Here’s the first half of the top 30 albums of 2014! While this year didn’t impress me anywhere near as much as last year, there were still dozens of great releases, especially in the second-half of the year. I guess as well, since this year has been very quiet for the Rich Reviewz blog (for personal reasons – 2015 will be the return of regular posts), you can see all the albums I’d wish I could have spoken about. BUT. Just before we go on, I have to say that unlike last year, I won’t be doing any top tracks, EPs, splits or cover art like I did last year. To make up for it, here’s some releases that I really enjoyed that just missed out on the top 30 album list or because they were a different format:
Black Swan – “Tone Poetry” [Drone] / GDP – “Collectibles” [Hip-Hop] / Full Of Hell & Merzbow – “Full Of Hell & Merzbow” [Grindcore/Noise] / YOB – “Clearing A Path To Ascend” [Doom Metal] / Yellow Eyes – “The Desert Mourns” [Atmospheric Black Metal] / Ben Frost – “A U R O R A” [Electronica] / Herukrat – “I Bear Witness” [Power Electronics/Noise] / Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden” [Noise] / Sunn O))) & Ulver – “Terrestrials [Drone] / Mayhem – “Esoteric Warfare” [Black Metal] / Lorn – “The Maze To Nowhere” releases [Electronica] / Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – “Gone Girl OST” [Ambient] / Cold Cave – “Full Cold Moon” [Synthpop/Gothic] /
H A R K – “Crystalline” [Rock] / We Came Out Like Tigers – “Ever-Crushed At Pecket’s Well” [Screamo/Black Metal] / Every Time I Die – “From Parts Unknown” [Metal]
Now here we go…
30. Dirty Beaches – Stateless
Dirty Beaches, unfortunately, is no more but Alex Zhang Hungtai has left us with one final, glorious album to remember his oddball project by. This album is four tracks – reaching just over 40-minutes in length – and orientates around the same sort of droney sound that we heard on his previous release “Drifter/Love Is The Devil”. The album seems to be made up of saxophone, synths, some strings and a whole lot of reverb; but while this might sound a bit minimalist or even simple, the result is nothing but beautiful and harrowing at the same time. The sense of loss, yearning and sadness drips into your conscience and sends ripples of those cold bus journeys where you stare out at the passing world through a rain-stained window. To me, despite the bright cover art, this album sort of embeds that feeling of un-belonging, no matter where you are, realising that every city (ultimately) is the same… but sort of accepting it as well. Just a hauntingly atmospheric album.
29. Blonde Redhead – Barragán
Blonde Redhead have been pretty quiet over the last few years and earlier this year, they popped up again and managed to stir up a fair amount of excitement, as if they never even left the room. On this album, you get your standard Blonde Redhead material: catchy indie-pop backed with synths and keys and vocals from both Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace. The sound here is very stripped back for Blonde Redhead, presenting themselves as their rawest yet. Granted, this has rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way but personally I really enjoyed it.
28. Shabazz Palaces – Les Majesty
This one was a grower. At first, I thought the album was ok at best, but man, once you’ve properly listened to it a couple of times you realise that the gold on this release is so fluid through all the tracks that it’s just hard to identify without a dip in Shabazz Palaces maintained quality. Granted, there’s a few tracks that do grab you more than the rest, but the whole thing is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It also shows that as far as production goes, they show no sign of becoming stale any time soon.
27. Thou – Heathen
Genre: Doom Metal/Sludge
Heavy, morose and dark are three things that Thou are well associated with and “Heathen” is just another testament to their already solid back catalogue of releases. Honestly, if you know Thou, you know what you’re in for. Just go listen to it.
26. Today Is The Day – Animal Mother
Genre: Noise Rock/Metal
One of my favourite ‘weirdo’ bands in metal came out with one of their best records in years. Again, Today Is The Day make it almost impossible for you to neatly section this album into a single genre name. Noise rock, death metal, sludge, progressive, experimental – “Animal Mother” is all these things and more, but a whole lot more memorable than “Pain Is A Warning” thanks to better mixing, bigger riffs and Steve Austin’s insane vocals are plain and clear; no effects to dilute his truly manic sound.
It’s a shame that soon after the release of the album, the band experienced a woeful car accident while on tour. I just hope Steve and co. make a good recovery (and that we’ll hear some of this material at Temples Festival next year!)
25. Earth – Primitive & Deadly
Genre: Drone/Country/Progressive Rock
This was a weird one in terms of the direction that Earth decided to go into with this, reintroducing guest vocals on three of the tracks thanks to reknowned Screaming Trees frontman, Queens Of The Stone Age collaborator and solo artist Mark Lanegan – on two tracks – and the more illusive Rabia Shaheen Qazi – on one. Instrumentally, you can expect the same sort of thing that you can always expect from Earth but there are a few tweaks with a mixture of distortion, sinister atmospheres and proggy leads. The album sort of feels like the merging of the best bits from “Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons” and “HEX: Or Printing In The Infernal Method”.
24. Water Torture – Pillbox
No point in me going on with this one. Powerviolence with bass and drums, some episodes of power electronics. If those things interest you, you can’t go wrong with another stellar Water Torture release.
23. Sunwølf – Beholden To Nothing and No One
Genre: Drone/Doom Metal/Ambient
These guys were a great new discovery for me this year (as are a few others after this) and are one of those bands that are obviously still in the stages of experimenting with their sound and influences – I would put a confident bet that this collection are fans in some degree or another of Harvey Milk, Chelsea Wolfe, Melvins, Neurosis and a few ambient artists.
Sunwølf make it extremely clear that they aren’t going to stick to a single sound thanks to a number of stylistically contrasting tracks. Opener In The Darkened River… features a mournful and beautiful female vocalist backed with clean guitars and strings; Vultures Crown has thick, heavy guitars and bass with gruff male roars (these vocals are the ones that appear the most through the album); Twelve Sunne is a pure ambient/drone track with shimmering production and a sample running through it; Lotus Land features unforgettable group chants with minimal guitars. The album is just a gripping journey through different soundscapes, and they’re all fascinating.
22. Salem’s Pot – …lurar ut dig på prärien
Genre: Doom Metal/Psychedelic Rock
I’ll be blunt about this: Electric Wizard’s “Let It Die” release was by far the most disappointing and unimaginative album I listened to this year. Where the Wizard was leading the way and popularising a mixture of old-school doom and psychedelia along with a seething attitude; that album just sounded like a shrivelled-up and incompetent king that needs replacing… and so, here we have Salem’s Pot, who offer a far more interesting version of that style, but feeling like it should be a soundtrack for a horror film that involves cults and sacrifices… with cowbell.
21. Behemoth – The Satanist
Genre: Black Metal/Death Metal
This one is on a LOT of EOY lists and rightfully so. Behemoth’s “The Satanist” may just be their most relevant album in years: much more memorable riffs/grooves and lyrics as well as just being incredibly punishing. Listening to this is like flinching every time someone is about to hit you; but you want it and Behemoth fully deliver. If you’re into black metal and/or death metal, then this is a must have for 2014 releases.
20. Ringworm – Hammer Of The WitchGenre: Hardcore/Metal
Even though I’d known about Ringworm for a long while, I’d never listened to them until this album was recommended to me… Ringworm play a very dirty and (death) metal-influenced style of hardcore. Granted, this album isn’t for everyone considering how niche their sound is, but if you just love music that’s fast, heavy and filthy; then Ringworm has you covered.
19. Dephosphorus – Ravenous Solemnity
Genre: Crust/Grindcore/Sludge/Hardcore/Black Metal
Like Ringworm, Dephosphorus are another band known for their dirty and furious sound but these guys have always ventured more into grind, sludge and black metal influences. Really, you could put them up there with those bands that mix all the extremes in metal and formulate them into a sound of their own. One moment you’ll be shredded by blastbeats and shrieking vocals, the next they’ll lock into a Dystopia-esque groove. There’s also a neat cover of Discharge’s The Blood Runs Red at the end.
18. Sd Laika – That’s Harakiri
It felt that electronic music generally hit a big low in 2014 – despite Aphex’s comeback – but Sd Laika is someone who has been criminally overlooked for his incredibly dark and fucked up “That’s Harakiri”. Each track is so disjointed, ugly yet catchy that you can’t help feel a little nauseous and satisfied at the same time. A lot of the time, he’ll somehow jump from discomforting collages of sound to beautiful passages, and then throw you back into the horror again. I might be giving a whole lot of negativity here, but it’s because of these dark parts that I left this on repeat for weeks. It definitely shows a lot of promise from Sd Laika, I can’t imagine what he’ll do to follow this up.
17. Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
Genre: Industrial Metal/Doom Metal
Even if you’re only vaguely into metal, you should recognise Godflesh without even thinking about it. The industrial-doom legendaries returned this year with an album that truly feels like it could have been the follow up to their classic “Streetcleaner” – a whole lot of heavy riffs, pissed off vocals and moments that feel like a machine that’s about to churn everything you loved into a scrapheap. Honestly, just listen to it, I’m wasting time you could be doing so by having you read this.
16. Sick of it All – Last Act of Deviance
I’ll keep this one brief: this is classic Sick Of It All material. They’re one of those few – if not the only one – of the NYHC bands that have still kept on releasing quality albums during the 2000’s. Their previous record “Based On A True Story” was my favourite to come out in 2010, somehow balancing catchy riffs and choruses with a slamming heaviness to each chord strike and each snare hit… and so here we are again, with another album that keeps that tradition going. It’s great!