Hello and welcome to this, a summary of some of the best, and the not-so-best of 2007 in metal. Below is a ranking of the ten best albums of 2007, the ten best songs of 2007, and a few disappointments of 2007. Also, to round things off, I've written down some albums which are worth to look forward to next year, for various reasons. But now, let's get things rolling with the 10th Best Album of 2007, which is...
10. Dream Theater: Systematic ChaosWhy is this here? Seldom does one piece almost by itself propel an album to heights like this, but this is one of those rare cases. Without the 25 minute epic dubbed "In the Presence Of Enemies," Systematic Chaos would've been somewhat mediocre, landing around 20-25 or so on the 2007 list. There're bits and pieces on SC which do not reflect all too well on the band, like "The Dark Eternal Night" and "Prophets Of War," but pieces such as "ITPOE," "The Ministry Of Lost Souls" and "Forsaken" put the case for this album in a strong position. A quick mention should also go out to John Petrucci's guitarplaying: the man hasn't played this well (not saying that he's ever been bad) in years. The solo in "Constant Motion" is one of my favorite solos this year, and one of his best since way-back-when.
Despite a somewhat flawed tracklisting and some dodgy passages, "Systematic Chaos" is at #10 this year, mainly because of what seems to be DT's forte: managing to work themes and write free, flowing music that just goes wherever the hell they want.
Continuing on a much, much more brutal note, at #9 we have...
9. Behemoth: The ApostasyLike an angry beast pushed into the dark, Behemoth charge back into the spotlight and boy does this album tear you a new one. Brutal, fast, technical, ugly and above all -- extremely well written. The Apostasy has all the elements you can ask for a technical, modern blackened death metal album. The production complements the music perfectly; it is raw, rugged and rough. Also, the drumming by Inferno here is one of the best performances of 2007, as well as Nergal's growl which is definitely in the upper echelons when it comes to delivering a vocal style such as this. Some albums post-Reign In Blood are, like the classic album itself, an exercise in over-pummeling the listener and beating him/her into submission with sonical WMDs. And of course some are better than others. The Apostasy, while a bit more diverse, is a very succesful attempt in the aforementioned exercise -- and hence it lands in the top 10. It's always nice to hear a band whose name fits the agenda.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee, as we venture onto #8 which is...
8. Devin Townsend: Ziltoid The OmniscientDevin Townsend is one of the most eccentric musicians out there, and ZTO is as weird as you'd expect. The album's plot basically consists of a fourth dimensional alien called Ziltoid who threatens Earth with annihilation unless he gets the perfect cup of coffee. How can you not love such a starting point? Devin of course plays nigh everything himself, including programming the drums, and it gives the album that sound which is oh-so typical for Devin. The melodies, the vocals, the arrangements, everything just reeks of Devin and a job damn well done. The album ranges from progressive to metal, from brutal to Floyd-esque, all wrapped up in a humorous story, complete with dialogues, interludes and narratives about an alien and a cup of coffee. This album helps us remember that there's no harm in mixing comedy with metal - metal can be fun and still 100% quality.
On with the helmets, swords and shields, for at #7 we find...
7. Primordial: To The Nameless DeadA late release and a late entry to this list, but there's no doubt that To The Nameless Dead belongs up here. Many productions these days sound sterile and lack dynamics, but this album's production definitely hits home. A truly dynamic production caressing an album full of emotion conveyed through vocals, lyrics and music that manage to paint vivid images of battle, war and loss. The best example of this would probably be "Gallows Hymn." Just go listen to it. For the history conscious amongst us, it is perhaps even more interesting, depicting events such as the fall of Rome and entering the dark ages.
To The Nameless Dead manages to throw black, folk and a handful of death into a melting pot and create an atmospheric, beautiful, ugly, brutal and at the same time soothing album. That is no small feat, and thus it lands on #7.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think we need wizards, for at #6 we find...
6. Electric Wizard: Witchcult TodayThis album could be voted Most Aquired Taste, seeing it's hardly easy listening. Trance inducing, trippy, cozily progressive and crushingly heavy are all descriptions that fit the bill and combined sum up the album quite well. The trip (pun intended) that this album takes you on is quite an extraordinary one. What seems to be the reocurring theme with quality releases this year, is that the production complements and enhances the music. Witchcult Today has the 1970s overdriven fuzz brought back in full form, very much unlike the prickless plastic productions of recent years.The album is of course not all production -- it has some great tunes on there too, such as "Torquemada 71" (the jam-like solosections in this one are just God-like) and the title track. Bruisingly slow and crushing yet melodic and psychadelic, this album is like a revived Black Sabbath with new ideas and expanded horizons. As far as doomy albums go this year, you can only do one better.
At #5, a band from a land with a thousand or so lakes...
5. Amorphis: Silent WatersThe songwriting skills of this group are undeniable. Silent Waters didn't come around for me until after about a dozen spins, which in itself pretty much guarantees that the album is a keeper and in for the long haul. The story of the album is taken from an episode from the Finnish national epic, the "Kalevala," and thus the music was written to fit the lyrics, which is fairly unusual. Without belittling the amazing songwriting by Holopainen & Co, the Most Valuable Player of the album is without doubt Tomi Juotsen and his vocal performance. There're precious few who can pull off quality growling and clean, melodic and beautiful singing while making it all sound so convincing and sincere. Few albums have been littered with as many quality melodies as this one, most of them vocal ones -- but the greatest strength of this album does not lie in an abundance of riffs, but that there's an overwhelming sense of meaning and completion to the entire piece. Such a feat is rare in music, regardless of day and age.
At #4, the best album from an aforementioned genre this year...
4. Candlemass: King Of The Grey IslandsDefinitely the least expected quality release this year, with the departure of vocalist Messiah (which means no more Doom Dance live, thus the world is a much lesser place). But, enter Rob Lowe, delivering one of the finest vocal performances all year. I suppose the lesson of this album is that thou shalt not underestimate Leif Edling's songwriting. Conjuring up a story about a bloke who lives out his life in self-pity on a grey island could be one of the ultimate doom-concepts. Either way, it makes room for song absolutely killer tunes, filled with darkness and despair, describing the character and his being. Killer cuts such as "Demonia 6" and "Embracing The Styx" are robust testaments to the band and their continued importance for the genre. "King Of The Grey Islands" manages to hit home with songs that lack nothing yet do not outstay their welcome.
Onwards to #3, an album perhaps even more surprising than the one just mentioned...
3. Machine Head: The BlackeningI definitely did not expect Machine Head to conjure up an album of this scope or quality. They've written their fair share of metal anthems, but that they were a band that would eventually write one of the most amibitious thrash albums of all time, that I did not anticipate. Machine Head dared to take the sound they established on "Through The Ashes Of Empires and expand on it, write longer, more complex and more progressive material, and they pulled it off. The Blackening manages to blow by in around an hour, and it doesn't seem to be a minute over 40. There're more get-up-from-your-chair-air-guitar-along-and-throw-the-horns-to-the-imaginary-crowd-moments on this album than all the others combined. Just look to the solosection in "Aesthetics Of Hate" for an example. The harmonized leads, the riffs, the breakdowns, the vitriol in Flynn's vocals and lyrics, it all makes for a great, great album. Flynn & Co indeed managed to write their version of Master Of Puppets.
Not long left now. It's time for a stroll down Brutal Avenue, for at #2 we find...
2. Nile: IthyphallicYes indeed, in 2007 Nile confirmed their position as one of the best death metal bands ever. Nile have again crafted an album that takes you places -- Egypt to be specific. Not many bands in the death metal genre have such a truly unmistakenable sound, yet you immediately know it's Nile when you hear them. Technical and brutal death metal combined with ambient sections and strong Egyptian themes is the gist of their sound. Ithyphallic is not Nile's best album, but it's still full of quality riffs, melodies, breakdowns and instrumental performances that blow your mind. Kollias seriously is sick on this album -- the man is so much more than speed. Ithyphallic, as I said, isn't Nile's best album, but it still ends up at second place this year. It just shows you what quality combined with originality can do for you.
Now, the moment I hope some have been waiting for, the Best Album of 2007 is...
1. Between The Buried And Me: ColorsHands down, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is the best this year, and one of the best albums released in the past decade. Taking death metal, grind, hardcore, progressive rock, technical stuff along the lines of Dream Theater, ambience, jazz and a good chunk of Pink Floyd and various other rock bands, putting them all in a big blender and then create a coherent and enjoyable entity... it should be impossible.
But, BTBAM have managed to do just that. Transcending more genres than should be allowed, the outcome is one that deserves platinum sales, Grammy nominations, #1 spots on Best-lists and the influential status of many of the artists whom the band has been inspired by.
Some albums, in no particular order, that nearly made the list, but fell just outside of the top 10:Vomitory: Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize
Shatter Messiah: God Burns Like Flesh
Shadows Fall: Threads Of Life
Entombed: Serpent Saints - The Ten Amendments
Monstrosity: Spiritual Apocalypse
Devildriver: The Last Kind Words
Vicious Art: Pick Up This Sick Child
Shining: V - Halmstad
Top 10 Songs this year, in no particular order:Dream Theater: "In The Presence Of Enemies"
Between The Buried And Me: "Ants Of The Sky"
Machine Head: "Halo"
Shadows Fall: "Redemption"
Exodus: "Funeral Hymn"
Symphony X: "Set The World On Fire (The Lie Of Lies)"
Shatter Messiah: "God Burns Like Flesh"
Candlemass: "Embracing The Styx"
Entombed: "Serpent Saints"
Nile: "As He Creates, So He Destroys"
Some albums this year didn't live up to expectations, for various reasons. One of those would be Megadeth's United Abominations. Musically an OK, if uneventful album, that tries to straddle the fine line between thrash and commercially accesible metal, but in the end quite a heartless effort by MegaDave. Ultimately, what truly sunk the album was the absence of decent vocal melodies and the atrocious lyrics. Lashing out at the UN is fine, but tripe along the lines of the title track and "Sleepwalker" should never have made it onto a Megadeth album.
Another album that didn't quite live up to what it could've been is Iced Earth's Framing Armageddon. Jon Schaffer who wrote some of the best metal tunes and epics of the '90s finally seems to have lost it. Despite having a fellow like Tim 'Ripper' Owens belting out the vocals, Framing Armageddon didn't live up to the promise of the first single, nor the potential of the storyline. But, let's hope Jon & Co can redeem themselves with part 2 of the story due next year.
The final album I'll mention that could've been something special is Vital Remains' Icons Of Evil. The preceding release Dechristianize was/is an amazing lesson in technical death metal, but ultimately Icons... turned out to be pretty much the same thing in a different package. Icons Of Evil certainly wasn't bad, but being the carbon copy of your big brother isn't doing the album any favors.
To round off 2007, let's look into 2008; here's my list of five albums to look forward to, for various reasons:Nevermore
2005's This Godless Endeavor was an amazing display in brutal riffs and soaring leads, with great vocals and thoughtful lyrics. If the next one is as good, I've already got my #1 for 2008.Testament
Formation Of Damnation is due on April 29th, the first Testament album since 1999s blistering The Gathering, has all the ingredients to be one of the best next year. Paul Bostaph on drums, Alex Skolnick and Greg Peterson back in the fold, and the core of the band in Peterson/Billy... can they possibly fail?In Flames
2006's Come Clarity was a return to form after two disappointing releases. Their studio diaries has kept my interest up and from what we've heard, it can be really good.Metallica
Might be good, might be bad, either way, we're all anticipating the heck out of it.Opeth
Can they top Ghost Reveries? Has the line-up changes harmed them?Immortal
One the best black metal bands ever return. Let's hope they get it out before the snow melts and they lose their muse.
Well, that was all for 2007. Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and I'll see you all in 2008 with new columns and reviews. Thanks for a good year.