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20 Best Metal Albums of 2014

The year in heavy from Scott to Slipknot

Body Count

Body Count

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Metal may have the heart of a rebellious teenager (and keep it in a jar in the basement), but in 2014 it had the face of a grizzled vet. It was a year of comebacks: from Slipknot to At the Gates, from Godflesh to Behemoth, whose leader Nergal fought off cancer to hail Satan in song once again. It was a year when wizened electric wizards rocking low and slow (Yob, Crowbar, SunnO))), Ommadon, et al.) crawled by the fast and the furious on the path to ascend. Grunge pioneers, avant-garde longtimers, and even a hip-hop O.G. got in on the metallurgy and made magic. But anyone under the age of, say, 30? Not as much. So study up, young'uns, and respect your elders: Here are heavy music's 20 best of 2014.

At the Gates, At War With Reality
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At the Gates, ‘At War with Reality’

It's fitting that in the twilight hour of the metalcore subgenre that they inspired, At the Gates should drop the comeback full-length they promised they would never make, as if to show everyone how it was supposed to be done all along. No emo vocals, no mosh-pit-appeasing breakdowns, no keyboards; just strangled screams, irresistibly hooky guitar melodies, some soundtrackish interludes and fantastic riffs. Have the Swedish melodic death-metal pioneers matched 1995's Slaughter of the Soul, their former swan song and easily one of the most influential metal records of the last two decades? Of course not. But At War with Reality does miraculously pick up 19 years later right where it left off, delivering everything fans could realistically hope for, plus plenty to inspire another generation to try to rip At the Gates off and fail. B.G.

Triptykon Melata Chasmata
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Triptykon, ‘Melana Chasmata’

Three decades ago, Triptykon frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer wrote extreme metal's playbook with the pugilistic riffs and grunted vocals of his trailblazing bands Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. On Melana Chasmata, he refigured the rules. While so many of his disciples have been playing up the genre's expressionism with temper tantrums, Fischer's Triptykon subverted it with gloomy introversion. Much like the record's slithery, serpentine H.R. Giger cover, Triptykon's second album is total darkness, a finely tuned cocktail of death, doom and goth metal spiked with a hefty side order of 4AD ethereal new wave for optimal pessimism. A statement about loss and anger that's intoxicating and beautiful. K.G.

Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend
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Yob, ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’

The seventh album from Oregon doom metal sky-gazers Yob — a mere four tracks that just eke just past the hour mark — makes perfect bedfellows of volume and beauty, pain and transcendence. Written in the wake of a divorce and frontman Mike Scheidt's decision to quit antidepressants, Clearing sounds like the diary of a survivor, seeking perseverance through meditation and empathy. Opener "In Our Blood" extends a simple riff into complex arches, tracing Scheidt's voice as it moves from an exquisite falsetto to a death-metal bellow in the course of 16 minutes. And during the colossal closer "Marrow" — possibly the best metal song of the year, one that uses low notes to play uplifting melodies — Scheidt sings "Time will fall inside the dream." His voice suddenly reaches out like a clarion's call, clear and telling and beautiful. It's a pronouncement from the living, a semaphore pointing into the future. G.C.

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