Countdown: 2014: Albums

Week three of the roundup of 2014, and this is, I guess, the big one. The albums of the year.

Countdown: 2014

02-Dec: Best Compilations and reissues
09-Dec: Best Tracks
16-Dec: Best Albums
30-Dec: Best Gigs


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Countdown: Albums

2013: Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic
2012: Dead When I Found Her – Rag Doll Blues
2011: This Morn’ Omina – L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes
2010: Edge of Dawn – Anything That Gets You Through The Night
2009: Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue
2008: Aesthetic Perfection – A Violent Emotion
2007: Battles – Mirrored
2006: In Strict Confidence – Exile Paradise
2005: Cyanotic – Transhuman
2004: Rotersand – Truth Is Fanatic

It is a big post in a number of ways this time around, too, as 2014 was one of those years where nearly everyone stepped up with outstanding albums. I say nearly everyone – there were a few releases I really didn’t particularly enjoy, or were disappointed by, but it was mercifully a small number and I’m not going to talk about those.

I’d rather celebrate the best music, and even keeping it down to forty albums this year was tough. This does mean a few albums miss out (notable shouts to The Twilight Sad, Autoclav 1.1, The Afghan Whigs, atomzero, The Birthday Massacre, TV on the Radio and Scott Walker + SunnO))), Interpol and mindFluxFuneral at least), but in any roundup there is always something that has to, as I can’t include everything.

Anyway, the usual applies – these are my opinions, and as many know by now, I’m pretty forthright in my opinions. But hopefully many understand that I write about music because I love it, rather than wanting to rubbish it. So this is what has rocked my corner of the world in 2014.

A new signing to Glitch Mode (the home of Cyanotic, of course), this band from Phoenix fit in there very well. The order of the day is “Angry Robot Noises” – read that as impeccably precise and well-produced industrial metal, stomping beats, jagged guitars and distorted vocals. It is a template that very much appeals to me, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys.

Concrete Lung
Tolerance and Dependency

Despite now being based in Australia, Concrete Lung have remained an active band (even if those of us in London are unlikely to see them live again now!), and their latest mini-album/EP dropped right at the end of last month. It isn’t going to convert any naysayers – it is more of the metallic industrial, grinding fury that the band have made such a great fist of over the past few years – but interestingly does see a shift to more live instrumentation, as it appears they now have a live drummer for recording their sound at least. Either way, this six-track release is a forceful reminder of the band’s power.

Bestial Burden
Sacred Bones

Another album to add to the list of those whose brilliance was inspired by extreme personal turmoil, this was also one of the more extreme albums to make it to wider (i.e. mainstream, if you will) attention in the music press. Make no mistake – this is brutal stuff that is by no means going to appeal to everyone. Margaret Chardiet takes influences from power electronics and the avant garde, and the end result is screeching, drawn-out noise constructs, vocals that sound like she is tearing herself apart, and a general feeling that things are very, very wrong indeed.

Vanishing Point

A striking album this year came from Chicago – and it wasn’t the heavy-duty industrial that has so often come from that city. This, instead, was sombre, intricate electronics – full of groove, emotion and some impressive compositions. All-instrumental, but so very different to just about anything else I heard this year that I’ve gone back to it time and again.

The Soft Pink Truth
Why Do The Heathen Rage?
Thrill Jockey

This was certainly unusual. Gay electronic artist takes on a genre that has rather too many homophobic and violent events in its history…and so the result is an extraordinary ten songs turning Black Metal into electro and disco. As someone who knows and listens to a fair amount of Black Metal, what some of these songs are transformed into really is something else. Ok, so not all of it works, but the idea is a sound one, and I suspect a number of Black metalheads saw this as SRS BSNS rather than the (light-hearted) reality check that it was. Worth it alone for the Mayhem and Venom covers, if nothing else…

Click Click
Those Nervous Surgeons
Dependent Records

We should have known from their past, and from their stellar Infest appearance last year, that the latest return from the long-running industrial act Click Click was going to be interesting. At points this was an outright weird album – another version of the drug nightmares of Rats In My Bed, for a start – and at other points strikingly direct (the astounding, sneering politics and stabbing synths of What Do You Want), while in others woozy, industrial-tinged psychedelia was the only way to describe things. Out at the fringes, industrial can be a very interesting place, as Click Click continue to prove.

As I explained in featuring album highlight Body and Blood last week, this wildly experimental album was certainly not to all tastes – even those who are really into their hip-hop. Much of this was down to the musical backing, and I thought the harsh, unforgiving electronics made a fascinating and surprisingly successful partnership with the quick rap delivery on show. One of those albums that really grows on you once you get past the initial shock.

Massive Cauldron of Chaos
Indie Recordings

Remember when Black Metal sounded vital, malevolent and heavy as hell? The good thing is, so do 1349 – after a few years experimenting somewhat (with mixed results), they’ve returned to the scorching, fires-of-hell-tinged, blastbeats of old and it sounds amazing. Yeah, so little subtlety here, little in the way of variation, but who cares? This is how Black Metal is meant to sound.

Waiting For Light

Lesley Rankine has been part of the alternative scene for many years, most notably in the early nineties fronting London alt/rock nutcases Silverfish, guesting on Pigface material, and then for her industrial/electronic/trip-hop hybrid project Ruby. There were two albums initially, the first being the exceptional Salt Peter, the second (Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool) suffering from apparently getting zero promotion (and it is seriously hard to find, nowadays, too). Long-since inactive, or so we thought, it was quite a surprise to find an EP arrive last year, followed by a PledgeMusic-funded album this year. And the album kind-of picks up where she left off with the second Ruby album well over a decade ago, with lots of downbeat, near-acoustic songs dominated by Rankine’s still-extraordinary voice. Surprisingly, though, harder material punches through on a few occasions – the spiralling, industrial pulse of Spin is a notable highlight, as is the lurching, thundering Rain, smothered in torrents of guitars and bleeps. Also notable is perhaps the first happy song I’ve ever heard Rankine sing – the gleeful Last Life. A most welcome return.

Warlord Mentality
Vendetta Music

West Coast US industrial noise act W.A.S.T.E. continued their quest to level cities on sheer industrial force alone with their latest album this year – and in the main this was business as usual. Harsh, distorted beats, hissing storms of static, ominous samples, oppressive atmospheres – in other words exactly what I’ve come to love and expect. The big curveball was the ballad – an Offspring cover (!) with vocals by Jamie Blacker that works an awful lot better than you might think.

Almost too much to take in at points, it is perhaps important to consider this apart from previous Antigen Shift work. It’s been eight years or so since last album The Way of the North, and Nick Thériault’s focus (particularly since he was joined by Jairus Khan in the project) has notably broadened since then. While previous work was cold, downtempo electronics in the main – but with a deep emotional core, something quite striking for an entirely instrumental project – this album encompasses both that and many other styles. There are guitars and pounding industrial (most spectacularly on the blistering Legion), there are breaks, there are strings, there are vocal samples. Many of the songs are dense in construction and as a result need some time to digest – this is no bad thing, just one of those albums where the more you listen, the more you appreciate.

And Man Created God

Among the unexpected returns this year – and there were a few – Borghesia stood out for a few reasons. Firstly their sound had changed from what we knew. In particular rather than the Slovene/Croat lyrics of before, this was entirely in English, and also, gone were the forbidding industrial beats of before, replaced with a lush production and quasi-industrial folk sounds in the main. Kinda similar to the moves their compatriots Laibach have made, but with a much more overt political agenda/position and cynicism that made them sounds more than anything like a European take on Snog (just listen to Kaufen Macht Frei). It really divided reviewers, too, this album, but for me it was an intriguing and surprising return that is worth picking up.

Everything Goes Cold
Black Out the Sun

Eric Gottesman has been keeping himself very busy of late (as he noted in his interview in the summer with this site), so the fair gap between first and second albums was perhaps to be expected. The time was clearly well spent, though, with a darker, more rounded album resulting that advanced EGC’s sound very well – while retaining the elements that made EGC so enjoyable in the first place (particularly, for me, the whip-smart lyrics) – but most importantly this album is simply stuffed with great songs.

Perhaps a little unfairly maligned as “goth”, Zola Jesus has carved out a niche with her icy, soulful electronic ballads (and work with J.G. Thirlwell, too). Indeed, that latter work reworking songs with strings and a more organic feel perhaps had quite an influence on this album, with the songs noticeably more lush at points (particularly the gorgeous sweep of Lawless) – not to mention a distinct feeling of sadness that pervades through the whole album. An album for the dark winter days.

Chris Connelly’s return to industrial gathered pace this year with live shows and a full-album release for his new project Cocksure (with Jason Novak of Acumen Nation), to a point a picking up of the baton from the days of Revolting Cocks. The dirty, grimy industrial grind conjured up by Novak brings the RevCo ‘sound’ kicking and screaming into the now, while Connelly’s stream-of-consciousness vocals are as partly-intelligible as ever (I wouldn’t expect anything less), and in amongst the vocal chaos there are some interesting and amusing lyrics to be deciphered, not to mention some unexpected subjects. Also worthy of note for the great guest appearance by Front 242’s Richard 23 on the lengthy industrial-dance workout TKO Mindfuck.

After the quite extraordinary Svartir Sandar, where on earth could this band go next? Not very far, it transpires – the Icelanders have taken the template used previously and (broadly) stuck with it. So if you are looking for intensely heavy extreme metal, you’re looking in the wrong place. However if you are wanting to see what a band can do that take inspiration from their homeland and interleave that with influences from various realms of extreme metal – but crucially are more interested in creating atmospheres, than neck-snapping metal – this is a richly rewarding, elegant and surprisingly melodic album.

A World Lit Only By Fire
Avalanche Recordings

A few years after making a (very loud) return live, 2014 has seen Broadrick and Green return to recording as Godflesh as well, as the results are…well, as you’d expect. If you didn’t like the hulking bass and industrial/metal brutality of Godflesh before, this sure as hell as isn’t going to change your mind. But for those who do like the Godflesh of old, this is a brutal reminder of just how brilliant they can be. All the elements are there as they should be, just that bit sharper and nastier than before.

Slave Unit
Through With You
WTII Records

One of my favourite new discoveries of the year, this is a band that somehow have passed me by until now (and they’ve been around for quite a while, too). Anyway, this is industrial rock with an emphasis on percussion and riffs, with electronics working as as the glue to hold things together rather than being the main event. Particularly notable, though, is Mike Welch’s vocal delivery – one of intense irritation and disdain toward his lyrical subjects, and that creates a particularly spiky atmosphere than the songs absolutely thrive on. This is industrial music with a distinct helping of anger and fury, and is all the better for it.

Be My Enemy
The Enemy Within

Yes, it’s fucking political. Phil Barry returned in 2014 with the second BME album, tilting the focus a bit by aiming both barrels at Government, with a series of absolutely raging tracks decrying political issues in the United Kingdom (wealth disparity, police brutality, media control…) as well as a number of more light-hearted tracks (including one looking back at crazy nights at Slimes in the nineties) – but all with one link – pounding industrial metal crossed with old-school rave at points. Notably better produced than the first album, and a damned sight faster, this is enabling the constant references to his old band by some to start to recede into the distance a bit. As good as looking back can be, looking forward is even more positive.

Leaning On Shadows

These mysterious Swedes have featured in both of the past two annual rundowns in split albums with M‡яc▲ll▲, but here they make it in themselves with their striking debut album. Thematically it follows on from what they have done before – drowsy, off-kilter beats and synths with heavily distorted vocals that sound like no-one else, but it isn’t the music itself that is the main draw here for me – it is the extraordinary atmosphere that the band create. This is the aural equivalent of a fucking terrifying horror movie, where the monsters are kept out of sight, appearing in the corner of your vision for only fleeting seconds – and the sounds they create here are at points deeply unsettling. Particularly their amazing co-opting of a well-known nursery rhyme into easily the freakiest song here. Don’t bother pigeonholing this band, but do make sure you look under the bed after listening.

Many, many bands have proclaimed a love of, and to be influenced by, Killing Joke, so to hear yet another this year was no great surprise. But few have taken the template like this – raw, raging post-punk with tumbling drums and bellowed vocals, and a jagged, metallic sheen covers it all thanks to the distinctive guitar sound that they use. Also of note was the staggering cover of Requiem that the band released as a B-side, too.


Trust Laibach to deal with a political album in a different way to everyone else – with Spectre, it seems that the whole idea of being European is being examined, in the band’s customary oblique style. So there are many caustic asides in the lyrics, many questions and precious few answers. It also helps that this is one of their strongest albums musically in some time.

Nasty, clanking, NOISE-rock that takes a scorched-earth, industrial-tinged take on the pummelling, percussive fury of HEALTH and makes it even darker. Naming the first track Pure Pleasure is perhaps something of a sick joke on the casual listener, who by the time the electronic squalls take over a minute in, will have run a mile. But for those of us that know what to expect, this is enthralling stuff – rhythms are pummelled out until they run out of steam, guitar sounds are twisted out of all recognition, and at points the sound they create as a duo seems utterly overwhelming. For music with more bite, with a more inventive and restless streak, this was tough to beat in 2014.

Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Metal Blade

The stately grandeur of Primordial’s recent work remains intact on their latest album, a band that care not about trends and instead plough their own furrow – essentially they’ve created their own sound entirely, one that borrows from folk, from black metal, from doom metal, and is very much a product of their homeland. The anger at the failures of the world around them dominate the themes of this album, and musically it is perhaps a touch harder-hitting and heavier (in a metallic sense) than recent albums – but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is yet another exceptional album from this band.

St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Loma Vista

A joyously good, angular pop album that tackles interesting subjects (snakes in the desert, human interaction on the internet, love and jesus, power and relationships), takes risks all over the place with a sonic palette that Rocks as much as it Bleeps, and has begun to make Annie Clark the star she has always appeared to be waiting to be. Wildly inventive but catchy as hell.

Personal Revolution
Dependent Records

‘This world is totally fucked up’ notes the opening monologue, but that downbeat message isn’t the one the band are getting across. Instead, they are asking their listeners to ‘wake the fuck up’ and start their own, yes, Personal Revolution. While their last album was a fascinating industrial album, this takes things forward by honing the musical side of things (everything is leaner, shorter and simply better at making an impact) and coupled with the rousing message, this is an album of intensity not seen since ATR were actually wanting to make a difference. Yes folks, industrial and politics can work together, and this catches the Zeitgeist nicely: making a change to the system starts with your own actions. As the band say themselves: ‘remember, tomorrow is too late’.

the dark age of consent

Turning off the filter worked brilliantly for Jared Louche and his band of industrial/rockers. An album of filthy thoughts, things that many would leave unsaid, and a musical template that is similarly filthy – industrial-tinged glam rock, if you will. Containing spectacular rock anthems, surprisingly tender ballads, and a whole lot of style, this is an album that gets under your skin and leaves you wanting more.

Two albums in a year, but for me the first was the best (and like a bolt from the blue when I first heard it). I’ve already said many things about Gallows (see last week), but the whole album is absolutely stacked with some of the best synthpop I’ve heard in ages. A band with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to writing choruses and catchy hooks, coupled with a good knowledge of synthpop past and present, but able to put their own spin on things without sounding derivative. The follow-up Sleepwalkers is great, by the way, just simply not as good as this.

Speak In Storms
Dependent Records

Nearly eight years of waiting, and finally a new Seabound album arrived in 2014. OK, so there had been numerous side projects in the meantime (not least Edge of Dawn who scored the album of the year 2010), but there has always been something a bit special about Seabound. And this album doesn’t disappoint. Like all Seabound material, it is about the words, the mental imagery, the emotions, as much as it is the music, so repeated listening is required to let it fully soak in. This is an album about escape, about love, about the psychology of both – and amid the detail of the wordplay, there is an appropriately lush electronic backing and a simply glorious packaging, too – the Tempest Edition of the album is one of the prettiest special editions I’ve ever picked up.

High-Functioning Flesh
A Misery of Unities – A Unity of Miseries

Another band to emerge from the city of Los Angeles with an instantly recognisable, unique sound in recent years, like Youth Code HFF take an approach to industrial that uses vintage synths and influences from the past, but are making a fresh new approach in doing so. This takes the aggression of Portion Control, the dancefloor funk of Cabaret Voltaire, and twists it into a cold, confrontational attack that delivers the goods on track after track. In short, an utterly exceptional mini-album (just seven tracks) that has no weak moments. A new album is due on Dais Records in the first half of 2015, and will be worth listening out for.

Madness & Extinction

One of the real unsung albums of the year, and one I’ve done my utmost to get the word out about. Lead track The Burial (see last week) was good enough, but the rest of the album is nearly it’s equal – with musings on the tendency for humanity to sow the seeds of it’s own destruction, on how the end of the world would look on the news, how you might deal with your loved ones if the end comes. Lofty and bleak subjects, yes, but it is done here with such elegance and grace that it is a joy to listen to. This is enormously intelligent, well-thought through music, with gorgeous hooks, sweeping synths and more than a hint of classical influences all over the place. But then, knowing what else one of the writers has done (the best book on industrial yet, for one), how could we expect anything else, with a well of influences like that to pick from? An exceptional, thought-provoking album.

A glorious return for one of the more unsung synthpop bands, this album is very nearly all killer – and does it without simply aiming for the dancefloor, much like their European peers Seabound, where music for the head is very much the order of the day. And the first three songs probably make up the strongest opening to an album I’ve heard in a while, too – Another Way bursts into life at the chorus, Phenom is a fucking wonderful, understated pop song, while Wayseer is little more than ethereal synths and vocals, and sounds like it should be filling stadiums. But pick of the other songs here is the glittering, sweeping Cries of Insanity, that sums up the radiant, neon-light feel of the whole album in one four minute package. How did we live without this band over the past four or five years?

Before the announcement of this album, I was beginning to wonder if we were going to get another Neubauten album – so trust them to do things very differently, as ever. Initially conceived as a live piece, as part of the First World War Centenary commemorations in Diksmuide, Belgium (where it was first performed in November), it was clearly in the works for a while and this album is simply a recording of most of what was played live (as they toured it too). The album, of course, comes with copious notes and translations which helps to explain the extraordinary depth to it. This isn’t just Neubauten doing what they do – they cover jazz songs by the Harlem Hellfighters, Pete Seeger, national anthems, forgotten poetry, they impersonate animals and leaders…and then put their own stamp on things by casting light on lesser-known happenings in the war too. A vast, sprawling project, it is a glorious wonder of an album to experience and is by far the most interesting of any of the musical takes on the centenary this year – but the band were right: it really had to be seen live to gain the full force of the impact.

Worst Case Scenario Vol. 1
Glitch Mode

Never the most prolific of bands, Cyanotic’s third full album finally dropped this year, and it maintained the high standards that Sean Payne and his bandmates have held for ten years now. There are some subtle changes here, though – in particular perhaps less of a reliance on samples to provide hooks, but also the production is way punchier, with more of an organic feel to many of the tracks too. Machine music made by humans, if you will. But the tracks still kick ass, and with more slow-paced songs than before, tracks like the Fear Factory-esque the signs of struggle hit like a punch in the gut. But the album is paced and balanced well, but maybe takes a little longer to get into than previous albums. Make no mistake, though, if tech/sci-fi-obsessed industrial-with-guitars is your thing, you should be listening to this.

The Future’s Void
City Slang

Had I not been paying attention at the right time, I might have missed this album entirely – which would have been quite a loss if so. Erika M Anderson turned her attention here to the modern world, one where oversharing is the norm, where digital connectivity (and the need for it) seems to trump all other needs in the Western World at least, and by her observations, this living in the future doesn’t seem to have made any of us any happier – indeed, it’s probably sent us the other way. The idea that anyone can pretty much scrutinise another’s life and offer comment on it (whether welcomed or not) is perhaps faintly terrifying – and the music here reflects that, with a scratchy, electronic (and quasi-industrial) backing that drives Anderson’s vocals to panicked heights at points. Artists pouring their disgust at what they see don’t come along too often, and when they do, the results are often absolutely fantastic, as is the case here.

The Satanist
Nuclear Blast

A headline-grabbing title, yes, but the return of Behemoth after a few years of personal turmoil (life-threatening illness, legal issues and if I recall correctly a few other things besides) was something to celebrate. This album was the most exceptional metal album heard in 2014, released early on in the year and frankly setting the bar so high no-one else could even come close. An album, too, of raw emotions and breathtaking black/death metal, but also one of contemplative darkness and musing on the follies of organised religion. Oh, and an album bookended with the two best songs the band have written (Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, featured last week, and the stupendous album (and live) closer O Father O Satan O Sun), their status now assured as one of the extreme metal bands to take notice of.

It’s like Chino Moreno allows himself no downtime. In the times between Deftones albums, he always seems to have one side-project or another on the go, and just recently he’s been putting a fair amount of his time into Crosses. The album is mostly the recent EPs all pulled together, but it is of such quality that this is not a problem. Calling it an electronic version of Deftones does it a great disservice, too – much funkier (and filthier), it is also a lot more restrained at times, with Chino mainly keeping himself to crooning, only letting loose his scream once or twice – but that restraint makes those outbursts all the more thrilling (particularly the freakout on BiTches Brew). But the themes are broadly the same – sex, filth, violence and power games – and the combination of this and the electronics makes for a thrilling, sleek album that I can only hope is a project Chino and his colleagues keep on with.

To Be Kind

While many bands that have “reformed” in recent years simply aim at a point in the past where they were supposedly at their peak, Michael Gira’s return with Swans in recent years has been very clearly denoted as taking the band into new realms, expanding their sound rather than simply rehashing the past. This has even manifested itself in the live shows, where show-by-show they have shed more of the old material, to the point where on the last tour there was none of it at all. This would be a problem if the new material wasn’t up to scratch, but thankfully this isn’t the case. To Be Kind is more accessible than the sprawling maelstrom that was The Seer, but that is a relative thing – there is still a 122 minute running time here over two CDs and ten tracks, and it still demands an awful lot of your attention. But there is a more tuneful feel through much of this, with lots of use of multiple voices (and guests) and vocal repetition to stunning effect, while musically it is very much what we’ve come to expect from latter-day Swans. This is no complaint – what the band are doing now is so extraordinary and beautiful that they are gaining bigger audiences than ever before, despite being no less challenging. More open minded music fans? If it means Swans finally get the wider attention they always deserved anyway, that’s fine by me. God knows what this might lead them to discover next, mind…

Alter der Ruine
I Will Remember This All Differently
Negative Gain

As I noted last week and in my review of the album, ADR’s evolution musically and thematically has been really striking, as one friend put it, this is a band who’ve grown up with remarkable results. This is an album that bristles with regret and sorrow, with an appropriately muted electronic base that only accentuates the naked emotion on display. An utter joy.

Sometimes a breakthrough band doesn’t have to be universally liked. 3 TEETH seemed to raise as many hackles as plaudits as they burst through in 2014, as they spread through word of mouth and some very clever multimedia work, with all kinds of sneering going on – the kind that has blighted the industrial scene especially since Social Media became the main way to disseminate information. What is ironic, really, is that 3 TEETH are very much a product of that age. While musically their streamlined industrial-metal hybrid owes much to the industrial developments of the past (there are all kinds of influences here, but concepts previously done by scene luminaries Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails and Fear Factory are all prominent in sounds heard on the album at various points), in terms of image and use of other mediums, they are so ‘now’ it hurts. Clever image manipulation, interesting interview techniques, a steady stream of remixes, and well-picked live shows (rather than just playing constantly) have all helped to stoke the fire and kept interest bubbling over.

Back to the album, though, and it succeeds because it is so damned tight. No song overstays it’s welcome, meaning that the fourteen tracks here absolutely fly through in forty-five minutes with barely a chance to draw breath. The best songs weren’t even the ones they teased with in the first place, either, but really, the whole album has been a revelation and six months after release it is still on regular rotation. It isn’t going to change the world, even the small sphere known as the industrial world, but it has helped to hammer home that there is more to the industrial scene than the ever-decreasing returns of yet another Combichrist, Suicide Commando or VNV Nation clone. What 3 TEETH have done is to inject a little more excitement into a scene along with a whole vanguard of industrial acts from the United States at present – and that is absolutely something to be celebrated. In other words, 3 TEETH released the best and most exciting album of 2014, as far as is concerned. Music is about escapism, and an album that I keep escaping to to enjoy became a natural choice to make album of the year.

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