I’m always on the hunt for new music. In case it wasn’t obvious from my Top 15 Albums of the Year, I enjoy me some good heavy metal and progressive rock. Every so often I’ll be impressed with albums not affiliated in those genres, like the Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack (2017), Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (2012), and Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden (2016), and not to mention lots of Honorable Mentions.
If you come to me with new music, I’ll most certainly give it a try.
Recently, I reviewed Tool’s Fear Inoculum, and was reached out to a band from Italy called Sleepwait. They asked me to review their debut album, Sagitattius A*. Their reasoning was, “We checked your review of Tool’s “Fear Inoculum,” and thought you are the right person to give us a listen.”
While I was excited that the Tool review received a lot of discussion both on my blog, on my Instagram, and my personal Facebook, I was thrilled to receive an email asking for an album review because of my review.
Let’s dig in with Sleepwait – Sagittarius A*
The duo of Sleepwait formed about four years ago after Filippo Bravi (vocals) and Mauro Chiulli (instruments) met on a webportal for musicians. Despite the 300km distance from each other, they dedicated themselves to producing an album close to their hearts. Clearly inspired from bands such as Tool and Alice in Chains, the alternative/grunge rock Sagittarius A* holds nothing back as it explores the influences between the two musicians.
Bookended by reflective The Left and Right Hand of Beauty, the real meat of the album lies within. Songs like the title track, feel like a hybrid between Tool’s Lateralus and A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms. Yet further in, the album both expands and contracts between waves of emotions and anthems. The Doubt showcases both the rise and fall of those feelings, with production on the song somewhat distorted to add a feeling of unease to the listener.
A standout song for me was Istanbul, which pulled me back to the days of first listening to Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun. The grooves lead for steady head bobbing, followed by an great instrumental outro which hits me right in the nostalgia bone. Flowing into the samples of next song, The Prayer, the stoner rock groove continues for a great little trip until The Doubt brings up the tempo again.
Bravi’s vocals are an interesting blend between Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Serj Tankian from System of a Down. When emphasized, I hear Maynard; when calm, I hear Tankian. There’s a level of balance which Bravi manages to make work with the music. Most times, the vocal harmonies he provides offer different feelings, they hear like they are borderline on droning – which with certain guitar tones and riffs, almost puts the listener into a trance.
The album certainly feels thought-out and purposeful. Songs are placed in a particular order which makes the flow of the album a cohesive work. Nothing comes out as jarring, leaving the listener to sit back and actually be able to absorb the album as its presented. My first listen focused on nostalgia, while the later listens picked up on the smaller nuances the band wanted to achieve, such as the change of recording to the bass guitar in the track Constellations which I had missed before.
While Sagitarrius A* certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the musical table, Sleepwait, in my eyes, have established themselves as solid, competent songwriters and should be lauded for their admiration to their inspiration. While I feel the album does sound like it’s ripped right from the mid-2000s, so did Fear Inoculum. The difference is Sleepwait’s Sagitarrius A* is what I was expecting from Tool’s Fear Inoculum.
With a bit cleaner production and clearer definition of their own sound, I could see Sleepwait turning some heads in the prog rock/metal genre. Sagitarrius A* is just the beginning for this Italian duo.
Well, yes! For everyone, Tool’s back and going to be better than ever! Heck, Tool is so big, they’ve still been selling out arenas based on their back catalogue. That’s a big deal, no?
Before I divulge you all in my opinion of Fear Inoculum, let me first give you my history with Tool. (My blog, my rules, y’know?)
The Band that Started it All
If it wasn’t obvious from my previous posts of my favourite albums, I love both heavy metal and progressive rock. The way I got into music was a bit on my own. I got into Stone Temple Pilots when I picked up the bass guitar and was blown away (and still am) by their bassist, Robert DeLeo. From the hard rock of STP, I fell into Tool. To age me, Lateralus came out when I was in high school – grade ten. I hadn’t heard bass like the intro to Tool’s Schism before and had to learn more. Tool was on the radio and I definitely took the plunge.
Tool became my go-to band for two to three years. They were THE band that introduced me to heavy metal. I understood Metallica existed, I got Black Sabbath, but Tool was just so relevant to me at the time. I was a starting musician wanting to learn more. I certainly wasn’t going to find bass from Metallica, and definitely not from “going back” to older songs (boy, was I ever naive). Tool had what I was looking for, and I dove in hard.
I was very arrogant with my knowledge of Tool. Not only did I think they were the best band, but I made sure others knew. I remember specifically saying how Danny Carey was a better drummer than Neil Peart because he used less drums than Neil and could sound “bigger.” I know! I cringed while writing that, let alone re-reading it. But I was young and impressionable. It’s what I felt. I went out and bought Tool t-shirts and blasted their albums on my CD walkman I wore on the bus. I made sure it was extra loud so others on the bus could hear how great the music was. Yes, I was one of those kids.
Embarrassment aside, Tool ultimately helped me learn about even heavier music. I went from Tool to Opeth, to Carcass, and the rest is history. I will always argue that Tool is a gateway band into something heavier.
However, I really dug into the Tool philosophy. I went onto the website regularly and read up on all of the beliefs of the band or what the songs were about. I wasn’t just a fan of the band, I was a believer. I connected to Tool on a much more deeper level than anyone else I knew could have. I mean, they were talking about philosophy to someone who was 15 years old. How couldn’t I get addicted to them? They were so much more than just a band.
I finally scored tickets to see them live with my dad.
The Tipping Point
It was August of 2002, and Tool performed at Copps Coliseum (in Hamilton, Ontario) with Mike Patton’s (from Faith No More) Tomahawk opening.
I was really excited to go. I wore my Tool “pill” shirt and joined the masses at Copps to enjoy what was most certainly going to be the show of the year. I had already been spoiled with seeing bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Linkin Park before. Surely Tool was going to give them a run for their money.
The show started and Tomahawk began their performance. About halfway through, the audience started to boo. I mean literally shouting “BOOOOO” at them. Stuff started getting thrown on stage. By the end of Tomahawk’s set, it felt like half of the arena was booing them off. I remember turning to my dad and asking him why people were booing. He didn’t know either. The only thing we could think of was that they just weren’t Tool.
Tomahawk put on a great performance and show. I wasn’t into their music at the time (and certainly hadn’t heard of them up until that point), but they most definitely weren’t worthy of getting booed off the stage. In fact, Mike Patton said about the tour,
Compared to the studio, Tomahawk’s live presentation pulls no punches. ‘It is probably a little bit nastier and a little more poke-you-in-the-eye vibe,’ says Patton. ‘When you are in a situation like this, it is very easy for the people to sit back, eat their popcorn and cotton candy, and ignore you. We’re trying to combat that.’
As a Tool fan, I was embarrassed. I felt that Tool certainly would have said something about disrespecting Tomahawk when they came on stage. Spoiler: they didn’t even mention or thank Tomahawk for performing.
Tomahawk left the stage. Twenty minutes later, the stage went dark. A chugging, familiar bass line began. Tool opened with their big single, Sober. I got chills, and so did the thousands of people around me. You could tell the mood had changed. When the lights flicked on, I could see the band on the stage; them all just standing there. . . . . . vocalist Maynard Keenan with his back to the audience, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor standing motionless, and Danny Carey rocking out – the only one who seemed to have any energy to the show. What was going on?
It wasn’t to be a metal show, it was to be an experience, I thought to myself, suddenly feeling a bit underwhelmed, trying to justify what I was witnessing. Sober ended. The Grudge began, followed by Stinkfist. Solid songs, but really lacked dynamics from the band. In fact, look for yourself. I found the whole show. Enjoy.
Tool was performing, but I really couldn’t get into it. But the audience was. They were screaming their heads off to every song. I mean, I knew the songs too, but Tool really wasn’t reaching me during their show. Despite reading the philosophy and digging into the band, I felt left out. And I’m not sure exactly when it clicked that night, but I looked out to the audience and saw everyone with their t-shirts on. “Tool” it said. I was with them. I looked back to the stage and saw Maynard, his back turned to us, and the band not really giving much “oomph” to their performance.
It hit me as I realized the clever double entendre marketing-style the band had been using. We were the literal “tool” and also a literal paycheque to the band. By all means, yes, that’s the music business – but I felt Tool was trying to be so devious in hiding it and I just “woke up.” It was that night, watching the band I loved play live, that the philosophy they tried to teach through their music kind of melted away – and I felt like I saw Tool for the sellouts they were.
And holy moly, before you guys start: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was in my personal experience that Tool had betrayed me. That I was literally just a tool for them to get my money. Their “experience” didn’t work on me. Did I go home and throw out all of my Tool albums? Heck no, they’re still on my CD shelf. The band still wrote great music. It’s just that I felt that what they did to not just me, but to their audiences – it wasn’t just a band. Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs. “Experience our deeper music this way. If you don’t get it, then too bad – you don’t get Tool and we didn’t want you anyway.”
Only I did. They were my favourite band. But I slowly waned off of them as I got into other heavy music. For the remainder of my high school years, I picked up Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Kyuss, Savatage, Blind Guardian, Opeth, Carcass, and Kreator. I found those bands to be a breath of fresh air than the “mindset” I needed to be in with Tool. These other bands were just as, if not more complicated technically as Tool, and evoked more feelings rather than trying to have the listener “find the hidden message.” It was nice to find a way out.
In 2006, Tool’s next album, 10,000 Days was released and was not too shabby. It wasn’t anything spectacular in my eyes. It was a nice mix between Ænema and Lateralus (I literally had the muscle memory to remember how to make “Æ.” I’m laughing to myself right now). But it was still something familiar in the “overarching” feel of Tool. “Either you get it or you don’t.”
Somehow between 2006 and 2019, Tool continued to perform arena shows that were completely sold out. They coasted on the strength of their back catalogue as it kept paying the bills. Despite not releasing anything for thirteen years, Tool would continue to tour without new music. On one hand, that’s fantastic to get oneself to that kind of staying power. On the other hand, and me being the jaded Tool fan, I felt they were continuing to milk the rest of their fans. The indoctrinated Tool fan would not dare miss a show because Tool was so much more than a performance.
It should go without saying that this review is heavily biased based on everything I’ve written above. Save for Undertow, I have not listened to a Tool album since 10,000 Days was released. I have not listened to Ænema, Lateralus, and Opiate since I OD’ed on them back in high school. I am most definitely in need for a re-listen, but I feel I should be fully transparent with this review. Why?
I had six people message me their thoughts on the album, some positive and negative. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, (which you should!), I post about albums I listen to all of the time. While six isn’t a big number, I’ve never had anyone give me as much feedback or begin a in-depth discussion about an album like with Tool’s newest.
Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs.
Fans of Tool are at the ready to defend. Non-Tool fans are on the attack. I’m a scorned ex-lover of Tool that still appreciates music and am eager to hear what the band has to offer. It’s getting glowing reviews across the board. But where do I stand?
My Review of Fear Inoculum
Even after thirteen years, Tool’s newest album still carries with it both their fanbase and their sound. Fear Inoculum sonically feels like a continuation from 10,000 Days with a bit more technological play to it. Lots of samples, both in the background and with Danny Carey’s Middle Eastern drum performance, add a lot of intrigue that wasn’t necessarily as focused upon in previous Tool albums.
Unlike previous Tool albums, however, I felt Fear Inoculum had a hard time moving forward. For the first six tracks, everything felt blurred together. Certainly different grooves stood out in different songs – such as the riffing/groove around 8:30 in Invincible and the Schism-sounding grooves around 4:00 in Pneuma. Yet the variety of music felt lacking. When I heard the single/first song on the album, I had hoped the album would change from there. Unfortunately the song seemed to set the pace for the rest of the album.
Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; just after a long wait, I had hoped for more variety in Fear Inoculum like with previous albums. Fortunately the final three songs, Culling Voices, Chocolate Chip Trip (CCT), and 7empest, made up for what I felt the rest of the album faltered on.
Culling Voices was really intriguing, finally letting Maynard shine in an album where I felt he played a significantly diminished role in. It was also a slower paced song compared to the rest of the album. However, that pace wasn’t bogged down by the same sort of poly-rhythmic riffing Tool is known for. The lack of Tool being Tool was a pleasant surprise.
With CCT, I cannot help but compare Tool to Blink 182. Without drummer Travis Barker, Blink 182 would not be nearly as powerful as they are. Danny Carey with Tool is the same. Fear Inoculum’s most exciting moments were because of Carey. CCT lets Carey shine and really smacks home the Tool feel with the absolutely unnerving atmosphere he’s performing alongside with.
When 7empest kicks in, we get to the meat and potatoes of the album: the band is hitting hard and man, it’s a hefty Tool song. I could see why it was put on as the last track. All four band members are firing on all cylinders. Maynard’s getting his attitude, Adam Jones is ripping solos, Justin Chancellor is gluing the band, and Danny Carey’s doing what he does best. High school me is totally digging the song. Unfortunately for me, the final track arrived about 65 minutes too late for me.
As the album concluded though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as I had awaited for something to really pop-out and surprise me. There really weren’t any major headbanging moments that I found myself rocking out to or even just bobbing my head along with. In fact, I found myself sort of trailing in and out of paying attention. If anything, the album would make for good, moody background noise.
My initial feeling was the whole album reminded me of the last three songs off of Lateralus: Disposition, Reflection, and Triad. Rhythmic grooves, lots o’ reverb, and not much else to them. Aside from the three songs I mentioned above, I cannot say that Fear Inoculum is going to be making a top album list for me. While Fear Inoculum had its moments, I have to confess they’re pretty forgettable.
Production-wise, I’m a bit at odds. The album sounds like it’s straight from the early 2000s, while other moments and songs sound like they’re from an audio interface plugin with default samples. It’s strong, yet playful. It’s an interesting dichotomy for a high-level band, and something I’m actually not familiar with (or why) they would have approached recording an album this way. It’s a good kind of strange, though.
While it had some heft in some songs, Fear Inoculum is easily the least-metal Tool album in their catalogue. Is that a problem? Not at all. For me, however, it made for a bit of a lackluster release. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t a great album either. But will it impress the Tool fan? Absolutely. Because it has to. It’s Tool.
With me, however, I’d give it a solid 6/10.
Well there you have it! If you managed to get through all of this, good on you. I have always felt like sharing my experience and feelings about the band but never really had a relevant time to do so. Thirteen years later, here we are.
So who did I upset? Who agrees? Questions, comments, or concerns? Let’s have ’em!
While it has only been two years since Evergrey was last featured on my Top 15 list, they knocked it out of the park with this album. What I feel to be their best album since 2004’s The Inner Circle, Evergrey takes it up a notch with The Storm Within; showcasing some of the most aggressive song writing, grand choruses, and dark lyrics.
Watch the music video for “In Orbit” featuring Floor Jansen:
14. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder
Yet almost redefining their sound again, Darkthrone somewhat goes back on their black metal roots but now taking shape with some bits of crunchy doom metal. Coming at the listener with thundering beats and punishing riffs, Darkthrone really impresses with this surprisingly straight-forward album that, despite being their sixteenth studio album, still comes as a breath of fresh air.
Listen to the first track, “Tundra Leech”:
13. iamthemorning – Lighthouse
One part chamber pop, another part progressive rock, iamthemorning have always been a bit different. With beautifully haunting music and vocals, Lighthouse stands out as a daring take on making something complicated sound so beautiful and elegant.
As far as blackened thrash metal goes, Deströyer 666 create a solid album with gripping choruses and challenging aspects to their listeners. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill thrash album. There’s lots going on. The production is solid, the songs are great, and the riffs are crunchy. Putting this album on makes for one helluva fun ride.
Listen to the single, “Wildfire”:
11. Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Even into their tenth studio album, Borknagar still shows the skill and comfort in their songwriting capabilities as Winter Thrice can take you over a variety of genres while still being Borknagar. Thrash, black, viking, progressive – thematic elements and bombastic choruses make for a audibly exciting album that anyone could really get into. Borknagar has always been a band that delivers quality – and with Winter Thrice – they still do.
Watch the lyric video to the first track, “The Rhymes of the Mountain”:
10. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR)
This was a surprise to me. Hands-down to be one of their greatest albums, Marillion’s FEAR truly harkens back to classical progressive rock times. Lyrically speaking, the album mirrors the title as it reflects upon the changes in England and people left behind; between the have and have-nots. Sometimes feeling like a gloomy, slow burn, the music is emotionally driven and if anything makes the listener realize that they are not alone with their thoughts.
Listen to “The New Kings” here:
9. Drombeg – Earthworks
I stumbled onto Drombeg by sheer luck. Listening to the first few songs of this debut album, I was sold. His publisher’s description of the album describes it best: “A soundtrack for the middle-of-nowhere, the wild landscapes of Brookes’ native Southern Ireland are littered with historic, and geological structures hardened under the relentless elements. Sinuous string melodies, and tender piano phrases reach like sunlight breaking through heavy clouds, blended with electronics and field recordings in careful balance to produce a rich cinematic sound.”
I wasn’t sure if I liked this album at first. As a biased Dev fanboy, I felt like I was simply getting another version of Epicloud. After a few spins, it hit me, and I fell in love with Transcendence. Truly showcasing how much Devin has progressed as a musician over the years, his songwriting skills have tightened and makes for an engrossing album that sonically delivers. Not to mention this is the first album that features song writing credits to the rest of the band – being Dev’s first real collaboration with them. A true treat for the ears.
Watch the music video for “Stormbending”:
7. Aborted – Retrogore
Absolutely devastating death metal, Retrogore is a feast to the ears for those into horror films and, well, gore. It’s vile to the point of hilarity, and the band is fully-aware of that. With song titles like “Whoremageddon” and “Forged for Decrepitude” (which also features classic lines from Re-Animator), Aborted makes a much improved effort from their previous release and excites me to see what will come next.
Listen to the title track here:
6. Abbath – Abbath
Immortal’s ex-frontman Abbath debuted his first album earlier this year to great success. Never would I have found black metal to be this damn catchy (which I suppose goes against the grain of what tr00 kvlt black metal is), but damn it’s catchy! Beat after beat, this album comes at you with stellar force.
Check out the video for “Winterbane”:
5. Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden
Icelandic folk band Árstíðir teamed up with one of my favourite vocalists, Anneke van Giersbergen, to showcase a variety of traditional and classical songs. It’s a wonderfully peaceful album with great resonance naturally showcased within the albums’ production. I found myself spinning this album a surprisingly large amount of times this year. Absolutely beautiful.
Listen to the wonderful cover of “Bist Du Bei Mir”:
4. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
What’s not to like about Meshuggah? This band is always pushing the listener to something that rhythmically uncomfortable yet familiar. Always a great band to divulge into, if not a bit challenging to fully comprehend, The Violent Sleep of Reason is a crushingly great listen with riffs that will still have your head spinning to understand.
Check out the music video for “Clockworks”:
3. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Gorguts was last seen in my Top Albums of 2013 with their full-length, Coloured Sands – reaching the number two slot on my list. While I often don’t like to count EP’s as an album, Pleiades’ Dust stands out for being such a work of art I’d hate myself for not giving it proper recognition. The album forms a historical experience about the House of Wisdom and its destruction within a thirty-three minute song that is broken up into several movements. While Gorguts still stick with their technical death metal roots, the experimentation – and the overall experience – is an absolute joy.
I first got into Moonsorrow when I first got into metal. In fact, I learned about them when they were first starting out. I dug their first three albums (I started with Kivenkantaja) and fell in love with the band. And they’ve only become better over time. With their seventh album in place, these pagan black metallers have created another success. “Mimisbrunn” may just be one of the best songs they’ve ever written.
Check out the music video for “Suden Tunti”:
1. Vektor – Terminal Redux
The gap between my second place album and this spot is gigantic. I don’t think there has been an album deserving a number one slot as much as Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I cannot say enough good things about this stunningly brilliant, progressive thrash album. I’ve been gushing over it since its release in May and am still excited listening to it.
The concept is grand, if not surprisingly ambitious for the thrash genre, but these guys make it right. While the lyrics are deep, intellectual, and well-written, the music is on a league of its own.
Lightning-fast riffs with tremendous variety makes the album refreshing to listen to on each spin; vocals representing the agony of the traveler and his yearning to learn more – as does the music want the listener to do. Nothing is stale and everything is wonderful. With the addition of female soul singers during integral parts of the story, the album begins and concludes with such choral ferocity, I still get goose bumps when I’ve fully invested myself into the album.
From the first track, “Charging the Void” to the incredible finale with “Recharging the Void,” Vektor brings the listeners on a wild journey through the far reaches of space all in the span of nine pulse-pounding songs.
Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I simply cannot say enough good things about this album. It has easily become one of my favourite albums ever to have graced my ears. It is now one of my favourite albums of all-time. An epic masterpiece worth your attention.
The incredible opening track to my album of the year, here’s “Charging the Void”:
Testament – The Brotherhood Of The Snake
Opeth – Sorceress
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
Anderson/Stolt – The Invention of Knowledge
Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Megadeth – Dystopia
Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape
Redemption – The Art of Loss
Dream Theater – The Astonishing
Levin, Minneman, Rudess – From the Law Offices of Levin, Minnemann, Rudess
Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?
To-the-point and still a whole lot of fun. As the title suggests, this album is a testament to what heavy metal is. True to its roots, 3IoB’s album is a classic throw back to early Judas Priest or Manowar, with hella-cheesey lyrics that leave you questioning what you’re even singing along to. It’s hilarious, it’s great, it’s heavy, and it’s fun! For anyone looking to have a good time, please call 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal
14. Vintersorg – Orkan
Swedish band Vintersorg (which is technically just two guys), produced a straight-forward, avant-garde folk album. If that last statement wasn’t paradoxical enough for you, listen to Orkan to understand. While still following traditional musical stylings, Vintersorg ups-the-ante by incorporating different chord changes, unconventional song styles, vocal techniques, and performances on the lute! The kicker is that it does all sound-straight forward. While you don’t expect to hear a chorus when listening to this music, it flows naturally, making it a great album to listen to for “something different.” Oh, and the lyrics aren’t in English.
13. Overkill – The Electric Age
This album is too much fun. You’ll be head banging for a solid fifty minutes. What a rush.
12. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Get through the first track (and the single) Tattoo, and you’ll be loving the rest of the album. While starting off sloppy, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth picks up and over-exceeds in all ways possible. Solid hard rock from this album kicks your butt and keeps rocking all the way until the end. Singer David Lee Roth still has what it takes to make music fun – not being the traditional singer – he adds so much more atmosphere to the music. This “better late than never” album really lives up to expectations.
11. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Who hasn’t heard “Hold On” yet? Alabama Shakes made an impressive impact in popular music this year with this album. Beyond expectations, the band stays true to soul music and southern rock while taking advantage of recording technology to this day. A really, really solid album comes from this band – especially with their singer, Brittany Howard, who has one of the most incredible voices in music today. If you haven’t heard this album yet, get on top of that!
10. Devin Townsend – Epiclouder
While Devin Townsend released his album Epicloud earlier this year, if you got the Special Edition copy, you would’ve received the “demos” album titled Epiclouder. To be honest, I prefer the demos. Although they are not “completed” by Devin’s standards, the music is even more beautiful and chilling than the actual album Devin released. While it doesn’t fit Devin’s concept of Epicloud (as he says in the linear notes), Epiclouder tells many more stories, and goes down many more musical paths which would not have worked in the regular album. Most of all: it’s really refreshing and happy.
9. Kreator – Phantom Antichrist
Don’t take the title literally. It’s actually an interesting fantasy concept which runs through most of the album. It sings about a post-apocalyptic life and the battles to fight oppression. As always, Kreator manages to mix both aggression musically along with the music they perform. However, a few tracks sneak inside the album to change up the flow of music. All tasteful, I found that Kreator’s album is really neat story and a great way to wind down the day.
8. Ihsahn – Eremita
This album is so all-over-the-place, it’s fantastic. Ihsahn, you may remember from the black metal band, Emperor. However, outside of Emperor, he does progressive metal. I’m putting that lightly. Eremita is jazz fusion mixed with metal, mixed with darkness, mixed with orchestrations, fright, bewilderment, and awe. What it does well though, is give a focus to saxophone, and really puts an imprint on how underutilized the instrument is used in popular music today. (Albeit, me saying that Ihsahn is “popular” is just silly).
7. Threshold – March of Progress
After their 2007 release, Dead Reckoning, no one has heard anything from Threshold. We can see why (well that, and their singer passed away in 2011; bringing back their original vocalist from pre-2008 albums). March of Progress is a really powerful album from start-to-end. It sucks you in with haunting keyboards and keeps you grounded until the album concludes. It’s a great album just to rock out and play along in the background with whatever it is you’re doing. It’s a guaranteed enjoyment.
6. Kamelot – Silverthorn
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Kamelot’s 2006 album, The Black Halo, is hands-down their best album. Then came Silverthorn. Featuring new vocalist, Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder), and quite a few guest musicians and singers, Silverthron stomps The Black Halo out of the competition. Heavy, pretty, and down-right awesome, Silverthron is a new beginning for Kamelot. I highly recommend you give it a try too.
5. Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything is Changing
Ex-The Gathering singer, Anneke van Giersbergen release this hauntingly beautiful album at the beginning of 2012. I find myself still returning to it as it really sticks. Anneke’s voice, happy lyrics, and rocking music, is guaranteed to make you feeling pretty good about yourself once the trip is over.
4. Flying Colors – Flying Colors
A super group of musicians would naturally make a super album. Flying Colors self-titled debut showed how much fun it is to rock out. Piecing together various musical styles, the album grabs you right of the get-go and refuses to let you leave until you soak in all of the greatness it offers.
3. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light
David Gold’s final album – Woods 5 represents everything that is beautiful and dark in this world. From poetic lyrics to gut-wrenching music, Woods 5 hits all of the right spots and sometimes kind of close to home.
2. The Flower Kings – Banks of Eden
Blues and jazz melded together to make wonderfully crafted progressive rock and one heckuva pretty album. It is an absolutely stunning album, front-to-back, from a band no one really knows about. The Flower Kings have really topped themselves with Banks of Eden. It’s gorgeous, it’s happy, it’s The Flower Kings. The album offers so much for listeners, it’s impossible to tell you everything about it. You’d be doing yourself if a favour if you gave this at least one spin. Just a warning though: you won’t put this down.
1. Anathema – Weather Systems
What can you say about an album this beautiful? Pushing the envelope with new ground, Anathema’s Weather System’s sets the standard to what music could – and should be. Emotional, uplifting, and so much more, there’s a reason why this album is my number one. Do yourself a favour and find out why.
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
Torche – Harmonicraft
Devin Townsend – Epicloud
Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?
Psychedelic rock, sludge rock, stoner rock – whatever you want to call it – Kylesa’s “Ultraviolet” is all that and a bag of potato chips. Resonating back to the early nineties with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Kyuss, Kylesa’s newest is a slug-fest of dirty, crunchy, pulse-pounding songs. However, you’re guaranteed to lose yourself listening to this album. To put it simply: Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope kick butt.
Taking from the grunge scene, this half punk, half thrash debut album is all-out fantastic. “Death Sigils” offers a refreshing takes on the genres and really throws it in your face with wonderful female vocals. The mix is what really what stands out though. It is a clean and organised chaos -something that is rarely done well in the genre – let alone with a debut album. Occultist does it all right.
I feel bad having Ihsahn squeeze his way into my top fifteen again this year,but he continues to push out incredible music. Mixed from jazz, fusion, progressive, black, doom, avant-garde, and so on, he’s really all over the place – yet it all feels like home in the album. To put it simply, “Das Seelenbrechen” is more of an incredible sample of genres that flows together naturally. There’s such a variety of elements are involved with creating such a daunting animal as this album. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen to.
The pioneers of prog are back! A well-orchestrated and return-to-form album by Fates Warning after along hiatus proves they are still a force to be reckoned with. Screaming from their late eighties/early nineties sound, “Darkness in a Different Light”is a welcomed listen, featuring a wide variety of styles in both guitar and bass work. Not to mention, Ron Jarzombek is drumming on the album. ‘Nuff said.
Over-the-top as always, songwriter Arjen Lucassen manages to create a symphonic concept album featuring four songs over twenty minutes on two discs. To make matters even nerdier, this science-fiction album is broken up into forty-two tracks for you Hitchhiker fans out there. Along with other science-fiction nods, this album is filled with exciting orchestrations, brilliant story-telling, and an incredible line up of guest musicians putting “The Theory of Everything” in my number eleven spot.
Finnish folk-rockers Amorphis released “Circle” earlier in the year. An excellent, straight-forward album with solid compositions and Tomi Joutsen’s gorgeous vocals puts this album into the beginning of my top ten.
What happens when you throw three legendary musicians together? Bassist Tony Levin, drummer Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, come together and piece an incredible fusion album with awesome concepts and moods to melt your ears. This near all-instrumental album seems to shift focus halfway through, with the first half being a mix of blues, while the second takes you back to the early eighties and nineties in video games.
I was fearful of this album when it was first announced. I knew Ozzy was too old and worn out to continue writing solid music. While yes, Ozzy’s tired voice was clearly corrected for the album, the song writing, is something else. Black Sabbath makes a clear impression that they are really the godfathers of heavy metal (as if that wasn’t clear already). Sticking true to their form by honouring both blues and jazz, “13” is a solid and incredible album – save for the two singles (which are also the first two songs on the album). Dear Father may be one of my favourite Sabbath tunes of all-time. If anything,”13″ could have been released in the seventies it would have been a perfect fit.
Everyone thinks either “Rated R” or “Songs for the Deaf” are QotSA’s best albums. Well, guess which two albums had a baby together? “…Like Clockwork” is a great return for the band after their recent musical flops. Very moody and at times sinister, the album cannot help but force a smirk on your face. Such as when you pick up on the subtle soundscapes in the background, or when you recognise when Dave Grohl’s signature drumming sound becomes real apparent.
A friend recommended me this album and two songs in, I fell in love. Yoann Lemoine makes sure “The Golden Age” overflows with grandeur and experimental stylings. It’s indie, but epic. It’s elegant, but shines bright.This album will drop your jaw onto the ground with its audio brilliance. There’s layers and layers of love thrown into each song, making you want to listen to each track carefully if only to grin wildly along with it. There is a reason why this album makes my top five.
This dark, ambient album – as with all Summoning albums – is loosely based off of Lord of the Rings. This album features great soundscapes and themes in the long, epic songs on the album. Singing of nature, loss, and a variety of LotR-based locations, you cannot help but feel the wonder behind some of the songs. At times I wish Peter Jackson would attach these songs to his films.What makes this album stand out the most, however, is the beautiful and diverse arrangements the band pieces together.
I debated endlessly with myself on whether or not this album deserved the second place spot or not. The return of one of death metal’s greatest bands proves to be an incredible one.
“Surgical Steel” features eleven pounding tracks which not only make you feel exhilarated, but it throws interesting philosophies about human consumption and the nature of man. Reeking in irony, it is quite the educational and introspective album for the impressionable listener.
Speaking of reunions, it has been over a decade since Canadian band Gorguts released anything. “Colored Sands” is one of the most emotional albums I’ve heard in a long time. Focusing more on the spirituality of Buddhism and Tibetans under Chinese rule, lyrically, this album is not only a historical lesson, but also an exploration of man. Luc Lemay writes an incredible scope of stories filled with both sorrow and pain making the liner notes compliment the album well.
Musically, however, Colored Sands is an incredible journey with a wide variety of musical styles blended into the technical death metal genre. Not only does the album feature odd-timed waltzes or jazz interludes, but the middle of the album features a string quartet for an awesome classical arrangement.
While I’ve given the link to the album below, I strongly recommend listening to my favourite track,”Absconders.” It is, in my opinion, the most emotional song off of the album. The last few minutes of the song really hits the point home.
1. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
When this album was released in February, I knew after the first listen it was something special. Not only is each song a self-contained story, but it is also an audio adventure for the listener. It is rare for the stories and music to complement each other well enough to create a satisfying final product, but each song on Wilson’s album does so perfectly – and seemingly with ease.
The true beauty of the album is how each song sounds different, but still the same. Every song on the album features different tones, atmospheres, influences, and attention to detail, making all of the stories unique onto themselves in the canonical album.
Brilliant, haunting, touching, beautiful, daring, progressive – whatever you want to call it, this album offers it and so much more.
This is sludge at its finest. Bass pounding with beats, distorted guitars, and a rally cry with the drums. This debut album by this relatively unknown band deserves the recognition it gets here. (FYI, Yautja is the name of the alien species the Predator is).
Evergrey returns to their pre-2001 days with this powerful new album. While the band seems to slowly depart from their gloomier lyrics, the music is still-ever emotional and also driven by a refreshing new sound with their old song-writing style.
Although Devin Townsend released three friggen’ albums this year, Casualties of Cool is the only one on my list. This country rock album experiments with a little bit of everything he’s done in the past. There’s a little bit of his “mediation” album Ghost, his rock album Ki, and his dark ambient/noise album, Devlab. A concept album, Casualties of Cool is really something that stands out amongst not only his discography, but in the general sphere of “music.”
The last arguably “good” Judas Priest album was 1990’s Painkiller. After a few flubs, Redeemer of Souls truly is a redemption for the band. While it doesn’t showcase anything new, it shows that Judas Priest still has everything they did back when they started: powerful song writing, great lyrics, and offering awesome, head-banging momments all throughout the album.
If you’re a fan of well-constructed riffage, this is what you need to listen to. Incredible song writing skills, and of course, epic vocals from Mathias Blad, this hits the sweet spot of finely-crafted power metal.
Cooking With Pagans is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. For the uninitiated: a similar style of Motorhead with jazz, metal, and pop music, Freak Kitchen shows off impressive songs with silly lyrics and catchy choruses, making you to grow a smile across your face. Their music video below, Freak of the Week, was also given a $100,000 budget. They opted to hire cartoonists to make it happen.
7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
There’s some real, damn good black metal here. The guitars are really what make this album an outstanding piece of work. Rich with emotions, it pained me to put this album in seventh place. Alas, you’ll soon learn why.
This band is always pushing the boundaries to what “rock music” is. The album offers a wide encompassing amount of different styles – often in the same song (see below). There is no real way to describe Sólstafir’s sound. They’re a forever-evolving band, which is really great for people who like to hear something they never have before.
Out of all of the albums I’m putting on my list, this is the one I feel most people wouldn’t enjoy. Gridlink is a grindcore band at heart. However, their newest release “Longhena” is truly the most beautiful grindcore I’ve heard. In its glorious chaos, the songs are ripe with emotion and complicated orchestration. While the album barely clocks over twenty minutes, it’s incredible how much wonder was put in it.
These American folk/black metallers release, yet again, another gorgeous album. A completely different shift from the other two black metal albums on my list, Agalloch is more based within folkore and slower paced songs. While the momentum shifts throughout the album, their music is certainly breathtaking, if not awe-inspiring in its allure.
Much like Sólstafir, Anathema is constantly pushing the boundaries to what rock is. While they lean more on the progressive rock side of things, this album showcases yet more incredible song writing by the band. Wonderful vocal harmonies, symphonic atmospheres, technical moments. . . this album is absolutely beautiful. Words cannot explain.
This album took me by surprise. Cynic was a technical death metal band. They featured harsh vocals and technical know-how with their instruments. With “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” they dropped their old selves – and death metal vocals – and turned into a progressive rock band. What they still keep is the incredible instrumentation, complexity in their songs, and the immense strength they have as a band through showcasing their talents. Being a band with only three musicians, you would feel as if there is more to the band than what you hear. The album is overwhelmingly complicated, but careful with how it lets the listener focus on particular parts. Nothing is actually overwhelming, but the song ideas as a whole are. It’s a great, great album.
Between this album and Cynic, I had the hardest time deciding which would be number one. However, Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot.
Only in their second album, Triptykon’s lead singer, Tom G. Warrior, continues with his thought-provoking song writing and emotional output through this raw, energy-filled album. Triptykon is not only distorted with their song writing, but their sounds as well. In fact, the sound which the band produces is on another level of musical standards.
From the crushing bass of Vanja Slajh, to the echoed despair of Norman Lonhard’s snare; the rhythmic pounding from Santura’s guitar, and the melting intensity of Warrior’s guitar and vocals – “Melana Chasmata” is an album which will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think a week went by since its release in April where I hadn’t listened to it.
One of the best things to take away from the album is how the band is not afraid to do whatever they want. Case-in-point with the two music videos below. Getting variety like this on an album is only one of the many reasons to why “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot on my list.
I have been doing this annually since 2005, but I rarely mention it publically. I usually post these things on Facebook for friends, but I had a few people tell me they wish to see this on my website. So here we go!
15. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
With the band’s first double album, The Book of Souls explores many progressive concepts that really seem to harken back to 1984’s Powerslave. With three songs over ten minutes, the album expands on Maiden’s already great musicianship shows off their compositions. Save for the single, the rest of the album has a lot more technical prowess to it.
Folk black metal band Himinbjorg have always been rather absent from the music scene. Featuring the somewhat lackluster albums in the past, their newest release, Wyrd, steps up their songwriting and production game to a new level. With a vast array of song styles within the rather moody album, I have to say I was super impressed of the band’s change.
Breaking new ground with 2002’s release, The Odyssey, the band now had to live up to certain expectations. With 2007’s Paradise Lost, they really pushed it to the limit. 2011’s Iconoclast fell flat. Now in 2015, Underworld brings them back up – not to previous standards, but pushing different standards and setting a new precedent for themselves. Unlike traditional SX fashion, the first few songs – while impressive – are not nearly as good as the last half of the album. Underworld mixes with new sounds and shows the listener that the old progressive metal band they once were is gone. With Underworld, we hear SX aren’t afraid to try something new and experiment again.
Even though he passed away in 1993, he had enough music recorded to be released up until now. Dance Me This, both Zappa’s 100th and final album, features Frank predominately performing with a Synclavier – a digital sampling device – along with Siberian throat singers. While the album is definitely an acquired taste, I can honestly say that even twenty-plus years after his death, Frank is still pushing the musical envelope with this album – making me hear things I’ve never heard before. This rings especially true with the final track, Calculus.
Another year and unsurprisingly another Amorphis album makes my list. Can this band do no wrong? They have a formula and they stick to it. However, unlike previous albums, Under the Red Cloud plays around with more musical themes outside of their traditional Finnish roots. Always impressing and improving on their sound, there’s no wonder why this band still dominates in the music world.
Where did this come from? Never did I expect to see new Venom in a top fifteen list of mine, and yet here we are! While credited as one of the originators of the black metal genre, Venom has grown far away from that to the point. Fom the Very Depths sounds like a cross between bands like Testament, Overkill, and Motörhead. Pulse-pounding and relentlessly heavy, this new release breathes fresh air in the band and excites me for their next release.
As expected, this Japanese band gives the listener more than they could ever expect. From the far-extreme to the slow-mellow, Sigh have always gone with the strange, purposeful “under produced” sound with incredible quality in their music. Graveward never ceases to impress throughout the entire album.
This American tech-death band features a return-to-form after the disappointing 2012 release, At the Gate of Sethu. With crushing riffs and pulse-pounding drum beats, Nile’s newest release is perfect for the listener who’s looking to be blown away from the intensity the album provides. As usual, expect lengthy write ups about each song’s meaning in the linear notes.
The debut full-length album from this English duo is nothing short of impressive. Almost as if each song is a soundtrack from a movie, it is difficult to explain what Nordic Giants are. With each song different from the other, featuring keys, trumpets, drums, guitar, operatic vocals – they are a rock band but with unconventional instruments. An absolutely breathtaking album. I’m confident it will impress.
After 2012’s lovely Harmonicraft, Restarter ups the ante and gets heavier, dirtier, and sludgier (new word) with overdriven bass, pounding kicks, and gruff vocals. Still keeping true to their song-writing roots, Torche simply makes the same music they always have, but they made it heavier. While that defaults as a bonus in my books, the band does so naturally without losing who they are. That alone speaks volumes to both the quality of the band and of this album.
As a band known for helping change the sound of black metal, some would say their newest, Arcturian, is far from it. And you know, it certainly doesn’t sound like it would be considered black metal – yet it still is. Always different and never boring, Arcturian is the band’s first album in ten years and still sounds as if they never stopped being themselves along the way.
As expected with a band name like this, My Dying Bride pushes your chest in and holds you there as you experience the sheer brutal sorrow of this album. From the gothic, poetic lyrics and dark sounds, Feel the Misery absorbs you into it and refuses to let go. Hands-down, one of the band’s – if not the band’s – best release.
Another first double album for a band in this list, the instrumental band Ozric Tentacles, release their fifteenth album in spectacular fashion. As a band that always seems to do something stranger than the last, Technicians of the Sacred still manages to pull some punches with the hefty variety of music it brings. Spoiler alert: I’m a big Ozric fan. I can say that this is their best album since 1993’s Jurassic Shift.
What Steven Wilson does for music is like what the sun does to plants for Earth. His newest release, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is bold, touching, emotional, driven, brilliant, moody, intense, beautiful, and oh-so much more. Blending both pop music and progressive rock, the album still features a concept, unlike most pop albums: and the concept of the album is remarkable, if not a bit depressing. Guest vocalist, Ninet Tayeb, provides a balanced contrast and freshness to both the album and Wilson’s production.
After the release of 2005’s Second Life Syndrome, the Polish band, Riverside (much like Symphony X), seemed to lose themselves in a couple of stale albums. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine changes everything and puts the band up on a pedestal that surpasses everything they’ve done.
Never slowing down, but hardly ever breaking the precedent set by the first track, Riverside finds their stride with the opening notes and continues through to the end. LF&tTM keeps a constant sublime and melancholic feeling throughout the album – right up until the final note is played. The album is calming, yet still intricate enough to satisfy the listener with the layers of beauty within each song.
Often upbeat, despite the rather relaxed mix and mastering of the album, LF&tTM features a variety of tunes that all share familiarity to each other while still being completely different in structure and theme.
For these reasons, and because it’s my most listened to album this year, does Riverside take the top spot on my list.