Despite a staggeringly small number of reviews I've coughed up this year, I thought this would be a great opportunity to weight-in on a number of releases that I've enjoyed quite a bit. On the whole, it looks like 2008 fared a little better than the likes of 2007, but shared a number of unexpected disappointments. Looking through my collection of 2008 material, I was actually surprised by the number of cds that didn't seem to measure up to standard. Here's the most depressing of the bunch:
Cryptopsy - The Unspoken King - I think this one goes without saying, but Cryptopsy plummets further down with the introduction of core elements and that 'keyboardist'. The most surprising part is that if the band name changed, it's actually better than most deathcore it would compete with.
Daylight Dies - Lost to the Living - The band is certainly a bit lost to me with this one, for some reason it just completely lacks the power that Dismantling Devotion had and I simply cannot make it through the whole disc in one sitting.
Dragonforce - Ultra Beatdown - Admittedly, Dragonforce pushed me to appreciate more power metal, which ironically caused me to become less and less impressed by them. The first time I heard "Heroes of Our Time" I thought it was a joke because it was so embarassingly similar to "Through the Fire and Flames".
Into Eternity - The Incurable Tragedy - I was psyched for IE's newest until I heard the first track, and realized that someone really should control Stu's vocals. The album as a whole seems a bit sloppy and despite being written about personal events, the lyrics are undeniably cheesy.
Deadlock - Manifesto - Wolves and Earth.Revolt were excellent melodeath releases, but Manifesto sees the band attempting to branch off into far too many unexpected and unsatisfying directions and heavy-handed vegan lyrics. Oh, and there's a rap song.
Fear My Thoughts - Isolation - I'd like to nominate this one for most disappointing release of the year. Turning a complete 180 degrees in direction, I'd like to just wish this one never even happened.
As always, I do have a number of honorable mentions. I picked 10 this year, mostly because I had a long and hard battle figuring out the final few of my top 20 and felt that all the albums listed deserved some recognition. Here goes:
The Faceless - Planetary Duality
Marionette - Spite
All Shall Perish - Awaken the Dreamers
Belphegor - Bondage Goat Zombie
Abigail Williams - In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns
Shadow - Forever Chaos
Zonaria - The Cancer Empire
Mygrain - Signs of Existence
Opeth - Watershed
Raunchy - Wasteland Discotheque
And now for the Top 20, which is predictably full of some melodic death metal, but hopefully a few surprises as well. Just like last year, I've chosen one song for those interested in the band to check out, which may not be my personal 'favorite' but a good indicator of what the album sounds like.
20. Red Descending - Where Dreams Come to Die: There were a number of discs vying for this spot but I chose Red Descending because their brand of blackened symphonic melodic death metal is my favorite independent release of the year. Hints of Dark Tranquillity, Dimmu Borgir, Arcturus, and At the Gates with a few small female vocals!
Check out this track: The Grand Memory
19. The Red Death - Godmakers: The Red Death's sophomore effort is straight-ahead, no-frills melodic death metal the way that not too many bands seem to do it nowadays. No cleans, and not a break from the viciousness from start to finish.
Check out this track: Godless
18. In Flames - A Sense of Purpose: Despite some honest disappointment from one of my favorite bands, A Sense of Purpose does finish strong and I've come back to it throughout the year on occasion, just avoid "The Chosen Pessimist".
Check out this track: Sober and Irrelevant
17. Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God: A seeming uptick in speed from the last disc, this may be my favorite release from Amon Amarth, there's no true standout to me but a very strong set of songs and a load of great melodies.
Check out this track: Live for the Kill
16. As Eden Burns - The Great Celestial Delusion: Willowtip Records knows how to pick melodic death bands (Arsis anyone?), and As Eden Burns is no exception. Blazing, gritty melodic death a la Arsis and The Black Dahlia Murder, these guys are sure to be going places in the near future.
Check out this track: Ever Again
15. The Haunted - Versus: The Dead Eye seemed to satisfy the experimental side of The Haunted (though some of it does seep in on occasion here), as Versus goes back to what The Haunted do best: thrash of course! Unfortunately, it feels way too short considering the unnecesary "Skuld" and "Imperial Death March".
Check out this track: Little Cage
14. Darkane - Demonic Art: Darkane return after the massive Layers of Lies with new singer Jens Broman (Construcdead, The Defaced) and he fits well. Admittedly, the songs aren't quite as melodic as Layers and take more time to absorb but it's worth the effort.
Check out this track: Demonic Art
13. Anathema - Hindsight: I contemplated covering this one but since all the songs were re-worked into acoustic numbers, I thought it fit. An excellent selection of songs and the acoustic treatment is simply mindblowing on several songs and completely transforms them ("Are You There"). A must have for any Anathema fan.
Check out this track: Leave No Trace
12. Warrel Dane - Praises to the War Machine: Warrel Dane's first solo effort comes across as a more accessible version of Nevermore, but thats not a bad thing by any means. Dane does get a chance to expand his range, and shows us why he's one of the most talented vocalists in the metal world.
Check out this track: Patterns
11. All That Remains - Overcome: Though it undoubtably brings ATR in a more mainstream direction, the band maintains it's credibility in my eyes due to the guitar team of Herbert and Martin, who keep one foot firmly planted in the metal realm, even in softer tracks like "Two Weeks" and "A Song for the Hopeless". Unfortunately the "Believe in Nothing" cover is cringe-inducing.
Check out this track: Overcome
10. Iced Earth - The Crucible of Man: The return of Matt Barlow as frontman was highly anticipated and he certainly doesn't disappoint (even after the excellent Framing Armageddon). The Something Wicked concept releases have sparked some life back into IE, though I do wish they'd kick the speed up a few notches more frequently.
Check out this track: Sacrificial Kingdoms
9. The Arcane Order - In the Wake of Collisions: The Arcane Order continues to impress as they get heavier with each release. Punishing death thrash with plenty of atmosphere and melodies that are given just enough room to breathe amongst an almost SYL-level wall of sound, these guys are the band to beat in their respective genre. The start of "Death is Imminent" is sure raise the hair on the back of your neck.
Check out this track: The Serpent Tower
8. Bleeding Through - Declaration: Bleeding Through leap back from the disappointing Truth with their strongest release to date. Maintaining the viciousness of their earlier efforts with the crushing Devin Townsend production and a more open embrace of their metal side ("Sister Charlatan" and "Reborn From Isolation"), this one is sure to turn some heads that have ignored the band to date. Considering all the disappointment within the metalcore genre lately, it's nice to see a band able to carry the torch.
Check out this track: Declaration
7. Martriden - The Unsettling Dark: The highest ranking debut belongs to Martriden, with their unique take on blackened death metal that just seems to blow away everyone else as of this moment. Taking the best elements from bands like Arsis, Behemoth, Nile, Emperor, Opeth, and Dark Tranquillity, their subtle melodies amongst the spiralling, chaotic riffing are the reason I continue to hail them as the most promising band in the US. I say this a lot with some bands, but I cannot wait to see what these guys do next!
Check out this track: Processional for the Hellfire Chariot
6. Equilibrium - Sagas: 80 minutes worth of folk metal fun! Bombastic Braveheart-esque melodies, over-the-top synthesizers and woodwinds create an epic metal album that improves in every way from their debut Turis Fratyr and picks up the ball that was dropped by Finntroll with their last effort. While its the most fun you'll have with a metal disc this year, the guitarwork is also second to none, as evidenced in the massive 16 minute closing instrumental "Mana".
Check out this track: Blut im Auge
5. Eluveitie - Slania: Also holding the folk metal flag high is Eluveitie, making the jump to Nuclear Blast and improving on their already excellent Spirit release. The genuine sound the band achieves through their instruments is simply unparalleled. From the punishing "Bloodstained Ground" to the more atmospheric "Slanias Song", Eluveitie combine the melodic death, folk, and traditional celtic aspects together with ease. With 2 potential outputs in 2009 (one acoustic), it should be another great year for Eluveitie.
Check out this track: Tarvos
4. Arsis - We Are the Nightmare: We Are the Nightmare finally unlocks Arsis' full potential and pulls off a seemless blend of the band's knack for guitar wizardry and melodic yet abrasive songwriting. With a full band behind them, there are subtle nuances that you can pick out in each song upon repeated listens and even though the sound is a little too sterile, this is a disc you'll be coming back to for months at a time. Unfortunately, the revolving door of Arsis members has continued since the release, but I hope for nothing but the best in their future.
Check out this song: My Oath to Madness
3. Scar Symmetry - Holographic Universe: Scar Symmetry continues to grow with each release, as Holographic Universe sees the band becoming more progressive and Christian's vocals have never sounded better. It's a tough call as to whether it beats out Pitch Black Progress but it certainly delivers everything SS fans expected. Being one of the premier melodic death bands currently, I'm a bit nervous as to how they'll progress with the lost of Christian, but I have faith that 2 vocalists with do nothing but further push their sound to new levels.
Check out this track: Quantumleaper
2. Sonic Syndicate - Love and Other Disasters: Just to give you an impression, I've already played out one copy of this one in my car and I've only had it since September. Sonic Syndicate's take on modern metal may not be completely original but I'll be damned if they don't pull it off better than anyone else out there. The choruses are powerful and addicting, and the riffing has become a bit heavier and moved forward from Only Inhuman, combining to create a beast of an album. With three solid efforts, Sonic Syndicate have become one of the premier modern metal acts.
Check out this track: Power Shift
1. Mercenary - Architect of Lies: Probably not much of a surprise here, as Mercenary kind of snuck in after 2006 to become one of my favorite (if not the favorite) bands going. Picking up on the daunting task of following up The Hours that Remain was made easier with the addition of growler/bassist Rene, which infused the band with some new energy. While I still go back to Hours on a regular basis, Architect of Lies is a more than worthy successor that brings back some of the death metal crunch missing in said album. They are truly two different albums. While advancing their sound, they've kept their core identity intact, providing a genre-blurring mix of melodic death, power, and progressive that is simply spellbinding. Having charismatic Mikkel Sandager continuing to progress his vocals ("Bloodsong") certainly helps too. I think this marks the first time I've given an album of the year to a certain band more than once, and if that doesn't tell you enough about the quality of Mercenary, then I'm not what will. Essential!
Check out this track: Execution Style
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