The 7 Best Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2014

 ‘Listening to metal’ seems to require far more effort than ‘listening to hip-hop’ or ‘listening to indie’ because so many metalheads only listen to metal.

Even though my favourite song of all time is So Did We by Isis, and I’d list an over-representation of metal bands in a hypothetical list of my favourite artists, I’d still probably not be considered a ‘metal listener’.

Just like any other genre, metal has its overbearing share of same-old, same-old bands (e.g. 90% of metalcore artists) and unrecognised geniuses (e.g. Isis, Cog). And like other forms of music, I prefer the bands that are trying to do something new and exciting. Regardless I haven’t really listened to as many metal albums as I should’ve so I’ve had to broaden the parameters to bands that’d be billed at Soundwave.

Anyway, here we are with the Seven Best Hard Rock and Metal Albums from 2014.

Closure in Moscow

For all you naysayers out there, rock music is alive and well. Here are seven bands who shredded riffs and opened pits to prove they are some of the best rock bands from 2014.

Closure in Moscow – Pink Lemonade

Closure in Moscow first came to my attention when Liam from the Dillinger Escape Plan posted an enthusiastic if overly verbose review of Pink Lemonade. There definitely was a bit of buzz following them, but unfortunately it seems industry Superking AJ Maddah has decided to dislike them, and Triple J only seems to have played them a handful of times this year, meaning the good news has been hard to spread.

However, this has been my favourite album all year, and here I am to spread the good word in stead of the good men who have failed. I’m not sure it’s objectively brilliant, because I love it so much, but boy is it good; I bought it about 6 months ago, and I don’t think it’s left my car’s glove compartment since. A lot of people cynically say this Melburnian 5-piece follow the Mars Volta a little bit too closely, which in fairness is so close to the truth as to be a cynical party-pooper. Arguably though, it is a more coherent sound than Mars Volta, with far less wobbling, less language-switching and a stricter song-writing ethic involved.

The fun, irreverent atmosphere also makes this contributes to making this album an easy listen. After all, the album is about an alchemist in some sort of magical forest that comes up with a special brew (“Cos I’m pouring, yeah I’m pouring, and I don’t fuck around”, probably the best lyric this year). The track Happy Days alone is irrefutable proof of this album’s irrepressible fun.

Opeth – Pale Communion

This record is the Swedes’ best effort since 2001’s metal opus, Blackwater Park. Incredibly though, whereas Blackwater Park was a progressive death metal opus, Pale Communion is full-on prog rock without any death growls in sight.

Metal is a weird genre, one whose followers are torn between wanting mainstream acceptance and maintain their sub-cultural identity. The natural maturation and evolution of a band’s sound is absolute anathema to self-identifying metal heads. In a few interviews, main man Mikael Akerfeldt has emphatically shrugged his shoulders at the nay- sayers. “I think metal for me has become a bit of an attitude, as well…and I think we still have that attitude intact, like we’re still in a bit of, for lack of a better word, rebellious” he told Loudwire. Indeed. This record is a solid album all the more impressive for the absolute balls displayed by Mikael Akerfeldt and his Scandinavian cronies.

Trophy Eyes – Mend, Move On

I’ve already espoused praises for these lads from Newcastle over here, so I’ll keep it short. Proper, rocking hardcore untouched by predictable half-time breakdowns and featuring nil whiny vocals.

Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel

Metal bands love naming themselves after Latin or Greek words or phrases, or fantastical things, and these Melbournians are none too different (the Latin means ‘Do not forget’, so Wikipedia tells me). I’d heard good things about this band, there was much hype following these progressive upstarts (Soundwave, for example, made a good amount of buzz about billing them). The Latin name I’ll admit made me sceptical, but after giving this album a listen once, I was sold. The inclusion of a full-time violinist in a metal band might seem a faux-pas at first, but at no time during Citadel does it feel out of place or a mis-step. The violin is integrated into the songs and as Ne Obliviscaris (definitely a Ctrl C, Ctrl V band name) is more than just “A metal band, featuring a violin!”.

In other parts, the progressive metal parts flow well, and the extreme metal elements aren’t as grating as I usually find them to be (corresponding sections of Between the Buried and Me’s songs are usually easily skippable). Probably the best Australian metal album this year.

Swans – To Be Kind

This album is really, really hard to listen to it because it goes for fucking yonks. It goes for a tad over 2 hours, and has one song that goes for 34 minutes! Jesus, that’s as long as a lot of records. Having said that though, it’s good, if over-indulgent. It has that experimental and art-rock flavour to it that earns it bonus praise from out-of-touch bohemian art critics everywhere, but The Swans play my favourite ambient, ‘post-rock’ type of music. To Be Kind is ostensibly a rock album, but it has a brooding and abrasiveness to its riffs and ambience that pushes it towards the heavier end of the music spectrum. At times, one could think of it as a lighter black metal treatise.

sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography

There’s a lot of post-rock and instrumental bands around nowadays, for a relatively small market; these two genres don’t seem to be the most popular ones around, even if they attract a keen following.

However, these four fine folks from Sydney have managed to craft an instrumental rock/metal sound that has a fine amount of indie and arena-rock sensibility to get them gigs supporting Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus, as a well as a spot at SXSW. They amusingly refer to themselves as a band that writes “Love songs about delay pedals”, too, and in a roundabout way, sound like a more refined and palatable Swans. I’m not keen to cut down on their gib, but if they managed to work vocals into their act they really would make an impression on a lacklustre Australian rock scene. Their album has a super cool map as its cover too, if you can’t guess what it is, then we can’t be friends anymore.

I Am the Avalanche – Wolverines

Wow, I listened to this album ages ago. Which makes sense actually, it came out in March. Wolverines is a pretty solid punk/melodic hardcore album, which is big props from me as I’m usually not too crash hot on this genre. The New Yorkers display good songwriting, delivering their often-easily-catchy melodies and then skipping town to leave the hooks to linger. They also show a range from pop-punk, to melodic hardcore as well as alternative rock, I guess you could say, that comes out of their amalgam of the various modern punk subgenres. Another key part of this album’s quality is I Am the Avalanche’s eye for the all-important punk sing-a-long anthem, probably best seen on lead single Shape I’m In.

Interestingly, my favourite song off the album, closer One Last Time, seems to be literally downplayed. There’s no evidence on any of the band’s setlists, and it easily has the least views of the band’s songs online. Either I’m an idiot or I know something that everyone else doesn’t. Well I sat on the heater and burnt my arse when I was 9, so I’m going with the former.

*Slipknot hasn’t been included because their last album was the same old whiny shit. I think this album review I spotted at my local JB Hi-Fi is pretty spot-on.