Welcome to the second part of my series rounding up what I consider to be the best releases during the first-half of 2014. If you missed Part 1, which features a diverse few bands ranging from melodic hard rock to post-black metal shoegaze, you can access that via this link:
Back to today though, and here are three big albums that have caught my ear this year. They are in no particular order and they are all equally as impressive as each other, hence their deserved place in this blog.
Voyager – V
I was impressed by Australian melodic prog metal band a couple of years ago, with their previous album ‘The Meaning Of I’. It was quirky but once you let the songs play around in your head a few times, it became oh so catchy and enjoyable. With fifth album ‘V’ however, the bar has been significantly raised, to the point where this is one of the most addictive albums I have heard for quite a while.
To begin with, it is unlikely that you’ll hear a slicker or more polished mix all year. This album demonstrates just what is really possible in terms of production in 2014 and it sounds magnificent, with every instrument coming together with power and clarity throughout.
Then there are the songs themselves. Deceptively clever and heavy riffs juxtapose big, hook-laden choruses to great effect, creating a final product that sounds part 80s pop, part progressive metal. Sounds bizarre I bet, but it works very well indeed. There is no end to the catchiness, to the point where you’ll be wearing a huge grin across your face whatever sub-genre of guitar-based music you profess to favour.
The whole thing is topped off by the vocals courtesy of Daniel Estrin, who further enhances the 80s pop references. Blessed with a great range and a slightly unique timbre, the delivery is sincere and committed, enhanced by some engaging and unusual melodic phrasing. If you’re after an album of expertly-executed melodic feelgood metal, ‘V’ is the only choice you need to make.
Aeon Of Horus – Existence
By goodness, this is one killer extreme metal record; utterly brilliant. Brutally guttural vocals battle with a ferocious double-pedal drum assault, incisive riffs and a bludgeoning intensity from the very beginning. However, this album is not all uncompromising extremity. An impressive technical complexity keeps the listener guessing throughout and there are enough melodic flourishes to provide atmosphere and a certain amount of immediate accessibility.
Many of the tracks are, at times, as beautiful as they are brutal and the closing track, ‘Resolve 2’ offers a much more atmospheric, almost ambient feel alongside a more djent-inspired extremity.
The more I listen, the more I enjoy this album and, importantly, the more that I listen, the more I discover things hidden among the apparent tumult. The subtlety is impressive and it allows the album to grow on the listener rather than become a stagnant and unrewarding listen. This longevity will see that it remains a regular visitor to my stereo throughout 2014 and beyond.
Thine – The Dead City Blueprint
Sometimes it can take a while to ‘get’ an album. So often these days, our time is so limited that we’re constantly on the look-out for the next instant ht of gratification, not willing or able to give things the time and attention they require. ‘The Dead City Blueprint’ is one such album that has perhaps suffered in my eyes because of this. When I reviewed it for Powerplay magazine, I had not had it long enough or had the time to listen hard enough. The result was that I struggled to engage with it in the way that I felt I should. However, having lived with it longer and without the immediate pressure of reviewing it, the album has finally made sense to me.
This album has been 12 years in the making and so is very much a labour of love. It blends the subtle and understated melancholy of Anathema with a more hard-edged Gothic-tinged dark metal undercurrent that occasionally reminds me of the likes of Katatonia. Mournful melodies and some powerfully raw songwriting combine to great effect to create a deep and rather emotional listening experience.
Standout tracks for me include ‘Brave Young Assassin’ and ‘Out Of The Dark & Into The Void’, the latter of which offers the most immediate, accessible and huge chorus on the album. However, this is an album that works best as a whole and so I’d recommend that you spend the time to listen fully and prepare to be as impressed as I am.