Top 25 Progressive and Metal Albums of 2013
So we've reached the end of yet another year and it was a damn good one for prog and metal. It's quite the eclectic list. Lots of variety so don't be surprised if you don't like certain things. Feel free to ask and discuss. As always there will be some stuff I missed so feel free to make suggestions as you see fit. The reviews themselves are short towards the bottom of the list and gain length as the list goes on and the albums gain depth (also I just got tired with lots of new stuff past couple weeks). Happy Holidays and Enjoy!
** The honorable mentions are either albums I didn't think belonged on the list for whatever reason, or I just haven't gotten to listen to enough. As you all know your taste changes so maybe they'll move up or down. At the very least it's stuff to potentially listen to for you! **
- "Dream Theater" by Dream Theater: Surprisingly good mix of old and new but just didn't have the depth
- "Surgical Steel" by Carcass: Sweet new school thrash that a ton of people are rating very highly, just not my bag I guess
- "One Chosen by the Gods" by Aether Realm: Sweet melo death release that's pretty close to the other top ones this year just not as good as some of my faves.
- "Everblack" by The Black Dahlia Murder: I loved this album but again it just lacked depth for me. Definitely a fun one though.
- "LMO" by Lingua Mortis Orchestra: Pretty wild symphonic release that just missed cracking the list
- "All As One" by Orphaned Land: Middle Eastern Power Prog with excellent utilization of ethnic instrumentation
- "Seventh Swamphony" by Kalmah: Another widespread favorite that just didn't strike me as hard
- "Secrets Nobody Keeps" by Jon Gomm: Not metal. Incredibly solo folk guitarist at it again
- "Outbound" by Keldian: Another popular prog/power fave that just didn't strike me
- "Aenigma" by In Vain: The other big melo-death release. Very good just didn't like it as much as others on list
- "Perfect War Forever" by Glass Cloud: Intense metalcore. Good but didn't make cut. Probably need more listens personally.
- "Colored Sands" by Gorguts: Never been a huge Gorguts fan but this one was intense and a nice way for the old schoolers to show the new kids who's boss in technical death metal.
- "Tales of the Kingdom of the Fife" by Gloryhammer: Good power metal if that's your thing.
- "Nemesis" by Stratovarious: See above.
- "Sunbather" by Deafheaven: Picture Mogwai with black metal screeching. Interesting at the least.
- "Construct" by Dark Tranqulity: Melo-death again.
- "Culture Clash" by The Aristocrats: Virtuosic, bluesy rock with prog elements
- "Old Mornings Dawn" by Summoning: A lot of people consider this album of the year. It's extraordinary for the style but just not my style. Check it out regardless.
- "The Theory of Everything" by Ayreon: I'll certainly get some shit for this not being on here but I really enjoyed this and think it's probably the best work so far but I just had a crowded list. This will probably move up. Most people think it's album of the year.
- "Earth Blues" by Spiritual Beggars: Bluesy Stoner Rock
Best EPs/Non full length:
- "Other Things" and "Sweet Nothings" both by Plini: Outstanding fusion with metal influence
- "I" by Plini and Sithu Aye: Incredible fusion with even more metal influence
- "26" by Sithu Aye: These guys are both incredible just check them out
- "Newborn Sun" by CHON: Sweet metalcorish fusion
- "Thousands of Evils" by Vildhjarta: Demonic, evil.... acoustic djent?
AND NOW.... the list.
25) "SwineSong" by Omb
Genre: Avante-garde (like a prog metal cabaret?)
Similar Bands: I don't know what just happened to me... sometimes it settles on like Pain of Salvation??
Running Time: 49 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "An Ordinary Caveman Sings Ode to Obsession", "Someday My Prince Will Come", "A Smaller Dose of Tyranny"
A friend of mine used to say, "Man that's nucking futs!" Yea... it is. This album is a demented peek into the mind of some crazy Swedish lunatic. The only constant is chaos seems to be the theory at hand here as you're never in one place for more than a dozen seconds. There are highs and lows, but they happen with such frequency that you're just left to absorb the assault on your ears. I'm one of those weird people that loves that "what in the actual hell just happened" feeling. This is one man's musical trip to the asylum crammed into 49 minutes of... whatever this is. I'm not kidding or exaggerating the madness at hand here. I think the longest you get of any one thing is from 1:04 to like 4:00 of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and there is no other passage like that on the entire album. For what it's worth, the guitar work is disgustingly good. Not easy to listen to for sure but if you like a challenge... here it is.
"An Ordinary Caveman Sings Ode to Obsession"
24) "Sempiternal" by Bring Me the Horizon
Genre: Progressive Nu-metal? (metalcore)
Similar Bands: Imagine if Linkin Park was good?
Running Time: 53 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "The House of Wolves", "Shadow Moses", "Go to Hell, for Heaven's Sake", "Antivist"
This is my first experience with Bring Me the Horizon and maybe it'll die off with time but for the time being I'm picking up what they're putting down, so to speak. There are times where this album straight up sounds like Linkin Park with electronics, like "Can you Feel My Heart," but there are other times where its sweet ass metalcore with huge confidence and attitude like "Go to Hell, for Heaven's Sake." Maybe it's just the vocalist. I wish they'd just do more tracks like "Shadow Moses" because the majority of the album is balls to the wall, full throttle mosh pit music with some sweet orchestral spots and memorable choruses. It's fun! Just gotta cut the couple weak tracks to not lose momentum, the rest is absolutely killer!
23) "Everything Beautiful" by Akeldama
Genre: Progressive Metalcore (mostly djent)
Similar Bands: Periphery, Meshuggah, Erra, Corelia, Volumes, etc.
Running Time: 52 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "A New Beginning", "Still Heart", "A Glimpse of Perfection", "Everything Beautiful"
Another late entry that will likely grow on me with more listens. Akeldama are what I would like to think would be the result of Meshuggah and TesseracT having a sick demented baby that could sing male and female vocals. Speaking of that, it's about god damn time some females get in on this genre, it's excellent for them. Ask Ashe O'Hara from TesseracT who's KILLING IT (and he's a dude that sounds like a girl). This is a pretty sweet album that explores a lot of different colors while still sticking strongly to its djenty roots. The transitions aren't perfect or creative from section to section but the brutal to beautiful transformations are seamless. The entire production is very well balanced thanks to Andrew Zink but his songwriting could use a little bit more fluidity and less reliance on electronics and sudden key changes. I'd like to see how this develops but I already dig the product they're delivering. It just needs some work on transitional material. I'd also like to hear this as an instrumental album out of curiosity.
"Everything Beautiful (Full Album Stream)"
22) "Liminal" by Exivious
Genre: Fusion. Really, heavy fusion. (call it instrumental prog metal if you want)
Similar Bands: Scale the Summit, Pat Metheny, Dirty Loops?
Running Time: 46 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Entrust", "One's Glow", "Open"
Exivious are a basically a fusion group from The Netherlands that play really heavy instrumental fusion. Lots of layers, tons of dynamic contrast, insane bass playing by Robin Zielhorst, outstanding drumming by Yuma van Eekelen, catchy melodies that make it seem like metal then really odd jazz hybrid moments that make you wonder who, exactly, it is you're listening to. The individual musicianship is at an incredibly high level in the rhythm section, so much so that the guitars ALMOST take a background. Exivious belong back in the 70s or something. Either way, they're a really kickass group that take really complex music and make it sound groovy and if you haven't heard them before you just need to do it and stop reading this lame excuse for a review.
21) "Augment" by Erra
Genre: Metalcore (djent... straight up djent all over...)
Similar Bands: Periphery, Skyharbor, Volumes, Circles, etc.
Running Time: 53 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Alpha Seed", "Pulse", "Dreamwalkers", "Dementia"
So the whole "djent" subgenre is the new melodic death metal. I absolutely love it but it's the new craze so it takes a lot of sifting to find the gems amongst the massive amount of releases each year. Erra's "Augment" just came out recently but it was an immediate hit on the first listen for me.
There's not a whole lot to analyze here if you're familiar with the genre (palm muting down tuned guitars, crazy guitar work, lots of time changes, etc). The riffs are remarkably catchy, there's some sweet bass work which is something that's missing from a lot of the guitar-centric genre. Production was well done and balanced, very squeaky clean just as I like it to hear all of the layers to those 9th, 11th, and 13th chords as well as disgustingly quick and crisp drumming. There's a ton of energy and intensity throughout the album and the performances are challenging but well executed.
If Erra can write more complex and diverse tracks like "Dementia" they'll be in a very good place to move into the higher tiers within the genre. In a crowded world, this was one of the best ones this year for sure so don't let my downplaying take away from this at all. This album is AWESOME. Another one that will probably grow on me with more listens.
20) "The Living Infinite" by Soilwork
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Similar Bands: Skyfire, In Flames, etc...
Running Time: 84 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "This Momentary Bliss", "Long Live the Misanthrope", "Leech", "Drowning with Silence"
"The Living Infinite" is a pretty solid album with enough hits to keep it going for the entire 84 min... wait 84 minutes? Seriously? If they took all of the best songs from both CDs and put it on a single disc it could have challenged for album of the year in a lot of peoples' minds. I just don't understand spreading it out... anyway.
Classic melo-death elements meet new school atmospheric elements and modern recording. Melodic death metal is almost always a smash hit if it's even half decent but the ceiling is only so high for me. In Vain, Kalmah, and others had great releases this year too but Soilwork and another were my faves on the year so they got the Top 25 nod. Who was the other?......
"Long Live the Misanthrope"
19) "Beyond" by Omnium Gatherum
Genre: Melodic Death Metal with some progressive tendencies
Similar Bands: Skyfire, In Flames, Soilwork, etc...
Running Time: 57 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Luoto" (interesting exploratory intro), "New Dynamic", "In The Rim", "Living In Me"
Omnium Gatherum are on fire with yet another stellar melo-death release. While there are definitely some nice prog influences here and attempts to explore some new territory (holy shit major keys? Happy clean vocals?!) by the group, this is, at its core, melodic death metal. It's a genre where memorable riffs are king and the "best melo-death album of the year" is often just the one with the catchiest riffs. There's honestly not a lot of room for too much exploration but I do appreciate the attempt. That being said this is a hell of a melo-death album with tons of hits and sweet solos, catchy choruses, and the whole kitchen sink of stuff you want in a top album in the genre. "In The Rim" just gets you so pumped up and is one of the better tracks in the genre this year. I just can't justify a higher rating simply because, while I do love the genre, it kind of limits itself to who is the catchiest or has the shreddiest solo.
"In the Rim"
18) "The Migration" by Scale the Summit
Genre: Instrumental Progressive Metal
Similar Bands: Animals as Leaders (less heavy), The Tea Club (at times minus vocals)
Running Time: 42 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Atlas Novus", "The Olive Tree", "Oracle", "The Dark Horse"
Scale the Summit are an instrumental foursome that have no released four of the best instrumental metal albums I've ever heard in just four releases. 100%. Lots of intensity, lots of happy peaceful thoughts. Their music is colorful, emotional, and well crafted on all ends of the spectrum often employing jazz and latin influences in small doses just to perk up a certain solo or breakdown. I'm also a huge fan of Mark Michell's heavy duty bass work on "The Migration" so if you're a bass player be sure to check out his artful approach. This is a masterful instrumental composition that is good enough on its own that it doesn't even need the face melting solos you usually find on instrumental metal albums. There's also the added bonus of "Atlas Novus" being one of the best pieces of the year.
17) "Mouth of Swords" by The Safety Fire
Genre: Extreme Math Rock with plenty of djenting
Similar Bands: Cynic, Between the Buried and Me, The Mars Volta, maybe Minus the Bear
Running Time: 47 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Mouth of Swords", "Glass Crush", "Beware the Leopard (Jagwar)", "Red Hatchet"
So The Safety Fire did exactly what I wanted them to do. More clean vocals, more melodic focus, but don't entirely get rid of the mathcore aspects and technicality. They even brought some friends this time around with Tommy Rogers doing a cameo that could easily be mistaken for Sean McWeeney himself. This album is odd in that it's not exactly memorable. Like I pull bits and pieces of it from my mind but every single time I listen to it I really enjoy it.
It's complex and brutal, simple and serene. Fans of Cynic and The Mars Volta will love these guys as they instantly reminded me of them. It's like the heavier version of "Traced in Air" and "De-loused in the Comatorium." In many ways they're a lot like Between the Buried and Me as well. Perhaps more listens will move it up but if it was good enough to make it this far on just that much from me you know it's gotta be good.
16) "Fortress" by Alter Bridge
Genre: Can't believe it's metal... this isn't hard rock. It's got some progressive elements too.
Similar Bands: Alice in Chains?
Running Time: 62 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Cry of Achilles", "Addicted to Pain", "Lover", "The Uninvited"
I was literally having a conversation the other day that went something like, "Is that really the same Alter Bridge we're talking about here?" I answered, "I can't believe I'm saying it... but yes." Alter Bridge is Myles Kennedy (ex - The Mayfield Four), Mark Tremonti (ex - Creed), Brian Marshall, and Scott Phillips. That's right... I said it. Ex-Creed. It takes something really good to pull through the bias and still be excellent. As much as I like to think I'm really objective it's just not always true. Anyway...
Most rock groups tend to do a "safe" side project to just generate some money on their way out of fame, but not these guys. "Fortress" is a great album. It's got plenty of really catchy choruses like in "Cry of Achilles" but also plenty of solid power ballad moments like "Bleed It Dry" and "Lover." But it's also a remarkable change of pace for a rock album. While its mostly straight forward it does have a lot of progressive tendencies and actually trends closer to heavy metal in my book with the way the chorus' are shaped and the guitars are much busier and more prominent throughout.
"Fortress" is just great. It's not even a guilty pleasure. I loved it. Outstanding production, powerful choruses and memorable riffs. I really hope more main stream rock guys can learn a lesson here and just dive right in to something else if they really want to instead of just worrying about the money because this is AWESOME. I'm not saying band does but... well that's a discussion for another time. This album kicked way more ass than I could have ever anticipated for a sudden foray into heavy metal.
"Cry of Achilles"
15) "Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep" by Spock's Beard
Genre: Progressive Metal/Rock
Similar Bands: Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation
Running Time: 86 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Hiding Out", " A Treasure Abandoned", "The Man You're Afraid You Are"
Spock's Beard are like the laid back version of all the big name prog groups you know. I've always liked Spock's Beard but to me they were never really able to elevate into my top tier of prog groups for some reason. I'm not entirely sure why but that was how I felt so when I went into this release I was expecting it to be good but not great as I do most of their releases. I know they had recently undergone another change for vocals and all so that might have made things interesting. What I ended up with is, in my opinion, their best work to date.
The whole album is a really straight up, spacey prog rock odyssey sort of feel but unlike a lot of their previous work it just seemed more relaxed this time around. Nothing on this album is forced. No extraneous time signature stuff, no stupid prog wankery that doesn't belong there and fits naturally into the soundscape. This is really important for a few reasons the first being that this previously mentioned "forcing things" problem was an issue for Spock's Beard, at least for me. If it doesn't seem natural in a relatively casual environment that prog rock can be, you lose a lot of your credibility and it seems really illegitimate. Secondarily, and more importantly, it's not going to be very memorable if you're having these cohesion problems.
Overall this isn't a mind blowing release but it is by far their best and a step in the right direction. A lot of really catchy tracks like the opener "Hiding Out" and "Something Very Strange" inparticular as well as some quirky prog jams like "A Treasure Abandoned." There's something to be said for solid progressive music that isn't forcing difference for the sake of difference. It feels organic and comfortable now while it didn't before. It may not be new but it's certainly refreshing.
14) "Subsume" by Cloudkicker
Genre: Atmospheric Progressive Metal or Extreme Post Rock
Similar Bands: God Is an Astronaut, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, but much heavier
Running Time: 40 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "He would be riding on the subway or writing formulas on the blackboard or having a meal or (as now) sitting and talking to someone across the table, and it would envelop him like a soundless tsunami" (it's only 4 tracks on the album so just listen to it all)
Ben Sharp is at it again with his utterly compelling and dynamic instrumental music. There is a sense of cohesion and fluidity to all of his music that just blows my mind. It actually makes sense that its one person writing everything. If you haven't heard of Cloudkicker its basically super heavy post rock, or vocal-less sludge metal that makes excellent use of musical atmosphere. The term "wall of sound" is thrown around a lot but nobody utilizes the compositional technique quite as well as Ben Sharp does. There are moments that are so huge that you can actually become overwhelmed both audibly and emotionally. It's truly remarkable.
One of the stranger things on this album that Sharp will occasionally do is to have, what sounds like, multiple pieces on the same track. Track 2 titled "A weather front was stalled out in the Pacific - like a lonely person, lost in thought, oblivious of time." sounds like 4 or 5 different pieces of music, pauses, transitions, and all. He does this intentionally and it's a simple and successful way to make you listen to the whole album which is how it is best enjoyed.
Some people have described his music as "evolving noise" (referring to noise rock) but its honestly so gorgeous at times that I can't justify classifying it as "noise." Intelligent and ever so carefully crafted, "Subsume" followed the advice of one of its predecessors and "made itself huge." ("Make Yourself Huge" was the 2011 release for those who don't get it)
"He would be riding on the subway or writing formulas on the blackboard or having a meal or (as now) sitting and talking to someone across the table, and it would envelop him like a soundless tsunami"
13) "Asymmetry" by Karnivool
Genre: Alternative Metal
Similar Bands: Tool, A Perfect Circle, Leprous
Running Time: 67 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "The Last Few", "Nachash", "We Are", "Eidolon", "Aeons", "Sky Machine"
Karnivool would have rivaled Tool if they were here when Tool got huge but they were stuck all the way down under in Australia. They play this sort of grungy, alternative metal with lots of more intimate moments within. It's catchy and quite memorable. This album stuck with me for a few weeks back when there wasn't too much going on this year musically I was in love with it. I still do enjoy it but not quite as much as some others now.
"Asymmetry" is defined as a lack of equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something which is exactly where Karnivool seek to place the listener. While the changes aren't jarring or extreme, there is enough change happening at almost all times in every song on this album that it keeps you off balance. It makes for a really bizarre listening experience in which you don't know how to feel. As I said the changes aren't violent or anything but are varied enough to demand your attention.
This is not a good album to be your first experience with the badn but if you have listened to Karnivool before then this album is absolutely fascinating, for better or for worse. Their same trademark sound is there so that's consistent but there is this sort of "why fix it if it wasn't broke" question you'll ask yourself throughout if you're familiar with the group. At first I was confused too but the more I listened I was actually able to appreciate this album quite a bit more than a lot of my peers. It's well produced, intriguing, and while difficult to figure out, I think I have done just that.
12) "Coal" by Leprous
Genre: Progressive Metal
Similar Bands: Haken, Pain of Salvation, Dream Theater
Running Time: 56 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Foe", "Chronic", "The Valley", "Salt"
Another Norwegian group Leprous have had a solid track record so I had a lot of expectations for this album and they proceeded to throw most of them out the window with something different.
Lets break it down by things I liked about Leprous up until this album. Absolutely killer vocals by Einar Solberg. His execution is incredible for the variety of sounds he produces from falsetto, to head voice, to some high pitched growls, to really gutsy chest voice. He's incredibly versatile and a vocalist that needs more credit. I also loved the willingness to go into darker settings at times on previous albums. Leprous weren't afraid to get in touch with their "dark side." I also liked their use of rhythmic modulation and poly-rhythms as a key part of the composition. Instead of just added stuff in the guitars or drums it's a prominent feature in tracks like "Salt." Plus all of the typical prog metal things I like like altered meters, key changes, atypical harmonic progressions, etc.
The one thing that I felt was holding Leprous back from really leaping into the upper echelon was their lack of exploration. It's not that they didn't do anything different. They certainly are more willing to explore darker figures than Dream Theater or Pain of Salvation but I just felt like there could be more. Almost like they were holding themselves back. Well "Coal" put an end to that.
"Coal" is a significantly heavier album than their previous works. Hell even the album title is hard, dirty, and dark. A track like "Chronic" even has a lot of sludge/doom influences by repeating the same exact figure over and over and just slowing it down to a frustratingly slow dirge after a solid 5 minutes of mid to high tempo song before it. Even the guitars are tuned lower and play on the lower end of the spectrum much more often. The bass could have been mixed up even more but it's still appropriately leveled to make way for Einar's powerful vocals. Yet another group pushing their boundaries and exploring new ground within their works. I LIKE IT!
11) "The Audio Guide to Happiness Part 2" by Jolly
Genre: Progressive Metal or Rock
Similar Bands: Not really that similar but in the same vein as Spock's Beard at times
Running Time: 56 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Firewell", "You Against the World", "Dust Nation Bleak", "Golden Divide", "Lucky"
So the New Yorkers have finally given us the second half of "The Audio Guide to Happiness" (although it's technically broken into four parts, two per album). This album would have followed the first a lot sooner if it hadn't been for Hurricane Sandy ruining the last steps in the recording process but at least we have it!
Jolly play really laid back progressive rock or really intense progressive metal depending on when you catch them in the midst of an album. The first true song on "Part 2" is "Firewell" and it's their heaviest piece of music to date by a long shot. The main riff sounds like something Petrucci would've came up with with a ton more distortion. It's fast, driving, and even breaks into a sweet swing section in the middle with seemingly no effort at all. And yet there are other tracks that are very mellow like "Golden Divide" with its jazz trio set up to give it a really relaxed and intimate feel. Jolly are incredibly gifted at transitioning from one style to another very suddenly. Much like TesseracT and Haken you'll be listening and not quite remember how you got to where you are, it just happens and somehow feels right.
Another neat element to "Part 2" is all of the sweet little restatements and variations of segments of "Part 1." The track "Lucky" begins with the main riff from "Where Everything's Perfect" from the first album but played staccato and orchestrated slightly differently. This is just one example but there are a number of these on the album. Some people feel that "recycling" material is lame or uncreative or whatever but when you take it and adapt it to the latter half of a concept album or change it up (theme and variations) to keep it interesting it can be quite a powerful compositional technique.
Jolly, much like Haken, are three for three now with excellent albums and are growing into their frame so to speak. They experimented with their heavier sound a bit more like on "Firewell" but didn't lose the catchy, quirky, bright mood that got them to this point. A pleasant combination of new and old while the overall songwriting increased across the board makes for an excellent album.
10) "Meir" by Kvelertak
Genre: Blackened Rock and Roll/Punk
Similar Bands: Turbonegro, The Hellacopters, ???
Running Time: 49 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "A...penbaring", "MA?nelyst", "Bruane Brenn", "Kvelertak"
Ok so Kvelertak... oh man... Alright so imagine The Dead Kennedys but with rock and roll guitar solos... really heavy rock and roll... like black metal...and roll. Punk rock and black metal roll? Call it what you want these Norwegians pack some serious punch. My god is this shit catchy.
There are tracks that are more like one genre and less like the other. "Trepan" is very clearly black metal almost straight through while "Bruane Brenn" and "Kvelertak" (one of my favorites of the entire year in all of its simplicity) are pretty much just rock and roll. You get these outliers but the overall sample is that everything is blended into this ballsy, blues, with black metal vocals and occasional blast beats. Wait... Black and Blues! That's what we'll call it. My point is that there is nothing quite like Kvelertak and they're taking the metal world by storm. Two albums of pure punch drunk fun that'll have you wanting to go out and party in no time! Not really any deep musical analysis to be had here unless you really want it.
9) "The Tide, The Thief, and River's End" by Caligula's Horse
Genre: Progressive Metal with heavy djent influence throughout
Similar Bands: Leprous, Riverside, Twelve Foot Ninja, A Perfect Circle (at times)
Running Time: 50 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Atlas", "Dark Hair Down", "All Is Quiet by The Wall"
Another Australian band? Seriously? What the hell is going on down under there? In all seriousness I want it to continue. Caligula's Horse made a statement with their debut album "Moments from Ephemeral City" back in 2011 but they've outdone themselves for sure.
There are a lot of moments where this sounds like more mellow prog rock like maybe Spock's Beard or Porcupine Tree but then other really djenty, metalcore-ish moments that sound like TesseracT or Periphery. The thing Caligula's Horse has going for them is that they execute both to a high degree both compositionally and in performance. "The Tide... End" is a really schizophrenic album at times like when you end the extremely heavy back end of "Dark Hair Down" with the serene acoustic + vocal solo found in "Theif" that sounds like some folk singer on a stage in an empty performance hall. The peacefulness is quickly interrupted by a really groovy riff to start the epic "All Is Quiet by The Wall" which traverses a number of genres and ends with an absolutely bonkers guitar solo (one of the better ones this year).
I just love their sound. I'll keep this simple. If they can flesh it out even more then I can see these guys really leaping past the next level and onto prog stardom, wherever that may be.
"All is Quiet by the Wall"
8) "The Raven That Refused to Sing (and other stories)" by Steven Wilson
Genre: Heavily Jazz influenced Prog Rock/Fusion
Similar Bands: Porcupine Tree (Wilson's band), King Crimson, Pat Metheny (at times), Anglagard
Running Time: 64 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Luminol", "Drive Home", "The Holy Drinker", "The Watchmaker"
Steven Wilson is another one of the underrated songwriters of our time. You may be familiar with him from his work with Porcupine Tree and production for Opeth but this is his third full length solo release and it's a memorable one. When I first heard this album I was deeply moved. It's like all of my favorite old music (King Crimson, Yes, Pat Metheny, The Mahavishnu Orchestra) met some of my new favorites (Opeth and Porcupine Tree) and had modern technology. If I had to come up with a formula for a great album this would be one of them and it did nothing short of amaze me.
The 12 minute opening track "Luminol" is a masterpiece on its own incorporating elements of old school true prog a la King Crimson with Wilson's new school approach from his work with Porcupine Tree and Opeth (you can hear the clear keyboard influence). Everything from flute solos to tasty bass lines to intimate jazz piano features with orchestral background tracking and then finally an epic, high energy guitar solo that reminds me so much of Pat Metheny's album "Imaginary Day". "Drive Home" is the probably the most memorable track on the album to me with a chorus that I was singing along with by the end. It's low key, haunting background strings and other orchestral elements are incorporated wonderfully into the piece and the vocal harmonies are just beautiful. As with all of Wilson's material the production is out of this world and you can identify it's him immediately without even hearing his voice. It's as if you can hear every single recording track on a given song.
Steven Wilson has a way of utilizing all of his influences effortlessly. Every single element contributes in a positive way and there is absolutely no "dead space" on this album. This is an outstanding release that is accessible to pretty much anybody but prog heads will really dig it. At times an ode to "true prog" roots, often with jazzy moments. Fill it in with some of the best producing on the planet and some tasteful film score-style orchestral colors reminiscent of Thomas Newman or David Arnold's work and you have something incredible. This is a progressive masterpiece like the ones from the 60s and 70s but with modern day recording and years of experience listening to his influences to appropriately incorporate them into one brilliant, cohesive, work.
7) "The Mountain" by Haken
Genre: Progressive Metal
Similar Bands: Dream Theater, Leprous, To-mera
Running Time: 69 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Atlas Stone", "Cockroach King", "Because It's There", "Pareidolia"
Back in my "Top Albums of 2011" I said "I'm going to put this as bluntly as I can. If Haken stay together they will do Dream Theater better than Dream Theater does." Well they've outdone themselves. This is by far their strongest release and I absolutely loved their first two albums. Haken are exceedingly good at inspiring hopefulness in their music which is just something you don't see that often in the metal community but let's get into the nitty gritty.
What makes this album better? "The Mountain" seems like such a natural progression. Everything is effortless. The opening track (not the intro), "Atlas Stone" has this wonderful, major-keyed piano riff to continue the original statement from the intro track "The Path." When the band makes its entrance all you can immediately feel as if you're being lifted toward the clouds. "Cockroach King" is a really playful, albeit strange, homage to old school prog elements. There is some a capella vocals, weird keyboard passages, and wonderfully catchy chorus. Although there are darker passages in a lot of the songs on "The Mountain" it always comes back to this feeling of hopefulness whether it be a quick major reprise in tracks like "Falling Back to Earth" or intimate piano feature in "The Path Unbeaten" which is an actual restatement of the intro.
The individual performances are another marvel. Ross Jennings has really come into his own on this album with another incredibly versatile performance. From the quirky tracks like "Cockroach King" to the more ballad-esque ones like "Nobody" his voice can often illicit a powerful emotional response from the listener, whether it be sadness, strength, or the recurring theme of hope. Diego Tejeida turned in another masterful keyboard performance. You know a keyboardist is doing their job when they have the most memorable riffs on the album. It's a shame that we will no longer be hearing Tom MacLean with Haken as he did an outstanding job on bass with all three albums. Rich Henshall and Charlie Griffiths have some sweet jazz influenced guitar work and the drums by Raymond Hearne are very stylish always adding and never removing from the moment as he artfully manipulates the time changes and different sections of songs with ease.
"The Mountain" is a deeply emotional progressive metal album. There are a lot of highs and lows both dynamically and emotionally. You'll feel depressed and then, moments later, feel as if you could run a marathon. It's this revolution around the feeling of hope, or lack there-of, that seems to drive Haken not just as composers, but performers as well. This is a much different sounding album than their previous two, and it's not just different for the sake of different. Haken have taken another step out of the box and they've once again driven home that they're here to stay in the world or progressive metal.
Dream Theater eat your heart out.
6) "Omega Arcane" by Shade Empire
Genre: Heavily Symphonic Black Metal
Similar Bands: Septicflesh, Mid-era Dimmu Borgir, Wintersun, Fleshgod Apocalypse (less speed)
Running Time: 74 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Ruins", "Ash Statues", "Slumbering Giant", "Nomad", "Omega Arcane"
So imagine Hans Zimmer did a film score with a black metal band... Yea. While the whole black metal and orchestra thing isn't exactly new (ask Dimmu Borgir and Septicflesh and others) it is a remarkably effective combination. Powerful emotions require an equally powerful medium through which to travel. Admittedly I don't listen to a lot of black metal but it's becoming clear to me that there is usually one or two absolute gems every year that even a non-black metal person can appreciate and enjoy. Shade Empire's debut "Omega Arcane" is an absolute behemoth (yes, pun intended) of an album clocking in at over 74 minutes which is absolutely frightening if you've never listened to the more extreme genres but it is surprisingly accessible (similar to Xanthrochroid's "Blessed He With Boils" from 2012) with excellent production and mixing, as well as some really catchy riffs throughout so I encourage you to give it a shot if you would normally shy away from this sort of thing.
It's really easy to mess up the orchestral element in metal music. It's been done so often that you need to differentiate yourself from the others by actually using it well. In the case of Shade Empire, keyboardist Olli Savolainen called in some additional help from Mikko Mustonen to really flesh out and integrate the orchestra into the composition of the album and not just have it as "extra." The orchestration is clear and concise when necessary and well balanced at all times and displays a mastery of composition unrivaled by almost anything I've ever seen in any metal. There is a clear understanding of each instruments role within the full ensemble, including the black metal band, which shows not only a high level of ability but a mature approach to the writing process for the whole band, not just the orchestra.
"Omega Arcane" is as epic as it can get and for a debut album it's even more impressive. I said earlier this year that this is probably the best symphonic black metal album I've ever listened to and it's not even close. A variety of colors and dynamic contrasts as well as memorable songwriting keep things interesting for its entire 74 minute duration. The character of the entire piece is massive, the performance is at an extraordinarily high level, and every last detail is stylistically appropriate. This is a bombshell of an album that I'd highly recommend as a gateway into genre that is feared by listeners not just for its personality but for its typical caustic nature. Be not afraid!
5)"Altered State" by TesseracT
Genre: Atmospheric Progressive Metal/Djent
Similar Bands: Uneven Structure, Vildhjarta, but with all clean vocals
Running Time: 51 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Of Matter: Retrospect", "Of Mind: Nocturne", "Of Mind: Exile", "Of Reality: Eclipse"
"Altered State" is written as four movements; Of Matter, Of Mind, Of Reality, of Energy (four dimensions, TesseracT, etc. Getting the themes here?). Each movement is divided into sub-movements but the only breaks you hear are between the four main movements. One of the things I like about TesseracT's music is that it forces you to pay attention to what you're listening to fully appreciate it and they also tend to keep you interested. It's amazing that so much of this album sounds the same and, yet, is so different once you actually focus on listening to it.
I like to think that sound has dimensions to it. While I don't necessarily mean the physical dimensions in a literal sense, the characteristics of length, width, and depth apply. The majority of music you hear focuses primarily on volume and tone which we'll call the correspondents to length and width for now as they fit rather appropriately. Most songs have a melody and chord progressions, as well as various volumes. One of the wonders of modern recording and production is the experimentation you're seeing with the third dimension of depth. I love being able to "hear space" in music whether that be the performance venue, or artificially produced ambiance via effects. It's something that has always fascinated me as a performer and listener and the very best artists and composers can make use of this "space" or depth as another dimension to their works. TesseracT (appropriately named for this dimensions theme!) utilize an array of dynamic contrasts and combine them with varying timbres and spaces. It's as if you're floating through a proverbial space absorbing all of the sounds as they occur around you.
So after going through four vocalists in an album and a few EPs it seems like TesseracT have finally found their guy in Ashe O'Hara. While he's not quite as powerful (in terms of his vocal sound), he makes up for it with some absolutely brilliant writing and I think he actually fits the sound present on this album better than anybody I could think of. I'll warn you guys ahead of time that if you're looking for a really heavy album you'll have to look beyond the vocals here. The best way to describe them is "angelic" in that they soar above everything else present in the album and while not bombastic or physically powerful (as mentioned before), they are very impressive.
TesseracT stay true to their heavy djent sound that got them here but the real highlight of the album is their use of ambiance to really set up a musical atmostphere. The sound is just so huge at times but you can still differentiate every, minute detail. Conversely, the more serene moments and minimalistic sections are hauntingly beautiful and open sounding. TesseracT utilize dynamic contrast and excellent transitional writing so well that you arrive at places and, often, forget how you got there. There might just be this random saxophone solo (thanks Chris Baretto!) and while in most scenarios you'd think, "Wait what? Really?", you are, instead, like "OK sure" as if nothing happened. This is yet another album that you must listen to as an experience all its own. You can't fully appreciate it unless you just sit down and absorb it as a whole. "Altered State" is a brilliant piece of music performed by outstanding musicians that truly does place you into an altered state of thinking.
"Of Mind: Nocturne" and "Of Mind: Exile"
4) "Spiritual Migration" by Persefone
Genre: Extreme Progressive in a symphonic death metal shell
Similar Bands: Septicflesh, Symphony X (but heavier)
Running Time: 71 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Mind As Universe", "The Great Reality", "The Majestic of Gaia", "Consciousness Pt 1 and 2", "Spiritual Migration", "Returning to the Source"
If you haven't heard them before, Persefone play a very melodic and heavily prog-influenced style of death metal. A single track will bring you from a shredding death metal intro, to an odd metered clean chorus, into a face melting guitar solo, followed by an intimate keyboard section and then back to a sweeping growled death metal chorus with an orchestral background. The point is that there is a lot of variation here and while many groups try to incorporate a plethora of styles and techniques, very few actually pull it off effectively from a technical standpoint and, perhaps more importantly, with style.
"Spiritual Migration" is downright wicked during is true melodic death metal moments like in the track "Mind As Universe." It leads off with a technically impressive, unison opening statement to grab your attention right away followed by a traditional melo-death verse with guitar and keyboard counter melodies which lead into a chorus wherein the clean and growled vocals do a call and response type figure. Now here's where it gets a little wild. There's this incredibly well written odd metered orchestral break which leads into the chorus a second time. It's significantly easier to have more professional sounding orchestral elements in music with the onset of better sampling and such but there still needs to be credit given for excellent composition. There is careful attention paid toward the chord voicings, dynamics, and varying timbres (low brass blats and staccato strings for example) that make this a very well thought out element within their composition and not just something that was added at the end to flesh out the sound (albeit there are times when this is the case on this album which is ok in small doses).
Death metal with orchestral elements isn't something new and while Persefone are incredibly good at it, it's not what makes this album such a bombshell. "Spiritual Migration" has a lot of progressive elements to it. There is a moment in the middle of the track "The Great Reality" that is this odd-metered, heavy metal recitative (opera term, look it up if you don't know) between both the clean and growled vocals. I've never really heard anything like it. The same track then moves into this completely contrasting section with a clean guitar solo reminiscent of Pat Metheny. Even more out there is the track "Zazen Meditation" which begins with bird calls and a flute solo followed by a piano, bass, and drum trio playing this almost jazzy, major-key reimagining of an earlier riff from "Mind As Universe" which slowly adds guitar and strings to build toward the next track.
I won't go song by song through this album anymore but there are moments where you think you're listening to Symphony X, Dream Theater, Periphery, The Black Dahlia Murder, Septicflesh, Pat Metheny, Beyond the Bridge... the list goes on and on. I'd have a difficult time coming up with a death metal [centered] album that attempts so many different elements and successfully pulls each and every one of them off to a high level. The guitar and keyboard work is technically demanding and well written (the guitar solos on "Mind As Universe" and "Spiritual Migration" are particularly impressive). The cleans vocals don't exactly cover a huge range or really wow you but they are stylistically appropriate while the growls cover a pretty large range and have a nice texture that fit the genre. While the drums won't blow you away they're certainly not a hindrance either. The real thing to marvel at on this album is the huge spectrum of soundscapes you, as the listener, are placed in, and the effectiveness in the composition of getting you from one to the other with a sense of cohesion throughout.
As a piece of music to be analyzed formally, this is arguably the best album this year and while its nearly 71 minute playtime can be daunting for someone that doesn't typically enjoy the genre I can now whole heartedly recommend this to someone knowing that this is how it's done. There is enough contrast and variety to keep you fully engaged for the full duration. This is four excellent albums out of four now for Persefone and I'm not quite sure how the ensemble from Andorra is still as under-appreciated as they are. "Spiritual Migration" is, by far, the best death metal (if you can even call it that) album I've heard in a long time and would likely make it pretty far on my All-Time list if I were to re-evaluate it now.
"The Majestic of Gaia"
3) "Volition" by Protest the Hero
Genre: Progressive Metalcore
Similar Bands: Nobody quite sounds like PTH honestly.
Highlight Tracks: "Plato's Triparte", "Skies", "Drumhead Trial", "Without Prejudice", "Yellow Teeth"
Running Time: 54 minutes
"Volition" has a blisteringly face pace to it from beginning to end with the "slow" tracks ("Plato's Tripartite" and "Skies") only really feeling slow because they're heavily reliant on triple time signatures. Typically when an album doesn't have a lot of tempo variety it can get boring and songs start to blend together but that just never happens here. Now metric modulation has some influence on that for sure but it is not just that. Admittedly I'm a huge sucker for really "busy" orchestrations with a lot going on, and I'm particularly fond of countermelodies that support the vocal line from the guitar, bass, or keys. One of the reasons I took a liking to Blind Guardian so much was Andre Oldbrich/Marcus Siepen's dueling guitars under the vocals of Hansi Kursch. It's just not something you find effectively executed in the genre that often and something that I, personally, gravitate towards.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Protest the Hero is Rody Walker's vocals. People say they're "cheesy." I do agree to a certain extent but it's important to recognize how many "characters" Rody can capture with his voice. His range isn't quite as absurd as someone like Spencer Sotelo or Daniel Thompkins or Russell Allen but it's still quite large. It's kind of hard to do but imagine listening to Protest the Hero without the vocals but take a second and try to do it. Now try to tell me what you think would fit this music? ... The fact is he's incredibly fun and charismatic as a performer, writes absurd lyrics to match the equally absurd instrumental music. There is a certain raunchiness to his vocals and, like many vocalists, you know it's him immediately for better or for worse. You could argue that Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Ozzy Ozbourne, and Geddy Lee (Rush) are "cheesy" or "bad" vocalists but sometimes it's just not about being good, it's about fitting the music around you.
To accompany it's urgent pacing there had to be some absolutely insane instrumental work on this album and, in typical Protest the Hero fashion, they pushed the envelope. Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar are absolute lunatics if you ever get to see them live. The guitars in Protest the Hero are almost never just playing a typical rhythm guitar line. They're both incredibly active whether soloing, or playing countermelodies, or matching the vocal line and placing the chord progressions between. They never stop. It's a relentless onslaught of tasty grooves and licks that give a certain energy to the album that would most certainly not be there otherwise. It's not just the guitars that are active in Protest the Hero though. Arif Mirabdolbaghi is a monstrous bass player. In a genre where the bassist usually just gets to pick eighth notes on the root of the chord or outline the metric formula to a song there isn't usually a lot of room with all the busy guitars and such but Arif always makes sure to have his own voice in the PTH soundscape. He equally contributes with countermelodies, sometimes to the guitars and other times with Rody's vocals. Cameron McLellan who produced "Volition" was actually the bassist on the track "Without Prejudice" which has a disgusting bass solo leading into the outro (He will be the bassist on the upcoming tour while Arif takes this one off). Chris Adler, of Lamb of God and Blotted Science fame, performed the drums for the album and while it's not as mind blowing as some of his other material, he fit right in with what Protest the Hero in a scenario that could have potentially been the only downfall for this album. It's also worth noting that the raunchy vocals of Rody had their sultry female counterpart at times throughout the album with guest performances by Jadea Kelly and Kayla Howran. The female vocals provide a nice change of timbre and are appropriately used in a fashion similar to the way they were on "Scurrilous" usually as a final color for certain tracks.
I could call "Volition" a rollercoaster ride but it's more like a 54 minute, high speed car chase. Catchy, amusing, brutal, and wild while still being firmly rooted in outstanding musicianship and innovative composition. It may not be the mammoth "piece of music" or colossal work that some of the other albums on this list are but damn is this a blast to listen to and since its release in late October it has already become my most played album for the year. If you're looking for something entertaining that doesn't really involve breaking it down or analyzing, like I tend to do, then this is by far the best album this year but it's equally good for those of you that like to examine further.
Note: "Volition" was funded entirely by fans via Indiegogo.
2) "Pelagial" by The Ocean
Genre: Atmospheric Extreme Progressive with orchestral presence that fades as the album gets deeper and more sprasely populated (bottom of the ocean). There is also a clear sludge influence.
Similar Bands: Between the Buried and Me
Running Time: 53 minutes (** Second Disc is also 53 minutes. Instrumental version of the album**)
Highlight Tracks: "Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny", "Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams", "Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts"
If you've never listened to The Ocean before I'd highly recommend checking out their 2007 release "Precambrian" as many consider it one of the better metal albums of all time. They play a highly progressive style of sludge metal which is a style characterized by slower tempos, heavy distortion, growled or screamed vocals, a dark atmosphere like that found in doom metal and combining these elements with those of hardcore or punk's faster, more aggressive tempos. That being said, this is an extraordinarily complex album at times while also being downright brutal at others so classify it yourself after you listen.
"Pelagial" was submitted to the publisher as a single track with the obvious intention of being one complete piece of music. It is a concept album about the different "pelagial zones" of the ocean with each group of tracks representing different areas. The album was originally just an instrumental album because the band wanted to release something while waiting for the vocalist (Rossetti) to recover from some health issues but they decided to record vocals and do a two CD release. I have a sort of fascination with released like this where elements are added "post composition." It's very hit or miss and can either completely ruin a good album or just be like "icing on the cake" to others. In this case, I find that the vocals help add character to the different zones that The Ocean are trying to illustrate.
I'll be the first to tell you that if you don't listen to a lot of the more extreme genres this may be a difficult listen for you. It starts off intriguing and sort of cheerful with the "Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny" which opens with a sort of folky guitar intro that makes me think of snorkeling on a vacation somewhere in the Pacific before getting into this really catchy, high energy chorus. There is a remarkable use of timing in this track. The beginning is very calm and relaxed with an easy tempo but it steadily increases in intensity into the chorus which is a faster tempo but immediately afterwards it suddenly stops and the guitars and drums do these huge, menacing unison chords to slow everything to a grinding, downtuned, assault on your ears to set you up for the next "zone." While track two may be my favorite on the album personally because it's so vastly different than everything The Ocean usually sounds like, I think the real depth of composition is revealed in the next three tracks (Bathyalpelagic I, II, and III) about the "Bathyalpelagic" zone. Bathyal translates to deep in Greek and in this zone there is no more sunlight which gives it the nickname "midnight zone." This becomes immediately apparent musically with sweet minor chord progression (reminds me of the James Bond theme actually) that then moves into 11th chords that hint back at the previous key before a piano restatement of the key and progression from the previous zone. This re-statement slowly turns darker and darker before the track turns in a completely different direction diving deeper and away from the light. By the time we get to the abyssopelagic zone we are mostly growled vocals. The end of the track "Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts" is a solemn guitar and string feature with very soft, sad clean vocals before we get to "Abssyopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety" which begins with a simple, sort of two note dirge on the bottom of the guitar before arriving at a no less than depressing chorus section. The hadopelagic zone is where you find most ocean trenches and deep sea life. Strangely it's not all drudging, downtuned material (yet) at this point. There is a sweet clean guitar intro to "Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe" before it dives into an epic, metalcore sounding middle section. The vocals are getting filled with more rage, and the pitch is much deeper at this point. Next we stop at the Demersal zone which is just above the sea floor. It's not until this point that we are in full fledge sludge mode. Everything from riffs, to vocals, and even percussion is just heavier, more distorted and fuller. The orchestration is even thicker. By the time we get to the benthic zone, a name reserved for only the deepest and darkest reaches of the ocean, the tempo has slowed to a crawl and it's as if we're trudging through waist high mud to even move and then it all just ends... fade out... amplifier sounds... solemn last note... aquatic sounds.
This is how a concept album is done. An image or concept is developed and you musically illustrate it. We start at the surface and get progressively darker and more claustrophobic just as the light disappears and the pressure increases when you dive deeper and deeper until there is nowhere else to go. We've reached rock bottom. This album is quite literally a concept album about that journey but it also serves as a sort of metaphor for the journey into one's own mind. Guitarist and primary composer Robin Staps described this aspect as a movement "towards the essence and origins of our desires, wishes, dreams, and all the fucked up attributes inside of our own inner selves that generate and shape them."
I don't normally do this but I read a review of this album on a website I've been frequenting for years (Metalstorm.net) by reviewer R'Vannith that sums this album up better than I could have ever phrased it:
"The clarity of expression is what makes this album truly impressive. Each of the tracks and each of the pelagial zones are distinguishable and effectively follow the band's predetermined direction. The Ocean have evident control of their sound and the ability to write an identifiable and vivid sequence in their musical exploration of the pelagial zones is well represented."
In the world of competitive instrumental concert (and marching band) performance there is a term that judges often use. "Clarity of intent." It has to do with the effectiveness you have in illustrating the concept of whatever it is you were trying to do. It is both a compositional and performance element to be judged and this can be transferred over to metal, rock, jazz, or whatever. Bands like Opeth and Between the Buried and Me tend to never "waste space" on an album. Every note is intentional and has a role to play in developing the track or album as a whole. The Ocean also fulfill this "clarity of intent" concept to a world class level. It may not be as listenable as what you may be used to but if you take the time to really listen to "Pelagial" then you will truly be able to appreciate the journey on which they are taking you.
"Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams"
1) "Bilo 3.0" by David Maxim Micic
Genre: Avante-garde? Progressive Fusion/Metal with lots of djent, folk, symphonic, and jazz influences
Running Time: 44 minutes
Highlight Tracks: "Smile", "Wrinkle Maze", "Daydreamers"
Similar Bands: ??? I've never heard anything like this.
David Maxim Micic is a guitarist/keyboardist from Serbia that studied at Berklee and while this is his second full length it is my first experience with his music it's obvious that I've been missing out. "Bilo 3.0" is absolutely brilliant. A unique and magical aural adventure full of blistering guest solos by Jakub Zytecki (if you don't know who he is then youtube him), Jeff Loomis (Nevermore and solo stuff), and Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry) as well as a couple of wonderful violin soloists.
The introduction "Everything's Fine" is a beautiful piano solo with backing strings and a wonderful violin solo that sounds like something straight out of a James Horner ("Aliens", "A Beautiful Mind", "Titanic", "Legends of the Fall") film score. It sets the mood brilliantly for the piano intro to the next track which crescendos into a massive arrival featuring strings, guitar, bass, and huge, open drum fills followed by this really djent-y palm muting riff and powerful male and female vocals backed by strings. There is a wicked Jakub Zytecki muted solo in this track that opens into a tapping section that will blow your mind. There is a really epic feel to this track. "Smile" starts playfully in a major key with the sounds of people having fun in the background and a catchy, mid tempo riff that leads into a memorable chorus lead by Aleksandra Djelmas (I need to look her up). Then it turns to a dark side with really ballsy and avante-garde-ish vocals, also by Aleksandra, doing some light growls and low range experimentation followed by a full voiced restatement of the chorus. The track goes into this weird odd metered, djenty breakdown that sounds like a deranged carnival (think like Diabolical Masquerade or Diablo Swing Orchestra or something) followed by a jazzy drum break and ended by the ever disgusting soloing of Jeff Loomis. "Nostalgia" is pretty much a west coast jazz fusion track. "Wrinkle Gaze" brings the intensity back down for a little bit with more piano and atmospheric sounding low strings to set the mood for a soundtrack style string piece that leads to a massive crescendo and arrival of full orchestra, band (guitar, drums, bass), and choir over which Per Nilsson plays a solo that is no less than epic. "Daydreamers" combines many of these elements, including themes previously stated on the album into an 11 minute monster of a track that traverses the full soundscape of "Bilo 3.0". There's even a neat little section in the middle that reminds me of Mice Parade with its highly treble, tinty mixing that makes it sound like somebody recorded a glockenspiel and electronics that were listening to an AM radio broadcast in the same room.
Once in awhile a piece of music comes along and just changes the way you think about and approach being a listener. It's intimate and massive. Complex and simple. Catchy and startling. An album that you can sit and fully immerse yourself in or something you can just listen to casually. You want insane guitar solos? You got it. Tear jerking moments? Yup. Headbanging moments? Hell yes. Very few artists can successfully incorporate so many styles into a single album and have them all blend seamlessly into such a magnificent piece of music and David Maxim Micic makes this look easy. The amount of musical ground you cover in such a limited time is unfathomable. As you all know, I listen to a ton of music and "Bilo 3.0" is simply one of the most incredible albums I've heard in my life.
Individual Performance Nomination:
Aleksandra Djelmas (female vocals) on the track "Smile." One of the most unique vocal performances I've ever heard. Remarkable full voiced, high end cleans. Raunchy mid range rock-style. Deep, dark growls. Powerful death screams. From 3:03 to the arrival at 3:18 she is mixing high range cleans with low range semi-growls within the same musical line (note to note) which is insanely challenging (try it yourself). And then even at that arrival point she has that death metal scream that would make Angela Goslow (Arch Enemy) proud. Then there's the demonic carnival section (at least I'm calling it that) where she sings this opera-like duet with Vladimir Lalic and sounds perfectly at home there as if she was Annlouice Loegdlund (Diablo Swing Orchestra). The vocal versatility it takes to accomplish this wide a vocal range (literally range of notes) as well as the variety of styles and timbres present is incredibly difficult but executed wonderfully. Vocal performance of the year at least for a single track.
This is a full album stream linked directly to this track.