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The Top 10 from Down Under 2007
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2007 - The Year for Taking Risks

This year, the metal world was inundated with releases. Prog, power, thrash, death - you name it, your bank account was probably drained keeping up with it all (or your internet connection, if you're so piratically inclined.) What stood out was most bands tried something new - stepped outside of their usual selves to attempt what they have never thought of before, some more successful than others. Progressive metal this year added intensity and balls to their usually wiry and inoffensive production. Melodic death rekindled its fascination with the technical (Machine Head) and even what was unknown to them before. Even once hardened black metal artists took to incorporating different elements within their music - and being crucified as a heretic for it (Behemoth, Dissection). The catch cry for 2007 was that of bands taking control of their own creativity - making music that was personally synergistic and gratifying, instead of bowing to externalities such as the all-consuming expectations of fans and their sometimes benign label overlords. 2007...onward!

firstly, the dissapointments:
Kamelot - Ghost Opera
CE and I agreed Kamelot would have to do some serious soul-searching to rival "The Black Halo." They didn't, and we got the aimless and needlessly gaudy Ghost Opera.

Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos
DT unfortunately stand out from this year's progressive metal bunch by being underwhelming - tepid, timid and tragic at times, Systematic Chaos is a shameful attempt at "Awake Part II", with certainly more of the former rather than the latter which DT were renowned for. Oh, and I've heard Petrucci "sing" on demos - and that's where he should have remained!

Tarot - Crows Fly Black
After Dark Passion Play was released, it became abundantly clear that Marco Hietala's heart just wasn't in this lackluster follow-up to the classic "Suffer our Pleasures." Their choice of including an extra vocalist was mindboggling to say the least.

THE TOP TEN

10. Nightwish - Dark Passion Play
Nightwish didn't have to reinvent themselves just because they lost Tarja. They just did what they always did - and did it well. Epic orchestral soundscapes; Webberian melodies; grandiose and exotic songwriting. Tuomas' ear for the sublime voice of Annette Olzon was well trained, as well as amping up everyone's role for a tight-knit, room-filling and splendorous record.

9. Sigh - Hangman's Hymn
Mirai Kawashima does not lie. He said he was going to release an album that would be like "thrash metal meets German symphonies" and did exactly that. Returning to their trademark horror-score black metal without discarding their fervor for experimentation and textured songwriting, "Hangman's Hymn" stands out as what can be achieved in the rapidly ossifying black metal genre.

8. Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
Therion can't contain themselves. Their minds swim in oceans of wonder, gliding effortlessly to pick up the best and brightest styles, coaxing them to release simple yet beautiful melodies and rhythms from their instruments before assembling them over two discs. Their streamlined approach was definitely a plus, the highlights being the counterpoint of the sonorous Mats Leven and bassy Snowy Shaw.

7. Threshold - Dead Reckoning
This was the year of taking risks, and a well known progressive metal band to add death metal screams and a cover of a Muse song was a gamble and a half. They didn't dissapoint - Nick Midson's void was barely noticed as they lovingly nurtured their hard rock influences and prog roots into a polished, muscular and distinguished progressive metal album.

6. Pain of Salvation - Scarsick
Despite the departure of his own brother and drummer, Daniel Gildenlow defied expectations yet again, pushing the boundaries of progressive metal further out to provinces hitherto unknown. Seamlessly adding disco, gospel and bluegrass influences while maintaining an endearing, simmering hatred, Scarsick is one of prog metal's edgier releases in a long time.

5. Laethora - March of the Parasite
Niklas Sundin is one of the first dual recipients of Top 10 line honors this year, shredding brilliantly in his aggressive, take-no-prisoners "post" grindcore project. Abrasive vocals, pounding rhythms and an unrelenting momentum heldfast for an eerie, terrifying, unique and overwhelmingly satisfying record.

4. Paradise Lost - In Requiem
Most have written off Paradise Lost as they flirted with electronica and New Wave styles, but I really believe that "In Requiem" is their rennaissance: the band retaining their gothic sensibilities while augmenting their sound with rockier elements not unlike Katatonia. Unlikely as it seemed, the band crafted an emotion-charged album with a surplus of diversity in ideas and moods.

3. Mind's Eye - A Gentleman's Hurricane
Two top ten albums in as many years? Inconceivable! Mr. Daniel Flores is a powerhouse of unimaginable magnitude, a melodic and rhythmic artisan that pumps out gem after gem, never resorting to compromise with factory made riffs or drab frivolity. His trio of bass and guitar savior Mr. Johan Niemann (who also has the rare honor of making the top 10 list twice) and the always impressive and ear-delighting Mr. Andreas Novak have the rare talent of crafting colorful and delightful music (as well as an intriguing concept) that satisfies their creativity, musicianship and the audience at large. Just like last year, i'll say it again: Brilliant!

2. Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
Unfortunately, Fiction will remain underappreciated, being lumped into their post-Damage Done era "aggressive and simplistic" pile as Character unceremoniously was. To me however, Fiction will be among their best work. Expertly and ingeniously crafted songs worthy of repeated spins, imparting intelligence, empathy and a searing sense of loss within their pained grooves and sorrowful scowls.

1. Symphony X - Paradise Lost
Easily their best album, adding intensity and muscle they had been sorely lacking for so long. Punishing and seductive from the get go, passionate ferocity of Russell Allen and the scorching drive of Michael Romeo to challenge himself as well as the rest of the band led them to achieve something truly magnificent. This sprawling and, dare I say epic magnum opus that dazzled, astounded and kept me gripped to the very end every time.

Honorable Mentions:
Devin Townsend - Ziltoid the Omniscient (Gold Award)
Arch Enemy - Rise of the Tyrant (Silver Award)
Raise the Shield - Release Yourself (Bronze Award, also Independent Release of the Year)
November's Doom - The Novella Reservoir
Megadeth - United Abominations
Dimmu Borgir - In Sorte Diaboli
Masterplan - MK II
Helloween - Gambling with the Devil
Iced Earth - Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked, Part I)

I'm looking forward to 2008 - if it's half as good as 2007, I'll be happy!

January 1, 2008
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