Music

The Best Metal of 2014

Adrien Begrand, Dean Brown, Brice Ezell, and Benjamin Hedge Olson

Metal's shining moments in 2014 include a long-awaited reunion, a culmination of a nearly 20-year career, and a sophomore outing that rose to the occasion.

10 - 6

Artist: Panopticon

Album: Roads to the North

Label: Bindrune

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Panopticon
Roads to the North

Panopticon’s seminal 2012 record Kentucky infused black metal with American bluegrass in a way that could have been an exercise in gimmickry, but turned out to be one of the most emotional and socially conscious American black metal records ever released. Expectations were high for its full length follow up, but somehow Roads to the North manages to not only match the high standards of its processor, but exceed them. While so many black metal bands throughout the world continue to tirelessly hump the leg of Norwegian black metal and parody themselves with tired corpse-painted silliness, Panopticon continues to make sincere, mature black metal for the ages. Roads to the North draws on numerous genres of American folk music, crust, and even death metal to enrich the tapestry sketched out in Kentucky. These are songs of homesickness, longing, joy, and memory. Panopticon makes black metal that turns the listener inside herself, asking us where we come from and how our sense of home defines us. Roads to the North is the sound of a band, and indeed a subgenre, realizing its full potential. What emerges is one of the most poignant and compelling albums of 2014. Benjamin Hedge Olson

 
Artist: Mournful Congregation

Album: Concrescence of the Sophia

Label: 20 Buck Spin

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List number: 9

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Mournful Congregation
Concrescence of the Sophia

This two-song release by the Australian funeral doom overlords of Mournful Congregation is technically an EP. However, at 30 minutes, not only does Concrescence of the Sophia run a good bit longer than the average EP, but it also displays a compositional finesse that outstripped almost all of the metal records of 2014. On 2011's Book of Kings, Mournful Congregation perfected its lengthy and lugubrious style of composition, with tracks like "Catechism of Depression" serving as a stunning distillation of all this band stands for. Concrescence of the Sophia carries on in this tradition, with the 21-minute title track weaving through passages of portentous riffs and fingerpicked acoustic guitars with an ease not unlike that of genre mainstays like Ahab. For Mournful Congregation to make an impact like that with an EP is no small achievement; it indicates that this is a group that knows how to do a lot with a little, an important quality to have when one's songs regularly run 20 minutes or longer. For those needing a score to a funeral march, or perhaps an especially dreary day, Concrescence of the Sophia is a fine choice. Brice Ezell

 
Artist: Behemoth

Album: The Satanist

Label: Nuclear Blast

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List number: 8

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Behemoth
The Satanist

Behemoth’s chief songwriter Nergal stared death in the face and lived to put all the physical and emotional pain wrought by his battles with leukaemia into his music. The Satanist is the embodiment of his personal struggles, as Behemoth re-emerged in 2014 more human, more vicious and more defiant than ever before. A modern masterpiece created by an esteemed metal band at the cusp of the mainstream, Behemoth’s tenth full-length is the power of free will personified and amplified. From the regal occultism of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” to the Dissection-esque riffs that slice through “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”, and the towering conclusion of “O Father O Satan O Sun”, The Satanist sounds cinematically conceived without surrendering the aggression or melodicism at the pith of this Polish act since its formation in 1991. Borne from chaos and eternal night, Behemoth’s enhanced clarity of vision and compositional strength is astounding here. Dean Brown

 
Artist: Godflesh

Album: A World Lit Only By Fire

Label: Avalanche

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List number: 7

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Godflesh
A World Lit Only By Fire

The gears of war cranked into position this year as the industrial metal pioneers of Godflesh released new music for the first time since its termination in 2002. First came the EP Decline and Fall in June 2014, which, although prescient, did little to prepare fans for what would follow in the form of Godflesh’s seventh full-length, A World Lit Only By Fire. For their return album, guitarist/vocalist Justin Broadrick and bassist G.C. Green revisited the mechanics of seminal Godflesh records -- Streetcleaner (1989) and Pure (1990) being two precise blueprints -- to construct an unforgiving album that is respectful of the band’s past but also forcefully focused on the future. The Birmingham, UK-based duo's biting lyrical invectives sound-tracked by coruscating riffs and booming progressed beats were always ahead of its time. On A World Lit Only by Fire, Godflesh’s juggernaut-like death-march continues towards humankind’s imminent demise. Dean Brown

 
Artist: Judas Priest

Album: Redeemer of Souls

Label: Epic

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Judas Priest
Redeemer of Souls

It’s always good for a veteran band, one that’s been around for decades, to have something new to prove every once in a while. Six years ago Judas Priest bit off a little more than it could chew with the highly ambitious and deeply flawed double album Nostradamus, and then in 2011 guitarist K.K. Downing retired after 41 years of service, replaced by Richie Faulkner, an axe-slinger nearly half the band’s age. What’s the best thing for a band to do after a bloated misfire but simplify, and 17th album Redeemer of Souls found Priest not only getting back to basics, revisiting the classic sound of Defenders of the Faith and Screaming For Vengeance, but sounding completely rejuvenated in the process. Clearly given a dose of youthful energy thanks to the addition of Faulkner, the rest of the band sounds potent and powerful, singer Rob Halford in tremendous form on such highlights as “Dragonaut”, “Halls of Valhalla”, and “Hell & Back”. Judas Priest is back doing what it does best, and all is right with the world. Adrien Begrand

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