(Forcefield Records / Gilead Media)
There are certain labels that 'heads develop specific relationships with where you can expect the quality of releases to be mostly excellent, and Gilead is one of those labels. Their collaborative effort with Forcefield to bring us the latest Bastard Sapling is no exception. This is a burner of an album, folks, and had I heard it earlier than when I did it would have no doubt ended up in my top 10 for the year. Straight ahead, no frills American black metal as informed by the European 2nd wave. There's some atmospherics to be found here, but mostly it just rages relentlessly finding a similar vibe to Satyricon's Nemesis Divina except, you know, it's American. Which isn't to say that I don't have any love for the more experimental USBM out there these days. I loved Krieg's and Mutilation Rites' 2014 efforts, where they ventured occasionally far away from the black metal that cements them in the same genre. Bastard Sapling just goes for the throat with impeccable chops and songwriting. These tracks all flow superbly from the time you press play until the disc's end. Crushing guitars, superior bass tones that drive along with the pummeling percussion and the vocals just seethe with hatred. Needs to be heard!
(Nomos Dei Productions)
To be fair, I only came across this after first getting wind of Inconcessus Lux Lucis' 2014 EP released by I, Voidhanger. That EP itself flew well under the radar of most of the metal press, a weird thing considering the quality of I, Voidhanger's stable of artists. To start generally, this UK band sounds like what would happen if Hungary's Tormentor cross-pollinated with early Manilla Road or Sad Wings of Destiny era Judas Priest. John Gallow's Crucifist would be another fine point of reference, here, though Inconcessus Lux Lucis is in no way derivative. Sincerely motivated by the first wave of black metal and traditional heavy metal, their tracks rip and noodle in equal measure, finding a genuine swagger that most black metal these days lacks. There are grooves and ragers here, in equal number, an excellent guitar tone and bass right in the forefront of the mix that is complimentary to the galloping drums and croaking vocals. Really loved this and wished it had popped up more last year.
Pittsburgh's Wrought Iron are a genuine force but with a split and demo out in 2013, Grimoire Records' 2014 release of Rejoice and Transcend came and went with little fanfare which is a damn shame. This release is seething black metal with touches of death metal that taken as a whole package is one of the most vitriolic evil things I heard last year. There are elements of grind and some hardcore flourishes that might remind of last year's also excellent Young and In the Way release, as well as some of the misanthropic violence of Barghest's Virtuous Purge. I could draw comparisons all day, but the music speaks for itself. A broiling stew of styles that are at once complimentary and definitive. The guitar work is phenomenally vicious, with a CHUNKY bottom end that pounds in contrast to the pop of the drum work, but it's a contrast that works well. If you missed this I can't recommend it enough. Grimoire's treatment of the album is great, in either gatefold digipak or limited cassette (the version I snagged). Get this now!
Given Hooded Menace's pedigree, I have no idea how this one slipped past so many people last year. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because it's just a two track 12" EP but that's not really any excuse to sweep under the rug one of the best death/doom releases of 2014. If you've ever heard Hooded Menace's brand of murky, "Tomb of the Blind Dead" obsessed doom and death metal then you should know what you're getting here: guttural, downtuned, seismically slow sonic violence. What makes Hooded Menace stand out, though, in comparison to either Fuoco Fatuo or Encoffination is the melody that they employ in their tracks (play the sample at 2x the normal speed and you'd swear it's some Swedish death metal). In fact, there are moments that reminisce of classic Candlemass or Count Raven at times, which may seem odd coming from a project this cavernous, but it works well. Instrumentally everything is on point here, and this Finnish band has been playing together long enough to be be able to put something forbodeing to wax every time they hit the studio... this is no exception!
Okay, so Jon Chang's swan song was reviewed overwhelmingly well in general in 2014, but I didn't see it pop up in many folks' top 10's or 20's. That's a shame. This album is grindcore evolved into a perfect apex predator, and probably the best the genre has ever been up to now. It is an amalgamation of melodic ultra-violence and dissonant stop-starts that form an all too short whole of grind perfection. From the concept to the album art to the track flow everything here has been laid out and composed perfectly, rivaling Chang's own Discordance Axis' Inalienable Dreamless. Dare I call this uplifting? The melody employed and the scales that have been used definitely reach for majestic heights, with some of the tightest bass/percussion of any metal band, grindcore or not. And god damn, Chang's vocals are just flat out unhinged. This record is especially sentimental, because it marks the end of a band that I think had so much more to offer and I wanted to see what territories they still had to explore. As it stands, it's a fittingly brief and defiant epitaph to the band and experimental grind as a whole. Honestly, my words don't do this album justice, you just have to hear it to grasp what I'm trying to say. Absolutely fucking essential.