Arno’s Best Albums of 2014

January 10, 2015 in Top Lists by Arno Callens

Never before has it been so difficult to name just one album as the best of a given year. 2014 was not a bad year for my tastes, but it seemed to be missing two to three really excellent releases between which the title would be disputed. What we have, however, is a selection of “good” to “very good” to even “great” records – the very best of which somehow don’t stack up against the top bunch of previous years. Hardly cause for complaining, but it did make compiling this year’s list particularly challenging. So here come the ten finest, followed by twenty of the less fine, but still fine. To all of you readers I wish a happy 2015 in music, which promos and promises predict is going to be a doozy.

10. Sinbreed – Shadows

Expectations were high for the follow-up to the stellar debut When Worlds Collide. By changing almost nothing and playing it safe, Sinbreed succeeded in meeting those requirements, even if it meant the album fell short of amazing. So while we’d like to see these guys break some boundaries on their next outing, their initial mark on the power metal landscape is still powerful enough to land them inside my top ten, amongst others.

9. Vanishing Point – Distant Is The Sun

Vanishing Point - Distant Is The Sun

One of several comebacks on this list, these Australians sort of – wait for it – disappeared after 2007’s outstanding The Fifth Season. If seven years is what it took them to come up with Distant Is The Sun, then I would have gladly waited as long as it took. With its unique brand of sensitive prog metal spliced with some power DNA, Vanishing Point continues to carve out its very own corner of the crossover field, and no one even remotely interested in said field should be left unmoved by this return to the scene.

8. Noble Beast – Noble Beast

Noble Beast - Noble Beast

What started off as something of a cult curiosity has genuinely become one of the best albums of 2014. Rocking a fine balance between the American old and European new schools, Noble Beast has crafted a diverse set of tracks, chock-full of heart, balls, and awesome melodies. Proof the underground can still spew forth incredible rare talent every now and then, much like that snake/lizard/thing on the cover spews forth lava/vomit/soup.

7. Anubis Gate – Horizons

anubisGateCover_1400

Every winning streak must come to an end – sorry, Threshold – but Anubis Gate delays the sentence once more. On an incredible run ever since Andromeda Unchained, the Danes seem to always find new ways to approach their music, and never lose the core: emotive, challenging, and innovative prog metal. Never was there an album so aptly titled, as the horizon is what Anubis Gate goes for every time, only to cross it and set it to the torch.

6. Viathyn – Cynosure

Viathyn - Cynosure

While this Canadian act’s debut The Peregrine Way has lingered admittedly way too long on my “to check out properly” list, the sophomore effort caught my eye right away. Boasting daring compositions not limited to any genre, Viathyn goes from a Dark Tower-homage to a sea shanty without ever feeling like a different band or sound. Much like their countrymen Sequester, they often wander off into sober territory, and if not for one or two strange and alienating songs, this album may have ranked even higher. Yet overall they are heavier and more engaging than their aforementioned colleagues, and sit right at the top of their national scene – one that keeps on surprising.

5. Voyager – V

Voyager - V

Probably not the last crowd-funded album you’ll ever see on a list (and not the first – see Keldian on last year’s list), but one I’m personally (and financially) attached to. Which is why I’m ever so happy to say that Voyager’s place here was not bought, but fully deserved. Expanding the scope of its last scope-expanding output The Meaning Of I, this is Voyager at its most ambitious and bold, and a far cry from its humble beginnings. In a calmer year for melodic prog, this was one of the saving graces, and in any busy year it would’ve been a worthy contender nonetheless.

4. Elvenking – The Pagan Manifesto

Elvenking-The Pagan Manifesto

Elvenking has been successfully reinventing itself ever since the great Red Silent Tides. With Era, the band stagnated somewhat while not giving in on quality, but this must be its crowning achievement. Bridging the gap between their roots in folklore (Heathenreel) and the group’s modern pop sensibilities (Two Tragedy Poets…, Red Silent Tides), all it takes for this album to make the top is opener “King Of The Elves”, which is not only one of the year’s best songs, but the best thing these Italians have ever penned. I’ll leave the pagan factor to experts, but the manifesto part is more than on the money.

3. Dragonforce – Maximum Overload

Dragonforce-Maximum Overload

I never thought I’d rank a Dragonforce album so high, which only goes to show you how far these guys have come. From power metal’s token gimmicky speed machine to one of the most infectious outfits in the business – that’s no small feat. Continuing to learn (better late than never) how to write actual songs instead of stitching solos together, Maximum Overload continues nicely from The Power Within, providing us with another volley of hits, and even a Johnny Cash cover that shouldn’t work on paper (but totally does). Victorius may have cracked a similar formula this year with the very good Dreamchaser, but Dragonforce got there first, and I’m glad I can finally fully enjoy it now, in a style that speaks to all of the band’s strengths.

2. Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child

Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child - Artwork

In a year riddled with comebacks, this one has to take the crown. I had given up on Sonata Arctica ever since it disappeared up it’s own ass starting with Unia, so when I saw the signature wolf resurfacing, I didn’t immediately jump for joy. Yet the Finns did see the light, combining the melodies and speed of their early days with the experimentation from the dark ages to strike absolute gold. There’s no more weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but rather, it adds to the material this time around, making for a simultaneously familiar and eye-opening listening experience. If it takes a few Unias to achieve this kind of clarity, then that was time well spent.

1. Harmony – Theatre Of Redemption

Harmony-Theatre Of Redemption

Picking a favorite this year is no easy task, and I could have put any of the previous three in this spot just as well. Yet there’s something about Theatre Of Redemption that just shouts “Album of the Year”. Perhaps its greatest achievement is the fact that this isn’t all due to the legendary Daniel Heiman’s involvement. If it was just that, it may have reached the top ten as well, but it’s the combined effort between one of the genre’s best singers and the band’s other members finally reaching their full potential to fulfill the last album’s promise that makes this such a hit. Alas, doomed to be a one-off cooperation, Harmony can build on this work to conquer even more territory. As it stands right now however, this was the most lightning-in-a-bottle musical experience for me this year.

Honorable mentions

Crystal EyesKiller // Falconer – Black Moon Rising // Freedom Call – Beyond // Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld (Path 1) // Persuader – The Fiction Maze // Brainstorm – Firesoul // Victorius – Dreamchaser // Black Fate – Between Visions & Lies // Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds // Edguy – Space Police: Defenders Of The Crown // Black Veil Brides – IV // Unisonic – Light Of Dawn // Manigance – Volte Face // Twilight Force – Tales Of Ancient Prophecies // Noveria – Risen // Iron Savior – Rise Of The Hero // Astralion – Astralion // Threshold – For The Journey // Iced Earth – Plagues Of Babylon // Astra – Broken Balance