We promise (really promise!) that this will be the last lookback-at-2014 thing we post. Except maybe a podcast (and that’s a big maybe). Whatever. We’re launching yet another of our splendid genre columns today, this time with one of our long-time death metal aficionados, Rob McAuslan, taking a quick look back at the biggest things that happened (or in one case, learned about what’s coming) in the wonderfully fluffy world of death metal.
1) At The Gates Came Back
As if this wasn’t going to be the most important thing of this column’s year (if you didn’t see this coming quite a few years ago, you might be a bit daft). I wasn’t quite as priapismally breathless over At War With Reality as our own Pete Long was, but the fact is this: it is a great record. More of a slow-burner than their last, and most famous, album’s catchy short-form brutalising, AWWR takes its cues more from the band’s earlier, lengthier writing style and this lends the riffs more time to really burrow in. It took me a few goes to get it, but it didn’t miss my top 10 by THAT much. Tompa is fine voice throughout too, if a little high in the mix for my tastes!
2) Bloodbath returned with a new singer
November spawned a monster in the form of a new Bloodbath album (at long last). After lots of faffing about we were finally told who the vocalist was, and it turns out Nick Holmes (from Paradise Lost) can still get low and nasty. Grand Morbid Funeral might not be groundbreaking but, well, that isn’t really why we’re here is it? It’s pretty amusing that what’s nominally a tribute act have now released more – and more consistent – albums than a fair whack of the bands they were set up to pay tribute to. It’s not quite as good as The Fathomless Mastery, but let’s be honest – that’s a pretty high bar to only just miss.
3) …and Vallenfyre did alright too
Nick Holmes’ bandmate Gregor Mackintosh’s other band, Vallenfyre, brought us an early AOTY contender with Splinters. This record is so, so heavy in all of the best ways – suffocating, crawling blackness lit up with arcing streaks of prime Celtic Frost headbangery. It doesn’t hurt that Splinters wields probably the densest, chewiest guitar tone you’ll hear. Well, it does hurt, but…yeah. This is absolutely brilliant, and only got beaten to my top spot of this year by a pair of unfathomably excellent doom releases.
4) Mors Principium Est’s late burst of greatness
At the risk of basically agreeing with Pete Long all the bloody time, Mors Principium Est did their bit for the melodic end of death metal with the very fine indeed Dawn Of The 5th Era. Easily the best example of this sort of thing I’ve heard in years, with a snarl and nastiness that’s been missing from this subgenre since Soilwork polished off all their rough edges and a pleasing lack of clean vocals too. Lads, it’s DEATH METAL – stop SINGING. And get off my lawn. Much more of this sort of thing next year, please – it’s been way too long since I last actually enjoyed a melodic death metal record as much as this.
5) Horrendous are anything but
We didn’t review the Horrendous album here on Thrash Hits, but it more than deserves a mention here. Ecdysis has been popping up in year-end lists all over the show, and with good reason too. Progressive death metal with dashes of fusion and a psychedelic bent that shows genuine growth from a decent debut, and a talent for actual songwriting that eludes most bands makes for a hugely-engaging listen. Shades of Death, The Gallery-era Dark Tranquillity, Cynic, and even some 80s hard rock in the riffing, with a Chuck Schuldiner/Martin van Drunen hybrid taking care of the very nasty vocals. Ripping, melodic, trippy, melancholy excellence – if you’ve been banging on about Morbus Chron this year, you owe it to yourself to get this down your earholes.
6) Looking Ahead
Last but not least, something to look forward to. The news that Morgoth are actually releasing a new album in 2015 with Disbelief’s Karsten Jäger contributing vocals has made me very pleased indeed. Both these groups of Germans have always delivered the goods in brutal style, and the ‘God Is Evil’ single from earlier this year showed that the break has done them a world of good. Whilst this reunion won’t be shouted about as much as Carcass and At The Gates, that just means expectations will be lower – expect big, big riffs and nasty doomed-out grooves when Ungod comes out at the end of March.