This year was a pretty big one for new music, judging by what I saw of various bands that I follow across YouTube, but oddly enough, I didn’t really listen to a whole lot of new metal albums. I tend to be pretty snobbish when it comes to metal, mostly because I know what I like and I tend to stick to that, and most of the bands that I really care about, didn’t release anything that grabbed me this year. But there were definitely a few good releases during the course of the year, so let’s go into them. Again, click on any of the pictures to go straight to the purchase link for the album.
1. The Great Heathen Army by AMON AMARTH
I plainly have not been keeping up with AMON AMARTH of late (or with metal in general, much to my shame), because I completely missed the release of this album in the autumn. It only came to my attention a few weeks ago. Since then, though, it has been in regular rotation.
AMON AMARTH really slipped in terms of quality with Berserker, losing much of the fire and force of legendary past releases like With Oden on Our Side, Twilight of the Thunder God, and Jomsviking – their last “good” album, in my personal opinion. That ear-raping sound from their “classic” era with Fredrik Andersson on drums is definitely a thing of the past – this is the band that literally plays the music you would hear during Ragnarok, but the previous release really was just plain boring in places.
Not so with this album. While it does not quite reach the heady heights of Oden or Twilight, it is still a worthy entry, combining both the thunderous power of the more raw early days with the melodic styling of their later work, and blending all of that together with epic tales of Viking conquests in England.
This is certainly a worthy entry into the band’s legendary canon, and “new boy” Jocke Wallgren – who isn’t that new, he’s been in the band at least five years by now and I’ve seen him play live with the band when they opened for MEGADETH back in the day – certainly lives up to his predecessor’s awesome legacy with his work on the skins. This album has both the raging thrashing headbangers and the melodic mid-paced grooves, plus a great crowd-chant song, along with an awesome guest appearance by the one and only Biff Byford of SAXON. Highly recommended.
KILLER KUTS: “The Great Heathen Army”, “Find a Way or Make One”, “Hedrun”, “Skagul Rides with Me”, “Dawn of Norsemen”, “Saxons and Vikings”
2. Cyan Night Dreams by PARASITE INC.
I really enjoy a good melodic death metal album, and PARASITE INC. are the best in the business these days when it comes to fast, furious, yet comprehensible death metal that will rip your face off and snap your neck while letting you have a lot of fun. Their third album extends the run of success they have had with their past formula, continuing on with everything that made their past two entries so solid. Unlike their first album, which has one truly epic standout track (“Pulse of the Dead”), this album is a bit more even in terms of its output, maintaining a relatively uniform standard of excellence throughout. My one criticism of it is that it is rather short for an “album”, and two of the songs are packed with, essentially, filler noises – I can’t really describe them any other way. But the melodic music, synths, and lyrics, combined with the balls-out aggression and exceptionally high-quality musicianship, more than make up for these shortcomings. Definitely worth your time if you are a CHILDREN OF BODOM/SOILWORK/IN FLAMES (first three albums) fan.
KILLER KUTS: “Cyan Night Dreams”, “First Born”, “I Am”, “Follow the Blind”, “Into Destruction”
3. The War to End All Wars by SABATON
Everyone’s favourite history-metal band returns with a solid, if not necessarily amazing, follow-up to their previous concept album about the Great War. This one has everything you would expect from a SABATON album – over-the-top lyrics, bombast, power, speed, melody, and just plain fun. I really love these guys for their sheer sense of adventure and delight in what they do. They love playing music about historical events and battles, and they truly have found their niche. More than 15 years since their first release, they plainly have not lost their sense of adventure and joy, and it truly does show. However, the album is weighed down by a couple of boring bits which do not help its case.
While not quite living up to the standard set by its predecessor, this is still a worthy entry in the SABATON canon. Come to think of it, they’ve never really made a bad album, EVER, and that is quite astonishing if you stop to ponder that fact for a moment. Very few bands, of ANY stripe, can say anything of the sort.
KILLER KUTS: “Hellfighters”, “Soldier of Heaven”, “The Unkillable Soldier”, “Stormtroopers”
4. Final Advent by DYNAZTY
The “aerobic metal” of the kind played by AMARANTHE has really worn thin by now, but Nils Molin‘s pipes and charismatic persona really carry over into his work with his “main” band, DYNAZTY, and always has since their transition away from hard rock into melodic metal, starting with Renatus in 2014. Final Advent, their 8th studio album, preserves everything that made The Dark Delight good, and builds on it with powerful hooks, sweeping choruses, and fine musicianship. There is a lot of good stuff here, but it is Molin’s vocal performance that really propels the band, as you would largely expect. While there is not necessarily one truly great standout track on this album, like there was on Renatus (“Salvation” – EPIC song), there are plenty of great moments to make this a solid album indeed.
KILLER KUTS: “Power of Will”, “Natural Born Killer”, “The White”, “Heart of Darkness”, “Achilles Heel”, “Power of Now”
5. The God Machine by BLIND GUARDIAN
BLIND GUARDIAN really like to take their time between album releases. They have been around since 1984, i.e. very roughly the same length of time as HELLOWEEN, and damned near FORTY YEARS, yet they have “only” released 11 studio albums in that time. The last one, Beyond the Red Mirror, dropped all the way back in 2015. Between then and now, they released an orchestral album called Legacy of the Dark Lands, but fans have waited for a very, very long time for their latest album.
Was it worth the wait? Well… maybe.
The God Machine kind of goes back to the more straightforward, stripped-down melodic stuff that BG used to play. There are more than a few hints of the legendary A Night at the Opera – one of the greatest albums ever recorded, with a level of complexity, musicianship, production quality, and brilliance that they have never matched since.
The problem with The God Machine is that, honestly, it never really seems to go anywhere. It’s just a random collection of songs that reference a whole bunch of different things that Hansi Kurch has read and been influenced by over the years – Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible, Andrzej Sapkowski‘s The Witcher series, various fantasy and sci-fi novels and themes, and assorted other things.
While albums like this do not have to have a point, there are times when this feels like just another exercise in musical navel-gazing, and there are plenty of bands which do this as a hobby. But, on the plus side, BG has definitely stripped the music down and simplified it a lot.
I will say, the production sounds compressed and “flat”, as so many modern metal bands sound these days. I really do wish bands would stop using digital recording for everything – it honestly just deadens the music, though I know it is far cheaper and more efficient than old-school analogue approach.
Nonetheless, The God Machine is an interesting, if not particularly great, entry from one of the longest-lasting and genre-defining bands in the business.
KILLER KUTS: “Blood of the Elves”, “Architects of Doom”, “Deliver Us From Evil”, “Secrets of the American Gods”
Non-Metal Pick of the Year
HALO Infinite (Original Soundtrack) by Curtis Schweizer
Amazingly, I STILL have not managed to get around to playing the latest entry in my beloved HALO franchise, and I very much feel like I’m letting the side down. But I have to say, if the soundtrack is anything to go by, the game itself is likely to be very, very good. The soundtrack is easily my favourite among all of them – and I listen to ALL of the soundtracks, repeatedly. This one combines the very best features and themes of the various eras of HALO OSTs – from the synths and strings and epic movements of the Martin O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori soundtracks, to the deep-house stylings of the HALO Wars OST, to Neil Davidge‘s electronica-heavy HALO 4 OST, this one has all of those features, but adds more on top of them. You will find a lot to like about this soundtrack, harking back to the legendary early games in the saga, but with new themes for different characters introduced throughout it. This is my soundtrack of choice when travelling on long journeys, due to its oddly appropriate mix of relaxing and invigorating themes and music. Very much worth the purchase if you are a HALO fan.