It’s been a busy old year for me at Soundscape in 2014, culminating in me taking on the editor role in early October. Of course, this hasn’t stopped me from attending as many gigs as humanly possible and checking out as many bands as I can, which has resulted in some excellent discoveries this year – I can safely say that 2014 has been an excellent year for music! So without further ado, here are my top three albums, gigs and videos of the past year.
It’s always difficult to choose my favourite albums but I knew very early on in the year exactly what was going to rank as my top album of 2014. The other two on the list were a bit more of a struggle to decide on, because there really has been some top-quality releases this year, but I finally managed to whittle it down to just three!
01: Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen
Quite honestly, there is no album more deserving of the “best album of 2014” title than this one because it blew me away as soon as I hit the play button for the very first time. I pride on checking out every band that gets sent to Soundscape, and when a track from Tulijoutsen by Kuolemanlaakso landed in my inbox in mid-February, it was no exception to this – and it barely even took me a second to realise that this was indeed something special. So I awaited the album with bated breath and when it arrived, it absolutely didn’t disappoint. This album is perfect in so many ways, including for a few personal reasons, and the instrumentation is something to behold; crushingly heavy with just the right amount of melody and indeed, the same can be applied to the vocals – harsh when they need to be, and melodic when they don’t. Everything about Tulijoutsen is perfectly constructed and after almost a year of constantly listening to it, I can confirm that it’s an album that’s impossible to get bored of and it’s something I listen to on a daily basis. From the beautiful blend of aggression and melody of Aarnivalkea to the dark gloominess of Arpeni and the acoustic wizardry in Glastonburyn Lehto, there’s something for all tastes on the album and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this album to anyone with a set of ears because it really is that special. This isn’t just the best album of 2014, it’s the best album of all time. (Something also worth noting – Tulijoutsen, as well as Kuolemanlaakso’s previously releases of Musta Aurinko Nousee and Uljas Uusi Maailma are absolutely beautifully packaged, so don’t you dare download them! Pick up physical copies of all three from Svart here, go go go!)
02: Nachtblut – Chimonas
Another new discovery for me in 2014, dark metallers Nachtblut grabbed my interest when they played an incredible set at Wolfszeit Festival in Germany earlier on this year, and naturally when I got home I had to find out more – and to my delight, discovered that they would be releasing their album Chimonas a little later on in the year! Chimonas is Nachtblut’s strongest album yet and although it perhaps should be said that this band is best appreciated live because of their visuals, this doesn’t give any less weight to their studio releases because Chimonas truly is something to behold. Ten tracks of sheer majesty, it’s an album that doesn’t just grab your attention; it demands it, and doesn’t let you go until the closing chords of the final track ring out, with a certain highlight of the album being Märchen, least of all because of a stunning solo courtesy of guitarist Greif. If you’re looking for dark/black metal done incredibly well, then look no further than Nachtblut.
03: Woland – Hyperion
It’s always refreshing to come across a band doing something a little different to the norm and Woland’s music is different, yet not different enough to alienate people, so their debut album Hyperion makes for a very satisfying listen and after being intrigued by a press release that landed in my inbox in late 2013, I eagerly awaited the full album for review – and it floored me on my first listen. Playing post-black metal, it’s more of a modern take on the standard (and rather overdone) black metal genre and Woland have absolutely made it work for them with Hyperion, crafting a timeless album that has certainly been one of the albums I’ve kept revisiting this year since first hearing it for the first time at the end of January. Just check out the track None from this album and prepare to be amazed!
01: Vorna – Ilokivi-OnStage, Jyväskylä 12/12
One of the biggest problems about being a fan of a lot of underground bands from overseas is that the likelihood of me actually being able to see them is slim to none, and this is something I’ve come to accept over the years. However, when I heard Vorna’s debut album Ajastaika for the first time, I had a funny feeling that I’d one day end up in Finland to see them because I just had a deep, deep yearning to see these incredible songs in a live environment. And so, a year and a half later, I finally found myself in Jyväskylä, Finland, to witness their show first-hand. Was it worth it? Absolutely and completely, and I’m not just saying that because of how far I travelled for it. The atmosphere was so magical, from the incense-burning at the start of the show, to the power of Ukkonen live, to the incredible-sounding new song and the closing Christmas track – it was perfect from start to finish, and I don’t think it’s a show that I will ever forget for as long as I live. Thank you Vorna, for being absolutely amazing!!!
02: Svartsot – Fibbers, York 22/02
Svartsot is a band I have been a fan of for many years and 2014 finally saw that bunch of bastards get their asses over to the UK for a very special headline show at Fibbers in York – and on Ragnarok, which was apparently the night of the Viking apocalypse, no less! Playing a set jam-packed full of awesome songs, and even treating us to a few brand new songs from their upcoming album (which is set to drop in 2015), it was a lot of fun to see the crowd absolutely behind them from start to finish. Their audience interaction was absolutely wonderful too (but honestly, this was to be expected on a band whose facebook posts are of legendary standings) and quite honestly, it was a joy to see this talented band live. The ending was something to behold as well, with the whole room going crazy for Gravøllet and lead guitarist Cris ending up on someone’s shoulders and practically crowd-surfing round the whole venue! Wow – just, wow.
03: Whorion – Satans Hollow, Manchester 22/05
After absolutely loving their debut EP The Fall Of Atlas, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss out on catching Whorion live after they announced that they were coming to the UK in May of this year. I saw them play at Satans Hollow in Manchester and it was an absolutely incredible night. When it comes to bands playing music of a more technical nature, there’s always the chance of them not quite delivering in a live environment due to the complexity of the music, but this was not the case with Whorion – who couldn’t have sounded tighter if they’d tried! They just sounded so together and fed off one another’s energies absolutely fantastically. They moved as one entity rather than as five seperate people and it was so rewarding to see them give such a tremendous and gripping performance. If you liked their Fall Of Atlas EP then make sure you go and see them live if you get the chance – because in a live environment, their music has even more of a kick to it!
Strangely enough, my top three videos of 2014 actually features two of the bands that featured in my list last year! What can I say? These bands are clearly consistent!
01: Sterbhaus – Absolutely Do Not Die!
Sterbhaus have garnered somewhat of a reputation for creating bizarrely brilliant music videos and naturally 2014’s offering, Absolutely Do Not Die! is no exception to this. Taken from their 2012 album Angels for Breakfast …And God for Lunch, it’s one of those videos that needs to be seen to be believed and no words I can possibly type will do this video justice, so just sit down and watch the madness unfold!
02: Deadlock – Awakened By Sirens 2014
2014 saw the release of Deadlock’s ‘best of’ album The Re-Arrival and they released two promotional videos alongside it, with this one being the second, a stunning rerecorded version of a song from their 2005 album Earth.Revolt. A twist on the Little Red Riding Hood tale, it’s an artsy video that showcases the music well, and it’s a fast-paced and suspense-filled video that leaves you guessing about what really happens. Is it a dream, or isn’t it?
03: TrollfesT – Die Grosse Echsen
Okay, not going to lie here, I am COMPLETELY biased towards this video because I feature in this video at just after the two-minute mark with the cake I made for them in April. What can I say, I want to draw attention to my five minutes of fame, okay?
Heroes Of The Year
…And now for something completely different! Well, sort of. 2014 has been awesome, and it has been made even more awesome by these three collectives. In no order but alphabetical, these are the people and bands that deserve recognition for their efforts.
When the first email about this band arrived in my inbox, I had no idea how much this band would change my life. Yeah, I know, that probably sounds completely over the top but it’s nothing but the truth. Aside from their album Tulijoutsen being utterly phenomenal on a musical level, it helped me a great deal on a personal level – especially when coupled with their utterly stunning back catalogue, and for this they deserved to be recognised. In fact, I’ve actually spent most of 2014 making anyone and everyone I know check them out (resulting in a lot of my friends also getting involved with their music!) because seriously, the world needs to know how great they are. A special mention must also go to their primary songwriter and ‘band mastermind’ Markus Laakso (guitar/keys) for easily being one of the most genuine and lovely people I’ve ever encountered in the music industry.
In November, I embarked on a little adventure around the UK. To be more specific, I attended this band’s four ‘mainland’ UK shows in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol because Skálmöld is a band I am very passionate about – their music blows me away and they really know how to put on a great live show as their performances are incredibly tight and at CD quality, yet they’re also a lot of fun to watch visually. It’s nigh on impossible to watch them without a smile firmly planted on your face because they’re one of the happiest bands I have ever witnessed onstage and it’s impossible not to join in with them! The band themselves were also exceedingly lovely to me throughout the whole run of shows, giving me so much of their time and indeed, when I interviewed Björgvin (vocals/guitar) and Jón (drums/vocals) during the last date of the four in Bristol, they gave me quite easily the best interview I’ve ever done. Incredible band, incredible people – what more can I possibly ask for?
Vorna, Thyrien and Northern Solitude Entertainment/Iiro Laitinen
Yeah, I know, this is two bands plus a booking/management agency but I don’t care, I’m the editor so I get the final say, and I’m including them as one because they’re all linked together anyway. As mentioned above in the ‘live reviews’ section, I recently travelled to Finland in order to see Vorna live because I anticipated the likelihood of seeing them in my home country could be slim to none. They made it absolutely worth my journey, along with the other main band on the bill, Thyrien – a band I discovered after checking out the rest of the lineup. Both bands were so welcoming towards me and showed me a great deal of kindness and respect, making me feel like one of the best people in the world for making the journey, and it was so good to connect with all the musicians both before, during and after the show! (The Jaloviina was awesome!) A special mention must also go to Northern Solitude Entertainment/Iiro Laitinen, who made everything run very smoothly and was kind enough to give me guestlist and my friend a photopass to cover the show. I have a feeling this won’t be the last I’ll be seeing of either band or NSE…!
Villain Of The Year
And finally…2014 hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows, and there have been low points in addition to the highlights. As a whole, 2014 has been great and there hasn’t been a great deal of upsets, but there was just one.
Last year, this band cancelled their appearance on The Agonist’s UK tour and didn’t make any sort of post about it or even acknowledge it and I felt their attitude about it was disappointing to say the least – especially since I actually met a few people at the Liverpool date wearing Arsis shirts. However, when they announced a UK tour for October of this year, I figured that what had happened was an isolated incident and gave them the benefit of the doubt because seriously, the music this band makes is AWESOME and I didn’t want to miss out. So I laid down roughly £75 on travel, train tickets and a gig ticket to see them in Scotland on the only date of their tour I could get to. The excitement of the gig was almost too much and I remember saying I wasn’t sure if I could wait to see them…and then it turned out I didn’t need to because guess what? They cancelled the tour again and I ended up £60 out of pocket since the only refundable item was the gig ticket itself. Once again, they buried their heads in the sand about the cancelled tour for a second time and made no sort of announcement or acknowledgement about it, which felt like a massive middle finger in the air to their European fanbase. It wouldn’t have taken much for them to give an apology or make a simple announcement that it was cancelled, without any finger pointing or blame shifting, but all they did was give us silence. So if they ever announce a UK/European tour in the future, I probably wouldn’t bother to see them because I don’t trust them at all. As the saying goes – fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.