2014 proved to be one of heavy metal’s most exciting years in decades.  Up and coming bands are flourishing in both quality and in numbers, and refreshing material is almost constantly being released.  For this segment, let us take a trip down memory lane and re-visit some of the year’s most memorable releases with Heavy Metal Gems’ Top 20 Full-Length Albums of 2014!

20. STRIKER (CAN) – “City of Gold”

STRIKER - "City of Gold"

In just 4 short years, since the release of their debut record “Eyes in the Night” in 2010, Striker have one one of the biggest names within the NWOTHM movement.  From opening up for Metallica in 2012 to being featured on many festivals throughout the years, the demand for Striker is a direct result of their crushing yet melodious sound that’s been splitting heads open since the band’s inception.  The newly released “City of Gold” continues to foster the same experience felt on Striker‘s previous releases.  I do wish, however, for the band to begin improving on the technical aspect of their riff structure to keep the listeners on their toes, as their songs are starting to become less memorable than before.  Nevertheless, “City of Gold” is still another easy listen that will surely get a few heads banging in no time.

Highlights: “Crossroads”, “All for One”, “Start Again”, “Take by Time” 


19. AMBUSH (SWE) – “Firestorm”
AMBUSH - "Firestorm"Swedish traditional heavy metal newcomers Ambush vigorously stormed the scene with their debut full-length record “Firestorm”.  Forging a sound that wilfully worships the distinct styles of both Stormwitch and Judas Priest, the guys over at Ambush have already made a name for themselves, as “Firestorm” has even made it to a few “best albums of the year” lists.  Tracks like “Don’t Shoot (Let ‘Em Burn)” and “Heading East” make it undeniably difficult to not include them in such lists, mainly because they bring forward the band’s use of anthemic melodies as derived from the Metal Gods themselves.  “Firestorm” is nothing short of a solid debut, which inevitably cements Ambush‘s place in the growing Swedish heavy metal scene.

Highlights: “Heading East”, “Don’t Shoot (Let ‘Em Burn)”, “Natural Born Killers”, “Firestorm”


18. GATEKRASHÖR (CAN) – “Gatekrashör”

GATEKRASHÖR - "Gatekrashör"

One of the finest debut albums of the year released by up-and-coming Canadian underground label Hard and Heavy RecordsGatekrashör‘s debut record delivers a heavy dose of gritty speed metal fun for the whole family…the metal family that is.  Having already witnessed Gatekrashör dominate the stage at Wings of Metal this past August, it goes without question that vocalist Dan Nield stood out for me me as one hell of an admirable frontman.  His infectious charisma and genuine stage-presence, along with the rest of the band’s musical chemistry, makes Gatekrashör a unique and much needed addition to the ever-growing Canadian heavy metal scene.

Highlights: “Force of the Blade”, “Heavy Metal Rangers”, “Gamblers on the Highway”, “Sign of the Gatekrashör”, “Spit on the Cross”

Full review here | Facebook

17. MAD PARISH (CAN) – “Mad Parish”

MAD PARISH - "Mad Parish"

Montreal-based power metallers Mad Parish took me by surprise this year after they opened for the mighty Grim Reaper not too long ago.  The band’s performance alone immediately turned me into a Mad Parish fan, and that takes quite a lot to accomplish for my standards at least.  “Procession” marks the band’s debut into the thriving metal scene and is definitely one of the most “epic” and energetic albums of the year.  To anyone in the local Montreal area who proudly enjoys injecting large doses of metal into their veins, it is absolutely necessary to worship Mad Parish!

Highlights: “Mad Parish”, “Darkness Befalls this Cursed Land”, “Doppleganger”, “Red Baron”, ” A Stitch in Crime”, “Dawn of the Unforgiven”

Full review here | Facebook

16. SKELATOR (USA) – “King of Fear”
SKELATOR - "King of Fear"The self-proclaimed flag-bearers of true epic heavy metal, Skelator, since the band’s inception in 1998, have always put out memorable releases.  Now, with the amazing Swords and Chains Records backing these talented dudes up, the newly released “King of Fear” has been met with excellent reception by both fans and critics alike, making it my absolute favorite Skelator release to date.  And this is coming from someone who cranked the hell out of “Death to All Nations” throughout the entirety of 2010.  Simply put, if you get off to high-pitched vocals that make you want to scream like John Arch himself, then consider “King of Fear” to be a perfect addition to your metallic library.

Highlights: “King of Fear”, “Temple of the Witch”, “Curse of the Black Hand”, “Necromancer”


15. SKULL FIST (CAN) – “Chasing the Dream”

Having toured almost non-stop throughout Europe and the Americas for the last 2 years, Skull Fist‘s undeniable success within the underground movement, first and foremost, is a result of their intricate songwriting skills.  Without losing sight of their “true must keep the spirit alive” moniker, Skull Fist deliver exactly what young and rebellious fans want: technically powerful riff structures overlapped by melodious “anthem-like” choruses.  “Chasing the Dream” perfectly upholds that very statement, as every track features something special for the listener to binge on, and is the reason why this album is so desirable.

Highlights: “Hour to Live”, “Chasing the Dream”, “Call of the Wild”, “Sign of the Warrior”, “You’re Gonna Pay”, “Don’t Stop the Fight”


14. BLACK MAGIC (NOR) – “Wizard’s Spell”

Hailing from Norway, Black Magic‘s debut album “Wizard’s Spell” is an all-out neck-breaking onslaught.  Borrowing key vocal elements from notable speed/thrash bands such as Razor, and Hallows Eve,  Black Magic‘s obsession with aggressive songwriting is apparent, however, fragments of NWOBHM-influenced riff structures are generously scattered throughout this one of a kind record.  The more I listen to “Wizard’s Spell”, the more I’m reminded of Slayer‘s “Black Magic”, mainly because of the erratic mesh of melodic and dark sounds for each song progression.

Judging by some negative reviews (people have criminally rated it 20-60%), “Wizard’s Spell” is definitely not for everyone, but it sure as hell has my seal of approval!


13. SPELL (CAN) – “The Full Moon Sessions”

SPELL - "The Full Moon Sessions"

Psychedelic heavy metal heaven.  That’s more or less the phrase you’ll be using to summarize the great Spell after giving “The Full Moon Sessions” a quick and thorough spin.  Remnants of 70s occult rock is evidently apparent throughout the record; I mean, what else would you expect with an album cover depicting three dudes in the middle of what looks to be a sacrificial offering?  Cliches aside, this Canadian trio means business.  In the span of a year, Spell have managed to properly release their material and successfully tour a good part of Canada…And let me tell you, watching these guys tear down the stage during the Wings of Metal festival was one of my favorite live moments of the year.  

 “Never Enough/Sisters of the Moon”, “Electric Witchery” and “Possessed By Heavy Metal”


12. ACCEPT (GER) – “Blind Rage”

German heavy metal legends Accept need no introduction.  Even after successfully forging a dedicated fanbase throughout their illustrious 40 year career, these teutonic metallers show no signs whatsoever of slowing down.   The critically acclaimed “Blind Rage” (Accept‘s 14th full-length album) perfectly justifies that very statement.

From the thundering roar of the guitars to the compelling choruses, “Blind Rage” is an absolute delight for all heavy metal fanatics, as it successfully stays true to the classic Accept sound, all while making way for new and improved riff-laden melodies that have become a distinguishing aspect of their repertoire.  The kings of heavy metal anthems have surely exceeded my expectations with this one. Simply put, “Blind Rage” is without a doubt the band’s most impressive album since 1993’s classic “Objection Overruled”, and should definitely sit proudly in your metal collection for years to come.

Highlights: “Trail of Tears”, “Dying Breed”, “Wanna Be Free”, “From the Ashes We Rise”, “Final Journey”

Full review here | Facebook

11. HIGH SPIRITS (USA) – “You Are Here”

The highly anticipated sequel to 2011’s “Another Night”, “You Are Here”, in its entirety, further perfects the infectiously melodious sound that High Spirits is known for.  Songwriter Chris Black once again astonishes his listeners by recording every instrument on the album, making him, along with Ced from Rockas Rollas/Breitenhold, one of the underground metal community’s most versatile musicians.  And man does he ever showcase his talent on this one, as “You Are Here’s” positive and energetic atmosphere makes it one of the year’s most uplifting albums.  Simply put, if you’re having a shitty day for whatever reason, all you ever have to do is crank up “When the Lights Go Down”, and all your worries will disappear.

Highlights: “When the Lights Go Down”, “One Thousand Nights”, “Reminding you of Me”, “The Last Night”, “Gone to Pieces”, “High Spirits”


10. THE ORDER OF THE SOLAR TEMPLE (CAN) – “The Order of the Solar Temple”

Named after the controversial French secret society, The Order of the Solar Temple aims to deliver a heavy dose of occult-infused rock ‘n’ roll that is beautifully interlaced with a wide variety of doom elements.  This very mixture of influences was able to create nothing more than one of the most refreshing and original releases of 2014. Tracks like “Aeon of Horus” and “The Order” go beyond the limitations of the traditional rock sound, mainly because the atmospheres are constantly shifting.  One section can completely immerse you in a dark-ridden world, whereas another can single-handedly bring the upbeat spirit of the 70s back to life.  Nevertheless, a certain melancholic feeling is almost always present throughout the record.  This sort of “mysteriousness”, so to speak, to the band’s unique style of playing allows for something new to be discovered in every sitting.  One things for certain: don’t be surprised when vocalist Matt “Macabre” Emery channels his inner Ian Gillan and begins to belt out these hauntingly astonishing screams.  Anyone who worships Pagan Altar, Deep Purple or Blue Öyster Cult, this album was sure as hell made for you!

Highlights: “Fallout Woman”, “Aeon of Horus”, “The Cult (Of Rock and Roll)”, “Pale Horse”, “The Order”

9. SPELLCASTER (USA) – “Spellcaster”

The follow-up to 2011’s seminal debut album “Under the Spell”, “Spellcaster” explores the band’s newly matured sound that has become pivotal in expanding the band’s already-impressive repertoire.  With guitarist Tyler Loney now on vocal duty, Spellcaster have forged the perfect lineup to carry the metal torch forward in the new year as one of USA’s most promising young bands.

To keep it short, “Spellcaster” is a breath a fresh air for the underground heavy metal scene, as it almost entirely focuses on creating a profound experience for the listener through original and technically robust material, rather than recycling traditional-based riffs that are commonly heard throughout the scene.  Who knows what else Spellcaster has in store for us…only time will surely tell.

Highlights: “Ghost of My Memory”, “Run Away”, “Eyes of Black”, Clockwork”, “Voyage”

Full review here | Facebook

8. DARK FOREST (UK) – “The Awakening”

The third instalment in the Dark Forest catalogue, “The Awakening” features the vocal debut of ex-Wytch Hazel guitarist Josh Winnard as he attempts to cement his name in the band’s already-impressive history.  And man does he ever live up to my expectations, as “The Awakening” includes tracks that will inevitably go down as heavy metal classics in the long run.  Take “Sons of England” for example: if the first few notes don’t immediately put you in a musical trance, then I’m sure as hell Winnard’s vocals during the chorus will do just that.

Dark Forest‘s unique historical-driven lyrics ring truer than ever before, as guitarist/songwriter/lyricist Christian Horton’s Celtic and medieval influences inevitably have a substantial impact on the way songs are written and recorded.  Overall, “The Awakening” is a big step forward for the future of Dark Forest, and I have nothing but high hopes for their next record!

Highlights: “Sacred Signs”, “Panda’s Fen”, “Rise Like Lions”, “Secret Commonwealth”, “The Last Season”, “Sons of England”

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7. PORTRAIT (SWE) – “Crossroads”

Along with their sister band In Solitude, Portait have become one of the more widespread occult traditional heavy metal bands in recent years, due in part to their affiliation with the mighty Metal Blade Records.  Distribution is one thing, but the music is what matters first and foremost, and Portrait sure as hell know how to make the most of it.

There’s a long history in metal where it takes bands 3 attempts to finally release their so-called “magnum opus” (Riot’s “Fire Down Under”, Coroner’s “No More Color”, Fates Warning’s “Awaken the Guardian” all come to mind).  Ironically enough, with the release of the Portrait‘s third album, “Crossroads”, expect nothing less than their best work yet.  The sound on “Crossroads” varies from track to track; evidence of power metal, speed metal and black metal influences are carefully scattered throughout much of the album, making it one of the more diverse albums of the year.  Mercyful Fate fans rejoice!

Highlights: “At the Ghost Gate”, “We Were Not Alone”, “In Time”, “Black Easter”, “Lily”


6. BREITENHOLD/ROCKA ROLLAS (SWE) – “Secret Worlds”/”The Road to Destruction”

Led by the charismatic “one-man band” himself, Cederick Forsberg, both Breitenhold and Rocka Rollas’ latest albums have become exemplary in redefining the power metal sound in the modern world.  Fusing “pirate-themed” melodic leads with raw and aggressive vocals à la early Helloween, it’s difficult not to become completely entranced with the level of intricacy behind these two records. Sure they might sound similar when compared side by side (I mean the albums are in fact written by the same person), but when you have 20 mind-blowing tracks that are able to effortlessly fulfill your headbanging and chanting needs, nothing else really matters.

Having recorded and released 10 stellar albums with 7 different bands in less than 4 years, Ced’s remarkable contribution to the heavy metal community is undeniable. That being said, it is safe to say that both “Secret Worlds” and “The Road to Destruction” are Ced’s greatest records to date.

5. AIR RAID (SWE) – “Point of Impact”
Swedish speed metallers Air Raid are back once again with their second
attempt at heavy metal glory.  While the band’s 2012 release “Night of the Axe” was nothing but solid throughout, I always felt that the vocals needed some fine tuning in order to properly complement the rest of the band’s “in-your-face” sound.  Thankfully, with the addition of wailing vocalist Arthur Andersson, “Point of Impact” is exactly what Air Raid needed to get that foot through the door and meet the demands of eager heavy metal listeners.  And man were those demands ever met.  “Point of Impact” will make you raise that fist higher than ever before and have you chanting along with immense pride, guaranteed!

Highlights: “Bound to Destroy”, “Madness”, “Victim of the Night”, “Vengeance”, “We Got the Force”


4. TWILIGHT FORCE (SWE) – “Tales of Ancient Prophecies”
Swords, duels, dragons, elves, hobbits…you couldn’t ask for a more fantastically themed universe than that.  With the release of “Tales of Ancient Prophecies” by Swedish newcomers Twilight Force, this exact enchanting universe can finally come to life.  With that being said, I can’t tell you how many times I burned through this album since its release back in June.  From the overwhelmingly epic atmosphere on “The Power of the Ancient Force” to the intensifying musical progression on “Gates of Glory”, there was not a single moment where I didn’t feel like I was transported to another world.  Even the short dialogues between songs make this particular world all the more convincing, which also help tell the underlying prophetic story of a mortal man destined to rid his kingdom of the evil Forcelord using the Sword of Magic Steel (an ancient sword that was forged in the flames of the Enchanted Dragon of Wisdom, as seen on the album cover).

As cheesy as the band’s image and lyrics might seem to people, Twilight Force‘s undeniable musicianship on “Tales of Ancient Prophecies” inevitably break all these negative sentiments.  And plus, I personally find it refreshing for a band to bring their passionate lyrics to life, as seen through each members’ spectacular stage presence during live shows.

Wielding the blade higher than their medieval power metal predecessors like early Rhapsody and The Storyteller, Twilight Force are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Highlights: “Enchanted Dragon of Wisdom”, “The Power of the Ancient Force”, “Fall of the Eternal Winter”, “Forest of Destiny”, “Gates of Glory”


3. RIOT (USA) – “Unleash the Fire”
What else can I possibly say about one of heavy metal’s most cherished and respected bands?  With a remarkably forged lineup intact, the newly revived Riot has single-handedly released their greatest record in decades. Praised by both die-hard fans and critics alike, “Unleash the Fire” is the band’s proper written farewell to their fallen bandmate, friend, songwriter and founder, Mark Reale, who tragically passed away in 2012.  Over the course of 40 years, Reale’s music has touched millions around the globe, and continues to do so every single time someone discovers one of Riot‘s countless masterpieces.  “Unleash the Fire” is yet another one of those masterpieces, nothing less, nothing more.

With 15 stellar albums to his name, Reale’s legacy will forever shine on.

Highlights: “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Metal Warrior”, “Fall From the Sky”, “Land of the Rising Sun”, “Kill to Survive”, “Take Me Back”


2. MAUSOLEUM GATE (FIN) – “Mausoleum Gate”
Veering away from traditional heavy metal structure, Finnish occult metallers Mausoleum Gate are sincerely something to be astonished by.  Be it through their creative use of each members’ instrument, or their somewhat progressive and mature sound, the entirety of “Mausoleum Gate” left me in complete awe.  One of the contributing factors of this sense of “maturity” per se in the band’s repertoire is the inclusion of organs and synthesizers, even though they are only widely exploited on a few tracks (especially throughout the title track).  The mood-changing intricacies that keyboards bring forward help accentuate each instruments’ role in a particular section of a song, which, in turn, creates a unique experience for every listener.  And plus, I’m a huge sucker for a band that can properly include Hammond organs in their musical arrangements .
All in all, “Mausoleum Gate” is, hands down, THE most unexpectedly fascinating release of the year.
Highlights: Every track!
1. NOBLE BEAST (USA) – “Noble Beast”
I know this might come as a surprise to most of you, seeing as though almost none of the major metal news outlets even bothered to cover this masterpiece of an album.  But not to worry, I’m proud as hell to call this record my absolute favorite for 2014, and it’s quite easy to see why.

Noble Beast is a band that I’ve been following since the release of their 4-track demo back in 2010.  I vividly remember playing the title track “The Noble Beast” for the first time; to this day, I’m still trying to come to terms with what I was listening to.  I’m not sure if it was the infectious energy that the band seemed to naturally brew or the melodic complexity behind the structure of each riff… however, I know for a fact that the experience was overly empowering…so much so that I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I ripped through that demo.

And here we are 4 years later with a debut album for the ages: 10 face-melting tracks, all equally and uniquely memorable, that capture the true essence of what makes heavy metal the greatest music on earth.  I’ll just leave it at that; saying any more won’t do this album justice.

Highlights: Every track!


Written by Peter Theofilos