Top Ten Heavy Metal Albums of 2014

Top Ten Heavy Metal Albums of 2014

Feb 09
Although it didn’t feel as though there were many memorable heavy metal releases in 2014, I will say that it felt stronger that the previous year so hopefully that marks an ongoing trend into ‘15. A big difference this last year were the ‘big releases’ that failed to impress; whereas ‘13 was mostly just a glut of anything and the few that did stand out came from debut bands, ‘14 was marked by several anticipated albums that just didn’t live up to the excitement. At The Gates, Cavelera Conspiracy, and The Haunted being examples, especially since the two Swedish groups in the bunch were putting out ‘comeback albums’. The strong genre in this list definitely seems to be on the proggier side of things, with solid outings from Opeth, Soen, Ne Obliviscaris, and others.

Vainaja Kadotetut

This thundering platter of death represents some of the best from the gloomier side of metal for a year which featured a surprisingly strong outing for doom. This album has a cloud of grief and despair thick enough to choke a manically depressed elephant, but it isn’t just atmosphere and slow tempos here; there are some seriously heavy-hitting tracks that will pummel your brain thanks to a penchant for death ‘n roll flair.

Soen Tellurian

For a year with little in expectations, anything was up in the air. Come mid year, most reviewers and fans of metal were left justified in that ambivalence when left with a paltry few stand-out releases and a large swath of unimpressive and largely forgettable albums, even ones from heavy-hitters in the industry and some greatly anticipated ‘come-back’ groups leaving listeners meh’d. Personally, I was looking forward to Soen’s new album with a great deal of fan-boy glee, but I also didn’t expect it to be blowing many minds; the Tool-worship of their debut release was definitely enjoyable, but wasn’t exactly helping the band break much new ground. Then came Tellurian. This is an album that sees the band completely coming into their own and creating something unique and special. Tool-channeling gone, the group has crafted an engrossing set of progressive music that flows front to back with impressive song-writing and stellar musicianship. I honestly can’t say that there are any stand-out tracks on Tellurian, but that’s a good thing; this is an album you sit down and listen to in its entirety because you’ll be hard-pressed to leave once it starts.

Opeth Pale Communion

One of, if not the most anticipated release of ‘14 and deservedly so. The previous effort from the Swedish prog-metallers, Heritage, was a slight (but natural) departure from a style that had been perfected between the classic Blackwater Park and the more recent Watershed, but a style that had become almost formulaic and stagnant. The new focus on a ‘70s flavored prog rock was a breath of fresh air and the music was more than enjoyable, even if the songwriting of Heritage didn’t have the reach it could have had. Pale Communion, however, builds directly off of the last album by delivering a more cohesive platter of music that executes its goal to damn near perfection.The newest Opeth is a well-crafted album that flows back to front with great progressive rock/metal and is handily one of the top releases of ‘14.

Decapitated Blood Mantra

If reliability has one drawback, it is predictability. Technical death metal, perhaps more than any other genre, falls prey to this fault with remarkable consistency, especially in this past year’s releases. Then there’s Polish speaker-pounders Decapitated, who always seem to freshen up their brand of all-out assault with each release. While other tech bands wallow in an endless parade of stale, syncopated chug-riffs, Decapitated has a flair for throwing a good helping of flavor and variety into their songs, and their latests release, Blood Mantra, is no different. Brutal blasts of their signature brand of metal are shot through with sections of thrashier moments and given dimension with some truly sinister guitar melodies (melody in tech death. Grand concept, eh?). For it’s style, Blood Mantra is easily 2014’s stand-out release, perhaps resting right along side Origin’s Omnipresent.

Ne ObliviscarisCitadel

For a year marked most prominently by strong progressive releases (Soen, Opeth, Gazpacho, Anubis Gate, etc.), the most pronounced album came from arguably the least known band. Australian experimenters Ne Obliviscaris had a hell of a debut with 2012’s Portal of I, which featured a broad range of styles mashed up into a dense offering of world-flavored metal, so their 2014 sophomore album Citadel was obviously a much anticipated release for the few people actually listening to them (a criminally low number, to be sure). Citadel features an even more natural sounding amalgamation of classical, folk, flamenco, death, and post-black music that flows with a truly astonishing level of song craftsmanship than the group’s impressive debut and is a true hallmark for the year. The complexity of the songs and the seamless melding of so many sonic textures makes for a listening experience that can be rewarding for many, many spins, offering previously unnoticed novelties each time.

Triptykon Melana Chasmata

After the debut of Tom Gabriel Fischer’s post Celtic Frost band came in the form of Eparistera Daimones, one of the most crushingly dark albums in the past decade, Triptykon became an instant bastion for dark-as-fuck metal, so last year’s Melana Chasmata was obviously one to look forward to (one of the only big anticipated albums of ‘14, if we’re being honest). Sure enough, the beast actually lived up to the wait; the sophomore album is drenched in a thick blanket of dread and despair while at the same time carrying a pretty goddamn big hammer that it has no trouble swinging fast and brutally hard. The dark atmosphere is palpable throughout the album during both the heavier assaults of bleakness and the softer moments of ambiance and female vocals. If you ever find yourself a tad too happy-go-lucky for your metalhead tastes, throw this record on for a sure dose of death and despair.

A Sense of GravityTravail

Coming out close to the beginning of last year, Seattle’s A Sense of Gravity surprised me with a solid start to the metal year by sending over their debut, Travail (here’s a review of the album). The record is a lively and natural blend of prog rock/metal, jazz fusion, and splashes of various other flavors like death and metalcore. The group features an impressive array of musicianship for a newer band, and everyone present pulls their weight to great effect. Variety is the spice of life, and Travail is one hell of a tasty dish, and one well worth trying out if you’re in the mood for something fresh.

Darkest EraSeverance

The albums that leave the biggest impression are always the ones you least expect. I had been familiar with Darkest Era’s brand of epic doom metal from their previous release, 2011’s The Last Caress of Light but the group had not been on my new-release radar. It’s a pity too, since Severance is such a satisfying and memorable slate of folk-inspired, Primordial-esque metal that seamlessly melds power and doom. The sound is big, epic, and heavy as hell with an atmosphere that is equally triumphant and woefully melancholic. Essentially, it’s great music to play both before and after a viking invasion.

Anubis GateHorizons

Anubis Gate has a solid run so far of well-crafted progressive hard rock/metal releases, and their newest one, Horizons, is another solid notch in their belt. The sound of the album is mostly what would be expected; keyboard-laden riffs that flow from light and melancholic to thick and heavy-hitting, flowing song structures that weave in and out of a given theme but are still streamlined enough to be followable, and huge wide open vocals. Horizons may not be a truly stand-out release for the group; there’s really nothing new or special about what’s going on in it, but it’s so satisfying a release because the band is so adept at taking what they do and working it into a cohesive album.

WolvhammerClawing Into Black Sun

Looking at the past two year’s Top Ten lists on this site, you’d think black metal wasn’t even a genre that’s considered, which isn’t necessarily true, I just don’t pay much attention to it. Personally, I look at the genre as the hipster-Americana equivalent of metal; an overused pastiche that is practised for the sake of its own ‘kvltness’ and long ago went blind to the irony of that fact. Every once in a while though, there are worthwhile explorations and journeys taken into depths of the sonic geography. Wolvhammer’s Clawing Into Black Sun may not be blazing a trail in any new direction, so to speak, their brand of atmospheric black metal/deathrock is certainly a shared one, but they are certainly exercising it to great effect. The album flows perfectly with a balance of ambiance and hard-hitting fury, giving the overall listening experience a welcomed texture of gritty bleakness that can be as subtle as it is in-your-face.

Honorable Mentions:

Overkill White Devil Armory
The New Jersey thrashers are still kicking and kicking hard. While nothing special is ever expected or delivered of the old timers that never die, the Wrecking Crew always sates classic thrash hunger pangs with solidly reliable albums. And in a world oversaturated with re-thrash, it’s nice to still have these guys around to show the kids how it’s really done.

Vader Tibi et Igni

The Polish ambassadors of death-thrash are back again with another pummeling album of hellish fury in Tibi et Igni and it’s a good one. Tibi was a bit of a toss-up as far as making the cut for the top ten, and while the album is more than satisfying in its brutal Vader-trademarked assault, it was decided that it fell more into the Overkill category of ‘steady and reliable’ and just shy of noteworthy. Still though, Vader’s newest is one not to be missed; turn it on and wear that neck out.

CastleUnder Siege

Another great doom album in a classic vein. This band has a great trajectory going right now, and while they’re not necessarily opening any new doors they are taking a sonic pallette and making the most out of it.


Prog definitely seems to have taken the cake this last year, and I was hard pressed not to put avant-rockers Gazpacho’s newest on the top ten. The band continues their run of great releases with Demon and the album makes great company with the year’s other records, like Pale Communion, Tellurian, and Horizons

BloodbathGrand Morbid Funeral

One of the best purveyors of brutal Swedish death metal with Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost handling vocals (growling for the first time in years, nonetheless)? Yes please. Sure, it’s really just a throwback band to the glory days of Sweden’s metal uprising, but these boys just do it so damn good that I have to put it on the list.