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Articles : Jonathon Besanko’s Best Albums Of 2014

By on December 12, 2014

I’ll admit, I’ve found it difficult at times to listen to as wide a berth of music this year as I would have liked. Much to my dismay, due to new commitments entering my life such as university study, work, and so forth, alas, I haven’t always been able to find the time to check it all out. But when I was offered the chance to write up this ‘Best Of’ list, I knew I had to find the time to listen to the ones I hadn’t already and to offer you, the readers, my thoughts on the ones that blew me away. Every time you think ‘Oh, this year won’t outdo the last!’ you’re thrown a curve ball; almost without fail. Many albums released this year have far and above exceeded my expectations, whereas others I hadn’t even been the wiser to until only a couple months ago demolished some of the earlier entries in the best way possible. It just goes to show how wonderful music – with metal, in particular – can be. It’s those unexpected moments, the ones that leave you genuinely awestruck or unable to remove the plastered grin from your face, that remind me why it was this particular genre of music that I fell in love with many years ago, and that continues to this day to be one of my greatest passions. With new albums expected next year from the likes of Blind Guardian, Iron Fire, Ensiferum, Silent Knight, Månegarm, Powerwolf, Orpheus Omega, and more, 2015 looks set to be just as amazing for the music we all love! But enough of my blabbering, to the list, I say!

 

Best International Albums 2014

 

Iced-Earth-Plagues-of-Babylon10. Iced Earth – Plagues of Babylon [US – Century Media Records]

Iced Earth have been a staple on my list of favourite metal bands for quite a few years now. There’s something so appealing about them to me. The combination of power metal, thrash, and heavy; or the fact there’s no band that sounds quite like them. Iced Earth is Iced Earth and that’s it. There isn’t any immediate band you can tie them to, and I love that. Since current vocalist Stu Block joined the band in 2011 and the release of  ‘Dystopia’ that year, Iced Earth have felt at the height of their power. Utilising Block’s multi-faceted vocal approach from his Into Eternity days, his faint similarity style-wise to original frontman Matt Barlow benefits Iced Earth greatly. While not perfect (though ‘Dystopia’ did set the bar pretty high), despite a couple moments of filler, ‘Plagues of Babylon’ is a damn fine album and there are few albums this year that have spun on cycle in my stereo as much as this one. Also “The Culling” is hands down my favourite song out of any this year. Listen to “The Culling”.

edguy space police9. Edguy – Space Police – Defenders of the Crown [Germany – Nuclear Blast Records]

I’ve always held a bit of a special place in my heart for Edguy. Alongside frontman Tobias Sammet’s side project Avantasia, Edguy were one of the first power metal bands I was ever introduced to. Ever the flamboyant type, Sammet has made what remain to date some of the best power metal tracks to grace this genre. With the likes of “Tears of a Mandrake”, “The Piper Never Dies”, and others, Edguy carved for themselves a niche all their own. In recent years, however, the band has adopted a more stadium rock style, which, whilst not a bad thing in and of itself, has garnered criticism due to its significant departure from Edguy’s roots. And to be frank, the last few albums have been disappointing and lacklustre at best. It is with great pleasure then that I can say ‘Space Police – Defenders of the Crown’ sees Edguy back in top form. This album is by no means ‘Mandrake Part II’ or anything, but it does offer a healthy and welcomed mix between Edguy’s recent rock-oriented comical stylings and their power metal days of yore. I also can’t stress enough how much I love that cover of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”! Listen to “Space Police”.

dragonforce-maximum-overload-cover8. DragonForce – Maximum Overload [UK – Metal Blade Records]

The first thing I have to say here is that DragonForce have honestly never sounded better than they do right now. I’ll always be a big fan of ‘Valley of the Damned’ and ‘Inhuman Rampage’ (the latter being – like it was for many – my first exposure to this band), but with each consecutive new album, the sameness between them grew tiresome. Following the departure of original vocalist ZP Theart, DragonForce employed the talents of Marc Hudson. With 2012’s brilliant comeback album ‘The Power Within’, it gave DragonForce a new lease on their music. ‘Maximum Overload’ serves as the follow up and further expands upon the limits of DragonForce’s creativity (experimenting with the likes of darker musical elements with hints to death metal, musical progression in the use of tempo changes, etc.). The music’s sharper, the songwriting’s grown profoundly, and DragonForce feel at the top of their game. Listen to “Three Hammers”.

ancient bards - a new dawn ending - cover art7. Ancient Bards – A New Dawn Ending [Italy – Limb Music]

I remember when Ancient Bards first came on the scene with their first single, “The Birth of Evil” (off their 2010 debut ‘The Alliance of the Kings’), I’ll admit that at the time it didn’t grab me. Perhaps it was the cheaply produced music video? Either way, as general curiosity would have it, my fascination on the part of Ancient Bards’ similarity musically to Rhapsody of Fire (one of my favourite bands) ended up getting the better of me and I researched further into the band. The more I listened to Ancient Bards, the more their music grew on and me and I actually began to love their stuff! Hit 2014, Ancient Bards have released their best album to date by far, ‘A New Dawn Ending’. Beautiful, haunting, and engrossing, lead vocalist Sara Squadrani has also never sounded more magnificent than she does here. Ancient Bards have truly outdone themselves in every regard. Listen to “In My Arms”.

Alestorm - Sunset on the Golden Age6. Alestorm – Sunset on the Golden Age [Scotland – Napalm Records]

For beer and pirate fuelled silliness, it doesn’t get much better or brighter than Alestorm! For anyone who’s familiar with this band, it’s safe to say you already know what you’re in for. For those that aren’t, let me put it this way, you’re in for one wild ride! With a band that don’t take themselves at all too seriously, don’t let that fool you, either: Alestorm are entirely dedicated to their craft. They have forged some of the best examples of the now eponymous genre of ‘Pirate Metal’. Strongly experimenting with elements of folk metal, death metal stylings, and rhythms so darn catchy you could hook and reel in a Kraken (sorry, couldn’t resist), ‘Sunset on the Golden Age’ is yet another fine example of how much Alestorm continues to grow better and wiser by the day. Entertaining at every front. Listen to “1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)”.

eluveitie-origins5. Eluveitie – Origins [Switzerland – Nuclear Blast Records]

Eluveitie were a happy purchase made randomly one day at JB Hi-Fi when I came across their then newest album, ‘Everything Remains As It Never Was’, and thought it looked interesting. How was I to know then that this sole album would light a fire in myself I never knew I craved after? My absolute love, passion, and adoration for folk metal music. I’ve been a massive fan of this band and this form of music ever since, and whilst I’m aware longtime fans feel the band fell by the wayside hit ‘Everything Remains…’, it’s different for me as this was the album I discovered them through. And now, even looking back in retrospect, I can respect the advancements in sound Eluveitie adopted. Every album of theirs in my mind is a stroke of brilliance. Their use of traditional folk instruments, the aspects of melodic death metal, the lyrical foundation of the ancient Helvetii tribe, and more, Eluveitie continue to mature and grow stronger with each new record. ‘Origins’ does not change this. Rather, it expands upon it. Listen to “King”.

Scar-Symmetry-The-Singularity-Phase-I-Neohumanity4. Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity) [Sweden – Nuclear Blast Records]

Scar Symmetry have created what is perhaps the most inventive album (at least conceptually speaking) I’ve listened to this year. Described as the first part of a new trilogy, ‘The Singularity’ deals with existential dilemmas, the rise of the ‘Artilects’ (artificial intellects), the divide this creates in the futuristic world of 2030, and the moral crises and potential threats faced by those on the other end of the ‘Artilects’. For a lifelong science-fiction fan – and someone who fancies himself a bit of a small time philosopher – I just adore this album! Listen to “Limits to Infinity”.

The_Quantum_Enigma_(2014)_-_Epica3. Epica – The Quantum Enigma [Netherlands – Nuclear Blast Records]

The fact this album hasn’t left my mind since I first listened to it back in May is testament to the strength of this record. Epica have forged, in my opinion, their strongest album to date. Every minute of ‘The Quantum Enigma’ feels like one of ingenuity; as if each note, each lyric is telling its own separate, yet intrinsically entwined tale. As I said back then, this album – and perhaps most notably, this band – is outstanding. Listen to “The Essence of Silence”.

HammerFall - Revolution - cover art2. HammerFall – (r)Evolution [Sweden – Nuclear Blast Records]

To anyone who knows me personally, it’s no secret I’m a huge HammerFall fan. They were one of the first real European power metal bands I was introduced to (‘Crimson Thunder’ was my first album of theirs for those interested). This was around 2008 from memory. Since then, it’s sparked just over a half-decade long passion for this type of music. Whilst I wasn’t overly enamoured with their last effort ‘Infected’ (2011), ‘(r)Evolution’ sees a fine return to form with the Swedish Templars doing what they do best: offering us, the listeners, a glory-laden journey through bloodied fields of steel and might (and most importantly, cheese!). Expect to hear familiar melodies that recall the early years of ‘Glory to the Brave’ and ‘Legacy of Kings’ all the way through to their last Hector-featured record, ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’. And let me just say, it’s a damn fine journey! Listen to “Hector’s Hymn”.

Behemoth_TheSatanist_coverart1. Behemoth – The Satanist [Poland – Nuclear Blast Records]

When thinking of bands to add to my Best Of list this year, ‘The Satanist’ climbed to the top of my internationals almost immediately. If not just for the immense amount of emotion that floods through this album, this record also bares naked the heavy weight of a band coming to terms with a tough and uncertain period in their history; that of frontman Nergal’s diagnosis of leukemia. Whether intentional or not, ‘The Satanist’ inevitably comes across – at least to me – as the product of this period in time, especially between 2010 and 2011. The grief, the shock, the uncertainty, and perhaps most importantly, the triumph are all conveyed whether directly or subtly across the 40-odd minutes this album plays. It is dark, brooding, and majestic. An uncanny example of a band reaching beyond hardship and touching their prime. Listen to “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”.

 

Honourable mentions: Accept (Blind Rage), Judas Priest (Redeemer of Souls), The Order of Israfel (Wisdom), Within Temptation (Hydra), Sabaton (Heroes)

 

Best Australian Albums 2014

 

knightmare - in death's shadow10. Knightmare – In Death’s Shadow [VIC – Metalapolis Records]

I discovered Knightmare on the night I reviewed Mystery’s gala event (fun fact: these two bands are actually family friends with one another!), and I’ve got to say, being the power metal enthusiast that I am, I am seriously loving the absolute wealth of fantastic power metal bands emerging from this humble country of ours in recent times! Knightmare is no exception to this rule. But don’t let the ‘power metal’ title put you off if that isn’t strictly your thing. Blending impeccably arranged guitar solos with elements of thrash and melodic black, Knightmare describe their style as “atmospheric metal”. This seems befitting considering the great atmosphere this album builds. ‘In Death’s Shadow’ is the surprise hit and find of the year for me. Listen to “Unity Through Chaos”.

voyager - v9. Voyager – V [WA – IAV Records / Bird’s Robe Records]

Offering something vastly unique musically in Australia’s largely dominant field of extreme metal, Voyager unveil their fifth album; aptly titled ‘V’ for more than one reason. Blending elements of the progressive variety with pop influences, experimental metal stylings, and much more, Voyager have released their most consistent and impressive album to date. Listen to “Hyperventilating”.

 

Adamus Exul - Arsenic Idols8. Adamus Exul – Arsenic Idols [VIC – ATMF]

Some of the most devastating, melancholic black metal you could hope to find, Adamus Exul invite you to join them on a slowly decaying, misanthropic journey through lands where moonlight dares not leave lit. Channeling the anguish and nihilism of early Mayhem, Adamus Exul excel at establishing a claustrophobic and minute atmosphere where your mind feels entrapped and entranced all at once. Listen to “Arsenic Idols”.

hadalmaw7. Hadal Maw – Senium [VIC – Independent]

I’ll be the first to admit, I only discovered Hadal Maw very recently; having first listened to their enthralling brand of death metal when they opened for Ne Obliviscaris during NeO’s ‘Citadel’ album tour. But let me just say, this band entered my radar in the truest sense of the word following that night. Put plainly, these guys devastate! Blending melodies with absolutely crushing vocals and distorted rhythms that coerce your mind into a state of rapturous melancholy, Hadal Maw are a force to be reckoned with in today’s climate of eviscerating Australian metal. Listen to “Coil”.

VANISHING POINT-DISTANT IS THE SUN SMALL

6. Vanishing Point – Distant Is The Sun [VIC – AFM Records]

Vanishing Point never fail to impress. They are undoubtedly one of Australia’s most consistently majestic bands, and with ‘Distant Is the Sun’ Vanishing Point return for what is truly a marvelous experiment into forward-thinking symphonic-progressive metal. Listen to “When Truth Lies”.

 

Troldhaugen - OAFMM5. Troldhaugen – Obzkure Anekdotez For Maniakal Massez [NSW – Birds Robe Records]

I’ll never forget the first time I saw this band live. It was at Feast of Metal II. I was pretty wrecked by this point of the day after being constantly on the move and recording bands, but Troldhaugen got me pumped again like no other band that day. The grin didn’t leave my face for the entirety of the time they were on stage. Their second album ‘Obzkure Anekdotez For Maniakal Massez’ is guaranteed to be like nothing you’ll ever hear from Australia this year. Avant-garde carnival with a splash of folk is perhaps the best way to describe this band. You will not be disappointed! Listen to “Catoptric Contortions”.

Divine-Ascension-Liberator4. Divine Ascension – Liberator [VIC – Vicisolum Productions]

There are only a handful of albums and bands that manage to truly reach the heights of inspired progressive-symphonic metal. Divine Ascension is one of those bands. This band has taken every cue and element within this subgenre, yet further taken it to depths and reaches that I’m certain would leave even the old greats such as Epica in awe. Beautifully melodic, ‘Liberator’ is a wonderful example of how this genre is never stale. In the gorgeous tempo changes, the impeccable combination of vocals and instrumentation, and a virtually flawless production, ‘Liberator’ is incredible. Listen to “Stronger”.

eyeoftheenemyvengeanceparadox3. Eye of the Enemy – The Vengeance Paradox [VIC – Independent]

Eye of the Enemy are quickly becoming one of Australia’s strongest bands. Managing to outdo their previous effort ‘Weight of Redemption’ at every turn, the melodic groove metallers release ‘The Vengeance Paradox’, a veritable culmination of a number of influences; with splashes of melodic death, groove, and more strewn throughout. As I’ve said before, this album remains an absolute pinnacle of the genre. Outstanding. Listen to “The Shift”.

evil unseen2. Envenomed – Evil Unseen [VIC – Independent]

Envenomed’s debut ‘Evil Unseen’ is one of the best examples I’ve discovered in recent times of mature, intelligent melodic thrash. If the fact ‘Evil Unseen’ hasn’t stopped spinning in my car since I was introduced to it a fair few months back isn’t a recommendation to purchase this record, then I don’t know what is. Listen to “Burn the Sun”.

 

Ne-Obliviscaris-Citadel1. Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel [VIC – Season of Mist]

Simply stated, this band is phenomenal. Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more content with my number one Aussie pick than I was last year with Bane of Winterstorm’s superb debut, ‘The Last Sons of Perylin’, Ne Obliviscaris release this, their second album. Mature, majestic, emotionally involved, and sorrowfully magnificent are all terms I could relate to this one album. The surfeit of emotions this album touches on is unparalleled. You are exposed all at once to beauty, melancholy, pain, joy, and desolation. There are few bands you find today that manage to leave your mind in a state of enlightened ecstasy as this band achieves effortlessly. To reiterate, ‘Citadel’ is a truly phenomenal album, but an even stronger example of how far our country has grown musically in such a short space of time. Listen to “Devour Me, Colossus (Part I): Blackholes”.

 

Honourable mentions: Aversions Crown (Tyrant)

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.