You know how this goes. The book and movie lists it’s just what I saw/what I read during the year, with no thought of when it was actually released. But for music, it’s limited to what was released in 2014. So it’s reasonably up to date! Who’d’a thunk? In any case, without further ado…
Honorable Mention (alphabetical by band)
Behemoth, The Satanist (Nuclear Blast)
Behemoth’s back-to-the-death-metal-roots offering from this year is their best album since 2002’s Zos Kia Cultus. Nergal fought cancer, came back, and did not have a deathbed conversion. Hallelujah.
Dog Lady Island, Malone (Mistake by the Lake)
Dog Lady Island ripped the doors off in 2014, breaking apart their sound and remaking it in various ways. Malone was the most radical departure, your great-grandfather’s degraded wax cylinder 78s played at 33 on a dying gramophone. Unsettling and brilliant.
Jenny Hval and Susanna, Meshes of Voice (SusannaSonata)
After Jenny Hval came out of freaking nowhere last year with the sexy, angry Innocence is Kinky, she follows it up with its polar opposite, an album of glorious soundwashes that fully lives up to its name.
Myrkur, Myrkur (Bandcamp)
A one-woman black metal project from the depths of Denmark, Myrkur is one of the best of the new wave of bands looking to revitalize black metal. Her first release generated the kind of excitement I haven’t seen–or felt–about a “traditional” black metal band in a while. Dense, atmospheric, and downright scary.
Protestant, In Thy Name (Throatruiner)
Protestant release their heaviest, catchiest slab of post-hardcore since the We’re As Dead As We Look EP. They make this stuff look easy, but if you’ve ever seen them live, you know they bleed for it.
Puce Mary, Persona (Posh Isolation)
Ingmar Bergman would be proud of this tightly-controlled, minimal attack on psyche and self. It was a really good year for quiet, minimal noise, and Puce Mary finally started getting the recognition she deserves.
Spectral Lore, III (Bandcamp)
Spectral Lore play very loud, very fast, and very heavy, a heady mix of thrash and blackened power metal that incorporates tech, doom, and stoner elements as well. In other words, they’re pretty much the most metal band on the planet.
Swans, To Be Kind (Young God)
All I should need to say is this: “October” is the best song Swans have come up with since the Soundtracks for the Blind days.
Thou, Heathen (Gilead Media)
Thou and Tombs have once again alternated years on my list. Thou’s blackened doom is just that much more riveting this year (though Tombs’ album is pretty marvelous, too). I don’t know why it is I despise so many bands that do this kind of thing, but Thou continues to amaze me. But it works.
Triptykon, Melana Chasmata (Prowling Death)
The best album Tom Fischer has been involved with since Into the Pandemonium, and I say this as perhaps the only person on the planet who actually liked both Cold Lake AND Vanity/Namesis.
The 10 Best Albums of 2014
10. Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire (Avalanche)
It may be unreasonable to measure Godflesh’s first album in a decade and a half against side one of Pure, their 1992 classic that remains one of the best album sides ever committed to vinyl. But when you set the bar for yourself that high, you have to live with the consequences. And while A World Lit Only by Fire is not side one of Pure, it’s at least Slavestate, so we’re still zip codes better than anything else Broadrick and Green did as a team after 1993. A welcome return to form indeed.
9. Aaron Martin, Comet’s Coma (Eilean)
I have heard multi-instrumentalist Aaron Martin’s woefully beautiful music called everything from neoclassical to black ambient. I prefer to think of it as genreless. Every album he releases, either solo or in collaboration with other artists, is well worth your time, but Comet’s Coma is Martin stepping up his game. Longer, more constructed-sounding tracks that pack more emotion into a single cello note than Katy Perry has in her entire oeuvre.
8. Pharmakon, Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
I liked Pharmakon’s first release okay, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for the raw, tortured slab of nastiness that is Bestial Burden. Where most of the noise releases on this year’s list tend towards the minimal, this album is harsh, raw, angry, and confrontational. Pissed and not afraid to let you know it.
7. Delain, The Human Contradiction (Napalm)
It’s not We Are the Others, the album that garnered Album of the Year in 2012, but Delain’s follow-up is the best piece of symphonic metal since We Are the Others dropped, and that’s nothing to sniff at. One questionable mixing decision and someone’s odd call to leave the album’s best song, “Scarlet”, as a special-edition-only bonus track cost this one a few notches, but it’s still as solid as they come.
6. Babymetal, Babymetal (BMD Fox)
Say what you want about the seemingly-impossible combination of idol music and power metal, but man, this album is compelling. Some of Japan’s best studio musicians combined with three impossibly cute teenaged girls with the voices of angels? What’s not to like?
5. Murderous Vision, Engines and Disciples (Annihilvs)
Stephen Petrus celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Murderous Vision with an absolute slew of releases this year. It is the rarest of birds about which one can say “this band has been around for two decades and is consistently releasing the best music it ever has,” but such has been true of MV’s 2014 catalog. And you’ll see–at least, I have seen–a number of MV releases on a number of ten-best lists. All are deserved, but for me it was the very last disc, released in Decembmer, that takes the cake. Engines and Disciples folds in all of the various genres and influences Petrus has dabbled with over the years, from black ambient to black metal, and somehow the end product is still a coherent, powerful piece of work that eclipses even the highlights of the twenty years that came before it. After two decades, Murderous Vision is still improving with every release. I have never in my career said that about another band.
4. Atomic Cockbombs, Neural Interference (Mortville)
One of the first releases of 2014 was one of its finest. The mysterious one-man project Atomic Cockbombs dropped this slab in a year that was ultra-solid for both black ambient and harsh noise. He’s never, to the best of my knowledge, dabbled in either genre before, and still managed to come up with something this good. Ominous when it needs to be, harsh when it needs to be, and with an impeccable sense of timing. This is everything you loved about Death Squad and Schloss Tegal rolled up into one ugly, misanthropic ball of barely-controlled rage.
3. Dog Lady Island, Dolor Aria (Alien Passengers)
Michael Collino has, over the past five years, quietly amassed an incredible body of work, both as solo artist Dog Lady and with any number of collaborations (Dog Lady Island is a duo, nost surprisingly closer to the Dog Lady sound than most of his other collaborations). The first few times I listened to Dolor Aria, the first few minutes of it struck me as being a kind of workprint of Malone, which came out soon after. But about five minutes in, things start changing, and by ten minutes in, it is its own piece–one that belies its title. Dolor Aria is filled with wonder and awe, the sound of Stanley venturing through uncharted territory in search of Livingstone, or Lewis and Clark (or, perhaps, Samuel Chamberlain) blazing their trails through the American west, leaving trails of horror and destruction in their wake. This is a release of unmitigated power.
2. Raison d’Être, Mise en Abysme (Transgredient)
Raison d’Être is another act on this list (viz. Murderous Vision, Godflesh, Behemoth, and Swans) who have been fighting the good fight for more than two decades, and Peter Andersson has over the years released some jaw-dropping albums. What has always set him apart from most of his Cold Meat Industry brethren is that Andersson has always been somewhat aggressive about mixing his genres and breaking convention, even as he’s doing the codification himself; the early R d’Ê albums are what people who want to create black ambient look to as templates, and rightly so. This is powerful, despairing soundwash that makes for endless inspiration. And yet there has always been something more; Andersson often blands in black metal, neoclassical, noise, or some other genre. In the case of Mise en Abysme, field recordings are the order of the day. And the result? Well, to me, the perfect piece of ambient has always been Merzbow’s “Asagaya Field Recording”, because I had never heard another piece of music that so perfectly expresses a sense of place; when you listen to “Asagaya Field Recording”, you can close your eyes and be crounched in a dark alleyway in Asagaya, rain pounding down around you, cars passing by the mouth, just waiting for the stalker and his blade to catch up with you. Mise en Abysme is just as good, if not better, at creating that sense of place (an abandoned cathedral, possibly a Chapel of Bones). The difference is that “Asagaya Field Recording” keeps the illusoin going for four and a half minutes, while Mise en Abysme keeps it going for an hour. This was the only other serious contennder for Album of the Year in 2014, but ultimately that honor went to…
Album of the Year: Plague Mother, Departures (Prime Ruin)
While Plague Mother’s Roman J has traditionally been one of noise’s most prolific producers since emerging onto the scene five years ago, the problem with his work from the perspective of putting together lists like this is that his releases are usually very short, C5s or C10s or the occasional C20. Through dozens of releases, Departures is only the second full-length Plague Mother release to date. And what a full-length it is. The entire first side is taken up with “On Languishing,” a single piece longer than most full Plague Mother releases and one that showcases Roman’s fascination with dynamics in ways most of his work under the Plague Mother moniker doesn’t. It keeps the unrelenting Plague Mother harshness while still bringing in ominous touches. Even when you’re being flayed alive, the torturer has things on the cart that scare you even more. The flipside is a multi-track exploration of dynamics as well, four pieces that increase in intensity as the side continues. There is an obvious concept here, though it is, as always, viewed through toxic, muddy river water even at its clearest. Departures throws down a gauntlet–this is a new template of conventions for extreme harsh noise. How influential it will ultimately be only time will tell, but if there is any justice in the world, it will be remembered as one of the decade’s classic noise releases.