Best of 2014 in Metal and Hard Rock – Part II

Counting down the top five albums of the year
By Peter Lindblad

Crowbar's 'Symmetry in Black' is
our pick as the best album of 2014
No where in the Farmer's Almanac did it forecast heavy landslides of sludge or days of darkened, apocalyptic skies portending doom.

Such conditions were prevalent in the world of heavy metal, however, what with the blackened, cataclysmic audio devastation wrought this year by the likes of Obituary, Yob, Goatwhore, Eyehategod, Wo Fat, Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity.

Old reliable alternative-metal punishers Prong brought forth another blistering, hard-hitting screed on the ugly state of the world, while one of the band's former guitarists, a veteran sideman named Monte Pittman who's played with Madonna, of all people, released a solo album that not only showed off a diverse set of chops, but also had some solid songwriting to boot.

And then there were the '80s artists that somehow succeeded, against almost insurmountable odds, to recapture the magic of yesterday, like Winger, Tesla, Sebastian Bach, House of Lords, Rubicon Cross and their frontman C.J. Snare of Firehouse fame, and Red Dragon Cartel, featuring the long-exiled Jake E. Lee.

Whittling the best of 2014 down to a final five was no easy task. Without any more delay, here then are the top five albums of the year:

Tesla - Simplicity 2014
5. Tesla – Simplicity: Trends come and go. Tesla remained steadfast in its adherence to the basics on Simplicity, choosing good, solid songwriting and well-executed, tasteful musicianship over flashy playing and experimentation. Gnarled, passionate, blue-collar anthems for "Freedom Rock" holdouts mingled with heartfelt, torn-and-frayed ballads – cobbled together with a mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation – that soared made Simplicity a welcome throwback to their salad days, while the sunny Southern rock charm of "Cross My Heart" made it one of the best songs of the year. Keep it simple, Tesla.

Winger - Better Days Ahead 2014
4. Winger – Better Days Ahead: Nobody's laughing at Winger anymore, or at least they shouldn't be, not after striking musical gold on two strong LPs in a row. Building off the melodic complexity and surprisingly heaviness of Karma, Better Days Ahead showed even more diversity and maturity, positioning Winger as the most progressive and daring pop-metal band to survive the hair-sprayed glamour of the '80s. Time hasn't diminished their chops, and with Better Days Ahead, Winger combined power with precision on the rugged "Rat Race," while embracing funk on a bright, bouncy title track and swimming in the psychedelia of "Be Who You Are, Now." This is who they are, for better, not worse.

Goatwhore - Constricting Rage of the
Merciless 2014
3. Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless: Ferocious death metal with undercurrents of Southern boogie grooves – Constricting Rage of the Merciless is a holy terror of an album, as comfortable riding blazing-fast, charred thrash metal as it is crawling through thick, tar-like sludge with an evil grin on its dirty face. Highly combustible, brutal riffs are the order of the day, and they look to brawl with anybody that crosses their path of destruction. And for those who have the stomach for it, Goatwhore paints in bloody language grim scenes of torturous violence and horrific end-of-life struggles. Their rage is contagious.

Mastodon - Once More 'Round
the Sun 2014
2. Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun: Conceptually speaking, this isn't Leviathan. Aiming for more accessible and immediate rewards, Mastodon tightened up its song structures considerably and crafted big, muscular hooks for the vibrant, yet still intricate and massive Once More 'Round the Sun. They took a lot of heat for its video for "The Motherload," what with all that twerking going on. And not everybody's onboard with the band's sound evolving to become increasingly more radio-friendly. All that aside, Mastodon is still Mastodon, their mighty riffs are still enormous and blustery, Brann Dailor's drumming remains astoundingly intricate and powerful, and their guitar architecture, as always, is awe-inspiring.

Crowbar - Symmetry in Black 2014
1. Crowbar – Symmetry in Black: Underestimate Crowbar at your peril. This chugging behemoth, once a bit of a one-trick pony, has expanded its sludge-metal repertoire, thrashing with fierce intensity while also constructing mammoth, churning riffs that build slowly and grow to enormous tsunamis of doom. Expertly plotted, intricate movements crawl like primordial creatures, before evolving into thick, crushingly heavy monsters. What's surprising is how listenable it is. Calling it "melodic" might be a stretch, but every track is compelling in some way, hiding brawny, slow-developing hooks within its deeply blackened, impenetrable great walls of sound. What symmetry, what balance, what provocative lyrics – Crowbar has brought forth its masterpiece. Now go ahead and crown them kings of 2014.

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