Hello and welcome to this, a summary of the best metal releases of 2008. Below you'll find my top 10 of 2008, some albums that came up short and finally a few albums to keep an eye out for in 2009.
10. Moonspell - Night EternalNight Eternal makes it onto this list because, well, it's filled to the brim with well-crafted songs. The album excels in delivering dark, moody and melodic metal with very strong gothic undertones and some incredibly strong lyrics to go with it. Moonspell have managed to mix heavy riffs, growls and black-esque screams with keyboards, big choruses and tasty melodic leads without making a contrived mess of it. If anything it is quite the opposite as the album possesses key features such as proper length, commendable flow and very, very skilled execution wrapped in a near-perfect production. Moonspell set the bar very high with this album and it'll be very interesting to see if they can top it next time around.
09. Lord Belial - The Black CurseMuch like Night Eternal, The Black Curse excels because it manages to balance the elements. Blastbeats, brutal riffs, Thomas Backelin's evil shrieks, tons of melodic soloing, almost Opeth-esque acoustic interludes and even some keyboards converge in a melting pot. Again, it could be a veritable disaster but it is in fact quite the opposite, because as blasphemous as it may sound, the album is packed with potential black metal hits. At least 75% of the album is made up of catchy-as-hell riffing, brutal choruses and a skilful mix of dark and light. One of the reasons why it strikes such a chord with me is how well the fairly standard black riffs blend with the tasty, melodic soloing and acoustic interludes, which grants it a somewhat unique touch.
08. Arsis - We Are The NightmareWe Are The Nightmare is a definite grower with this reviewer. Due to being one of the more intensive guitar albums of the year, it's certainly quite a bit to take in despite not being overly long at 40-ish minutes, but to fully appreciate the fretboard wizardry of James Malone and Ryan Knight took a few months for me. Together they prove that just because you put out shred-heavy metal, it doesn't mean that you have to end up sounding like a broken Nintendo. Of course it's not all about the guitarists - the other instruments play a huge part, as do their ability to pen coherent and catchy songs while keeping the technical bar high. Good songs, good leads, good times.
07. Swallow The Sun - Plague Of ButterfliesNormally, I wouldn't put an EP on this list since it's about albums and nothing else. But in the end, the EP/LP tag is just that, and this EP is sufficiently long to be considered an album. Plague of Butterflies is one, or three songs (excluding the tracks from the old demo), depending on how you look at it, coming together at around 35 minutes. If I could just use three words to describe it, I'd choose beautiful, crushing, doom, because that's exactly what it is. The lyrics, mood and melody reek of despair, angst and sadness and manages to really hit home. When you try to pen something epic like this, one of the key things you have to control is the ebb and flow of things. If not, it'll just turn stale and sound contrived. Obviously, since it has made it onto this list, Plague of Butterflies controls those parameters beautifully. Soft and tender mixes with brutal and heavy and if you ever need a soundtrack for those dark and rainy autumn nights, Plague of Butterflies is your pick.
06. Psycroptic - Ob(Servant)Psycroptic shot to underground fame with Sceptre of the Ancients a few years ago, saw their vocalist leave the group, released a fairly lacklustre album and thus expectations for Ob(Servant) weren't very high (at least not for yours truly). But boy, did they deliver! Crushing and technical brutality with a slick and powerful production makes this one a winner. Joe Haley lays down one catchy riff after the other, and the creative well never seems to run dry during the album's 50-or-so minutes. The delivery is rock-solid with different grooves mixing seamlessly, which obviously helps the overall flow of the album. While being insanely technical, the songs and sections always come off as purposeful and don't leave you with the feeling that they put in this or that bit just to show off.
05. Warrel Dane - Praises To The War MachineWithout a doubt, Praises... is the most straight-forward album of this top 10. Teaming up with Peter Wichers and a few others, he set out to create something a tad less technical and intense than his primary band Nevermore. The album is pretty vocal-heavy in the sense that there aren't all that many purely instrumental sections, but when you're dealing with a top notch vocalist and lyricist like Dane, it doesn't hurt the final product at all.
Clocking in at around 45 minutes split onto 12 tracks, Praises... is a hard rock/metal album virtually free of dead moments. Not a single tune comes off as filler-esque or sub-par. Every song has at least one strong vocal hook, there's always a powerful chorus to be heard and it's all so damn catchy that it took me months to get some of the hooks out of my head. Picking out favourite tracks is task I can be without, because I'd most likely end up writing down the whole album.
04. The Monolith Deathcult - TriumvirateIt's only fitting that a band with such an awesome name has penned such an awesome album. Triumvirate is unrelenting in its onslaught, mixing electronic samplings with full-on brutality and technical death metal. In large parts, it's quite symphonic and epic but the band never shies away from getting down and dirty with a crush-your-face breakdown. It's even quite beautiful, such as in large parts of Den Ensomme Nordens Drottning, the 14-minute track that eventually closes the book on one of the finest death metal albums of the year. One of the more amusing and catchy sections has to be the chorus of Wrath of the Baath, about a certain Iraqi dictator who is no more, where the band chants Wah-da! Hurriya! Isht'rikaya! Halabja! over an insanely groovy riff.
Triumvirate have been compared to Nile, and while it doesn't bother me, I can see where they're coming from. Nile didn't release an album this year, but it hardly bothers me because The Monolith Deathcult gave me my fix with this technical death metal album.
03. After The Burial - RareformIf you take a bit of Meshuggah's penchant for complex rhythms and add a very, very big dose of melodic and shred-happy guitar playing, then you might end up with this band. As Meshuggah, they opt for the crushing low-end found in an 8-string guitar. But polyrhythmics aside, that's where the comparisons end for me. After the Burial inject a huge dose of fun into their brand of metal and at times Rareform sounds very playful, throwing curve-ball after curve-ball at you. The guys have managed to take the polyrhythmic approach and mix it with light-hearted, fun and tuneful guitar playing without making it come off as schizophrenic.
Despite what one might think, it's not full-on look how fast I can go-shred all of the time, in fact it's mostly pretty mellow and melodic, especially given the setting and rhythmic exercises they tend to indulge in. Talented, technical and skilled, the guys in After the Burial managed to pen the Fun Album of the Year for me.
02. Meshuggah - obZenFor a long period of time, obZen was the clear-cut favorite of the year for me, because it was head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Towards the end of the year it got some company and I have to say that this year's top two albums are on a different level than the competition.
Meshuggah are by now in more or less their own realm when it comes to metal - they are impossible to follow or imitate. They have become an institution of their own, praised by metal and non-metal fans and media. When you play such a complex brand of music as these guys do, it's no small feat. I for one thought they'd somewhat lost it with their last couple of efforts and doubted that they'd even return to the heights of, say, Chaosphere again. But Thordendal/Hagstrm and Haake proved me wrong, and I am very glad that they did.
obZen shows a slightly more focused side of Meshuggah than in recent years. Some of the material is so ridiculously catchy and when compared to their previous output, it's almost radio-worthy. Obviously they haven't sold out because they haven't abandoned any of the elements that made people take notice 10-15 years ago. It just so happens that they've managed what nearly all bands fail to do - write a career defining record 20 years into their career. The songs are there, the production is there and the execution is there. I wish I was musically skilled enough to understand all the nuances of it, but alas, I am not. I am however perfectly content to keep looking for my jaw, which dropped and disappeared mysteriously sometime around when I first heard Bleed.
01. Cynic - Traced In AirSpeaking of bands that end up releasing relevant and career defining efforts long into their career - here's another one. Cynic's first, and until recently only effort, the now-classic 1993 album Focus has since its release become a cornerstone of progressive metal because of successfully implementing jazz and fusion into metal. I was skeptic at best when it was announced that Masvidal and pals would reunite for a new album. After all, how many unsuccessful and uninspired comebacks haven't we seen over the years? It's best to not have any expectations at all, and when Traced In Air hit me, it hit me so hard that I still haven't recovered. Masvidal, Reinert and Malone managed to preserve all the best elements of Focus and streamline it into a, pun intended, more focused version with better flow and more tuneful melodies. The old vocoder effect on Focus got to me a bit, but now Masvidal instead possesses an almost angelic voice which drifts in and out of the music, weaving threads as it goes. The death metal influence is almost non-existent on Traced In Air and it's perhaps best described as progressive metal, but not in the one-billion-notes-per-second sense. Traced... comes off as a single, coherent piece and should be heard and experienced as such. Listen to it in its entirety and not out of sequence, because this is as close to perfection as you get.
Some Albums That Were Close But Not Quite (in no particular order)Origin - Antithesis
Opeth - Watershed
The Faceless - Planetary Duality
Enslaved - Vertebrae
Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God
Ayreon - 01011001
In Mourning - The Shrouded Divine
Protest the Hero - Fortress
Agalloch - The White EP
Shade Empire - Zero Nexus
Top 10 Songs of 2008In Mourning - The Black Lodge
Opeth - Heir Apparent
Testament - The Formation of Damnation
Meshuggah - Bleed
Warrel Dane - Messenger
Moonspell - Dreamless
The Haunted - Iron Mask
Cynic - Space For This
Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God
Shade Empire - Victory
In 2009 I'm looking forward to new albums from some of these bands:Dream Theater
Lamb of God
...and then many, many more. I could go on forever. Anyways, thanks a lot for reading and let the flames begin!
by Petter Carnbro aka Reviewer Pete