As 2014 comes to a close our music critics take a look at their Top Ten Albums of the Year. Click here for more end of the year roundups.
1. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
Mastodon are a band known for constantly changing their sound, and their sixth release is no exception. Continuing the streamlined approach of their previous release The Hunter, the band supplements their trademark massive riffs and technical solos with a knack for melodic choruses and a real sense of fun, continuing to prove why they are one of the biggest metal bands in the world right now.
2. Ghost Brigade – IV
While this lesser-known Finnish band’s newest album does nothing to reinvent the wheel, it refines their melodic death metal sound to a tee, while adding elements of grunge and alternative rock in its softer moments. Songs move between brutality and beauty thanks largely to the alternately clean singing and growling of vocalist Manne Ikonen, and the whole album is dripping with emotional Scandinavian melancholy.
3. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
Amazingly for a band with such a high status bestowed on them from their 2012 debut, this Arkansas quartet’s sophomore album continues to push doom metal away from its fuzzy roots and mould it into something lighter, while still maintaining a thick wall of guitars. Helped enormously by fantastic production which accentuates the high-register vocals instead of burying them, the band move so deftly between heavy and light moods that to pigeonhole them into one category does them an injustice.
4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Delivering disarmingly honest song writing about death backed with often little more than an acoustic guitar, Mark Kozelek’s latest release for his folk rock project can put a smile on your face just as often as it can hit you right in the gut. Lyricists often drench everything in metaphor, but Mark just tells it like it is, and it’s dazzlingly effective.
5. Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Doing similar things to doom metal as Pallbearer, this veteran band’s seventh release consists of just four songs, all stretching between the 10 and 18-minute mark. Inside these songs once again is darkness and light, but delivered at a slower and more repetitive pace. It take a while to get into Clearing’s hypnotic rhythm, but once you do, it sucks you in, culminating in the sunshine breaking through the clouds moment signified by closer Marrow.
6. Panopticon – Roads to the North
Winter and forest-inspired black metal is nothing new, but one-man band Panopticon adds an unexpected element to the mix: bluegrass, and even unexpectedly, manages to make it work. Tremolo-picked riffs segue seamlessly into beautiful banjo and violin interludes and there’s even a tiny bit of clean singing on the melancholic Norwegian Nights, meaning the album leads the listener on an epic journey through the sort of landscapes conjured by the cover.
7. This Will Destroy You – Another Language
An album for late evenings or sleepless nights, this post-rock band bring intensity without necessarily heaviness, relying on thick layers of electronics, guitar, and distant sounding drums to produce something of ethereal beauty without the need for riffs or even much progression. Instead, soak in the blissed-out atmosphere.
8. Opeth – Pale Communion
Although a progressive death metal band throughout the majority of their career, Opeth have always had influences rooted in older bands like Camel and King Crimson. On their 11th album they continue in the metal-less direction started with previous album Heritage, but this time it’s a more cohesive piece of 70s prog. While Heritage felt like an experiment, Pale Communion is a band confident in their rockier direction, while still able to sound like themselves.
9. Earth – Primitive and Deadly
Another slow release, as Earth deliver bluesey, stonery rock with the help of two fantastic guest vocalists: Mark Lanegan with a Tom Waits-esque baritone and Rabia Shaheen Qazi, delivering a silkier but still weathered counterpoint. Known for being an instrumental band for the majority of their career, using guest vocalists like this is a fantastic step forward, although that’s not to say that the album’s two instrumental tracks don’t stand on their own by their hypnotic, reverb-filled selves.
10. Hark – Crystalline
A sludge metal band but with a slightly more intricate, progressive twist, this band’s debut delivers riff after heavy riff, all with a complexity usually unfound in this sort of music. The riffs are weird, but the band still manages to rock in an accessible way, and having the album mixed by production legend Kurt Ballou means the guitars are clear and loud without sacrificing power in the drums. Turn it up loud, especially the final track, which features Neil Fallon of Maryland rock legends Clutch as a roaring guest vocalist.
Did we miss your favourite? Comment below! And check out our other end of the year Roundups here (Including films, songs and more rock albums).