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Welcome to Friday Q&A. Every week, we'll put up a question for the staff, friends, bands, and you, the reader, to answer.

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This Week's Q

We're half way through the year: What's your favorite metal release of '14 and why? You can also pick one non-metal selection.

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Hooded Menace, Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze, the EP they put out this February with Doomentia. Yes, a lot of bands have put out amazing albums with more than two songs on them, but this one provides me with the most consistent satisfaction across the board. It's so heavy, so creepy, so inundated with horror and atmosphere, that I find myself listening to it over and over again. The year is far from over, so it might shuffle in my lineup as certain others become more interesting or less abrasive to me, but right now, it's the Menace all the way.

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Although I'm not yet totally sure if it's the best album of the year, I suppose if forced to choose a favorite album from 2014's first half, I would have to go with Nasheim's Solens Vemod. I haven't come across another album this year that's as beautifully and painstakingly crafted, where each moment rings out with a clear sense that its creator plotted meticulously how to get there, and where to go after. For all of its magical composure, though, Solens Vemod still feels loose, in a way, as if its author exhausted every word of his personal vocabulary but still had more to say, and thus turned it over to the riotous, polyglot speech of the universe.

As far as non-metal albums go, that's a much easier choice: Kelis's Food is damn near flawless, and utterly irresistible. Sure, none of the individual pieces are shockingly new, but the way she and her collaborators have sewn together R&B, red-hot soul, Afrobeat, and folk leaves me speechless and smiling every time. I defy anyone to crank this record in the sunshine and feel anything other than unvarnished, existential bliss.

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Favorite metal release so far: Cormorant - Earth Diver. And it's not even really close. I was as nervous as any fan when Arthur von Nagel announced his departure in late 2012. Aside from being a killer bassist and vocalist, his lyrics on Cormorant's first two LPs stand as some of the best written in any genre over the last decade. A tough act to follow. The guys recruited Marcus Luscombe from fellow Bay Area prog act Cloakwheel and made their lyrical composition as collaborative as their music. The result is the most melodic and fastest work in their discography. Hooks abound, with guitarist Matt Solis attaining the strength with his clean vocals he's been working towards since the Viking "Whoa-oh-oh""s on Metazoa standout "Uneasy Lies the Head." Just try to get the mantra-like refrain of "The Pythia" out of your head.

Favorite non-metal release: Noah Gundersen - Ledges. I can't remember the last time I went from never hearing a note of an artist's music to being completely addicted this quickly. I stumbled across Gundersen's Bandcamp page in early February and was floored by his voice. He's only spent 25 years on this planet, but his voice oozes the world-weary drama that can only be obtained by a childhood spent under strict religious doctrine and an adolescence spent rebelling against it. His are standard tales of love, regret and loss brought to startling intimacy using the same subtle touches his folk forebears employed: specific names, proper nouns, and just enough melody to make you sing a hook without realizing how heartbreaking it truly is. The album's title track is a leadoff single made for modern country radio, stacked to the brim with soaring violin and a chorus as breezy as reeds trembling on a warm summer evening.

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Woods of Desolation's As the Stars wasn't exactly the followup to Torn Beyond Reason I was expecting, but it's the best thing I've heard this year. Gorgeous, punishing and contemplative, I can't recommend this thing enough. Mountain soaring, epic stargazing shit with a tortured nostalgic edge. It came out early in what is going to be a stacked year. The whole thing is incredible, I give a nod to "Withering Field" if I have to pick one, but, then again, "Unfold" isn't a bad place to start.

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Eyehategod's self-titled, hands down. It's on par with anything they did in the '90s and the new sludge gold standard of "showing the kids how it's done." It might lack a bit of the old Eyehategod fucked-up-ness aesthetic, but the jams are instantly memorable and better than a lot of people predicted.

My non-metal vote goes to Messenger's Illusory Blues. It's the first album in a long time that I can refer to as hauntingly beautiful without being sarcastic or ironic. The songwriting and arrangements are excellent; comparing them to the Beatles or Pink Floyd in that regard is not a stretch. There are qualities to the music that have a broad appeal without being populist or generic. It's simply timeless.

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Though I haven't listened to enough metal releases to make a truly informed decision, my favorite metal album of the year so far is Indian - From All Purity. To me, the larger emphasis on noise and electronics here makes From All Purity stand out among the increasingly large amount of sludge metal bands. Album opener "Rape" is dirty enough to fit alongside most of Godflesh's Streetcleaner, but those riffs crush like latter day Neurosis. And including a noise track like "Clarify" right before the album ends really helps make this thing a trip. Play From All Purity really, really loud in a dark room, and I think you'd convert even the biggest naysayers.

— Andrew Sacher, BrooklynVegan

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Favorite metal release this year is Soreption, Grand Magus, or Ifing. Even those albums are just good, not great. I haven't heard anything yet that would've made the top 15 of last year's list. Lots of disappointments across the board.

Favorite 2014 non-metal release so far is St. Vincent. She's probably just holding down the throne for a number of things I haven't really listened to, or that haven't been released yet: Die Antwoord, The Algorithm, Opeth, Run the Jewels, or Perturbator's next album.

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My favorite metal album changes weekly, if not daily, depending on what’s in heavy rotation. But right now I’m totally digging the new Serpentine Path album Emanations. Unearthly Trance’s 2010 album V was a top fav that year, and this band, featuring the entirety of UT along with a second guitarist, continues what Unearthly Trance set out to do, which was layers of crushing doom and death that aren't trying to sound like anyone else or be anything other than a 45-minute punishment.

But it's possible that my favorite metal album of the year hasn't been released yet. Mutilation Rites’s new album, Harbinger, a follow up to Empyrean, will be out July 22.

My favorite non-metal album of the year is easy. It’s called Animism by Tanya Tagaq. To describe her simply as a "throat singer" doesn't quite do Tagaq's unique talent justice. Her singing is visceral, at times ugly and earthy, at times ethereal and almost orgasmic. She takes the traditional forms of Inuit throat singing and embeds them into a wild experimental electronic, primitive violin, and drumming framework. As I listen to the whole album I find my point of view seamlessly shifting from hunter to hunted, human to animal, from the ice to the sun to the stars, running, flying, dying. It may not be metal music, but it’s metal in spirit, and it's truly haunting.

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Wow. That's a really fucking hard question. So far, uncharacteristically, the first half of the year has been full of so many best album contenders that I don't even know where to start. Truly, 2014 might be as as strong a year as 1980, '86, or '93, if this rate of absolute banger-ness keeps up. I mean, we've got career-best releases from Enabler, Darkest Era, High Spirits, Black Anvil, Vallenfyre, Pyrrhon (love you, Doug), and Behemoth just to name a few. Not to mention what a for-the-books year it's been for gory death-grind in particular. Misery Index, Aborted, and Benighted all dropped start-to-finish massacres that the critical community will completely ignore at year's end (except maybe Misery Index). We haven't even heard the heavy hitters yet! Opeth, Mastodon, the last Nachtmystium. Every one of them could be a fucking slam-dunk based on the leaked tracks. WHAT A YEAR. That said, right now my heart is transfixed on that Triptykon album. I adore everything about it. And I'm afraid considering the MDF cancellation/miserable Decibel cover story/death of HR Giger, that the story of Tom G Warrior might overshadow the work itself. To me, it's his finest hour. The man pushed extreme metal into great songwriting by a fucking light-year on that thing.

As for non-metal, that's tough. I'm really digging on the Freddie Gibbs and Madlib collab album, Pinata. One of the most memorable pieces of old school hip hop I've heard in some time. I could also second the nod for Kelis's Food record. It's giving me the same feeling Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun album did. Although, I'm shivering with anticipation over Run The Jewels 2, Hail Mary Mallon 2, and the Banks album. It could be a spectacular year for hip-hop and R&B as well. Oh, and Lana Del Ray's Ultraviolence is going to rock my world, I'm sure of it!

Too stoked on 2014, guys. Too fucking stoked!

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Favorite Metal Releases: Crowbar and Eyehategod. Two classic '90s sludge bands making super-hefty records with emotional weight and vitriol that are every bit as good as their '90s output, if more nuanced given their maturity. Excited to hear the new Panopticon as well, though I'll reserve judgement on that since it technically comes out in August.

Favorite Non-Metal Release: Drive-By Truckers. Seeing the Truckers toe the line between morose alt-country and straight-up no-shit rock 'n roll has been one of the more satisfying musical progressions of the last decade, and on this one they really do their legacy proud. The show of theirs I saw in January was easily one of the best I've seen all year, right next to Down and MDF.

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You've read ours, now what's yours? Let us know below and enjoy your weekend.

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