1. Monuments - The Amanuensis (Century Media)
The Amanuensis takes a burgeoning genre and raises the bar for the rest. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find another modern progressive metal album that could match this for impact. The band have refined the array of techniques they displayed on debut Gnosis and added the vocal gymnastics of Chris Barretto to their line-up. It's not an exaggeration to say that he takes the album to a whole new level. Throughout “Origin Of Escape” and the epic “Quasimodo” he’s tearing out lumps from your lugholes by firing out elongated roars that he bends into long, base-to-peak crecendos. During “Horcrux” and “I, The Destroyer” he fishes out those bowel-loosening piq grunts of his and for the remainder he’s scraping the skies with a sweet, melodic drift that gently echoes and swirls around inside your skull. On this performance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better fit for this infectious band. This is a completely, crushingly epic goliath of tech and groove; wall-shuddering, space-flooding both by design and in performance.
2. Servers - Leave With Us (Undergroove)
Some groups may mesh a couple of genres together to create something fresh and dynamic – Servers are an octopic rock band with a groping arm in every pie. They are the very definition of the band you simply cannot pigeonhole. Song by song, their chameleonic music takes in grunge, dark rock, screamo, sludge, cult metal, new wave, industrial and punk n’ roll. Their debut is an absolute behemoth spouting musical ear-worms that boast grit, melody and muscle. Tracks like "Universes And Supernovas" and "Run With The Foxes" come bursting at the seams with vast riffs and big, sparkly choruses that will aggressively weld themselves to your brain. When they cool their heels they produce stuff like the intensely gothic, Icicle Works-friendly comedown of ‘Claustrophobia‘. Welcome to your new favourite band.
3. Zodiac - Sonic Child (Napalm Records)
Straight out of left field this one. By opening with an intensely moving spoken passage telling of the utter joy of music, Zodiac grasp your attention and retain it from the first note to the last. The no-nonsense unencumbered groove that drives this album slackens and quickens to purpose but at every moment it pushes forward through the genres of blues, soul, country and rock n' roll. "Just Music" hauls some 70s kitsch out of the closet whilst "A Penny And A Dead Horse" digs out the good old boy slide guitar to suck you into a dizzying world of galloping horses and chain gangs. So leave your hang-ups at the door, come on in and just lose yourself, even if only "just for a little while".
4. Intervals - A Voice Within (Basick)
By making a sudden switch-up to a combination of rhythmic backline and glorious, moving vocal interplay, Intervals have produced a work of real joy, passion and pomp. Mike Semesky, now on lead vocal, craftily wraps his eye-popping, hugely emotive lyrics around the spasming instrumentation in such a way that you'll find them worming their way into your cortex. From the fast-slow pomp of "The Self Surrended" to the all-conquering "Atlas Hour", this album is undeniable proof of just how perceptive and unrestricted by the concept of genres, our modern metal bands have become.
5. Skyharbor - Guiding Lights (Basick)
Sounding smoother and sleeker whilst staying inventive and demanding, this latest model from Skyharbor takes the band away from their bumpier, grittier debut. Driven by the triumphant, emotion-soaked vocal of Daniel Tompkins, the album delves deep into the realms of post-rock and dream pop. Earworms like "Evolution" and "The Constant" suck you in, whilst the sheer beauty of "Halogen"s construction and the heart-rending pain that inhabits "Patience" will demand continuous repeats. The organic ebb and flow of the album ties neatly in with the themes of life, evolution and entropy. It is a work of art that will toy with your senses and reduce grown men to tears. This band are going places and Guiding Lights is proof that sharing their future journey will be something of a delight.
6. Cavorts - Got Your Brass (In At The Deep End Records)
Jumping on the screaming punk n' roll bandwagon, Cavorts have leaped from the shadows to produce an album with more conviction than Cancer Bats, more nous than Kvelertak and more punch than Feed The Rhino. They've achieved this by opening out the song structures and firing out more barbarous hooks and crushing riffs than you can shake a stick at. If tracks like "Wait On", "Put Down The Hammer" and "Save Some Things" don't have you forming invisible oranges and shouting the lyrics to the skies then there's something inherently wrong with you.
7. Animals As Leaders - The Joy Of Motion (Sumerian)
A step forward away from the inaccessible complexities of earlier albums, this perfectly-titled songbook still opens with music that's as manic as a warzone, where bullets are replaced by notes. There are strafed leads that descend into an absolute cacophony before abating into the most gloriously laid-back infectious moments of jazz, electro and post-rock. Within the space of two tracks you are taken from the Earl Klugh-esque, low-slung jazz guitar of "Another Year" to the addictive slap funk majesty of "Physical Education". If this were hooked up to a graphic equalizer it would create only the most achingly beautiful of shapes. There you have it... The Joy Of Motion.
8. Craang - To The Estimated Size Of The Universe (Pink Tank Records)
As a debut album, quite frankly TTESOTU is astounding. There have been plenty of releases of late riding the retro gravy train but this four-track concoction of space, stoner and psych is quite unlike anything that has come before. Yes, some of its content may bear a passing resemblance to Hawkwind, Zappa or Pink Floyd but it actually draws strength from far more contemporary sounds than these. Take “Butterfly” for example. It digs out the kind of sick, splattering riff that Fu Manchu or Orange Goblin might have conjured and rides it until it sinks so far into your consciousness that you cease to notice it any more. You can feel your own pulse begin to syncopate, realigning itself with the music to create a new cadence for you to live by. There is definitely no hiding from the enigmatic joy, passion and crushing presence that this album carries.
9. Evil Scarecrow - Galactic Hunt (Deadbox Records)
Music and humour are two beasts that can cause sparks when combined. There's the simple shits n' giggles kind - bands like Tenacious D and Psychostick - and there's the lunatic fringe featuring goliaths like Rammstein and Devin Townsend. Aligning themselves closer to the latter, Evil Scarecrow tackle everything from genetically-modified mutant-robot crabs and the brilliant concept of losing a priceless library book called "The Book Of Doom", to paying tribute to the interactive virtual-reality world that was late-80s kids TV gameshow Knightmare. With razor-sharp wit, a very special guest and now stunning production to boot, Galactic Hunt (say it fast) is proof of just how far they have come in their quest to find our funny bones.
10. Devin Townsend Project - Sky Blue (HevyDevy)
Bursting from the confines of Dev's Z2 package comes this utterly mind-blowing collaboration with Anneke Van Giersbergen. Sporting great diversity, at times, it wallows in sheer euphoric arena rock whilst at others it spasms into sections of electro, dance and pop. There's also the mind-blowing wrap-around sound of "The Universal Choir" to wallow in. What more could any fan of music want?
Others for your stocking:
11. Pet Slimmers Of The Year - Fragments Of Uniforms (Review)
12. Herod - They Were None (Review)
13. The Golden Grass - S/T (Review)
14. Jackson Firebird - Cock Rockin' (Review)
15. Inventions - S/T (Review)
16. Behemoth - The Satanist (Review)
17. Thomas Giles - Modern Noise (Review)
18. Alaya - Thrones (Review)
19. Mire - Inward / Outward (Review)
20. My Brother The Wind - Once There Was A Time When Space And Time Were One (Review)
Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/12/albums-of-the-year-2014/
Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2014/12/17/not-with-a-whimper-but-with-a-bang-heavy-blog-is-heavys-staffs-top-ten-of-2014/
Best of 2013: http://johnskibeat.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/feature-johnskibeats-best-20-albums-of_17.html
Best of 2012: http://johnskibeat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/feature-top-ten-albums-of-2012.html