The Best Metal Albums of 2014: Introduction

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“It’s not a swastika, it’s a sun wheel.”

2014 was the year heavy metal got stupid. [Edit: Or should I say, stupider than usual] Looking back on the past 12 months in metal, you want to remember it for all the great music the genre produced, but in a year where it continued to spin its wheels creatively speaking, the music, which should be the one and only thing anyone should be talking about this time of year – or any time for that matter – has been overshadowed by ugliness, to the point where someone like me who follows metal closely can’t help but feel a little bitter.

One thing I have always said is that the charming thing about metalheads is that they’re perpetual 15 year-olds, and the worst thing about metalheads is that they’re perpetual 15 year-olds. You have plenty of common sense and decency when you’re 15, but there’s also a heck of a lot of stupid there as well. Sadly in the metal genre in 2014, from top to bottom, from mainstream to underground, from the musicians to the writers covering them, the scale tipped heavily towards the latter. So much stupidity happened this year that if I were to list it all it’d go on and on ad infinitum. One musician tried to have his estranged wife murdered. Another turned out to be one of the most depraved pedophiles you’ll ever hear of. A member of a band whom I greatly respected got into a homophobic flame war with another musician, crossing the line from “mercurial” to “moronic”. Several underground bands addressed accusations of racism with roundabout explanations and lame excuses. Addiction and mental illness convinced some musicians that the stupid thing was the right thing to do, and the end result was fatal in several cases.

And oh, was this year ever sad. Ironically, as metal’s icons age – there was a lot of fretting about the health of everyone from Lemmy to Tony Iommi – all significant deaths in metal consisted of musicians – and in one unbelievably tragic case, a fellow writer – dying well ahead of their time. Personally, the one metal death I had the hardest time getting over was that of Selim Lemouchi, a prodigious, budding genius who created some of the best music of the last decade, but whose recent work made me feel he was coming unglued. His final album was troubling, and I slammed it when I reviewed it, but the potential for great things was always there, something that was hammered home to me to devastating effect when his friends and sister performed the record in its entirety at the Roadburn festival.

Then there’s “metalgate”, a backlash trying to bring gamergate-style harassment to the metal scene by claiming there’s a widespread conspiracy among left-leaning metal writers to strip heavy metal of its edge, of what these “purists” claim it stands for, in the name of political correctness. Of course, this is mostly nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction among certain sad little male metalheads out there who feel threatened by the fact that more and more women are emerging as voices of authority in heavy metal. Of all the shenanigans this year, “metalgate” has been by far the most embarrassing, and if recent weeks are any indication, the “movement”, if you can call it that, has already fizzled.

Yet in a miniscule way I can see where these overgrown children are coming from, in that the fun is being sucked out of heavy metal, the heavy metal I loved 30 years ago, and that’s a very depressing thing to see happen. However, it’s not being perpetrated by a small hive mind of writers and bloggers with a collective agenda, but by so many in the entire genre. If a musician isn’t being an idiot, a writer is getting his or her knickers in a twist about something, a constant cycle of poorly executed provocation in the name of art and bellyaching about hurt feelings. It’s a case where I’m torn right down the middle: I want to tell metal musicians to smarten up, yet at the same time realize the rest of us have to lighten up, too. No, underground metal band, you can’t sing “I am the raping nigger” in a song, ever. On the other hand when you nitpick about every single little thing that offends you, you start to lose touch with what made this music so much fun in the first place. It’s no wonder some people feel alienated by it all. It feels as if we’re all being sucked into a rabbit hole of negativity – yours truly included – and it’s time to get back in touch with what makes heavy metal great to begin with. I suggest we all just count to ten slowly, step away from social media for a little bit, listen to the first W.A.S.P. album, and try our best to start the new year fresh. Have fun. Embrace the wonderful dumbness of heavy metal, but come on, try to avoid being stupid.

Let’s take a flamethrower to 2014, and here’s to a great 2015.

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(image courtesy Chips & Beer)

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