Scottish Author Mark Rice's Stream of Consciousness

Posts tagged ‘Arch Enemy’

My Albums of 2017

While working on a blog post about my top 20 albums of 2018, I realised to my horror that I hadn’t published my previous blog post detailing my top 20 albums of 2017. So, not before time, here it is. Better late than never. My top 20 of 2018 will follow soon.

 

1. Nimbatus – The Invisible Lake

This isn’t the first Nimbatus album to top one of my album-of-the-year lists. The Invisible Lake is in the same vein as previous releases: instrumental metal with complex song structures, gorgeous guitar tone, superbly crafted melodies and emotion in spades. The production quality is astonishing, with each instrument distinguishable in perfect clarity. As with past Nimbatus material, the entire project is the work of one man.  Heavy-metal genius.

Favourite track: Afterglow – aspiring metal guitarists should listen to the solo many times, then file under ‘How It’s Done’.

Nimbatus

 

2. Ghost Bath – Starmourner

They’re still not Chinese. Ghost Bath’s Moonlover was my equal-top album of 2015. Its successor, Starmourner, is even better. The style hasn’t changed. It’s still sublime guitar melodies underpinned by artillery drumming and vocals that sound like wailed laments of the damned. What gives this such emotional impact is the counterpoint between tuneful melodies and feral vocals. Starmourner is a work of supreme confidence musically, lyrically and thematically. There isn’t a weak moment, and the highs are transcendent.

Favourite track: Celestial.

GB

 

3. Wolfheart – Tyhjyys

Epic soundscapes from the frozen north. Wolfheart’s Shadow World was an epiphany in 2015, with the band realising the potential shown on its debut, Winterborn. This third Wolfheart release secures their place among Finland’s melodic-death-metal icons alongside Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, Wintersun, Omnium Gatherum, and Insomnium. It’s rich in atmospherics, with doomy leanings, keyboards and string-section arrangements more prevalent than on previous releases. A dark, heavy and hauntingly beautiful slice of ice-cold melodeath.

Favourite track: Boneyard.

W

 

4. Kreator – Gods of Violence

You know what you’re getting with Kreator: the best thrash band ever, bar none. Mille Petrozza and his cohorts are always on form. Accomplished songwriters, they deliver their unique brand of sound with stunning intensity. Gods of Violence is another slab of molten metal from the German masters. It had a lot to live up to, following 2012’s Phantom Antichrist (not only my favourite Kreator album, but one of my favourite albums, period). GoV is more straight-ahead, uncompromising thrash than Phantom Antichrist, which was experimental in tempo, melody and song structure. This is a return to pure thrash roots, and a powerful one at that. It doesn’t top Phantom Antichrist but it’s still a spring-clean to the soul, refreshing parts other thrash bands can’t quite reach.

Favourite track: for a while it was Army of Storms (which sounds much like the Phantom Antichrist material), but after repeated listens it’d have to be the title track, Gods of Violence, for the sheer intensity of its delivery.

K

 

5. Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns for the Morning Star?

Born as part of the NWoBHM movement in the late ’70s, Cloven Hoof emerged from Wolverhampton, just along the road from the birthplace of metal (Birmingham, England: home of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest). This connection has never been more evident than on Who Mourns for the Morning Star? It sounds a lot like Judas Priest circa Painkiller. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when the songwriting is of this calibre. There’s no pretentiousness here – just no-nonsense metal. I rate Cloven Hoof’s material all the way back to their mysterious early demos. This is their finest release yet.

Favourite track: Song of Orpheus.

CH

 

6. Fen – Winter

Their mission statement says, “…inspired by the windswept, desolate landscape of England’s Fen region, the band set out to fuse the cold rage of Black Metal with more reflective influences, creating a deeply intense and atmospheric sound which speaks of loss and melancholic yearning.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. Job done.

Favourite track: Winter II (Penance).

 

7. Ereb Altor – Ulvfen

Atmospheric black metal that owes a debt to the legendary Bathory. I’m a recent convert to the Ereb Altor cause, having been made aware of them by a friend in Germany who reckoned they’d be just my cup o’ tea. He was right. Ulfven is as Viking as shield maidens and dragon-headed longboats. Glorious.

Favourite track: En Synd Svart Som Sot.

EA

 

8. Anathema – The Optimist

Few bands have undergone such radical musical transformations as Anathema. I remember listening to the I Am the Bloody Earth EP when it came out in the ’90s and realising there was something special about this band. Back then they were playing doom metal in the British vein of the time (My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost), but as the musicians in Anathema grew up their music grew up too. It matured and widened its horizons, leaving behind all notions of genre or scene. For over a decade now the band’s new releases have been called prog rock, but that doesn’t tell the full story. There are prog elements but the overall sound is too big, too expansive and too rich for the prog term to do it justice. The turning point for Anathema, that moment when they left metal behind and transcended into a new realm, was We’re Here Because We’re Here in 2010. That album was a milestone in their musical evolution. It’s no exaggeration to say that each release since then has been another masterpiece in its own right. On this album female vocals have largely taken over from male ones. Piano is there in force too. And like all Anathema albums, The Optimist is dripping with emotion.

Favourite track: The Optimist.

A

 

9. Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Icelandic metal that sounds like a heavied-up version of Danish legends D.A.D. in all but the vocals. Sólstafir has that same metal ‘n’ roll cowboy sound, but the lyrical themes are more profound and the vocal delivery more intense. This works beautifully. I liked their earlier albums but I love this one. The tone of the guitars is sublime – at times Chris Isaakesque – while the bottom-heavy bass gives the soundscapes serious depth.

Favourite track: Silfur-Refur.

S

 

10. Myrkur – Mareridt

Amelie Bruun’s black-metal-meets-Clannad-at-the-edge-of-a-misty-lake-in-the-forest-at-night project Myrkur piqued my interest with their demo a few years ago. This, the band’s second full-length album, continues in much the same musical vein. It’s heavily influenced by Wardruna (a good thing) and less obviously by Bathory (also a good thing). There’s atmosphere in spades, with Bruun’s voice haunting throughout.

Favourite track: Crown.

 

11. Vintersorg – Till Fjälls del II

Till Fjälls is one of my all-time favourite albums and one of the most influential Viking metal albums ever recorded. It’s perfect in every detail. Even the title, Till Fjälls – To the Mountains – fits the music perfectly. I always worry when a sequel to such an album is planned. One can’t improve upon perfection, and more often than not an immaculate legacy is somewhat tainted in the attempt. Examples – Queensrӱche’s Operation: Mindcrime, where Part II wasn’t fit to shine the shoes of the original, and Helloween’s The Keeper of the Seven Keys, where the sequel was quite tasty but lacked the inspiration and beautiful darkness of the first. Some legacies should be left alone. Till Fjälls del II – like Queensrӱche’s Operation: Mindcrime II – came several albums and a couple of decades after the first incarnation. That’s as far as the comparison goes, though.  TFdII‘s songs are loaded with cold northern atmosphere and the track titles/lyrics are as deep and dark as one would expect from these uncompromising Swedes (thank feck for Google translate), yet there are no tracks here that resonate in my soul quite the way Till Fjälls does. A barnstormer of an album nonetheless.

Favourite track: Lavin (which translates as avalanche) – a masterclass in atmospherics. Its delicate intro lulls listeners into relaxation before pummelling them with relentless riffage. The effect is like being hit in the face by a mountain…and enjoying it.

 

12. Peter Bjärgö – Animus Retinentia

He’s been involved in many musical projects across a diverse array of styles, from extreme metal to dark ambient soundscapes. Originally Peter Pettersson, he changed his surname upon marrying Cecilia Bjärgö in 2003. Who said romance was dead? Anyway, to the music. This, Peter’s fourth solo album, is a moving piece of work. The music has an otherworldly dreamlike quality and more than a hint of the minimalism that makes Ludovico Einaudi such a genius. It could be the soundtrack to one of those dreams in which everything’s eerily beautiful yet there’s an ominous atmosphere. This music touches the soul. Haunting, beautiful, captivating, immersive.

Favourite track: You Let the Light Shine Through.

PB

 

13. Thor – Beyond the Pain Barrier

Jon Mikl Thor has been one of my favourite fixtures in the heavy-metal pantheon since I heard Let the Blood Run Red as a kid, after which I ran straight out and bought the 12″ single in blood-red vinyl. That was a good time to discover the Canadian-born Viking Thor, for he was like a real-life cartoon character – metal’s own living He-Man doll. Unlike fellow real-life metal cartoon characters KISS and Manowar, Thor didn’t need makeup, shoulder pads or huge lighting displays to make an impact. He didn’t even need clothes. Having competed in bodybuilding and won many titles, he just added instruments to his posing routine, wandered onstage in his skimpy posing pouch sporting a comic-book-hero physique, then proceeded to dish out well-crafted metal with big hooks and catchy choruses. Instead of a drum solo at his gigs, he would blow into a hot-water bottle until it expanded like a balloon and exploded. That takes serious lung power. But what of Thor in the present day? Well, he’s been through some rough times. He was advised by his doctor to cancel a world tour. The doctor thought Thor’s heart might pack in under that kind of stress (Thor was on heavy medication – the only kind he would ever take). But being metal’s own living He-Man doll, he ignored that advice and set out on the tour, recording footage across the world and releasing it as a documentary. As I sat in my living room watching that film, which was both heartbreaking and life-affirming, I was surprised to hear a voice I know well. Sure enough there was my Greek friend Dimitrios (who translated my novel Metallic Dreams into Greek – a version that will soon be released) backstage with Thor in some remote part of eastern Europe, plastered drunk and shouting like a lunatic. I sent Dimitrios a message saying I’d just seen him in the Thor documentary. He replied, “Where was I?” I answered, “Croatia or Albania or the Czech Republic or somewhere around there. You were blazing drunk.” Dimitrios said, “I don’t even remember that. I was really drunk for a couple of weeks around that time.” That may sound surreal but it’s just another day in the life of my Greek friend, who thinks nothing of flying to the other side of the world to sign a metal act to his label, or just to see a favourite artist playing live. Anyway, back to this latest Thor release. He’s still doing what he does best – crafting anthemic metal in the classic style and delivering it with his trademark machismo. Archetypal stuff. He’s one of the wonders of the world.

Favourite track: Galactic Sun – a glorious mix of Skids’ punk attitude, Saigon Kick’s psychedelic harmonies and AC/DC’s riffage blended with the usual Thor blueprint (Judas Priest meets Manowar meets Black Sabbath in Asgard).

T

 

14. Shade Empire – Poetry of the Ill-Minded

Another impressive outfit from metal’s main breeding ground, Finland. The band is usually categorised as melodic death metal, but Shade Empire is also heavily influenced by the Gothenburg sound popularised by In Flames, Soilwork, and At the Gates.

Favourite track: Anti-Life Saviour – the album’s standout track, an epic with sweeping twists and turns, impressive atmospherics and a sublime melodic interlude à la Queensrӱche.

SE

 

15. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Mirror Reaper deserves to be in the year’s top 10 for its cover art alone. That didn’t bias my opinion of the music, though. The artwork is a welcome bonus in an era when most bands put little effort into covers (a trend that began when CDs emerged). I miss the days when vinyl reigned supreme, because back then most heavy bands, especially those in the metal and prog-rock genres, deemed cover art as important as the music it accompanied. The art was an integral part of the image. This third Bell Witch release is a natural evolution of their epic and eerie doom-metal sound. Mirror Reaper is a double album, yet it contains only one track split into two parts. An ambitious endeavour that works due to the nature of the music, which changes mood and texture as it progresses, forming vast soundscapes that take the listener on a hypnotic journey into Bell Witch’s deep, dark world. Appropriately, the track Mirror Reaper‘s two sections are titled As Above and So Below. Crushingly heavy passages co-exist side by side with delicate, mournful guitar refrains, huge drum sounds and occasional vocals – sometimes choral-style laments, other times low doomy growls. No detail sounds out of place. This isn’t the result of two numbskulls churning out random noise and hoping for the best. It’s the sound of two true artistes weaving sonic tapestries that are magnetically attractive to anyone with metal in their soul.

Favourite track: I’ll give you one guess.

BW

 

16. Paradise Lost – Medusa

One of the most consistently impressive bands on the planet (they’ve topped my album-of-the-year lists twice), Paradise Lost has a relentless work ethic. Like only a few other outfits (most notably the much-missed Type O Negative), PL has a knack for crafting metal that’s stunningly heavy and ultra melodic. Not an easy thing to do, yet they make it sound easy. Medusa is the heaviest album the band has released in over a decade. Its predecessor The Plague Within revisited the heaviness of the band’s doomy roots at points. Medusa is heavier still, yet it retains the melodic sensibilities of their lighter albums such as Symbol of Life.

Favourite track: Blood & Chaos.

M

 

17. Arch Enemy – Will to Power

I feared that the departure of Angela Gossow as Arch Enemy vocalist might spell downfall for the band. I needn’t have worried. Alissa White-Gluz has filled Angela’s slot perfectly (I’m speaking figuratively, ya perverts – get your minds out of the gutter…and the gusset). This, the second post-Gossow Arch Enemy studio album, sees the band on fine form, although following a more generic, less brutal path than on their previous recording, War Eternal. Michael Amott’s guitar work is astonishing, as always. His riffage drives things along, veering off into jaw-dropping fretboard flourishes at regular points along the way.

Favourite track: My Shadow and I – strongest track on the album by a country mile…melodeath done right.

 

18. Samael – Hegemony

Thirty years into Samael’s career the Swiss legends are as strong as ever, their sound instantly recognisable. They are pioneers, not followers. Often classified as industrial metal or black metal or a combination of the two, there’s more to the band than that. For starters, there are symphonic elements – not overblown theatrical symphonics, but tasteful accompaniment that enhances the songs. Secondly, the sound is anything but lo-fi. The sonic quality is spectacular. Having studied ‘Sport as a Tool of Hegemonic Control’ as part of my undergraduate degree, I understand that the album’s subject matter is a reality rather than some flight of fancy brought about by exposure to conspiracy theories. Vorph’s vocals are fantastic throughout. His familiar deep guttural growl has influenced so many fellow Swiss bands – Swamp Terrorists and Eluveitie, most obviously – as well as others across the globe. As I said, pioneers.

Favourite track: Hegemony – quintessential Samael.

 

19. Steve Hackett – The Night Siren

Like all Hackett releases, this is a quality slice of music loaded with tasteful guitar work and distinctive vocals. Of all the ex-Genesis members, Hackett has been the most exploratory in terms of musical styles. He is also a relentless workaholic, recording and touring year upon year, decade after decade. As a result, he is always match fit. The Night Siren is evidence of this. Steve flits between musical styles with ease, from neo-classical flourishes to baroque ‘n’ roll rhythms and heavier interludes, all underpinned by finely tuned proggy sensibilities.

Favourite track: The Gift – one of the most poignant instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Beautiful tone, beautiful execution…just beautiful.

 

20. Accept – The Rise of Chaos

Accept has always been close to my heart, ever since I heard Princess of the Dawn as a 10-year-old and stood in open-mouthed awe as shivers ran down my spine. The combination of skilled songwriting, excellent execution and a touch of exoticism made for an utterly addictive whole. That Accept line-up – Udo Dirkschneider, Wolf Hoffman, Peter Baltes and Stefan Kaufmann – remains my favourite of the band’s incarnations. Wolf and Peter are still present, which allows the band to retain its archetypal sound. Mark Tornillo has been doing a pristine job on vocals for a few years. It can’t be easy replacing a vocalist who at times sounded like he was shouting abuse while at the same time trying with all his might to squeeze out a particularly stubborn shit, but Tornillo has done so with aplomb. The Rise of Chaos doesn’t break new ground. It’s Accept doing what Accept does best – anthems with huge hooks, singalong choruses and riffage that could strip wallpaper.

Favourite track: Koolaid.

Accept

 

 

 

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My Albums of 2014

It was a year of extremes.  I experienced pure bliss as well as soul-shattering loss.  So I spent the end of 2014 and the first chunk of 2015 on my ancestral isles, mourning, feeling, being, surrounded by beauty and purity, far from the wickedness in the world.  There, strange forces held me together when my whole being was falling apart.  Perhaps it was the Fae magick of my clan.  Maybe it was my own inner strength, heightened by connection to Viking roots.  It might have been a combination of both.  I know better than to question those things.  I accept them with gratitude.

To borrow a phrase from Judas Priest (more about them later), 2014 delivered the goods, musically speaking.  At the start of 2014 I predicted the year’s top four albums (although I didn’t attempt to forecast my order of preference).  I predicted correctly.  The great Hillhouse Seer Tam the Bammus would be impressed (if that reference went over your head, read my short(ish) story Revelation Was Wrong and you’ll be illuminated). For the first time, there’s a tie for my album of the year.  In each previous year one release stood head and shoulders above the others.  This year there were two.

1= Nimbatus – Realm of Darkness Nimbatus instrumentals transcend metal’s usual formulaic blueprint.  These compositions are more than mere tracks: they’re vast swathes of sound – crunching heavy riffs juxtaposed with sublime lead-guitar refrains, sweeping keyboard melodies and laser-precise drum beats.  Flourishes of strings and piano add poignance to melodies that are already loaded with emotion.  Unlike most metal instrumentalists, Nimbatus never veers into musical widdling/wanking/noodling territory.  Nothing is superfluous.  Each note carries emotion.  Not a moment is wasted.  Every detail of Realm of Darkness – composition, musical execution, guitar tones, track titles, production quality – is flawless.  Nimbatus’s mission statement is to create instrumental songs that translate darkness and sadness into music.  Job done.  And the results sound beautiful. Don’t go looking for Nimbatus music on Amazon or at your local high-street record shop.  You won’t find it there.  Go to bandcamp or reverbnation websites and you’ll find all the Nimbatus releases.  And do yourself a favour – download the tunes in FLAC format for listening to in the house, either streamed or burned onto disc.  That way you’ll hear the music in all its brilliance.  Mp3 files are handy for listening to on the move, but they’re low quality and a third of the overall sound is missing.  This music deserves to be heard properly.  Play loud.

Favourite track: it’s almost impossible to pick one, as they’re all ridiculously good.  At a push, I choose Nocturnal Ride.  Like my favourite Nimbatus track of all (Tales of the Ageless, from debut album Cyclus One), Nocturnal Ride delivers what I’ve come to know as the Nimbatus surprise: just when it seems that the track is about to finish, a new melody soars from out of nowhere, taking the tune to heights so awe-inspiring that my body hair stands up in salute.

Nimbatus

1= Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

For most of 2014 this was my album of the year.  (Insomnium released Shadows of the Dying Sun when the year had just begun, while Nimbatus sneaked out Realm of Darkness as 2014 drew to a close.)  Insomnium albums have twice before topped my annual chart (Above the Weeping World in 2006 and One for Sorrow in 2011), so I had high hopes for Shadows of the Dying Sun.  It didn’t disappoint.  Building on the Finnish melodic-death-metal sound that Insomnium created and honed, the album explores new territory.  Ville Friman makes more use of clean vocals than on previous albums, and to great effect (the clean vocals are often sung simultaneously with Niilo Sevänen’s trademark growled words – an effect that adds a new dimension to Insomnium’s sound).  Some tracks remind the listener that Insomnium can still be – when they choose – the heaviest band on the planet (check out The Gale – intro to the Above the Weeping World album – for historical evidence of this…and turn it up loud).  As on other Insomnium recordings, the band never sacrifices melody for bluster.  Even when Markus Hirvonen’s blast-beat drumming borders on inhuman, Niilo’s bass rumbles like the bowels of Satan after a dodgy curry, and the twin guitars of Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala rip holes in the egos of many other axemen, the overall sound is always richly melodic.  Delicacy is as prevalent as crushing heaviness.  This is the soundtrack to ice, cold, solitude, fortitude and inner strength: breathtaking compositions by innovators who have forged a sound truly their own.

Favourite track: opener The Primeval Dark, both an intro and a song in its own right, delivers a slow-building melody – eerie and ominous – that builds into a wave of astonishingly resonant riffage.  Huge.

Insomnium

3. Agalloch – The Serpent and the Sphere

One of the most underrated acts around, Agalloch is also one of the few non-Scandinavian bands to dabble in black metal without being discounted by their European counterparts, who invented and pioneered the genre.  Agalloch doesn’t restrict its music to any one style, though.  Nowhere (with the exception of 2008’s The White EP, inspired by classic 1973 Scottish horror film The Wicker Man, and incorporating much piano, acoustic guitar and movie snippets) is this more evident than on The Serpent and the Sphere.  I love the multi-layered depth of this album.  It’s the evolution that was hinted at on all the band’s previous full-length recordings.  John Haughm and his cohorts have matured into a musical force to be reckoned with.

Favourite track: Dark Matter Gods.

Agalloch

4. Anathema – Distant Satellites I’ve loved Anathema’s music since their first EP, back when the band was a doom-metal outfit.  Most bands find a style that works for them, then stick with it.  Not so Anathema.  More than any other band that started as an extreme-metal outfit, they have matured.  As testament to this, their last three albums have more in common musically with Pink Floyd than with their doom-metal roots.  Most bands would be afraid to change so radically, for fear of losing fans as a result.  Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh write from the heart, though, not for sales figures.  They express their vision so effectively – through music from the heart and lyrics deep in meaning – that its honesty resonates as much as its musical beauty.  The Cavanagh brothers have grown as human beings.  This is reflected in their music.  Distant Satellites is my second-favourite Anathema album (after 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here – my top album of that year).  The lyrical themes are profound (awakening, recognition, love, separation, loss), the music rich in heartfelt melody.

Favourite track: Ariel – one of the most beautiful compositions ever recorded.

Anathema

5. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Forget the pish written about this album by broadsheet journalists who don’t know their arses from their elbows when it comes to music.  Most of them jumped straight onto the ‘this is a bunch of outtakes rather than a proper album’ bandwagon.  I wish so-called writers would listen to music with open ears and minds, ignoring the opinions of others, in order to form their own unbiased opinions.  That’s how folk with integrity operate.  So here’s my opinion as a longtime Floyd aficionado with integrity and an open mind.  I don’t care if the recordings on The Endless River weren’t originally intended to be put together onto one release.  Most albums – with the exception of concept albums – are a jumbled assortment of tracks that don’t have any relevance to each other but often work well as a collection of individual pieces.  The Endless River works well as such a collection, yet it has been arranged to flow together beautifully.  The album is a tribute to Floyd’s fallen band member Richard Wright, whose keyboards are high in the mix throughout.  This is fitting.  It reminds the listener that while Wright may not be walking the world anymore, his sounds are left behind, eternally resonating.  It’s difficult to listen to The Endless River without becoming acutely aware of this.  The songs are subtle, thematic, richly layered and gorgeously melodic, close to The Division Bell’s compositions in terms of structure.  Seasoned Floyd listeners will recognise tips o’ the hat to several older PF songs.  The album is a wall (pun intended) of ambient melodies and perfectly executed instrumentation.

Favourite track: Louder Than Words: the only track to feature a David Gilmour vocal.  Lyrics explore the much-publicised animosity within the group, concluding that the end result of their arguments – the music they create – is worth suffering for.  “We bitch and we fight, diss each other on sight, but this thing we do…These times together, rain or shine or stormy weather, this thing we do…it’s louder than words, this thing that we do, louder than words, the way it unfurls.  It’s louder than words, the sum of our parts.  The beat of our hearts is louder than words.”  Truth.  From somewhere, Richard Wright is looking down and smiling.  Thank you for the music, sir.  I miss you.

Pink Floyd

6. Within Temptation – Hydra

I’ve recognised Within Temptation’s talent since their earliest incarnation but until Hydra their albums were patchy affairs that contained moments of brilliance alongside uninspired music-by-numbers compositions.  There was never a problem with the band’s musical or vocal ability.  They are all accomplished musicians and Sharon den Adel’s voice has always been phenomenal.  She even achieved what I’d thought impossible (covering a Kate Bush song and improving it).  Hydra is the first Within Temptation album to live up to the band’s immense potential.  About time.  It was worth the wait.  A masterpiece.

Favourite track: Let Us Burn – symphonic metal at its most anthemic.

Within Temptation

7. Arch Enemy – War Eternal

Michael Amott rarely makes mistakes in music.  A consummate musician with immaculate taste, his various bands ooze quality and originality.  I worried when Angela Gossow left Arch Enemy, as her growled vocals – which put most male death-metal vocalists to shame – were an integral part of the band’s sound.  Amott followed Nightwish’s example (when operatically trained vocalist Tarja Turunen left Nightwish, they replaced her with a female whose vocal style was considerably different, surprising those who expected the band to employ another opera diva as a Turunen clone).  In the case of Arch Enemy, the new female vocalist was Alissa White-Gluz, formerly of The Agonist.  She has neon-blue hair.  That’s a good start.  What about her vocals, though?  Alissa’s voice is less demonic than that of predecessor Angela Gossow, but her rasp gels perfectly with Arch Enemy’s music.  Alissa is more girly than Angela (although in the arena of melodic death metal, girliness is a subjective term).  Angela Gossow looks like she’d ride you all night long, tearing your flesh open with her nails before throwing your bleeding body out the window in the morning.  Alissa White-Gluz looks like she’d beg you to ride her all night long, then she’d make you toast and a cup o’ tea in the morning.  Different styles, both good.  Anyway, back to the music.  War Eternal is a heck of an album.  Amott’s compositions are, as usual, inspired.  At several points Amott’s more sedate playing is reminiscent of The Scorpions’ Rudolf Schenker.  Instrumental Not Long for This World is even crafted around the tune of Scorps ballad Still Loving You.  Amott’s speedier shredding could be mistaken for Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho.  This is very much a guitar-driven album, but the other musicians leave their mark on these tunes too.  Like Nightwish, Arch Enemy lost an iconic figurehead and replaced her with someone stylistically different.  Also like Nightwish, Arch Enemy has evolved into a new – yet equally impressive – animal.

Favourite track: War Eternal – a perfect mix of tasteful riffage and fierce vocals.

Arch Enemy

8. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata Tom G. Warrior’s influence in metal is enormous.  The seminal Hellhammer was – along with England’s Venom and Sweden’s Bathory – responsible for spawning black metal and later ushering in the Second Wave of Black Metal in Norway.  Second wave bands’ extracurricular activities – violence, murder and church-burning – brought black metal to the attention of the world’s media, but while Warrior may have inadvertently co-created a genre, his violence was limited to lyrics: he was all about the music.  Warrior’s next band, Celtic Frost, influenced the thrash movement in immeasurable ways.  The early Celtic Frost albums (along with those of Germany’s Kreator) are the most original recordings of that ilk.  Triptykon is the logical progression of Celtic Frost, containing some of the same members.  Their second album, Melana Chasmata, eschews the restraints of genre in favour of communicating Warrior’s musical vision in the purest way possible.  It’s a dark album which, like Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, balances brutally heavy passages with ambient sections that feature ethereal female vocals.  Cover art is the 1975 piece Mordor VII by H.R. Giger (the third time Giger has collaborated with Warrior: he provided cover art for Triptykon’s debut album Eparistera Daimones and Celtic Frost’s classic To Mega Therion).

Favourite track: Boleskine House.  (Situated on the shores of Loch Ness, Boleskine House was home to Aleister Crowley, ‘the wickedest man in the world’, who carried out countless esoteric magickal rituals there.  Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, lured in by the house’s dark past, bought it after Crowley’s death.)

Triptykon

9. In Flames – Siren Charms

In Flames pioneered the much-copied ‘Gothenburg sound’.  On Siren Charms the Swedes stay true to the musical blueprint they created – immense energy levels, eviscerating riffs, wall-crumbling bass, precision drumming, and Anders Fridén’s superb vocals, which alternate between low growls and soaring clean tones.  Siren Charms blends heaviness and melody, delicacy and blunt-force attack.

Favourite track: Rusted Nail.

In Flames

10. Accept – Blind Rage

Many longtime metal fans have written off Accept time after time, first when Udo Dirkschneider left the band, then when he returned, then when he left again, and so on.  I’ve never done so.  I always recognised the musical excellence of the others in the band, particularly Wolf Hoffman, whose ability to compose metal anthems is rivalled by his talent for dishing them out on guitar.  Having delivered one of metal’s greatest comeback albums in 2010 (Blood of the Nations, the first Accept recording to feature vocalist Mark Tornillo) and another barnstorming release in 2012 (Stalingrad), Accept continued their upsurge with Blind Rage in 2014.  Classic metal from start to finish – anthemic, catchy and loaded with hooks.

Favourite track: From the Ashes We Rise – quintessential Accept.

Accept

11. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls Judas Priest is one of the bands that delivered the metal goods to me back when I was barely out of nappies.  They changed my life for the better.  To many, Judas Priest is the definitive metal band.  Certainly, and inarguably, they are responsible for the studs-and-leather image that came to be metal’s hallmark.  (Little do most folk know that this came about because JP’s vocalist, Rob Halford, bought clothes and accoutrements from gay boutiques…but that’s another story.)  Redeemer of Souls had the same impact on me as its two immediate predecessors, Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus: some tracks came across as timeless and inspired, while others sounded (and I hate to use this term to describe anything by a band as special as JP, but it’s my honest opinion) a bit generic.  Because JP recorded iconic albums such as Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith and British Steel, which are perfect from start to finish, I expect a lot of this band.  I expect perfection.  I know they’re capable of it.  I’ve been hearing them deliver musical perfection (and watching them do so live) since I was a wayward child.  So while Redeemer of Souls is an excellent album, it’s not a classic Priest album.  This band has a monumental legacy to live up to with any new recording.  The album’s high points, and there are several, make it an essential possession for any JP fan.  Halford’s voice is astonishing, as always.  Not for nothing is he known as The Metal God.  Richie Faulkner took on the enormous task of filling KK Downing’s shoes as Glen Tipton’s fellow Priest axeman.  He has done so with confidence and excellence, both on this recording and in the live arena.

Favourite track: Cold Blooded.

Judas Priest

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