Three months down already, nine to go. I could have sworn I was just wrapping up my “Best of 2014” list last week; it’s been a blitz so far and I really don’t see things calming down anytime soon. It may still be early in the year, but I can’t express enough how impressed I’ve been with the quality of new metal I’ve already heard this year. Veterans have re-emerged with powerful new releases while simultaneously we’ve seen an influx of new artists holding their own in the diverse landscape that of metal. It’s been a hell of a winter. Here are some highlights in no particular order…
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Stellar
Yep, these guys get my first shout out; Stellar was that good. The third effort from the Bavarian black metal group is certainly one to remember. With a name that loosely translates to “the way of freedom,” they deliver a sound that is far more ominous than their moniker would imply. From start to finish, the album brilliantly rises and falls in intensity, utilizing an extremely dynamic approach to song architecture, with no shortage of emotion. As a result, it’s something I’m sure I’ll be bringing up again before the end of the year.
A Forest of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See
Easily some the best artwork of Q1. (Talk about trippy!) Regardless, A Forest of Stars deliver a sound to match. Based out of Leeds, the psychedelic black metallers deliver an extremely ambitious album that creates quite the fusion between some of the classic black metal themes we’ve always appreciated and those of a more progressive rock outfit. It may take a little getting used to because of how much is going on, but once it does it becomes addicting as all hell.
Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
This debut release from the Icelandic black metallers very easily could have been the best release from Q1 as far as I’m concerned. This album is filled with white-hot pain delivered with all the raw intensity we would expect from this area of the world. It’s an emotionally penetrating album that feels like it emerged from the notorious volcanoes of Iceland. Something this dark and foreboding comes around quite rarely, so Misþyrming have fully earned their spot here.
Thulcandra – Ascension Lost
Believe it or not, Munich-based melodic black metal outfit Thulcandra mark the second band out of Bavaria to earn a top five spot in my list. And deservedly so. Thulcandra offer a sound that reaches the exact intersection of black metal and melodic death metal. It’s inspiring, it’s fast-paced, and its production’s just about perfect. All told, it’s the most consistent album I’ve heard this year. And based on quality alone, it deserves some recognition.
Abhor – Ritualia Stramonium
Of course this made my top five. The Italian black metal veterans create a unique blend of true, kvlt black metal combined with a bit of a doomy feel. Symphonic elements combined with raw production and mid-paced rhythms to make for an incredibly captivating listen. It’s one of the most organic black metal sounds you’re probably going to get all year. This album just feels natural from start to finish, which is what this genre is all about.
Don’t fret, there are plenty of other Q1 albums worthy of a shout-out. Here are five more worth checking out—again, in no particular order…
- Devathorn – Vritra
- An extremely dark, heavily weighted effort from the Athenian black metallers. Vritra is an album that will surely appeal to traditionalists of both the black and death metal subgenres. [full review]
- Leviathan – Scar Sighted
- One of the most powerful black metal sounds I’ve ever seen emerge from North America. This is a powerful, anguish-laden masterpiece that will resonate for a long, long time. [full review]
- Enslaved – In Times
- With a far more ambitious sound than their preceding effort, Riitiir, Enslaved have made it clear that they still know how to evolve their sound in exactly the right way. But make no mistake, this is going to take some time to grow. [full review]
- Hæthen – Shaped By Aeolian Winds
- I almost consider this album a form of ambient chaos in it’s brilliant atmospheric qualities. Even without hailing from the northwest as we might expect, it’s still a great take on the kind of black metal I’ve grown to love out of the U.S. [full review]
- Terra – Untitled
- The debut EP from the Cambridge black metal crew is a promise of good things to come. Three songs eclipsing 40 minutes, and every second feels completely authentic. In their initial stages, Terra are doing a lot of things right. [full review]
Well, that’ll do it for Q1. Plenty more to come, so stay tuned.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”