Ranking the Albums I Listened to in 2019

It’s that time of year once again, when I look back on all of the random-ass, new music I’ve listened to in 2019! I’ve been slowly curating this article all year as there have been plenty of new albums by my favourite bands, which has given me plenty of time to parse my feelings on them. Also, if you’re curious about last year’s picks, you can read that list here.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings!

23) Jesus Is King, Kanye West
If you’ve checked out any of my previous annual album rankings then you’ll probably know that I skew towards rock and metal rather than rap or RNB, so perhaps it wouldn’t be all that surprising that my white, heathen ass would rank a Kanye West album so lowly. However, I did enjoy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and some of my all-time favourite albums are pure gospel music (Worship and Worship Again by Michael W. Smith are just inspiring to listen to back-to-back), so suffice to say I was pretty intrigued by the hype surrounding the release of Kanye West’s big Christian music debut. It’s undeniable that Kanye West is an asshole, but the guy has a way of crafting really interesting music so I was very curious to see what he could come up as an outsider in the Christian music scene. However, the results are pretty disappointing. With 11 tracks and clocking in at only 27 minutes long, this album just feels half-baked, like Kanye put out a bunch of demos instead of taking the time to actually craft something satisfying. Only 3 tracks manage to get over the 3 minute mark, “God Is”, “Hands On” and “Use This Gospel”, and these are clearly the most enjoyable and well-crafted tracks on the whole album. There are some potentially interesting aspects to “Selah” and “Follow God” as well, but these tracks are so brief and incomplete that they leave you very unsatisfied. I also got a bit of a kick out of the gospel choir opener “Every Hour”, although it is little more than an enthusiastic mood-setter. Most of the tracks are just lacking in substance. All this said, the only track on this album that I actually liked and would listen to on its own is “God Is”, a fantastic gospel choir and RNB fusion which is helped immensely by Kanye West’s sincere singing and declarations of faith and praise to God. It’s actually moving, has something to say and is easily the best track of the bunch. However, this is just one well-crafted song on an entire album and it’s not enough to justify how scattershot, incomplete and uninteresting the rest of Jesus Is King is. Now, if Kanye would gimme a whole album of gospel tracks similar to “God Is”? I’d be all over that, but as it stands Jesus is King just feels like Kanye is dumping his half-completed homework on us.

22) The Change, Awake At Last
I did a post several months ago about bands who had followed me on social media, one of which was Awake At Last. I didn’t really have much to say about them though – their debut EP was distinct with theatrical, enthusiastic hard rock, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I figured it was worth giving them another shot with their first full-length album, The Change, but this album ultimately just told me that Awake At Last aren’t for me. Awake At Last certainly have their own style, especially because of lead singer Vincent Torres’ theatrical (perhaps even overwrought at times) vocals. It’s not like they’re playing the same music over and over again either, they sprinkle their hard rock with electronics and vocal effects, although they don’t tend to get too heavy. When it comes down to whether or not I enjoy their music though, I really can’t bring myself to care about it too much. Usually when I listen through an album for the first time for these countdowns, I’ll write some notes about each song and put down any first impressions I have about whether I like it. For The Change, I did this for about the first five songs but just stopped because I wasn’t really into it at all. In fact, my notes ended up being just me trying to figure out which bands Awake At Last reminded me of, and I realized that they most remind me of Papa Roach… so take that how you will. I dunno if it’s just because this is positive hard rock (I like to wallow in my misery, thank you very much!), but it just didn’t work for me at all. I’d still recommend checking them out if you’re into bands like Shinedown, Saliva or Papa Roach, but for me at least I don’t imagine I’ll be checking back for their next album.

21) Armageddon, Art of Dying
I saw Art of Dying opening for Disturbed years ago… oh God, I was still in high school, it must have been around 2008 or 2009. Anyway, I was pretty impressed with their self-titled debut album, it was a solid post-grunge which gave me a lot of promise for the band going forward. Their follow-up, Vices and Virtues, was decent as well, but clearly not as good as their debut. I felt like they were drifting towards more of a mediocre radio-rock sound and so I kind of stopped paying attention to them. Since then Art of Dying has put out three more albums so I figured that I might as well check out their latest release and see if I’ve been missing anything in the meantime. I have to say that, if their other albums are anything like Armageddon, then I haven’t really missed much. The uneasiness which drove me away from Art of Dying in the first place has definitely manifested to reality, because the band is very clearly chasing radio trends here. That’s not to say that radio-friendly music is bad by any means, but there’s a difference between putting out music that you want people to hear and putting out music which is supposed to get mass-appeal radio play. Art of Dying are talented enough that Armageddon isn’t exactly “bad”, but at least in terms of the songwriting it feels like a band that’s several albums deep going through the motions and trying to pay the bills.

The album opens in irritating fashion right off the bat with the title track which is clearly ripping off the pop-rock sound of Imagine Dragons. While your mileage is certainly going to vary, I find Imagine Dragons’ sound annoying, especially because their popularity has led to several other bands mimicking it (spoiler alert: this is far from the only band on this list which has been riffing on Imagine Dragons). Taste-aside, frontman Johnny Hetherington’s vocals sound really strained on this track for some inexplicable reason. The guy has a pretty good voice so I’m not sure why he’s stretching himself so far here. The lyrics here are also typical of the whole album, in that they’re generic and uninspired. Even reasonably decent songs like “Cut It All Away”, “Rearview Mirror” or “Shatterproof” are let down by the lyrics, which is especially unfortunate when it deflates the impact of the enjoyable guitar solos in tracks like “Rearview Mirror” and “I Believe”. This culminates in a real disaster with “Unoriginal”. Look, if you’re a band like Art of Dying and you decide to put a song on your album called “Unoriginal”, you need to make sure that that song is amazing or you’re just setting yourself up to get pilloried. So what do Art of Dying do? They basically come right out and admit that they’re just going through the motions. I mean, check out these lyrics:

“I’m so fucking bored / Keep coming back for more / It’s all been done before yeah”
“It’s just the same old / Is this really where we’re at right now / Are we so, are we so unoriginal”
“I’m so sick and tired / Of being uninspired / Nothing ever changes”

Wow… I wouldn’t have expected the band to just come out and say that they just don’t give a shit, but there you have it. Sure, they probably aren’t actually intending for the song to be taken as a serious declaration, but in the context of such a limp album it’s hard to interpret it any other way.

20) Live From Alexandria Palace, London, UK, Disturbed
Oh look, Disturbed are once again bringing up the low end of the album rankings this year, although I can say that at least this live EP is better than Evolution. The main reason this ranks so low is that I really don’t understand why they decided to put out a bite-sized live EP at all. The band put out their full live album, Live at Red Rocks, only a couple years ago and 3 of the 5 tracks on this EP appeared there in essentially the same form (and, in my humble opinion, their live recordings don’t sound as good as their studio recordings). That leaves us with only two new live tracks from Evolution. Luckily, “A Reason to Fight” is far more effective when sang live than it is in studio. While the studio recording just came across as melodramatic, the live version really gets to show off how well David Draiman can sing. It doesn’t solve the issue that the lyrics are uninspired, but it is definitely the superior way to experience this song. It also helps that David then goes into a speech for almost 5 minutes about not falling prey to addiction, depression and suicide, which is honestly more raw and moving than the song itself. Cutting from this sombre moment into “Inside the Fire” is a pretty inspired move in my opinion, but the rest of the tracklist is strangely erratic. “Inside the Fire” was clearly the last song on the setlist when this was recorded, and all subsequent tracks on the EP are just faded into and out of haphazardly. The lowlight is, in my opinion, the second song from Evolution, “No More”. I already didn’t like this song, but it’s not improved any in a live setting. It’s just the same sort of protest song about greed, government and war that we’ve already heard more effectively thousands of times, not only from other bands, but Disturbed themselves too. Other than that, tracks like “Inside the Fire” and “Ten Thousand Fists” which sound fantastic in studio and great in a live setting are robbed of much of their effectiveness when they’re recorded live, since David Draiman has to sing at a higher pitch to avoid ruining his voice. The best track on the EP though is the closer, “The Game”, which manages to make the live transition without losing any of its energy. I’ve always enjoyed this song, although the message certainly makes me uncomfortable. I like to assume that there’s an unreliable narrator thing going on and that this song is actually about how much men suck, although I seriously doubt that that was the intent. Anyway, like I said at the outset, this is a pretty limp EP which doesn’t really have much to offer to anyone. Even bigger Disturbed fans than me will probably be disappointed that there’s only 2 newer songs on here and I wouldn’t say that either of them make it worth a purchase or more than a cursory listen.

19) Victorious, Skillet
Throughout this past decade if you asked a mainstream rock music fan if there were any good Christian bands, odds are the most common answer you’d get would be “Skillet”. While their fame has always bothered me, I can kind of understand why it happened. After experimenting with weird industrial/electronic rock and straight-up worship albums, Skillet finally hit their stride with Collide and Comatose, a one-two punch of hard rock albums that really resonated with me back in 2006. The thing is though, I was an angsty high schooler at the time and have grown up since then. Meanwhile, Skillet have released 4 albums in the last 10 years and each one is clearly just trying to rehash Comatose. Like… John Cooper is 44 years old. Hearing him angst about parents who don’t understand and girls not paying attention to him was contrived enough when he was 31 years old (and married to one of his bandmates, I may add), but at 44 it’s hard to imagine that he really has much connection to “kids these days”. At least Victorious has shifted lyrically from angst to encouragement for its teenage target audience, although as I said on The Change that doesn’t tend to be my cup of tea either.

Anyway, Skillet come swinging right out of the gates with “Legendary”, clearly intended to be their big radio single. What does it sound like? FUCKING IMAGINE DRAGONS, UGH. I get that they’re going for a completely different audience than me, but holy shit there are so many bands aping this same sound right now because it’s popular (and shows up on several songs on the album). Guys, trendsetters don’t follow, they lead… As I’ve said for a lot of these bands so far on this list, the songwriting on this album is just so rote and uninspired (sidenote, I came across this image from the lyric video for “Legendary” and it made me laugh). Unlike some of the other albums on the list up to this point though, Skillet are at least talented enough that they can serve up some decent songs every once in a while. The title track is appropriately triumphant and inspiring, “Terrify the Dark” has a fantastical air about it and “Anchor” is like a straight-up worship track. Fans of the band’s past few albums will probably dig Victorious regardless, but Skillet clearly aren’t making their music for me anymore and I can only really speak to my own feelings on the album.

18) Breathe in Colours, Forever Still
Like Awake at Last, Forever Still were on the list of bands that followed me on social media. However, Forever Still’s debut album, Tied Down, had actually impressed me and so I was excited to see what their 2019 album would be like. Unfortunately, their sophomore album Breathe in Colours didn’t impress me nearly as much as their debut. The band’s greatest asset remains lead vocalist Maja Shining’s vocals (also, holy shit, what a name!!!), which are able to range from screams to operatic melodies. I made this comparison in the social media bands post, but she definitely reminds me of Sleeping Romance’s Frederica Lanna, although Forever Still hew more towards “vanilla” metal than symphonic metal (although there are a few songs which dabble with symphonic elements). The main issue with Breathe in Colours is that, other than Maja’s voice, nothing really stands out. The music is fine, but it’s treading firmly in typical metal/symphonic territory and is nothing special. The songwriting is also just fine, only a few tracks really stood out to me, such as the title track and “Pieces”. Perhaps the best track though is the acoustic version of “Is It Gone?”, which strips back Forever Still’s weaker elements and puts everything down on Maja Shining’s vocal talents. It makes the song far more enjoyable in my opinion. Hopefully Breathe in Colours is just a sophomore slump which will help Forever Still to figure out where to take their music in the future, because I believe they still have the talent to really stand out as a female-fronted metal band.

17) Stairway to Nick John, Mastodon
As I said in my 2017 album rankings, Mastodon have a pretty reliable album cycle, putting out a new one approximately every 2-3 years. Knowing this, I expected that we might get a Mastodon release in 2018, but imagine my surprise when I open up Spotify and see that the band has put out a surprise cover of “Stairway to Heaven”. It was a weird turn of events for me, but when you look into the story behind it, it’s actually quite poignant – Mastodon’s longtime manager, Nick John, died and as a tribute the band played an emotional cover of “Stairway to Heaven” at his funeral. Unexpectedly, someone recorded the performance on their phone at the time and so the band decided to re-record it in studio as a record store day release.

So, with that bit of background out of the way, how is Stairway to Nick John? It’s… fine. If you’re looking for a very straightforward cover of “Stairway to Heaven”, then Mastodon has a studio and a live recording just for you. Mastodon’s Brann Dailor usually has very questionable vocals in a live setting (as anyone who has heard their Live From the Aragon record can attest), but he does a fantastic job on “Stairway to Heaven” in both of the recordings. His vocals here are unlike any other work they have done, to the point where it’s kind of unfortunate that we haven’t heard this side of him before. There aren’t really any frills going on here, the vocal melody and the music hew closely to Led Zeppelin’s original composition, with some very light hints of Mastodon’s flavour worked in. This is no Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” or Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence”, where they aim to recreate the song their own way, it’s just straightforward cover. It’s also worth reiterating that the live version of the song was recorded on a phone, so the audio is a tad rough, clearly being picked up from far away in an echoey hall. It’s impressive just how well it turned out, but it’s worth knowing that it’s not really captured in professional quality, if that bothers you. All-in-all, Stairway to Nick John is fine, although the story behind it is far more compelling than the release itself. It’s not the 2019 Mastodon release I was expecting, but a bit of a creative break is probably better for the band overall.

16) This Is Not the End, Manafest

Growing up as a small town church kid, Manafest was considered the cool Christian rapper in our youth group. At the time I was mainly into Christian hard rock/metal, so his rap-rock fusion worked well for me. It also didn’t hurt that his two albums, Epiphany and Glory, were both really solid releases. However, with each subsequent release, Manafest just lost more and more lustre to me. Each new album was just nowhere near as good as Glory was – they all retread the same sounds and themes, while being weaker and less inspired (although there were usually at least a couple good songs). This all came to head around the time Manafest crowdfunded his seventh album, The Moment and promised big things. At this point I said “Fine, this is your last chance to impress me”… and, lo and behold, it was probably my least-favourite album of his to date. Suffice to say, that was it for me. However, here were are now 5 years later and the guy has pumped out another 3 albums, so I was curious to see if he had improved any since 2014…
…but if This Is Not the End is anything to go by, he hasn’t really. I mean, he has diversified his sound somewhat: the title track shows off electronic elements that he has incorporated into the rap-rock fusion, while “Kamikaze” demonstrates a different style of rapping than he ever did on previous tracks. That said, he’s still just putting out the same sorts of music meant to appeal to white Christian teens despite the fact that the guy is now 40 years old, although there is a surprising amount of cheekiness, such as faking out F-bombs on the title track (as innocent as this sounds, it’s a move which is sure to piss off parents and Christian music reviewers alike). The track “Kamikaze” also has a really awkward chorus which features Manafest saying “I love the way you suck my… energy”… it definitely does not sound like he wants to say “energy” though, unless that’s the nickname has has for his dick.
But then there’s “Plan For Me”. When this started playing with its piano opening my initial thought was “oh, this is this EP’s ‘Mockingbird'”, which was actually pretty spot-on in some ways. However, then he starts singing to an unborn baby who’s been dead for 5 years and who they even had names picked out for before Manafest’s real-life wife starts singing the chorus and I was truly surprised. Shit, when I walked away from his music, did Manafest and his wife have a miscarriage and here they are airing their continued grief? It was pretty heartfelt, and then he goes into the second verse as the child, telling their parents that it’s okay, they don’t have to feel guilty anymore, they can move on because this child they never knew will still love them and see them in heaven someday. By this point, I was actually getting emotional – my son was born just over a year ago and my fiance and I both thought that we were going to lose him on two separate occasions, so the fear of losing a child welled up raw emotions in me. I was actually impressed – a Christian rap song about a real experience of struggle with guilt and pain, learning to move past it and accepting that even loss like this is in God’s hands? Even if it wasn’t a true story, it speaks true to so many real-life experiences. I listened to it three times in a row.
…and then I realized it was an anti-abortion song and my enthusiasm was deflated so quickly. Like… goddammit. It makes less sense as an anti-abortion song! Why are they picking out names if they’re not planning on keeping the baby? If he was so keen on having a baby and so cut up about it now, why did they even go through with it? The only reasons we’re given is that the parents were young and not ready, which are fine reasons actually, but it’s like Manafest can’t imagine why someone would really feel that an abortion is justified. Like, did the relationship fall apart because of the abortion and now he regrets that? We don’t even get the mother’s perspective at all during this, which is frustrating – it’s entirely from a man’s perspective, including having him extrapolate that perspective to an imagined unborn child. It’s just another reason why it’s so deflating that this is an anti-abortion song instead of a song about experiencing a miscarriage, it just perpetuates so many frustrating pro-life tropes (often from a male’s perspective). Instead of being some real, lived experience, the song is like a youth pastor’s anti-abortion skit – a moralizing, melodramatic, theoretical scenario of someone regretting their abortion and being unable to move past it, robbed of the nuance of most peoples’ real experiences. I know people who have gone through abortions and, looking back, they know that they made the right decision, but most of the guilt then comes from religious family members calling them “baby murderer” or other people making them feel like they should be ashamed about it. I’ll give the song some credit, it does at least suggest that the abortion was part of “God’s plan” all along and therefore not some abomination. It also tries to be as loving to the parents as possible, but it’s unavoidable that a song with half of its verses from the perspective of an unborn baby in heaven is going to try to guilt you into birthing that little bastard next time. Like, despite effectively saying it was God’s plan to have things go this way, it’s still very judgy about the parents’ decision and that the unborn child’s potential is never realized.
It’s just frustrating to me that Manafest wrote the song this way. When I mistakenly thought it was a song about a miscarriage it was so good… Sigh. While it deflated my enthusiasm for the song significantly, I still have to say that it’s a really good sounding song, easily one of Manafest’s best, so I’ve got to give him some credit for making one banger on this EP… even if it really, really sucks that it’s an anti-abortion song and which will totally invalidate it in other, more unforgiving, peoples’ eyes.

15) Patterns of Mythology, Falls of Rauros
I’ve been dabbling in the black metal subgenre over the last few years, and while I enjoy bands like Winterfylleth, I find that a lot of this kind of music blends together indistinctly. That said, when I was trolling Spotify one day and saw a black metal band named “Falls of Rauros” (named after the place where Boromir meets his end in The Lord of the Rings) had a new album out in 2019 I knew I had to give them a look. Patterns of Mythology is unmistakably a black metal album (the screamed/growled vocals should make that immediately obvious), although it is at a much slower tempo than, say, Winterfylleth. That said, Falls of Rauros change up the tempo multiple times throughout each song – one minute a song could be slow, moody and contemplative and then it can suddenly ramp up into a punishing wall of metal. That said, while they clearly have their own flavour, there really wasn’t much here to really make Falls of Rauros stand out enough to me. Like all the other black metal I listen to, none of the songs really stand out on their own for me and I can’t see myself playing this album as anything other than background music. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t something I’d come back to repeatedly.

14) Peace, Demon Hunter
Demon Hunter tend to put out solid music. I actually backed their last album, Outlive, on PledgeMusic (and got the big, beautiful deluxe box set!) and enjoyed it quite a bit, although the aggressive, hard edge to their music typified best by The Triptych has long since been eroded away. However, when it was announced that their double album would be titled War and Peace, I was tentatively excited. Based on the titles, it was pretty clear that they were going to give us the best of both worlds: War would be the heavy album, whereas Peace would be on the lighter side, a theory which turned out to be true when the albums dropped.

Peace is certainly lighter than any previous Demon Hunter album, but that actually makes it feel a bit fresher than if they had just watered-down their normal sound. Demon Hunter actually get a chance to experiment and do things we’ve never heard from them before, such as the western-inspired “When the Devil Come” or the full-on piano ballad, “Fear is Not My Guide”. We also get some solid, melodic tracks which show off Ryan Clark’s singing voice, particularly “More Than Bones” and “Recuse Myself” (which I’d definitely say is the track which has stuck with me most on this album). Unfortunately, Peace starts to drag very quickly. The lighter tone isn’t the issue at all, if anything it’s the tempo that’s the issue – it feels like most of the songs have been slowed down in order to facilitate the lighter tone, which ends up making most of the tracks feel sluggish. This sluggishness means that most of the tracks drag, lack any energy and become instantly forgettable. The lyrics throughout the album aren’t great either, particularly on the title track, although even tracks I like, like “More Than Bones”, are very simple and repetitive. Most of the tracks are sub-par, very few stick out to me at all, and even the best tracks are only around the baseline of quality I’d expect from Demon Hunter anyway. Again, Peace gave Demon Hunter a great opportunity to try something fresh, but I just don’t think that they succeeded at all. In fact, mainly due to how forgettable it is, I’d argue that Peace is probably their worst album ever, which is just unfortunate.

13) War, Demon Hunter
Man… Demon Hunter really didn’t do it for me this year. I had heard good things about War around its release, but I was left a bit underwhelmed. I was kind of expecting them to move their sound in a heavier direction on War. While it’s certainly heavier than Peace, it’s far from a return to the aggressive edge of old-school Demon Hunter, coming across more like a next step from Outlive, where lighter tracks outweigh the heavier tracks (and even the heavy tracks will have lighter bits interspersed, such as the choruses for “Cut to Fit” and “On My Side”). I enjoy songs like “Cut to Fit”, “On My Side” and “Grey Matter”, but they’re interspersed with mediocre tracks like “The Negative”, “Unbound” and “No Place for You Here”. The only truly great track is the album closer “Lesser Gods”, a really heavy, epic track unlike anything Demon Hunter have put out before. It’s the sort of shot in the arm that makes you wish that the band had done more like this on War, but having it as the closer just hammers home how mediocre most of the album is. On the other hand, the only particularly bad track on the album is “Ash”, which has this really weirdly-pronounced chant of the title which makes it sound like they’re saying “ASS!” each time. Suffice to say, it ruins the song and makes it impossible to take seriously when all you can hear is “Suffer the ASS!”

All-in-all, War and Peace just did not work for me. About half of War is mediocre and brings down the overall quality of the album. I really think that Demon Hunter would have been better off taking the best tracks from these two albums and putting them on one album, with the rest as harmless B-sides on a deluxe edition. It may not have made for their best release ever, but it certainly would have felt more satisfying and on par with their usual level of quality. For what it’s worth, War has a bit more energy to it which helps it come out on top, but both albums are just mediocre releases from a band which usually does much better.

12) Kiss of the Cobra King, Powerwolf
It was pretty surprising when Powerwolf announced a new version of “Kiss of the Cobra King”, one of their favourite tracks from their debut album. I expected to just get a cleaner version of the song, but Powerwolf have actually gone and rewritten the song from the ground up, only retaining the iconic chorus from the original song. The resulting song is immediately more epic, showing off the polished production quality you can expect from a Powerwolf track in 2019, akin to something from The Sacrament of Sin. It was a nice surprise to hear and I’d say that this new version of the song is easily as good as the original, if not better.

Instead of just releasing this by itself though, Powerwolf also threw a live version of “Army of the Night” onto the release. This feels like a bit of a pointless move to me though, because we’ve already gotten a live version of the song on The Metal Mass a couple years ago and it hasn’t changed much in the interim. Still, it can be looked at as a bonus track, because most people are just going to be interested in the solid “Kiss of the Cobra King” anyway.

11) Secrets, Written By Wolves
I was going through my Daily Mix on Spotify when I decided to check out a song called “Let It Burn” by Written By Wolves… and holy crap, it was awesome! It was a really solid metalcore track, energetic, well-written and with just the right amount of angst. Suffice to say, it caused me to track down the rest of Written By Wolves’ material and, lo and behold, it turns out that they had just put out their debut album, Secrets. “Let It Burn” was the opener and it really got me hyped for the rest of what Written By Wolves had to offer.

…and, uh, well let’s just say that “Let It Burn” is NOT indicative of what Written By Wolves’ sound is like. Hell, I’m not entirely sure that they even have a distinct sound, based on what we’ve gotten from Secrets anyway. Like, immediately after the heavy, metalcore sound of “Let It Burn”, we get a couple indie/alternative tracks, then we get EDM on the title track and “Demons”, then “Something to Save” mixes in some gospel of all things, then a heartfelt ballad in “Lucky Stars”… the band is all over the place, throwing everything they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s impressive, but also exhausting to experience and especially disappointing because they never really return to the heavy sound that sold me on the band in the first place. That said, Written By Wolves have some clear talent on display and, unlike many of the bands on this list, they’re clearly giving it their all and not just going through the motions. There’s so much variety here that odds are you’re going to like at least one track, but you’re also just as likely to not care for half of the songs on here. It’s a bit of a crapshoot in that regard but I have to give Written By Wolves some credit for going for it regardless, I just hope that they can focus themselves a bit more in the future.

10) The Inveterate Fire, Firelink
Several months ago I stumbled across an article about a band producing Dark Souls-inspired metal. As a pretty big fan of the franchise and of metal in general, I knew that I had to check this band out for myself as the Souls franchise is just so rich for artistic adaptation (and they’re not even the first Souls-inspired metal band I’ve come across). The album cover and the song titles were all getting me to geek out and there’s even an audio sample from Dark Souls III of (I believe) Prince Lothric on one of the tracks. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a big fan of the series to enjoy Firelink, because the music they’ve crafted is interesting in its own right. In some ways they remind me of Winterfylleth, with metal that can be slow, ambient and introspective, and then suddenly rev up into fast, punishing black metal with howled vocals (although, regrettably perhaps, these vocals do make it hard to appreciate the lyrics, which is another reason why you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the franchise to enjoy the band).

“Vessel of the Primordial Serpent” kicks things off in brutal fashion, with very fast and aggressive black metal. “Kindled” opens a little closer to the traditional soundscape of Dark Souls, with a strong bassline and plucked, echoing guitar giving the song a more moody, thoughtful and lonely tone. Just as it’s starting to drag, it kicks into the punishing metal sound which typifies this album (one could say that the song is kindled itself, much like the bonfires in the game). Interestingly enough, Firelink sound almost like Dragonforce at times, they have the same sort of wailing-guitar sound which isn’t so common in the bleaker tone of black metal. The album pinnacles with “Manus”, which shows off some of that very impressive Dragonforce-style guitar work. It’s easily one of the most distinct and enjoyable black metal tracks I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, “Beckoning Sun” then feels scattershot, like the band recorded themselves improvising an ambient tune – it doesn’t feel like there’s any sort of intentional craft behind this track and it makes it feel super forgettable. The album then closes on “The First Sin”, which just continues more of the heavy and fast black metal we’ve already gotten to this point. All-in-all, The Inveterate Fire is worth checking out for fans of black metal, the Dark Souls links are fun but the music certainly stands on its own.

9) When the World Becomes Undone, A Pale Horse Named Death
My God, just look at that album cover. Just look at that title. Just look at that band’s name! Yeah, I was sold on this album the moment I saw it, it’s clearly My Shit™. I’ve seen A Pale Horse Named Death being classified as “doom metal” and “gothic metal”, but at least based on this album I would have to say that they also have a distinctly grunge sound, very reminiscent of Alice in Chains (y’know, if Alice in Chains’ music was all about despair and the death of the world). This actually gives When the World Becomes Undone a shocking amount of potential crossover appeal, as tracks like “Love the Ones You Hate” and “Fell in My Hole” are solid enough that I could potentially see them getting radio airplay. That said, as much as I enjoyed this album, there are a couple glaring weaknesses. First of all, vocalist Sal Abruscato’s singing is not great, it sounds like he’s putting on an affectation and mumbling the lyrics half the time. Listening to him, I can’t help but imagine how much better these songs would sound if they were sung by Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley or William DuVall, or even if they were screamed or growled. The second big weakness with this album is that there isn’t much diversity to the songs. When you consider that the album is over an hour long, it really starts to drag as it goes on. Still, I really liked what I heard here and will definitely be checking out A Pale Horse Named Death’s back catalogue.

8) Rewind, Replay, Rebound, Volbeat
Volbeat are one of my favourite bands and usually they can be depended on to put out really good albums, especially since they have a longer release cycle than many bands. They have a very distinct sound that you don’t really get anywhere else in popular music (I call it “hard rockabilly”) and Michael Poulsen’s wonderfully illegible vocals which make nearly every release feel special. They also rarely rest on their laurels, usually going for a different “feel” on each album (eg, Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood feels like turn of the century saloon tunes, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies has a country-western theme, etc). Suffice to say, I was expecting good things from Rewind, Replay, Rebound.

The album starts out at its highest point with “Last Day Under the Sun”, an infectious (if slightly repetitive) rock tune which has gone down as one of my favourite and most memorable tracks of the year. The only other other track that comes anywhere close to that level of quality is “Rewind the Exit”, although that’s not to say that the rest are bad. In fact, the first half of the album is pretty enjoyable, especially the Elvis-like swagger of “Pelvis on Fire” and the surging energy of “Die to Live”, but there are two big issues with Rewind, Replay, Rebound. First of all, the album feels very bloated. I like that Volbeat put out hour-long albums, but the music has to be consistently high-quality for it to work. Normally, I’d say that Volbeat manage to clear that barrier easily, with maybe one or two tracks at most that don’t really stand out, but in this case at least half of the tracks feel pretty mediocre by Volbeat’s standard. This is especially the case in the second half of the album, where a lot of the songs are so indistinct that they just start to blend together. This is especially egregious in the case of the closing track “7:24”, just comes and goes so uneventfully that you go “oh wait, that’s the end of the album?” It’s too bad too because the earlier track “Maybe I Believe” felt like a more natural and satisfying closer.

The second big issue is that the album feels very familiar. It starts at just the second track on the album, “Pelvis on Fire”. I like the song quite a bit, but the song is unmistakably ripping whole sections off from an earlier Volbeat song, “Sad Man’s Tongue” (they also name-drop the song in the lyrics, so obviously this wasn’t unintentional). Hell, even the lyrics in both songs match up at times and as someone who is familiar with Volbeat’s catalogue I just can’t not hear this, it always takes me out of the song at least a bit. Then only two songs later we have “Die to Live”, which would almost certainly be named “Let It Burn”, except that Volbeat already named a song that on their last album. Obviously, that’s less of an issue, but it continues the feel that Volbeat are just recycling the same ideas. This still wouldn’t be much of an issue if not for yet another obvious recycled song, this time on the track “Cheapside Sloggers” which not only sounds similar to “We” on the verses, but very clearly rips off the opening guitar riff from “Hallelujah Goat” and a bit of “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza” for good measure. Again, these are just the instances which are unmissable if you’re familiar with Volbeat’s work. There are a few other tracks which have a niggling air of familiarity to them, but I wouldn’t even care if there weren’t so many obvious instances already of them plundering their back catalogue here. It would be one thing if it was a theme for the album overall, but instead it just feels like they’re trying to reintroduce elements from deep cuts to new audiences who haven’t heard the rest of their music. Maybe there’s some merit to that idea, but it takes me out of the album with how obvious it is.

There’s also a Deluxe Edition release with 2 B-sides, an alternate version of “Die to Live” without guest vocals, and a bunch of demos. The B-sides are solid and basically all that makes the deluxe edition worthwhile, since the demos sound virtually indistinguishable from their slightly more polished versions and the alternate version of “Die to Live” is basically a less-interesting version of the standard track. All-in-all, if you like Volbeat already then the Deluxe Edition is basically a no-brainer anyway, but considering that 6 of the 8 tracks on it are basically more filler on an album which feels bloated with filler already, it doesn’t exactly help the overall feeling about the album. I enjoyed Rewind, Replay, Rebound well enough, but it’s very clearly on the lower end of Volbeat’s catalogue. I’m sure I’ll continue to give it listen-throughs into the future, but I can already tell that it’s not going to get nearly as much replays as their past classics. I just hope that the band doesn’t rest on their laurels when the next album cycle rolls around.

7) The Evening Hate EP, Red
I went over a bit of my history with Red in my 2017 album rankings – suffice to say, we’ve had a rough relationship. I’ve gone from loving Red, to being sick of them, to loving them again and then back to trepidation, all due to the inconsistent quality of their releases and balancing between different parts of their fanbase. So you can understand if I was a bit cautious going into The Evening Hate EP, but luckily for me the band was firing on all cylinders with this release. This is classic Red – the music is heavy (especially “From the Ashes”), the backing strings are beautiful and the electronic elements that permeated Release the Panic are almost entirely absent. The fight between using electronic elements versus strings seem to have been dogging Red for years, but I’m hoping that The Evening Hate EP is showing us a glimpse of the future, because everything on here sounds great. The title track has some unique elements for a Red song, while also managing to sound epic like something from their best album, of Beauty and Rage. It’s a great way to start the album. The next track, “From the Ashes”, is a very heavy and solid track, and while it is more typical Red fare than “The Evening Hate”, it doesn’t really hurt it any. “Hemorrhage” slows things down significantly and has wildly different vocals than anything Red has ever done, but this is in part due to it being a cover of a Fuel song. It’s very different for this band and I like the vocal style they used here. The album then closes out with an alternate version of “The Evening Hate” and an acoustic version of “From the Ashes”. The acoustic version of “From the Ashes” isn’t really anything special, but the alternate version of the title track is awesome. It slows the song down, making it more ethereal and puts more emphasis on the backing strings. It completely changes the song, to the point where both versions easily stand on their own. It even starts to build when the chorus kicks in, keeping it from stagnating like so many slowed-down, alternate versions of songs do. All-in-all, The Evening Hate makes for a very solid EP, to the point where it would be nice if it wasn’t so bite-sized! I just hope that this is a glimpse of where the band is heading because I definitely like this direction.

6) N.A.T.I.O.N., Bad Wolves
Bad Wolves’ Disobey was one of my favourite albums of 2018, but I was surprised when I found out that they were following it up with another full album just over a year later. I was also pretty surprised when I saw the album cover for it – an underwear-clad and tattoo-covered model was a pretty far cry from the imposing riot cop that adorned Disobey and perhaps signified a shift towards Five Finger Death Punch’s brand of bro metal. However, I’ve kind of turned around on this album art since my first impression – I actually like how deeply contrasted the colour of the model’s underwear is to her skin and tattoos, it looks striking. I’ve seen people say that the fact that there’s a woman in underwear here at all is “tasteless”, but I don’t feel like it’s overly-sexualized, especially considering that they’re intentionally covering up the model’s underboob.

Enough about the album art though, what about the music? Well, I can’t say that I like it nearly as much as Disobey, but N.A.T.I.O.N. is a solid-enough follow-up, especially considering that it was pumped out only a year later (and is 42 minutes long at that, some bands can barely manage 30 minutes in 3 years). There are some delightfully heavy and aggressive tracks on here, particularly “I’ll Be There”, “L.A. Song” and the brutal “The Consumerist”. When Bad Wolves are unleashed like this they’re at their absolute best, but they can still restrain themselves somewhat and put out a solid, radio-friendly rock tune. “Killing Me Slowly” is a great example of this, managing to be clearly written as a single while also being one of the best tracks on the album. Unfortunately, there are also several songs which were clearly written to be singles which just suck in comparison to the rest of the album because they make Bad Wolves sound so defanged. “Better Off This Way” is the first sign of this, a slowed-down, heartfelt breakup song right in the middle of an album full of blistering metal. It feels more like the cliche, emotional album closer rather than the start of the middle of the album. It’s a masterpiece though compared to “Sober”. Here I was hoping for a Tool cover, but what I got instead was another breakup song (this time with addiction added in!) that sounds exactly like an Imagine Dragons song, complete with claps and the layered vocal harmonies. It sucks and is clearly intended to get more of that radio airplay after the success of “Zombie” on their last album. Personally, I hope it bombs because I do not want Bad Wolves carrying on in this direction in the future. That’s the thing though – when they’re sticking with the heavy, aggressive stuff Bad Wolves sound fantastic. It’s these transparent attempts at radio friendliness which suck a lot of the life out of this album though – up until “Better Off This Way”, this album was shaping up to be in my top 3 of the year, but the quality of the tracks becomes extremely inconsistent from that point onward. As a result, I can’t say that it’s a step up from Disobey, but it’s a good enough release that I’m certainly going to be listening to it into the future many more times.


5) Fear Inoculum, Tool
Holy shit, it’s finally here! It’s been over 13 years, but the long-awaited Tool album finally saw release in 2019. For what it’s worth, Fear Inoculum sounds like Tool haven’t skipped a beat in the last 13 years, with the only real change in their sound being that frontman James Maynard Keenan sounds more like he did on last year’s A Perfect Circle album, Eat the Elephant, than he normally does on Tool tracks (which works for me, his voice sounds better this way in my opinion). However, the music landscape has changed drastically since 2006 and having such a blatantly esoteric, technically-ambitious and non-commercial album come out is, somewhat ironically, a major selling-point. While this gives Fear Inoculum a definite novelty factor, it’s hard to argue that it was worth the 13 year wait. Previous Tool albums always had their own distinct flavour, but Fear Inoculum sounds very much like their psychedelic, mystical tour de force, Lateralus. The problem with this though is that, while you can appreciate the craftsmanship and commitment to just being simply weird, the songs here aren’t as enjoyable as the ones on Lateralus. That’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable tracks – the title track and “Descending” are really solid, but there’s nothing quite as impactful as Lateralus‘ “Schism” or “The Grudge”. Luckily, the latter half of the album starts shedding some of the trappings of Lateralus and we get interesting tracks like “Chocolate Chip Trip” (which sounds like something Iron Butterfly might craft) and the absolutely epic “7empest” (easily the best and most easily-enjoyable track on the album, even if it is almost 16 minutes long).

Oh and like The Great War, there are two versions of this album you can get, the physical edition and digital edition, which actually comes with 3 additional instrumental tracks. Normally I’d say to go for the additional songs… but man, I thought that all three of these bonus tracks were by far the worst music on the whole album. They’re just weird interludes for the sake of being weird and just get in the way of enjoying the actual good tracks in my opinion. Worst of all is “Mockingbeat”, which channels some of that old trolling energy the band used to display on Ænima and gives us a bunch of unbearable screeching for 2 minutes. I get it, ha ha, you’re literally mocking us Tool, but no one is going to want to listen to that shit. Just do yourself a favour, buy the album on CD or vinyl, you’re not missing out on anything good in doing so.

4) The Great War, Sabaton
Since finding their sound after a few rough, early albums, Sabaton have been one of the most consistently reliable bands in heavy metal. Their music doesn’t change very much from album to album, but they are always of a high quality, reinvented just enough that it doesn’t feel like they’re doing the bare minimum each time. If you’ve never heard Sabaton before, their music is all about war history, with their last three albums all having a central theme (the Swedish Empire in Carolus Rex, war heroes in Heroes and final stands in The Last Stand). With their newest release, Sabaton look to World War I with The Great War, which sees them putting more emphasis on the history of their subject than ever. In fact, they’re so dedicated to education that this time they’ve released a special edition of the album called the “History Edition”, which has short voice overs before each track. I actually bought this version of the album and while it does provide some very interesting context for each song I’m not sure I’d say it’s the recommended version to buy. Having to listen to the same introductions to each song every time is kind of annoying and some of them aren’t that informative anyway (eg, Verdun’s intro is about 5 seconds long). It’s worth a listen at least once, but I kind of wish that I had just gone with the standard edition, since you can glean the history from the lyrics anyway.

In the past, Sabaton have towed a fine line between glorifying war versus honouring the soldiers who fight in it, but The Great War probably strikes the most clear position on it. As is appropriate for an album about World War I, several songs decry the brutality and pointlessness of the war and there is a sombre tone to the whole affair, such as the doom-laced title track or “The End of the War to End All Wars”. This sombre tone is most clearly seen in the closing track with a choir rendition of “In Flander’s Fields”, which sees Sabaton dropping their entire sound in favour of a sober reflection to show how serious a tragedy WWI was.

Of course, it’s not all melancholy and seriousness; Sabaton have some awesome tracks which pump you up. Right out of the gate, “The Future of Warfare” is a killer opening track with an energetic chorus which makes you want to shout along with it, while also hammering home the idea that World War I was a conflict which changed the world. Other than the anti-war tracks, the rest of the tracks could have easily made their way onto Heroes, as Sabaton recounts various heroic soldiers’ actions during the war. All of the tracks are very solid, but they’re also just “more of the same”. If you’re into Sabaton already, this will certainly be fine, but it’s not likely to change any minds. The Great War is another solid album from Sabaton, but it’s a little unfortunate that they can’t evolve their sound much. The injection of sombreness at least gives The Great War a slightly different tone than previous releases, but at this point I just expect the band to rest on their laurels whenever a new album comes out.

3) Volume III, September Mourning
This list was supposed to come out about a week ago, I had it all ready to publish, when September Mourning dropped the news that their newest EP was coming out December 13. September Mourning are easily the best band I’ve discovered in this past year, so the opportunity to give them some more exposure was one that I wasn’t going to pass up. Even if their music wasn’t great (and it is), and even if frontwoman Emily Lazar wasn’t gorgeous (she seriously is), September Mourning are also a Gorillaz-style transmedia project. This means that every song is advancing a this deliciously-nerdy story about a half-human half-reaper character who tries to give people a second chance, played up by Emily Lazar’s elaborate costumes in live shows, along with a whole graphic novel line if you want to really dig into the lore. I love the whole project and Volume III was easily one of the releases I was most looking forward to this year.

Volume III features four songs, all of which have their own kind of flavour. “Unholy” strikes a rather sultry tone with the way Emily Lazar sings, very reminiscent of Maria Brink of In This Moment. Of course, I love In This Moment, so this works well for me although that’s not to say that September Mourning are just a clone of a more successful band – on the contrary, they have their own flavour. Most female-fronted metal bands, such as Evanescence, Sleeping Romance or the aforementioned Forever Still will end up in the symphonic or operatic metal subgenre, but September Mourning end up somewhere in between those are more “traditional” metal. “Hiding From Heaven” was released as a single earlier this year and is a fantastic demonstration of the band’s entire shtick, with their nerdy subject matter, empowering vocals and excellent songwriting. It’s a catchy song that will stick with you long after you hear it. The latter-half of the EP gets a bit heavier too, with “Madness” and “Overdose” being some of the heaviest music that September Mourning has produced thus far. That said, “Overdose” gets a bit repetitive on the chorus and may be the weakest track on the EP because of that… not that that’s a huge criticism though, because everything on here is solid. Easily the most frustrating part of Volume III is that it is just so bite-sized, it’s less than 15 minutes long in total! That’s way too short to be satisfying, but considering how good everything on here is I really can’t hold it against them. I love September Mourning and I really hope that I get a chance to see them live sometime in 2020!

2) The Nothing, Korn
Few bands have been through the wringer quite as badly as Korn. After helping to establish a whole subgenre with “nu-metal” and several successful albums in the 90s, the band became a punch line and put out terrible album after terrible album for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t until 2013 when original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch returned to the band that there were glimmers of a resurgence with The Paradigm Shift. 3 years later, The Serenity of Suffering was easily their best album since their heyday and this year’s The Nothing is unquestionably one of the band’s best albums ever, putting the band back at the forefront of the metal scene in tragic fashion. There’s a rawness to The Nothing that this band hasn’t seen in quite some time and this obviously is a result of the death of frontman Jonathan Davis’ wife to an accidental overdose. You can hear the pain and guilt in Davis’ words and voice, most explictly on album closer “Surrender to Failure”. It’s some of the darkest material the band has ever put out, but the band has gained a maturity over their 25 year career that keeps it from becoming too overwhelming. Songwriting was always a weakness of Korn in their heyday, with the band relying on emotion to carry them through rather than the lyrics, but the writing here has matured significantly. Tracks like “H@rd3r”, “This Loss”, “You’ll Never Find Me” and even the extremely dark “The Seduction of Indulgence” are really solidly-written and don’t come across as insincere or undeservedly angsty. I’m particularly impressed that this album remains rock solid throughout – I often complain that an album dips halfway through (or vice-versa), but The Nothing retains a consistently-high quality from start to finish. I’m happy to see that Korn have definitely gotten themselves back on track and are putting out the best music of their entire career now, it’s just unfortunate that it had to come from such pain. Here’s hoping that the future holds some joy for Jonathan Davis and company.

1) We Are Not Your Kind, Slipknot
Who would have thought even 15 years ago that the icons of nu-metal would be putting out some of the biggest and best rock albums in 2019? That said, Slipknot have always been viewed as the critical darlings of the subgenre but they don’t always get the respect they deserve, perhaps because they are such a brutal band. I like how CagyCylinder describes Slipknot’s place in the metal scene: “the heavier parts are still more brutal than anything any other ‘mainstream’ metal band will ever serve up”. I like this description – there are certainly heavier bands, but among the bands in the mainstream, they’re almost certainly the most brutal, almost approaching death metal levels of brutality at times. Coming off of The Gray Chapter, which synthesized the heaviest parts of early-Slipknot with the more mainstream-minded work of their third and fourth albums, we now get We Are Not Your Kind which picks up from their and sees the band experimenting with their sound more than ever. Hell, no two songs on this album feel quite the same and the band has clearly worked to make every track on this album stand out on its own. This is particularly impressive since, while there are individual songs on previous Slipknot albums that I like more than some of the songs here, as an overall package this is the first Slipknot album I’ll happily listen to from start to finish every time without skipping over anything.

The first half of the album sounds like classic Slipknot, with all the aggression and heaviness you’d expect, but things really start getting interesting with “Spiders”, a piano-led track that sounds kind of like the Halloween theme. It gives it an air of creepiness which is appropriately-Slipknot despite sounding unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Even more unusual is “My Pain”, which is equally-creepy and has an incredibly sparse and unusual soundscape to it. Like… the music in this track makes me think of the sound of a grandfather clock at night when you’re lying alone in your bed. Somehow I don’t think that that’s an accident that it brings back those same sorts of childhood anxieties. We also get a bit of a return to the norm with “Orphan” (one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album), but the last two tracks, “Not Long for This World” and “Solway Firth”, fuse a bit more of this experimentation with Slipknot’s usual sound, closing out the album on something familiar yet different. The experimentation in the latter-half of the album works and clearly comes from a desire to try new things rather than get more mass appeal.

The songwriting is also on-point and matured in this album. It’s basically just a lot of facing personal demons and battling depression, but that resonates with me. I complained about bands with positive hard rock earlier and that’s partly because, as someone who goes through anxiety and bouts of depression, those sorts of music don’t make me feel any better, stuff like this does. I can channel the emotion of “Unsainted” and use that to express what I’m feeling in a cathartic manner. It’s also nice to note that, unlike say Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot’s aggression isn’t directed at random nobodies who piss them off or women who dare break up with them, it’s more introspective and, consequently, justified. We Are Not Your Kind is probably the most consistently-even Slipknot album they’ve ever put out and there is very little fault I can find with it, hence why it landed on the top of the rankings this year.

Please follow and like us:

My 10 Favourite Albums of the 2010s

Man, I really left myself a lot of work for the end of this year. Not only did I do my “Best of 2019” albums ranking, but it’s also the end of a decade, which means that it’s also the time for “Best of the 2010s” lists. We’re going to start out today with my favourite albums of the 2010s. Standard caveats apply here – music is not only incredibly subjective, but there is so much of it and my tastes are somewhat niche, so I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to declare that these are “the best” albums of the decade. That said, they’re all great and have affected me in one way or another, so I would certainly recommend checking them out if you have not!

Honourable Mentions:

Asylum, Disturbed (August 31, 2010)
I waffle between Asylum or Ten Thousand Fists being Disturbed’s best album, but it’s pretty much unquestioned that this was the last time they were such a self-assured band. Whatever your thoughts about their last couple albums are, the post-Asylum hiatus changed the band significantly and I don’t predict that we’re going to get another album from Disturbed that I’m going to like nearly as much as Asylum.

Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Volbeat (April 5, 2013)
They say there’s nothing quite like your first… Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies was the album where I decided to give Volbeat a chance and I fell in love with their style. Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie would also have a pretty good shot at being one of my favourite albums of the decade, but they both fell just short of the top 10. Still, I love the band so much that I had to at least give them an honourable mention.

10) We’re Just Really Excited to Be Here, Countless Thousands (June 4, 2011)
Countless Thousands’ debut album is such a joy to listen to. Their brand of enthusiastic nerd rock is infectious and energetic from the outset and there is so much variety and experimentation that it never gets boring. Want a pirate rock song? Try “A Pirate’s Shanty”. Want something political? You’ll love “The Patriot”. How about a version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, but rewritten to be about bassist Davey Munch battling Satan? Try “The Devil and Davey Munch”, it’s amazing. There’s even stuff like “No Contest”, where there is no instrumentation, only vocal layering which gives the song an interesting and haunting feel. On top of all of this, the songwriting is all top-notch, with one exception – personally, I just can’t stand “The Asskickers’ Union”, a sickly-sweet love song which is just too goddamn happy for my tastes. It’s not like that’s a major blemish though on a 16 track album and there are plenty of other styles and standout tracks that it’s easily washed away.

9) of Beauty and Rage, Red (February 24, 2015)
Red were a band that I got into with their first two albums, but gave up on after their next two albums were very disappointing. Imagine my joy then when they managed to not only course correct and return to form on their fifth album, but they actually managed to put out their best album yet. of Beauty and Rage sees Red firing on all cylinders, putting out an album which is equal parts heavy, haunting, epic and beautiful in various measures. It certainly feels like a Red album, but there’s a maturity to it and everything has clearly been crafted painstakingly. At this point, I’d consider of Beauty and Rage to be Red’s magnum opus. They have set the bar very high for themselves going forward, but they’ve shown that they know what it takes to come back. If Red ever manage to put out something that can match this album I would be delightfully surprised.

8) Dark Before Dawn, Breaking Benjamin (June 23, 2015)
In my opinion, Dark Before Dawn is Breaking Benjamin’s best album. Perhaps this is because I got into the band pretty late into their career, but as far as I’m concerned it is by far their best overall. You’d be justified in saying that Breaking Benjamin just cover the same ground over and over again, but Dark Before Dawn is the best execution of this by far. All of their previous albums were uneven at best, even ones I genuinely like such as Dear Agony or Phobia. However, Dark Before Dawn is great from start to finish, with no track being weak or feeling like filler (other than the mood-setting, instrumental opening and closing tracks, but they’re harmless in my opinion). On the contrary, there are so many standout tracks here, from “Failure”, to “Angel’s Fall”, to “Close to Heaven” and “Ashes of Eden”, all of which show off Benjamin Burnley’s fantastic voice and make you want to sing along.

7) Carolus Rex, Sabaton (May 22, 2012)
While Heroes might be the point when Sabaton hit the peak of their popularity, its predecessor Carolus Rex is still the height of the band’s talents. It’s perhaps their most focused and personal work ever, detailing the rise and fall of the Swedish empire. In fact, it’s so interesting and compelling that it has taught me more about this period of time in Europe than any history class I’ve ever taken. THe songs straight into history. A particular highlight in this regard is “A Lifetime of War”, which make you feel how awful a decade-long war is, and then pulls the rug out and reveals that this war would go on for another two decades. Songs like “The Carolean’s Prayer”, “Carolus Rex” and “Ruina Imperii” all demonstrate the religious fanaticism of the time, how it was used to control men and dehumanize others. “The Carolean’s Prayer” in particular is easily one of the best songs of Sabaton’s career. Oh and I would be remiss to forget that Carolus Rex also has some amazing B-sides, most notably a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight of the Thunder God”. When I was in university and this song came out, I would play it on repeat over and over again and try to death growl along. It’s so good and the fact that it’s a B-side better than what most bands can manage to put onto full albums is insane.

6) Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch (November 23, 2010)
Most of the albums on this list are my favourite by their respective bands. With that said, I feel it’s worth emphasizing that Marrow of the Spirit is actually only my third favourite Agalloch album – seriously, if you haven’t listened to them before, do it. Agalloch tend to dabble in atmospheric doom metal with clear nature- and pagan-inspirations to each of their songs. Marrow of the Spirit is perhaps their rawest album in that regard. Having come off of two fairly polished albums, Agalloch were looking for a grittier sound and so opted to record Marrow of the Spirit on vintage analog equipment. The difference in production quality is immediately obvious when you compare Marrow of the Spirit to The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but it works very well within Agalloch’s sound. The album immediately sets the tone with “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness”, a sombre mood-setter which is almost entirely composed of a cello and a recording of water running. From there, each of the remaining 5 tracks is just incredibly well-composed doom metal, equal parts sombre and epic, ranging in lengths from 9:40 to a staggering 17:34 on “Black Lake Niðstång”. “Black Lake Niðstång” is a particular highlight for me – it certainly feels like a 17 minute song, but it goes through so many changes throughout that it never stagnates. Marrow of the Spirit might not be Agalloc’s most accessible album, but it’s certainly one that gets better the more you listen to it.

5) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge (September 30, 2017)
Oh hey, the first pick from one of my annual album rankings! As I said back then, Through Glass Eyes is ambitious, diverse, mature and has impeccable production values, all of which are even more impressive when you consider that this is not only a debut album but also an independent release! They also don’t fit into cliches – many female-fronted, symphonic/melodic metal bands can get dismissed for sounding like Evanescence-wannabes, but At Dawn’s Edge have more maturity to their songwriting and singing which gives them their own unique flavour. It’s a fantastic debut album and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its follow-up ever since. Owing to the independent nature of this band, I would implore you to check them out if you have not yet, they’re seriously this good.

4) Blood, In This Moment (August 14, 2012)
In This Moment are unquestionably one of my favourite bands right now. Every album they put out has its own unique flavour, but in my opinion Blood is clearly their best overall. It maintains the band’s metalcore edge while dipping into more experimentation to make the album feel a bit more unique than its more standard-metal predecessor, A Star-Crossed Wasteland. Of course, experimentation doesn’t mean much if the music isn’t great, but luckily Blood has so many good songs that it’s practically a greatest hits album. “Blood”, “Adrenalize” and “Whore” are all top-notch and kick the album into high gear right out of the gate. They’re not the only highlights though, there’s also the fantastic “Burn” which shows off Maria Brink’s ability to go from melodic vocals to blistering screams. Tracks like “Beast Within”, “The Blood Legion” and the haunting “11:11” also bear mentioning and, like Carolus Rex, the B-side cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” is also an absolute treat. My fiance loves it… and I’ll let you fill in the blanks from there. Blood is also notable for “sexing up” In This Moment (to the point where they would feel the need to address it on their next album in the song “Sex Metal Barbie”). The album deals with themes of abuse and manipulation, but it always reclaims sex and turns it into something empowering. It gives this album a bit of a sultry, even kinky, edge that I really enjoy and gives it a much different vibe than any other metal band I listen to.

3) Wait for the Siren, Project 86 (August 21, 2012)
Wait for the Siren came out at a time when it looked like Project 86 were about to implode – after 7 very solid albums, their guitarist, drummer and bassist all quit the band, only leaving frontman Andrew Schwab to continue on. Luckily for us, Andrew Schwab was always the primary, most dominant creative force in the band, so the loss of the other band members didn’t completely sink Project 86 (that said, Schwab’s overbearing control might actually have been why the other band members quit, they wanted to experiment more and he wouldn’t let them, or so the rumours say). Having also quit Tooth and Nail Records in favour of crowdfunding, Schwab was free to rebuild the band in whatever way he saw fit, and Wait for the Siren is a fantastic mixture of old and new. Right off the bat, the band shows off some of this new creative expression with “Fall, Goliath, Fall”, which features such distinctive instruments as uillean pipes, mandolin and hammer dulcimer. That said, these additions to Project 86’s sound are just that – additions. The band is still as heavy as they ever were, as shown off in tracks such as “The Crossfire Gambit”. Songwriting has always been Project 86’s greatest strength and Wait for the Siren is no exception, with every track being diverse and interesting in their own regard. My personal favourite track on the album is the rousing “Take the Hill”, easily one of the best tracks in Project 86’s history. While Drawing Black Lines will probably always be my favourite Project 86 album, Wait for the Siren is easily my second favourite, which is pretty incredible considering that they haven’t had a bad album in their lengthy career.

2) Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle (April 20, 2018)
Oh hey, another pick from my annual album rankings! Eat the Elephant really impressed me last year. Nearly every track is expertly crafted and has something to say, from the hopeful title track, to political and social commentary in tracks such as “The Contrarian”, “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk”. The particular highlight though is “So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish” a song which is apocalyptic and beautiful at the same time (to the point where it’s probably going to end up getting played at my wedding… seriously). While the second half of the album is weaker than the first half, the fact that this album still managed to take the spot of my 2nd favourite album of the decade should go to show that that doesn’t lower it in my estimation too much. The stuff that’s here is just too damn good to pass up.

1) Devotion, Anberlin (October 15, 2013)
I love Anberlin. When they released their 6th album, Vital, I thought that it was almost as good as the band’s fan favourite, Cities. However, just over a year later, the band reissued the album as Devotion, adding 3 new tracks and 4 B-sides to the original album and retooling the tracklist somewhat. This was, in my opinion, enough to put Devotion over the top to be the clear best album in the band’s history. Vital already boasted some great music, such as the aptly-titled opener “Self-Starter”, “Other Side”, “Orpheum” and the absolutely fantastic “God, Drugs & Sex”. You’d think that throwing a bunch of new songs and B-sides into an already-completed album might mess with the flow of the music, but the new additions are all solid and more than good enough to stand side-by-side with the existing tracks, although the best is definitely “IJSW”. Devotion was by far my favourite album of the 2010s, I knew for sure going into this list that it was going to be my #1.

And that’s it for my favourite albums of the 2010s. Tune in soon when I go through the best movies of the 2010s!

Please follow and like us:

Listening to Bands That Followed Me on Social Media

I love to follow my favourite bands on Twitter and Instagram, it’s such a convenient way for me to stay in the loop on new music, nearby concerts and other goings-on in the band members’ lives. However, I have also noticed a side effect to this: every time I follow a major band, I will get followed back by a couple other, smaller bands trying to make a name for themselves. It’s a pretty clever strategy I must say – it’s free advertising, it immediately gets them into your good graces and it lets you know that they’re making music similar to the stuff you already love, so why not check them out? As a show of good faith and because I like to support independent artists, I keep a list of all the bands who have followed me and check them out when I get a chance. I’ve gotten enough piled up now that I thought that I would do a list of the bands that have followed me, listed from my least favourite to favourite. This is, of course, super subjective so I would recommend checking out all of the bands here regardless rather than just taking my word as final for how good any of their music is. Oh, and if more bands follow me in the future then I’ll probably do a follow up article, so I hope that happens!

Honourable Mention: Brian “Head” Welch of Korn and Love & Death followed me at one point and even slid into my DMs with a message of encouragement (very much on-brand for him based on what I’ve read about the man). He has since unfollowed me, but that’s probably because I have a real potty-mouth on Twitter since that’s where I post my most passionate political opinions. Anyway, I don’t really count him since he followed me in response to me following him rather than because he was trying to market himself, but I thought that it was worth a mention at the very least.

7) September Sky
Genre: Metal
Followed Me Because I Liked: Breaking Benjamin on Instagram
Favourite Track: “Fallacy”

Of all the bands that have followed me, September Sky have the biggest catalogue (2 EPs and 1 album) and longest history, having released their first EP back in 2011. They also have a pretty strong marketing push for the band, having followed me twice (!!) on Instagram in order to make sure I definitely noticed them and very promoter-friendly bios on their website and Spotify which make such claims as “In a sea of mediocre alternative metal, September Sky stands out not only with their magnetic twist of alternative grunge rock and thrash metal influences, but also their well-known empowering and inspiring vocals and refreshing guitar solos.” They also claim that fans describe their sound as “Disturbed meets Tool and Alice In Chains”. If that sounds like a strange mixture, well, September Sky doesn’t really live up to it. Their first EP, Bright Sides to Dark Days, sounds very much like Tool but without the same level of craft and refinement. Tracks like “Ted” sound very much like “Aenima” or “Eulogy”, to the point where it feels like their sound might be just a little too derivative. The only song which breaks out of the Tool mould is “Freakshow”, a non-conformity song which is probably their only track which reminded me of Disturbed… and not in a good way at all. I really disliked “Freakshow”, it felt like a black mark on an otherwise decent debut. Bright Sides to Dark Days might feel a little too familiar, but I was really digging tracks like “Disappearing Friend”. There was some promise here and with time and maturity September Sky could carve out their own niche.

Oddly enough though, their second EP, Letter to Fear, totally ditches the Tool influences and takes on a much more bog-standard metal sound. The heaviness of it all was constantly reminding me of Faceless-era Godsmack with maybe a hint of Breaking Benjamin on “My Ending”. I was also starting to hear the Alice in Chains influences (especially in the layered vocals and grungy instrumentation on the title track and “Fallacy”). All-in-all though, while Letter to Fear is much different than Bright Sides to Dark Days, it feels like September Sky were still trying to figure out what exactly their sound is. I was hoping that they would refine the Tool-inspired sound and make it their own, but instead Letter to Fear is another starting point, and not for the better in my opinion.

Then there’s The Dying Season, the only September Sky release classified as an “album”… although it’s only 31 minutes long, so basically just another EP. The Dying Season starting bringing in those guitar solos that they bragged about in their bio on tracks such as “Pieces”. However, they’re easily the best part of “Pieces”, because I could not stand the sluggish instrumentation and strange vocals on this track. It’s like vocalist Scott Bernhardt is going for an Eddie Vedder impersonation, but it doesn’t sound natural. He also does this weird, snivelling, echoey voice on “House of Shadows” which I couldn’t stand. Bernhardt’s voice is fine when he’s just in his natural range, but when he tries to shake it up like this, I really can’t stand it. Most of this album just didn’t stand out to me at all, but I will give some credit to “Eye of the Beast”, I thought that this track was legitimately good and interesting. Unfortunately, I just don’t really like September Sky’s music. Only a couple of tracks grab me in any way, but even those are a far cry away from something I would listen to on a regular basis. I’ve got no ill-will towards September Sky and I wish them the best, but they’re just not for me. Still, I have to give them props once again for their marketing, because holy crap am I ever awful at marketing myself. Even though I didn’t like their music, they still managed to get their opportunity to spread their band to the thousands of people who visit IC2S every month. I’ll give September Sky a tip of my hat and I sincerely hope that one day they release an album that I do like.

6) Awake At Last
Genre: Hard Rock
Followed Me Because I Liked: …Breaking Benjamin? Demon Hunter, maybe? I can’t even remember when or where they followed me because they aren’t following me on Instagram or Twitter anymore… thanks guys!
Favourite Track: “Constellations”

As of the time writing this, Awake at Last had one EP on Spotify: Life / Death / Rebirth, a pretty trippy-looking album that was making me think of Tool or Mastodon right out of the gate. The music I actually got was… well, I wasn’t really expecting theatrical hard rock. That’s not to say that it was bad, but it was much less interesting than what I was hoping for. The opening track, “Purgatorium”, very much reminds me of “Ladies and Gentlemen” by Saliva. Much of their music also makes me think of Shinedown, although with a less-distinct vocalist. And… uh… that’s basically all that I have to say about their music. It’s a pretty short EP, but it didn’t leave an impression on me at all. They do have a new album recorded and apparently it will be releasing in 2019, so I will probably be checking that out – expect to see it at the end of the year in the annual albums round-up.

5) Forfeit Thee Untrue
Genre: Christian Metalcore/Deathcore
Followed Me Because I Liked: Demon Hunter on Twitter
Favourite Track: “Sermon of a Dying Atheist” or “Lucifer’s Lullaby”

Forfeit Thee Untrue had an unfortunate first impression with me because their band’s name was eerily similar to a douchey, joke band from Metalocalypse, Get Thee Hence. Hell, Nathan Explosion even says that the band’s name sounds like a bad Christian metal group, which just makes Forfeit Thee Untrue’s name sting more. Then I saw the title of their album, Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam, and the difficulty of just pronouncing their damn title had me annoyed with this band before I even listened to the first song.

The second that “The Mirror That Hates” starts I instantly was awash with this feeling of familiarity. I used to hear this same, screaming/growling, hyper-aggressive metalcore/deathcore sound every day from countless bands on Weathered Steel (a now-defunct Christian metal internet radio station; it’s what got me into Impending Doom and A Feast For Kings, among others, since they were the best and most distinct bands on there). Forfeit Thee Untrue’s music is fine, it just isn’t something I’d want to actively listen to. Vocalist Gideon Karsten screams and growls well enough, but I didn’t really care for the sung vocals most of the time. Karsten keeps trying to sing at a lower range than is natural for him and it just sounds unpleasant, especially on tracks like “Fractured God”. That said, it seems that Forfeit Thee Untrue has had a major member shakeup so maybe the new vocalist will have more range in their next release?

It’s also worth noting that, right from the sermon in the opening track, Forfeit Thee Untree is explicitly a “Christian band” rather than a “band of Christians” (such as Demon Hunter or P.O.D., where their music can be appreciated by anyone regardless of faith). This isn’t inherently an issue, but it did make me roll my eyes at the tracks of certain songs on this album. “The Burning of the Last Bible” also hints at the evangelical persecution complex and really makes me wish that the lyrics to this album were online so I could make certain that I’m not mischaracterizing this band (that said, the title also kind of ignores that we live in a world where the Bible can be found in its entirety online in seconds). Then there’s “Sermon of a Dying Atheist” which is… well, the title kind of speaks for itself and the old “no real atheists” myth that persists throughout evangelical culture. It belies the usual lack of imagination and empathy that evangelicals have when it comes to atheists, but this is also possibly the best put-together song on the album, even featuring clean vocals from Karsten that I actually liked. It’s pretty bad when the only song on this album I thought was actually pretty good is also conceptually troublesome.

All-in-all, I can tell that Forfeit Thee Untrue are not a bad band, but they just don’t stand out for me at all. It also doesn’t help that I feel like they’re struggle to carve out their own sound. If you’re into the Christian metalcore scene then you might enjoy their music, but it’s not my thing unfortunately.

4) Red Devil Vortex
Genre: Metal
Followed Me Because I Liked: Breaking Benjamin
Favourite Track: “Undaunted”

Red Devil Vortex leave a really strong first impression: they have a great name and the artwork for their debut EP, Something Has to Die is awesome. Of all the bands on this list, Red Devil Vortex was by far the one I was most excited to check out.

And then you start their first track and realize that they’re Five Finger Death Punch.

…okay, I’m exaggerating greatly, but my first thought upon hearing the opening track, “Undaunted” was “oh God, they sound like Five Finger Death Punch, NOOOOOOO!!!” Thankfully, this fear ended up being mostly unrealized, since Red Devil Vortex are much better lyricists than Ivan Moody and company, managing to produce bro-metal without coming across like a bunch of douchebags. Not that their lyrics are all that deep (mostly standard, empowering metal), but the band fires on all cylinders and churns out some really solid music throughout. With a bit more musical maturity, I could easily see them becoming a commercially successful force in the metal scene.

…but still, I can’t shake that fear I had upon first listening to them. Red Devil Vortex had almost won me over, but at the very end of the last track on the EP they pull a colossal blunder by ending the song with a pointless declaration of “from villains to kings, BITCH!!!” It’s just… ugh, why? Just like that, they upend their non-douchey look and make me question their entire career trajectory. Maybe I’m just nitpicking this, but it seriously annoyed me that they’d put in such a pointless, tough-guy wannabe punctuation on the EP. It makes me seriously question whether Red Devil Vortex are going to evolve into a FFDP-lite, or if they’re going to seize the promise that they’ve shown here. I seriously hope they can follow the lead of Godsmack and shed the bro-metal bullshit in favour of something inspiring, because there’s some serious talent on display here.

3) Dark Moon Lilith
Genre: Alt Rock
Followed Me Because I Liked: In This Moment on Twitter
Favourite Track: “Kerosene” and “Hiding Place”

Dark Moon Lilith gets some points for being the first band on this list to follow me (after Brian “Head” Welch anyway) and for having an amazing band name (which is apparently an astrology term for “a mathematical point that’s exactly in between the earth and the moon — essentially, empty space. It represents the cosmic void, that very energy this spirit embodies” and is related to eroticism). The band’s debut EP, Occultation, surprised me a bit because I was expecting alt metal similar to In This Moment. Instead, Dark Moon Lilith produces very moody, angsty, slow tempo alt rock. Any surprise I had was quickly washed away by “Kerosene”, a really well-made track which exemplifies Dark Moon Lilith’s style, Lilith’s vocal range and is easily the best track on the EP. In fact, “Kerosene” alone was enough to sell me on Occultation and buy the digital EP, but it’s far from the only good song on here. “Blind Side”, “Shores” and especially “Hiding Place” are all very well made, moody compositions which show off Lilith’s raw talent, although they also show that her range of songwriting topics is rather limited. That said, the songs themselves are pretty well put together, and the pervasive moodiness only really start to drag a bit in the second half of the album when the tempo slows to a crawl in songs such as “World Away”. It’s unfortunate that the EP struggles to keep my interest towards the end, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that “Kerosene” and “Hiding Place” alone more than made Occultation a must-buy for me. I really liked Dark Moon Lilith and will certainly be keeping an eye on them in the future and will certainly be relistening to Occultation many times in the future.

2) Forever Still
Genre: Metal/Symphonic Metal
Followed Me Because I Liked: In This Moment on Twitter
Favourite Track: “Alone”

Forever Still are, relatively, one of the bigger bands that has followed me, as demonstrated by the fact that they’re signed to the major international metal label Nuclear Blast. Their debut album, Tied Down, did not disappoint as vocalist Maja Shining shows off her impressive vocal range, which can go from operatic heights to screams in the blink of an eye. Their music is also quite impressively diverse, going from heavy, energetic metal tracks to Sleeping Romance-esque symphonic metal. Sleeping Romance was probably the touch-point that I came back to the most while listening to Tied Down, but I was also reminded of plenty of other, smaller female-fronted bands that I like such as At Dawn’s Edge and Ilia. The album remains enjoyable throughout, but it’s not until the last three tracks that the band really finds their groove, with “Alone”, “Break the Glass” and “Tied Down” pushing the album’s energy into a new level and taking it from “good” to “I want to buy a copy of this album”.

All-in-all, Tied Down makes for a very solid, polished debut album. There’s clearly room for further refinement, but what Forever Still have crafted here is really good and worth checking out. The band also has a new album coming out in 2019 called Breathe in Colours, so you can be sure that that will be making its way on to the year-end music round-up. I’m really looking forward to seeing if Forever Still have managed to refine their sound further and put together a whole album as strong as the last few songs on their debut!

1) Fight Like Sin
Genre: Hard Rock
Followed Me Because I Liked: Breaking Benjamin
Favourite Track: “I Was Nowhere”

When I started writing this article, I listened to all of the music of the other bands on this list in one day. It started off pretty well with Dark Moon Lilith and Forever Still, but eventually I was capping off that day by feeling extremely burnt out by September Sky. I decided that Fight Like Sin was going to have to wait for the next day, since their musical output just about rivaled September Sky’s and I couldn’t take another long bout of disappointment. Luckily for me, as soon as I started up the Surrender Nothing EP, I was hooked and re-energized. I had some tepid reservations about opening track “The Black”, namely that the songwriting was just fine and that I didn’t really care for the vocalist, but the track itself was a really enjoyable slice of hard rock akin to Breaking Benjamin. However, then “I Was Nowhere” and “All On Me” really impressed me with great songwriting, smart build-up and the vocals even grew on me. These three tracks alone sold me on Fight Like Sin being my favourite band on this list, and there were still two more releases to look forward to!

The Singularity EP opens solidly with “Fire Away”, which shows off a slightly more refined sound and even features a guitar solo near the end! It immediately leaves the impression that this is a very confident band who are hungry to make it into the big-time. Fight Like Sin really remind me of Breaking Benjamin here, especially on the track “Nightmare”, which could have easily been pried from a Dark Before Dawn recording session. Fight Like Sin tend to be lyrically angsty, such as on the track “In the Dark”, but they manage to find a balance between angst and empowerment which keeps them from ending up feeling too dour. All-in-all, Singularity is another solid EP from Fight Like Sin, which manages to make each of its five tracks feel distinct despite fitting comfortably into the angsty teen lyrical mold. Singularity easily gets another high recommendation from me.

Then we get to Identity, Fight Like Sin’s debut album… although, like The Dying Season, it’s another basically-EP at 31 minutes. Thankfully, the album feels longer than it actually is and opens with a moody instrumental before an explosive lead-in to “Chasing a Lie” that grabbed me immediately with its hard-hitting, energetic sound. Fight Like Sin seem to be really gunning for wide recognition on this album, as there are songs like “Demons” which just scream “hit radio single”, but the band also manages to give all of the songs their own distinct flavour. However, there was one clear issue that was nagging me throughout this entire album which hadn’t really been an issue in their EPs – the songwriting feels uninspired. I mean, I liked “Chasing a Lie” a lot, but lyrically it’s just another non-committal resistance song of the sort that I was making fun of so much in the 2018 album round-up. Songs like “Wasteland” are enjoyable but end up feeling lesser because the lyrics aren’t really pushing any boundaries. It’s the same sort of issue I had with XXI and their debut album, Inside Out – the songs are all good and the band is clearly very talented, but their lyrics are so bog standard that it makes the entire album feel kind of throw-away. Talent can still manage to carry a band (Breaking Benjamin have been making the same album since 2002 and I kind of love them for it regardless), but I’m not quite sure that Fight Like Sin have gotten to a point where they can rely on it to pull them through. Either way, when my only real complaint is that I wish that Identity was even better than it already is, you know that it’s worth checking out.

And that’s it for now! With any luck more bands will follow me in future and I will be sure to check them out. It was fun being exposed to new music, even if some of it wasn’t really my cup of tea.

Please follow and like us:

Ranking the Albums I Listened to in 2018

Hey, it’s that time of year again! That’s right, the time of year when I look back on the random-ass music I’ve listened to, most of which no one has heard of or cares about! If you’re curious about last year’s picks, you can read the list here. I decided to change up the title of these lists going forward because, while “Favourite Albums” is less wordy, by no means do I want people seeing some of the low-ranked crap on this list and thinking it was one of my favourite albums of the year.

Also, in February I had the pleasure of seeing In This Moment and P.O.D. in Detroit, along with opening acts New Year’s Day and Ded! It was a fantastic time and I’m so glad that I got to see two of my favourite bands live. Was also a great experience to share with with my fiance, along with my longtime friend and fellow blogger at The M.

Alright, let’s get to the rankings…!

19) Evolution, Disturbed
Oh how the mighty have fallen. About a decade ago, I would have said that Disturbed were one of my favourite bands. You could justifiably say that their songs all sounded pretty similar, but it was hard to deny that they weren’t refining their sound for the better with each successive album.

…and then the big four-year hiatus happened. At the time I had hoped that this break might give them a creative refresher, but their triumphant return Immortalized was anything but triumphant. It was a creative mishmash and definitely felt like the band’s first major step backwards. The only breath of fresh air was the band’s surprisingly evocative cover of “The Sound of Silence”, which became a major radio hit and changed the public perception of the band. This surprising hit most clearly influenced the band’s direction on Evolution, as Disturbed splits the album evenly between their traditional hard rock sound and slowed down ballads… and the results make me wish that “The Sound of Silence” never happened, because Evolution sucks.

The album opens with “Are You Ready”, which is probably the best song on the heavier-half album, but doesn’t really hold a candle to Disturbed’s previous singles. It also doesn’t help that it’s a totally empty protest song that doesn’t dare make any sort of actual statement. Bland, uninspired and not daring enough to make any sort of statement is pretty much what you could say about almost all the heavy songs on this album. Considering that Ten Thousand Fists had “Deify”, an overtly political song criticizing the presidency of George W. Bush, you’d think that Disturbed could find something to take a stand on, right?

If Evolution was just a bunch of bland heavy tracks, it would be a mediocre album, but it wouldn’t be awful. However, half of this album consists of slowed-down ballads which make you realize that Disturbed don’t really understand why “The Sound of Silence” was such a hit for them. For one thing, the songwriting is (again) really bland at best and the slowed down tracks utterly waste the talents of the rest of the band. David Draiman seems to be going for an inspirational tone with his singing, but when the most “inspirational” track “Hold Onto Memories” has nothing more to say than “appreciate life”, it comes across as weak. Album closer “Already Gone” ends the whole thing on a dull, unsatisfying note. Even worse, the album has four bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, one of which is by far the best track on the whole album, let alone the best ballad: “Uninvited Guest”. The fact that it’s a bonus track is baffling and I can’t help but think that this was done for cynical reasons to shift copies of the deluxe edition.

As a longtime fan of Disturbed, I say with confidence that Evolution is the worst album that they’ve ever released. It’s just a total mess and far from the step forward that the title would imply. Even if the individual songs didn’t range from mediocre to bad, the album’s structure just makes things worse, threading between heavy and slow songs haphazardly and with little sense of flow. By the time the album comes to an end I literally said “wait, that’s it?” Immortalized was bland enough, but after this album, all I can think is that it’s about time that I evolved beyond Disturbed.

18) And Justice for None, Five Finger Death Punch
As you might have gathered from my recent blog post, I really hate Five Finger Death Punch, so the fact that their newest album comes in ahead of Disturbed should just further illustrate how bad Evolution is. On paper, they seem like the sort of band that I should like: I had heard a bunch of songs of theirs which were really enjoyable and I typically enjoy aggressive, angsty heavy metal. However, Five Finger Death Punch embodies the absolute worst elements of that type of music, pushing their macho rhetoric to the point of toxicity. A band can only rage so much at the world, blame everyone else for their problems and posture about how they’re going to beat your ass before they come across as a bunch of whiny losers instead of the badasses that they think they are. This also isn’t helped by the fact that their songwriting is some of the most embarrassing stuff I’ve ever heard, repeating the same kinds of macho phrases and chalked full of swearing thrown in for no other reason than because they think it makes them sound tough. The end result is a “tired formula that makes wannabe badasses swoon”. They might be the only metal band that I actually like more when they’re selling out for radio hits, as their slowed down stuff tends to be better written and lacks the toxicity of their typical material. Their radio hits also tend to be covers, which admittedly they are usually fantastic at and really give a unique spin to (again, not having to write their own material helps significantly). It’s actually too bad that FFDP’s songwriting is so cripplingly abysmal because they clearly are a talented band that can make good music.

Anyway, that brings us to And Justice for None. I skipped Got Your Six when I heard just how lame the lead single “Jekyll and Hyde” was, but it’s immediately obvious that the band hasn’t changed a bit since I last checked in on them. For what it’s worth, the album is 100% typical FFDP. There are some enjoyable songs (“Top of the World” and, awful title-pun aside, “Sham Pain”), some good songs (“Blue on Black” and “Gone Away”, both of which are covers which just further illustrate this band’s strengths and weaknesses), lots of mediocre stuff and some utter garbage (“Rock Bottom” and especially “Fake”… just look at these lyrics and try to imagine taking them seriously). Unexpectedly, the second half of the album is actually somewhat slowed down compared to the first half, kind of like Evolution (although it never goes quite that far into ballad territory). This works better than expected since it actually makes the album itself have some flow to it, although I feel like it’s ultimately just a weak attempt to pander to a wider audience.

Like I said at the start, And Justice for None is better than Evolution, if only because I know for a fact that I’m going to come back to some of the songs on this album again someday. While it definitely has its lower points and hasn’t changed my opinion on FFDP in the slightest, at least it has some moments of enjoyability.

Also, just because I don’t have anywhere else to put this, have a good laugh and look at this stupid fucking mic-stand that FFDP uses!

17) Oblivion, Smile Empty Soul
This is the first entry on that made its way onto this list thanks to random Spotify recommendations. While listening to a random discover station, the song “Bottom of a Bottle” came on and I was digging the sound, while also being floored by the brazenly hedonistic lyrics (although apparently they’re meant to be metaphorical, you’d never know it though) and the ridiculously emo band name. I was pretty intrigued in any case and decided to check out Smile Empty Soul when I saw that they had a new album named Oblivion. Unfortunately, Oblivion is pretty forgettable and has basically turned me off from bothering to spend much more time on Smile Empty Soul. Oblivion is a passable but mediocre post-grunge hard rock effort that doesn’t seem to have much to say (the fact that their one protest song is yet another “the whole system sucks!” anthem is distressing). Hell, the only song which had any sort of impact for me was “Small Incision”, which is just a short, moody piano interlude… yikes. If you’re into post-grunge then you might enjoy Oblivion more than I did, but I can say with reasonable certainty that this is an album I will probably never listen to again.

16) The Hallowing of Heirdom, Winterfylleth
Winterfylleth are a band that I got into early this year while hungering for something to fill in that Agalloch-shaped folk metal hole in my soul. Winterfylleth don’t exactly meet that lofty expectation, but they do put out some decent black metal, even if all their songs all sound pretty similar. Their last album, The Dark Hereafter, took some steps to differentiate each song and incorporated more clear folk influences, which was a welcome step and which made seeing where they were going to go in the future more exciting.

When a new album for 2018 was announced, Winterfylleth were quick to clarify that they were doing something completely different and it’s probably a good thing that they did so. Whereas their previous albums were raw, black metal with plenty of folk inspiration, The Hallowing of Heirdom goes full-on traditional English folk music. It’s an understandable fit for the band considering the style that they’ve carved for themselves, but it’s a major departure from their usual sound and definitely takes some getting used to.

For my own part, I don’t have a ton to say about this album. I preferred the harmonizing of black metal and folk on The Dark Hereafter, but The Hallowing of Heirdom presents an intriguing experiment for Winterfylleth. I just hope that this isn’t indicative of the band’s long-term future. The Hallowing of Heirdom is a decent album, really well-crafted and beautifully atmospheric, but it’s also just not really something I can see myself listening to on a regular basis. It would make for really atmospheric background music in a Dungeons & Dragons session, but that’s about the only way that I can see myself interacting with this album again.

15) The Now Now, Gorillaz

Gorillaz usually release one album per presidential term. This irregular cycle has left me wondering if the band had dissolved unceremoniously on more than one occasion, although it does give new albums an “event” status and a provides a unique flavour on each release. The one time they broke this pattern was with 2010’s The Fall, which was recorded on an iPad during the touring for Plastic Beach, which was released less than a year earlier. It was by far their weakest and most throwaway album at the time, owing to its spontaneous and experimental nature.

I mention all this because The Now Now came out just as unexpectedly, a little over a year after last year’s Humanz and I was left wondering whether it would be another The Fall. The Now Now is thankfully better than that, although it definitely feels like a “lesser” Gorillaz release. The album has a very chill tone to it, much more cohesive than the chaotic grab bag that was Humanz and with far less guest contributions. That said, the only big standout is “Hollywood”, which meshes the album’s chill tone with a really mesmerising house/dance sound. Other than that, none of the songs really stand out to me as being anything special. The Now Now isn’t a bad album, it it lacks that special feel that a Gorillaz release typically has. I know Damon Albarn has said that he doesn’t know how many more years the band has left in it so he wants to release albums while he can, but if that means that we get more albums like The Now Now rather than a Plastic Beach or Demon Days, I question if it’s worth it.

14) Attention Attention, Shinedown
Shinedown are one of those bands that I have heard and enjoyed on the radio, but have never really looked into. However, when I heard that there was a new Shinedown album out and that it was supposed to be pretty good, I decided to give it a look. I had always dug tracks like “Devour”, “Sound of Madness” and “Cut the Cord”, they had an undeniable, hard-hitting energy to them which always made Shinedown stick out amongst the hard rock crowd, so I was excited to see how Attention Attention would harness that. Unfortunately, this expectation might have blunted my enthusiasm for the album, because Attention Attention is very unlike Shinedown’s heyday. There are some fairly heavy songs, such as “Devil”, “Black Soul”, “Evolve” and “The Human Radio”, which are where the album shines brightest. However, Shinedown have apparently taken a turn into pop rock on Attention Attention, because the album as a whole is much lighter and poppier than their previous work. Like, throughout this album Shinedown sounds like a heavier version of Imagine Dragons (most evidently on “Darkside”). Attention Attention isn’t exactly bad, it’s just not my thing at all and is just even more disappointing considering that it’s not the sort of product that I look to Shinedown to create. Maybe you’ll dig it, but I definitely did not.

13) Outsider, Three Days Grace
Other than what I hear on the radio, I’m not particularly familiar with Three Days Grace’s catalogue, other than the fact that founding singer Adam Gontier (the most notable aspect of Three Days Grace’s sound) left the band a few years ago. I figured that would be the end of the band, but here were are with the second post-Gontier Three Days Grace album and they seem to be going about as strong as ever. In fact, there are some songs here on Outsider, such as “The Mountain” and “Infra-Red”, which are about as great as any of the other major hits of the band’s earlier years. That said, the album is very much typical Three Days Grace, for better or worse. If you already have feelings about Three Days Grace’s brand of angsty, radio-friendly rock, then they are unlikely to change any. For my own part, I feel like Outsider has a few strong songs, but most of the album is fairly forgettable and is unlikely to leave a major impact.

12) Erase Me, Underøath
As someone growing up with Christian metal, I’ve always been aware of Underøath, but I’ve never really listened to them. This puts me into a weird place with Erase Me, as I have no real measuring stick for this album’s place in their career. What made me check this album out was the story of the band’s lead vocalist and last-remaining founding member, Aaron Gillespie. To put it simply, Aaron had a major falling out with evangelicalism and came back to Underøath on this album with a new direction for the band. Rather than continuing to just crank out music for the Christian music scene, Underøath are just playing what they want, including such “controversial” things as swearing in their music (as the reaction to P.O.D.’s Murdered Love shows, this is a MAJOR no-no in the evangelical scene). Honestly though, the controversy is pretty silly to me because thematically this is still very much a Christian album, featuring songs about hope, sacrifice and struggles which somehow get completely invalidated by the fact that Aaron punctuates them with a very real and raw “fuck” on occasion. Interestingly, these struggles with faith might have actually led to some legitimate angst which those who have had a falling-out with religion can relate to. Songs such as “ihateit” are infectious and enjoyably angsty and there’s a strong metalcore vibe to most of the album.

That said, the music itself is going to be hit-or-miss for some people. On the one hand, their evangelical fanbase has been turned off out of the gate. Furthermore, metalcore fans might be turned off by the electronic elements of the album, such as “No Frame” which almost sounds like a weird pop song. Even general audiences could be turned off by the fact that Erase Me ultimately just sounds like well-made but fairly generic metalcore. I’d say that Underøath are clearly talented and make some pretty good music, but it suffers a bit for being a tad generic. It’s kind of unfortunate, I was so primed for this album and the mindset behind it, it’s just so much more compelling than the actual music is.

11) Ember, Breaking Benjamin
Breaking Benjamin are a band I’ve passed over for most of my life, but I’ve finally started getting into them late into this year. I like the band’s heavy, dour and angsty sound and thought that I would check out their newest album, Ember. A couple tracks in and I was having a pretty great time – “Feed the Wolf” and “Red Cold River” were very enjoyable, if a bit samey and very much in the mold of Breaking Benjamin’s usual fare (if a tad heavier that previously). However, as the album progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that “that usual fare” is all that Breaking Benjamin is interested in producing, because all of the songs on Ember sound very similar. Some songs are a little better than others, but they basically all have the same sort of sound, the same tone and same angsty themes that Breaking Benjamin have been mining for their entire career. The only songs which change things up at all are “The Dark of You”, which is quietly moody, and “Close Your Eyes”, which is basically the same as the rest of the album aside from the fact that it’s the only song with any sort of hopeful tone to it. Other than that, Ember is only really going to appeal to you if you already are really into Breaking Benjamin’s sound. When the tracks are all so samey, only the strongest ones actually stand out, making half of the album pretty much throwaway. Ember certainly isn’t a bad album – in fact, I quite like it. However, the lack of ambition and willingness to try something different makes it considerably less than it could have been.

10) White Nationalism is for Basement Dwelling Losers, Neckbeard Deathcamp + United Antifascist Evil, Neckbeard Deathcamp/Gaylord
I’m putting these two entries together since they basically sound the same. Neckbeard Deathcamp is a pretty good black metal act that shot into prominence early this year with the amazingly anti-alt-right White Nationalism is for Basement Dwelling Losers, which was quickly followed-up with a split EP with Gaylord, United Antifascist Evil. Neckbeard Deathcamp are satirical geniuses, everything from the album covers, to the song titles, to the lyrics (“Chrischan Conservatism”, “Incel Warfare” and “Please Respond (I Showed You My Penis)” are probably my favourite songs of theirs) and even the band’s pseudonyms are absolutely amazing. Neckbeard Deathcamp absolutely hate the resurgence of the extreme right and have provided us with an appropriate soundtrack for the times that we’re living in. The only reason I don’t put them higher on the list is because of the low production quality and that the awesome lyrics are wasted on growled vocals (I know that that’s the scene they’re in, but it’s still unfortunate that you can’t hear any of it). Still, the releases are only a couple of dollars each and the music is still pretty solid black metal regardless, so if you’re interested then they’re definitely worth checking out.

9) Space Nazis Must Die, Countless Thousands
Space Nazis Must Die is a charming little bit-sized EP from Countless Thousands. The titular song plays very much like a track from their debut album called “The Devil & Davey Munch”, a delightful narrative-song which is a very obvious “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” homage (for my money, the resulting song is infinitely better than simply covering the Charlie Daniels Band, which most bands would have just gone and done). While “The Devil & Davey Munch” serenaded the band’s bassist (the titular “Davey”), “Space Nazis Must Die” pays tribute to drummer Jon David, who gets to dropkick AstroHitler to death with the power of rock before blasting “The Star Spangled Banner” as a victory celebration and telling all the nazis to “get off my moon”. It’s as epic as it sounds.

Lyrically it’s not as savage or biting as Neckbeard Deathcamp, coming across like more of an anti-fascist power fantasy, but God what a sweet fantasy that is in this modern political climate. And here I was last year saying that I had hoped Humanz would be the soundtrack to the Trump years – nope, it’s anti-fascist anthems like Neckbeard Deathcamp and “Space Nazis Must Die” which are really capturing the modern zeitgeist. Big bands such as Disturbed and Five Finger Death Punch don’t want to get into politics because it affects their bottom-line (hence the toothless nature of Evolution), but indie bands can actually capture the feelings of our times in a manner such as this.

I give Space Nazis Must Die the edge over Neckbeard Deathcamp’s output since you can at least understand the lyrics and it’s just straight-up delightful to listen to. I do wish that it was a bit more substantial (the entire package is about 8 minutes long), but at only $3 it’s hard to consider this an unfair trade-off by any means.

8) Black Reign, Avenged Sevenfold
I have been off of the Call of Duty train for about 7 or 8 years now and never really got into the Black Ops games, so finding out that Avenged Sevenfold have contributed music to all of Treyarch’s entries in those games came as something of a surprise. I mean, a Call of Duty EP from a major metal act? Perhaps even more surprising, there are some really killer tracks on this EP. “Carry On” really shows off the stellar guitar work of Synyster Gates, but “Not Ready to Die” is the real highlight of the album. Oddly enough, the one track written specifically for the EP and for Black Ops 4, “Jade Helm”, is by far the weakest of the bunch, often cutting to silence for seconds at a time as if it’s meant to be used in trailer snippets rather than actually listened to. Still, Black Reign is way better than a Call of Duty EP has any right to be, demonstrating Avenged Sevenfold’s talents in the process.

7) You’re Not Alone, Andrew W.K.
I really love Andrew W.K.’s ambitious, hard-rocking sophomore album, The Wolf, even more than his more popular debut, I Get Wet. However, nothing that he has put out since then has gotten my attention. You’re Not Alone is a decent course correction, feeling very much like a long-awaited follow-up to his first two albums. Everyone knows that Andrew W.K. loves to party, but on You’re Not Alone he combines that with the self-help philosophy that he has been developing over the last several years, to the point where this album almost feels like it’s forming the basis of a cult of partying (such as the highlight “Music Is Worth Living For”). The music itself is a classic Andrew W.K. overwhelming wall of sound, complemented by his awesome harsh vocals (which had been missing from some of his more disappointing releases). I do feel like the album itself, along with some of the songs on the latter half, are a bit too long though and the overall package could have done with some fat trimming. Still, You’re Not Alone is a pretty decent Andrew W.K. release, it’s just still nowhere near the same level as his first two albums and none of the songs stick with you quite as along either.

6) The Sin and Doom, Vol. II, Impending Doom
Impending Doom are, in my opinion, low-key one of the best Christian artists out there. There are few bands in the Christian music scene which could legitimately hold up against other bands within their genre, but Impending Doom put out some brutally heavy deathcore that can be appreciated whether you agree with their faith or not. Funnily enough for a deathcore band, their songwriting is a key component of this – most of their songs tend to have moments which you just want to scream along to. The Sin and Doom, Vol. II doesn’t stray too far from this formula, although it does take a little while to really hit its stride. The first few tracks are decent but don’t particularly stand out from the rest of Impending Doom’s output. However, by the time “The Serpent’s Tongue” comes up, the album really kicks into overdrive. The song itself is somewhat silly, disparaging Satanism in the black metal scene, but you kind of have to appreciate Impending Doom for having the balls to take a stand for what they believe in in this case (it doesn’t hurt that this track has one of those awesome “scream along moments” when lead singer Brooke Reeves shouts “Satan hates you because you’re made in the image of God’s only son!”; a classic Impending Doom moment if there ever was one). If there was any doubt about Impending Doom’s place in this scene after “The Serpent’s Tongue”, that’s totally washed away by the awesome “Unbroken” and “Devil’s Den” (which, again, will leave you screaming “Slaughter the demons that are crawling on my brother’s back!”). It takes a while to really get going, but once it does, The Sin and Doom, Vol. II makes for some really killer death metal. It certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s high quality and really gets your blood pumping and your fist bumping.

5) Circles, P.O.D.
I’m always a bit nervous whenever a new P.O.D. album comes out. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for almost 16 years and were what got me into heavy music in the first place. That said, they always try something different with every new release and I’m never really sure if it’s something that I’ll enjoy, that perhaps their new music will somehow hurt their legacy for me. For their last couple albums, P.O.D. have also been starting to feel like “the old guys in the room”, complaining about the current music scene and hearkening back to a time when music was better (their last album, The Awakening, was made as a concept album for this very reason). Thankfully, Circles doesn’t lean too hard into this negativity and reminded me just why I still love P.O.D. after so many years.

P.O.D. never really stick with one uniform sound from album-to-album. Circles sounds somewhere in the neighbourhood of Murdered Love and Satellite, with tons of different influences dotted throughout the album – lots of heavy hard rock, rap, reggae, funk, punk and even a gospel-flavoured tune. It’s also quite interesting that lead singer Sonny Sandoval raps the lyrics to nearly song on this album, something which P.O.D. hasn’t really done since their earliest albums. I know some people just can’t stand rap-rock, but I think it works and makes for an interesting mixture when you consider all the myriad of influences and styles P.O.D. works in throughout the album.

There are some real standout tracks here: the title track is really good and “Listening for the Silence” is fantastic, with a powerful chorus that you’re going to struggle to get out of your head long afterwards. These are definitely two of my favourite songs of the year, hands down. There are some other big standouts as well: “Rockin’ with the Best” is enjoyably heavy and I can see it being amazing live, “Fly Away” (the aforementioned gospel-inspired track) is really unique and “Soundboy Killa” is a really cool rap-rock fusion which would probably be even more of a standout if the band hadn’t released it as a single more than a year ago (having seen the song live though, it definitely is a killer track to witness). There aren’t really any stinkers on the album, although I’m not sure yet whether I like the really strained screaming on “Panic Attack”, and some of the songs have excessively repetitive and simple choruses. The album could also do with being a little longer (it’s less than 40 minutes in total), but the band really does make the most of each song and I really have to commend them on how they’re still trying to find unique avenues for their sound after 25 years (cough Breaking Benjamin cough). Circles is a very solid effort by P.O.D. and while not every track is top notch, even the weaker tracks are unique enough to be interesting and worth checking out.

4) When Legends Rise, Godsmack
Godsmack can usually be relied on to put out decent music, but they never have hit that “next level” and I’d struggle to say that they have ever put out a truly good album. They’re usually like Breaking Benjamin – releasing music which is largely the same as what they’ve done before. As a result, the fact that Godsmack named their newest album “When Legends Rise” made for a pretty big statement from them. While the album doesn’t really meet the lofty standard of “legendary”, it is definitely the band’s strongest release ever and puts Godsmack on a much more interesting course going forward. When Legends Rise sheds most of the aggression, angst and casual misogyny that defined their earlier, drearier releases, in favour of a more hopeful hard rock sound. It’s still familiar but refreshingly updated and (dare I say it) matured. “Bulletproof” is a particular highlight, sounding very different than anything else Godsmack has ever done and is possibly my favourite song of the year. That said, the album is definitely frontloaded – after the slowed-down “Under Your Scars”, the second half of the album is noticeably weaker than the first, feeling a little more like their usual output. Still, When Legends Rise was a pleasant surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting much, but Godsmack have put themselves onto an interesting track here and I’m very excited to see where they go in the future.

3) The Sacrament of Sin, Powerwolf

Powerwolf feel like the band that was made for me – a musical fusion of metal, werewolves and religious fanaticism. Sign me the hell up! They can usually be relied on to put out great albums, even if their sound and style has been set in stone for over a decade now. Enter The Sacrament of Sin, which goes to show that if you’re not going to reinvent the wheel, then make sure that that wheel is rock solid. Thankfully, even if it’s largely more of the same, Powerwolf have crafted some really high-quality tracks which show off their “metal mass” style (power metal with traditional Catholic mass songwriting and organs). “Demons Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is a particular highlight, as is the powerful “Where the Wild Wolves Have Gone”, which really shows of Attila Dorn’s operatic vocals.

The deluxe editions of The Sacrament of Sin also come with a bonus disc called Cummunio Lupatum, featuring other artists covering Powerwolf tracks in their own style. I was super excited for this because Powerwolf’s last album had a similar bonus disc where they covered some of their favourite music, resulting in some absolutely killer tracks. Unfortunately, Cummunio Lupatum lands with a damp squib because most of the covers are either mediocre or straight-up bad. The only track which is any good is Kissin’ Dynamite’s cover of “Let There Be Night”, which sounds absolutely amazing. If the rest of the covers had been anywhere near as good then the deluxe edition would be a must-buy, but thankfully this doesn’t take away from the more consistent quality of The Sacrament of Sin.

2) Disobey, Bad Wolves
Disobey is the case-in-point on why Five Finger Death Punch’s abysmal songwriting is so crippling. Bad Wolves’ sound is very similar to Five Finger Death Punch’s – their style of metal is similarly heavy, aggressive and, hell, the biggest single off this album is even a cover. The key difference though is that Bad Wolves can write a damn song and don’t make themselves come across as assholes in the process. Disobey has a number of different lyrical topics, although it largely revolves around themes of protesting overbearing authorities. Tracks such as the killer opener “Officer Down” at least flirt with political topics, in this case police violence, which is more than you can say about many of the other toothless “protest” albums on the lower-half of this list. There’s also plenty of musical variety from song-to-song which always keeps things interesting. Disobey largely succeeds due to the fact that it’s a constantly inventive, polished and very high-quality release which isn’t afraid to say something. I can only hope that Bad Wolves can top it going forward.

1) Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle
I’ve been into Tool for quite a long time now, but I never really made the jump to James Maynard Keenan’s other band, A Perfect Circle. However, I was looking for new music for this list and remembered that A Perfect Circle had put out their first new album in almost 15 years. On a whim, I decided to check it out and… well, let’s just say that I thought that Disobey was going to be my album of the year until I was about 3 or 4 tracks into Eat the Elephant.

First off, if you’re expecting something like Tool, you’re not going to find it here. It’s quite hard for me to really categorize this album’s genre, because it’s so unique, although I might have settled on it being alternative rock or hard rock. Eat the Elephant really shows off James Maynard Keenan’s singing, which is immediately evident on the sombre but hopeful title track

One of the more refreshing aspects of Eat the Elephant is that the songs actually feel like they have something to say. From tracks calling to overcome the obstacles we face (or build) in our lives (“Eat the Elephant”, “Disillusioned”) to pointed political statements (“The Contrarian” for corrupt politicians, “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk” for the evils in evangelicalism), Eat the Elephant usually has something interesting to say. The album also has my hands-down favourite song of the year, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”, which immediately gets points for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference. It’s a really cool song, alluding to the dolphins in Hitchhiker’s Guide to honour the deaths of celebrities in 2017, as if they’re escaping Earth before our nuclear annihilation. It’s a fantastic song, simply put. Most of Eat the Elephant is just well-crafted music, far more ambitious than basically any other album I’ve heard this year. Unfortunately, the latter quarter of the album isn’t quite as triumphant as the rest – tracks like “DLB” and “Feathers” certainly aren’t bad, but they don’t hit anywhere near as hard as earlier tracks. Worst of all though, the album ends on a really poor note with the overly-long “Get the Lead Out”, by far my least-favourite track and a very dull closer. It’s too bad that it closes the album out on a bit of a sour note.

I went into Eat the Elephant totally blind, not sure if I was actually going to like it. The resulting album really impressed me though and I’m certain that I’ve still got plenty more layers to uncover in further listen-throughs. I feel like I’m going to come back to some of the other, lower-ranked albums more often, but it’s hard to deny that Eat the Elephant is the best, most well-crafted album I’ve heard all year.

Please follow and like us:

Five Finger Death Punch and the Machismo of Submission

For the past couple months I’ve been working on a follow-up to my album rankings of 2017 and one of the bands that is going to feature on that list is (spoiler alert) Five Finger Death Punch. I have really disliked Five Finger Death Punch since I first checked them out – they tend to have a few good songs per album but most of their music is utter trash. The main issue is their lyrics, which are usually toxically masculine, raging at the whole world, threatening to beat everyone up, swearing constantly, and which throw in casual misogyny and homophobia for good measure. For a band that is clearly aiming to be badass, their incessant whining makes them look like a bunch of children and this has turned me off of all but a handful of their songs.

For this year’s album rankings though I decided to look into Five Finger Death Punch a little bit closer though to see if my impression of the band was accurate. For the most part, yes I was pretty spot on. Most distressingly, the band’s nasty, misogynistic lyrics spill over into real life; lead singer Ivan Moody (seriously, that’s his actual last name) has been in legal trouble on at least two occasions for assault against women, in part due to alcoholism which he has apparently been trying to get a handle on. One thing you kind of have to give the band some credit on though is their unequivocal support of the military and police. The level to which this support goes might be questionable, but the respect that they show to the actual individuals is admirable and has likely contributed to the growth in their popularity.

Most of the band doesn’t seem to be openly political, with the major exception being guitarist Zoltan Bathory who has, err, opinions on Donald Trump, gun control and communism. He seems like a really odd character all on his own. In addition to Five Finger Death Punch, he claims to be a civilian combat instructor for the US military, although I feel like I need to add that I’ve seen comments from multiple soldiers while researching him who said that they had never heard of him and that they were skeptical of his claims. Considering that the article cited on his Wikipedia page which is meant to back up this claim also has Bathory claiming that the band has been shot at while performing for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait, I’m also somewhat skeptical (I certainly don’t doubt that he’s a skilled martial artist, but “one of the few civilians certified by the US Army as an L1 Modern Army Combatives Instructor – Close Quarter Combat”? Sorry Zoltan, I need a bit more proof than your word).

Zoltan also apparently writes for a magazine called Skillset. Skillset’s website states quite boldly that it’s all about “redefining the alpha lifestyle”, with features that “[spotlight] men and women with undeniable talents and abilities. We are VETERAN OWNED AND OPERATED and changing the face of ‘men’s interest’ magazines on newsstands.” The magazine boasts that it does so through articles on “rock stars, athletes, car builders and gun culture” and is plastered with ridiculously over-the-top images of men pointing guns at the camera. Basically it’s a douchey, redneck version of Playboy. Not all that surprising that a member of Five Finger Death Punch would be drawn to such a publication, although it sounds less like they’re “redefining” the alpha lifestyle than they are simply reinforcing traditional American machismo, although perhaps with some consideration that women can be badass too.

Finding out that Zoltan writes for Skillset really helped to crystalize my disparate feelings about Five Finger Death Punch, because I feel like it really is a great, unintentional illustration of the band’s philosophy. One could say that Skillset is all about people who are apparently better than the rest of us because they take control, the ways they present themselves, etc. Similarly, Five Finger Death Punch’s music is all about aggressive posturing, the constant threats about kicking peoples’ asses are meant to make them seem like badasses even though they end up making them seem like whiny, overcompensating pansies. This is just so obvious on songs like “Burn MF” where they unironically claim that the weight of the world is on their shoulders and then in the next verse rage that people fake that the world is on their shoulders. I’m not the only one who notices this either; in a review of their most recent album Michael Hann writes that Ivan Moody “reflects on his troubled past couple of years […] with a level of self-pity that wouldn’t disgrace a child who’d been bought Pro Evo instead of Fifa for Christmas: ‘Everybody seems like they’re waiting for me to die / Talk shit behind my back, can’t look me in the eye.’ When, on ‘It Doesn’t Matter’, he hollers ‘You’re so self-righteous, and you’re never going to change,’ you want to inquire if Mr Pot and Mr Kettle have made each other’s acquaintance.” It’s like they see the world in a hierarchical way, where their troubles are more legitimate than those of the people beneath them, in a manner not dissimilar to incels with their self-perception of being “inferior” beta males who are literally unloveable and worthless.

Is anyone surprised that Five Finger Death Punch fans are this pleasant? (Source)

This hierarchy also ties into the band’s support of the military and Zoltan’s support of Donald Trump. The way Five Finger Death Punch sees the military is not dissimilar from the manner many American nationalist/patriots are raised to – men who are braver and better than the rest of society and deserving of unquestioning respect. You can see this idealization pretty clearly in some of their songs, such as “Death Before Dishonour”, where they claim that everyone’s living a fake life except for the soldiers who die with their dignity. There’s a common trope amongst conservative types that soldiers are basically always right, from atheist professor variations, to God’s Not Dead 2 making a point of having the evil atheists kick a marine off the jury, to the portrayals of soldiers as morally and intellectually infallible in American Sniper and (especially) 13 Hours.

Soldiers obviously do deserve respect – they are serving their people and are often away from their families as a result of that, not to mention the inherent risk involved in the job. However, the level of lionization is just plain ridiculous sometimes and they even get used as a symbolic cudgel to beat down any sort of opposition to nationalism. Considering that no one in Five Finger Death Punch has actually served in the military, it’s a little bit odd that they fetishize them as much as they do. The band even goes so far as to collect dog tags from their fans to display behind them at concerts, almost as if they’re trying to gain that legitimacy through association. When you consider that, for conservative types, “the military is romanticized and portrayed as an institution of national pride [which] focuses on the prestige associated with enlisting in the Marines and serving one’s country”, it’s really not that surprising that you can have a band that punches down in their music and submits to authority because they fall in line when someone more powerful than them comes along.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with cultivating a military following with your music. Ivan Moody has a story he tells about a soldier who died in Iraq while listening to one of their songs, which is undeniably moving. Other bands, such as Disturbed, have written music with the expressed intent of encouraging the troops. I just find it really interesting that Five Finger Death Punch can rage uncontrolled at the whole world and posture like they’re ultimate badasses, but then make so much of a show about being submissive to authority. It seems to run counter to their message until you understand their ethos a little better.

Please follow and like us:

Animals in Bands

I was listening to a podcast the other day and someone mentioned off-hand that there was a metal band fronted by dogs. Naturally, this revelation caused me to instantly shoot up in my seat and try to find this band, because it sounded so intriguing. It turns out that there are actually a few bands fronted by animals and the results are certainly… interesting.

Honourable Mention: No Grave But the Sea For Dogs, Alestorm
This one definitely doesn’t count, but it was my original touch-point for animal-fronted music. Basically, it’s Alestorm’s No Grave But the Sea, but with all the vocals replaced by a barking dog sound effect. It’s pretty funny if you’re familiar with the songs and the dog barking is done in the same rhythm as the actual vocal tracks, but it’s not like they had a dog in the studio just barking constantly over each track. Check out the track “Alestorm” here.

Caninus

Kicking this list off with the band which inspired it, we have Caninus, a deathgrind band headed by two pit bulls, Basil and Budgie. The band was the side project of Most Precious Blood guitarist Justin Brannan, which lent the group some musical chops to go along with the vocal gimmick. The band was actually signed to a record label, War Torn records, and had three releases – two split EPs and a full album with the absolutely amazing title of Now the Animals Have Voices. Sadly, the band is now defunct, as Basil had a brain tumour and was euthanized in 2011 and Budgie died in 2016.

As for the music itself, I’m very mixed on it. Like I said, the sound and production are quite polished and coherent than some of the other bands on this list. However, I’m not a fan of the music itself – the songs range from 30 seconds to maybe 3 minutes at most, meaning that Now the Animals Have Voices is over very quickly. I know that this is the whole point, but the music is literally just lots of snarling, growling and some barking set to music. The vocals are appropriate for the heaviness of the music, but it doesn’t amount to something that I’d actually want to listen to. They’re on Spotify though, so feel free to give them a listen for yourself.

Highlights: “Fear of Dog (Religious Myths)”, “New Yorkie Crew (Loyal Like A Stone)”

Hatebeak

After Caninus, Hatebeak is probably the second biggest animal-fronted band out there, based on the research I found for this post. Hatebeak are a death/grindcore metal band fronted by a grey parrot named Waldo. The band is signed to Reptilian Records and is still active today, having released three split EPs (including one with Caninus) and a full-length album in 2015 called The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak really pride themselves on their bird-pun titles, which are equal parts cringe and chuckle-worthy. If nothing else, I’d recommend you at least check out the titles of their songs. I mean, just look at the album art for The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak takes itself much less seriously than Caninus, really leaning into the whole joke of its premise.

Musically, Hatebeak are a mixed bag. The production on The Number of the Beak is very bad, almost demo-quality. For some of their songs, I’d say it would be appropriate to label Hatebeak “noise”, as their music is largely just distorted guitars with some squacks overlaid on it. On such tracks, the parrot vocalist feels like a gimmick. However, there are some tracks where Waldo’s vocals actually resemble grindcore “bree-brees”, such as “Beak of Putrefaction”, “God of Empty Nest” and “Seeds of Destruction”, which isn’t a musical style I’m into, but it’s familiar enough to bring a smile to my face and I can definitely see how someone could be into these tracks. “Roost in Peace” is also a pretty solid death metal track. All-in-all, I actually enjoyed bits of Hatebeak more than Caninus, even if the production is total ass and the first half of the album makes the parrot vocals feel like a gimmick. However, when Hatebeak works, it works pretty well, although it’s pretty clear that the band put more effort into their song titles than they did in the music itself. The Number of the Beak is on Spotify, I’d recommend that you give it a listen.

Highlights: “Roost in Peace”, “Seven Perches”

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

The previous two entries were bands fronted by animals, whereas The Thai Elephant Orchestra are a band made up of animals, performing their own music. The elephants are actually signed to Mulatta Records, which prides itself as “purveyors of the unique and bizarre”, where they have released 4 albums: a self-titled album, Elephonic Rhapsodies, Water Music and Smash Hits. The band’s page on Mulatta Records proudly states that the band is comprised of “Elephants in the Thai jungle playing specially designed musical instruments. The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant Orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier”.

As you would probably expect from music improvised and performed entirely by animals, The Thai Elephant Orchestra’s music is mostly just noise. There isn’t really much artistry or cohesion to it, although in this case the gimmick of having music created by animals doesn’t diminish the product itself. Elephonic Rhapsodies is on Spotify, so if you’re interested then you might want to check it out.

The Rock Cats

Aaaand here’s where we get more into the gimmicky stuff, if you can believe that after Caninus and Hatebeak. The Rock Cats are an off-shoot of The Acro-Cats, which is essentially a cat circus. Each show ends with a performance by The Rock Cats, which is dubbed “the only cat band in existence”. The sarcastic reviews on the band’s Wikipedia page are incredible:

-“An unpredictable assortment of instrument clanging, and rarely does it sound like the cats are playing the same song, let alone an actual, fully realized piece of music.”
-“Really, really fun way to spend an afternoon”
-A reviewer of a 2013 show in New Orleans was critical of the band’s musicality, and complained that the advertised “seasonal carol selections such as ‘A Cat in a Manger’ and ‘Catnip Roasting on an Open Fire'” never materialized.”
-“What they lacked in technical skill, they certainly made up for in rock ‘n’ roll catitude”.

The band also has a website which is pure 90s Geocities cheese and which apparently isn’t updated with any regularity because it has a listing of the band members, but the front-cat, Tuna, has been dead for a year now (and this despite having a listing for a show that happened a couple days ago as of this writing). The site also has a music video of the cats (and a rooster, and a gopher) playing music which seems to be 100% legit, although edited heavily to make it listenable if the band’s reviews are anything to go by. Unlike the other entries on this list, they do not have any music up on Spotify.

The Jingle Cats

…and of course there’s an entire Christmas-themed band of cats out there. Unlike The Rock Cats, The Jingle Cats merely meow over humans playing Christmas carols in a similar manner to No Grave But the Sea for Dogs. They released three albums, Meowy Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claws and a non-Christmas album, Rhythm and Mews, all three of which are available on Spotify. They also have a website which is somehow even worse than The Rock Cats’ was.

Christmas albums tend to be gimmicky enough as it is, but having cats as the vocalists just adds a whole new dimension of gimmickry to the proceedings. The music itself is very generic holiday fare, almost like something from a karaoke version of the songs, and the cat vocals grow tiresome very quickly, especially when they are arranged in a very high pitch. Also, for some reason, there’s a dog on lots of these songs as well, despite this being a supposedly cat-based band. As painful as the Christmas albums are, Rhythm and Mews is a special kind of insane, featuring cat-based covers of “Secret Agent Man“, “Home on the Range” and the freaking “The Star Spangled Banner“.

I… I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Maybe we should just stop with these animal bands, or at least the cat-based ones, okay?

Please follow and like us:

My Favourite Albums of 2017

Hey… it’s been a super long time since I made a post. Considering that I left shortly before all the bullshit with Trump started, that might have been for the best, but I’ll make an update on what has gone on in my life sometime soon… because damn it has been quite a year.

But anyway, I was thinking back on the music I’ve been listening to this year and it caused me to realize just how many albums I’ve checked out since January. Then, before I knew it, I suddenly had half an IC2S list hashed out and knew that I had to finally get back into the blogging game. So, here I present to you, the albums I listened to in 2017, ranked from worst to best. Naturally, I’ll note that music is super subjective, my list is nowhere near comprehensive, and I’d be shocked if you had listened to more than a couple of the albums on it. Just consider this some random loser on the Internet’s list of albums he listened to this year, if nothing else.

13) Tear the Roots, Kaleida
After the very promising Think EP and its mesmerizing title track, I was very intrigued to see what Kaleida would come up with in their debut album. The results are, unfortunately, very mediocre. “Think” reappears completely unchanged and is the one shot of adrenaline in the whole album, which doesn’t speak well to the new material. Tear the Roots is a competent release, but very mediocre and forgettable. I can’t ever see myself listening to it in full again, which should be about all you need to know about it really.

12) Pretzel Champions, Countless Thousands
As the album’s Bandcamp description states, Pretzel Champions was “written and recorded in the eye of a storm in only 24 hours. We like to tempt fate.” That more-or-less should give you an idea of what you’re in for, featuring 4 lean songs with questionable recording quality. It doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of Countless Thousands’ catalogue, although the obviously experimental nature and time-crunch that birthed it makes it certainly intriguing. “An Umbrella for the Golden Shower” and “Sunday Best” are really solid songs which I would love to hear in a bit more refined form sometime in the future. It’s not exactly a bad album, but the poor audio quality definitely holds it back.

11) Gone, Red
Red and I have a bit of a troubled history. End of Silence was a great debut and Innocence & Instinct was a great follow-up. However, cracks began to show with the forgettable Until We Have Faces, but it wasn’t until the bland, chart-seeking Release the Panic that I decided that I was sick of Red. However, the band seemed to realize that they had screwed up and made amends in fantastic fashion with, in my opinion their best album, of Beauty and Rage. So, going into Gone I was left wondering which direction Red was going to head – were they going to try to recapture that quality again? Or were they going to try to aim for that blander rock sound again? The answer is… well, a little bit of everything. In terms of sound, Gone feels like something of an amalgamation of all of Red’s albums thus far, for better or worse. The album’s at its best when it’s hewing towards those first 2 albums (“Step Inside, The Violence” “Still Alive”, “Chasing Your Echo”) or of Beauty and Rage (“A.I.”). However, it’s also gets questionable when it hews towards Release the Panic‘s electronic synthesizers and radio-rock sound. The title track is a good example of this – it’s a serviceable radio rock track, but then at the height of the chorus, it will suddenly switch into this electronic music which literally sounds like a generic top 40 backing track, and I don’t like how this gels together. On the other hand, “Unstoppable” is just awkward – it feels like Red want an anthemic crowd-pleasing rock track, but the chorus in particular feels half-baked and I’d feel really silly screaming that at a concert with any sort of sincerity. The closing track, “Singularity”, is the one track that feels quite different from what they’ve done and maybe points towards the future, with some eerie sampling and slow build-up towards its heavy ending. I have a feeling that Red has a diverse fanbase at this point, and in trying to give everyone something to enjoy, they can’t help but alienate others in the process. Gone isn’t bad, but it didn’t really reignite my passion for this band like I was hoping it would.

10) Humanz, Gorillaz
I would maintain that Demon Days is one of the best soundtracks to the post-9/11 and early War on Terror era, so I was really hoping that Humanz would be the Trump-era equivalent. While Humanz seems to have the aspirations to hit that lofty goal (further suggested by the various album covers which are reminiscent of the iconic Demon Days art), the results are unlikely to stand the test of time. Humanz is, simply put, a bit of a mess. There are some standout tracks, such as “Saturnz Barz”, “Busted and Blue” and “Halleujah Money”, but there are so many strange and sometimes forgettable tracks which just feels like they took absolutely everything from the studio and then threw it at the wall to see what would stick. Damon Albarn also takes a backseat on most of the tracks, which just further makes this feel like a mixtape rather than a cohesive album. It gets more enjoyable the more you listen to it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this might be less “self titled debut” and more “The Fall“.

9) Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon
The surprise second release by Mastodon in 2017, Cold Dark Place attempts to harken back to the band’s sludgier roots which they have left behind since 2009’s Crack the Skye, at which point the band moved more towards progressive metal. That’s not to say that Cold Dark Place is particularly heavy – it’s reminiscent of the slower parts of Blood Mountain (think “Pendulous Skin”) or The Hunter perhaps. The 4 songs here have a melodic and melancholic feed to them, making the album’s title and art actually quite effective for describing the feel you get listening to it. There are only 4 tracks, but they’re all solid and reasonably lengthy, so it lasts longer than you might otherwise expect. At this point, I’m just curious to see if this is just an experiment from Mastodon, or a sign of things to come going forward. I guess we’ll see in a couple years time.

8) No Grave But the Sea, Alestorm
Alestorm jokingly declared that they were scraping the barrel with their pirate metal antics 2 albums ago, but No Grave But the Sea further goes to demonstrate that they can continue to spin gold out of a seemingly finite concept. Part of the reason for this is because Alestorm does not take themselves seriously in the slightest, so every album is a reminiscent of a rowdy and rousing bar concert (like something out of Tangled). Tracks like “Mexico”, “Fucked With an Anchor” and “Man the Pumps” leave me simultaneously laughing and wanting to sing along at the same time, and that’s before you even factor in the bonus CD which replaces all the lyrics with dogs barking (…no seriously, that is not a joke, that actually exists). That’s not to say that there are no more serious tracks here – the title track and “To The End of the World” are quite badass and help to keep the album from going too far and becoming a total farce.

7) Outlive, Demon Hunter
Outlive has my favourite opening of the year with the badass “Trying Times” hyping you for what’s to come, and then leading into the blistering “Jesus Wept”. It’s then a bit of a minor tragedy that Outlive peaks immediately and doesn’t come close to matching that intensity again. All of the tracks are solid, but there are some forgettable stretches and only a few tracks really stand out from the pack, particularly the aforementioned opening duo and “Raining Down” (which has gone on to become a bit of an anthem for me this past year). The relative softening of Demon Hunter’s signature intense metalcore sound is also slightly disappointing, but the music is good enough that this isn’t too serious an issue. Outlive is a good release by Demon Hunter, maybe not as strong as their last album, Extremist, but certainly a worthy addition to their catalogue.

6) Alba, Sleeping Romance
Sleeping Romance’s previous release, Enlighten, was a rather standard symphonic metal release which was buoyed by the unexpectedly heavy and intense closing track, “Devil’s Cave”. My worry going into Alba was that Sleeping Romance wouldn’t be able to match that high point, but the album quickly put those fears to rest. The opening overture is appropriately gothic, operatic and theatrical, showing the band’s greater ambition and matured musicianship before transitioning into the familiar Sleeping Romance sound (strings, piano, heavy guitars and Federica Lanna’s dreamlike voice and particular Italian accent). There are also two tracks which very much rival “Devil’s Cave”, the first being “Forgiveness” with a very heavy opening and some fantastic solos in the latter half, and the second being the title track, which is clearly intended to harken back to “Devil’s Cave” before spinning off into its own thing. The album isn’t just trying to match previous beats though, as tracks like “Touch the Sun” and “Everything Behind” also stand out in ways that previous efforts never really did. In many ways, Alba could be said to be like a much more refined version of Enlighten, in that it treads similar ground, but in a much stronger package. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this album, but I was left pleasantly surprised by how good it ended up being.

5) The Lost City, The Wise Man’s Fear
A friend of mine got me into Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle a little over a year ago. Shortly after finishing the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, I accidentally stumbled onto a fantasty-based metalcore outfit with the same name which was clearly drawing inspiration from Rothfuss. Suffice to say, I was intrigued and very quickly discovered an exciting new band that I have been listening to regularly ever since. While their previous release, Castle in the Clouds, hewed closer to Rothfuss, The Lost City sees The Wise Man’s Fear branching out more into their own fantasy creations. The fantastical elements lend the band a rather unique space in the metalcore genre, where the angst and intensity is not just the band getting out their own issues, but rather they’re telling the stories of a character and a world. The band’s vocal and sonic diversity are also impressive and help to distinguish the tone of each song – one minute they might be singing melodically before switching over to shouts, screams and death growls… and dammit it sounds so freaking good (hell, “Bloodlust” even has doom metal-style “bree bree” vocals at certain points). Particular standouts for me include “Grey King”, “What Time Brings”, “Codex” and the title track, but nearly the entire damn album is fantastic.

4) Sheep Among Wolves, Project 86
For a very long time, I considered Project 86 to be my second favourite band, so hopefully that helps to illustrate how disappointed I was in their last release, Knives to the Future, that I was quite hesitant about how their newest album was going to turn out. Thankfully, Sheep Among Wolves is Project 86 back in true form. While Knives suffered from being far too light, Sheep goes in the other direction (overcompensating even) and dials the band’s hardcore sound back up to 11. This album is relentlessly intense, moreso than any other Project 86 album before, and barely easing up until the final track (although it doesn’t reach the level of heaviness and darkness that their first few albums did either). Andrew Schwab’s songwriting has always helped Project 86 to stand out from the pack, and the lyrics here are as fantastic as ever, bringing a poetic side to seemingly straightforward headbanging hardcore rock. The album art is also really cool, probably my favourite cover of the year. If there’s one hesitation I have about Sheep Among Wolves, it would be a bit of unease about the closing track “Metempsychosis”. It’s as good a song as any on the album, but it tackles the idea of changing one’s self through surgery to try to solve deeper issues. Obviously, this is attempting to enter into to the conversation about transgender individuals, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m not sure that I agree with Schwab’s assertion that there’s a spiritual issue at the core of these people seeking surgery, but at the very least he comes across to me as stating his position in a respectful way. If you’re dead-set on any sort of questioning of gender reassignment surgery then you’re probably going to be disappointed with this song, but it’s conveyed in a respectful enough manner that I at least think it deserves its place.

3) Ritual, In This Moment
I was a bit hesitant going into Ritual. Similarly to Project 86, In This Moment’s last album, Black Widow, was a major departure from their usual sound, taking on more pop vibes and losing some of its edge, and it could have easily represented a complete shift in how the band would operate going forward. However, In This Moment proved me wrong in spectacular fashion. I still feel like Blood is their best album, but Ritual is solid from start to finish. It also experiments with their sound in some interesting ways. Blood and Black Widow had both played up a level of gothic, transgressive sexuality which I had quite enjoyed. Ritual quite intentionally jettisons that tone, but is none the weaker for it, proving that, contrary to some opinions on the matter, sex may sell but talent speaks for itself. Instead, Ritual plays more towards In This Moment’s stage theatrics, weaving occultic tapestries which will also make for a fantastic live show (and I sure as hell hope so, I’m planning on catching them in Detroit with P.O.D. in the new year). However, unlike say, The Wall, the tracks here are all just as listenable without a live stage show to go along with them. “Black Wedding” in particular is a hell of a song, riffing on a classic while spinning it in its own direction. I’ve listened to it multiple times in a row on more than one occasion. “Twin Flames”, “Half God Half Devil” and “Roots” are also real standouts. Ritual is, all-in-all, a great album and thankfully puts In This Moment back on track and makes me excited to see where they go in the future.

2) Emperor of Sand, Mastodon
Maybe you’re starting to notice a trend, but I was initially concerned going into Emperor of Sand, because Once More ‘Round the Sun was unquestionably Mastodon’s weakest album to date. Hell, the title even referenced the workman-like nature of it, meaning that another year will pass and therefore another album and touring cycle for the band. Ever since their initial elemental quadrilogy ended, Mastodon have been spinning their wheels a bit, trying to figure out where they will go next. However, when it became clear that Mastodon were going to be going back to a style reminiscent of Crack the Skye (my personal favourite album of theirs), I got excited. Thankfully, Emperor of Sand does not disappoint. In fact, I’d put it on par with Blood Mountain, near the upper-half of their catalogue (which, to contextualize, are popularly considered some of the best metal albums since the 2000s). The album also focuses very strongly on the inevitability of death, and this brings an appropriately sombre tone to the proceedings. There isn’t a weak track on the album, but particular highlights include “Sultan’s Curse”, “Ancient Kingdom”, “Jaguar God” and especially “Steambreather”, which is most reminiscent of their sludgier roots. Between Emperor of Sand and the Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon has had quite the year, and I’m very curious to see how they progress going forward. Perhaps we’re looking at the start of another thematic quadrilogy? One can only hope that Mastodon continues to challenge themselves and don’t ease back into a comfortable cycle.

1) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge
Two years ago I saw Sovereign Council in concert for the album debut celebration for Laniakea. The opening act that night was a band called At Dawn’s Edge, whose symphonic/power metal style instantly had me intrigued. I purchased their EP, First Contact, but was disappointed that most of their setlist wasn’t actually on the EP… and so began the long wait for their debut album to drop. However, nothing prepared me for just how impressive Through Glass Eyes was going to be, and HOLY SHIT is it ever good. For a small outfit, the production values are impeccable, the songs are ambitious and diverse and the band members all display a level of talent and maturity which are frankly insane for a debut album.

My only complaint is really just a nitpick – I vastly prefer the recording of “Utter” on First Contact over the version on Through Glass Eyes. This is a sore point for me, because “Utter” was by far my favourite track on First Contact. The contrast between the vocals of Tamara Filipovic and the male vocalist really made that song work fantastically, but in Through Glass Eyes, this contrast has been replaced with Tamara Filipovic’s singing only. It doesn’t sound nearly as good in comparison to me, and kind of ruins an otherwise good song. Like, I’m honestly at a point where I’m considering swapping in the First Contact version whenever I listen to “Utter” going forward, which would only make Through Glass Eyes that much better of an album to me. Really, this is a nitpick as I said, because Through Glass Eyes is a staggeringly good debut and makes me hope that At Dawn’s Edge have a long and successful career ahead of them. I know that I’ll be there to support them in it.

Please follow and like us:

IC2S Playlist Update 27/04/2016

In case you haven’t been paying attention, we are now just past the IC2S Playlist’s 1 year anniversary. At 9 1/2 hours and 104 songs long, I find it quite enjoyable to throw on shuffle when I’m at work. I’m going to continue to update it irregularly from here on, but I don’t think I’ll write up big update posts like this anymore, mainly because I felt like they spammed the blog with useless posts that people didn’t care about, and the effort I put into writing them was taking up potential effort that could have been going towards the backlog of topics that I actually had some interest in writing about. That’s more-or-less why I started making the playlist updates into more “regular” blog posts a couple months ago, but it’ll be nice not to have weekly updates hanging over my head from here on out.

Anyway, we’re gonna close out the year with 2 songs I wanted to add for months now. First is “Dear John Piper” by Showbread. I had been debating picking this song for a while because it’s a very IC2S-type song (it’s about the destructive theology of Calvinism/predestination… which, again, is totally something I’m into). I kind of wish that the whole song wasn’t being yelled out, but after a few listens it works pretty well, and contrasts well with the furious preaching towards the latter-half of the song. I quite enjoy it, it’s my kind of deliciously angry.

Secondly we have “Empire of the Clouds” by Iron Maiden, which closes us out with the longest song on the entire playlist. It’s also worth pointing out that this epic was written and performed by a group of nearly 60 year old men, which is just insane for an 80s rock/metal band in this day and age. Very few artists can remain relevant for a decade, let alone the 35+ years that Iron Maiden has been rocking our faces (although they did start to slip into irrelevance through the 90s, releasing their 4 indisputably worst albums back-to-back, but have been putting out high quality stuff again since 2000). I mean, just think about how irrelevant The Rolling Stones have been for years, or even other bands with mini-comebacks like Aerosmith have long since slipped back into obscurity (even Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne to some degree). Even better, they seem to be edging back towards my preferred era of Iron Maiden, the Powerslave/Seventh Son of a Seventh Son sound with its heavy concepts, sweeping epics and technical virtuosity. I maintain that Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is my favourite Maiden album, and it’s too bad that they ditched that sound in favour of the mediocrity they chased throughout the 90s. Now that we have The Book of Souls, who knows what limits Maiden still has within them?

Also, coincidentally, I have put together a small one-off playlist which just happened to coincide with this 1 year anniversary. Basically, I was listening to Sabaton’s “The Rise of Evil” the other day, which got me wondering whether it could be considered part of a “musical trilogy”. “The Rise of Evil” would be part 1, followed by “The Final Solution” as part 2 and then finishing with… well, I wasn’t sure if they had a third song that could fit in well enough. The result of this is a playlist I titled “Sabaton – The Rise and Fall of Evil”, which basically is a recounting of the history of Nazi Germany in WWII. I personally think that the compilation gels together very well and tells a rather compelling story: a madman rising to power, the Nazis’ early victories, the Holocaust, the Allies uniting and turning the tide, and then the German people coming to grips with the evil they had been fighting in the name of for almost 6 years. I definitely recommend checking it out, either search it on Spotify or go to the IC2S Playlist sidebar and then click on my username.

Please follow and like us:

Album Review: Laniakea (2015)

So I was very excited the other day when I saw that my copy of Laniakea by Sovereign Council had arrived (and earlier than I had expected no less)! I have written in the past about how excited I was for this album, so I busted it out and have listened to it a few times now. Unfortunately, I’m not a very learned music reviewer, so this will probably be more impressionistic and less in-depth than my movie or video game reviews (not to mention that music might be the most subjective medium to attempt to review), but I’m going to try to tackle this anyway.

If you’re familiar with Sovereign Council’s debut album, New Reign, then the first thing that will probably strike you about Laniakea is just how ambitious it is. It’s obvious the band decided to step things up and pour their souls into this release, because it really shows in basically every facet of the production. This shows perhaps most clearly in the lyrics. Most of the songs on Laniakea follow a non-traditional structure (as in, they do not feature rhyming couplets and don’t necessarily follow the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure that typifies most popular forms of music). While the lyrics were the sole weak point on New Reign, the songwriting has been stepped up quite significantly, and the non-traditional structure works quite well. There are still a couple awkward moments (most notably on “The Human Condition”, where the line “I only see one constant failure to perfect” doesn’t flow very well and makes the song stutter for a moment), but these are just as often offset by some very cool songwriting (“Decima” features the epic repeated verse “it’s the only way to enjoy the slow ride into the afterlife”, which just makes me want to sing along). In addition, Laniakea also happens to be a concept album, a feature which I did not expect going in. This cohesion actually makes the individual songs feel more meaningful. I’m usually pretty bad at deciphering concept albums, but on a very basic level, the album seems to follow the life of a man who seeks knowledge and wants to overcome human weakness – particularly the ultimate equalizer, death. To that end, the album remains quite consistent and slots into the power metal genre very comfortably.

While ambitious is the buzzword that I’d say most clearly typifies Laniakea, Sovereign Council have also clearly matured since New Reign, and wisely keep themselves from overstuffing the album in the pursuit of ambition. They have refined their sound in a very deliberate manner, making Laniakea‘s sound feel very polished and cohesive, while also allowing for some diversity to keep things fresh from song to song. While the album features 14 tracks, none of them feel like filler. The vocals have also gotten far more diverse. There is far more interplay between Alex and Lisa now, and when they join together in vocal harmony, we get some of the absolute most powerful moments on the album. Also, I have to give a shoutout to whoever the band member is doing the death growls (I regret that I don’t know who it is), they really punctuate the lyrics whenever they appear, particularly on “Nona”.

As for some track highlights, the album opens with “Rise”, which de-emphasizes the vocals in favour of showing off the expertise of the musicians and the guest violins. It’s a good preview of the rest of the album to come. “The Burden of Life” is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, with the vocal harmonies of Alex and Lisa mixing with the death growls to create a very pleasing sound. “The Human Condition” is, I think, meant to be the “Bring It Down” moment on this album, and is probably the most relentlessly heavy and fast-tempo song on the album, while also tackling some pretty interesting themes. However, as far as I’m concerned, the real crown jewel of the album is the trifecta of “Morta”, “Nona” and “Decima”. While they are technically 3 separate tracks, as far as I am concerned they should be viewed as a single 10-minute epic. “Morta” opens slowly, building up appropriately to make the heavy stuff later more effective, while the death growls on “Nona” are contrasted fantastically with Lisa’s much softer vocals. Finally, “Decima” just blows the doors right off as the vocals and music get raised to equal prominence and we get a passionate and aggressive conclusion.

All-in-all, if you have any interest in hard rock or metal music and are in the market for something distinctly ambitious, I recommend giving Laniakea a look. While there is probably still some room for improvement in the future, Sovereign Council has poured their all into creating a really professional product, and the results do not disappoint.

8/10

UPDATE: Okay, I just saw Sovereign Council in concert for their album release celebration, and they were fantastic. If you get a chance to see them live, then just do it. I want to clarify a couple things though. First off, the person doing the death growls/screams on the album is Alex, which is even more impressive than I first thought. Secondly, I want to clarify that my thoughts on the lyrics on New Reign were just my opinion, confined to a handful of songs which stood out, and even then I really love that album regardless. Just figured I’d mention that because I was super surprised (and humbled) when it turned out that people had actually read this review and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong ideas because of my potentially crappy impression.

Please follow and like us: