is just plain insane and miles ahead of their last album, Darkness in the Light. Buz McGrath and Ken Susi show off some of their best guitar playing to date. I’ve never heard them this fast and this technical. There are so many brutally crushing riffs and so many places where they throw in all these insanely fast and delicious melodic lead parts. Then there’s the talents of new drummer Nick Pierce. This guy is just ridiculous. He brings the best drumming Unearth has ever had to the table. Vocalist Trevor Phipps also delivers what I consider to be his best vocal performance to date. There is just so much power and energy in his voice the likes I’ve not heard from him before. The bass is also pretty awesome but no credit is given to anyone. Longtime bassist John Maggard left before work even began on the album.

Watchers of Rule is easily the most underrated metal release of 2014. I’ve not seen it on a single top 10 or 20 list and it certainly needs to be. This is beyond a doubt the best Unearth album and deserves a listen. Go listen to it!

Honorable Mentions

Of course this year had plenty of other great releases and it was hard to narrow it down to just 10 albums. Here are some of the other albums I enjoyed this year that didn’t make the list for one reason or another.

Once More ‘Round the Sun by Mastodon

Once More ‘Round the Sun was another great release from Mastodon and was very close to making the list but a few other albums just barely edged it out. If this was a top 11 list then it would be in slot number 11.

1000hp by Godsmack

1000hp was another solid release from Godsmack but Sully and the gang stuck with the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. There really wasn’t anything new or interesting happening on this album to set it apart from other releases this year.

Titan by Septicflesh

Titan is a great album. It’s super heavy and is backed up by some fantastic orchestral pieces. The symphonic death metal masters in Septicflesh are great musicians but this really isn’t the kind of music I go for and that’s why it didn’t make the list.

.5: The Gray Chapter by Slipknot

Slipknot have finally returned with a new album but much like 1000hp from Godsmack, the band didn’t really do anything new or interesting to set .5: The Gray Chapter apart from their past releases or the other albums released this year.

La Gargola by Chevelle

Chevelle consistently put out good albums and La Gargola is no different. There’s enough here to differentiate it from their past releases but there were so many other albums I enjoyed more this year.

Going to Hell by The Pretty Reckless

Going to Hell was an album I didn’t think I would enjoy from a band I didn’t think I would enjoy. I expected The Pretty Reckless to just be another poppy female-fronted rock band but they are actually quite good and I haven’t heard anything quite like them. Going to Hell was an enjoyable listen.

The Satanist by Behemoth

The Satanist is yet another crushing release from the blackened death metal band Behemoth. It was very close to making the list but like several other albums it was just barely edged out of making the list.

The Serpent & The Sphere by Agalloch

The Serpent & The Sphere was an album I had never heard of by a band I had never heard of but I heard so many good things about this album that I had to check it out. Agalloch produce an atmospheric blend of black metal and folk metal and I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Of course it was just barely beaten by several other albums on my list.

The Hunting Party by Linkin Park

It was nice to see Linkin Park bring back the heavy with The Hunting Party. This album is easily the heaviest thing they’ve put out since Meteora. Linkin Park spent their last few albums experimenting with their sound and I think it was the right time to head back to their roots.