Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 14

Welcome to Day 7 of my Album of the Year 2014 countdown, where I bring you a new album every day (or as close to that as I can) that has impressed me over the past 12 months. And, given the strength of 2014, there’s no let-up in the quality of the albums that I bring you.

If you’ve missed any of the past 6 days or even if you’ve missed any of the past two years’ lists, the links to all of these can be found at the bottom of this post. Please feel free to explore and enjoy!

And now, with that out of the way, let’s concentrate on the Number 14 position:

00 NeONe Obliviscaris
‘Citadel’
Season Of Mist

Superlatives get thrown around in music reviews with gay abandon these days it seems. ‘Amazing’ this, ‘awesome’ that; to the point where the sentiment becomes diluted and then, when something genuinely brilliant comes along, it’s hard to do it justice. That feels like the case here with ‘Citadel’, album number two for Australian extreme metallers Ne Obliviscaris. This is a genuinely brilliant but I’m finding it hard to do the album justice in the written form. So why not in the top 10 or higher I hear you ask? The answer is simply because of timing; had this album been released earlier in the year, the chances are it’s magic would have had an even greater effect.

01 Neo

There are a mere six tracks that make up ‘Citadel’ but such is the sheer scope and grandeur on display here, that any thoughts of being short-changed never cross your mind, even when three of them are shorter instrumental pieces. The truth is though, that whilst they may be shorter and act as quieter, more contemplative interludes in between the more extreme material, they are wonderful pieces of music in their own right. Take the opener, ‘Painters Of The Tempest, Pt 1 – Wyrmholes’ for example. It is an intriguing composition dominated by a violent and occasionally slightly discordant lead violin, one of the key components of the Ne Obliviscaris approach. Ably assisted by a piano and some restrained, quiet cinematic sounds, it starts things off in a foreboding and ominous way, without giving away too much about what exactly is to follow.

Part 2 of what is in fact a trilogy of material is a 16-minute plus epic that those aforementioned superlatives just cannot do justice. Words like ‘epic’, ‘sensational’ and ‘majestic’ come to mind as the track ebbs and flows from one breath-taking segment to another. The brutality of death metal duels with quieter, more subtle moments and warp-speed tempos dominated by frenetic double-pedal drumming are juxtaposed by slower, more relaxed and soothing passages where our friend the violin will again make a welcome appearance, creating almost a folky vibe to the music. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the track is littered with some great prog moments and even more gorgeous melodies. The growled vocals give way to clean singing, the guitars cease their incisive, clinical riffing in favour of a memorable lead break or poignant melody and the violin once again weaves its magic. And the whole composition builds inexorably towards an epic conclusion where the hairs on the back of my neck never fail to stand on end.

The trend has been set and the remainder of the album follows in a similarly complex and mind-blowing manner. The sheer scope of ‘Citadel’ is stunning and I would venture to use the word ‘peerless’. I know not of any other band that manages to create music as ambitious as this but with such apparent ease. The flow throughout the album is very impressive and in spite of the complexity, the compositions do not come across as clunky or awkward; for all its extremity, it’s as smooth as silk, offering up new and exciting subtleties on each and every listen, only adding to the longevity that ‘Citadel’ will undoubtedly provide for months and years to come.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 15

I have a feeling that today’s choice will raise a few eyebrows and might divide opinion somewhat. I have no hesitation in including this album in my ‘best of’ list but I suspect that it might cause surprise amongst those that know me or have been long-term readers of my blog.

Before I divulge the album, remember that you can read all of my previous posts in this countdown as well as the lists from 2012 and 2013 by clicking the links at the bottom of this post.

And with that, here’s Number 15:

Nothing More
‘Nothing More’
Eleven Seven Music Group

I was given this album to review for Powerplay Magazine a few months ago. Had I not, it is perfectly conceivable that I would never have even crossed paths with this record. This kind of music is not generally my standard fare; indeed if I’m being less kind, I’d go so far as to say that I have a general dislike for this style of music. And the style is, exactly? It’s actually difficult to pigeon-hole Nothing More into one single genre, but for brevity at this stage, I’d say modern hard rock that contains elements of nu-metal, djent and demonstrable pop-rock sensibilities in one big melting pot of what I’d normally, rather cruelly dismiss as plastic teenage ear candy, the likes of which can be heard on commercial radio stations the world over. I have been proved wrong, at least with this record anyway.

00 nm

As I was reviewing it and owed the band a fighting chance and a fair review, I kept listening. The first couple of spins led to some toe-curling on my part but the more that time passed, the more I realised that I was enjoying listening to the record. Moreover, I realised that I was actually choosing to listen to it over other music. It was almost subconsciously that I found myself hooked and rather fond of this record.

01 nm

‘Nothing More’ is the fourth album from Texas-based band of the same name and, out of left-field, it has become a firm favourite with me. If I’m being entirely honest, I would suggest that there is not very much within the Nothing More armoury that’s overly original or unique. There is an element of djent to some of the surprisingly heavy riffs littered throughout the compositions as well as a touch or AOR here and there. But that’s about it. Why do I love it so much then?

What makes this album so strong in my opinion, is the combination of cocksure conviction from the band, a great song-writing nous and the inclusion of some of the biggest and catchiest choruses I’ve heard for quite a while. The hooks are massive and the whole thing begs to be sung along to with real gusto; indeed it’s a proper ‘feel-good’ album. That said, there’s an impressive subtle sophistication to much of the material which on one hand owes much to the Blink 182 and Sum 41 schools of music but on the other, calls in more complex favours from the likes of the now sadly defunct Fair To Midland or even channels the spirit of AOR via a couple of stunning choruses.

Nothing More have done two things for me – they have proved that I can be a bit of a dismissive music snob at times and that there’s great music to be heard from all corners of the rock and metal world. I’m neither embarrassed or ashamed to include an album like this in my Top 20 list. And neither should I be. If it’s good music and has a positive impact on the listener, damn the genre, press play and enjoy. I do, and on a frighteningly frequent basis at that.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 16

Blimey, I can’t believe we’re at Day 5 of my top 20 of 2014 countdown already. As always, I’m really enjoying putting this series together and getting all your feedback, whether you like my choices or whether you think I’m bonkers. It’s great fun. So, if it’s alright with you all, I think I shall continue.

Before I do though, here are the links to the previous four days:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

Now, back to Day 5…

Alcest-ShelterAlcest
‘Shelter’
Prophecy Productions

Talk about a change of pace. After a few days of extreme metal releases within my countdown, today I bring you something entirely different but equally as brilliant.

00 alcest

French duo of Neige and Winterhalter have, up to now, been best know for their post black metal output complete with plenty of bleak yet beautiful extremity. With this record however, Alcest have taken a somewhat different path.

If you listen carefully enough, there are hints of the post black metal elements of the band’s past. Crucially though, these are very subtle and fleeting as if merely tentative shy memories of what went before.
Instead, ‘Shelter’ offers the listener a much more chilled out and relaxed experience where Sigur Ros-esque shoegaze and ambient rock are the best descriptors.

01 alcest

What makes this album so special to me is the sheer depth and the aching beauty to what are, intrinsically, quite straightforward and uncomplicated compositions. Every single track on this record has something about it that touches a nerve with me and demands repeated listening. It might be a poignant melody line, it might be an overall feeling that’s conveyed or, despite being sung in French, it might be an emotionally charged vocal line. Such is it’s beauty, I feel compelled to take a listen at least once a week whatever else I have pressing in on my precious time.

Occasionally, the output does remind me of more mainstream acts such as Coldplay et al. As such, if the mainstream gave Alcest a chance, they’d no doubt win over many more fans. That being said, there’s one crucial difference between Alcest and the aforementioned.

Whereas the likes of Coldplay play at being deep, emotional and meaningful but end up sounding dull, forced and contrived, Alcest really mean it. The shoegaze approach might appear soft and soothing on the outside but dig deeper and ‘Shelter’ is a properly powerful album that tugs all the right strings, pushes all the right buttons and can reduce a grown man to tears. Make no mistake, this is the real deal.

If you’re interested in reading my lists from previous years, they follow a very similar format and can be accessed in full via the following links:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 17

Another day, another band and another cracking album. I’ve been really pleased and grateful for all of the comments and interaction over my choices so far; it gives me the impetus to continue, even though it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

If you’ve missed my three choices to date, click on the links below to join the fun and games!

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18

pallbearer coverPallbearer
‘Foundations Of Burden’
Profound Lore

I will be extremely honest and admit to the fact that this was one of the releases that I deliberated most over. Should it find a place in my list or should it not? This year has seen an unprecedented number of very high quality releases meaning that, in the words of politicians the world over, I’ve had to take some difficult decisions. However, when push came to shove, I knew that this album had to feature. The reason for my procrastination? I’m not normally that big a fan of doom metal. The more melodic and polished end of the doom spectrum, such as Swallow The Sun and Daylight Dies, I really enjoy and are firm favourites. But when it comes to the more traditional, some may say ‘proper’ doom, I’m not always so keen. ‘Foundations Of Burden’ however, is a different story completely. But why? Why this album?

At its heart, this record is pure old-school doom metal and therefore squarely fits within the genre I can normally take or leave. All bar one of the six tracks are lengthy, taking their precious time to reach their conclusions. The tempo is generally slow and the riffs are the kind of heavy, gargantuan affairs that you’d expect from this kind of music, shaking the very foundations of the Earth as they thunder out of the speakers.

pallbearer

For me though, it is the blend of raw brutality and melodic elegance that makes this album such a winner. For every crushing riff, there’s a sumptuous, immediate melody to pull you in and keep you hooked. Coupled with a really nice, organic production, there’s a genuinely simple elegance to the whole thing too. Blending elements of subtle prog, 70s psychedelia and plenty of groove gives the album a longevity that I often find lacking in other releases within this particular genre. Then, the use of three vocalists to share the microphone responsibilities is a masterstroke which then gives the tracks an identity all of their own whilst providing yet more variation upon the doom theme.

It is rare that I am so beguiled by a pure doom metal album. However for the reasons expressed above, Pallbearer have released a monster of an album which stands head and shoulders above all other ‘traditional’ doom metal released in 2014. In fact, it’s just about the perfect doom metal record. Give it a try and prepare to be won over too.

If you’re interested in reading my lists from the past couple of years, please click the links below and explore!

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 18

Welcome to Day 3 of my Album of the Year 2014 countdown. I hope you’re enjoying my choices so far. As always, I’m sure there will be some surprise and disagreement with the albums that I pick but then that’s half the fun, hearing other people’s views and responding to them. So please keep the comments and dialogue flowing.

If you’ve missed the previous two instalments, you can read them here:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19

But enough of that, who has taken the Number 18 spot? Here’s your answer:

Xerath cover bigXerath
III
Candlelight Records

2014 has been a year of strong releases where extreme metal is concerned and this album is another of the very best. I reviewed this album a few months ago on this blog and was very impressed. You can read that full review here, but if you missed it or want the edited highlights, read on.

UK meallers Xerath appear to be one of the most consistent bands around and ‘III’ builds upon the two albums before it, once again taking the listener on another ambitious and enormously gratifying voyage into the world of heavy and technical cinematic modern extreme metal. Huge swathes of symphonics duel with gargantuan riffs creating a listening experience full of depth and passion.

Xerath Promo 2013

The roots of this album are very much within the death metal genre, but there are also elements of thrash, black, prog and modern technical metal to be heard if you are prepared to listen carefully enough and give ‘III’ the time and attention that it deserves. Again, nothing feels out of place and the ability to segue from one apparently disparate idea to another so fluently is very impressive indeed.

The other aspect about this album that I particularly like is the way in which every other different, non-metal idea has been incorporated into the music in such a seamless and smooth fashion. The orchestral aspect for example which includes a live string quartet does not feel clunky, nor does it come across as if it has been bolted on to some death metal tracks as an afterthought. Instead, the classical element is the lifeblood of the music, the ingredient that is integral and without which, the music wouldn’t live and breathe.

I’ve quoted much of my review in this post and I shall conclude in the same fashion because I stand by it wholeheartedly. Honestly, the scale of the whole album is just mind blowing, delighting and pulverising at each and every turn. Several bands over the years have attempted something similar but if it was ever in any doubt, ‘III’ simply blows away any thought that there is a band out there that can do this better right now. Xerath are at the top of their game and if there’s any justice in this world, ‘III’ can only cement their place amongst the extreme metal elite.

Don’t forget – if you want to check out my full top 20 countdowns from 2012 and 2013, they can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 19

Welcome to Day 2 of my ‘Album of the Year 2014′ countdown. If you missed the first instalment, you can access it here: Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 20

I know I mentioned this in the last post, but I have wrestled with my list more this year than any other. Personally speaking, I have found that there may not have been the sheer breadth of great music this year but that there have been a number of really excellent releases that has made it very tricky to settle on a final top 20. As a result, some great albums are going to miss out but as always, I’ll mop these up and explain my decisions on them once the countdown is complete.

AEONOFHORUS_EXISTENCE_COVERAeon of Horus
Existence
Independent Release

How on Earth is this band not currently signed to a record label? Come to think of it, why is this band not signed to a big label? When I said that I wrote my blog as a way of bringing great music to a wider audience, it’s the likes of Aeon of Horus that I hope will ultimately benefit.

Currently unsigned, it surely can’t be long before the wider metal community cotton on to how good this band is. I mentioned them before in my round-up of the best that Australia has to offer and for good reason. Missed that post? Click here. If you want extreme metal with a great blend of technicality, brutality and melody, this should be high up your list.

Several months have now passed since I wrote the ‘Australia’ post, but I stand by what I wrote about Aeon of Horus then, which is as follows:

aoh

‘Aeon Of Horus play the kind of extreme metal that I want to listen to. On the one hand, you’re handed an aural beating at the hands of a relentlessly uncompromising rhythm section, savage riffs and vocals that sound like they have been ripped straight out of hell. On the other, there’s a sensitive and nicely understated use of melody that helps to break up the brutality and offer something to entice listeners in for repeated spins. There’s even an occasional foray into more atmospheric, ambient territory which juxtaposes the extremity really nicely indeed.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is held together by an impressive level of technicality that, in the hands of those less well-skilled and dextrous, would end up sounding messy to say the least. Not so here, as every passage of music is crisp, clear and surgically precise’.

To put it simply, ‘Existence’ is a fantastic extreme metal record that deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. My hope is that this is not the only end of year list that Aeon Of Horus graces because that would be a bit if a travesty.

Don’t forget to check out my 2012 and 2013 lists if you missed them first time around.

Album Of The Year 2014 – Number 20

Well, here we are again at year’s end. I can’t quite believe that another year has passed and that I’m embarking upon another end of year countdown. Much has happened over the past 12 months and in many ways I’m surprised that the blog is still going. External pressures and a growing family has meant that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to update the blog. However, I view it very much as a labour of love and will therefore make the time somehow until it becomes apparent that the interest from readers is no longer there.

As with previous years, I will bring you my ‘Album of the Year’ in the form of a countdown from 20 to 1 over the next couple of weeks. I toyed with doing it in a less intensive manner but in the end, dismissed that idea. The reason is simply that I enjoy being able to offer mini reviews of the albums to explain my choices. The other benefit is that some of the featured bands may not receive that much exposure elsewhere and so I like to offer them their moment in the spotlight. After all, my blog is designed to talk about and expose great music.

I have given my list a lot of thought and I have wrestled with it for days. I might not have got it right and I may wish to alter my list the minute that it’s published. However, I can’t keep changing it and so I will finally commit. Without any further procrastination, here goes…

Number 20:

opeth pcOpeth
Pale Communion
Roadrunner Records

This is one of the biggest names in this year’s countdown and is sure to be a choice that divides opinion. ‘This should be higher’ will inevitably be an accusation thrown at me. But those who know me will actually be more surprised to see Opeth in this list at all.

As previous posts have explained, despite being, in theory, a band that I should love, I have never been a big fan of Opeth. Consistently, I’ve dismissed the band’s output as ok, but nothing special. Not this time though and, with album number eleven I have finally ‘got’ Opeth. The irony is not lost on me that, as I finally take an Opeth album to my heart, many long-term fans are beginning to lose heart and lose interest with the quintet.

opeth

Beginning life many years ago as an extreme metal band, it does not sit comfortably with large sections of the fan base that Opeth have decided to gradually plough more of a 70s inspired prog rock furrow.

However, whatever you think of this ‘new’direction, you cannot fault the musicianship which is once again of the very highest order. And I happen to think that ‘Pale Communion’ is a cracking album. In keeping with the 70s approach, the album feels organic, warm and extremely inviting. The melodies are sublime throughout, making this record one of the most instantly accessible in their catalogue; ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ and ‘Faith In Others’ being great examples of what I’m talking about.

Most definitely rooted in prog rock it may be, but if you listen carefully enough, Michael Akerfeldt and co. have not entirely abandoned their metal roots as the closing segment of ‘The River’ ably demonstrates.

This album is wonderful and has achieved what I thought was impossible: a desire to go back and explore the Opeth back catalogue to see if there’s anything I’ve missed first time around.

Remember, you can still check out my 2013 countdown here and the countdown from 2012 here. Enjoy!