Minnesota Metal 2014: The Top Six

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If you claim membership to any type of entertainment monoculture, EOY list season is something of a nightmare.

Starting in November, the print magazines unleash their Top 200 (or whatever) Widgets of 20–, because that the imprints that purchase their ad space need a jumpstart in promoting their products before the biggest shopping season of the year. This throws everything into chaos, as web-based publications then have to find a balance between going off half-cocked and being late to the party. (And by late, we’re talking about the actual end of the year.)

As a result, you end up with a 45-day blitz of numbered lists. By the time all your favorite sources are aggregated, you just end up with a chart of damn near everything that was released in a given year. The spectacle is exhausting, masturbatory, and not terribly effective at accomplishing its stated goal.

The best best-of lists are hyperspecific. Personally, my favorite ways to dig for things that I may have missed are by region and/or subgenre. Keep it concise. Brevity = effectiveness.

With that in mind, redjacket presents six of the best metal recordings Minnesota had to offer in 2014, presented in alphabetical order.

(Trust that instrumental prog legends Zebulon Pike would’ve had a seat reserved at the bottom of the page…had they actually told anyone that they released an album a few months ago and made it available via an outlet that’s not CDBaby. I swear, this band is almost designed to be ignored, content to become a cult curiosity twenty years after they’ve gone extinct.)

Wreck your neck(s), humans.


AntiverseCosmic Horror

That sphere-in-the-sky, pseudo-Seagrave album cover might lead you to believe this is a overproduced, newjack technical deathcore workout for flat-brimmed fingerflexers. It’s not.

Instead, Cosmic Horror is the kind of Black Dahlia Murder-indebted melodic DM record that could only be made by a group of crafty, grizzled veterans. There’s a real, honest-to-Dio ’80s thrash ethos pulsing through this thing, betraying its modernity and lending it a well-weathered combo of grit and goofiness.

Wish your melodeath was peppered with indiscriminate falsettos? YOU’RE IN LUCK.


Let it BreatheRiver Wizard

Mankato’s Let It Breathe are essentially in their infancy, and that’s scary. I’ve stated before that prognostication is a loser’s game in this arena, but this stoner/doom trio is poised to unleash potent homebrews for the foreseeable future.

Their potential lies in the duality of their approach. The four-track River Wizard EP is swollen with smoked-out, fuzzed-up hum, while their live show trades the haze for driving doom devastation. Let It Breathe is a multi-tool act in a field packed with single tricksters.


Mahtowa Death MarchMansorrow

Nothing screams SOLO PROJECT like drumbeats that (charmingly) sound like wet paper slapping sheets of tinfoil, but that’s easy to overlook if you aren’t the type that critiques Vader albums based on snare production. If you are that kind of person, you might not be keen on this rickety, ravenous slice of blackened crust, but dammit, you should be.

The best part of this six-track eruption? That the raw-as-hell, simplistic riffery gives way to near-cockrock soloing with radical fluidity. It’s a weird mix, but it works, especially if you hold Scandinavian Jawbreaker and 5150 in equal regard.


Noble Beast Noble Beast

If the album cover somehow left you guessing, let me spell it out for you: This is a power metal record. And a good one, at that. Not just by Minneapolis standards, but by Planet Earth standards.

Part of the reason this debut record gets that distinction is because power metal–that nerdiest of nerd music in all of nerddom–has been teetering on extinction since its improbable resurgence in the late ’90s. But the genre’s appeal lies less in its predilection towards Dio n’ Tolkien subject matter and more in its focus on writing actual songs with actual singing, something (like power metal itself, not-so-coincidentally) that’s dying as metal becomes more fractured and compartmentalized.

Yeah, the vocals are a bit grating when isolated, and the cheese is seven layers thick. But that comes with the territory, and holy hell are these hooks humongous. This is just a massive debut; a bit much to take in a single sitting, but chock-full of speed metal goodness that’ll make even the most hardened anti-power purist shitgrin with glee.


Nuklear FrostSubjugation

Armed with a megaton mastering job and a multi-pronged vocal attack, Rochester’s Nuklear Frost is wired for detonation. Untainted by recent trends in USBM, their razorwire riffage and relentless double-bass attack is a marriage of still-vital blackness from a decade-plus past, when D666 and 1349 and even Naglfar we’re kicking our collective teeth in.

Don’t let the Szpajdel-style logo throw you off; the thrash-forward nastiness found here is more accessible than you’d think. Frigid yet robust, rollicking yet militaristic, Subjugation is a deceptively nuanced ripper.


Wolf BloodWolf Blood 

Sludgy doom acts are still a dime a dozen, even when adjusting the cliche for inflation. But Duluth’s Wolf Blood take influence from all the right places while keeping things eclectic, never falling prey to stale-ass genre trappings or tonehound drone-ons. While the Vol. 4 / Sabotage vibe of “Dancing On Your Grave” is a highlight, the Matt Pike speedmode throwdowns on “Ochro Ologo” and “Black Moon” are solid goddamned gold.

THE Minnesota riffcrew to watch in 2015.