Saturday, January 20, 2018

Opeth - Ghost Reveries (2005)

In the Opeth discography, "Blackwater Park" is generally seen as the band's highlight, their grand masterpiece that they can never recreate, no matter how many times they try. Well, I am not one of those who think that, because to me, that effervescent masterpiece is "Ghost Reveries". The 2005 release has always had a special place in my metal heart, combining everything that makes Opeth so good into an atmospheric experience that few bands can match. When it comes to brilliant Opeth music, no other album can reach this level of quality.

It all starts with the opening track "Ghost of Perdition", probably my favourite Opeth song of all time, and I am not saying that only because it was extremely fun to play on Rock Band (that drum chart is simply marvelous). This 10 and a half minute track has an impeccable flow to it, sweeping through the heavy and the atmospheric, while also giving every instrument and band member enough room to shine, displaying every strength that this fantastic band possesses. And that ending, THAT ENDING, just damn.

So obviously, the album goes downhill from there, but not as much as you would think. Sure, there is no song after that has the same, gut wrenching punch to it, but the rest of the tracks on "Ghost Reveries" helps a lot in establishing the spooky character of the record. The album was first meant to be a concept record about the occult and evil in general, but that idea was scrapped when Mikael wrote some songs that did not really fit in lyrically, but he simply could not leave out of the record. This album still have a lot of these dark themes in it that does make the album cohesive, they just do not have a red line that goes through them all.

The biggest strength of the album is without a doubt the smooth flow that courses through your ears with the easiest ease that has ever eased. While the length of the record might seem kind of daunting (1 hour and 6 minutes), it certainly does not feel like it is that long. It is very easy to just lose yourself into the record, drowning in its never ending ocean of sweeping melodies, mixed vocal work, and sudden hits of crushing riffs. You almost reach some sort of metal nirvana, just enjoying the hell out of every second that has been put into this disc.

Song wise, Opeth certainly has had a stronger line up, but because they all fit together so god damn well, it really does not matter all that much how they are individually. Of course we have the juggernaut "Ghost of Perdition" as the front runner, but a good second can be found in "The Grand Conjuration", a song that is just playing with you, throwing some odd, simplistic riffs here and there, mixing in some strange and evil whispers to make you uncomfortable, but interested. The other two giants of the record ("The Baying of The Hounds" and "Reverie/Harlequin Forest") are also really cool songs, really showing that Opeth has truly mastered the art of making 10+ minute songs close to perfection, and while those tracks that are under 10 minutes are not bad in any way shape or form, they do take more of a side role in the album, still contributing good things though.

Yep, there is no question here as far as I see it, "Ghost Reveries" is Opeth's magnum opus (magnum Opeth?), an album that just feels complete in every sense of the word, while actually not being it. Sure, it would have been fun if they would have fulfilled the concept, and the individual quality is not the best, but the complete picture of this album is simply awe inspiring. It is 1+ hour of Opeth candy that will leave your ears with new holes, but it is totally worth it. So while I do understand why most people see "Blackwater Park" as the best by the band, I say to them that they have not listened to "Ghost Reveries" enough, the true Opeth masterpiece.

Songs worthy of recognition: Ghost of Perdition, The Baying of The Hounds, Reverie/Harlequin Forest, The Grand Conjuration

Rating: 10/10 Hours of Wealth

More reviews of Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse
Still Life
Blackwater Park
Pale Communion

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

White Wizzard - Infernal Overdrive (2018)

It is hard to predict when White Wizzard will churn out a new album, just because of the sad fact that this band literally has no stability. Founder Jon Leon never seems to find the right pieces to make the band a stable tour de force, for reasons that we only can speculate about, but it is quite telling that in their current state, the band does not have a permanent drummer, and that the other two members James LaRue and Wyatt Anderson are back in the fold (this is in fact Wyatt's 4th run with the band). Despite the rotating doors, White Wizzard has still managed to come up with some nice speed metal albums over the years, but can "Infernal Overdrive" meet the expectations that comes with 5 years of album absence?

Well, it is perfectly obvious that "Infernal Overdrive" is White Wizzard to the core, 80's influenced speed metal with tons of catchy choruses and meaty riffs. However, it seems like Mr. Leon is getting ambitious these days, because out of the nine tracks that makes this record, we got four that goes beyond the eight minute mark, including the finisher "The Illusion's Tears" which clocks in just over 11 minutes. It is not like White Wizzard has gone the long road before, but doing so time and time again in this record is really stretching the whole term speed metal, because these 61 minutes does not go by very fast.

And that is exactly my main problem with this album, it feels surprisingly sluggish. I expected this group to put the pedal to the metal, that they would channel that guy from "Mad Max: Fury Road" who wields a flame thrower/guitar hybrid and transform his energy in album format (the cover art certainly hinted that), but they never do. It feels like the hand brake is still active, keeping the band from reaching their full potential. Every element that makes White Wizzard so good is here, but the length of the record works against it. It shows the most in "The Illusion's Tears", which is is way too long and slow for me to care really, just end the album already.

Not to say there is no quality in the record at all, there is some really interesting ideas in some of the longer songs like "Chasing Dragons", "Voyage of The Wold Raiders", and "Critical Mass". Not sure if they fit the band, but it could be the start of an exciting evolution. The guitar play is as playful as ever, wanking its way inside out in the solo bits, and Wyatt's voice was made for speed metal, crushing those higher notes with ease. So the performance can definitely not be blamed for this album's shortcomings

While I do admire White Wizzard's will to expand their sound and bring a lot of music to their dedicated fans, "Infernal Overdrive" does come out as a drag, overstaying its welcome quite a bit. It really would not be all that bad if they would have just crammed in one more fast burner, say something that matched the intensity of "Storm The Shores", just to bring some good and much needed variety. It still has a lot of interesting ideas, and the execution is on point, so fans of the band will surely enjoy this effort, but it just does not have the bite that the previous records have. Let us hope that Mr. Leon has finally found some stability within the line-up, and that the next album will be a killer thanks to the improved chemistry.

Songs worthy of recognition: Critical Mass, Storm The Shores, Chasing Dragons

Rating: 6,5/10 Pretty Mays

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Opeth - Damnation (2003)

5 months after the release of "Deliverance", Opeth unveiled the second half of their epic double trouble pack, the Yin that would match the Yang, the twin brother that came in second place out of the mother, the... you get the point. "Damnation" is the other half of the recordings from 2002, showing off the calmer side of the band. Gone are all the harsh vocals, the distorted guitars, and the aggressive beats, all that is left is an (close to fully) acoustic ensemble that plays 70's inspired rock. You could say this album was "Heritage" before "Heritage", exposing the common Opeth fan to something different, maybe even uncomfortable.

To make this album work as an Opeth release, everything has to be nailed perfectly, and it all starts with the production. Together with the band's main man Mikael Åkerfeldt, we got help from Steven Wilson, whom we all know from Porcupine Tree, his solo project, and a bunch of other bands. Steven is the perfect man for the job in my opinion, because since he also loves 70's prog rock, he knows how to make a compelling record that would also speak to the metal crowd. Mikael and Steven is certainly a match made in progressive heaven, a duo that could make some special magic happen.

And there is certainly magic in here, some smooth, mellow magic. The band goes seamlessly from song to song in its own tempo, taking their time to develop every melody into something great. While it is all rooted into the 70's, it still has that touch of modern Opeth that keeps it from being out of touch. It actually got a lot in common with "Morningrise", except for the obvious bits that we have already discussed about.

One thing that I think "Damnation" does better than "Deliverance" is featuring Mikael Åkerfeldt and his wonderful vocals, and I guess it could be because this music fits his clean vocals extremely well, but it is also because he gets much more room to work with here. With very minimal instrumentation in play, Mikael takes over and guides us through this journey, calmly leading us to a secure place. It is a comforting voice, one that you can trust in any weather.

But as you would expect from an album like this, it does get kind of boring after a while, since all of the songs have sort of the same tempo and mood. It is certainly a record that you could fall asleep to if you listen to it in the middle of the night. However, the boredom never becomes a chore, it is not like I want to skip any track and simply give up, it is more like "this part is not very exciting, but let us see what they can offer next". The hypnotizing vocals and the fine tuned guitar playing helps in keeping your concentration levels at reasonable heights, continuing to amaze with its delicate techniques.

So yeah, "Damnation" might not be the most exciting Opeth album out there, but it is still one with several good qualities, a different experience that works perfectly as the counter part of "Deliverance". It is easy to see that those two were recorded at the same time, and they certainly make a great double feature when listened to back to back. I do find this one as the superior album, because it tries new stuff, while still having that Opeth style that we all know and love. It is a special little album that stands out in the discography, and while it still has some way up towards the highest of levels, it sits nicely as a pleasant break from the madness. Simply marvelous.

Songs worthy of recognition: Death Whispered A Lullaby, In My Time of Need, To Rid The Disease

Rating: 7,5/10 Windowpanes

More reviews of Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse
Still Life
Blackwater Park
Pale Communion

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Opeth - Deliverance (2002)

With the success that "Blackwater Park" produced, Opeth was obviously on a roll, and the band made sure to keep up with the momentum. To do so, the Swedes opted to quickly enter Studio Fredman once again, this time to make a double album release, something that their current record company, peaceville records, was not willing to do. So it became a compromise, the double album was split into two separate records that were released 5 months apart, both being recorded at the same time.

We will eventually get into the twin brother "Damnation", but first up was "Deliverance", a pretty sensible follow up to "Blackwater Park" that saw the band continuing with their unique style of progressive metal. This album focused on the long version of the band, containing only six songs, and all of them (except for a small instrumental titled "For Absent Friends") were over the ten minute mark, making "Deliverance" pretty meaty with a solid run time of just over an hour.

This album is also one of the band's heavier efforts, almost completely ignoring their rock influences that has become such a vital part for them. It is kind of a risky move that surely makes this and "Damnation" a nice double dipper in a long listening session, but on its own, it becomes a little stale. Not to say that this album is a complete waste, the quality is surely there, and it definitely sounds like Opeth from start to finish, but it just does not have that gut wrenching punch that normally turns a good Opeth record into a magnificent one.

As said though, there is still a lot to like about "Deliverance", especially the title track that is just pure Opeth candy. The second half is almost purely instrumental, with a really catchy rhythm as the main star, digging deeper and deeper into your brain for every cycle it repeats. That song is worth the price of admission alone, but there is a lot of great instrumentation in this album, you just need the patience to find it, because they are mostly buried in the middle or end of the songs. Some of the best bits can be found in both "Wreath" and "A Fair Judgement", making the first half of the album really excellent. Of course, Mikael does another stellar vocal effort too, but this is his most anonymous performance to date.

But even if the album is only six songs long, I still find two that are more or less unnecessary. The short instrumental "For Absent Friends" has no real meaning to it besides giving a comfortable break, and while "Master's Apprentices" is a fairly nice track, it take an obscene amount of time to get somewhere. I am all about opening long songs slowly, but this is just flat out ridiculous. Then we have the ending song "By The Pain I See In Others", which has the opposite problem, the final four minutes is more or lest silence, which is not a good way to end an album. Still really like the song though.

Ultimately though, "Deliverance" is a neat little album that has some good Opeth magic to it, but I do not think it is enough of it for it to be able to match the band's previous works. The rift between the first and second half is quite big, and only getting 5 and a half songs is not really worth it in the end. Still, there is enough meat on the bone to really appreciate what Opeth did here. After all, it is the first half of a double header, with the second one promising some more proggy goodness from the Swedes. A nice appetizer for what is hopefully the main course.

Songs worthy of recognition: Deliverance, Wreath, A Fair Judgement

Rating: 7/10 Absent Friends

More reviews of Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse
Still Life
Blackwater Park
Pale Communion

Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: top 20 albums of the year

I have to be honest here, while I think there are no year in metal that is technically bad, I felt like 2017 was a disappointment. A lot of good records were released this year, but very few were truly great, nothing that I would even consider to my absolute favourites of all time. This made my selection of this year's top 20 records extra hard, because I had to ask myself if some of these albums even deserved to be here. In the end though, I did create this top 20, and will look back at this year as another decent year in metal, where the width of our beloved genre does show how large it is once again. So before we get into it, let me introduce some honorable mentions, the albums that just missed out.

Annihilator - For The Demented: The Canadians is becoming a "every other record" band
Antichrist - Sinful Birth: A nice sophomore effort from the Swedes
Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper: One song, 84 minutes of play time, 100% emotion
Caligula's Horse - In Contact: Proggy goodness
Fen - Winter: Impressive progressive black metal

Now, let us get to it, the top 20 albums of 2017

20. Avenford - New Beginning
As stated in my review, I did not know what to expect from this Hungarian band who exclaimed that they were starting from scratch in their sophomore effort. Whether that statement was true or not, there was no denying that "New Beginning" is a neat little piece of work, even if it might not be one of the most impressive feats you will see this year. What I love about this record is the grand versatility of it, that it moves through the mini branches of power metal seamlessly. It is just a very likeable record, one that kept coming back to me several times during the year. Not bad at all for a band at the beginning of their careers.

19. Tankard - One Foot In The Grave
Despite seeing that they are reaching the end of their road, Tankard makes sure that they drown those worrying thoughts with their usual set of "medicine", beer and metal. Maybe they saw all the success that a lot of thrash bands have had in recent years and said "hey, we want a piece of that cake too!", so they churned out one of their strongest pieces in over a decade. While it may not be fully focused around partying hard and drinking lots of beer, it is still Tankard to the core, just as funny and quirky as always, with several killer tracks to boot. Just hope that the grave does not get the rest of their bodies all too soon.

18. Cradle of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay
The last couple of albums from Dani Filth and co. was really enjoyable right from the get go, but lost my interest down the stretch. "Cryptoriana..." however, did not. It still holds up as well today as it did the day it was released, and it is kind of hard to pin point exactly why that is, seeing that it is not THAT much different from its predecessors. It is a little more determined, a faster and harder effort where the band is going all in. It is less goth, more metal, and that is how it should be, a seductive mistress that I can come back to anytime.

17. Brothers of Metal - Prophecy of Ragnarök
Winning the "debut album of the year" award is the Swedish group Brothers of Metal, a band that borrows the macho attitude of Manowar, but puts its own spin to it with the viking theme. It could easily be seen as a cheesy rip off band that promotes false advertisement (or gender equality?), but I am having way too much fun to even care. Seriously, "Prophecy of Ragnarök" is one of the most fun power metal records I have heard in a long time, and I am still not sure if I want to call it a guilty pleasure, or just straight out pleasure. Eh, as long as I have fun, I am happy, and I do smile from ear to ear when this record is on.

16. Darkest Hour - Godless Prophets And The Migrant Flora
Now THIS was a shocker, after several years of dwelling in the mediocre metalcore swamp, Darkest Hour found a rope, and dragged themselves out of it, delivering their best record since the early days. With furious speed, extreme rhythms, and an energy that is more or less unmatched, Darkest Hour found back to their hardcore roots and just set a goal on destroying everyone's eardrums. I was blown away, mostly because the band felt so comfortable, that they would never return to the good old days, oh thank god they did.

15. Body Count - Bloodlust
Ice-T in a metal band, it sounds like the plot for some stupid family comedy that he would star in, but this is reality, and Body Count has been one of the more important metal bands in the nu-metal genre after all. I cannot say that I have too much knowledge of their past, but I understand their importance, and I understand that this album is more than a heavy punch in the gut. "Bloodlust" tackles several issues that is dealt within the modern society, and they do it in a manner that leaves quite an impact. Together with the help of Dave Mustaine, Max Cavalera, and Randy Blythe, Body Count takes no prisoners and makes sure you see the problems from a new perspective. Also, the "Raining Blood/Postmortem" cover should not really work, but Ice-T channels his inner Tom Araya and kills it.

Those this look like a guy who would make a metal record?

14. Leprous - Malina

Even if "Malina" is fairly similar to the superior "Affinity", Leprous still makes this their own thing, and unveils a very emotional and smooth record. It does not suit everyone, but I really enjoyed it because it felt more personal than that dark and gloomy "The Congregation". The band is trying to push themselves with every record, and that is something that everyone should admire about them, no matter if you like the album or not. They never stand still, they are never stuck on any mountain or that, they keep evolving and creating emotional records, and this year, I think they hit it out of the park.

13. Warbringer - Woe To The Vanquished
I was unsure whether if Warbringer would be able to channel their early career form again, that I would once again experience an onslaught like "Waking Into Nightmares". Sure enough, the American lads delivered big time with "Woe To The Vanquished", an album with tons of dynamite neatly packed within to blow everyone away. It is everything that I want from a band that is seen as a modern day interpretation of Slayer, they just crushed everything in its way with riffs and blast beats as its main weapons. There is no question here, "Woe To The Vanquished" is a crusher of epic proportions. But not as epic as...

12. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
You would think that thrash metal has evolved in the close to 40 years it has been around, but albums like "Nightmare Logic" shoves a huge middle finger to that thought. Sure, it does not sound dated or anything, but Power Trip used classic strategies here, from the short and sweet play time of 32 minutes to the relentless riff assault that never seems to end. It is the 2017 version of "Reign In Blood", and it has the confidence to confirm it, definitely a worthy spiritual successor.

11. Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
At first, I was kind of underwhelmed by "Emperor of Sand", mostly in the musical department. The concept is great and imaginative, but the more commercialized music did leave me a little empty. But as time has gone, I have kept coming back to this record, never truly releasing its grip on me. While I still think it is one of the weaker Mastodon records to this date, it is still a Mastodon record with a lot of quality to it and several killer tracks. The quality here is undeniable, Mastodon keeps on trucking with its highly infectious music.

10. Kreator - Gods of Violence
The older, the better, am I right? Well, that is certainly true with thrash metal at least, because while we have seen a lot of great thrash records this year, it is the veterans in Kreator who made the best one. "Gods of Violence" puts all of the young bucks in their place with crushing riffs, catchy melodies, and an energy that certainly matches what they did in their hey days. Yep, Kreator is doing exactly what you would expect with this, their 14th studio effort, a kick ass record that will be remember with joy in the future.

9. Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
I love finding new progressive talent, and I definitely think Prospekt is a band that more people should take a look at. Everything is showcased in "The Illuminated Sky", the impressive instrumental skills, the great song structures that will keep you guessing, and a keen sense of balancing between the heavy and the melodic side of things. For a band that just released their sophomore effort, they sure act like veterans, hopping here and there within the album without losing their way. It will sure be interesting to see where their journey will take them next.

8. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Man, I love me some speedy speed metal, and no other band delivered as good as Belgium's finest. Evil Invaders got off to a fast start in "Feed Me Violence" ,and beside from a couple of mellow parts here and there, they never slowed down. With a frantic pace that just saw the band spitting out riff after riff after solo after riff, this album became an insane roller coaster ride that left your head swinging back and forth and sideways. The adrenaline is pumping just by thinking of this album, and it is a high that you want to get back to time and time again.

7. Pallbearer - Heartless
The Americans in Pallbearer has only been around for just under 10 years, but has quickly become a giant in the doom metal scene, and listening to "Heartless", I can see why. It is a very beautiful listen that is very careful in what it does, never rushing its progress. Sure, this is a very bright album musically speaking, but there is a lot of darkness behind it that makes it so striking and so intense, without ever feeling dense. At the very least, it made me (finally) realize the greatness of this band, even if it might be seen as the "least good" effort of their short discography, do not miss it.

6. Ayreon - The Source
Okay, so Arjen Lucassen has made better concept albums in his life, but I just cannot ignore the pure joy that this album squirts out all over you, it is contagious. I mean, how in the hell do you make a song called "Everybody Dies" overly happy? It sounds so wrong, but Arjen makes it so right. This whole record has this campy musical feeling blended with power metal, and it mixes up so nicely, I simply cannot stop smiling when listening to this record, and it is all thanks to the passionate performances from all of the artists who was a part of this. Everybody dies, AND I LOVE IT!

5. Persefone - Aathma
When the hell is Persefone gonna get the key to the country of Andorra? Seriously, is there anyone else who have done more to advertise this country in a positive matter? Anyhow, "Aathma" is just a splendid achievement of technical progressive death metal, a grand epic that takes the band further than one would imagine. The technicality is off the charts, the song writing is as good as ever, and they even managed to catch a little Cynic magic together with Paul Masvidal. Yes, "Aathma" is an amazing album, probably the best thing that has come out of Andorra since... well... the last Persefone album.

4. Novembers Doom - Hamartia
These guys have really become one of my all time favourites in recent years. After getting in my top 20 of 2014 with "Bled White", they did it again here with "Hamartia", another brilliant effort of pitch black darkness and pitch black sorrow. Novembers Doom knows exactly how to pull your heart strings, while also delivering crushing blows towards the rest of your body, pummeling you completely. It is a beating I will gladly take, especially knowing how many awesome songs this record presents me with, each one more unique than the next one. Also, Paul Kuhr, can I marry your vocals?

3. Threshold - Legends of The Shire
With a change of vocalist and an announcement of a double record clocking in at 82 minutes, it was fair to wonder if Threshold bit off more than they could chew with "Legends of The Shire". Turns out, they did not, instead they delivered another excellent Threshold experience worthy to remember. All of the classic Threshold traits are here, neatly packed in a double album that takes us on both highs and lows. in various paces as well. This album never feels too long, it does a good job in distracting the listener from time itself, all to tell a neat little story that is accompanied with some fantastic progressive metal. It is an effort definitely worthy of being called "My Precious".

2. Unleash The Archers - Apex
The archers were surely unleashed with the release of "Apex", an album that knocked me out time and time again with its brilliant song writing and shear power. This is not any power metal album that you would find in your bargain shelf, this is a tour de force with a wide range of different weapons, each more efficient than the last. The most impressive thing though is the vocals by Brittany Slayes, because while most female fronted power metal bands not named Battle Beast would go more of a Nightwish route, this band said "fuck that", and went their own way. It may have taken them four albums, but Unleash The Archers have finally found their rhythm, the sound that shall lead them to greatness, and it is a journey we all should be a part of.

Out of all the albums I have listened to this year, no other release hit me as hard as "In The Passing Light of Day". The true story about singer Daniel Gildenlöw's interaction with death was breathtaking to listen to in musical form, and it was even heavier when I listened to him speak about it in the "Spotify Metal Talks" episode. Everything is emoted perfectly here, from the frantic and scary realization in "On A Tuesday", the hopelessness in "Meaningless", to the hope and relief in the title track, this whole album is an emotional roller coaster that hits every note. This album was written from the heart, from personal experience, and that ways incredibly heavy when you are taking it all in, it is a true effort that is shared to the world, and I honestly cannot be thankful enough for what the band has done, bringing this to life. Once again, thank you Pain of Salvation, and congratulations on your achievement.

So yeah, this whole year was kind of a waste, because this year's best record was released back in January, but we certainly had fun along the way. Thank you all for this year, no matter if you just stopped by or are a dedicated reader.

Happy new year, and let us hope that 2018 will be another great year for the greatest music genre there is.

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best of 2017: top 50 songs of the year

Once again we have reached the end of the year, and I am once again sitting here wondering where all the time went. Every year seems to go by faster and faster, and before you blink, Christmas is over and New Years Eve is just around the corner. Slow down please!

Anyway, as always, I have two lists to offer, top 20 best albums and top 50 top songs, and yes, the top 50 list was once again incredibly frustrating to create. It all starts with a "short" list of 150 songs that I not only have to trim down to 50, but also rank. It is not an easy task, but I do it every year so I can feel some kind of accomplishment at the end of it all. As usual, the rules are that the songs have to be released this year, no covers, no re-releases, and one song per band/artist (which means that Samael's fantastic cover of "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles is not eligible for the list).

So let us get to it, here are my top 50 songs of 2017.

50. Atlas Pain - Ironforged
If these newcomers keep on delivering nice folk metal like this, I might just keep an eye on them in the future.

49. Nova Collective - Dancing Machines
Top instrumental song of the year, jazzy goodness and cool guitar work aplenty.

48. Keldian - Crown of Starlight
The "never ending" ending turns this song from good to brilliant.

47. SikTh - Riddles of Humanity
Good to see SikTh back, doing what they do best.

46. Pentakill - Mortal Reminder
Riff of the year right here, and the almighty Jorn spices things up even more

45. The Dark Element - My Sweet Mystery
It may sound like Nightwish, but it still has tons of great energy.

44. Jorn - Life On Death Road
Classic Jorn, gotta love it.

43. Edenbridge - Shiantara
That opening is marvelous. Rest of the song is not as good, but is still really nice.

42. Vintersorg - Tillbaka Till Källorna
Vintersorg never disappoints, and since I am Swedish, I can even appreciate the lyrics!

41. The Raven Age - Angel In Disgrace
A band with an Iron Maiden son, with a song that is pretty epic for a normal modern metal tune.

40. Kreator - Totalitarian Terror
Totalitarian awesomeness, that's what it is.

39. Darkest Hour - Knife In The Safe Room
Old school Darkest Hour is the best kind of Darkest Hour.

38. Danko Jones - Let's Start Dancing
Feet, don't fail me now!

37. As Lions - Selfish Age
Another band with a Maiden son, been stuck in my mind since it was released.

36. Trollfest - Steel Sarah
Norwegian Balkan metal, it might be kind of silly, but it works... somehow.

35. Soen - Opal
Just another "Tool copy" band, but damn these guys are good.

34. The Charm The Fury - No End In Sight
A weird, but interesting, band you guys should give a chance. Love their groove.

33. Havok - Hang 'Em High
Crossover thrash when it is not even remotely trash.

32. Cyhra - Heartrage
Just like I said in the review, Cyhra is a glass of milk, but this particular sip is excellent.

31. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Oh yes, feed me that violence, give me give me more!

30. Pallbearer - Cruel Road
I beat myself for not discovering Pallbearer earlier, these guys are just mesmerizing.

29. Next To None - Alone
Long metalcore song that might not suit everyone, but is worthy of a listen for the swing beat in the solo alone.

28. Labyrinth - Stardust And Ashes
A band that is overall solid, Labyrinth delivers a neat melodic attack of goodness.

27. Power Trip - Executioner's Tax (Swing of The Axe)
It is pretty hard to turn down old school thrash metal, especially when it is done this good.

26. Brothers of Metal - Fire Blood And Steel
Is it cheesy? Yes. Does it have cliches? Yes. Is it fun as hell and will make you scream till your lungs pop out? Hell yeah.

25. Enslaved - The River's Mouth
I did feel like "E" was good, but far from brilliant, yet it still has its magical moments, like this song. It is a consistent force that is nothing innovative from the band but it works really well still.

24. Leprous - From The Flame
Man, when Leprous manages to get out the emotions into the right song construction, magic is imminent. There are few people that can be as emotional as singer Einar Solberg.

23. Tankard - Don't Bullshit Us!
There is no question here, Tankard delivers no bullshit thrash metal that pounds you in the face over and over again. For a band that titled their latest record "One Foot In The Grave", they still seem pretty lively.

22. Nocturnal Rites - The Poisonous Seed
They have been gone for a while, but the Swedish power metal group Nocturnal Rites came back in big fashion this year with "Phoenix". Out of that album rises "The Poisonous Seed" as a powerful contender that shows the band at their best, that they are not done just yet.

21. Demon Hunter - Patience
No matter how mediocre the new Demon Hunter albums are, there are always one or two songs that are great, and "Patience" is another proof of that. A very satisfying piece that just feels right, nothing is misplaced or wrong, it is simply really good.

20. Grave Digger - When Night Falls
When Grave Digger turns up the speed and let themselves fly, they seem nearly unstoppable, pulling off some dominating performances. "When Night Falls" is addictive, a power house of a song that pummel its way through your ear drums. Classic Grave Digger stuff really.

19. Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
This is a group you should definitely check out if you are a lover of progressive metal, and the title track of their sophomore effort "The Illuminated Sky" is a good example of why. It got the versatility of early Dream Theater, while also throwing in some own impressive tricks as well, giving it that all important personal touch.

18. Firewind - Ode To Leonidas
I know, I know, this song is kind of silly. The opening monologue could have been fully stolen from the movie "300", and Greeks doing Greek history is fairly predictable, but this is a return to form for Firewind, a step back to the "The Premonition" days when the band was at its best. Perfect soundtrack when you shall dine in hell.

17. Sepultura - Sworn Oath
I really enjoyed this new Sepultura record, it felt like the band got back their passion and inspiration after a couple of mediocre albums. In the top of "Machine Messiah" was "Sworn Oath", an epic assault that gave me the chills all over. The pounding vocals of Derrick Green, the frightening guitars of Andreas Kisser, and the overall feeling just makes this an impressive feat.

16. Ne Obliviscaris - Eyrie
I have been kind of hard on the Australians lately, but with their track record, how can I not be? Fortunately, "Eyrie" is a great highlight on "Urn" that shows what the band is capable of. Sure it goes on for some time (11 minutes and 51 seconds to be exact), but it does not feel long. Every bit and piece is carefully placed into a complete puzzle, creating a very beautiful track that holds up very well. Pure quality through and through.

15. The Night Flight Orchestra - Midnight Flyer
I really dislike AOR rock, so how does it come that I love The Night Flight Orchestra? It could be because of their energy, which is in full display on "Midnight Flyer", an extremely fun song that is incredibly catchy as well. It displays the 80's at its finest, while still making it sound modern and fresh. Or maybe it is because I love Soilwork singer Björn "Speed" Strid and his amazing vocals that somehow works here as well.

14. Arch Enemy - The World Is Yours
Yes, I know that this is a carbon copy of "Nemesis", in fact, the band does not even hide it, they have only confirmed it. However, when a song contains so much firepower, it is kind of hard to ignore it. Besides, I do think there is enough original flare in here to make it exciting (mostly coming from singer Alissa). Also, that ending solo is freaking amazing, one of my favourites of the year.

13. DragonForce - The Edge of The World
Biggest surprise of the year might come from the band that once was seen as a one trick pony. An eleven minute long ballad (!?) with a touch of death metal vocals. Yep, this is not your ordinary DragonForce tune, this is something special. And you know what, it works really well actually. It got a fragile nature to it that feels honest and true, and the additional surprises here and there are really nice as well. DragonForce has truly evolved these last couple of years.

12. Trivium - The Sin And The Sentence
It seems like a lot of people really loved the latest Trivium outing, and you know what, I like it a lot too (a lot more than the previous one at least). The title track especially showed all of the band's weapons, creating a typical Trivium track with tons of energy and passion. It is a song that really personifies the album, and shows that Trivium do deserve to be in the top of the league.

11. Eagleheart - Reverse
Biggest no name of this year's list, a power metal band from the Czech Republic who stole their name from one of Stratovarius' most popular songs. "Reverse" may not be one of the most original power metal songs out there, but it great from top to bottom. Great vocals, great drive, great guitar work, and even that semi awkward stuttering in the build ups does not ruin this epic experience. A really charming little song that quickly became a personal favourite of mine.

10. Marilyn Manson - Saturnalia
Why do Marilyn try to go back to the "Antichrist Superstar" days where he was Mr. Controversial? He is not that young guy anymore, embrace your age and accept it. After all, when he does do that and goes for a more laid back style, he simply sounds a lot better. "Saturnalia" is a great example of that, where he takes a fairly simple, long song and gives his own unique spin to it, coming up with true Manson magic. It is not in your face, nor is it technically impressive. It is just solid, great, smooth metal that just feels nice. Give me more of this type of Marilyn in the future, please.

9. Mechina - The Synesthesia Signal
Our own little darlings here at Forsaken At The Gates, Mechina keeps on delivering great stuff, and with every album there is this one song that just sticks with you from January 1st to December 31st. This year it is "The Synesthesia Signal", another beautiful song from the band in which they utilize Mel Rose perfectly, letting her take the charge. But the true star here is the constant rhythm that drags you in and never lets you go, those never ending drum beats that are so infectious. Another amazing song from an amazing band.

8. Ayreon - Planet Y Is Alive!
Out of all the songs on "The Source", somehow this spoke the most to me, an overly happy song that should be annoying as hell, overloading the listener with cheese. Somehow though, this song works with its joyous nature, with an emerging chorus that is more epic than it has any right to be. Every artist in here give their all and transforms this simple song into something special. Also, that ending when Tobias Sammet is doing his highest scream possible, man that gets me every time, what an incredible moment of music magic.

7. Unleash The Archers - The Coward's Way
I could have easily picked a bunch of songs from "Apex" to this list, but I ultimately ended up with "The Coward's Way", which just feels like a complete song. It is catchy, epic, got awesome vocals, a really nice guitar intro, an even better guitar solo, and even some hockey choir chanting as well. Yes, this song has it all, and it is a clear testament to what the band has done this year, and what might be a glimpse of the future. One thing is for sure though, they are not any cowards.

6. Novembers Doom - Apostasy
Novembers Doom have become a favourite of mine as of late, and with songs like "Apostasy", it is quite easy to see why. With its infectious and steady groove, the perfect blend of haunting clean and pitch black harsh vocals, and a non-catchy catchy chorus, this song stood quickly out as a front runner among the rest of the tracks in the fantastic "Hamartia" record. An amazing effort from a band that rarely fails to deliver some great death/doom metal.

5. Overkill - Our Finest Hour
No, I do not think that "The Grinding Wheel" is Overkill's finest hour, but it does have some great music, and the first single is classic thrashy goodness that is simply irresistible. Overkill goes with the "no bullshit" card, delivering classic stuff that we certainly have heard from the band before, but it still sounds just as fresh. Some might complain it is a tad bit too long, but I think it is just the right length. After all, I cannot get enough of that amazing Bobby Ellsworth and his never aging vocals.

4. Pain of Salvation - On A Tuesday
The title is one of the worst this year, but the story behind it is more impressive. Being the opener to the amazing concept record "In The Passing Light of Day", "On A Tuesday" displays the discovery of Daniel Gildenlöw's flesh eating bacteria, of the frantic emotions that went through him, and all the thoughts that came to his head. It is very hard to imagine yourself being in a similar situation, but the song does a fantastic job in delivering the utter panic and despair that one might feel. And with an ending that is so god damn epic that every hair on your body starts to rise, it becomes a proggy jawbreaker that you wanna get a taste of very often.

3. Mastodon - Words To The Wise
You can always count on Mastodon to make at least a couple of kick ass songs every new record, building up their impressive catalog. "Words To The Wise" is classic Mastodon stuff, with a fast and furious tempo that you barely can hang on to, addictive rhythm sections to make you move, but then they throw in a surprisingly calm and collected chorus into all of this madness, and it still somehow works. Actually, if nothing else, it makes it even better, a very diverse and addictive song that definitely has the muscles to bolster into the prestiged Mastodon club with ease.

2. Persefone feat. Paul Masvidal - Living Waves
I never thought that we would get anymore Cynic material after the break up, so this was a very nice surprise. Now that Cynic is back together with a new line-up, the magic of this being perhaps the last Cynic piece is gone, but the quality is still the same.

"Living Waves" is the perfect combination of Paul's hauntingly beautiful voice and the complete brutality that Persefone has perfected over the last several years, a fusion that sounds good in theory, but sounds even better in reality. Despite all of the heavy bits, it is a very calming song that you can relax to

1. Wintersun - Loneliness (Winter)
I am not the biggest Wintersun fan out there. I like the band, but I have always felt that they were over hyped, no matter what they did, never reaching the potential everyone said they have. This song however, might be the closest to that said potential.

"Loneliness (Winter)" is simply astonishing, a long ass song that has so many layers to it. The instrumentation is close to impeccable, and the emotional vocals of Jari Mäenpää sends tons of chills down my spine. It is a song that takes its time, making sure nothing is done half heartedly, and it is not afraid to go that extra mile, being bigger, becoming more epic, just flat out exaggerating a lot of aspects without losing its touch. Sure, it starts out slow, but the mood is set nicely, and it just builds up the further it goes, leading to a climatic ending that is unlike anything I have ever heard.

In short, "Loneliness (Winter)" is a grand epic masterpiece, it represents the Wintersun we want, need, and deserve. Now get "Time II" done already so we can get a chance to experience more moments like this one.

So what do you say, do you agree with my selection or is there any songs I missed? Hit me up with a comment or a tweet (@ForsakenGates), and start a discussion. My list of the top 20 albums of the year will be up later this week.

Until then, stay metal!

Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Operation: Mindcrime - The New Reality (2017)

So after only two short years, we have finally reached the end of Operation: Mindcrime's album trilogy, and the end of a story that centers around stock trading and virtual currencies. Man, when I first got into the story, I thought it was fairly decent and that it had an opportunity to evolve into something spectacular, but then I remembered, it is stock trading we are talking about. Kind of hard to make an exciting story out of that, don't you think? Anyway, good old Geoff has done his fair share to make it as good as possible, wish I could say the same about the music.

To my surprise though, "The New Reality" is a big step forward in the music department. Okay, it is not a revolution or anything close to that, but you can say good bye to the boring and uninspired bland rock that "highlighted" "Resurrection". The entirety of "The New Reality" just have a completely different aura to it, an amount of energy that I have not seen since the provoking "Frequency Unknown", but this energy is not directed to Queensrÿche, it is instead used for more sensible reasons. Huh, maybe Geoff has moved on after all.

The other members get more room to shine too, showing off some of their skills. The drums flows really nicely, while also having some nice technicality to them (although they are a tad bit loud in the mix). The guitars are actually memorable this time around, not being demoted to background noise to the vocals. And yes, the vocals are of course as well versed as you would expect from a Tate release, but they do not take too much space, they take just enough to run the show, but not overtake it. The balance between the band members is surprisingly even, something I certainly did not expect from this release.

But while "The New Reality" feels more balanced and more passionate, it still does not feel like the epic finish of a conceptual trilogy that one would expect. It is still a fairly slow effort that takes its time, never rushing anything, and it is both an advantage and disadvantage. Especially the ending of the record is very slow and dull, it never feels like the band is reaching the climax of the story, so you would think that they would gear up for a fourth release. That ain't happening though, in fact, this is the last release we will see from Operation: Mindcrime, period. Apparently, this was just a short lived project, and Geoff wants to move on to other things. Not a big loss, but a curious decision nonetheless.

The first half of the record is strong though, and it is certainly some of the best material we have seen from the band. I really love the energy in "Wake Me Up", and the instrumentation in "It Was Always You!" and "Under Control" are simply fantastic. And while the "wut wut wut wut wut wut wut wut" part in "The Fear" makes me laugh hysterically, it is quite a serious song, and a staple in the story, another good piece in the first half. Once again, not anything spectacular or anything, but still, pretty enjoyable.

So yeah, Operation: Mindcrime ends on a high note, even if that note is not too high. "The New Reality" is without a shadow of a doubt the best album of the trilogy, but it is not saying that much, because while this album is fairly good, it still has some blind spots that drags out for too long, and the music is not all too inventive. It is a fine record that does not stir up any rash emotions, but lots of kudos to the guys for finishing this massive project. Now we will wait and see where Geoff Tate will take his voice next.

Songs worthy of recognition: Wake Me Up, It Was Always You!, Under Control

Rating: 7/10 Tidal Changes

More reviews of Operation: Mindcrime
The Key

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper (2017)

We are officially in December, so that means it is time for me to do two things. One is to begin working on my "best of" lists, and another is to catch up on music that I might have missed over the year, albums that a lot of people would consider to be the best of the best. One of those albums that got such a buzz was the third album by the funeral doom band Bell Witch, entitled "Mirror Reaper". While I did get the word on them quite early (mostly because of that Dark Souls inspired cover, one of my favourites of the year), I was not sure if I would really enjoy the record, this genre is not exactly my wheel house.

So why was I so hesitant with "Mirror Reaper"? The first clue is in the line up, which consists of Dylan Desmond on bass and vocals, and Jesse Shreibman on drums and vocals. Yep, no guitars on this band, and the vocals are kind of a side thing too, which means this is basically a big rhythm album. And I really mean big, because another thing that made me uneasy is the length of the album, which is 1 hour and 23 minutes, all "divided" into one song. Yes, it is one of those albums, a single, long ass song, without any guitars and very little vocals, all in a style that is very dark and dense. Jesus Christ, we are in for a special experience folks.

Like all of this was not enough, the album has even more meaning to it with the fact that one half of the original band died in between albums. The death of Adrian Guerra was untimely for sure, but it does add an extra layer of emotion to "Mirror Reaper" that simply would not be there otherwise. It is like he still is a part of the album, in every possible way. It is a great homage to a fallen brother.

A warning first to anyone who wants to try this album out, make sure that you have no other disturbances outside, because this is an album that demands its listener to be in a very calm and collected mood so that everything can be taken in. Also make sure that you have time, this is not an album that you just plug in and swallow quickly. To make it justice, you have to give it respect, sit down, and just relax. Once you do that, every carefully placed note, every drum hit, every line of vocals will hit you just right. It is an album that really deserves every bit of attention.

At the same time though, it is pretty difficult to keep your attention on this album. The whole album consists of long, slow notes that do create an amazing atmosphere, but because the entire album is more or less around the same wave length, it does become very tiring after a while. The struggle to keep your concentration levels in check is certainly real here, and for some, this album could just be outright boring. It does pick up some momentum towards the final 20 minutes, but that might be too little too late for most, and the change is not that significant either.

Unfortunately, I will most likely not listen to this album ever again. It is not that "Mirror Reaper" is a bad album, it is an emotional album that has an amazing atmosphere and well thought out writing that goes beyond the boundries of what metal can be. However, this is simply not an album for me, it is not an album that you can enjoy all that often, it requires certain specific moments to do so, and those moments are few and far between in my world. The length is excruciating, making it incredibly difficult to get through in one sitting. In the end though, I highly recommend this album to everyone, experience it at least once, it is most certainly one of the highlights of the year. Maybe not "best of" worthy, but it is a special one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Mirror Reaper (obviously)

Rating: 7,5/10 Mirror Reapers

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dark Element - S/T (2017)

I kind of feel bad for Anette Olzon, she never really got a fighting chance when she replaced Tarja in Nightwish. Her time in the band was anything but pleasant, despite doing an alright job on two full length records. Sure, she was not a good fit (Nightwish needs a strong female vocalist, and Anette is more delicate), but I always hoped that she would bounce back into the metal scene some day to get her redemption.

Well, seems like she is getting an opportunity this year, because together with former Sonata Arctica guitarist (and co-founder) Jani Liimatainen, they have created The Dark Element, a new symphonic power metal band that tries to squeeze their way in to a genre that already has tons of talent. Looking from the outside, it is a project that certainly sounds interesting. Jani is a great songwriter and seems to know how to utilize those around him to make the product as good as possible, just look at the latest Cain's Offering album "Stormcrow" for proof.

Sure enough, this album definitely uses Anette's vocals better than Nightwish did, even if a lot of the music here is directly borrowed from the legendary Finnish band. "The Dark Element" is an incredibly melodic record with tons of catchy melodies and choruses, sure to leave an impact on you whether you like it or not. But for a band that is called The Dark Element, there is very little darkness in this record. We get some heavy riffs and some gloomy atmospheres, but this is a fairly jolly album, and that is honestly not a bad thing, just think it is false advertisement that your band have a name like The Dark Element (and an album cover as gruesome and disturbing as the one that is fronting said album), but play music that is pretty harmless in its nature.

As said before, this album has a good amount of Nightwish in it, like just listen to "My Sweet Mystery", that opening with the haunting keys and bone crushing riffs is literally stolen from "Dark Passion Play". Fortunately, I do not think it overshadows the whole album, because it does have more in common with Cain's Offering, but with some more symphonic moments sprinkled around. It feels very natural in a way, taking Jani's preferred style and incorporating Anette into it all, creating a nice fusion between the musicians.

And there are some really good music in here. The previously mentioned "My Sweet Mystery" is a fantastic, powerful song that certainly gets you going, "Here's To You" is simply loud and proud, "Dead To Me" have a really nice rhythm and a very satisfying chorus (even if it does steal from Nightwish again), "The Ghost And The Reaper" is nice and heavy, and even some of the calmer moments are really nice, giving some nice variety (although, I gotta say, the lyrics in "Someone You Used To Know" give off creepy stalker vibes, when I think it is supposed to be a lost love story).

Overall, I do not think The Dark Element will wow anyone with its simplicity, but it has enough good content to go around. This debut record is certainly very enjoyable despite it borrowing from other bands within the genre, the strength of the songs helps you get through the record with ease, and there is enough chemistry in here to really make this project last for some time. So if you are a fan of any of the two main contributors, you should definitely check this release out, even if it is a little brighter than the name and artwork suggests.

Songs worthy of recognition: My Sweet Mystery, Here's To You, The Ghost And The Reaper

Rating: 7/10 Halos

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001)

So we have finally reached "Blackwater Park" in our discography review series of Opeth, the album that is considered to be the band's magnum opus. To most, this is a modern progressive classic, a must have in every metalhead's collection. It is also the album that elevated the band to the next level, from being an underground group that was getting some positive feedback, to being one of the biggest metal acts around. This record is monumental for the evolution of Opeth, and it has a place in many people's hearts, but is it really as good as the early material, or was it just lucky coincidence that this gave the band its big breakthrough?

Let us start with the basics, what separates "Blackwater Park" from its four predecessors? It definitely has a lot of the same elements that previous outings have, like the poetic lyrics and the guttural death metal moments, but what I think makes "Blackwater Park" a different album is that it is just much smoother around the edges. The production (made by legendary Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson) is cleaner, but it still has enough darkness in it to not hurt the album, helping to enhance all of those sweet melodies.

Another reason to why this album blew up might be because it is more accessible than its brethren. Yes, it is still a true progressive metal album, with a song span that could be everything from 6 minutes to 12, but the structures of the songs are more straight, giving off to some really catchy moments in this album, mostly thanks to the amazing instrumentation. It still has that Opeth vibe to it though, so the band is not selling out or anything, they are still the imaginative group that we got to know on all previous records.

Besides, let us be honest, the previous albums felt a little all over the place, having tons of influences from several different genres that did mash up well, but it is with "Blackwater Park" where Opeth perfected their sound, making it more fluid and cohesive. The band is truly hitting their stride with all of these fantastic, sweeping melodies that really helps in telling a story.

Yeah, there is not much else to say about "Blackwater Park" other than that it completely deserves all the praise that it has gotten over the years. It is a transcending album that just flows naturally through your ears, and it also have a cohesive sound throughout the album that set the band up for success. However, I do not think this is an all around perfect album. It could have benefited from being a little grittier in its production, and some of the lyrics here are not as good as in previous outings. Despite those minor issues, "Blackwater Park" is still an amazing record, a must listen for every prog metal lover. Is it the best Opeth record though? We will see eventually...

Songs worthy of recognition: The Funeral Portrait, The Leper Affinity, Bleak, The Drapery Falls, 

Rating: 9,5/10 Harvests

More reviews of Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse
Still Life
Pale Communion