Okay I couldn't think of a good opening this year but don't you try to tell me that W.A.S.P. is anything other than awesome so dammit I'll reference them if I want to. Well anyway, 2014 has drawn to a close, and the time has come for me to sit back in my easy chair (shoddily assembled office chair from Walmart), stroke my magnificent wizard beard (douchey bloatee), sip my fine scotch (Jack and Coke, very heavy on the whiskey), and puff on my classy corncob pipe (this one's true), and ruminate on the past year in the realm of heavy music. Yes it's time once again for the BH Award for Album of the Year, featuring the countdown from 13, because that's an evil sounding number and I'm a total poser. For the second consecutive year, I feel like the overall volume and quality has once again gone down on the whole. There are some phenomenal albums chilling at the top but it was even harder this year than last year to round out a solid thirteen that I'm really confident about. But in the end, I think I got it pretty solid, and it's time once again to roll out the red carpet and pay tribute to the best. Rules are as always, no EPs, full lengths only (bummer because Iron Reagan's Spoiled Identity is spectacular but it's only five fucking minutes long so I couldn't in good conscience put it on here). So whatever let's get it going. ROLLOUT!
This is a fascinating project for me because I'd watched it grow from a simple idea from lyricist Antoine Richard to hook up with some internetical friends and write some death/doom, all the way to the eventual release a few years later. Really, the final result is an excellent slab of what the members refer to as "beanie worship", basically meaning Monotheist era Celtic Frost and Triptykon. It's very good, with a vocal performance more monstrous than Lou Ferrigno and a guitar tone bigger than Troy Aikman's hands. Let's just say that this ranked on my list, and the new Triptykon didn't make the cut, if that's any indication of quality for y'all. It's not a perfect album because it kinda drags in spots, but that's the only thing keeping it from a higher spot.
I'm not sure I can adequately explain precisely why I like this album so much. It's a debut album from a random unknown British death metal band, but holy fuck does it shred. Basically it's just plain old death metal but it's played with an unrivaled ferocity; a vicious bludgeoning unseen outside of some of the more feral Swedeath bands in the genre's heyday. There are riffs galore and the songs never rely on any sort of silly gimmick to stand out. This is just purely focused songwriting and brilliantly tight musicianship combining into a primordial blend of barbaric savagery. Fuck off with that progtechnical JacoPastoriouscore like Beyond Creation and whatever Job for a Cowboy thinks they are now, this is exactly the kind of mentality that young death metal bands need to be striving for.
Serbia strong! The third album from these squatting Slavs is just intense as fuck from beginning to end. It's pure thrashing lunacy from start to finish and never takes its foot off the gas, which is exactly the way I like it. There are also some excellent touches of power metal thrown in, particularly in the vocals, which sound like a very raw, bloody blend between the dude from Torian and Sebastian Bach, oddly enough, on the high screams. Generally though, it's blisteringly aggressive and one of the most refreshing thrash albums I've heard since... well since Game Over's album earlier this year, but this is better and only reaffirmed my belief that great thrash metal indeed does exist out there and we've been way too harsh on the genre lately. This is the only thrash/power metal album on this list, so fans of the genre need to check it for sure.
I've already given this one a full review, so those curious should really just go read it, but for a quick recap: this is a wonderfully organic record that manages to be both bleak and triumphant at the same time. It's a great blend of melodic folky black metal with a pristine sound and epic scope. I love the cold landscapes it paints, and I love how well they twist themselves into this warm optimism that permeates the record. The melodies are all sublime and everything is just so well put together. I can't figure out the correct combination of words to really do this justice to what it sounds like, so just take my word for it that it's awesome.
Fuck, I already gave this one a full review too (and I gave it a lower score than Oathbreaker up there too, imagine that). Basically all you need to know is that this is Cannibal Corpse, so of fucking course it's going to rule. It's yet another entry in a long line of great albums from an easy top ten favorite band of mine. Everything that makes the band so good is here and just as strong as ever. It's a little more homogenous than previous efforts, which is why it didn't rank as high as Torture did two years ago, but it's still an incredibly fun record to crank at any time, and "Kill or Become" is still cemented in my mind as one of the best songs they've ever written. I'm so happy they're making it a live staple. FIRE UP THE CHAINSAW!
Fair warning, at this point in the list you're not going to see very many obscure underground gems. Of all the bands that delivered this year, the perennial heavyweights delivered the hardest. Poland's greatest export shows once again why they're universally regarded as death metal legends. This is just as stuffed to the gills with classic tracks as any given Vader record. "Go to Hell", "Where Angels Weep", "Eye of the Abyss", "Hexenkessel", "Triumph of Death", "Abandon All Hope", just god damn this is so good. I may have ranked this lower than the previous album, but this is probably the strongest album since Impressions in Blood, and also one of their most vicious. They haven't sounded this hungry in eons, and as a fan I just absolutely could not be happier about that.
This record caught some flak for being a shameless throwback to a more popular time in the band's history (that being 93's incredible comeback album, The Reaper), especially since they've always been so successful with subtle experimentation over the years while always remaining true to their core principles, but fuck that I don't care, this album destroys. This is a throwback to possibly their best album, and as a result it's the most energetic and youthful album they've churned out since Rheingold. It's pure, ballsy heavy metal with a malicious sneer. From the first time you hear the chorus of "Hell Funeral", you know you're in for a ride. It's odd how this is the most inspired I've heard Grave Digger in years, and yet this is the first album in a while that just says "fuck it, we're not going dark or epic, we're just gonna riff you to death this time".
Okay, here's where I'm finally gonna start to lose people, because here's the first of two non-metal albums featured on this list. I decided to allow hardcore again because seriously, I love this album just so god damned much. This album is just dripping with raw, filthy emotion, and the music spares no expense in matching the vitriol of the lyrics. Comeback Kid has always straddled the line between punk and hardcore (well, they have at least since they got this vocalist), but this one has two feet and like eight toes on the hardcore side this time around, and it's just a brutally heavy album in both senses of the word. This is an open, bloody account of life and it just wrecks you with viciousness from start to finish. I realize most metal fans prefer hardcore like Xibalba, but trust me when I say Comeback Kid is legit.
Man remember when these guys were being hailed as the saviors of black metal around the time Hellfire came out? Remember how badly they torpedoed themselves with the following two trainwrecks? Well here they are, nearly ten years late, but they finally gave that 2005 masterpiece a worthy followup. 1349 was always at their best when they were just tearing forwards with breakneck speeds and focusing on fiery intensity instead of cold misery like most black metal bands, and this is a brilliant depiction of why that's the case with them. Finally, they quit fucking around and just made a ferocious, biting album all the way through. The riffs are ear catching again, the drums are showy and overdone again, this is what they do best. Take everything well past its logical extreme. And then just keep going.
And here's the second hardcore album on the list. This one is a bit more metal-friendly, as it is riffy as fuck. The band gets a lot of crap for ripping off Incendiary and Suburban Scum (two other awesome bands, for the hardcore deficient amongst you), which is really kinda bullshit (though "Rotting Idols" totally does steal a riff from Terror), but even if there wasn't a single original note on the album I wouldn't give a damn. I think the reason I've been gravitating towards hardcore lately is my love of simplicity (how many complex albums are on this list? Just Hoth?) and intensity, and those are departments where Get the Shot excel. The vocals are a little high pitched and difficult to get used to but these riffs and breakdowns are just out of this world. Every metal fan deserves to give this band a chance.
After winning BH AOTY in 2010, Striker kinda went limp with the followup to the brilliant Eyes in the Night. Well here's City of Gold, and throws maturity and darker edge straight out the window and goes right back to simply being over the top and ridiculous. Striker pulls no punches with this one, and it's just a bare knuckle blast throughout the duration. Fuck off with your ballads and slow dark songs, that's not what we're here for. Striker, for being big dumb clowns who are completely unapologetic about being 80s throwbacks, are pretty damn smart if they could notice that crowds at shows always seem more active and excited during the fast and anthemic songs and saying "Well shit, if they like those the most, let's just write that kind of song exclusively". Why the hell can't every other trad metal band figure that out?
Hey look, another past AOTY winner, plus another album I've already given a full review to! This album is just phenomenal, and Tengger Cavalry is on an unbelievable hot streak, and with Nature Ganganbaigal (he changed his name to the one his Mongolian side of the family uses, because this guy doesn't half ass anything, including his own goddamn name) at the helm, I don't see that changing. The ideas are all the same as they've always been, twangy horsey fiddles and throat singing mixed with monstrous galloping riffs and some of the catchiest songwriting this side of disco. I wouldn't change a thing about this band or album, and neither should you.
And now for something completely the same...
Prajna - The Summer Eclipse: Slightly goofy vocals is literally the only thing dragging this album down. Andres Murillo has shown an absolute mastery of guitar and songwriting, as there's really no reason an album based in USPM and German speed metal and centered around anime should ever be this good. "Heart of Fire" is one of the best tracks all year, and all the rifts and solows are top notch. But like I said, the thin, high pitched vocals start off charming but quickly wear out their welcome. He's young though, so I'm sure his voice will be more filled out by the time the next album rolls around, because musically this is definitely worthy of a spot.
Veldlokk - Feral Divinity: Another one I wanted to include purely because the band is so unknown and the music is so good. It's basically just Immortal worship cranked up to eleven. Think Blizzard Beasts but sharper. For a guy who doesn't really listen to a whole lot of black metal, this stood out as one of the exceptional releases in the genre to me.
As for the lowlights, I don't know, there were so many releases that did nothing for me but didn't really suck either, so I think I'm gonna have to just temporarily retire the Worst Albums section, but there were two really clear lowlights on the year that I'm gonna shine a bit of light on:
Tuomas Holopainen - The Life and Times of Scrooge
I mean really, what did you expect? My review for this got me in a surprising amount of trouble for bashing what is apparently a national treasure in Europe, but fuck y'all, the concept was silly and the execution was even worse. It's a boring, go-nowhere album and it elevated itself from "painfully boring and bad" to "hilarious lightning rod of controversy" thanks to the outrage of some butthurt weirdos (not even just on this site, I've gotten comments elsewhere too) about my handling of the subject matter. Scrooge, Duck Tales, pretty much anything duck related has become a huge joke with friends, so if nothing else that was a lot of fun that came out of this.
Jari Maenpaa's Colossal Whining and Subsequent Bitch Fits
I really can't even go on anymore about this whole saga. Jari completes half an album in a decade and then goes on massive rants about how it's all the fault of the label for not giving him more money and then reaches out to (begs) fans to help. When interest is generated in a kickstarter fund (something the label was rightfully against but eventually caved when pressure mounted), he then reveals his grand plan to offer nothing worthwhile for supporters (you mean the album will not be demo quality, feature all the songs, and the booklet is optional? JARI YOU'RE A SAINT) in return for them building him an entire house, complete with a massive home studio and a personal sauna. He then has the gall to complain that not enough of his fans are helping, knock his manager for a lack of support in the breath immediately after mentioning how he fronted some of his own money to help out the band financially, and then claim that having his own house would actually be a downgrade from the apartment he currently lives in (which he previously blamed for being the reason he can't record or do any work on his own) because then he'd have to do chores. I mean, honestly this whole thing was a personal highlight for myself, because my open letter about the situation was passed around some very high profile areas of the internet, my traffic spiked substantially, MetalSucks wrote an article about me, Jari himself likely read it because his followup whine mentioned almost every single point I made verbatim, and even friggin' Heri Joenson from Tyr had said something to me about the whole thing. This whole thing was definitely the catalyst for my fifteen minutes of fame, but if I take my personal pride away from the whole thing it's a gigantic disgrace to the musical process and just reveals a once respected figure in metal to be nothing more than a gargantuan egomaniac so out of touch with reality that he could actually ask people to build a house for him and then indignantly lambast everybody who didn't offer to help in such an absurd request. A lot of people and fans turned on Jari in 2014, and personally, I'm actually kind of glad for that because we've been putting up with a lot of bullshit from him lately, but it's still disgraceful and a huge black mark on metal as a whole. The moral of this story is that Finland sucks, and if the new Ensiferum album next year isn't awesome, I'm not gonna change my stance.
WELL I GUESS THAT'S ALL FOR THIS YEAR, FOLKS. I've got some fun ideas lined up for next year but my productivity has taken a sharp downturn since I've gotten this new job (it takes a lot of time out of my day), but regardless I hope to pick up the pace a bit more, since I have so much fun writing. Everybody have a fun New Years celebration, do your best not to cheat on your significant others and for the love of all that is holy do not drive intoxicated. If there's anything you think I left out unfairly, be sure to call me an asshole in the comments!
You're all beautiful people, see ya in 2015!