Thursday, January 30, 2014

Most Anticipated Albums of 2014 + more
Note NNote: I'm only counting what's been confirmed as coming out this year.

1. Opeth
2. Mastodon
3. Devin Townsend
4. Wintersun
5. Epica
6. Anathema
7. Animals as Leaders
8. Sabaton
9. Insomnium
10. Overkill
11. Testament
12. Johnny Cash
13. Ian Anderson
14. Swans
15. At the Gates
16. Steven Wilson
17. Wolves in the Throne Room
18. Panopticon
19. Nokturnal Mortum
20. Agalloch
21. Tycho
22. Scar Symmetry
23. Dimmu Borgir
24. Ne Obliviscaris
25. Textures
26. In Flames

Really hoping for:
1. Tool
2. Metallica
3. Electric Wizard
4. Threshold
5. Moonsorrow
6. Iron Maiden
7. Nightwish
8. Meshuggah
9. Stars of the Lid 
10. Enslaved
11. Baroness
12. Radiohead
13. Massive Attack
14. Portishead
15. Deftones
16. Blind Guardian

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top 25 Albums of 2013

And now without further ado (and before I forget), here's my ranked list for last year. It was a pain to rank these as 2013 was an incredible year for music, but after much mental wrestling, I somehow managed it. Enjoy!

1. Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
2. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing
3. Scale the Summit - The Migration
4. Dream Theater - Dream Theater
5. Amorphis - Circle
6. Deafheaven - Sunbather
7. Riverside - Shrine of New Generation Slaves
8. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
9. Ghost - Infestissumam
10. Carcass - Surgical Steel
11. Summoning - Old Mornings Dawn
12. Paysage d'Hiver - Das Tor
13. Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork
14. Russian Circles - Memorial
15. The Ocean - Pelagial
16. Tesseract - Altered State
17. Avatarium - Avatarium
18. Depeche Mode - Delta Machine
19. Amaranthe - The Nexus
20. James LaBrie - Impermanent Resonance
21. Haken - The Mountain
22. Alter Bridge - Fortress
23. Black Sabbath - 13
24. Soilwork - The Living Infinite
25. Ulver - Messe I.X-VI.X
Honorable Mentions:
Sigur Ros - Kveikur
Hammock - Oblivion Hymns 
Night Verses - Lift Your Existence
Revocation - Revocation
Havok - Unnatural Selection
Cult of Luna - Vertikal
Dark Tranquillity - Construct
Intronaut - Habitual Levitations
Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
Immolation - Kingdom of Conspiracy
Protest the Hero - Volition
Clutch - Earth Rocker
Germ - Grief
The Dear Hunter - Migrant
Caladan Brood - Echoes of Battle
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Deep Purple - Now What?!
Persefone - Spiritual Migration
Shade Empire - Omega Arcane
My Bloody Valentine - mbv
Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
Blooc Ceremony - The Eldritch Dark
Leprous - Coal
Anciients - Heart of Oak
Orphaned Land - All is One
The Reign of Kindo - Play With Fire
Pelican - Forever Becoming
Chelsea Wolfe - Pain is Beauty
Goldfrapp - Tales of Us
Kataklysm - Waiting for the End to Come
Nails - Abandon All Life
Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon (2014)
Having regained their stride with Stu Block's entrance in the band on "Dystopia," metal legends Iced Earth's 11th album is a very worthy successor even if it doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by its predecessor. On "Plagues of Babylon," the band seem to have focused on accessibility in terms of very catchy choruses, simplified song structures, and less screaming. This results in a somewhat more generic sound, but one that eventually grew on me. There are some really strong songs on this album including the title track, "If I Could See You," "Cthulhu" and "Democide." The rest of the songs are very good even if some of them (especially "Highwayman" and "Peacemaker") feel out of place. In terms of innovation, there are guest vocals for the first time (I think) from such metal celebrities as Russell Allen and Hansi Kursch and the songs "Highwayman" and "Peacemaker" have a distinct country sound to them. Otherwise, it's the same Iced Earth sound you know and love. And I can't really fault them for that. At the end of the day, it's just a fun album with some really cool riffs and excellent choruses. I'm not gonna complain too much about that.
Alcest - Shelter (2014)
I'm just gonna come right out and say it: I'm a total Alcest fanboy. Therefore, my expectations for this album were sky high before it came out so fortunately it's every bit the gorgeous masterpiece I expected it to be. If you didn't know, Alcest started out as pure, raw black metal on their demo. Then they started with the whole blackgaze thing on their EP "Le Secret" and took a break from harsh vocals on their debut album "Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde." The next two albums reintroduced harsh vocals, but here they're gone once again along with the metal itself. What we end up with is a slice of pure shoegaze/post-rock bliss. I see it as a completely natural and logical extension of their metal sound, yet I understand the sentiment of those who are disappointed with "Shelter" and wished Alcest had stuck with their metal roots. And I admit it did take a couple more listens than normal to really "get" this album, but now I'm at the point where I feel it's fully clicked. Each song feels very unique and portrays a distinct emotion. The emotions range from the pure joy and exuberance of "Opale" to the dark melancholy of "L'Eveil des Muses" to somewhere in the middle of those two extremes with the glorious closing track "Delivrance." Alcest further mix things up by throwing in some fantastic guest vocals from Neil Halstead of Slowdive fame on the track "Away" (which has my favorite melody on the album.) Overall, though I wouldn't rank it as highly as the three albums that preceded it, I am still deeply impressed with "Shelter" and fully expect it to feature on my best of 2014 list. Simply put, this record stands heads and shoulders with the shoegaze classics of the '90's and is an absolutely incredible achievement.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hell - Curse and Chapter (2013)
When you've got a hankering for good ol' fashioned traditional metal, then might I so humbly suggest to you this little gem of an album? Hell formed back in the 1980's but only put out their first album in 2011. Now they're back with their sophomore release and it's very tasty indeed. The riffs are simply excellent and the vocals are delightfully theatrical. While the lyrical themes are very serious, the music comes off as pure fun and catchiness. I really like "Human Remains" (their debut album) but this one is a clear improvement in my mind. It's pretty safe to say that this is my top traditional metal album of 2013.
Hammock - Oblivion Hymns (2013)
While other post-rock bands are entirely capable of creating some very beautiful music, no band does it with as much focus and success as Hammock do. Coming right on the heels of their masterpiece "Departure Songs," "Oblivion Hymns" continues in much the same direction as their previous works but also forges a unique identity for itself. For the first time, Hammock have incorporated classical instruments into their music and, being the geniuses they are (yeah I know, I'm a Hammock fanboy) ended up making yet another phenomenal record. Really, these guys can do absolutely no wrong. Their music is the perfect vehicle to send you floating off into space for eternity. While artists such as Stars of the Lid and Eluvium come close stylistically, there's really no one else that can match the ethereal beauty that is Hammock. If you're new to the band then prepare to have your jaw drop right to the floor. And while I wouldn't call this my favorite Hammock album, it's easily one of the best albums of last year and a phenomenal addition to their stellar discography.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire (2013)
Unfortunately, like the new Karnivool album, this album managed to disappoint me after DLC's excellent debut "This is the Warning." On this one there are definitely some good tracks like "Lodestar" and "I Am" but most of it just doesn't really do much for me. They kinda seem to just go nowhere and fall flat without much replay value or catchiness. Despite the gorgeous cover art, this one was a dud. If you really liked the album feel free to disagree and post a comment. Otherwise, I can't really recommend this one.
Chelsea Wolfe - Pain is Beauty (2013)
I'm not a huge fan of goth rock, but this album definitely manages to get my support. That said, it's much more than a mere rehash of Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Cure, though those bands were almost certainly large influences in the album's overall sound. Rather, Wolfe borrows heavily from folk, doom, drone, and perhaps shoegaze. While this is quite an eclectic mix of genres, the end product is remarkably consistent because she experiments not for the sake of experimentation, bur rather as a means of expressing her emotions and thoughts as she sees fit. And this is an incredibly emotional, beautiful album indeed. Songs like "The Warden," "Reigns," and "Lone" are so simple yet so powerful at the same time. They're absolutely hypnotic and gorgeous. Elsewhere, Wolfe's post-punk influences come in full force on songs such as "Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter" whose nihilistic title echoes well with the album title itself. Like Grouper and other experimental artists, Wolfe has a knack for establishing a truly haunting atmosphere. Her ethereal vocals linger in the background of every song like a restless spirit. "Pain is Beauty" is by far one of the most unique releases of last year and probably the best in Chelsea Wolfe's discography. For something off the beaten path, you can't do much better than this little gem.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Earthless - From the Ages (2013)
When it comes to stoner jam bands, these guys are absolutely some of the best. While I loved their previous two records, I feel that "From the Ages" is Earthless' most accomplished and accessible record to date. While an album with a 36 minute song on it may not sound that accessible, it's so easy to get lost in the psychedelic haze that the time just drifts right on by while you're listening to it. The whole album flows incredibly well and it's chock full of catchy riffs and soaring, bluesy solos. Equally top-notch are the bass playing and drumming which, of course, are key elements in stoner rock. This is just a fun record that's a great substitute for drugs (not that I've ever taken any!). If you're looking for some mind-blowing instrumental music then this should be right up your alley.
Gris - A L'ame Enflamee, L'ame Constelee (2013)
And speaking of innovative black metal releases, here we have one that truly sounds like no other I've heard. Mixing classical folk passages with emotive black metal, Quebecois band Gris have made an intriguing and highly mature record. There's no blast beats at all here; rather, there's a very doomy atmosphere with seamless transitions into some gorgeous clean passages. Indeed, Gris' approach to black metal is quite reminiscent of how Empyrium approached doom/death metal. "A L'ame..." is also quite different from Gris' previous album "Il Etait une Foret," particularly because the former has much cleaner production and balances black metal with classical folk in about equal proportions. This is clearly the sign of a band progressing their sound and making a mature statement. I can't say this album impressed me as much as, say, the new Summoning or Deafheaven records, but it is a very deep and complex album that probably wasn't meant to be as immediately accessible as those records anyways. In any case, it's one of the most unique black metal albums I've heard and I'm very interested to see what the band does next.

Germ - Grief (2013)
2013 was a banner year for black metal and this album alone provides ample proof of that. Not content to stick to the old cliches of darkness, blast beats, and intentionally bad production, "Grief" takes an experimental approach and incorporates some influences that normally thought of as completely alien to black metal. These include post-rock, shoegaze, electronica, and even indie rock. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing experience and leaves you emotionally drained, but in a very positive way. Add to that Tim Yatras' (ex-Austere, ex-Woods of Desolation) incredible shrieks and you have one hell of an album. My favorite track is probably "I Can See it in the Stars" as the melody is just so memorable and epic. Along with "Sunbather," this album is one of the most unique BM releases in recent memory. I urge you to check it out.
Kataklysm - Waiting for the End to Come (2013)
Simply put, this is Kataklysm's best record. Gone are the generic, boring filler songs from the previous two records and what we have left is awesomeness in every song. There are some downright brutal, punishing riffs on this record and, thankfully, only a very measured amount of blast beats. The songs, for the most part, are as catchy as death metal can be and leave you very satisfied. If you're looking for some no-nonsense, headbangable material then this album is a 100% safe bet.
Haken - The Mountain (2013)
As one of my most anticipated albums of 2013, "The Mountain" largely didn't disappoint. I say largely because Haken's previous album, "Visions" was so phenomenal that I just don't feel that this one lived up to it. Of course, this is still a fantastic album with some superb songwriting, riffs, and melodies. It's just that the only track that has really grabbed my attention so far is "Cockroach King." It's so wonderfully catchy and fun that it easily competes with anything off of "Visions." The rest though will take more time to grow on me. I can't quite say they knocked it out of the park, but Haken, one of the best prog metal bands around today, still made a damn solid album that is undeniably worthy of the praise it has received.
Touche Amore - Is Survived By (2013)
Punk and hardcore haven't really swayed me as much as others but I do enjoy it from time to time. This album is probably one I'll be turning to when I'm in the mood for simple hardcore that eschews the intensity of bands like Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan for something a lot closer to mainstream rock. It's far from revolutionary, but it seems to get the job done as far as accomplishing its modest goals. That said, I think some more variation could have really improved it. There are some unique, more laid-back songs such as "Non-Fiction" but there's really note enough variety to keep my interest throughout. Ditto on the vocals. They're very monotone and, as controversial as this might sound, the singer probably should have added some clean singing to spice things up. Aside from these criticisms, it's a decent album that should appeal to most fans of punk and hardcore.