2014 was the year of Power Metal, or so it seemed after the first few months. Several long-running bands released fantastic albums that rival their "classics" of yesteryear. The next most-represented category was Doom, rather a surprise for me but there was no denying the releases below. My list is rounded out by some Epic, Symphonic and Thrash with the extreme genres getting completely shut out, though there were some quality Black/Thrash records, just nothing earth-shattering. Just a couple of disappointments from bands I had high hopes for but failed to deliver.
1. Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child
I will likely be mocked for this but I don't care. Sonata Arctica is one of my all-time favorite bands and after several experimental records they went back to their roots and, without recycling old material, released an album I keep going back to over and over. All the things that made them so much fun at the start of their career is here with plenty of new twists to keep things interesting.
2. Edguy - Space Police - Defenders of the Crown
Another band that was there when I was rediscovering Heavy Metal around 2000 but never "went away" in the same way as Sonata Arctica. Edguy just released a bunch of Hard Rock records over the past few years but with Space Police the happy, silly Power Metal of Vain Glory Opera, Theater of Salvation and Mandrake is back in full force.
3. Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead
Easily the best and most consistent album since the days of Land of the Free and No World Order from the venerable Gamma Ray.
4. Grand Magus - Triumph and Power
I don't think there was a more aptly named album released in 2014. The band's last album, The Hunt, was forgettable but I'm still singing "On Hooves of Gold" from 2014's Triumph and Power. And I reviewed it back in February...
5. Vestal Claret - The Cult of Vestal Claret
Channeling all things good from the likes of Black Sabbath and Candlemass, Phil Swanson and crew have crafted some of the most atmospheric music you're likely to hear. A testament to the top quality of the songwriting is the 16+ minute "Black Priest" that never once gets boring.
6. Xandria - Sacrificium
If you are like me and you miss the Tarja-led Nightwish then find yourself a copy of Sacraficium stat. "Stardust" brings a smile to my face the way songs like "Deep Silent Complete" and "Nemo" do.
7. While Heaven Wept - Suspended at Aphelion
The consensus has always been that While Heaven Wept is a Doom Metal band but the reality is that Doom is only a small part of their makeup. Suspended at Aphelion continues the band's move away from the fan-favorites like Vast Oceans Lachrymose and in to uncharted territory. Many will not care for this new direction but anyone who does invest the time will be rewarded by this deeply thought-provoking album.
8. Primeval Realm - Primordial Light
"Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse" should be the motto of this Doom band from the U.S. (though being Doom maybe it should be "Live slow, die young" etc.) All we get is this one album, Primordial Light, a fantastic throwback to the heyday of Black Sabbath, because Primeval Realm packed it in shortly after its release. It will be a shame if this is it from this once-promising band but if so, man did they go out on a high note.
9. Exodus - Blood In, Blood Out
It has become almost a tradition for me to include an 80s-era Thrash band on my year-end Top 10 with Testament last year and Anthrax the year before. With the return (for a third time) of singer Steve "Zetro" Souza and the release of Blood In, Blood Out, San Francisco's Exodus have unquestioningly released the best "return to form" album of any band from that era. Blood In, Blood Out fits right in line with Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster.
10. Powerlord - The Awakening
It isn't often a re-release from a long split-up band makes my top 10 but this one is just so killer, I couldn't leave it off. The term "lost gem" was created to describe albums like The Awakening. Amazing Power/Thrash.
1. Lost Society - Terror Hungry
After the snappy, retro-Thrash of the debut, Fast Loud Death, I was hoping for more of the same from this Finnish band. Musically, I got what I wanted. Vocally, I got Phil Anselmo. Pass.
2. Gun Barrel - Damage Dancer
The title probably should have been enough of a clue. I keep hoping these German's will release something for the stages of Wacken and what I keep getting is stuff for the Whisky-a-Go Go and Rainbow circa 1985. Either I'll learn and stop reviewing them or they will stop just pretending to be Metal and actually release something solid.
1. Mausoleum Gate - Mausoleum Gate
This is a fantastic debut album from these Finns who cherish everything NWOBHM and beyond. It is epic, captivating, powerful, stunning, mysterious and true Heavy Metal at its boldest.
2. Däng - Tartarus: The Darkest Realm
A highly original and unique mixture Doom, Heavy Metal, psychedelia and madness. No other band sounds like North Carolina's Däng.
3. Thy Serpent's Cult - Sedition, Sorcery and Blasphemy
Chileans have always had a tradition of striking, dark and ancient sounding Death Metal. Thy Serpent's Cult is no exception to that rule. This is an amazing record from a pretty amazing Chilean Death Metal force.
4. Swallowed - Lunarterial
Astonishingly morbid and dark Death/Doom Metal done in a totally different and unique way.
5. Necros Christos - Nine Graves
Everything this German Death Metal outfit touches turns to pitch-black. It is blacker than thou, sicker than Satan.
6. Dungortheb - Extracting Souls
Chuck Schuldiner would likely be extremely proud of this French technical Death Metal quintet. 'nuff said...
7. Explosicum - Raging Living
Great Thrash Metal can come from any corner of this (dying) globe, even China. Early Vio-lence meets early Exodus meets early Slayer; that's exactly what Raging Living sounds like. Simply awesome Thrash.
8. Autopsy - Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
Autopsy can do no wrong. Their unfiltered horror and gore circus has been going continuously from one album to the next unlike any other band and their recipe cannot be cloned by any band, ever.
9. Whispered - Shogunate Macabre
Samurai Metal from the cold north Finland. The band's debut album Thousands Swords hit hard back in 2010 but the band's follow-up album Shogunate Macabre is even sharper and deadlier.
10. Necrophagia - WhiteWorm Cathedral
Just like Autopsy, Ohio's gore masters Necrophagia have built up their own horror and gore-soaked empire over the years and WhiteWorm Cathedral, the band's seventh studio album, adds even more putrid guts and black blood.
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