Review: Al-Namrood – Wala’at

Al-Namrood – Wala’at
Shaytan Productions

Saudi Arabia is not well-known for black metal, yet the country is a muse for what the genre is about: religion, monarchy, paganism, and suppression – just a handful of topics which black metal relates in. Tackling these topics head-on with their seventh album, Al-Namrood’s newest release, Wala’at (“Loyalties” in English) continues stoking the flames of anger and disgust the band feels towards their government and the religion that surrounds it.

The anti-Islamic and anti-fascist themes of Al-Namrood’s music is both intense and dramatic. Mixing musical styles of both Western and Middle Eastern instruments, the band brings a familiarly dissonant style of black metal with the rather sharp contrast with harmonic Middle Eastern scales and tones. The two cultures blend together and create a hauntingly different feeling and mood to the genre.

While the band members remain anonymous due to the potential of the death penalty for performing their music, the three musicians aptly show their musical competency with melodies among the chaos and the foresight on when to change arrangements in their songs.

Standing out foremost in Wala’at is singer Humbaba, who alone brings a huge energetic performance to the music. Between the grunts, screams, and cries, Humbaba’s vocals are flexible and offer an incredible range and dynamic to the music. In fact, his enthusiasm comes together as one of the biggest triumphs on the album. Confident and devastating, his and stanzas are chilling at times while encouraging and uplifting in others. Without always understanding the lyrics, one can still get a feeling for what the band wants to portray. The pain, frustration, and demands for reform are obvious to the listener: Al-Namrood wants the listener to experience what they feel – and successfully does so with each performance.

In tracks like Kail Be Mekialain, musicians Mephisto and Ostron synchronize riffs together to create hauntingly eerie tones – even more so with the reverb cranked up on the drum samples in each song. Linked with Humbaba, there’s a common chemistry between the trio that energizes the music, elevating it beyond what most bands with decades of history are unable achieve.

In another track, Aar Al Estibad, the riffs are thrash-y and come with a punk-ish feel until the Arabian instruments join in. Those instruments ultimately change the feel of the song and move expectations from “just another black metal track” to something different. While the song itself technically doesn’t set new standards or heights in black metal, it’s still a powerful song which sticks with the listener for its almost hypnotic melodies and grinding vocal hums.

With all songs staying under the five minute mark, the near-forty minute album is an intense feast on the ears. Perhaps too overwhelming at first, the second, third, and multiple spins after will continue to bring the listener back to absorb the beauty and raw power Al-Namrood offer with Wala’at.

Al-Namrood – Wala’at on Bandcamp

Review: Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota
Naturmacht Productions

With the release of their third album, the Finnish band Havukruunu prove once again why all eyes are on them on the forefront of pagan black metal.

Blasting right out of the gates, the self titled track feels like it throws everything you’d expect from the genre in one song – but it’s only the beginning. The triumphant melodies and searing guitar tones feel fresh and unique. The riffs are intense and dark, yet they are coloured with triumphant undertones. Enchanting vocal harmonies are intertwined with guitar melodies creating a brilliant, epic feeling.

The wonder of these moments can be heard in songs like Ja Vimein On Yö – where beyond the battery of the percussion, the uplifting darkness is built up during the chorus and then continues throughout. Among the call and response vocals in the song, guitar melodies shape the background and create a powerful ambiance ultimately transitioning into a impressive and moving solo. All of these efforts appear easy and natural but are certainly well thought out to achieve the presented effect.

The percussion intensity continues with Pohjolan Tytär – which is arguably the most straight-forward song on the album. Yet the beating of the drums vary enough, along with the haunting solos, and epic vocal harmonies, to create a wonderfully crafted feat. While the band may often be compared to others in the scene such as Moonsorrow and Mgła, Havukruunu manages to generate a particular feel and soundscape in their music which certainly makes them stand away from such comparisons.

In fact, Havukruunu almost makes themselves uniquely virtuoso with their guitar work. Varying guitar solos midway in the song Vähiin Päivät Käy stand out as some of the most pinnacle moments on the album. Transitions between the different solos are flawless and as the song goes back to its main riff, one cannot help but feel the chills go up their spine.

Meanwhile, the closing track features so much variation, fresh ideas, and feelings which seem somewhat unusual to pagan black metal. Havukruunu bring and transition modern concepts and technology to the genre to create an interesting final piece to the album that almost acts like a cliff hanger for their next release.

The dichotomy between Havukruunu’s pagan roots and modern concepts seam together flawlessly to create an absolute feat of an album. Uinuos Syömein Sota may be not only one of the best black metal releases this year, but one of the best albums released in 2020.

Havukruunu on Bandcamp

Review: Fellwarden – Wreathed in Mourncloud

Project Renegade – Order of the Minus
Eisenwald Tonschmiede

Almost in an intrinsic way, Fellwarden drops some of the heaviest atmospheric black/folk metal one could ask for in 2020. With their second album, Wreathed in Mourncloud, Fellwarden has stepped up to the plate and released an incredibly powerful and moving album.

There’s a simplistic beauty within Fellwarden’s scope: it all feels natural. Wreathed in Mourncloud is not overwhelmingly produced, however it does not skimp out. The opening track, Pathmaker, establishes the tone for the rest of the album. The vocals sit in the background with the wall of sound wrapping around your ears. The choruses are melodic and both rise and fall with grace. If anything, there’s a familiarity with how the songs are structured; it’s as if I’ve heard catches and hooks before and they’re surrounded with something I’ve previously experienced. Some moments are almost stereotypical where one can predict how the song is going to go, yet it does so with such grace that it doesn’t really matter.

The songs on the album feels to be a mix between Panopticon and Borknagar but such comparisons really do not give them justice.

Moments such as the moody bass tones near the end of Scafell’s Blight stand out as interesting breathing moments to an intense soundscape. The chorus of the title track is another stand out moment where waves of feelings are brought to an already pulse-pounding track.

The natural sounds from the recordings certainly shine through the entire album and feels like they come to a worthy climax in the final track, Upon Stone. It was as if the whole album built for it. Upon Stone’s final few minutes feels like an old friend saying goodbye for the last time.

Some of the more interesting decisions on the album were how some of the vocal harmonies were recorded. As mentioned, the vocals at times felt tucked away in behind the music. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it – however there’s a small handful of moments I felt the drums could have taken a step back to let the harmonies shine. Yet, for black metal, the bass guitar chimes in when necessary and falls back when appropriate. It’s still a wonderful and smart mix.

Passionate, intense, brutal, and with a ton of heart, Fellwarden’s Wreathed in Mourncloud is an outstanding album that delivers on every level.

Fellwarden on Bandcamp

Honest Review: Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear

Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear
Season of Mist

Forget Tool’s length between albums. From the ashes rise Green Carnation and their newest album in fourteen years, Leaves of Yesteryear. The modest progressive metal pioneers, well-established because of their 2001 opus, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, come forward with another album with their unique twist on the genre.

Mixing elements from black, doom, and progressive metal, Leaves of Yesteryear is yet another gem from these Norwegian musicians featuring four new songs and a re-recording of a song off of their debut album, My Dark Reflections of Life and Death.

The real beauty within the album derives from the subtle intricacies sprawled throughout. The chorus of title track, for example features a plain sounding trumpet effect from the keyboard. Mixed with the instruments, it becomes epic. As the chorus replays throughout the song, the trumpeting builds with orchestral brilliance.

On Sentinels, the transition from bridge to the final chorus features two measures in 4/4 timing. Traditional songs would use one measure to transition – but Green Carnation’s brilliance extends it to two: the first featuring the music ringing out from the bridge and the second coming in with sustained vocals and a beautifully simplistic drum fill – resetting the tempo of the song. These little bits in the songs seem minor but absolutely add much needed vigor and strength into what some may feel as an overtly virtuoso and stale genre.

The rerecording of My Reflections breathes new life into the song. Despite its twenty year age, it fits well within the album and still feels new. Not many bands can say they’ve accomplished such a feat.

While progressive metal seems to showcase flashy solos and technical unisons, Hounds shows how progressive metal can have both groove and heart. The chorus demands the listener to sing along. The thumping bass keeps a steady groove and features refreshing R&B variations that are not often referenced in the genre.

The album concludes with Solitude – a cover off of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Arguably the weakest song on the album due to its solemn nature, Solitude is haunting, beautiful, and sad – a different kind of feel from most of the album. While the track sorting of the album lets Solitude work best as the last song, it feels strange the album wasn’t bookended with another bolder song as a pick-me-up.

After a long hiatus, Green Carnation returns to form with Leaves of Yesteryear. It’s something familiar of fans who have stuck with the band over the years, while still presenting something different. It’s a complicated album masking itself as simplicity. The Leaves of Yesteryear has depth, courage, and teeth to it. It is definitely one of the best progressive metal albums I’ve heard in the past decade.

Welcome back, Green Carnation. You were sorely missed.

Uncanny Metal Score: 9/10

Green Carnation on Season of Mist

Top 20 Albums of the Decade (2010-2019)

As 2019 comes to a close, I decided to go back and think about what really impressed me over the last ten years. There was so much new music this decade, one may think it was difficult to come up with a list.

You know what? It was!

On average, I listen to about 50 new albums every year. Times that by a decade and holy smokes – that’s a lot of music!

Initially I had started this list with thirty albums that really impressed me. However, I felt that was a bit too long. Cutting down to twenty was surprisingly easy. It was the painstaking task of sorting the top twenty which really took time.

I only put one album from 2019 in my list as I felt most of the albums released this year are still too “fresh” for me to make a decent judgement call on. You’ll notice what I mean when you see songs that were #1 from 20XX suddenly not holding their own – or even on the list at all!

Albums that are labelled “DNR” means they “Did Not Rank.” This may mean they were in my Honorable Mentions from that year, or maybe missed getting recognized entirely!

Starting off at number twenty. . .

20. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred (2015 – #3)
Fav. song: Changa Masala

This all instrumental double album from these psychedelic English prog rockers is some of their best work in their over thirty year career. Grooving, atmospheric, and just downright fun – it’s definitely their most accessible album for all listeners.

19. Gridlink – Longhena (2014 – #5)
Fav. song: Island Sun

It’s still something I like to call “beautiful grindcore” – there’s something very angelic to Gridlink’s Longhena. Intense as it may be, there’s a sense of beauty and poetry behind all of the chaos.

18. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine (2015 – #1)
Fav. song: Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?)

While not all #1 albums can make it to #1 again, in 2015, Riverside’s LF&tTM hit me in the right spot at the right time. Still melancholic, this prog rock album is most peaceful when listened to in the right mood.

17. Spaceslug – Eye the Tide (2018 – #4)
Fav. song: Spaced by One

This is one heck of a dirty album. Sludge/doom/stoner – whatever the genre you wish to call it, Spaceslug’s Eye the Tide delivers. A couple of years later, I still have a bit of the spaceslug in me.

16. Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes (2017 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Township of King

Not everything needs to be metal, y’know. The first album on this list which eluded getting ranked before. When one removes the obvious pop-fueled “singles” from the album, what is left is an incredible mix of musicianship and production. Fake Nudes is a relaxing joy to listen to.

15. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (2017 – #5)
Fav. song: Mirror Reaper

One of the bleakest albums on the list, Bell Witch’s funeral doom album stretches over an hour and twenty minutes. Foreboding and crushing in darkness, Mirror Reaper is something I play for introspection rather than entertainment.

14. Cannibal Corpse – Torture (2012 – DNR)
Fav. song: Scourge of Iron

One of a few albums that originally had not ranked before, Torture turned around on me. Impacting, aggressive, intense, great production – all these things and more is why I’ve listened to Torture more than any other Cannibal Corpse album this decade.

13. Khôrada – Salt (2018 – #2)
Fav. song: Seasons Of Salt

Salt is still an album that weirds me out – I still haven’t heard anything like it before. With the strangest of production, composition, and sounds, I feel Khôrada will keep me interested for years to come.

12. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR) (2016 – #10)
Fav. song: Living in F E A R

FEAR has grown on me a lot over the few years it has been out. I spin it regularly and each time I feel something truly historic and beautiful about it. Marillion created an album which continues to give. It’s a wonderful album.

11. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2017 – #2)
Fav. song: So Falls the World

The production on this album won me over, as did the enchanting journey it provided. It’s a producers delight and brilliant fun with headphones on.

10. Aborted – Retrogore (2016 – #7)
Fav. song: Retrogore

In your face and direct, Retrogore ranks high for being self aware and ridiculously good death metal. It’s fast, brutal, and something I spin regularly for having a good time. It has easily became my favourite album of theirs.

9. YOB – Our Raw Heart (2018 – #1)
Fav. song: Beauty in Falling Leaves

An emotional thrill ride, Our Raw Heart delivers with the slow burns of intensity. It’s still one of the most beautiful doom metal albums I’ve ever heard, and most certainly their best sounding release this decade.

8. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (2016 – #3)
Fav. song: Pleiades’ Dust

A modern-day epic, Pleiades’ Dust is a monument to songwriting. As the song/album ebbs and flows, one can really pick out the instrumentation and true “orchestral” beauty that Gorguts puts into their music.

7. Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016 – #1)
Fav. song: Recharging the Void

Bringing me chills by the end of it, Terminal Redux may be one of the best thrash albums I’ve ever heard. With a great story to boot, Vektor knocked it out of the park with such an impactful piece of art.

6. Devin Townsend – Empath (2019 – #1)
Fav. song: Singularity

The only album from 2019 on my list, Empath ranks so high because it certainly deserves it. Much like Khôrada’s Salt, Empath brings something new to the table. For that, it must be recognized.

5. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014 – #1)
Fav. song: Tree of Suffocating Souls

Where would I be without Triptykon? Some of the most extreme and honest music on the list; this album sings right from the depth of the soul. Melana Chasmata something I spin regularly.

4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015 – #2)
Fav. song: Happy Returns

Initially getting beat out by Rivierside in 2015, Steven Wilson now jumps ahead of the pack. The metaphorical lyrics, the subtle musical moments and technical prowess – Hand. Cannot. Erase. is truly one of the best concept albums of the decade.

3. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: Black Lake Nidstang

This Agalloch album is VERY closely contended with my #1 and 2. I’ve been going back and forth for a couple of weeks debating and choosing one over the other. Alas, I had to decide. But first: Marrow of the Spirit, I believe is the best Agalloch album. Not The Mantle and not Pale Folklore. Don’t @ me. Marrow of the Spirit has something rustic, intense, and intrinsically beautiful lingering among all of the chaos.

2. Anathema – Weather Systems (2012 – #1)
Fav. song: Untouchable, Part 1 & 2

Anathema’s Weather Systems may be one of the most beautiful, yet surprisingly sad albums to have ever graced this planet. Musically, it’s genius. Lyrically, it’s poetic and sincere. Weather Systems is a triumph for both the mind and ears.

1. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Prolonging

From the incredible album cover created by the late and great H.R. Giger, Eparistera Daimones encapsulates all I love in the heavy metal genre. From start to finish, this album absolutely dominates the listener and refuses to let them breathe. Its lyrical content is brutally honest and the music properly reflects that. Songs like Abyss Within My Soul are heavy in both sound and content. My Pain is hypnotically ethereal yet devastating at the same time. It being the segue into the nineteen minute epic, The Prolonging, is absolute genius.

I debated putting both Triptykon albums in my list. It may seem like both albums in my list here are the same: but they’re most certainly not. Eparistera Daimones, coming out of the ashes of Celtic Frost, has a unique quality and sincerity about it. There’s purposeful cracks in the armor. There’s noticeable pain, bleakness, anger, and darkness. I really cannot stress the honesty of this album enough. It’s a masterpiece and work of art wrapped around in doom, aggression, terror, atmosphere, and chaos. The album is non-apologetic for what it is and proudly wears its wounds.

For those reasons and a ton more, is why Eparistera Daimones is truly one of the greatest albums of the decade.

—–

Questions, concerns, thoughts? Did I miss something? Let me know! And let’s see what the next decade will bring us! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Top Albums of 2019

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks

I don’t recall how I came across this album, but I’m glad I did. This neo-classical prog rock band mends a fine line between being a Marillion clone with some, what I’d call Rush influences, to create a transcendental album that stood out among other prog bands this year. While arguably there’s nothing “new” brought to the table, A Tower of Clocks manages to do everything right. The first few tracks build the album up to something wonderful as it ebbs and flows through various feelings throughout. A solid album from a band that’s now going to be on my radar.

Check out the single for “Justified”:

14. Evergrey – The Atlantic

Evergrey are starting to remind me a lot like Amorphis: staying familiar with an evolving sound. While The Atlantic comes across like a traditional prog-power album, there’s still the ever-looming feeling of despair through Tom Englund’s voice and the bands defeating sound, and sometimes heart-breaking lyrics. However, uplifting moments are found such as with the song End of Silence – which still arguably still sounds bleak. Then there’s songs like Weightless where it really showcases some of the band’s metal prowess – the song building to a powerful booming climax near the end. I was super pleased with how The Atlantic turned out and as always, can’t wait to see what else Evergrey have up their sleeve.

Check out the video for “A Silent Arc”:

13. Exhumed – Horror

In 2016, Aborted released the album Retrogore. As the Aborted title suggested, the album was a throwback to older (1980s) horror films. In 2019, Exhumed’s Horror, while not directly associated to particular horror films, is yet another death/grind album with a shtick towards “retro” horror (as the album cover suggests). It’s fast, dirty, and a a schlock-fest of brutality. The fifteen song album is just shy of thirty minutes with most songs under the two-minute mark, leaving them to be easily digested and not over stay their welcome. They’re good “done-in-one” songs that are quick and to the point. The whole album is just a slaughter. It’s fantastic.

Listen to the full album here:

12. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion

It only took 33 years, but Possessed is back. And damn, it’s great. This death/thrash album is a huge surprise to hear this year. In fact, it sounds as if the band never went anywhere. The soundscape, production, and tones feel straight out of the 80s with pounding aggression in the drums, heft in the rhythm, and an amazing wail with the guitars. Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Becerra writes intelligently with lyrics that feel honest but still radical. An absolute treat for 2019. I hope this is the start of something bigger.

Check out the single, “No More Room in Hell”:

11. Murg – Strävan

The third album of this Swedish black metal band is one of two black metal albums that really blew me away this year. It’s intense at times, but also falls back into somber feelings. The album fluctuates naturally between the two dichotomies which offers the listener breathing room for reflection. The production, on the other hand, has what I love about the genre: it’s dark and feels homemade. Yet there’s obviously quality and an ear behind the studio to give the album the sounds it’s offering. As with most outstanding black metal albums for me, these riffs gave chills.

Check out the awesome single, “Renhet”:

10. Ed Wynne – Shimmer into Nature

The debut solo album from Ozric Tentacles main song writer – Ed Wynne puts together an infectious groovy album with all the fixings of what makes me love his music: brilliant bass licks, incredible soundscapes, and brilliant rises and falls. Shimmer into Nature effectively does what it says, bringing psychedelic tones, synth, and atmosphere to the fray – all with a tremendously calming effect. A terribly underrated musician, this album is quite frankly, absolutely beautiful.

Listen to “Shim”:

9. Darkthrone – Old Star

Every time Darkthrone releases an album, I feel bad for everyone else. The band evolves so much, I never know what to expect. However, the quality of their output has been nothing short of incredible. As such, here is yet another Darkthrone album on my Top 15 list. This crusty, thrashy, doom album is stunning. It has gentle (and some not-so-subtle) nods to classic heavy metal bands and eras, influenced from the decades of the 70s and 80s. The songs on the album feel simple, but come with great care. The single (and my favourite track), “The Hardship of the Scots,” is a great anthem, while songs like “The Key is Inside the Wall” and “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” come with a certain rock n’ roll elements that keep your head pounding throughout. Truly another great album by this great band.

Listen to the wonderful “The Hardship of the Scots”:

8. Masvidal – Mythical

Paul Masvidal is no stranger to prog or heavy metal. After all, he’s the front man and lead songwriter to the legendary band Cynic. But this solo project? This is something different and certainly may be an acquired taste. Mythical, the first of three albums, well, let me just quote the album: “Each song on [the album] uses ‘Isochronic Tones’ designed by Dr. Stephane Pigeon, creator of the Brian Eno-celebrated website MyNoise. The tones are a groundbreaking type of sound therapy for increasing serotonin, alleviating depression and stress, improving focus, and aiding in restful sleep.” – And Masvidal does just that – and lyrically, well, it’s beautiful poetry.

Listen to the whole album here:

7. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

A late-release fpr 2019, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race absolutely knocked it out of the park. The four-song album covers a vast array of death metal styles – from Morbid Angel to Death to Gorguts, then with spacial tones to the likes of Kyuss and Hawkwind. This album delivers the goods with the pulse-pounding first tracks, Slave Species of the Gods and The Giza Power Planet, followed by the two more melodic songs Inner Paths (to Outer Space), and the 18-minute epic, Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul). While four songs may not seem like much to divulge in with an album, I can guarantee Blood Incantation makes every moment count, and ultimately, brings about one of the most unique, awesome, and most of all – refreshing – albums I’ve heard in recent memory.

Check out the video for “Slave Species of the Gods”:

6. Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean

The year was 2017, and Bent Knee’s “Land Animal” made the third spot on my Top 15 List that year. I feel bad they’re not higher this year, but holy smokes, You Know What They Mean absolutely blows Land Animal out of the water and then some. This album is both a natural evolution for the band, yet is something completely different. It’s heavy, melancholic, moody, rough, loud, subtle, and so many other adjectives I could continue with. There’s a lot of brilliance in this album and I’m so very excited to watch this band explode. Bent Knee will become a household name, not only in the world of progressive music, but beyond. Mark my words, You Know What They Mean has the fixings of bringing Bent Knee to the world.

Watch the video for “Hold Me In”:

5. Wilderun – Veil of Imagination

Opeth and Symphony X had a child and it’s living in Boston. Part of me says “This album shouldn’t be on here because it’s just a clone.” The other part says, “My god, these guys do what Opeth and Symphony X did, but better.” There’s a healthy balance between metal and orchestra. There’s a lack in repetition/recurring riffs, keeping these long songs fresh. It is also very ethereal in many aspects in the production. Readers, I absolutely was taken back by this album. It was as if I was teleported back into 2001/2002 when Opeth’s Blackwater Park and Symphony X’s The Odyssey was released. In fact, if you amalgamate those two specific albums, I’m confident you’ll have Veil of Imagination. It’s certainly fair to bring these strong comparisons to the fold because Wilderun takes the best of both albums and makes it into something new, yet familiar. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, powerful album.

Check out “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl”:

4. Mgła – Age of Excuse

My favourite black metal album of the year, Mgła’s Age of Excuse is stunning. I remember spinning it the first time around while reading. During the track, Age of Excuse III, I paused the album and went “Holy shit, these guitars are riiiiiiiiiiiipping.” I hadn’t been that excited from a black metal album in a long while. But that’s not all! The drums. Oh goodness, the drumming on this album. Age of Excuse II features some extraordinary play with the toms, snare, and various cymbals. But that’s not all! The vocals. The gloom and despair in the voice. The lyrics. The dread and finality of it all. Sure, this album is technically one song at 42 minutes – but it’s such a trip. Give it a listen and learn why Age of Excuse got to be where it is on my list.

Give the full album a listen to:

3. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance

Had I not seen these guys open for Pig Destroyer earlier this year, I may not have heard this album at all. Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance is hands-down my favourite straight-up death metal album of the year. This Toronto-based band knocked it out of the park with this 38-minute album, featuring some of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard this year. In fact, the way everything is pieced together, you can tell Tomb Mold took their time when writing these songs. Most songs only contain a handful of riffs, yet the band manages to leave nothing stale. Somehow the riffs become elevated the more the band repeats them. It’s intriguing stuff. From the opening track to the end, there’s literally something memorable from each song. The title track has some of the dirtiest riffing by the end of the song. It’s just a headbangers delight. I love this album.

Listen to the track “Infinite Resurrection” here:

2. Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect

I don’t even know what to call this one: death metal, crust punk, progressive, sludge, thrash, black, grind, hardcore – whatever it is, it’s an absolute blast to indulge. This second album by the Chicago natives has everything I want in my metal and then some. Songs like Avolition are lengthy and provide a wide gamut of offerings for music listeners – easily one of the greatest songs I’ve heard this year. House of Anhedonia has such an incredible ending and juicy riffs that I keep coming back for more. In fact, with absolutely punishing tracks made with excellent composition, lyrics, and production, easily makes Immortal Bird’s release one of my favourite albums of the year.

Listen to the song, “Vestigial Warnings,” that within seconds had won me over:

1. Devin Townsend – Empath

Devin Townsend has outdone himself. I absolutely adored this album. Throughout its journey, Empath features highs and lows, exceptional musicianship, chaos and beauty, and incredible emotion. I could go on to describe what Empath is. So let me just focus on why it’s my album of the year.

Leaving the Devin Townsend Project and going solo, this dynamic album features a plethora of interesting and daunting ideas that come together so wonderfully. From the intriguing Castaway/Genesis introduction to the playful Sprite, the Disney-inspired Why?, and the epic Singularity, each song on the album has its own bit of flair to make it stand-out, yet still be part of one cohesive unit.

The songs are some of Devin’s most challenging, not only as a musician, but sonically as well. The “wall of sound” that comes along with Empath is incredible. In fact, the production on the album arguably may be its only fault as to how “perfect” everything seems to be. Musicians like Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), and Frank Zappa alums, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, and Morgan Ågren, as well as a fully-utilized women’s choir, come together to help bring Empath a life which is truly unique and an absolute wonder to behold.

Part of me wants to dig through every single song and explain its purpose, why they are the way they are, and really delve into the complexities of the production and songwriting process. But that’s not what this review is for. I should only tell you that there were many wonderful moments that made me cry (and still do if it gets me right). This is an album you all should sit back and experience for yourselves. Grab your headphones, some hot chocolate, sit back, and relax. (The 5.1 audio mix is coming out soon which I’m absolutely thrilled for).

Without a doubt, Devin Townsend’s Empath will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is easily one of the most memorable albums I have ever graced upon my ears.

Check out the “overture” of the album, “Genesis”:

Then listen to the Disney-inspired metal song, “Why?”:

Honourable Mentions:

Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction

Overkill – The Wings of War

Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay

Torche – Admission

Borknagar – True North

Rotting Christ – The Heretics

Nebula – Holy Shit

Abbath – Outstrider

Ulver – Drone Activity

Most Disappointed:

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Flying Colors – Third Degree

Amon Amarth – Beserker

Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands

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