Needless to say, I have most definitely slacked and avoided a LOT that I shouldn’t have this year. Not surprisingly to those that know me, my attendance at gigs has almost evaporated in recent years, especially when you consider at one point in my life I was frequenting 4-5 gigs a week…
What is surprising though, most of all to myself, is that I have been noticeably lazy on my attention to giving new albums from my favourite artists the time of day, let alone the uninterrupted immersion I usually provide them. I didn’t listen to Opeth’s ‘Pale Communion’ until 3 months after it came out. I didn’t listen to ‘.5 : The Gray Chapter’ until 2015 (we won’t talk about my heinous avoidance of ‘At War with Reality’).
That said, I wasn’t completely devoid of music action and below is my interpretation of what was great and what stood out from that which I DID actually bother with in 2014…
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
This one was definitely the hardest choice; 2014 was an absolute belter for new albums and reformations. There were new releases from Bloodbath, Napalm Death, At the Gates (!?), Slipknot, and a hundred more from various artists across my expansively broad range of interests (I will refrain from diversion by focusing on those ‘meaty’ enough to be mentioned on Rock Sins, though ;-)).
Whilst some of the albums released in 2014 are already prominent players in my current listening cycle, the crown was, basically, a toss-up between three albums; Behemoth‘s ‘The Satanist’ (which I reviewed here), Hang the Bastard‘s ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’ (for which you can read kind words here) and the eventual winner.
Without further diversion, I’m going to give this award to an album I was really looking forward to that DID NOT disappoint; Primordial‘s ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, the follow up to one of my all-time favourites, ‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’.
Not only is the album itself full of everything a decent metal release should contain (anger, misery, hope, moral questioning, RIFFS, pedals, soaring emotive vocals and guttural fury) but it’s bloody fantastic. There is so much on offer here that you can’t help but feel grateful to be able to digest the output of material that is so clearly enveloped in effort, concentration, dedication and meticulous attention to detail. Each note sounds like it was vetted by a stringent team of advisers from the sky.
As alluded to, unrelenting mentions go to both Behemoth‘s ‘The Satanist’, arguably their masterpiece-upon-masterpieces, and Hang the Bastard‘s first major record release ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’, which contains SO MANY riffs that I wonder if any band anywhere on the planet can write one without being accused of stealing it. Additionally, and I never thought I’d say it, but I was mightily impressed with Mushroomhead‘s latest offering, ‘The Righteous and The Butterfly’. Not only is the album far from what I expected, but it’s also bloody good. Even with the return of original singer ‘J Man’, they’ve kept his replacement too forming a brutal 3-man vocal onslaught. Definitely worth a spin.
- Winner : ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ (Primordial)
- Honourable Mention : ‘The Satanist’ (Behemoth)
- Honourable Mention : ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’ (Hang the Bastard)
- Mention : ‘The Ways of Yore’ (Burzum)
- Mention : ‘The Righteous and The Butterfly’ (Mushroomhead)
GIG OF THE YEAR
Simply put, I probably went to less gigs in 2014 than any year preceding it since I started going to gigs properly in about 1999. I essentially cherry-picked those that interested me and of those, I went to those I could be bothered to make the effort with. A rather lacklustre approach, but reality is what it is (I guess like most, I’m often ‘At War with Reality’ ;-)).
I wasn’t entirely shit though, and in what was a very rare opportunity, I actually made it to a gig with my missus in tow to catch somewhat-homeland-brethrens Breed77 perform tracks from the mighty ‘Cultura’ at London’s Borderline. Not only was it a triumphant return for frontman Paul Isola, but it was a saddening new chapter of the band without long-time bassist Stuart Cavilla. Despite the polarising emotions, Paul’s return was not only brilliant but, in my eyes, essential to the continuity of the band. Despite the unique and immense talent of the band behind him, Breed77‘s power comes from the accessibility of Paul’s extensive and emotive vocal range. One did a little review of this one then, too.
Needless to say, it would be foolish of me not to mention the fact that in 2014 I got to see Black Sabbath and Faith No More play the same stage at Hyde Park’s BST (British Summer Time) festival. That this experience also included fucking Soulfly, Hang the Bastard obliterating those wedged in before them and Motorhead twiddling their ever-blanding rock’n’roll, you’d think we had an outright winner right here, but too many issues let this whole thing down. That I’d burnt my bald-spot so much on the way in that I was already Capt. El Moodus before it’d even started really didn’t help swing the ‘Dong of Favour’ this way…
If it hadn’t been for ONE other band, then my gig of 2014 would easily have been witnessing the mighty Shadows Fall rupture a 1,000 nerve endings at Camden Underworld. I was so excited and sufficiently beer-ed that a heinous misjudgement in timing meant that I, basically, pissed myself in the pit (I’m sure nobody really noticed in amongst the sweat). I thrashed, wailed and screamed throughout what I may fear may be the last time I see these guys, which considering my close and deep-rooted love for them over the years will be a truly heartbreaking thing. Here’s hoping, though.
So, what could have topped all the above? Alas, it wasn’t a personal front-room show with Strapping Young Lad, despite all my insistences, but a show that quite frankly I never thought I would see. 2014 allowed me to FINALLY catch one of my favourite (and often forgotten) bands in Arcturus, who played Islington Academy on a Friday. A Friday 13th, no less (the inner goth has just high-fived the current-era Matt).
That this show would allow me the opportunity to catch one of my favourite vocalists in ICS Vortex / Simen Hestnæs (in the same year as Mike Patton?!), one of my favourite drummers in, well, fucking Hellhammer (of whom the last time I saw was here at the same venue with Mayhem) but also to listen to some of my favourite SONGS live in the flesh. The show wasn’t long, least of all anywhere NEAR as long as I’d have wanted, but it was incredible. The crowd were more mature and this isn’t surprising since I’d wager most of the people who are reading this haven’t ever heard the output of the one, true Arcturus despite them being around since the late 80s. Each and every attendee sung their little lungs out in some pathetic bid to try and match the calibre and command of Vortex who stood on stage clearly chuffed and proud of what bellowed forth before him.
Never before at any gig I can recall have the chants of “MORE! MORE! MORE!” feel so genuine and desperate as they were that night. That most of those chants came from yours truly shouldn’t be overlooked; this was a blinding demonstration of musical perfection that I still, and regularly, recall with immense fondness. This one will stay forever.
UPDATE : Not sure what planet I’ve been living on, but the astute have pointed out Arcturus was in December 2013! Everything I said still stands… except for the fact that I was so discombulated that I got my dates, and my years (?!) well and truly muddled. Looks like we have a new winner!
Winner : Arcturus (Islington Academy)
- Winner : Shadows Fall (Camden Underworld)
- Mention : Breed77 (The Borderline)
Fortunately for me, I managed to get to both Download AND Bloodstock in 2014. Considering the line-up at the latter, I’d had to have been in a coma to have missed it (which might, to the smarter among you, give you some clue as to the direction of THIS award).
Though neither were technically a festival, I wouldn’t consider either a gig either and as such I’m picking some honourable mentions from both BST and Beyond the Redshift. Firstly, how can I talk about performances and not mention Black Sabbath and Faith No More? A more thorough summary can be seen in my review of the event, but in short, they were both BLINDING. That my good friends in Hang the Bastard did a number on my shins, back and neck in between aided my fantastic experience no end (though, for the record, I am still not over the frustrations that the issues with mobile signal caused thousands and myself).
Some truly spine-tingling events went down at the incredible Beyond the Redshift (of which a full review was written), not least of all Cult of Luna and God Seed; the crazily mis-matched headline pairing that surprised and pleased everyone. I still can’t believe that I managed to catch Cult of Luna again, not least at a festival that THEY curated… (Rock Sins had a great time that day too, oh yes yes yes).
Download 2014 was not without many, many highlights; Opeth, Behemoth AND Rob Zombie? Aerosmith, Volbeat and American Head Charge?! Oh, Mr. Copping, you do like to spoil us (some times, alas, not all of the time). But for me, the highlight was the return of local heroes Sikth, who headlined the rather ridiculously named Red Bull Studios Live Stage on the Saturday. The entire tent, and those skirting around it, went absolutely batshit mad for the duration of their set. This was not a showing for passers-by or people with nowhere else to go; this was a showing for the loyal, die-hard Sikth fans who had made sure they were present for a comeback show of a band who have ripped up almost every venue in the country with their unparalleled mastery of music (music that is, still, unlike all else).
Whilst Download was fantastic, Bloodstock had some genuinely jaw-dropping (and on one occassion pant-droppingly-great) moments. Primordial slapping my monged and half-asleep carcass right across the ground as they started (my) procedings on the Friday was the most appropriate way to start the weekend. That the last three bands of the first day were three titans was enough for me to believe that I might not even make it to the Saturday; Hatebreed completely and utterly SLAYED the masses before Dimmu Borgir nearly burnt the fields assunder in fury fuelled by some truly awful technical mistakes (in fact, this lead to what was the most disappointing experience I’ve had watching them, made worse by the fact that neither ICS Vortex or Mustis were present) and then DOWN came forth and transformed everyone into a life-long stoner with their riff-tastic breed of down-tuned dirty Southern-sludge. Say what you will about Anselmo, but the man has earned his right to be where he is and remains a figurehead for all metal-frontmen that have followed.
To stem the risk of this becoming a minute-by-minute review of Bloodstock, let me just summarise by saying Children of Bodom, Carcass, Saxon and one of the best performances I have EVER seen in Amon Amarth made this festival one of, if not the best, I have ever been too. I was looking forward to Megadeth‘s first UK festival headline slot more than anybody else, but I still can’t believe how bloody terrible and disappointing that performance was. Yeah, so I twiddled my fingers and air-guitared for a good hour solid but it was like they just didn’t care to be there…
Which, in some respects, made the decision for the best festival performance of 2014 an easy one; Emperor. Even writing that seems a surreal dream; I cannot believe that in 2014 I saw Emperor, a band I have loved forever and whom I never thought would perform live again, not least of all at a UK festival.
I want it on record that despite the legacy and awe of their back-story, I think Trym is a far superior drummer to Faust. Clearly, Faust is a far superior drummer to most too but this reunion, despite being wrapped in poignant importance and history, overshadowed the Emperor live performances I knew of before. What I am aiming to get at is despite how truly breath-taking the performance was (despite the absence of ‘Thus Spake the Nightspirit’), I couldn’t help but feel there is more power, control and rigid rhythm to Trym’s playing which was noticeably absent.
All in all, though, it’s a somewhat frightening thing when you experience an out-of-body episode watching a band but that’s exactly how I spend the duration of their set, especially when they launch into ‘Inno a Satana’ and I almost burst into tears of joy watching the most viciously violent and brutal interpretion of what literally translates as ‘A Hymn to Satan’. I had waited for this moment for YEARS and I was not disappointed. I, he who so rarely shuts up, was almost silent for hours after as I struggled to comprehend what I’d witnessed that night.
- Winner : Emperor (Bloodstock)
- Honourable Mention : Sikth (Download)
- Mention : Black Sabbath / Faith No More / Hang the Bastard (BST)
- Mention : Cult of Luna / God Seed (Beyond the Redshift)
BAND OF THE YEAR
So, can this award be considered the Big Boy? Possibly. It is, ultimately, the most important though… and also one of the bloody hardest.
As you can gauge from the above, I have a clear fondness for a number of artists and each of those noted have great cause and reason to recieve their name alongside my ‘Band of 2014’. How about I put forward Primordial for both their phenomenal Bloodstock performance and their boner-inducing ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’?
Should it be Sikth for their decision to reform and bring back so much joy and injury to those once loyal (kudos to those who get THAT reference)? Is it the strongest argument that considering the personal strife of Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski, coupled with their mind-blowingly impressive album ‘The Satanist’, that the title should be Behemoth‘s? In truth, quite possibly.
But, in my heart and my head, I feel I can only give this one to one band, who after all else is considered have simply earnt it the most. That band is Hang the Bastard.
Not only did 2014 see them release their first ‘big label’ full-length in the offensively riff-a-licious ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’, but saw them share stages with some (more?!) of their heroes. Yes, so they’ve managed to play with Crowbar, Dopefight and many more, but I know what it means to the lads to say they played the same bill as Black Sabbath (and indeed Soulfly). How many bands can legitimately claim that honour?
Friends they may well be, but heroes they ultimately are and if they carry on this way, I might just give every award of 2015 to them too.
- Winner : Hang the Bastard
- Honourable Mention : Behemoth
- Mention : Primordial
Matt can be followed on Twitter at @celestial_sgnls.