Donnie’s Best of 2014: Best Album Countdown (10-6)


10. Black Label Society – Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

Several albums into the BLS career you should know what to expect by now. In other words you get what you pay for. There are no surprises on this album but without doubt it showcases the band at their best. If a band always do what they always do then the best you can hope for is that what they do now is as fresh and exciting as when they assaulted your ears for the very first time.

From the opener “Fields of Unforgiveness” you know that all is well in the BLS world. Any fears of a less than great album immediately dispelled in the first three minutes. Others like “Damn The Flood”, “Believe” and “Beyond The Down” are reminders as to why you love BLS in the first place.

Whilst some bands are happy to throw out the same old riffs and hooks, AC/DC I’m talking to you, Black Label Society have done what you would have hoped and wanted them to do………………..only better.

9. Taake – Striden Hus

Taake has essentially been one man, Hoest. He has steadfastly refused to budge from his position as one of the true originators and creators of the second-wave of Norwegian Black Metal.

He has seen several bands and imitators come and go during the past twenty years or more and he still remains one of the most vital ingredients in taking the genre forward whilst sticking to it’s basic principles and roots.

Of the seven tracks on offer it is nigh-on impossible to select a standout. The mood ebbs and flows between tracks from full-on Black Metal fury to melancholic angst. Opening with “Gamle Norig” was a very smart move as that draws the listener in from the start and ensures that full attention is paid from there on in.

“Orm” provides something different and gives a glimpse into where Taake may be headed in the future.

This is Black Metal in 2014 and this type of album is why the genre will survive and more importantly thrive.

8. Mastodon – Once More Round The Sun

Those who know me may be surprised that a new release from the mighty, mighty Mastodon is not battling it out for the title rather than fighting for a Europa League place.

The answer to this, like easy origami, is two-fold. Firstly this had been an absolutely stunning year for albums. Despite the scare-mongering in the press about the decline of the format and how all bands in five years time will just release individual tracks. Whilst that may be the case for the horrendous world of pop music, in Rock & Metal world the album is still revered.

Secondly it’s not as good as their last two albums, the unbeatable Crack The Skye and the nearly equally jaw-dropping The Hunter.   That said it’s still plenty good enough to find its way into my Top 10.

This album is probably their most accesible album and you can hear their 70’s prog rock influences like never before. Nothing wrong with that of course as Opeth will testify. However on this occasion it’s just not quite up to their heavier and more sludge-infused work.

There are plenty of great individual songs on the album such as the opener “Tread Lightly”, “The Motherload”, “Chimes At Midnight” and “Feast Your Eyes” but on the whole it just didn’t grab me as much as their earlier work. Simple as that really. They do get bonus points for just being Mastodon though and even when they are not firing on all cylinders they are still superior to 99% of bands out there.

7. Nachblut – Chimonas

I will simply use a shortened version of my review to explain why this album is in my Top 10.

Screeching vocals. Check. Powerhouse riffs. Check. Dark/Blackened metal credentials. Check. Blasting drums and crushing bass. Check. Progressively unique. Check.   Nachtblut. Who else?

Opener “Gotteskrieger” is a testament to that with it’s almost symphonic opening, which immediately made me think of Ancient Roman-themed Thundergods Ex-Deo, leading violently into frontman, and chief songwriter, Askeroth’s tribal rage.

“Wien 1683” opens up like a black metal 1960’s sword and sandals epic. You could almost picture the pomp and ceremony as the horns and trumpets hail the entrance of the blackened princeps. From there the tone turns from triumph to despair and you get dragged into a front row view of the Battle of Vienna from where the song title comes. It’s as good as anything the band have done to date and a powerful statement.

Tracks “Marchen” and “Wie Gott Sein” are angry industrial-tinted stomps through the hinterland and all of the tracks to a degree share a  heavy and brooding menace. The final, and title track, is the most structurally complex of the album and sees the band reach a creative peak. A peak that could last for a number of years.

The frozen wasteland soundscape leads into a roaring invasion-like introduction that slows down for a few seconds before getting ready to charge. From there it’s full on metal magnificence that blazes a destructive trail and finishes with a foreboding warning of the horror still to come.

Make no mistake this is one of the most creative and original Black/Dark Metal recordings I have heard in the past twenty years. Let the darkness shine.

I think that about does it.

6. The Order of Israfel – Wisdom

This is a band who until a couple of months ago I had never heard of. Now I can’t stop talking about them!!

Sweden has produced many great metal bands over the years and TOOF are another one to add to the list. It’s not that anything they do one this album is particularly original or inventive, it’s just absolutely brilliant in every aspect. If you want doom metal with a groove and a heavy, but not sludge, energy then this is the most perfect album released in 2014.

Tracks are mini-epics and the album even includes a few uptempo numbers along with some scorching guitar solos. Between them they probably have the Candlemass back catalogue covered and they are not afraid to pay their respects to bands like the aforementioned Candlemass and Count Raven et al.

My current favourite track is “The Black Wings A Demon” which is up there with the best tracks of the year that echoes the stoner rock genre in it’s Clutch-like rhythmic force.

The lengthy but never dull “Promises Made to the Earth” showcases another side to the band. There is also a theme song element to the track “The Order” which will come to life I’m sure in the live environment.

This album is a must for your collection.

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