As always, this list is subject to change with my mood, or as I discover a few records that I somehow missed over the course of the year, but here’s my Best of 2014 list for hard rock and metal — at least, as of the last week of the year …
No. 10 — SANCTUARY – THE YEAR THE SUN DIED: It’s been 25 years since Sanctuary’s last album, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell that from this record. This is a bit heavier perhaps, a bit more progressive, than the band’s earlier work, but just a stellar album all the way around.
No. 9 — ARCH ENEMY – WAR ETERNAL: I expected this to be higher on my end of year list than it was on my mid-year list, but I had so much good stuff this year that it actually got bumped down. This Best of 2014 record grew on me all year long, and I’m very interested to hear where the band goes with Alissa White-Gluz, especially now that they’ve added Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis to the fold.
No. 8 — BLACK LABEL SOCIETY – CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN: Not as strong as Order of the Black, this is still a solid record for Zakk Wylde and Company. There’s plenty of the Sabbath influence we’ve come to expect, along with a little bit of grunge and, as always, some smoking guitar work.
No. 7 — GRAND MAGUS – TRIUMPH AND POWER: This is a great collection of old-school, chest-thumping, testosterone-fueled classic heavy metal. There’s nothing fancy and nothing innovative about it, but I love it.
No. 6 — GUS G – I AM THE FIRE: The Firewind/Ozzy Osbourne guitarist unleashes his first solo album, and it’s a surprisingly good hard rock collection. The record covers a variety of styles from the power metal of Firewind to some more commercial hard rock sounds to ballads and even a thrash instrumental.
No. 5 — DELAIN – THE HUMAN CONTRADICTION: This record surprised me a little as I hadn’t been particularly interested in what I’d heard from the band before. The tune “Stardust” pulled me in, and the 1980s pop vibe on much of the album gave me a little hit of nostalgia. I ended up really enjoying it.
No. 4 — ALESTORM – SUNSET ON THE GOLDEN AGE: A year with a new Alestorm record is automatically a better year. This Best of 2014 album is as much fun as ever, chock full of piratey goodness. The band also plays with a few new toys, like breakdowns, death vocals and even a rap bit.
No. 3 — DOWN – DOWN IV: PART II: This series of EPs has the makings of one outstanding extended album. The second collection features all of the crushing, sludgy, Sabbath-inspired heaviness that we’ve come to expect from Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan.
No. 2 — ANTI-MORTEM – NEW SOUTHERN: My favorite record at the midpoint of the year, New Southern spent most of 2014 in my playlist. It’s a rock-solid hard rock album from front to back with some shades of Southern rock, thrash and more commercial rock sounds. It’s full of great grooves and big hooks.
No. 1 — JUDAS PRIEST – REDEEMER OF SOULS: Was there any doubt? A fantastic comeback album from the metal legends tops my Best of 2014 list. It would have taken quite a record to unseat this one from the top spot. After the disappointing Nostradamus, it was nice to hear Priest get that classic sound back. Redeemer of Souls covers most of the band’s signature sounds from the classic metal of British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance to the heavier sound of Painkiller, and even dips back into the rock ‘n’ roll roots of albums like Rocka Rolla.
BEST OF 2014: HONORABLE MENTIONS
Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars
Texas Hippie Coalition – Ride On
Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo
Sebastian Bach – Give 'Em Hell
Body Count – Manslaughter
DEAD EARTH POLITICS – QUEEN OF STEEL: This was my introduction to this Austin band, and all they had to do to hook me was give me a new theme song — “Redneck Dragonslayer.” That aside, the three songs here are a really nice mash-up of classic metal, thrash and progressive. I look forward to their upcoming early 2015 EP.
BODY COUNT – MANSLAUGHTER: I definitely didn’t see this one coming, but Ice-T and Ernie C delivered with the return of Body Count. While the social commentary may have been dialed down a bit, the aggression and rage haven’t. And “Talk Shit, Get Shot” has to be the song title of the year, right?
WHITE LIGHT CEMETERY – WHITE LIGHT CEMETERY: Though the album was released in 2013, it hasn’t left my playlist since I saw the band live earlier this year. It’s just a fantastic sludgy, Southern, grooving and heavy record. The band recently signed a deal with Ripple Music and will release a new album in 2015. I can’t wait to hear it.