The ongoing consternation about metal music and its fans – a phenomenon based primarily on classism and stereotypes surrounding the general uncleanliness of the genre’s fan base, along with their drug and alcohol consumption – has created a strong sense community among those fans. It means that they’re both extremely passionate and also sensitive to perceived criticism of their favorite artists. Because of this, there are legitimate apprehensions about metal lists appearing in non metal-centric online publications.
Nevertheless, here’s an extremely subjective opinion on bands you should check out this year. These bands represent a musical dexterity and innovativeness within the underground metal scene, one that not only challenges the definition of the genre, but also challenges the well-known, mainstream metal bands whose logo-ed bootleg T-shirts are sold at B-grade retail franchises — you know, the ones the kids wear to boost their “street cred” without ever having to listen to the bands in question. Sure, Slayer and Mastodon have broken through to the mainstream, and both have highly anticipated releases coming out later in 2014, but there are a plethora of lesser-known yet extremely talented black, death, grindcore and doom bands whose upcoming releases deserve your consideration. With so much variation under the metal umbrella these days, there’s something to appeal to any music fan.
Indian — From All Purity (January 17) Lord Mantis — Death Mask (April 14)
Both nihilistic, blackened doomsters Indian and their musical and philosophical sludgy counterparts Lord Mantis (the Chicago-based bands share members) create music that’s uncomfortable, yet glorious. Their work evokes the physical feeling of living in congested yet lonely urban environments, but both bands do so without completely soaking their sounds in sorrow — their songs encourage the listener to look in the mirror and be honest about their deepest, darkest desires.
Indian’s sixth album, From All Purity, is an accurate interpretation of all these deep, dark, pathological feelings, the ones we are all socialized to bury. The album serves as a soundtrack to the cathartic unearthing of these emotions. For their part, Lord Mantis’ 2009 debut Spawning the Nephilim was a gritty, rhythm-heavy album that integrated sludge and insolent ‘80s-era punk sounds into a masterpiece of near-hypnotic despair. 2011’s Pervertor was a sexually disturbing yet liberating masterpiece that appeared on several year-end lists, and early reports are that Death Mask will be a continuation of their exploration of the seediness of the human condition, descending even deeper into murky waters.
Grand Magus — Triumph And Power (February 4)
Swedish rockers Grand Magus might be the most traditional metallers on this list. For the past 18 years, the trio has stuck to its guns, favoring the classic NWBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) / power metal sound instead of trading it in for something trendy, and because of this, they’ve cultivated a solid and loyal fan base, and won great respect from music publications around the world. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is singer/guitarist Janne “JB” Christoffersson, one of the best “clean” vocalists in the genre. These guys know how to craft hyper-masculine, fist-pumping melodic tunes.
Behemoth — The Satanist (February 4)
The Satanist will be the first release from Polish blackened death metal trio Behemoth since the highly publicized illness of singer Nergal, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. The excellent video for first single “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” was released last month, and if it is any indication of how the rest of The Satanist sounds, the album’s going to be a success.
Sunn O)))/Ulver — Terrestrials (February 4)
According to their label, this highly anticipated collaboration between American drone duo Sunn O))) and Norwegian-based “evolutionary concept” artists Ulver will consist of “a trio of movements which flow like magma beneath the Earth’s crust, sonically uninhibited, unpredictably cosmic, haunting and stirring, yet simultaneously ceremonious and beautiful.” Slow but blisteringly heavy, Sunn 0)))’s live performances have greatly enhanced their popularity, and visuals and the addition of a vocalist (Mayhem’s Attila Csihar) have provided fans with a different interpretation of their music.
Gridlink — Longhena (February 19)
Grindcore fans were bummed to find out last year that Longhena would be Gridlink’s final album, but trust me, they are going out with a sonic boom. Vocalist Jon Chang — formerly of grind masters Discordance Axis — believes that the hard work (three years of painstaking writing, recording, and music-induced physical injuries) has resulted in their best album. A continuation of the quartet’s fascination with Japanese gaming and anime, Longhena intertwines technicality, tension, and massive riffage. Its short, to-the-point songs are typical of the grindcore genre, but Gridlink ensure that every track is not only pristinely polished, but also packs a punch.
Also check out:
Avichi — Catharsis Absolute (January 21) The one-man masterpiece by Andrew Markuszewski (aka Aamonael), who has also been a member of other projects, including Lord Mantis, Nachmystium, and Holy Trinity. Excellently produced, it’s dark, seriously heavy, and a fine representation of American black metal.
Slough Feg — Digital Resistance (February 18) I saw these guys perform at SXSW a few years back, and man, that was a party. All killer, no filler. OK, it’s not the best description, but there is a lot of great buzz about this legendary Bay Area band’s upcoming release.
Ghenna — Funeral Embrace (March 1 — vinyl release) Dirty, filthy, old-school trash metal. ‘Nuff said.
Misery Index — Title TBA (May) They have been called “deathgrind,” but Misery Index are better described as a death metal band with some serious grindcore, hardcore, and trash influences. If 2010’s Heirs to Thievery is any indication, this album is going to slay, as the band is known for seriously upping the stakes with every album.
The Atlas Month — The Old Believer (June) This Chicago-based band has built a loyal following, and if 2011’s An Ache for the Distance was any indication, this album should will appear on several “best-of” lists this year. If you like blackened metal with some stoner and progressive themes, check this out.
The following bands have albums due out, but haven’t yet confirmed specific release dates:
Pyrrhon — The Mother of Virtues Death metal with technical influences.
Tombs — Savage Gold Metal with a definite nod to post-punk.
Mutilation Rights — Title TBA New York-esque blackened metal.
Yob — Title TBA Psychedelic, spacy, but brutally heavy doom.
Anaal Nathrakh — Title TBA British-based extreme metal with grindcore influences.
White Widows Pact — Title TBA Awesome, groove-laden New York hardcore.
Primitive Weapons — Title TBA Blackened doom.
Pallbearer — Title TBA Doom metal. Highly, highly recommended.
Agalloch — Title TBA West Coast-based Cascadian black metal.