Hellbound’s best of 2014 year-end coverage continues with the last installment in our definitive top 20 metal albums of the year list. Part four features the records that ranked highest in our collective esteem: the final five. You’ll note that Behemoth and YOB might have to duke it out if either one wants sole claim of the #2 spot, though really, there’s room for both bands here. All the releases and artists featured below deserve the critical acclaim they have earned and more.
For close to a decade now, Icelandic metal outfit Sólstafir have been gradually building an impressive collection of music with a reputation to match. As the band’s fifth full length release, Ótta is truly their crowning achievement thus far. It’s not really a collection of songs so much as a stunning musical journey, and when it comes to building tension and atmosphere Sólstafir prove their mastery. One moment could be highlighted by stark and contemplative piano, the next a psychedelic surf rock passage. There is an ebb and a flow and all is punctuated by vocalist “Addi” Tryggvaso’s emotionally charged rasp. On the whole, it is a beautifully composed album that conjures up images of sky-reaching pines and deeply misted mountain peaks. A definite must-hear album for 2014.
#4: Opeth – Pale Communion (Roadrunner)
Opeth’s first full venture into progressive rock felt somewhat forced. 2011’s Heritage was a good album – it was voted best album of the year by Hellbound’s writers – but it had awkward moments that are clear to see when compared to this year’s Pale Communion. Said album, their eleventh overall, corrects the musical awkwardness of Heritage and is the band’s best offering since Blackwater Park. Yes, the death growls are definitely gone, as is some of the ferocity of other records. This time around we have an immaculately performed, more melodic record that is full on progressive rock, so much so that it could have been released in 1974 just as easily as in 2014. The thing that really makes the album for me is the vocals. While Mikael Åkerfeldt has always been a great singer, the backing vocals and vocal harmonies on this album are exquisite. Listen to “River” with its three-part vocal harmonies in the first half that are on par with classic rock trios like CSN [Crosby, Stills and Nash] or America. A very nice surprise indeed.
#2 / #3 (tie): YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot) & Behemoth – The Satanist (Metal Blade)
Polish blackened death juggernaut Behemoth hit the ground running in 2014 and never looked back as they set out on a path to sonic Armageddon. In some ways a comeback record (frontman Nergal recently had a bout with leukaemia, now in remission),The Satanist is brimming with DEATH TO ALL BUT METAL (AND SATAN) majesty and might. From the defiantly blasphemous opening couplet to the cold, bitter end, Behemoth, fresh from taking down cancer like a boss, have now set their unholy sights on conquering the world of metal, the kingdom of God, and everything in between. With musical artillery this focused, self-aware, and impactful, no force on heaven nor earth could possibly resist the sound of sheer apocalypse borne by The Satanist.
Read Danielle Griscti’s review of The Satanist here: hellbound.ca/2014/02/behemoth-the-satanist.
For my money’s worth, YOB can do no wrong. Hell, I’ve even got Catharsis on vinyl—still looking for Elaborations of Carbon, though. That said, while the new record is more of the same pummeling, pounding post-doom we’ve come to expect from these Oregonians, it’s most impactful when they switch things up a bit. To wit, the album starts off slow and clean, a ringing, repetitive riff leading us into the heavy crunch of “In Our Blood,” the opening track. “Nothing to Win” contains a couple passages that border on black metal, while Mike Scheidt tones his trademark wail all the way down to a whisper during the mellower moments of “Unmask the Spectre.” But in the end, this slab is utterly, recognizably YOB—and that’s a good thing!
Read Greg’s full review of Clearing the Path to Ascend here: hellbound.ca/2014/08/yob-clearing-path-ascend.
#1: PALLBEARER – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
Pallbearer wowed the metal world with their debut Sorrow & Extinction. Given an increased budget and the talents of Billy Anderson in the producer’s chair, Foundations of Burden took everything S&E was and made it that much better. More grand, more lush, more sorrowful, and more deserving of Album of the Year. The Little Rock group crafts an expansive and multifaceted sound pitting crushing doom against tearful melody and everyone comes out a winner. As desperate and depressing as it can sound there’s always a measure of fight and perseverance to be heard, as well as memorability and glorious harmony. Which makes Foundations of Burden an instant doom classic with mass appeal.
Read Gruesome Greg’s review of Foundations of Burden here: hellbound.ca/2014/10/pallbearer-foundations-burden.
Stay tuned for Hellbound’s annual end-of-year Canadian feature: the best Canadian metal albums of 2014. Our collective and individual Canadian metal picks will be available for your reading pleasure on New Year’s Day.