So here it is (no not “Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”), the end of 2014 and with it the customary celebration of the best albums that this year has spawned. I find with every year my taste in music expands, which makes these lists ever harder to write. For example, this year my top ten features a wide range of albums from some death metal right the way down to indie rock (taking a lengthy detour through prog too), which naturally means there will be albums deserving of recognition that don’t make the list. However, after a lot of deliberating, I think I finally have my top ten of 2014:
10. Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
They say what goes up has to come down, which makes Machine Head gravity-defying, as they continue to not only ride upon the wave of success stemming from 2007’s The Blackening, but improve upon the formula that brought them their accolades in the first place. The secret formula to their success has been their ability to marry melody with brutality in the way that hasn’t spun them off course towards the mainstream like many of their peers, or resulted in weak attempts at emulating (or sometimes even imitating) the formula of their earlier albums. It’s a testament to their ability that they can continue to expand their styles with tracks like Beneath the Silt and Damage Inside, whilst still producing monolithic metal anthems that both pleases existing fans and courts new ones.
9. Skindred – Kill The Power
Very few bands manage to sustain a career based on a sound that marries multiple genres (look how quickly nu metal died out, or the fleeting success of flamenco metal bands), let alone improve over age, slowly but surely moving up the bill at festivals. However British ragga-metallers Skindred have done just that, culminating their rise to the top with the release of the imposing Kill The Power. This time around they threw more hip-hop and electronic elements into the mix, which instead of saturating their sound, helped boost it new anthemic levels, shown best with Open Eyed, Kill the Power and Ruling Force.
8. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
Mastodon are enjoying a similar sustained period of success like Skindred and Machine Head both are, however, the record that followed the best prog record of 2009*: Crack the Skye, was nowhere near the level that the Atlanta quartet could achieve. However, with Once More ‘Round The Sun, Mastodon have returned to their strange brand of prog-infused metal; letting solos rip, riffs crunch, drums pound and plenty of beautiful melody shine through. Some fans may not like this change of musical direction, but regardless of whether or not is appeals to your particular tastes, this music is well crafted and, more importantly, great fun.
*An accolade widely thrown around and deservedly so.
7. Xerath – III
Fusing film scores and the double bass attack of death metal, Xerath sound something similar to symphonic metal minus the cheese and the power metal tendencies. With the modestly and efficiency named III, Xerath have streamlined their style from the two predecessors (entitled I and II – there’s no Chickenfoot tomfoolery here) and have produced an album that sits somewhere between the sinister atmospheres of Opeth and the epic pomposity of Dreamtheater. Xerath remain a fairly obscure force in the world of progressive metal, but if they continue to produce albums like III, then this will change in no time.
6. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
When The White Stripes reached mainstream attention in 2003 after the release of their fourth studio album Elephant, it was hard to imagine another rock duo ever making as big of an impression as they did. However, fast forward just over ten years to a bassist and a drummer from Brighton, performing under the name Royal Blood, and you come close to this feat. Considering their self-titled album is only their debut release and they already have Jimmy Page and the whole music press wrapped around their little finger, the duo have the ability to surpass The White Stripes legacy.
Like The White Stripes, Royal Blood are solely based around the power of the riff. There is no unwanted instrumentation, no overzealous production and no background soundscapes; just powerful drumming and a meaty bassline, topped off with catchy vocals. This is rock stripped back and turned up to eleven. The only doubt hanging over this band is whether such a simple formula has longevity, but if they continue to write tracks like Figure it Out and Out of the Black then there will always be an audience for it.
Thank you for reading. Part two will follow within the next week. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.