Top 30 Albums of 2014: 15-1

This is it, these are my top fifteen albums for 2014. There’s some great stuff here that I hope you check out and become as obsessed with as I did. Hope you all have a merry Christmas and a fantastic time with your friends and family. See you in 2015!

15. Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused

Genre: Experimental/Drone

Where do you even begin with this one… easily thee most bizarre release of 2014. We all know that in recent years, Scott Walker has – to put it mildly – undergone an extreme stylistic change but not even his biggest fans probably saw this coming. Even big Sunn O))) fans (like myself) never saw this coming from them either. What you get here is a mix of drone and just outrageous experimentalism.

I’d end up with an essay if I touched the instrumentation, but Walker’s vocals are very much the centrepiece for “Soused”, as well as the lyrics. I honestly can’t help try to intimidate his overblown vocals and laugh after lyrics like “No raindrops on roses / Whiskers on kittens”, “A beating would do me / A world of good” or “My assistant will pass among you / His cap will be empty”  while dark, industrial-sounding drones creep underneath. It’s refreshing that music like this exists.

Favourite tracks: Herod 2014Brando, Lullaby.

14. Coffinworm – IV.I.VIII

Genre: Sludge/Black Metal/Death Metal

I won’t go into this one much: this was one of the few albums I did actually review this year and so you can read my thoughts on it here; and they haven’t changed a bit. Brutal, ugly and nasty, Coffinworm really delivered on this release – definitely their best effort yet. Anyone who’s a fan of extreme metal should find something to enjoy here. The vocals are savage.

Favourite tracks: Of Eating Disorders And Restraining Orders, Instant Death Syndrome, Sympathectomy.

13. Conan – Blood Eagle

Genre: Doom Metal

Conan can’t seem to do any wrong when they’re still blasting out minimal riffs that still get your head rocking along to every single chug. The trio (with a new line-up bar vocalist/guitarist Jon Davis) are – or already have, really – cemented themselves as titans in the UK doom metal scene, and with “Blood Eagle”, it seems that nobody is going to be able to challenge their right to the throne any time soon. Although, there is one noticeable change on this album is a pick up in pace, especially Foehammer (which probably sees Conan playing the fastest for a whole track), but this doesn’t take away any of that lovely heaviness these guys are all about… and I’m all about those ridiculously down-tuned guitars, big riffs and bellowed vocals.

Favourite tracks: Total Conquest, Horns For Teeth, Gravity Chasm.

12. So Stressed – Attracted To Open Mouths

Genre: Noise Rock/Emo

This is also another album that I managed to review earlier this year and in all honesty… I may like it even more now than I did back then; and I liked it a LOT then. You can see what I had to say on it here. I’m extremely anxious to see what these guys will do in the next few years because they are clearly brimming with ideas, riffs and potential. I need to hear more!

Favourite tracks. Little TV, Secret Breasts, Animals Seeking Political Asylum.

11. Bongripper – Miserable

Genre: Sludge/Doom Metal

RIFFS. BIG RIFFS. BIG RIFFS AND BIG DRUMS. BIG RIFFS AND BIG DRUMS AND BIG EVERYTHING. Bongripper, by every single release of theirs so far, have somehow managed to develop their sound into something more gargantuan than the previous – not to say better, but definitely bigger. At this point, it’s hard to tell if they’ll ever reach their limit. Another great release from Bongripper.

Favourite tracks: Descent, Endless, Into Ruin.

10. Eyehategod – Eyehategod

Genre: Sludge

Eyehategod are one of my top bands of all time and so I was both extremely anxious and excited at the prospect of a new album coming out considering it had been 14 years since the release of their last album “Confederacy of Ruined Lives”. Personally, I might say that this self-titled effort is actually better than that album (and I do really like that album too) and this is proof that Eyehategod can still hit hard. This may be their cleanest-sounding album to date, but that doesn’t stop the band’s seething, beer-soaked aggression from grabbing hold of you. I’m convinced that no one will ever replace these guys as the gods of sludge.

Favourite tracks: Medicine Noose, Nobody Told Me, Flags And Cities Bound.

9. Moodie Black – Nausea

Genre: Hip-hop/Experimental

Another great new personal discovery here: Moodie Black are one of the bands that are coming out of the whole sudden ‘noise-hop’ or industrial/experimental hip-hop flux thanks to its popularisation of Death Grips… don’t worry, I knew about Dälek and B L A C K I E beforehand as well, don’t mash the keyboard just yet. Anyways, Moodie Black’s take on this style is a little bit more organic considering that it is a band that has a guitarist and drummer – and the two of them manage to create some truly haunting and sombre instrumentals to go with the vocals and lyrics extremely well; whether it’s mid-pace and hard-hitting or slow and melancholic. To me, this album has been wrongly overlooked and underrated not just in hip-hop, but music in general.

Favourite tracks: Hawk vs Vulture, B, Christ, Death In LA (Part 2).

8. The Body (& The Haxan Cloak) – I Shall Die Here

Genre: Drone/Doom Metal/Industrial

This album is interesting because, ultimately, it’s a collaboration from noisy sludge monsters The Body and electronic/drone producer The Haxan Cloak; who released one of my favourite albums last year with “Excavation”. Although The Haxan Cloak input is credited as “Additional synths, programming, re-recording and arrangement” – which I guess can be funnelled down to “produced” – his influence on this album is just as important as The Body’s own bare bones. This whole ordeal culminates into a droney soundtrack for horrible nightmares and insanities that manifests in people; genuinely quite haunting at times. It would be pretty cool to see if any more collaborations are in the future for these two artists – out of all the ones The Body has done (with Thou and Sandworm), this is the most prominent, personally.

Favourite tracks: To Carry The Seeds Of Death Within Me, Darkness Surrounds Us, Alone All The Way.

7. Aphex Twin – Syro

Genre: Electronica

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of an Aphex Twin fanboy and while that might indicate favouritism, it also means I expect a lot from him and can be just as critical. Early in the year, an original and ultra-rare pressing of his “Caustic Window” release surfaced and a Kickstarter campaign was started to buy that vinyl, rip it and share the music among fans. It all sounds great in theory, but the music itself wasn’t all that exciting – personally, I can see why it was never released at the time, especially in comparison with his other works.

But thanks to interest that whole ordeal raised, Aphex Twin soon announced he was working on a new album and so here is the result, “Syro”. I instantly fell in love with this and was so glad that it wasn’t on the same level as “Caustic Window”, but rather feels like the birth of a new direction/sound for him. I could write an essay on it (I almost did with an attempted review a while back but ditched it for that reason), so I won’t go further into it, but if you’re an Aphex/electronica fan, this is well worth checking out. He still has it.

Favourite tracks: minipops 67 [120], produk 29, 180db_.

6. Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestite

Genre: Instrumental/Electronica/Ambient

Everyone knows Wolves In The Throne Room as the atmospheric, and sometimes ambient, black metal band; but with “Celestite” (apparently linked with the release before, “Celestial Lineage”) they’ve gone to the most extreme they possibly could with the ambient/atmospheric aesthetics: honing it down to pure electronics and guitar with no drums or vocals. The result is a thing of beauty, transcending into atmospheres both bright and dark, hopeful and hopeless. There are moments that directly rip melodies and passages from tracks on “Celestial Lineage”, but the different approach they take on here makes them sound original still, and it’s easy to overlook. This may just be my favourite album of theirs yet, and I don’t consider any of their releases anything less than great. Oh, and when the guitars drone in on Initiation At Neudeg Alm

Favourite tracks: Initiation At Neudeg Alm, Turning Ever Towards The Sun, Celestite Mirror.

5. Lord Mantis – Death Mask

Genre: Sludge/Death Metal/Black Metal

Whether to include this in the list was something I’d been debating for months. Literally. Why? Because when the album came out, this was instantly my number one album for the year, and it was for the following few months, right up until the lyrics for one of the tracks was brought to attention by the online metal community. As soon as I found out, it left a bitter taste in my mouth, that I’d been totally oblivious to that one certain line despite listening to the album countless times. The line is in the opening track Body Choke, and the line is (as structured in the CD foldout): “I am the raping / N*gger bend to / The whip of speed priest”.

I’ve racked my brain trying to figure of if I’m interpreting it in a different way than it was intended, or is it as bad as it actually is – especially when you listen out for it, those three sections are screeched in one fluid go – so while I still can’t decide on which, it’s undeniably very stupid (despite the clear ridiculousness of some of the other lyrics), and I was wondering whether this should be in the list or not. The reason I have included it is because I try to be as honest as I possibly can. I still enjoy the music and overall atmosphere – it’s incredibly heavy and dark – but with lyrics like that, my view of the band has been shaken a fair bit.

I bought the CD to check if the rumours were true (funnily enough, you won’t find lyrics for any of the songs on their bandcamp) and was so disappointed that they were. In brief: the album sounds brilliant but that line is fucking dumb.

Favourite tracks: Negative Birth, Death Mask, Body Choke (again, great sound, shit line).

4. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit

Genre: I honestly don’t know what fucking genre they are.

Man, oh-fucking man, what can you say about this album? Hilarious yet depressingly on-point, Sleaford Mods are a duo that spits at what makes Britain such a grey place to live in, especially in recent years. Sneering at selfish politicians, the rise of right-wing support and the ever increasing difficulty to live thanks to our economics, Sleaford Mods are both comforters and inciters for people who have to struggle to keep from being homeless by working undesirable jobs. Internationally,

I can’t imagine a lot of people really connecting or even understanding what the Mods are going on about, but anyone who is suffering will relate in some way. I did originally list some of my favourite lyrics from a couple of tracks for this, but I think it’s better you check them out yourself, some of them are brilliant.

Favourite tracks: You’re Brave, Tied Up In Nottz, Middle Men, Tiswas.

3. Emma Ruth Rundle – Some Heavy Ocean

Genre: Acoustic/Folk

Despite being a fan of Red Sparowes, I was not familiar with any of Emma Ruth Rundle’s work (and she’s done a lot) until this album was suggested to me. “Some Heavy Ocean”, emotionally, is what it says on the tin. Rundle is constantly plucking her own heartstrings in a very raw acoustic/folk-influenced style of music, often accompanied with some reverb, giving it a live feeling – the album even ends with her muttering something in the studio after the final piano chord in Living With The Black Dog fades out. Her vocals are strong and tender at the same time and you can’t help but melt at the emotion she carries in her voice. Again, this is one of those albums I could write an essay about, there’s so much detail you pick up with every listen that you discover new things, new nuances each time. It’s an extremely powerful album, I can only dare you to listen to it and not feel a little emotional at some point…

Favourite tracks: Savage SaintShadows Of My Name, Living With The Black Dog, Haunted Houses.

2. Grouper – Ruins

Genre: Ambient/Acoustic

… and so I challenge you to the same thing here. Grouper has always been an artist I’ve affiliated with tugging on your emotions with her soft vocals and heavily reverbed atmospherice drones. This time however, Liz Harris has stripped back her sound and (as far as I can hear) is literally just her untouched vocals, piano and some field recordings. Her vocals are whispers – almost sounding on the verge of sobs at times – and the lyrics are focused on loss, past memories and heartbreak. The whole thing is tender and truly resonates the feeling of depression – granted, this isn’t something that everyone looks for in music, but the pure honesty she carries with her here is absolutely haunting, enough so that I’ve actually had goosebumps rippling up my arms while listening to this album. It’s just heartbreaking. My favourite line (and the delivery) is on Clearing: “Can’t you see I’m fading, soon there won’t be anyone there / It’s funny when you fuck up, no one really has to care / And sometimes I wish that none of this had happened”. Oh man…

Favourite tracks: Clearing, Holding, Call Across Rooms.

1. Muscle and Marrow – The Human Cry

Genre: Drone/Doom Metal/Goth

Finally, we get my number one album of 2014, Muscle and Marrow’s “The Human Cry”. This is their debut and the duo have only been in action since 2013 – despite all that, they’ve clearly honed and executed their ideas and approach perfectly on this release. You can tell that this came out exactly how it was meant to be. While a comparison to Chelsea Wolfe is obvious, there are equal measurements of influence from Sunn O))) and PJ Harvey (and probably some other artists I’m not aware of). The result is a drone-doom orientated sound led by Kira Clark’s varied vocals: at times she’ll pronounce and strain each particular syllable, other times she’ll burst into a natural yell, then at other times you’ll get shrill vibratos that pierce you, and so on. With all this, each track is pretty heavy with atmosphere, almost ghostly.

I could never describe just how great it is, but all I can tell you is that both Kira Clark and Keith McGraw have formed something extremely special here. Just what will they create next?!

Favourite tracks: Madness, I’m Old, Surround The Fire, Tongues.

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5 thoughts on “Top 30 Albums of 2014: 15-1

  1. Abram Hurd says:

    Belief Mower Records is ecstatic to have released “The Human Cry” as our first vinyl release. Take a look at what is happening at the Belief Mower Big Cartel for more quality releases.

  2. Jack says:

    Excellent choices again! I really like “Soused” but I haven’t sat with it enough to get the most out of it, downloaded it again today and so far it’s genuinely sending shivers up my spine haha. Not really grabbed by the tracks you listed off the new Aphex twin (save for “minipops”) but I’ll still check it out ’cause, you know, it must be brilliant really because it’s Aphex Twin and I’m just an idiot. Really liking those Coffinworm tracks but I feel like I need to sit with the album longer before I fully understand it so I’ll definitely do that, the same with Emma Ruth Rundle. I’ll definitely check out Muscle & Marrow too, I’ve heard a fair bit of that sort of music recently but it’s gotta be sick if it’s No.1.

    I’m gonna give that new Bongripper another go a bit later. I’ve listened to it a couple of times and it’s certainly not at all bad, but the thing with Bongripper for me was that they used to be so much fun and had their tongues so firmly placed in their cheeks that hearing them make something sensible and serious was a bit off-putting. Definitely gonna stick at it though, I bloody love that band. Good writing too, especially the Sleaford Mods bit; you summed up the whole ethos and atmosphere of that album perfectly.

    Good stuff all round man!

    • richreviewz says:

      Yeah, quite a few of the releases you mentioned need a bit of time to settle into I reckon – especially “Soused” and “IV.I.VIII”. And yes, definitely give Muscle And Marrow, their sound is so entrancing, I just find myself getting lost whenever I listen to the album.

      Yeah, the guys from Bongripper are huge jokers – I thought the song titles on “Miserable” was sort of tongue-in-cheek – but to me, the riffs are sort of a more serious deal; although to me, it seems like they lock into those riffs and just have fun playing around with them for about 20 minutes at a time.

      Haha, and thank you about the Sleaford bit – they’ve been the soundtrack to a very hard year so I feel very strongly about them. Thanks for giving the time to read and listen to all this!

  3. Jake says:

    YOB didn’t even make the list? Fuck this list.

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