Hellbound’s 2014 year-end coverage continues this week with the next installment in our collective top 20. Part two features the albums that ranked in the #11-15 slots once we tallied the votes.
Revisiting this album in the dark of December seems perfect. Released on a warm spring evening, The Serpent & The Sphere carries a misty and mystical feeling from the moment it begins. Existing somewhere along the horizon between light and dark, whispers soft as moss crash against waves of melodic riffs that sing out to the tallest trees. The three interludes by Nathanaël Larochette of Ottawa’s Musk Ox now seem even more beautiful than ever, the single guitar quiet and unassuming while the sounds of the forest gently provide accompaniment. The heights of this journey are no less thrilling than when I first got the chance to review it; I still had to put down my notebook and pen when the last third of the album peaked in frenzied energy.
Read Danielle’s full review from earlier this year here: hellbound.ca/2014/07/agalloch-serpent-sphere.
ANATHEMA – Distant Satellites (Kscope Music)
In many ways Anathema’s Distant Satellites feels like a direct sequel to Weather Systems, which was one of Hellbound’s top albums of 2012. The progression, tone, and structure of the two albums are seemingly locked together, two sides of a musical coin. It’s a welcome adherence to current form that the three tracks that make up the “The Lost Song” bookend the emotional and potent first half of the record. However, it’s the moments that distinguish Distant Satellites from previous Anathema efforts that are the clincher for me, and they are also some of the most exciting offerings I’ve heard from the Cavanagh brothers and crew. Anathema are a band that not only wear their influences on their sleeve but actively incorporate them into their musical lexicon in a way that feels natural. The dual combo of “Firelight” and “Distant Offerings” again sees the band settling into the orbit of IDM [intelligent dance music] and electronic music, and the results open up possibilities that I hope the band will explore well into the future. Anathema’s exploratory trip through their personal sonic universe continues, and Distant Satellites is another marvelous celestial body on the way toward frontiers yet unknown.
DAWNBRINGER – Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore)
Metal often aims to conjure nightmare landscapes. Instead of some vanished battlefield or tract of scorched earth, Dawnbringer’s Night of the Hammer describes all the cancers of small, backwater towns. Intimate betrayals and shameful family secrets fester into murderous homecomings and house fires, all set to infectious trad metal. Chris Black paints a bleak tableau with his lyrics, but it all sounds so full and realized, thanks to the oft-attacking twin guitars, and the way he pulls from various sub-genres adds some serious momentum to the album. The doomy “Nobody There” gives way to the folky strum of “Xiphias,” and then later the thrashy black metal of “Not Your Night.” Black’s falsetto wailing during “Funeral Child” has garnered comparisons to King Diamond, but Night of the Hammer shares that same sense of structured tension and pacing that King’s best works have. Compelling from start to finish.
Read Gabe Hugh’s Night of the Hammer review here: hellbound.ca/2014/11/dawnbringer-night-hammer.
DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Z2 (Inside Out)
It’s been a busy year for the Dev – between his Casualties of Cool project and Z², he’s released four full albums worth of material, the latter of which consists of two separate conceptual albums. Sky Blue, a release under the Devin Townsend Project moniker features the familiar Anneke van Giersbergen and continues in the direction that 2012’s Epicloud ventured further into, mixing Townsend’s pop song sensibility with his lush sonic landscapes. The second portion of Z² is a sequel to the Ziltoid the Omniscient rock opera where Townsend’s quirky sense of humour helps tell the tale of a coffee-seeking multi-dimensional being and his cosmic shenanigans. While the Ziltoid epic has its moments, it’s Sky Blue that really shines. Tracks such as “Universal Flame” and the Usher-inspired title-track will get stuck in your head for days afterwards, long after the giggles from Ziltoid fade.
GRAND MAGUS – Triumph and Power (Nuclear Blast)
Why is this the first Grand Magus record I ever heard? The title describes with perfect accuracy the sound that lies within: it’s the kind of heavy metal we all ought to be singing/shouting along to, with fists (and perhaps drinking horns) joyously/ferociously raised in the air. “Steel vs Steel” and the title track are triumphant and powerful enough to ready you for any challenge, but it’s the epic conclusion offered by “The Hammer Will Bite” that ultimately nails home Grand Magus’s musical message. When I first listened to Triumph and Power, I was pretty sure this was a record that would show up on my year-end list. Here it is 11 months or so later, and the album is still my favourite of 2014.
Read Matt Hinch’s Triumph and Power review here: hellbound.ca/2014/03/grand-magus-triumph-and-power.