Who wants some metal?

The last couple of posts (minus the creative writing one) have all been pretty political and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this was never meant to be a political blog. As such, I figured I’d LIGHTEN THE MOOD a bit by throwing some of my favorite metal albums of all time at you guys. I might do a sister post about electronica down the line if people like this sort of thing. We’ll see! While this blog is really just my jumbled thoughts thrown on the internet I really do appreciate the comments and traffic, so entertaining you guys is in my best interests too!

So anyway, these are my three favorite metal albums listed in no particular order. If you have any interest in the genre these are great buys — or at the very least, downloads.

Kamelot – The Black Halo

Kamelot’s previous albums were pretty solid pieces — Epica and Karma specifically both had a vibrant sound. With that said, they still were pretty generic “power metal” affairs, just with a few symphonic elements added in. Still, at the time they had the elements necessary to make a truly excellent album and so the ones that they did make weren’t bad, they just weren’t amazing. They just didn’t have the creative freedom or the experience yet to make a “great” album. There was a certain cockiness they had to gain before they could approach an album with the bravado necessary to blow everyone away. Now, I’m not quite sure what signing with Steamhammer did — but it seemed to give them everything they needed in that regard. The Black Halo was released and everything about it seemed to drip confidence and creativity. This album utterly defines Kamelot’s sound, from the dark romance present in the lyrics to the world-music influences that tend to pop up everywhere. This album also manages to do something else that hooks me: despite being a concept album, all of the songs stand on their own. While best listened to in order, the songs can be shuffled and they don’t lose any of their polish.

Ultimately though, there is one song that completely sold this album to me — Memento Mori. It is the longest song on the album and one of the longest (if not the longest, not counting the Elizabeth trilogy) songs in their history. It is a progressive type of song that starts as a ballad, driven completely by Roy Khan’s haunting vocals. As the song builds and heads to the one minute mark it starts to evolve with light drumming and careful riffing before an organ beckons something darker. The distinct shadowy sort of romance that enshrouds the whole album rises up, Khan’s voice turning to a warning:

When your time has come
You know you’ll be lonely once again
And the final winter comes to us all
Life is treacherous
But you’re not the only who must pretend
We’re a second in time
We’re the last in the line
Of the prey that walks the earth
Good and evil combined

A chorus follows, building the entire song once more before it quiets for a brief moment before absolutely erupting into one of my favorite guitar bits.

The way this song plays out and eventually ends, gently flowing into the final track — it absolutely sold me. While Ghost Opera was a good follow-up album, The Black Halo is a legendary collection of songs that everyone deserves to listen to.

Suggested tracks: Soul Society, The Black Halo, Memento Mori

In Flames – Colony

Colony is a weird sort of album. It sounds nothing like what came before or after it in the grand timeline of In Flames’ releases. While you could argue that The Jester Race and Whoracle both sound similar, I disagree. I think that they straddle slightly different sounds that remind me a lot of At The Gates more than anything else. Colony, on the other hand, has this unique sort of sound that is utterly bitter, esoteric and rhythmic all at the same time. It’s perfect. It’s melodic death metal in the absolute purest form. There are no frills, no ultra-high production values, no trying to appeal to American audiences — none of that. While the stuff In Flames put out after this album is good, it just can’t come close to the album that cemented them as founders of the melodeath genre.

Perhaps that uniqueness came from a bile that was infused in the songwriting? I’m not really too sure, but whatever it was it worked wonderfully. I mean, seriously, these lyrics are ridiculous at times… yet they work beautifully. Typically this sort of music is only really appreciated from an instrumental standpoint, but check out some of these lyrics:

Call me by my astral name
Breeding fear through wordless tongue
Heavenly thirst – unspeakable pain
Emptied from all human motion
Confront the faceless wrath
Beckoning silent from a sphere behind space
Through twisted ruins of uncompleted dreams
Sights of towers reaching for the moon
Clawing at the skies – they’re gonna pull it down

They have meaning that can only be deciphered by taking a serious glance at them. This isn’t some petty rage spat in the corner of a notebook, this is some interesting critism of human existence. Also pretty impressive considering Anders didn’t know a bit of English before starting to write the lyrics for In Flames.

Suggested tracks: Behind Space ’99, Ordinary Story, Man Made God

Opeth – Watershed

Opeth is a band that doesn’t quite fit anywhere. Without a doubt they are heavy, metal and any other adjective you want to paste on a band that makes you want to throw up the horns. They can throw dissonance at you from the pit of hell, they can utter the call of chaos through Beelzebub’s horn and make you crawl back to the ashes you spawned from. Akerfeldt can surely sound like a fiend — a demon, even. There is little doubt that with enough guttural gusto he could spawn flies that would suffocate you if he so pleased. As his lyrics pelt you an unsettling harmony of guitars would pound at you, being accompanied by the deafening sound of double-bass pounding at your lungs.

And then the track changes and a piano greets you, a gentle, bluesy guitar note following it in the distance. The first image coming to mind is that of a windowpane with rain cascading down it, a cloudy scene that is relaxed and… beautiful. The vocals are sung with conviction here — telling a story of sorrow and despair. Personal demons of a different kind haunt the stag, the unsettling guitars replaced with melancholy strings. The mood has changed completely, the entire story has turned into something else entirely. The emotions conjured are smoother and slower. Without a doubt, you must’ve accidentaly changed the track.

But you haven’t. You’re just listening to Opeth.

This is what they’ve been known for since the days of Blackwater Park — a sound that is two-faced. On one side it is metal and tormenting, evil and sadistic — and on the other? Beautiful and full of gentle melody. This schizophrenia of sound — the way they use the guttural growling to convey strong, dark emotions is what makes them so special. They don’t use it to cover up poor vocals (Akerfeldt has one of the best voices in metal — hell, in music today) or to poorly try to make you think they are “heavy.” They use it to convey a specific emotion or atmosphere.

Watershed is the perfection of that style. No matter what I do I simply cannot listen to just one song on this album. Whenever I start listening to it I find myself having to run through the whole thing. It just demands this of you. It wants to claim all of your attention. With the exception of Coil, the songs are all in excess of seven minutes, each song twisting and turning at its own pace. The album is incredibly atmospheric, produced with the perfect amount of polish and care. Many tricks add to the atmosphere here — at the end of Burden a guitar is slowly played out of tune, creating a thick sort of tension that makes you listen carefully to each string as it falls away from home. The Lotus Eater ends with a discordant mix of talking before ending in a sigh, once again forcing you in to a darker world.

This is Opeth’s magnum opus — with Watershed they have reached a peak in their art of metal and beauty.

Suggested tracks: Coil, Heir Apparent, The Lotus Eater

Note: I’d like to apologize for any typos here — I just got back from the eye doctor and am currently half-blind… so it is entirely possible that I missed something completely. If so, sorry!

One thought on “Who wants some metal?

  1. I could not possibly agree more with what you’ve said about The Black Halo. It is easily the reason Kamelot is one of my favorite musical groups. The story the album tells is dark, romantic, and filled with lessons and life and heart. All familiar, welcome elements from my own writing (and, following that, from my dreams). Not to mention that Khan’s voice is spectacular, emotive, and fun to sing along with.

    The other two groups you’ve listed have their merits as well (especially Opeth, which is sort of this weird musical black sheep), but I just can’t give them as large a share of my listening time as Kamelot.

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