June 29, 2010

The Year in Music So Far: Six Months of 2010

Here we are at the halfway point of 2010, and as I have done in years past, I am going to give my thoughts on how the year in hard rock and heavy metal is shaping up so far. However, this year was also my first year as a professional reviewer, and as such, I have never listened to so much music in six months while simultaneously listening to so little (52 albums listened to out of 125 that I have in my iTunes library). As such, I will try to keep my thoughts brief on each individual album so that I can discuss as many albums as possible.

In previous years, I have discussed albums as either exceeding, meeting, or falling short of my expectations. But since that doesn't always give the most accurate picture of my thoughts, I'm going to simplify this and say what was amazing, what was good, and what was disappointing. I'll also give a preview of what's coming up in the second half of 2010, including what we should look forward to and what we should avoid. So read on and get the complete picture of the first half of 2010 in hard rock and heavy metal!

Amazing Albums
  • Mutiny Within by Mutiny Within - Can I rave about this album any further than I already have? It's my Album of the Year so far, and it's unlikely to be beaten. Pure gold from beginning to end.
  • Invictus: Iconoclast III by Heaven Shall Burn - I always knew Heaven Shall Burn was good. I didn't know they were this good, though! Melodic death metal just got some new kings in the court, and they aren't from Sweden either! Now that's just insanity!
  • For Aeons Past by Solution .45 - Christian Älvestam really can't do anything wrong. It's just impossible. And this is the most right that he's been in his entire career, including Scar Symmetry. Pure genius!
  • The World is a Thorn by Demon Hunter - How did they top Storm the Gates of Hell? I don't know, but they did it! Some of the best songs of Demon Hunter's entire career are on this album.
  • Sons of the System by Mnemic - I may not have given it the highest rating in my review, but as I've listened to this album more, it has only gotten better. This record is so well-balanced and catchy. There are very few industrial metal bands that can measure up to Mnemic now, except for...
  • Mechanize by Fear Factory - There's resurrecting your career, and then there's releasing an album like Mechanize. It's mind-blowing to consider the lineup of this album, and how much it sounds like the band's old material. Just incredible.
  • Ironbound by Overkill - This is how thrash is supposed to sound. Gritty, honest, epic, and fast as hell. Overkill are at the top of the heap right now.
  • Cold Day Memory by Sevendust - It's a pleasure seeing Clint back in the band. This album has that indescribable "it" quality that just makes it awesome. And Clint is the one bringing it to the table.
  • Eparistera Daimones by Triptykon - Celtic what? Tom Warrior has a new band, and they're a force to be reckoned with. Triptykon is embarrassingly talented, and they put all of their talents to good use on this album.
Good Albums
  • Universal by Borknagar - If there was ever a doubt that Borknagar is one of the best progressive black metal bands in the world, Universal silences the doubters. This album has so many subtleties, and it's a very enjoyable listen.
  • 12 Gauge by Kalmah - There were some steps backwards from For the Revolution, but also plenty of steps forward. 12 Gauge is equal to its predecessor in quality, highlighting the band's consistency over their career.
  • The Obsidian Conspiracy by Nevermore - This album is damn good, and definitely on par with Nevermore's older work, if not better. This band has always been impressive, and The Obsidian Conspiracy is no exception.
  • Threnody by Woe of Tyrants - Highly skilled young bands are a dime a dozen these days. It takes a lot to stand out from the pack. Woe of Tyrants has managed to do that with their genre fusion, and it's working well for them so far.
  • The Powerless Rise by As I Lay Dying - These guys have only gotten better with every album they've released. The Powerless Rise shows some real progression and willingness to experiment. I can't wait to see what their next album has.
  • The Guessing Game by Cathedral - Doom metal has never been this much fun. Cathedral's double album is such a diverse offering, there's no one point where it's not intriguing to listen to.
  • Periphery by Periphery - I didn't think there was another band willing to do as much crazy experimentation as Between the Buried and Me. Periphery proved me wrong. This album is quite a wild ride.
  • Miracle by Nonpoint - Nonpoint is back in form. They know their identity and they're not trying to do too much. Miracle is straightforward but hard-hitting, just the way it should be.
  • Love is Gone by Dommin - These guys have a fresh take on gothic rock and metal, and it's cool to hear a band trying different things in a tried-and-true genre. They have lots of potential for the future.
  • Sovereign Descent by Landmine Marathon - Young, energetic, and intense are the three words that best describe Landmine Marathon. But for their youth, they probably have the best understanding of traditional death metal in their entire scene.
  • La Raza by Armored Saint - John Bush did really well on this album. And now that the speculation is over about a possible reunion with Anthrax, people can concentrate on this album as it rightly deserves.
  • Eternal by War of Ages - This band just keeps on rolling no matter what is in front of them. Hopefully their persistence pays off, because this album is one of their best so far.
  • When Will We Surrender by Hundredth - This debut album is phenomenal for such a young band. I hope they can live up to their established potential on future albums, because I haven't heard hardcore this good in years.
  • We Are the Void by Dark Tranquillity - Not as much innovation as previous albums, but this album is consistent with their other recent work, and that's still quite good for Dark Tranquillity.
  • Starve for the Devil by Arsis - James Malone has returned, and nothing's holding him back this time. This album is quite diverse, but still brutal throughout. Hopefully the band can stay on track for success this time.
  • Time to Burn by Taking Dawn - They're raunchy, they're honest, and they don't care what you think of them. Taking Dawn has the heart and soul of hair metal inside them.
  • Option Paralysis by The Dillinger Escape Plan - As much as I dislike most of their work, there were some definite gems on this album. Maybe now I'll learn why people like this band so much.
Disappointing Albums
  • Fever by Bullet for My Valentine - Fever could have been something amazing. But some critical missteps turned it into a completely erratic affair. Some songs sound amazing, others are best never listened to.
  • The Underworld Regime by Ov Hell - This album was incredibly underwhelming. I expected much better from such a talented group of musicians.
  • Deep Blue by Parkway Drive - This is still a good album, but it could have been so much better. No Adam D. plus too much deathcore influence equals one subpar album from Parkway Drive.
  • Bleeding Through by Bleeding Through - Again, not a bad album. But after Declaration, I expected them to maintain the quality level. Instead I got some tracks that sound like Winds of Plague knockoffs. I thought the band was supposed to imitate their influences, not the bands they've influenced themselves.
  • Hell Chose Me by Carnifex - This shouldn't be a surprise. Carnifex has never been anything special. But going anti-religious for no apparent reason other than cool cover art? That's just dumb.
  • Scouting the Boneyard by Sons of Azrael - Death metal is death metal, black metal is black metal, and blackened death metal is blackened death metal. Three separate things. Combining elements of two does not the third make.
  • II: The Reign of Darkness by Annotations of an Autopsy - Another non-surprise. The band touted this album as their best yet. But the best rock on a pile of rocks is still a rock, not a diamond.
  • House With a Curse by Coliseum - I can't figure this album out. Is Coliseum trying to be a stoner rock band? Or are they trying to stay as a hardcore band? I'm confused either way and don't know of a way to solve the confusion.
Albums I Haven't Listened To Yet
  • Diamond Eyes by Deftones - I know, burn me at the stake. I'm getting to this one soon. Everyone says it's one of the best albums they've heard in (insert time period here). I hope they're right.
  • Weight of the World by This is Hell - These guys are quickly becoming one of my favorite hardcore bands. I'm anxious to see if Weight of the World keeps up with their last few releases, which I'm betting that it does.
  • Coat of Arms by Sabaton - History metal is a subgenre now, and Sabaton is the reason it exists. With the topics they appear to be covering on this fourth album about World War II, I'm predicting that this will be the most informative and enjoyable lesson thus far.
  • Reptilian by Keep of Kalessin - I loved the unique sound of Kolossus, and I'm betting that Reptilian keeps that up. I'd also like a count of how many double bass pedals Vyl broke in the recording of these two albums.
  • Omen by Soulfly - If Soulfly's upswing in quality continues on Omen, then Max Cavalera doesn't need the Sepultura reunion that keeps popping up in discussions. Soulfly already has everything needed to perform every early Sepultura song, not to mention a high-quality discography of their own.
  • Attack of the Wolf King by Haste the Day - The band is down to only one founding member in the lineup. Will that hold them back on this album? I don't think it will, and I'm hoping I don't get an unpleasant surprise when I listen to it.
  • Exhibit B: The Human Condition by Exodus - Rob Dukes has done a great job fronting Exodus so far, and they're just as good now as they were when they first came out. With any luck, this album will secure Dukes with the last remaining fans pining for Paul Baloff.
  • As Yggdrasil Trembles by Unleashed - Hammer Battalion got me hooked on this band. If this new album does half as well as its predecessor, I'll be a full-fledged fan.
  • Burial Ground by Grave - The definitive leaders of Swedish traditional death metal are Unleashed and Grave. It's only fitting that both bands release albums this year. Prepare for world domination by the Swedes.
  • Heirs to Thievery by Misery Index - I already know this album will break my face in half and feed it to me. Why? Because that's what Misery Index specializes in doing. They're just that insanely heavy.
  • A New Era of Corruption by Whitechapel - Not too enthusiastic about this album. I find their sound bland and uninteresting. I don't expect this album to change that.
  • Demonoir by 1349 - I may or may not have been avoiding this album, for fear that it would be just as bad as Revelations of the Black Flame. I really hope I'm wrong and that it returns to 1349's old sound. They belong as a raw black metal band.
  • Belus by Burzum - I keep saying I'm going to listen to this album, and then I lose interest. I've never really been a huge fan of Burzum, and some of the disappointing reviews I've read don't inspire a lot of confidence in me. We'll see if I ever decide to give it a shot.
Upcoming Albums
  • The Final Frontier by Iron Maiden - Of course it's going to be excellent. Of course it's going to keep Maiden relevant for another five years or more. But are they brave enough to include a Star Trek song in an album with such an obvious title?????
  • The Panic Broadcast by Soilwork - I am so excited for this album. Soilwork does melodic death metal so well when they're on point. With Peter Wichers back in the fold, it should be amazing.
  • Audio Secrecy by Stone Sour - How much will Paul Gray's death affect this album? It's unclear right now. But after a four-year gap between albums, fans are hungry for some Stone Sour. I hope this album has what it takes to appease the masses.
  • Poetry for the Poisoned by Kamelot - It's great that Kamelot is back in action. The guest cast for this album looks awesome, and Kamelot is already one of the best power-prog bands out right now. I've got high expectations for this release.
  • Heaven's Venom by Kataklysm - Prevail was awesome, showing that the band are at a high point in their career right now. With any luck, Heaven's Venom will keep the hot streak going.
  • At the Edge of Time by Blind Guardian - If this album is anything less than excellent, fanboys will revolt all over the world at having to wait so long for a less-than-perfect album. Let's hope, for the world's sake, that doesn't happen.
  • Empire by Madball - With Madball, you can expect consistency. They've never strayed far from the path they've tread. This will be pure, unadulterated NYHC at its finest.
  • For We Are Many by All That Remains - This album can go one of two ways. It could either be like Overcome, or it could be like The Fall of Ideals. I'm hoping for the latter, since that was one of the best albums I heard in 2006.
  • A Star-Crossed Wasteland by In This Moment - Previews of this album say that it's back to the heavier side of things for the band. If that's true, I'll be a very happy camper, because In This Moment sound best when they're staying heavy and only going light some of the time.
  • Nightmare by Avenged Sevenfold - The drumming will be good, that much we know. Mike Portnoy is too good to sound bad. The rest of the album, though, will likely be fairly mediocre, like their last one.
  • Blood in the Gears by The Showdown - This band has a solid groove, and they know how to have fun. But at the same time, they're also incredibly serious with their lyrics. I hope we get another intelligent lyrical offering this time around.
  • Wormwood by The Acacia Strain - This album probably won't be any different from its predecessors, but the cast of guests looks promising. I hope that at least some variety is included.
  • Days of Defiance by Firewind - When Gus G. joined Ozzy's band, I feared that this album would be shelved for awhile. Thank goodness I was wrong! Firewind has been too good on their last two albums to take a break now.
  • Keepers of the Faith by Terror - Terror is a picture of hardcore consistency. This album will be just as good as The Damned, the Shamed, if not even better.
  • Forging the Eclipse by Neaera - Neaera likely won't ever match the success of Armamentarium again, but if this new album is on par with Omnicide: Creation Unleashed, then the band is in good shape.
  • A Discord Electric by Raunchy - Raunchy is a fun band to listen to. Their catchy tunes and interesting lyrics have always caught my attention, and this album will keep that up unless they change their sound completely.
  • In the Absence of Light by Abigail Williams - Word is that they've gotten rid of keyboards in the band's sound. That would be seriously disappointing if it turns out to be true. Either way, I'm hoping for success on the band's sophomore effort.
  • Return to Zero by Spiritual Beggars - Michael Amott's side project has a new lead singer: Apollo Papathanasio from Firewind. This band just got even more awesome than they already were!
  • Contagion by Oceano - This album will likely be exactly the same as the band's debut. I don't get the appeal of this band. I likely won't be too anxious for this one.
  • Revamp by Revamp - I loved Floor Jansen's voice in After Forever, and so I'm excited for this project. It will probably sound a lot like After Forever, so my biggest hope is that it's not a total clone.
  • Shadowcast by Insidious Disease - Another supergroup featuring a member of Dimmu Borgir that will likely have over-the-top anti-religious sentiment dragging it down. I really hate being right about these things, and thus, I hope I'm wrong about this one.
That's all my thoughts right now regarding hard rock and heavy metal in 2010. Hopefully the year so far has been as good for you musically as it's been for me! Here's to a headbanging conclusion to 2010!

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