August 13, 2009

The year in music so far

I had meant to do this at the end of June, but that obviously passed without incident. So I will do it now, at the two-thirds point in the year, so that it's done.

Albums that exceeded my expectations
1. "Daylight" by West Gate
I don't even need to say anything about this album because of how good it is. Also, every good thing I have to say about it is in my review of the album. Suffice to say, there is only one way that this album could end up not in the #1 spot in my end-of-year countdown, and that would be if Disarmonia Mundi releases "The Isolation Game" before the year is out. Unless that happens, I already have my Album of the Year.
Recommended Tracks: Bleeding Out, Ordinary, With Time

2. "The Restless Memoirs EP" by Disarmonia Mundi
I'll be honest here - I wasn't sure how good Disarmonia Mundi would be without Bjorn Strid in the line-up. Well, forget any uncertainty. The six tracks of this EP are enough to convince me that Disarmonia Mundi is going to be amazing no matter who is with them, as long as Ettore Rigotti and Claudio Ravinale remain. If "The Isolation Game" comes out this year, Disarmonia Mundi will appear twice in the top three of my year-end list, which is unprecedented for any band. That's how good this EP is.
Recommended Tracks: Across the Burning Surface, Flare, Spiral Dancer

3. "Hordes of Chaos" by Kreator
With their last album, "Enemy of God," Kreator reminded everyone of two things. First, that thrash metal is supposed to sound a certain way, and they were doing it right. Second, that the Germans have done thrash better over time than the Americans. Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom have stayed true to the old thrash sound while Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and (to a much lesser degree than the other three) Slayer have all strayed from the formula at one point or another, and in some cases, stayed lost instead of coming back to it. "Hordes of Chaos" proves these points even more firmly, and gives a blueprint of thrash for new metalheads to follow.
Recommended Tracks: Warcurse, Destroy What Destroys You, Radical Resistance

4. "Earthsblood" by God Forbid
For a band that has consistently tried to distance itself from the American metalcore movement, God Forbid wasn't having much success with that until now. "Earthsblood" is a marked step of progression for the band, incorporating more thrash into their sound and also using Opeth-like prog structures on some songs, showing just how diverse their sound can be. This album provides them the separation they wanted, and they can keep it if they continue like this on their next album.
Recommended Tracks: Empire of the Gun, War of Attrition, Bat the Angels

5. "Children of the Dark Waters" by Eternal Tears of Sorrow
I've always considered Eternal Tears of Sorrow to be the most underrated of Finland's many symphonic/melodic death metal bands, especially because EToS places the highest emphasis on the symphonic elements of any of the band's I've heard playing that genre from Finland. "Children of the Dark Waters" is the album that should raise EToS from the realm of obscurity. The beautiful melodies captured on this album contrasted with the punishing death metal sections make for an intense, well-balanced sound that will draw in new listeners from all ends of the spectrum
Recommended Tracks: Baptized by the Blood of Angels, Diary of Demonic Dreams, Nocturne Thule

6. "Lullabies for the Dormant Mind" by The Agonist
The Agonist's debut album, "Once Only Imagined," showcased a band still in its growing stages but with an excellent future in front of them. "Lullabies for the Dormant Mind" is an amazing sophomore album that not only sets The Agonist far apart from the rest of the female-fronted metalcore field, but really puts them in a realm of their own. Their razor-sharp, technical music, combined with their socially conscious lyrics filled with deep imagery, are what make The Agonist truly unique, and this album capitalizes on those things to create an amazing musical soundscape.
Recommended Tracks: Birds Elope With the Sun, Martyr Art, The Sentient

7. "Slaves of the World" by Old Man's Child
If Dimmu Borgir is the polished, clean, sell-out face of black metal that the fans say it is, then Old Man's Child is its evil twin - dark, brooding, vicious, evil. One-man force of blackness Galder (who incidentally also plays guitar in Dimmu Borgir) has created his finest opus yet in this album, bringing together the darkest parts of black metal, epic symphonic passages, and blazing thrash to create a titanic sound that dominates listeners. The drumming talents of Peter Wildoer (Darkane, Pestilence) only add to the musical excellence.
Recommended Tracks: Saviours of Doom, Unholy Foreign Crusade, Servants of Satan's Monastery

8. "The Infection" by Chimaira
Chimaira usually impress me with each new album they put out because they show evolution with each release. However, "The Infection" surpasses my expectations of improvement because the band has taken their sound in a whole new direction, bringing their groove metal influence to the forefront of their sound while allowing hardcore to take a backseat. The slowed-down tempos, basement-level downtuning, and guttural vocals give Chimaira a new face and show that their talents can give them success on any front.
Recommended Tracks: Frozen in Time, Secrets of the Dead, On Broken Glass

9. "Time Waits for No Slave" by Napalm Death
I know many of you are thinking, "Woo-hoo, Napalm Death's fourteenth album. What's so special this time around?" Well, how about the fact that this Napalm Death album features ambient passages and keyboards during songs, as well as a simultaneous return to the band's grindcore roots? Interested now? I thought so.
Recommended Tracks: Diktat, Time Waits for No Slave, Fallacy Dominion

10. "When Legends Become Dust" by Conducting from the Grave
When I first heard of Conducting from the Grave, I was expecting yet another boring chug-chug deathcore band. Boy, was I wrong. These youngsters have melded a deathcore base with countless other influences to display a unique, diverse sound that can only be described by listening to it firsthand. If you want a new take on deathcore, give these guys a try.
Recommended Tracks: The Calming Effect, Eternally Gutted, Improper Burial

11. "Evangelion" by Behemoth
After the straightforward death metal sound of "Demigod" and "The Apostasy," I was expecting a similar approach to Behemoth's new album. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only have Behemoth returned to the blackened death metal sound that made them famous in the first place, but they've further expanded their sound to display a strong progressive edge, even managing to attain a Gojira-like sound on some tracks. It's no wonder Nergal says this is his favorite album from his band.
Recommended Tracks: Shemaforash, He Who Breeds Pestilence, The Seed ov I

12. "Across the Dark" by Insomnium
Another excellent opus of doom-laden melodic death metal from Insomnium is always welcome. "Across the Dark" fits that bill perfectly. The clean singing utilized on this album is what sets it apart from its predecessors. It comes unexpectedly but it makes a wonderful addition to Insomnium's soundscape. The instrumentation is still fairly similar to older material from Insomnium, but that's not at all a bad thing.
Recommended Tracks: Down With the Sun, Where the Last Wave Broke, The Lay of Autumn

Albums that met my expectations
1. "Wrath" by Lamb of God
I knew that this new album from Lamb of God would be a solid album. They have never released an album that was not good. However, I knew that this would not be the album that everyone claimed it would be. The critics were waiting for "As the Palaces Burn" part 2. Instead they got "Sacrament" part 2. As I said, it's a good album, but too many parts feel far too similar to "Sacrament." In the end, though, I'm satisfied with what I got.
Recommended Tracks: Set to Fail, Contractor, Choke Sermon

2. "Pray for Villains" by DevilDriver
I love everything DevilDriver does. Let me make that clear right from the start. This album is likely going to make my top 10 list at the end of the year. But there really wasn't any way that they could exceed my expectations here. I knew it was going to sound like DevilDriver, and I knew I was going to love it. What more can I say about it?
Recommended Tracks: Fate Stepped In, Resurrection Blvd., Waiting for November

3. "Crack the Skye" by Mastodon
When I saw the track listing and track times for "Crack the Skye" online, I knew this album would be far different from anything else Mastodon had released thus far. It definitely was. I liked the result quite a lot. It's nothing less than I'd expect from Mastodon, one of the most talented groups of musicians of this age.
Recommended Tracks: Divinations, The Czar, Crack the Skye

4. "The Great Stone War" by Winds of Plague
Winds of Plague, the progenitors of symphonic deathcore, have separated themselves from the mass of new deathcore bands by playing with keyboards. That much was well established on "Decimate the Weak." But "The Great Stone War" does little more than to continue this tradition. It's a nice tradition to keep up, though, because the deathcore pack needs some variety. So I say, let Winds of Plague continue on the fine path they've started, because it still is better than 90% of the garbage deathcore on the landscape.
Recommended Tracks: Soldiers of Doomsday, Creed of Tyrants, Classic Struggle

5. "Omnicide - Creation Unleashed" by Neaera
If Caliban and Heaven Shall Burn are the established stars of the German metalcore/death metal scene, Neaera are the fast-rising upstarts with everything on the line. With that in mind, you'd think they'd be doing everything possible to make each album they release excellent and memorable. "Omnicide" definitely is excellent, but it's not as memorable as "Armamentarium" was, even with the subtle changes from one album to the other. That's the problem - the changes on "Omnicide" were too subtle. Nonetheless, this album is still a great listen.
Recommended Tracks: Prey to Anguish, Grave New World, Caesura

6. "In Ancient of Days" by Thy Will Be Done
After Thy Will Be Done's impossibly good debut, "Was and Is to Come," it seemed impossible that anything could top it. Well, so far, that's correct. "In Ancient of Days" doesn't surpass its predecessor, but it comes damn close. This is an excellent album and shows that Thy Will Be Done have a bright future ahead of them. Which is great, because for me, it's always nice to see a hometown band succeeding.
Recommended Tracks: Mourning Without the Sun, Ex Morte Vita, A Solemn Oath

7. "The Absence" by Luna Mortis
Unfortunately for Luna Mortis, they came into the female-fronted metalcore game a little late, and thus their sound seems to be heavily borrowed from The Agonist and In This Moment. However, that doesn't stop them from delivering a solid album. "The Absence" is another fine example of strong melodic metalcore, and what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in strong musicianship and well-crafted songwriting.
Recommended Tracks: Ruin, The Absence, Phantoms

8. "No Time to Bleed" by Suicide Silence
Suicide Silence brought deathcore into the mainstream with "The Cleansing." "No Time to Bleed" continues where it left off, with its chaotic onslaught of breakdowns, technicality, and indecipherable vocals. However, there still doesn't seem to be much direction to their sound. Suicide Silence still seems intent on just punishing their listeners with the heaviest possible music they can make. Two albums of that is fine, but if the band hopes to continue to be successful, they need to find a way to solidify their end goals and make that evident in their music.
Recommended Tracks: Lifted, Something Invisible, Your Creations

9. "The Grand Partition and the Abrogation of Idolatry" by Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky
Finally, a band not called Soilent Green that does deathgrind properly. When I first heard of S.W.W.A.A.T.S. (no, I am not writing that moniker out every time I talk about them), I thought they were just another deathcore band with an unnecessarily long name trying to sound tough. But upon listening to this album, I discovered a fine gem of deathgrind waiting to be served up. The mix of death metal and grindcore is perfect, and for a debut album, it's clear that S.W.W.A.A.T.S. certainly have the chops to make their incredibly long name a popular one among metalheads.
Recommended Tracks: The Realization That Mankind is Viral in Its Nature, Despot, Automated Oration and the Abolition of Silence

10. "Wearing a Martyr's Crown" by Nightrage
This album is not as good as "A New Disease is Born," but the excellence of that album left Nightrage very little room for error. That being said, "Wearing a Martyr's Crown" is still a good album. Getting used to Antony Hämäläinen's vocals will take some time, but hopefully in time the sound will grow on me.
Recomended Tracks: Collision of Fate, Among Wolves, Futile Tears

Albums that did not meet my expectations
1. "Killswitch Engage II" by Killswitch Engage
The first misstep of Killswitch Engage's career was when they decided to let Brendan O'Brien produce their new album. The second misstep was when Howard Jones decided that writing negative lyrics, as seems to be the trend among countless metal bands, was a good idea. This album is a severe disappointment because of Jones' negative lyrics and the saturation of melody that drowns out almost all the heaviness that Killswitch used to have. There are a few redeeming tracks, but not nearly enough to counter the rest of the disappointments contained within.
Recommended Tracks: Never Again, The Forgotten, Save Me

2. "Show Your Colors" by Amoral
For three albums, Amoral played some of the best technical death metal out there. However, Amoral have changed their sound to generic pop power metal, and taken on a vocalist who is an abysmal failure at sounding even remotely good, never mind sounding remotely metal. Whatever steered Amoral off the path they were on is a travesty, because the new Amoral is something I never want to listen to.
Recommended Tracks: NONE

3. "Shallow Life" by Lacuna Coil
Lacuna Coil have definitely Americanized their sound as time has gone on, and "Shallow Life" is the final step in the process. The gothic elements of their old sound have taken a back seat to the alt-metal sound they've adopted in recent years. It's nowhere near as good as the older material the band put out, and while this album has some bright spots, most of it lacks the original Lacuna Coil sound.
Recommended Tracks: I Survive, Spellbound

4. "Years in the Darkness" by Arkaea
Arkaea is the union of ex-Fear Factory members Raymond Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers with Threat Signal's Jon Howard and Pat Kavanaugh. Knowing the excellent material that those two bands have put out in the past, I expected Arkaea's debut to be a similar piece of musical greatness. However, this album falls far short of the mark. The industrial metal elements are not as prominent as they could be, and Howard's vocals do not have the power that they have with Threat Signal. There are some good tracks on this album, but the band needs to decide whether it wants to sound more like Fear Factory or Threat Signal, because the current mixture is mediocre at best.
Recommended Tracks: Beneath the Shades of Grey, Locust, War Within

5. "Revelations of the Black Flame" by 1349
1349's raw, straightforward black metal on previous albums was a cause for celebration among black metal fans who were looking for the next coming of Enslaved, Darkthrone, and Immortal. However, "Revelations of the Black Flame" moves away from that approach and adds in ambient passages, marking 1349 as the second "traditional" black metal band in the past year (Enslaved being the first) to abandon their raw sound and take up a much more atmospheric sound laden with synth elements. It's rather disappointing for raw black metal to be disappearing so fast from the landscape.
Recommended Tracks: Serpentine Sibilance, Uncreation, At the Gate...

Expectations for albums that will come out during the rest of the year
1. "Say Hello to Tragedy" by Caliban
After the excellence of Caliban's last album, "The Awakening," I firmly expect the band to continue sounding much better than their other albums were. The first single, "24 Years," definitely confirms this, because it is one of the best metalcore songs put out this year. Hopefully the rest of the album will have similar levels of greatness.
Release Date: August 25th

2. "Son of the Morning" by Oh, Sleeper
Oh, Sleeper has been (pardon the pun) the sleeper band on Solid State's roster. Poised for a big breakout, the band's live show and debut album, "When I Am God," have put them in position for that. "Son of the Morning" should hopefully push them into higher status, and the tracks debuted thus far on the band's MySpace seem to indicate a much more mature band that has a uniquely balanced sound.
Release Date: August 25th

3. "Here Waits Thy Doom" by 3 Inches of Blood
A lot has changed in the 3 Inches of Blood camp since 2006's "Fire Up the Blades." They have gone from a six-piece band to a four-piece, no longer have any original members in the band, changed record labels, and moved to yet another new producer. I don't know how this new record will sound, but I'm somewhat nervous as to how Justin Hagberg will do filling Jamie Hooper's shoes on screaming vocals.
Release Date: September 8th

4. "The Dethalbum II" by Dethklok
Dethklok is bringing metal to the forefront of pop culture slowly but surely. I'm happy about that. But can "The Dethalbum II" replicate the success of "The Dethalbum?" You bet it can. I expect "The Dethalbum II" to surpass "The Dethalbum" in sales easily. All that remains is to decide which one of these amazing tunes will be the first music video.
Release Date: September 8th

5. "Vigilance" by Threat Signal
It's been three years since Threat Signal stormed the scene with "Under Reprisal." Since then, Threat Signal has changed three-fifths of its line-up. But the song previews on their MySpace show that the band's sound has been retained, which is good because Threat Signal has one of the most unique sounds in metal. I hope that "Vigilance" displays the same level of skill and diversity as "Under Reprisal."
Release Date: September 8th

6. "From Afar" by Ensiferum
With Petri Lindroos out of Norther and Ensiferum now being his only focus, "From Afar" should have a bit more cohesion than 2007's "Victory Songs." That album suffered from a lack of unity that was so prominent on the band's previous two albums with Jari Mäenpää, who preceded Lindroos in the band. If "From Afar" is more unified, then Ensiferum should be in good shape to continue building their success outside of Finland. If not, then the band may want to consider some different strategies.
Release Date: September 9th

7. "Endgame" by Megadeth
People are saying that "Endgame" will be the best material Dave Mustaine has released since "Rust in Peace". I remain skeptical, though, because they said the same things about Dave's last two albums. I'm sure the album will be good, but whether it will surpass everything since Megadeth's landmark album is definitely not guaranteed.
Release Date: September 15th

8. "Retribution" by Shadows Fall
The one track Shadows Fall has released so far on their MySpace, which features D. Randall Blythe from Lamb of God on guest vocals, is promising for a return to form. After the missteps on 2007's "Threads of Life," Shadows Fall are hoping for a rebound with a self-released record and a return to the DIY ideals of their past. Let's hope success is on the horizon for them once again.
Release Date: September 15th

9. "War is the Answer" by Five Finger Death Punch
Five Finger Death Punch better not have gotten soft on us since "The Way of the Fist" debuted, because if they did, a great many people will be very put out. However, the tracks released so far by the band do not appear promising. We can only hope that the heavier material is waiting in the wings.
Release Date: September 22nd

10. "Double Brutal" by Austrian Death Machine
This may be the best news of the year. An Austrian Death Machine double disc? If there is anything that could be possibly cooler, I don't know what it would be. This album will satiate anyone looking for references to Arnold movies that Tam Lambesis missed on "Total Brutal," so Arnold fans the world over will be satisfied.
Release Date: September 29th

11. "All Shall Fall" by Immortal
It's been seven years since Immortal put out "Sons of Northern Darkness." Now Abbath and Co. are back with another black metal album that is sure to have the hordes raving. Being one of the most popular black metal bands out there now that people have realized that Abbath's face is hilarious, "All Shall Fall" should be a successful album that was far too long coming.
Release Date: October 6th

12. "Dark Matter Dimensions" by Scar Symmetry
If there is one release that I will remain skeptical about until I have heard it start to finish, it is this one. Most everyone knows how big of a fan of Christian Älvestam I am. The fact that he is no longer in Scar Symmetry, in my opinion, leaves a gaping hole in that band that no one man can fill. However, two men might be able to fill it. Whether or not Älvestam's replacements, Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist, are up to the task remains to be seen.
Release Date: October 20th

13. "The Isolation Game" by Disarmonia Mundi
I'm putting this album here because, if it comes out, I know that it will be in contention for my Album of the Year. There is no way that Ettore Rigotti and Claudio Ravinale could screw up an album badly enough to make it not be in the running. If "The Isolation Game" doesn't come out before the end of the year, then at least I know my Album of the Year for 2010.
Release Date: Unknown