Up until now, 2014 has indeed proven to be a year that happened and lasted for 12 solid months. Some things happened within this year that were good and some that were bad. There was also some music released in 2014. A lot of music. Much of the music that I chose to listen to could be described as “heavy music”, and I imagine that the same is true too for yourself, you good Shaman reader, you.
As ever, here is a brief rundown of my year-of-the-ear to date…
So, what’s been floating my dinghy this annum, release-wise?
Well, when all’s said and done, I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say that in terms of record releases there have been better years than 2014. Yes, there have been flashes of genius, sure, but nothing earth-shattering, genre-exploding or horizon-bending either. Some (most apparently!) may disagree, but as much as I enjoyed Yob’s new opus Clearing The Path To Ascend, which is sure to go down in many Best Of lists as the crème-de-la-crème of this year’s doomload, it didn’t quite grab me in the same way as The Great Cessation, The Unreal Never Lived or The Illusion Of Motion have done in years gone by. Alongside this, the quality of sanity-defying, super-strength heaviness has been at a highly competitive level this year. Conan, Slomatics, Indian, Stoneburner, Pallbearer, Bongripper and EyeHateGod all put out killer releases. And by the same token, the counter-balancing, fun-loving, festival-frolicking retro acts are firing on all cylinders too – just witnessing the crowds at this years’ raft of festivals boogying on down to The Vintage Caravan, Blues Pills, Kadavar, The Shrine, Brant Bjork and Satan’s Satyrs et al was a pleasure in itself. More on my favourite releases of 2014 can be found below!
Gigs? Any good gigs?
There were some good gigs this year, not as many as there should have been, but still some belters. I travelled up to Manchester to see Spirit Caravan blow the roof off the Academy3 and nearly had an eye out courtesy of Henry Vasquez’ flying drum sticks! I witnessed the sublime comeback of Raging Speedhorn in Birmingham; six dudes who could, and have, taken on the world and won whilst having a blast in the process. Karma To Burn came over from the mighty US-of-A to my even mightier hometown of Leamington-of-Spa and kicked a major amount of instrumental rump. The Shrine spanked my ass three times: by themselves, with Red Fang and at DesertFest Antwerp – a seriously shit hot act those lads have proven to be. Conan toured anywhere, everywhere, all the time and successfully crushed our enemies before us. Dopethrone brought their weed, their beers and their gigantic guitar chops all the way from Canada to Birmingham’s Asylum (amongst others) and showed us a riff or eight thousand. But one show stands out fondly and back in January I managed to experience Winnebago Deal play their first hometown Oxford-gig in two too many years and by God it was absolute chaos! A tiny venue rammed with crowdsurfers, pissheads, rabid fans and the ‘Deal’s incendiary live punk rock mentalness made for an unforgettable evening of old school euphoria.
2014 was the year that DesertFest, the Camden-based stoner festival franchise, truly spread its European wings by adding a third location (Antwerp) to its Camden and Berlin strongholds. And man, what a great way to kick things off over at the sublime TRIX venue in Belgium’s second city! Kadavar, Brant Bjork, Yob, Pallbearer, Truckfighters, Blues Pills, Colour Haze and Karma To Burn all smashed it alongside a supporting bill armed to the teeth with quality in the fair Flemish lands. We enjoyed a friendly welcome everywhere we went and an array of beers created by the gods themselves graced the town’s many many bars and pubs. The icing on the cake was a devastatingly fuzzy and fun-laden groove-ride of a headlining performance by California’s stoner veterans Fu Manchu, who were simply unsurpassable.
This year’s Camden edition saw more of a diverse bill spread across three days of merriment back in April. Wino-lead stoner kings Spirit Caravan were resurrected to headline Friday, with Norwegian metal titans Kvelertak leading Saturday and Sunday being rounded off in unforgettable fashion by Japanese experimental legends Boris. Along with more than 50 other bands across three days for less than £90 a ticket, who can argue that DesertFest remains a proposition of incredible value as well as a festival force to be reckoned with.
So thanks a bazillion to all of those who’ve given me some outstanding opportunities this year, in particular Lee at The Sleeping Shaman, without whom none of this would be possible. Thanks too to Jake and Reece at DesertFest for their hard work and great teamwork, Paul Butcher and Emma Sainsbury for the company at shows and Mez Dewsbury (Heretic Promos) and Chris Selfless at Fear Me Music for all their incredible hard work in keeping the Birmingham scene a-rollin’.
All that remains is to reveal my top musical highlights of 2014. I’d rather not call it a ‘Best Of’, but more of a ‘Most Enjoyed’ and I hope you enjoyed some of these as much as I did.
Cheers ‘n beers and see you all in 2015!
Pete Green’s Ten Most Enjoyed of 2014:
10. Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket ‘In A Dutch Haze’
A bit cheeky this one as it’s a live recording of one of the most spell-binding hours of my musical life back at Roadburn in 2012. If it were a studio attempt, it would be No.1 and with Earthless’ rhythm section and Heavy Blanket’s dual guitar attack, it would probably remain there forever.
9. Clan ‘Witchcraft’
This was a very welcome surprise midway through this year. Clan, three highly talented lads from Norwich keep it simple and retro with terrific songwriting and stunning vocal lines on their debut release. Someone sign them. Now.
8. Conan ‘Blood Eagle’
Conan smash. Conan fight. Conan win. Blood Eagle didn’t quite top Monnos in my book but sweet mother of Crom, it’s huge nonetheless.
7. Slomatics ‘Estron’
Out back in February, this was an early contender for first place, but lack of continuous playability saw it slip down my ranks as time wore on. It’s still a tremendous departure from their regular ground-punching fare though with spacey atmospherics accompanying ze doom. It also carries the best artwork ever, thank you Mr Tony Roberts.
6. Indian ‘From All Purity’
Urgh. There’s nowhere to go from this album. Claustrophobic, bleak, nauseating and terrifying noise-doom from these Chicago masters of grimy self-deconstruction.
5. Blues Pills ‘Blues Pills’
They’ve been hard to ignore with the unprecedented media pandemonium surrounding these new kings and queen of the retro, but I have to admit, they’ve seduced me too. Blues Pills may not be all that original but it’s already proved to be an instant classic with Ms Elin Larsson at full command of their destiny.
4. Satan’s Satyrs ‘Die Screaming’
A Marmite band, for sure, but in my view Satan’s Satyrs came of age on Die Screaming. Those gigantic chugging riffs are stacked too high to ignore, as are Clayton Burgess’s sickly sweet odes to t’other side and his hugely improved song-writing, particularly on the eerie, closing title track.
3. Bast ‘Spectres’
I remember when these lads were playing sloppy, sludgy black metal in pubs to nobody. 2014 saw them step up colossally and slam genres together like 20-year veterans of the scene. Spectres is a triumphant record and a sublime debut for Jon Davis’ Black Bow Records.
2. Pallbearer ‘Foundations Of Burden’
A lot of stupidly heavy records came out in 2014, but Pallbearer added the gorgeous juxtapositional melodies better than anyone else on the planet. Stunning.
1. The Shrine ‘Bless Off’
In 2014, for me this band personified rock and roll. Every song on this sophomore ripper from The Shrine is a complete banger and if you put down your skateboard for long enough, you can just about smell Black Flag’s dust burning in their wake. Shit hot rock. Bless Off!!
And I’ll leave you with some very honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut…
Yob ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend’
Elephant Tree ‘Theia’
Stoneburner ‘Life Drawing’
Fu Manchu ‘Gigantoid’
Corrosion Of Conformity ‘IX’
Alunah ‘Awakening The Forest’
The Scimitar ‘Doomsayer’
Scribed by: Pete Green