Musically, it was a pretty good year. A handful of great albums were released, covering just about every genre I care about. As far as metal went, I had a hard time choosing only 5 albums to absolutely recommend. In fact, I was going to do a “top 5” style article at first, but realized I couldn’t really do that in good faith — especially considering how diverse my taste in metal has become. I can’t say I’ve listened to absolutely everything this year, but I tried to keep up on as much as I can. Hopefully this means there is something for every metal fan on the list!
High On Fire – Snakes For The Divine
High On Fire is often described as stoner metal, putting heavy emphasis on repetitive, distorted riffs that can only accurate be described as “chugging.” This specific style has defined HoF since their inception. About the only thing that changes with their albums is the amount of refinement in their production, as their sound basically stays the same. For most bands, this can mean stagnation. After all, no one wants to hear the same album every two years. High On Fire manages to escape this by just being creative enough to pull in newer fans while not alienating their older ones.
Songs like the title track, Ghost Neck, and Fire Flood & Plague carry this album. While the other tracks are great, these three just stand out and push the album from simply good to solid. They bring in all the elements the band is known for while pumping in a ton of fist-clenching rage. Nothing like listening to twisted riffs while your ears are being hammered by mechanical drumming that just never ends. Quite frankly, it’s metal.
Kamelot – Poetry for the Poisoned
Kamelot stands out from the rest of the power/symphonic metal crowd. I feel that Roy Khan’s vocals combined with the creative direction they’ve taken since The Black Halo has made this band absolutely unstoppable. An album filled with dark, romantic (and murderous) undertones is almost expected of them by this point. After all, while Ghost Opera’s melancholic look at the world was pretty good, it just didn’t have that Kamelot edge that really made me stick TBH or Epica on repeat.
Poetry for the Poisoned, however, brought it in full. The album is dark, extremely so in parts — the first single, The Great Pandemonium, even has guest vocals by Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork fame. Not to mention the 4-part title track that explores the twisted love of a incubus-like vampire and his mate. The whole thing is just incredible.
…but, it isn’t quite as good as The Black Halo. Still, though, it is a definite buy.
Machinae Supremacy – A View From The End Of The World
A View is Machinae’s most versatile, energetic album ever — which is saying quite a lot, considering Machinae’s past albums. While it isn’t perfect, it is damned close. In a lot of ways this album is a return to form for the band, as they’ve gone back to home-producing just about everything.
Every track is loaded with “SiD” — the gaming-style electronic synth sounds that arguably made them who they are. Throw in some talented (and catchy!) riffing, and a much-improved lyrical style and you’ve got a recipe for kick ass metal.
Machinae has also gone back to their roots with their lyrics, choosing to switch between both up-beat, bouncy type anthems and revolutionary, fist-pumping warnings to the non-digital world. It is a combination that grabs you by the throat and holds you there for the entire album’s length. While I’d love to see a Flagcarrier style ballad, I honestly don’t mind as One Day In The Universe is one of my favorite tracks, ever.
I’ve got to say, if this was a top 5 list — I’d absolutely stick A View at the very top. It is that good.
Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast
Also known as: Welcome back, Soilwork.
The Panic Broadcast is a roaring, destructive and cataclysmic release. This is Soilwork grabbing their melodic death metal flags and flying them as high as they possibly can, declaring war on everything in their path. From the first track to the last, the album is absolutely brutal. While Soilwork has spent their last handful of albums searching for a “new” sound, TPB shows that all they really needed to do was perfect their old one. While this doesn’t quite sound like their founding albums, it does have that same sort of death groove that is intense (with an honest tablespoon of funk, seriously) yet melodic. It’s great.
Soilwork basically shows the world that you don’t have to kill the melodeath sound to make catchy, brutal songs. Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter and Deliverance Is Mine show that it is possible to have catchy choruses without making a song formulaic.
Now if only In Flames could do the same…
Blind Guardian – At the End of Time
Blind Guardian, while always pretty good, really hasn’t done anything groundbreaking for quite some time.
I’m happy to say that At the End of Time ends that trend. While this is quintessential power metal, the addition of extremely bombastic, symphonic elements really brings their sound back to the spotlight. While this sort of thing isn’t new for Blind Guardian or even the genre, it is done so fluidly that it increases the intensity of the traditional band.
With this album, Blind Guardian chose to focus their songwriting on various stories (such as both the Wheel of Time series), using them as inspiration for their direction. It seemed to work out pretty well for them, as while all the tracks stand on their own, the album feels pretty connected. Honestly, I was surprised that they managed to pull off such separation between the songs while keeping them sounding “together.” I’m not sure many other bands could do the same.
The intro track, Sacred Worlds, really is one of the main reasons I’ve thrown this album on here, though. It is just incredible and really serves as a great starting piece for the rest of the album. Even if you aren’t much of a Blind Guardian fan, I’d strongly suggest that track — though don’t forget about the rest of the album if you like it!