With six months and half of the year gone, it seems as good a time as any to have a retrospective look at the best releases that the year has seen so far. Unbelievably the year has been so fantastic in it’s first half that narrowing the year down to a mere fifty releases was difficult, leaving out some very worthy releases. The simple fact is that gathered here are fifty releases that I would happily recommend to anyone, and all are fantastic in their own right. Take the rankings with a pinch of salt, all these releases are fantastic and all of them well worth your time.
For more details on any of the albums, click the name and it will take you to a full review and a sample of the music.
Longhena is the third and final Gridlink album, and they’ve ended on an absolute high. With the most complex guitar work on any grindcore album combined with bludgeoning heaviness and Jon Chang’s inhuman screams, they’ve taken grindcore to the next level. It’s so incredibly complex with the masterful guitar work, and insanely heavy all at once and it’s almost a baffling listen. Grind as you’ve never heard it before.
Sixth album Hydra is perhaps Within Temptation’s most complete effort to date, with the band perfecting their trademark style of catchy, bombastic symphonic metal, while still showing their willingness to experiment. Powerful bombastic songwriting makes it a really fun listen, and epic enough at points to send shivers down your spine. They’re one of the best known names in the genre for a reason.
Hour of Penance play with insanely technical musicianship, an intense cutting assualt of razor wire riffage, and a constant barrage of unrelenting drums, making it a masterpiece of incisive, barbaric death metal. Regicide is so far the most essential death metal albums of 2014 and you all need to hear this. A lesson to all tech death bands everywhere, THIS is how it’s done.
At the time my review of Shelter was fairly mixed, but over the last few months it’s shown itself to be a grower. Soft and dreamy, some of the catchy melodies here are deliriously gorgeous. Beautiful catchy guitar melodies gel with Neige’s lovely soft voice with just a little melancholy to make this album perfect for a cold yet sunny morning. A lush, beautiful and original album.
Motherload is an absolutely fantastic traditional metal album, from a new band. With riffs and solos that would make Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page proud, their rhythm section has as much groove and cohesion as Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. From the heavy bluesy riffs, to the grooving basslines, frenetic wah-fuelled solos, swinging cymbal crashes, and gritty passionate vocals, this is Sabbath inspired doom metal at it’s very best.
While there have been many great albums released this year, there hasn’t been any quite as beautiful as Distant Satellites, and certainly none that gives you goosebumps quite like this. The band have always been known for their ability to craft an atmosphere, but between those haunting strings, gorgeous melodies and beautiful vocals from both Lee and Vincent, they’ve improved on this even further, and the atmosphere and moods created by Anathema on this release are really a thing to behold- they’re so thick they’re almost tangible to the touch. The electronic experiments show the ever evolving nature of the great band too, combining well with their usual style. If you like your rock music emotionally charged you can’t go wrong with this.
Eyehategod’s self titled is their first release for fourteen years, but they’ve used that time well. Absolutely filthy, twisted and crushingly heavy, EHG’s brand of fucked up sludge is a dose of messed up bluesy sickness. The faint hearted need not apply!
Conan’s second album is monumentally heavy. Slow, crushing riffage, soaring battle cry vocals, pounding drum barrages and earth shattering bass make this a must for sludge/stoner doom aficionados. It’s heavy, unrelenting and crushing, yet with memorable songs and catchy riffs. Foehammer alone is one of the heaviest and best tracks of the year so far. And just look at that fantastic album art!
Aire’s debut album is a masterpiece of bleak, lifeless, haunting drone. There’s just nothing much that sounds like this release, it’s unique, brilliantly atmospheric, and, just incredibly bleak. There’s so much depth to the recording that you pick up on something new in it every time. Bleak, ambient soundscapes of drone create a vision of absolute nothingness. This is a special album for sure.
It’s criminal that Ex-Libris are unsigned, because their sophomore album is a phenomenal effort. Heavy progressive metal mixed with symphonic sensibilities provide a backdrop for a great concept album. Fantastic guitar playing from start to finish accentuates quality song writing, and Dianne Van Giersbergen’s voice is mindblowing in passion, power and beauty. Underrated magic.
Stream of Passion combine symphonic orchestration with progressive metal, and with the powerful, beautiful voice of Marcela Bovio they make magical, mesmerising music, and their fourth album takes this theme and improves on it yet again. Beautiful, emotional and sincere, it’s their best album to date and a great symphonic metal gem.
The Satanist is Behemoth’s tenth album, and the first in five years since vocalist/guitarist Nergal’s recovery from leukaemia. It’s an absolute masterpiece of extreme metal, and mixes bludgeoning heaviness with intelligent lyrics, and a musical nuance that goes far beyond their peers, cementing their place as one of the most important bands in contemporary extreme metal.
The Human Contradiction is Delain’s fourth full length effort. From the excellent songwriting to the beautiful vocals, they’ve improved on every aspect of their sound and produced an album which just sounds incredibly complete – it’s their heaviest album by far, and they have a more expressive, huge sound than ever before. The symphonic compositions are their grandest since the debut, and its an album that’s catchy, beautiful, heavy and emotional, from a band that have perfected their own style of symphonic metal.
Lethe’s debut album is a strange trip. Following in the footsteps of such avant-garde metal bands as Atrox and The 3rd and the Mortal,with a dash of Ulver’s eccentricity, Lethe forge a twisted, dark sometimes nightmarish sound, yet all the while remaining dreamy and warm. Metal, trip-hop, EDM and more combine in a great varied release. With an experimental nature and a huge dose of originality, the world needs more boundary pushing acts like Lethe – and Anna Murphy’s voice is fantastic.
Not only is Sacrificium the best album of 2014 so far, it’s also the best album released by a symphonic metal band to date. Featured for the second time in this list alongside her performance on Ex-Libris’ Medea, Dianne Van Giersbergen is the perfect vocalist for this style, her voice is stunningly beautiful and powerful in equal measure, while the band’s epic songwriting gels well with fantastic symphonic compositions and a powerful guitar masterwork. A vast improvement from previous works, this album is absolutely sublime and really is the jewel in the crown for symphonic metal. A MUST HAVE for any symphonic metal, this one deserves to be remembered for years to come as an absolute classic.
The year so far has been staggeringly good, with so many fantastic releases that I hope you explore and enjoy. It seems impossible after such a strong start to the year that the second half can catch up, but let’s see what the rest of 2014 has in store for us!