Why 3, you ask? Well, it’s mostly because these are the only 3 metal releases this year that made it onto my personal favorite metal albums list (although some of the honorable mentions may make it on their in due time). My apologies in advance for some of the poor and lazy writing.1. Therion – “Gothic Kabbalah” (Progressive Symphonic Metal)
It’s hard to believe that Therion was able to top all of their previous releases. Therion has released amazing album after amazing album for several years in a row, and this one just blows all of its bar-setting predecessors out of the way. Who would’ve thought that turning down the symphonic elements (compared to Lemuria
/ Sirius B
), relying on catchy melodies and choruses, and handing over Johnsson’s lead vocal duties would actually make for their best album yet? I sure as hell didn’t think it would and I sure as hell was wrong.
First of all, the vocals in every department were mind-blowingly good. I can’t really emphasize this enough. You may not know the lyrics or even have absolutely no clue what their singing about, but it doesn’t matter because you will (assuming you have a soul) be moved by the vocal deliveries.
This album is heavily layered and seems to elicit an endless number of necessary listens. Remember how I said earlier that it relies on catchy melodies and choruses? Well, that was more of a top-layer kind of deduction. There is so much more to the music on this album. The catchy melodies and choruses are what make the first listen so enjoyable, and then on subsequent listens, you’re treated to all the subtle nuances that are far less obvious in the music. It’s difficult to imagine growing tired of this album. Even though it is over 80 minutes, it demands your absolute attention for every minute, and you’re certain to submit to these demands.
Favored Tracks: The Perrennial Sophia
, Son of the Staves of Time
Note: I had to misspell "Perennial" for the play button's sake.2. Sigh – “Hangman's Hymn” (Symphonic Blackened Thrash Metal)
Japan’s most internationally known extreme metal band Sigh have returned more brutal than ever. They seem to just keep throwing curveballs at their fans. They hit their avant-garde/post-black metal peak with 2001’s “Imaginary Sonicscape
”, which listeners and critics met with raving reviews. Then they released the follow-up “Gallows Gallery
” that lacked almost any trace of their black metal roots; the songs were shorter and generally easier to digest. The only thing particularly black metal about it was its extremely poor production (something Sigh isn’t at all known for). It was almost as if they were intentionally trying to weed out fans. And now, they’ve come back with “Hangman’s Hymn”. The avant-garde qualities have been toned down even more on this release. Instead of expanding on the ideas that made “Imaginary Sonicscape” so great, they set out to mesh German Thrash Metal with German Classical music, which conceptually sounds absolutely brilliant to me right off the bat – to mix together two completely chronologically separated aspects of a culture’s music into one beautiful abomination. So the idea is intriguing, but does the execution really work out?
Now I can’t say that my knowledge of German classical music is all that expansive, knowing only the music of Richard Wagner
pretty much. All I can say is that they seemed to succeed well-enough in the bombastic department, but at times the orchestral parts sound almost circus-like (coupled well with disturbing clown-like laughter) and some of the choral vocal arrangements just sound absolutely bizarre. Also, their guitar solos are decidedly Sigh-ish and have no resemblance whatsoever to German thrash metal (but that’s actually fine by me because Sigh's solos tend to be more interesting and far more creative than the solos in most thrash). So I think perhaps that the “meshing of the two German genres” was an oversimplified take on the music. That aside, the symphonic accompaniments were perfectly placed and accented the blackened thrash metal fantastically (and vice versa!). Oh yes, in lieu of placing the orchestral arrangements in the background like so many black metal bands do, Sigh puts them right up front with the metal making the album unique and so much more distinguishable than your generic symphonic black metal band that just submits to Dimmu Borgir
or Cradle of Filth
worship. In fact, there's is nothing on here that can remotely be considered anything worship; the riffs may be inspired by German thrash but you're surely not going to mistake this for Kreator
The band also experiments with re-using certain melodies throughout the album, presented in a different way every time. It helps this album sound far more coherent and connected than the rest of the albums in their discography, which makes sense because “Hangman’s Hymn” is more lyrically conceptual than their other releases as the lyrics are all based around hatred, misanthropy, and the glorification of the self.
The brutality rarely lets up (there’s a calm minute here and there), so be prepared for an exhausting listen, even though the runtime is only about 45 minutes. But despite the mental exhaustion this album causes, it will have you engaged every time you listen to it. It doesn’t bore and is relentlessly exciting and invigorating. Listen to “Hangman’s Hymn” and you will feel powerful… or positively creeped out if approached in the right mindset.
Favored Tracks: Inked In Blood
, Hangman's Hymn/In Paradisum/Das Ende3. Manticora – “The Black Circus Part 2 – Disclosure” (Progressive Power Metal)
Manticora has come up with a sequel that is much heavier than its predecessor. Personally, I liked the greater variation on Part 1, but what Manticora have succeeded on better this time is slightly more complicated, longer song structures that hearken back to the days of their absolute masterpiece “Hyperion”. The interludes, once again, allow for the story to progress as well as to give some breathing room to the listener. One other great thing about this installment is that the gypsy folk music aspects were more frequently used. I love the recurring sound effects that were used in Part 1; it helps make it feel like both parts are really a continuous album and story. The band even experiments with their sound in the fashion of Nevermore
by incorporating death metal vocals near the end of the album. Larsen’s vocals are sung with as much passion as ever and the band is in top form. And of course, as Part 1 promised, the story is worthy of the author (H.P. Lovecraft) Manticora claims to have inspired it.
Favored Tracks: Gypsies' Dance Pt. 2, Intuneric IV/Haita Di Lupi, Of Madness In Its PurityHonorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Akercocke - Antichrist (Progressive Death Metal)
This is a good effort, but doesn’t nearly match all the successful experimentation and proggy greatness of “Words that Go Unspoken, Deeds that Go Undone”. Also, the production is kind of sloppy, Mendonca’s vocals are seemed to have gotten a little bit worse, and the songs are shorter than the length I hoped they would be. But perhaps this one just needs to grow on me.
Favored Tracks: Axiom, Distant Fires Reflect The Eyes Of Satan, EpodeBehemoth – “The Apostasy” (Death Metal)
I was wrong to hope for “Demigod
2”, but I did anyway. In a sense, it’s a good thing that Nergal chose not to retread over his own steps. Unfortunately, the music here isn’t quite as consistently successful as that which was on its predecessor, but it mostly makes up for it with a couple twists it throws at its listener. Like, Akercocke’s “Antichrist”, I think this one might need to really sink in for a few more months before its brilliance becomes obvious. I feel like I’m missing something.
Favored Tracks: Libertheme, Inner SanctumDethklok – “The Dethalbum” (Melodic Death Metal)
Who would have thought that music from a goofy animated show with an 11-minute runtime would be so damned good? Unlike other musical comedy albums, even when the humor of this album has been pretty much worn out due to being listened to over and over again, it doesn’t get boring because the music is actually really good. It is far more varied than a lot of death metal out there and is generally more epic sounding (no complaints here). I usually dislike the gurgling kind of death metal vocals but Brendon Small somehow makes the vocal style more accessible. Also, the presence of Gene Hoglan (who many will recognize from Death
, Strapping Young Lad
, and Dark Angel
”) is very welcome. WARNING: Don’t get the regular edition; the bonus tracks on the special edition are well worth the extra dollars.
Favored Tracks: Go Into The Water, Awaken, Thunderhorse, Murdertrain A Comin'Finntroll – “Ur Jordens Djup” (Folk/Polka Metal)
Despite all the numerous line-up changes in their existence, Finntroll still manage to make albums of this high quality. They haven’t really done much in the way that can be considered new for the band, but there are just some bands out there that just don’t need to change to sound fresh. Finntroll is one of those bands.
Favored Tracks: Gryning, En Mäktig HärIced Earth – “Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1” (Power Metal)
At Wacken, Iced Earth played a few songs from this album and I was immediately hooked. Their line-up with Tim Owens has certainly redeemed themselves after the disappointing effort that was “The Glorious Burden
The songs often match the quality of those on “The Dark Saga
” (but don’t quite hit “Horror Show
” standards) and the interludes, as numerous as they are, manage to not to overwhelm. It’s obvious that Jon Schaffer put a great amount of effort into this. Apparently he’s been planning on making this trilogy for quite some time, and it’s comforting to not be disappointed by its first installment. It actually makes me a little bit sad that Matt Barlow is returning to Iced Earth, because the voice is going to be different for its sequels.
Favored Tracks: A Charge to Keep, Ten Thousand StrongKamelot – “Ghost Opera” (Progressive Power Metal)
It’s no “The Black Halo
”, but I can’t say I expected them to be able to top that one. Unfortunaley, the songs have gotten shorter and more simplistic and as a result, the album is a lot shorter and a little less satisfying. At certain points, it touches on the awe-inspiring music of “The Black Halo”, but just not often enough.
Favored Tracks: Ghost Opera, The Human StainWolves in the Throne Room – “Two Hunters” (Atmospheric Black Metal)
Clocking in at a little over 45 minutes, Wolves in the Throne Room has returned with the fat trimmed. Don’t get me wrong, “Diadem of 12 Stars” was good, but it’s almost impossible for me to listen to the whole thing in one sitting. So this time, they cut off all the unnecessary excess and have a final product with a fitting place among the best metal albums of 2007.
It’s difficult to talk about WITTR’s sound without mentioning Burzum. Their style does owe a lot to Burzum, but there is also enough that they’ve expanded upon that help define it and distinguish it from other black metal. Burzum often used very few ideas in each song to allow for better ambience and atmosphere. But WITTR somehow manages to constantly shift musical direction, yet still keep a great degree of atmosphere.
The intro “Dea Artio” always reminds me of The Cure’s “Plainsong
”. They’re both over 5 minutes long, keyboard-driven, and are fairly uneventful, but serve as great mood-setting introductions for the music that follows. The 18 minute track “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks And Roots” somehow doesn’t seem to last any longer than the shorter songs before it. You could be paying attention to it for every minute of it, and it just seems to fly by. You just get drawn into the atmosphere it creates so much that time just passes by without your notice.
Favored Tracks: Clearing, I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks And RootsSome albums that intrigued me that I haven’t gotten the chance to hear that probably would have made the list…and stuff:Alcest
– “Souvenirs d'un autre Monde”Behold... the Arctopus
- SkullgridDevin Townsend
- "Ziltoid the Omniscient
– “The Varangian Way
”Hopes for 2008:Opeth
- ???Blind Guardian
- ??? (Orchestral Project)Ayreon
- The White [EP]
Iced Earth - Revelation AbominationIhsahn
– AnglOrphaned Land
- The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR