Thursday, December 26, 2013

Avatarium - Avatarium (2013)
And here, ladies and gents, is my doom album of the year. When doom guitarist extraordinaire Leif Edling closed up shop on Candlemass last year, I was very disappointed, especially after the excellent "Psalms for the Dead" but much to my relief Edling formed a new project that put out something even better. "Avatarium" is a doom masterpiece that takes a strong influence from psychedelic rock and classic rock in general. Evident of this is vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith's epic, powerful performance that is, at times, very reminiscent of Dio. The riffs are amazing and are used brilliantly. The songs are very dynamic, memorable and flow extremely well. It's just an utterly epic, grandiose and beautiful album that is one of the most memorable doom releases in recent memory. I can't recommend this one enough.
Windhand - Soma (2013)
For those waiting for the next Electric Wizard album, this should do quite nicely to tide you over. This is an absolute monster of an album. With bone crushing riffs, an extremely hazy atmosphere, and beautifully distant vocals, this is definitely one of the best doom albums of the year and one that takes the original Black Sabbath sound to far darker places than Iommi and co. could ever have imagined. Simply put, "Soma" is HEAVY. The gargantuan half-hour track "Boleskine" alone is one of the punishingly heavy things ever recorded. It's very repetitive, as a lot of doom is, but the repetitiveness creates this eerie, ritualistic atmosphere that is the real charm for me about this album. And this charm extends into acoustic territory on the gorgeous track "Evergreen" which reminds me a lot of Hexvessel. I think "Soma" is a bit of a step-up from the self-titled debut album since the vocals are a bit catchier but both are amazing slabs of doom that no doom fan should miss out on.

Blackfield - IV (2013)
For their fourth release, Steven Wilson decided to be a lot less present here and mostly leave things up to Aviv Geffen. There's a bit of a decline in quality compared to the last record which, unlike most fans, I loved although whether that's due to Wilson's absence I can't say. However, this is still a very good album with some really memorable tunes. These include the fantastic "Jupiter" with Wilson on vocals and "X-Ray" featuring Vincent Cavanaugh of Anathema. Both are easily some of the best the band have ever done. It's not nearly on the level as Blackfield I but IV is still a very worthwhile album that fans of the band and Steven Wilson in general shouldn't miss out on.

Chvrches - The Bones of What We Believe (2013)
Quite simply, this is the best pop record of 2013. Brilliantly mixing dreampop with 80's style synthpop, this record is equal parts beautiful and catchy. Lauren Mayberry's vocals are simply to die for and are really the centerpiece of the album. There's really not much else to say other than this is an incredibly fun and joyful album. And there's variety too in case you were thinking this was a one-dimensional, generic pop album (i.e. contrast the insanely catchy "The Mother We Share" with the reflective, experimental "You Caught the Light"). Indeed, it's quite clear that this is far from the generic pop we hear on the radio. It's something ambitious, bold and downright charming. Do yourself a huge favor and check this out if you haven't already.
Russian Circles - Memorial (2013)
In contrast to "Forever Becoming," the new one from Russian Circles is chock full of emotion and atmosphere, particularly of the dark variety. This is easily seen on lead single "Deficit" which almost immediately captivated me. Like the next track "1777" it's dark, heavy, and beautiful all at the same time. There are some gorgeous melodies and clean sections throughout (especially on "Burial") as well as plenty of dissonance to create a striking contrast. Besides emotionality, Russian Circles really know how to rock and deliver some good riffs though I must say they're a bit lacking in this department as compared with Pelican. But with the variety, intensity, and sheer beauty of this album that's not really a big deal. Finally, I must mention the sublime track "Memorial" featuring Chelsea Wolfe (I'll get to her new album soon). It's simply one of the best things they've done and is an utterly perfect closer to this album. Overall, I think this album stands alongside "Enter" as my favorite from the group. While they seemed to be getting a bit stale on "Empros," here they really pushed the musical boundaries and delivered a great record.
Pelican - Forever Becoming (2013)
Since founding member Laurent Schroeder-Lebecleft this well-known instrumental post-metal band, many including myself were nervous about how this record would turned out. The answer is: not really that well. I absolutely loved the band's previous output, especially "What We All Come to Need," but this one seems to lack the atmosphere and memorability that characterizes those works. It's by means a bad record though. In fact, "Immutable Dusk" is already one of my favorite Pelican songs. But besides that cut it just kinda falls flat and doesn't really connect on an emotional level (especially when you compare it with "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw"). That said, I think this is a grower so I'll have to give it more listens and hopefully it will indeed grow on me. But for now, it's a good record but one that doesn't really stand up to their previous ones.


Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (2013)
As one of my most anticipated albums of the year, "Hesitation Marks" had a lot riding on it, especially after being impressed with the new How To Destroy Angels record, and I can gladly say it didn't disappoint. Overall it seems to continue in the same vein as the past few records while doing a bit of experimentation. New directions can be heard on songs such as the punkish "Everything" and the infectiously groovy, yet still quite dark "Satellite." The songs on "Hesitation Marks" don't have quite the same edginess as material from, say, "The Fragile" or "The Downward Spiral" but this reflects Trent Reznor's maturation as an artist and the point where he is now. It may be more poppy and accessible but it still unmistakably NIN and something I'm very happy to see added to the NIN discography. While it's not perfect, it's the best they've put out since "The Fragile." While other older bands/artists rehash material, NIN continue to innovate and not ride on their past glories.

Alter Bridge - Fortress (2013)
I'll readily admit that I have a huge soft spot for hard rock and boy does this band/album fill it. It's just a no frills, rocking album with excellent riffs and vocals that will keep you coming back for more. There's no shortage of memorable moments on this album such as the epic chorus of "Addicted to Pain" or the monumental riff in "Peace is Broken." There's so much potential for headbanging throughout "Fortress" that I doubt even the "truest" metalheads out there will be able to resist this album's charm. I'd put this one about on par with "Blackbird" as Alter Bridge's best to date as well as one of the best hard rock/alt. metal albums of all time.


Ulver - Messe I.X-VI.X (2013)
Recorded with the Tromso orchestra, "Messe I.X-VI.X" is the logical culmination of Ulver' extension into experimental electronica that they've pursued since they released the legendary "Nattens madrigal." It's also a testament to the band's ambition and showcases some of their best atmospherics to date. The dark majesty of tracks such as "Son of Man" and "Glamour Box (Ostinati)" demonstrate the interweaving of classical and electronic sounds into something perfect for a film score. Whereas Ulver's past endeavors gave one the sense of isolation, the breathtaking, epic nature of this album invites you to look outside yourself and ponder the world. The mammoth centerpiece of the album "As Syrians pour into Lebanon..." alone makes this one of Ulver's finest achievements. It's just an immense, incredibly epic piece of art and one of the darkest, most beautiful pieces of classical music I've ever heard. As for the vocals, they're used quite sparingly in contrast to Ulver's previous works but where they do appear they're all the more effective and emotional. I daresay that this is Ulver's most cohesive and most accomplished work to date and while it doesn't quite touch the masterpiece that is "Shadows of the Sun" it's still a phenomenal piece of work and makes me all the more happy that they gave up on their black metal roots.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Protest the Hero - Volition (2013)
Alright folks, my hiatus is over. Time to start reviewing again.

After the rather disappointing "Kezia" and the band's split from their previous label, the future didn't look all that bright for Protest the Hero. Fortunately, they weren't about to slow down and, with the help of their fans, managed to put out what might be their most accessible record to date. Whereas their magnum opus "Fortress" blends technicality and catchiness in relatively equal proportions, "Volition" is seemingly geared towards expanding the band's fan base (as well as pleasing the many generous fans who donated to their fundraising campaign). And yet there's still plenty of technicality helped in no small part by the phenomenal drumming of Chris Adler from Lamb of God who stepped in when the band's previous drummer left. But I think mainly the band was simply interested in having fun while recording "Volition" and this is evident throughout the entire album. It's a bombastic, theatrical affair whose melodrama is concentrated in the voice and lyrics of Rody Walker who gives the best performance of his career here. I will admit that his vocals are a bit excessive at times and that some songs should have more instrumental parts, but that doesn't change my opinion that he sounds great on this album. Songs such as "A Life Embossed" and "Skies" are a testament not only to Rody's phenomenal pipes, but also to the band's knack for stringing along complicated rhythms and melodies into a harmonious, memorable whole. "Volition" may not be on the level of "Fortress" but it undoubtedly a wonderful return to form that gets better with each listen.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Dream Theater - Dream Theater (2013)
Progressive metal veterans Dream Theater have had a complex, at times frayed relationship with the larger metal community. Whether it's singer James LaBrie's oft maligned vocals or guitarist John Petrucci's "wankery," or even such controversial albums as "Systematic Chaos" metalheads, and even Dream Theater fans, have found no shortage of charges to level against the band.

The band's previous album, "A Dramatic Turn of Events," while hailed by many as a return to form after the mostly ill-received "Black Clouds and Silver Linings," nevertheless felt somewhat formulaic to a lot of fans, this reviewer included.

Fortunately, with their curiously self-titled opus they prove that not only is their still plenty of juice left in the creative gas tank, but also that they can pull together the musical elements they've worked so hard to develop over the years into a coherent, highly accessible album.

Lead single "The Enemy Inside" perfectly illustrates the overall feel and direction of the album. It's a heavy, technical track yet it's almost immediately catchy; it's just the kind of track to rope in new fans and simultaneously leave the faithful satisfied.

"The Looking Glass" continues this theme, but with an interesting twist. It's the most Rush-sounding the band have ever sounded and it's hands down the most accessible track on the record.

Dream Theater throw us another curveball with "The Enigma Machine," the band's first instrumental since 2002's "Stream of Consciousness" off "Train of Thought." Petrucci provides a highly memorable and headbangable riff to provide the piece's backbone, while he and Jordan fill in the gaps with some blistering alternating solos and a haunting interlude.

Things then slow down a bit to provide some breathing room with two less intense, though no less impressive, songs "The Bigger Picture" and "Behind the Veil," the latter of which is heavily inspired by Megadeth. In fact, parts of it sound like they were taken straight from Rust in Peace or Countdown to Extinction.

Keen to continue lavishing praise upon Rush, Dream Theater then bust out "Surrender to Reason" which starts off with an intro remarkably similar to that of "The Camera Eye" off "Moving Pictures."

The eighth track "Along for the Ride" is the calm before the musical storm. Ballad-wise, it's the best thing the band have written in a long time. I assure you, it won't take you very long to get the chorus stuck like superglue in your head.

Just as you were taking a breather, "Illumination Theory" arrives to sweep you off your feet with a tour de force of technicality, emotion, and just plain good songwriting. It's a 22+ behemoth of a song, the longest they've done since "A Change of Seasons." It's Dream Theater at their most bombastic, ambitious, and proggiest. Some metalheads will undoubtedly avoid this track like the plague while others, especially prog fans, will probably eat it up like manna from heaven.

Though this album may still fail to convince many doubters, Dream Theater have a number of things going for them here that they didn't before. One, as I mentioned, is their newfound knack for accessibility - always a plus when it comes to expanding the fanbase. Another is drummer Mike Mangini finally getting an opportunity to show off the goods with some tasty, original drum parts (Petrucci wrote Mangini's drumming on "A Dramatic Turn of Events). This album definitively cements Mangini's place in the band after previous drummer Mike Portnoy's departure in 2010.

"Dream Theater" may not be revolutionary enough to compare to, say, the legendary "Scenes from a Memory," but it's the most solid thing they've done in years and a major highlight for both 2013 and prog metal overall.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

James LaBrie - Impermanent Resonance (2013)
If the only new melodeath release this year was this album, it would still be landmark year for melodeath. If you haven't gotten into James LaBrie in his Dream Theater role for whatever reason then I strongly suggest you listen to this. The choruses are so catchy and the riffs are excellent not to mention the modern metal production that really complements the musical style. And the growled vocals fit perfectly with LaBrie's soaring vocal style. If you're already a fan of LaBrie in Dream Theater then I highly doubt you won't enjoy this. And if you're a fan of Soilwork and Amaranthe then I can virtually guarantee you'll enjoy this. All in all, I can say this is my favorite of LaBrie's solo albums and is my favorite melodeath album of 2013 besides the new one from Amon Amarth.
Carcass - Surgical Steel (2013)
And the other comeback release that must be discussed is Carcass' Surgical Steel. While it may not live up to the legendary Heartwork album, Surgical Steel is a thrilling and very fun album with enough aggression and good riffs to warrant calling it one of the best melodeath albums of the year and a fine addition to Carcass' discography. I don't have much more to say other than it's a really solid album from a legendary band. Go check it out!
Gorguts - Colored Sands (2013)
Hey guys, sorry I haven't posted in so long. I've been busy the past few weeks.

Anyways, Gorguts' long-anticipated followup to From Wisdom to Hate is sure to please their hardcore fans and perhaps make a few new ones. With newer dissonant bands such as Deathspell Omega, Portal, Ulcerate etc. Gorguts had a lot to prove on this record in order to not just make good music but retain their status as death metal pioneers. After having spent a good deal of time immersed in the insanity of this album, I think they've succeeded on both accounts. It's a very complex album structurally speaking, yet it's also quite straightforward in terms of the rawness and massive amounts of tension it's releasing. It's not quite the avant-garde masterpiece that Obscura is (my favorite Gorguts album), but it's one that sits comfortably amongst the rest of their discography and one that death metal fans will most likely not be disappointed with.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Reign of Kindo - Play With Fire (2013)
Jazz-pop masters The Reign of Kindo are making another splash with what may be their best album yet. Whereas their previous two releases were very good, I can honestly say this one is great. It's very tightly constructed, catchy all around and is quite varied. Songs like "Sunshine" and "I Hate Music" are probably my favorite cuts from the album as I prefer the more upbeat, instantly catchy side of the band. That's not to say that the other tracks are skippable - not by a longshot. "Dust" and "The Man, The Wood, and The Stone" feature the soothing, contemplative side of the band and are simply gorgeous. All in all, the band have yet again accomplished the difficult task of conforming the complex structure of jazz with pop requirements, but this time they've made their most memorable and most satisfying album yet. If you haven't heard of this band before then check out this album for some really unique pop and downright fun music.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Aristocrats - Culture Clash (2013)
As one of the most talented modern jazz fusion bands out there, The Aristocrats consist of the some of the finest musicians out there including Marco Minnemann and Guthrie Govan. They and the rest of the band amazingly seem to keep improving their craft as this album demonstrates. I really liked the debut, but I think Culture Clash is clearly a better record. The compositions are tighter and catchier with a heavy dose of blues influence. Every member of the band is composing some really interesting and dynamic parts and the band as a whole sounds very tight. My favorite song is probably the title track which has already become one of my all-time favorite fusion tracks.  The rest of the songs are great as well and I'd highly recommend Culture Clash to jazz and prog fans of all types.
Karnivool - Asymmetry (2013)
The long-anticipated third album from alt/prog metallers Karnivool takes a pretty different direction than its two predecessors in terms of relying less on Tool-esque grooves and more on experimental sounds and structures. Unfortunately for most fans (myself included), this does not translate into very memorable songs or even, in some cases, coherent songs. Tracks like "The Last Few" and "Alpha Omega" just seem to go nowhere and at most offer interesting bits but not satisfying songs. Of course there are some very good songs here such as "Nachash," "Eidolon," and "Aeons" but even those pale in comparison to the songs that got me into the band such as "Shutterspeed" and "Roquefort." I'm not arguing that they should have stuck to their old style because artists naturally want to progress their sound, but this simply isn't a very satisfying album. And it really hurts me to say that because I actually liked it a lot when I first listened to it. Since then it's worn off of me a lot. If any album was ever a grower this is the one. Even in the amazing year for music that is 2013 there's bound to be some disappointments. This is one of them.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Night Verses - Lift Your Existence (2013)
2013 is a banner year for hardcore and metalcore and this album is probably the primary example of that. It's pretty rare to hear a new band hit it out of the park with their first album, but that's exactly what happens on Lift Your Existence. It's an exciting, dynamic record filled with very proggy riffs and drumming, excellent vocals, and some beautiful post-rock inspired clean parts. It's a very long album (15 songs with one of them topping 10 minutes), but it feels so tight and well-constructed that the length isn't really an issue. Plus, all the songs have catchy moments and are very memorable in their own right. I also detect a heavy dose of inspiration from Tool and Deftones so if you're into those bands then you should definitely give this album a shot. All in all, Lift Your Existence is one of the most technically competent and thrilling hardcore/metalcore albums I've heard yet and might just be my album of the year in that genre (though it does face stiff competition from Absent Light).

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Tangent - Le Sacre du Travail (2013)
Just when you might have thought symphonic prog rock couldn't make a solid showing in 2013, along comes this album to prove you wrong. Unsurprisingly, it's a concept album that's highly orchestrated and very intricately constructed. There are three epic pieces, all of them great, with a couple of shorter and not as great (but still good) pieces to even things out. The influences of Yes and Pink Floyd stand out the most to me in this album's brilliant meshing together of classically-inspired song structures with beautiful atmospherics. In fact, this whole album is a modern reinterpretation of Stravinsky's timeless Rite of Spring which was composed exactly 100 years ago. It's an incredibly ambitious project by any measure and I don't think just any prog band could have pulled this off, but Tillison and co. somehow do. For a thrilling prog adventure be sure to give this album a spin.
Evan Brewer - Your Itinerary (2013)
Evan Brewer of noted tech-deathers The Faceless may have proven himself as a highly accomplished bassist both in his work with his band and on his debut solo album Alone in 2011, but here he's raised the bar even further. Rather than mere bass solos, Brewer has decided to compose full-on jazz fusion songs complete with drums and keyboards. In fact, The Faceless already has a fairly jazzy sound so this just seems like a logical extension of it. Brewer's compositions on Your Itinerary are top-notch and remind me quite a bit of Animals as Leaders at times. They're incredibly dynamic and energetic with enormous depth and complexity. Evan Brewer might not be on the level of Herbie Hancock or Hiromi, but his second solo album is undoubtedly a fantastic fusion record that might just end up being the best in its genre for 2013.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Misery Signals - Absent Light (2013)
After a rather lengthy wait, one of metalcore's most innovative bands have returned to present another offering filled with ass-kicking, heavy riffs, impressive technicality, and fantastic drumming. Sound-wise, there's not much different compared to the last album but that's perfectly fine because I think any metal band would be proud to have an album as well-written and engaging as Absent Light is. Everything from the grooves to the clean parts to the vocals is top-notch on this album. All the members of the band are incredibly talented musicians and it's clear they took full advantage of their skills here. Besides One of Us is the Killer, this is the best metalcore release I've heard this year. If you have a buddy or family member who's into prog but averse to "core" music then this is definitely the right album to introduce to him/her.
Lustmord - The Word as Power (2013)
I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but Lustmord is my all-time favorite ambient artists along with Steve Roach. Lustmord's ability to create haunting, unfathomably dark soundscapes is unparalleled. Therefore, my anticipation level for this album was quite high and after having heard it, I can say it's a solid release but not exactly what I was hoping for. Lustmord experiments here with vocals to a much greater degree than he's done in the past making for something like a darker, wordless version of Dead Can Dance. I think the vocals work wonderfully in many parts, especially on the standout tracks "Babel" and "Abbadon." But even on those tracks I think he could have toned down the vocals a bit and added more instrumental variety. As for the rest of the tracks: they're all good but they seem to lack the factors that make them really stand out. And usually with ambient albums, the kinds of factors I'm talking about are small things you barely perceive in the background that give the music some character (i.e. the barely audible synth notes on "Abbadon.") Will this album stand up to such masterpieces as "Where the Black Stars Hang," "Zoetrope," or the incredibly varied "Metavoid"? I think not. Is it a grower? I suspect so. It may not be amongst his top-tier works, but The Word as Power is still a beautiful piece of art and a highly unique addition both to Lustmord's discography and to the ambient genre as a whole.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bibio - Silver Wilkinson (2013)
For folk enthusiasts such as myself, the electronic world doesn't often mingle with our beloved genre and when it does we tend to shy away from it and deride it as "impure." However, on this album the mingling is done so well that it's not at all difficult to just go with the flow and think of the ambient sounds as an extension of the folk. It's folk for the modern age, as it were, and above all it's beautiful music. Where this record goes wrong (and this doesn't really detract from the quality all that much) is its lack of consistency and coherency in some parts. This is especially the case with "You" which sounds completely out of place on the record. Of course, I don't think every track should sound the same, but there should have been a bit more commonality between them to make for a smoother flowing album. Otherwise, this is a great album; both folk and electronic fans will most likely find something to enjoy on it as I did.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Vinum Sabbatum - Bacchanale Premiere (2012)
Somehow I missed this absolute gem of a stoner album when it came out last year. Thankfully, I just discovered and listened to it and was pretty blown away. The riffs are great, the melodies are catchy, and, most importantly, it has that vintage production that I'm an absolute sucker for. In fact, there aren't many other bands I've heard that capture the classic psychedelic sounds of the 60's and 70's quite like this band does. Go check out this unique band.
Vali - Forlatt (2004)
If you're into dark/neofolk such as Death in June, Sol Invictus, or Ulver's masterful Kveldssanger then this is something you can't miss. The compositions are all gorgeous and flow so smoothly that you're likely to get lost in them. It's a no-frills folk album that gets right to the point and will astound you with its beauty. I've only listened to it once, but it's already one of my top folk albums of all time.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Inter Arma - Sky Burial (2013)
After hearing a lot about this album, I decided to check it out and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. It's a really diverse, interesting record that sways back and forth between feelings of utter bleakness and despair, and consolation and resignation. What I really love is how the record is so all-over-the-place in terms of influences (black metal, Neurosis, High on Fire, Earth, Mastodon etc.) yet it feels so coherent and flows so naturally. Another noteworthy talent this band possesses (and this kinda goes for all good post-metal bands) is the ability to forge a close connection between the lyrics and the music. The lyrics evoke a post-apocalyptic landscape and the music perfectly follows suit. The vocal style is one of the key elements here that not only helps bring to life this landscape in the listener's imagination, but also help give the band a unique identity. The lo-fi, black metal-esque vocals really help make the music all the more desolate and inhuman while simultaneously bringing the issues raised in the lyrics to the forefront and dealing with them in a direct, uncompromising fashion. If you still aren't convinced that 2013 is a renaissance year for post-metal then I highly suggest you check out this dark masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shade Empire - Omega Arcane (2013)
Finland is known in the metal world for its melodic metal sensibilities, producing such heavyweights as Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, and Amorphis. While each band has is amazing in its own right, none of them have the sheer ambition and audacity to produce something this epic. And I do mean epic. Shade Empire take all the best elements of their influences including Dimmu Borgir, Septic Flesh, Emperor, Behemoth, Opeth, and Fleshgod Apocalypse, and throw them in a blender with a dash of doom and a heap of steroids. What results is a dark masterpiece of extreme metal with some truly awe-inspiring classical orchestration, gargantuan riffs, jaw-dropping drumming, moving solos, and gorgeous acoustic parts. Some of the parts are absolutely mind-bending in their grandiosity and depth. How this band even wrote these insane songs, I haven't the foggiest idea. What I can say is that this is one of the best albums I've heard this year and that you should hold on to your jaw when you're listening to this.
Pomegranate Tiger - Entities (2013)
Previously unbeknownst to me, Scale the Summit already had some competition this year from this excellent upstart instrumental band out of Canada. While the two bands are very similar in many respects, Pomegranate Tiger focus more on the riffs and "metalness" of their music as opposed to StS's emphasis on melody and atmosphere. And I must say, PT do write some awesome riffs; some of them are even quite groovy. The songs here are incredibly well-constructed and nothing feels out of place. There's even a nice bit of atmosphere in the form of three or four acoustic tracks. I'm really impressed by this album though it could have been even stronger if they had cut out one or two songs because it feels a tad long to me. I can't say Entities matches up to The Migration, but it comes close and definitely warrants many repeated listens. This band quite clearly has loads of potential and I'm excited to see what they do next.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Progenie Terrestre Pura - U.M.A. (2013)
Another unique black metal release, U.M.A. blends together the atmospheric harshness of something like Burzum with beautiful ambient synths. The end result is something like Summoning or Blut Aus Nord except not quite as dark. It's a really cool concept and the music's good, but at times it feels like there's a bit too much going on and not enough in the way of actual song development. That said, the wall-of-sound production on this album is just massive and rivals anything Devin Townsend or Wintersun have done. In terms of innovation, this sets a milestone in the history of black metal but it still has a lot of room for development.

Sleep White Winter - Dreamscapes (2013)
While blackgaze in 2013 may be dominated by Deafheaven's Sunbather, an excellent record entirely worthy of its praise, this obscure album comes awfully close to rivaling it. The music is at once haunting and ferocious; beautiful and cathartic. It's quite easy to imagine listening to it in the middle of a forest during winter or, alternatively, in a vast meadow during summer. As the title suggests, this is an album that takes you wherever your imagination wants to go with some of the dreamiest, most majestic black metal I've heard. With any luck, this album will become as least as popular as Sunbather; I certainly think it should be. If you're a fan of Alcest, Lantlos, Coldworld etc. then this phenomenal album should be right up your alley.
Purson - The Circle and the Blue Door (2013)
Along with many other genres, psychedelic music has been seeing a sustained revival in recent years. Purson is a newcomer to this revival and they're one of the best best I've heard. Everything you love about classic bands such as Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Beatles, Deep Purple etc. is here plus Purson's unique twist. The hazy, seductive vocals, swirling guitars, gorgeous keys, and catchy, theatrical melodies all make for an engrossing listen that is sure to appeal to fans of vintage music (such as myself). The closest modern comparison I can make with this album is to Blood Ceremony although Purson focus more on psychedelia than heaviness and have much more limited folk elements. This is undoubtedly one of the best psychedelic records to come out in recent times. Lovers of all things classic will most thoroughly enjoy this album as I did.

Monday, June 24, 2013

In Vain - Aenigma (2013)
One of the most overlooked prog metal albums of the year, In Vain's Aenigma is an epic, dense album that takes some of the best elements of Opeth, Leprous, and even Gojira and blends them together into a coherent and immensely satisfying whole. If you're looking for prog technicality, then look elsewhere because this album focuses on melody and atmosphere with little in the way of complicated time changes and the like. Much like Devin Townsend's style, the music is straightforward, punchy, yet very uplifting and beautiful at the same time. Also like Devin Townsend (and Leprous), the choruses throughout are infectiously good and serve as the pivot of the songs. The production is excellent and does a great job at establishing the wall-of-sound effect necessary for epic music such as this. Finally, the riffs, vocals and melodies are all excellent and nicely blend death and black elements together. Aenigma is one underground gem you shouldn't miss out.
Sirenia - Perils of the Deep Blue (2013)
After a somewhat disappointing, yet still not bad release in 2011, Sirenia have returned with what is their most ambitious album to date. Incorporating classical/power metal elements is just what the band needed to kick them out of their slump. Songs like "Seven Widows Weep," "My Destiny Coming to Pass," and "The Funeral March" are some of the best songs they've ever written. Ailyn really shines on this album pushing her voice into the operatic realm and doing an ace job at it. The growls fit perfectly and really enhance the melodramatic quality of the music. There's lots of really good, heavy, dark riffs here as on previous records and most of this album actually is still gothic. While some may consider it good that they've kept much of their old sound on this album, I was slightly disappointed that it wasn't as bold a leap as I was expecting. That said, even the more old-sounding songs on this record are still very good. If they continue in this direction on their next album, they might even rival the mighty Nightwish or Epica.
August Burns Red - Rescue and Restore (2013)
Metalcore usually doesn't interest me, and after the painfully average BFMV record of this year I was hesitant to check this out yet the hype and popularity of this band pretty much compelled me to. Fortunately, I can say that this record blows the new one from BFMV clear out of the water. It's a very melodic record though not quite as much as Killswitch Engage usually do things. The songwriting is really tight without an over-reliance on breakdowns or emo lyrics. The vocals are awesome though some cleans might have made for a bit more diversity. The riffs and melodies are really good with the music sometimes bordering on prog and even occasionally featuring classical elements. Besides Disarm the Descent, this is one of the most technically competent mainstream metalcore bands I've heard. In all, it's a very solid record that should change many a metalhead's opinion about metalcore.
Havok - Unnatural Selection (2013)
Thrash metal has been in revival mode for a few years and this band is quickly rising to the top of the movement. Havok's third album doesn't really see any innovation in their sound i.e. towards something more progressive like Vektor. Rather, it's another album chock full of awesome riffs, awesome solos and loads of fun. It may not be quite on the level of Time is Up, but it's still a thoroughly enjoyable record that should please the fans and serve to remind other thrash bands (I'm looking at you Megadeth) how it's done.
Mouth of the Architect - Dawning (2013)
Post-metal masters Mouth of the Architect have returned for their fourth outing and while it may not be as good as The Ties That Blind (my favorite record from them), it's still a solid and 100% worthwhile entry in their discography. As with their past three records, MotA construct epic, atmospheric tracks that are so tension-filled that you feel an incredible sense of catharsis by the end of them. Dawning flows very naturally; in fact, it's so seamless that the whole thing almost feels like a single song with different movements. The melodies are very simple, but quite powerful and gripping in the context of the songs. The harsh vocals on this record are simply fantastic and just what you'd want from any post-metal release. The clean vocals, on the other hand, are nothing to write home about and don't really seem to jive with harshes at times. That aside, I highly recommend this album. "How This Will End" and "The Other Son" alone make this an awesome listening experience to say nothing of the other great songs on Dawning. As this record shows, 2013 continues to be a great year for post-metal as well as metal in general.
Dark Moor - Ars Musica (2013)
Spanish power metal band Dark Moor have already made a name for themselves with their bombastic, classically influenced, Rhapsody of Fire-esque wizardry, but on Ars Music they decided to go in a different direction. This time, they've greatly pared down the shredding and focused on simply making good, catchy songs. As much as I like their previous albums, this one resonates with me more because of its emotionality and utter catchiness. In fact, this album contains some of the catchiest songs I've ever heard from a power metal band. If I had to compare this to anything, it would be to Kamelot's Silverthorn albeit not as dark. There's still a bit of wizardry on this album, particularly on the superb instrumental "Asturias" but even there it's quite restrained compared to some of Dark Moor's older songs. This may not be a popular opinion, but I think this album is the best so far in Dark Moor's discography. Check it out if you like well-written, highly catchy symphonic metal.
Deeds of Flesh - Portals to Canaan (2013)
Along with last year's Incurso by Spawn of Possession, this album is one of the most mind-meltingly technical and brutal things I've ever heard. The riffs and blast beats just pummel you almost non-stop like a swarm of arrows piercing you one after another. Everything is done with such insane mathematical precision that you wonder how this band can possibly remember how to play these songs live much less write them in the first place. The vocals are just perfect for this type of music and the lyrics are cool (no gore, just awesome sci-fi themes). One downside of this album, and this goes for a lot of tech death, is that it does get kind of samey and doesn't always hold your attention. Of course, that's to be expected when we're dealing with super-complex music like this so many repeated listens are required just to even start to wrap your head around this behemoth. Otherwise, this is a true feat of technical mastery that will leave you out of breath and craving more.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods (2013)
This album is probably my most anticipated extreme metal release of the year on account of Amon Amarth pretty much being the band that got me into extreme metal in the first place. I was also rather nervous about it because I found 2011's Surtur Rising to be noticeably lacking compared to its predecessor so I wasn't sure if they would continue to stagnate or make an awesome album again. Well, it turns out they did neither with Deceiver of the Gods. They've definitely made a more consistent and, perhaps, better written album than Surtur Rising, but this one doesn't live up to Twilight of the Thunder God or With Oden on Our Side which are my two favorite AA albums.

Now, many people may understandably criticize the band for making pretty much no innovation with their sound and being overly consistent (some have even referred to AA as the "AC/DC of death metal"), but I'm willing to overlook that and focus on the quality of the songs. Do they excite me? Are they memorable? I think the answer to both those questions is yes for most of the album. Songs like the title track and especially "Coming of the Tide" are really catchy and just what I was hoping AA would make. On the other hand, there's "Hel" which even though it features Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass) who's one of my favorite singers, it's just not a very interesting track. Similarly, "Warriors of the North" is basically just an average length AA song unnecessarily stretched into an 8 minute epic. Contrast that to the epics "Under Siege" on this album and "Embrace of the Endless Ocean" on Thunder God. Both those songs are 6 something minutes long which seems to be the right length for their epic tracks. But "Warriors of the North" is still a good song of course; it just could have been pared down. Back on the positive side, we have "We Shall Destroy" which probably has the best riffs of any song on the album. The intro alone is just awesome. Another very positive point is that Johan Hegg's vocals haven't noticeably deteriorated as many other extreme vocalists' vocals have.

Besides the main album there are the 4 bonus tracks which are a really cool tribute to classic metal bands such as Maiden, Priest, Motorhead, and even AC/DC. Johan Hegg adopts a rather different vocal style in these tracks which makes him sound not too far from Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto on this year's The Underground Resistance. It's a very interesting and surprising move by the band and I applaud for them doing it.

To sum up: Deceiver of the Gods is as solid an album as you'd expect of one of melodeath's biggest names and while it's not breaking any musical boundaries or changing the band's sound in any way, it's still a really enjoyable listen that will undoubtedly continue to grow on me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iron Maiden - Powerslave (1984)
For my 400th post, I decided to review another one of my all-time favorite albums. Enjoy!

All the 80’s era Maiden albums are such classics. It’s hard to choose my favorite, but I had to choose Powerslave because Aces High and the title track are my two all-time favorite Maiden tracks. Plus it has one of the best metal album covers of all time. What impresses me the most about Iron Maiden besides their rock-solid songwriting abilities and the legendary vocals of Bruce Dickinson is their lyrical topics. They write songs about such a wide array of literary, historical, military, political and even philosophical subjects which adds an extra level of power to their music. Powerslave discusses such subjects as ancient Egyptian mythology, the Doomsday Clock and fencing. Oh and let’s not forget that they have one of the best drummers of all time as well as some of the best solos. As on all their albums, Nicko McBrain and the three guitarists shine brilliantly and make some incredibly ambitious music. All these elements coalesce into a perfect package on Powerslave. With Powerslave, as well as with Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden cemented themselves as the leading NWOBHM band and one of the best and most influential heavy metal bands of all time. 
Orphaned Land - All is One (2013)
After 2010's spectacular Orwarrior, my expectations for Orphaned Land's fifth album were incredibly high, and I'm happy to say that by and large they have been met. All is One goes in a somewhat different direction than Orwarrior in terms of scaling back the heaviness and growls and relying heavily on orchestration. The orchestration, for me, is the real highlight of this album as it's done so beautifully and forms such an integral part of the music that you couldn't imagine it not being there. It's a bit disappointing that Shlomit Levi isn't featured on this album, but the female singer who is present here as well as the choir are quite good in their own way. As for the songs, the title track shows the band band at their most progressive and is one of my favorites from the album. "Brother" is a gorgeous, emotional ballad that is one of the best songs they've ever written. "Children," the epic album closer, is another highlight of the album and seems to summarize everything that came before it. In all, even though this album doesn't quite live up to Orwarrior or Mabool, it's still an amazing accomplishment for the band and demonstrates yet again that Orphaned Land are the cream of the crop when it comes to Middle Eastern metal. All is One is their most emotional album yet and if you're already a fan or are just gettting into the band then you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blackmore's Night - Dancer and the Moon (2013)
Many people have been clamoring for Ritchie Blackmore to return to his hard rock roots and he kinda does that on this album. His work is, unsurprisingly, fantastic especially on the last track "Carry On Jon" which, of course, pays tribute to the late and great keyboardist Jon Lord. And then there's Ritchie's wife Candice who performs marvelously per usual with her voice well-suited to Ritchie's gentle folk melodies. However, one thing does drag this album down somewhat. Having two versions of the same song on it. I wouldn't mind if they kept one of the versions as a bonus track, but they don't and it clutters up the album somewhat. Besides that, "Dancer and the Moon" is a really enjoyable, beautiful album that will probably end up as my folk album of the year.
Enshine - Origin (2013)
And now for what will probably be my death/doom album of the year. Enshine differentiate themselves by adding in ambient electronic electronics to complement the heavy riffs and beautiful melodies. The atmospherics are simply some of the best I've heard in the death/doom genre, and the production is crystal clear. If you're a fan of Daylight Dies, Swallow the Sun etc., then by all means give this album a shot. You most likely won't be disappointed.
Lacrimas Profundere - Antiadore (2013)
It's not very often I listen to goth metal and I've heard good things about this album so why not review it. Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable listen. The singer reminds me a lot of Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride which is always a plus, and the music doesn't sound too far from Katatonia. The songs are all catchy and well-written. What drags this album down though is the lack of variety. After having heard "My Release in Pain" which is an excellent track that's very dynamic both musically and vocally, I expected the rest of the album to be along similar lines but it's not for the most part. (Perhaps some 6+ minute songs could have helped). That's not to say it's bad, but it feels like more of a grower. But definitely check this out. It's as solid a goth release as I've ever heard.
Aquilus - Griseus (2011)
Ladies and gents, this isn't your grandma's symphonic black metal. No, this is hands-down one of the most ambitious, creative black metal albums ever made. Unlike most other bands who approach symphonic BM from a metal mindset, Aquilus reverses the process and uses the BM parts to enhance the classical compositions. And speaking of the compositions, they're some of the most beautiful and well constructed I've heard in either metal or classical. Unlike the cheap synths some other bands rely on, there is nothing hackneyed, cheesy, or lazy on this album. This is the work of one man who's truly dedicated to his music and has made an absolutely spellbinding masterpiece of an album. "Griseus" should be the textbook standard when it comes to mixing metal with classical though I highly doubt any other band can make music of such a high caliber as this.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise (2013)
Like Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth have a deep appreciation for all that is vintage, psychedelic, and doomy. Their main talent lies in creating hypnotizing, engrossing songs whose magical keyboards, leaden riffs, and seductive, haunting vocals all combine to create some very powerful, trance-inducing music. Another noteworthy feature of Jex Thoth is their keen sense of just how heavy to make a song and thus perfectly balance the riffs with the melodies, atmospherics, and emotions. "Blood Moon Rise" is a perfect example of retro-doom done tastefully in terms of having a sound that is both influenced by older bands and original. It will certainly make my list of top doom albums at the end of the year.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Palms - Palms (2013)
When I first heard about the collaboration between Deftones singer Chino Moreno and several ex-Isis members, I thought it was a brilliant idea as I'm a huge fan of both bands. Even though this album might not stand up to the best of either band's discography, it's nevertheless a beautiful piece of post-rock and something these highly talented musicians should be proud of. My favorite tracks are "Future Warrior" with its simple, yet hypnotic melody that flows throughout, and "Shortwave Radio" which has a very catchy and uplifting chorus. I wish some parts of the album were developed a bit more in terms of adding in more heavy parts, yet it's understandable that the band wanted to take their sound in a somewhat different direction than of Isis. Regardless, it's an excellent album that Isis fans and post-rock fans in general should enjoy.
Blood Ceremony - Living With the Ancients (2011)
Since I haven't had a chance yet to review their latest album and since I just got into this band via this record, I figured I'd give it a review. Wow. Just wow. I don't think an album has blown me away like this in quite some time. What this band represents is the perfect blending of Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard's doom onslaught, Jethro Tull's frenzied flute playing, and the psychedelic keys of The Doors. Some might say that wearing their influences so blatantly on their sleeves makes Blood Ceremony an unoriginal band, but I think that the blending of these influences plus the inclusion of a female singer makes for some of the most original and awe-inspiring music in the stoner/retro-doom scene. The flute and keys on this album are absolutely breathtaking in their ability to evoke nostalgic sentiments. The singer has a subdued, rather eerie voice that perfectly matches the music. The occult/pagan lyrics and imagery are a brilliant touch. Finally, the riffs and solos are great, yet not too heavy as would be expected of a vintage-sounding band. This is one of those rare albums that you pretty much instantly fall in love with. I'm already kicking myself for not discovering this sooner and I absolutely can't wait to listen to and review their new one (as well as their debut).

Pagan Altar - Mythical and Magical (2006)
And now for another little gem I discovered: Pagan Altar may not be the most famous NWOBHM band of the 80's, but they are certainly one of the most unique. Their keen sense of melody, a hallmark of the NWOBHM sound, in addition to their penchant for atmospheric doom and incorporation of folk (reflecting the pagan motif of their band name) all make for a highly rewarding and engaging listen. It has a distinct vintage, proto-metal feel to it even though it's most definitely a metal album. If there's anything that drags the album down, it's Terry Jones' vocals which take some time getting used to after which they seem to fit the music. Minor complaints aside, this is a really strong, even addictive record that hearkens back to 80's metal while subtly incorporating the style of Black Sabbath. Not only is it an intriguing musical experiment, but it's also a great record that metal fans of all stripes should hear.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Saxon - Sacrifice (2013)
Somehow, I've been missing one of the most important traditional metal bands of all time and have only gotten into them within the past few days. I'm glad to have discovered them now because this legendary band's 20th album is everything you'd want from a band such as them: pounding, heavy riffs, nice solos, good vocals, and all around fun, rocking music. You might say that it's surprising to hear men in their 60's playing metal so well, but then again we just had killer albums released from Deep Purple and Black Sabbath so it's not all that surprising anymore. This is a band that clearly have not forgotten their roots and can still please their fanbase. If you're looking for a solid, straightforward slab of heavy metal then this album should be on your list.