Jonathan’s Top 50 of 2017

The diverse spectrum that encompasses metal music’s many sub-genres could be likened to various mythical races united under two opposing banners, staring each other down as they make ready to charge and turn the field red with the other’s blood. From one year to the next, the advantage may tip from one side to the other, but in the grand scheme of their eternal conflict, the forces of light and darkness have tended to be equally matched. 2017 saw the forces of melody and order take the advantage in the eyes of the reclusive bard that tells this end of the year tale, though naturally his is not the final word on such things, and other codices in the grand archives of metallic exploits deserve your consideration. Still, these are the 50 acts of heroism that defined the year, because too much has occurred to settle for a mere 30.

 

~50~

Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix

“10 years of silence followed by a return as if one has never left is a fitting eventuality for the mythical creature carried in this album’s namesake. Fans of AOR-infused, yet dark and heavy-ended power metal will find a worthy successor to 2005’s Grand Illusion here. Like the famed fire-bird itself, Phoenix bursts out of the ashes of the failed The 8th Sin and rains down flames upon the opposing forces situated below.

~49~

The Obsessed – Sacred

“The old and learned sorcerer of doom Scott Weinrich has served many armies in his day, but The Obsessed was the only regiment that was his to command, and after a solid excursion with Saint Vitus a few years back he returned home with spell book and guitar in hand to conjure the spirit of the Black Sabbath yet again with masterful results. Though a traditionalist in the purist sense, he takes on the less traditional task of emulating both Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi, vanquishing his foes by incantation and ax alike.”

~48~

Bear Mace – Butchering The Colossus

“The American mid-west is known for its mythical, forest-dwelling behemoths, but of particular note is the ravenous quadrupedal beast from Chicago known as Bear Mace. Combining an old school set of influences ranging from Cannibal Corpse to Bolt Thrower, this mutant killing machine stands at the front-lines of metal’s dark side, reveling in the carnage while unleashing its crushing riffs, beats, growls and guitar solos from its immense paws.”

~47~

Kreator – Gods Of Violence

“Old warriors are, by necessity, learned ones. With more than 3 decades on the battlefield serving the darker fringes of thrash metal and dabbling in occasional Gothenburg elements, Kreator has continued to strive to be the most intense horseman of the Teutonic Big Four. Merging a slightly cinematic gloss onto their riff-happy brand of brutality, God Of Violence continues the band’s post 1990s stride with a vengeance.”

~46~

 The Ferrymen – The Ferrymen

“Magnus Karlsson has never failed to prove himself as a master ax-wielder of the great white north, yet his loyalties have trended towards mercenary status given the multiplicity of projects with his mark upon them. Though many view his work with German speed metal veterans Primal Fear as his best, the newly hatched project The Ferrymen gave them a run for their money. Along with a slew of brilliant guitar playing, infectious songwriting and bombastic orchestrations, up and coming vocalist Ronald Romero all but channels the spirit of Ronnie James Dio with his soaring notes. An act to watch, and hopefully one that will last beyond a single sonic assault.”

~45~

Toxik – Breaking Class

“The socially aware speed/thrash rangers of the late 80s were known for launching into political critiques while the arrows flew, and one of the less prolific yet highly proficient elite guard Toxik has re-joined the battalion almost 30 years after retiring from the battlefield. Riffs fly from the quiver in succession as rapid on their new EP Breaking Class as if they were a part of their 1987 breakout battle in World Circus, albeit in a heavier, higher fidelity, and smaller package.”

~44~

Skyfire – Liberation In Death

 “The air has been fairly quiet in the past several years insofar as Swedish melodeath technicians Skyfire have been concerned. These battle-weary orcs of the more tuneful variety have seen their fair share of sonic trials and triumphs, often outclassing more popular rivals such as Children Of Bodom and the now defunct Norther, while sharing a similarly Finnish take on the style with heavy keyboards and technical guitar work to boot. Their latest venture Liberation In Death carries the same sorrowful and nostalgic air that painted their 2001 debut and magnum opus Timeless Departure, save with a cleaner demeanor and a shorter duration.”

~43~

Serenity In Murder – The Eclipse

“The dark forces have called upon a truly artful shadow from the islands of Japan in Serenity In Murder. Providing a heavily atmospheric yet impact-based blend of symphonic bombast and blackened death metal rage, there is no dishonor to be found in the woeful rimes of The Eclipse. Though lending itself a fair bit to the largess of Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, this outfit has a sound all their own and with this being their 3rd album in 6 years, have proven that consistency is an effective weapon.”

~42~

Beast In Black – The Berserker

“Shifting alliances is not unique to those flying the black banner of heavy metal, as was displayed a few years back when guitarist and principle songwriter of popular Finnish power metal act Battle Beast Anton Kabanen left his former regiment to form a new one under the moniker Beast In Black. The same amalgam of Judas Priest heaviness and occasional electronic elements that made Battle Beast’s eponymous sophomore effort a smashing success is on full display here, albeit with a male voice that conjures up images of Heavenly’s Ben Sotto and even King Diamond at times. Even the forces of melodic metal have the occasional Berserker, and although his tunes may be prettier, he’s equally as effective of a killing machine as his blacker counterpart.”

~41~

Paradise Lost – Medusa

 “The order of doom wizards has many elite sorcerers chanting their spells at the forces of light, Paradise Lost being arguably one of the original bog wraiths to put a death spin on Sabbath’s original incantations. In recent years they’ve tempered their death/doom venom with a more melodic and rocking gloss, but their dedication to the Greek demigod Medusa sees a catchy mixture of traditional Saint Vitus styled fuzz and sludgy attitude that is a fitting soundtrack for the fabled City of Dis.”

 ~40~

Iced Earth – Incorruptible

“The latter days of General Jon Schaffer’s military campaigns in the service of grand emperor Set Abominae have been hit or miss, with his greatest defeat being the misguided cavalry charge dubbed Plagues Of Babylon. Reclaiming previous glory by returning to their original base of strategy, Incorruptible sees Iced Earth with a crisper and heavier production combined with a well-rounded array of songs that reminisce upon the thrashing mayhem of Burnt Offerings, the epic grandeur of The Glorious Burden, and a few nods to German elders like Running Wild and Grave Digger to masterful effect.”

~39~

Within Silence – Return From The Shadows

“The order of light has seen a fair increase in its clergy of late, following the Christian lyrical example of Narnia and sticking fairly close to the musical example that said band inherited from Yngwie Malmsteen and Helloween. Relative newcomer Within Silence takes a more nuanced and progressive approach that is fairly comparable to the ambitious work of fellow Slovaks Signum Regis and the American power/prog maestros Theocracy, and their second offering Return From The Shadows hits a grand melodic stride that is sure to bring the declarative glory of God to the power metal masses.”

~38~

Terrifer – Weapons Of Thrash Destruction

“The old ways of thrash traditionalism see a proficient colossus from Canada dubbed Terrifier, originally going by the archaic barbarian title of Skull Hammer. Though they have their eyes affixed to metal’s past in the Bay Area technical flair of Heathen and Forbidden, laced with the blazing speed and aggression of Teutonic titan act Destruction, they deal in a very modern mode of warfare that levels cities and fells kingdoms in a manner that appears fantastical to those wielding swords and shields.”

~37~

Numenor – Chronicles From The Realms Beyond

“Originally an orc band of sorcerers and warriors serving the dark side, the Serbian born black metal project Numenor took a different path with 2015’s Sword And Sorcery, merging their former affinities with atmospheric outfits like Summoning with a more tuneful approach reminiscent of Rhapsody Of Fire and Blind Guardian. Chronicles Of The Realms Beyond continues this stylistic blend in similarly brilliant fashion, yet with a slightly larger degree of nuance and progression, a fitting eventuality for these once blackened servants of the light.”

~36~

Victorius – Heart Of The Phoenix

“Hailed as Germany’s long awaited answer to Dragonforce while avoiding many of said band’s excesses, Victorius stands among the most gallant of metal’s orders of chivalry. Blazing speed and soaring melodies are the standard that these knights bear, spearheaded by a vocalist in David Baßin that shares both visual and sonic similarities with Swedish 80s rock/metal vocalist Joey Tempest of Europe fame. They wear the Heart Of The Phoenix on their shields with pride, maintaining their fast-paced brand while making a few noteworthy evolutionary strides on the periphery.”

~35~

Anubis Gate – Covered In Black

“Whether viewed as a late-comer to the 90s progressive metal craze or an early adherent of the millennial metal revival with a progressive edge, Denmark’s Anubis Gate have proven masters of musical strategy again and again, all the while being proficient with a blade when needed when serving in the white army while donning a darker standard. Covered In Black, their seventh studio effort, sees a band that takes a highly cosmopolitan attitude towards metal that is fairly similar to Threshold, but with a higher degree of eastern influences in both lyrical and melodic content.”

~34~

Cellador – Off The Grid

“Long forgotten it seemed was this mid-2000s American answer to Dragonforce that was at the cusp of greatness before all but self-destructing. Though now fronted by guitarist Chris Petersen, this fold of white-clad soldiers have taken a musical road comparable to German counterparts Victorius, though lyrically they shy away from the fantastical for a more real world oriented mode of battle. Off The Grid is a formidable collection of speed-infused brilliance that is as infectious as it is nostalgic.”

~33~

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black

 “Few troops aligned with the dark side can compare to the zombie infantry division that is Cannibal Corpse when it comes to an effective killing machine. Through their rich, near 3 decade history they have translated the thrashing evil of Slayer and Possessed into a brutal force of nature. Though variation between the veritable drones that make up their discography tends to be subtle, there has been a noted move towards the thrash-based traditionalism of their early days and a toning down of the chaotic blasting of their late 90s. Red Before Black continues this winning approach to a fault.”

 ~32~

Power Quest – Sixth Dimension

“The trifecta of chivalry that have hatched their own variation on the ways of Dragonforce is rounded out by fellow Brits and project of former keyboardist Scott Williams Power Quest, and in similar fashion, they managed to surpass their teacher this year. Aided by the powerful pipes of Dendera vocalist Ashley Edison, the fast-paced, cosmic, keyboard-driven character that defines this band’s sound is on full display, as Sixth Dimension picks things up right where Blood Alliance left them.”

~31~

Almanac – Kingslayer

 “A couple years ago the world of German speed metal took a drastic turn when 6-string sorcerer Victor Smolski announced his exodus from Teutonic pioneers Rage. Thankfully, this didn’t result in his retirement from the metal world as he opted to give his virtuoso spells a bit more sunlight with his new project Almanac. With 3 competent vocalists at his disposal and sporting a more symphonic and progressive sound comparable to Symphony X and Adagio, their 2nd studio outing Kingslayer presents a powerful balance of drama and intrigue.”

~30~

Cryonic Temple – Into The Glorious Battle

“A blast from the millennial power metal revival past returns as barbarian turned plate mail toting knights Cryonic Temple have come out of a 9 year retirement (12 years for most fans as their 4th opus Immortal was considered a fatal misstep) and provided a revitalized and somewhat revamped sound on Into The Glorious Battle. With only one original member of the order still in congress, the sound is naturally a tad different, particularly when considering the heavier keyboard usage, less dramatic vocal display and Sci-Fi gloss. Nevertheless, this is a band that know what works and remains rooted in the same Iron Maiden meets Helloween traditions that won the field with In Thy Power.”

~29~

Signum Regis – Decennium Primum

 “At one time this eastern European power metal nod to the Knights Templar featured the handiwork of famed former Malmsteen vocalist Goran Edman, and in predictable fashion, their sound has maintained a similarly Neo-classical bent, though a tad heavier than the original Rising Force and featuring a vocalist now that gives a bird’s eye view into how Malmsteen’s brief collaboration with Jorn Lande might have sounded if it had gotten to the recording studio. Signum Regis is power metal fit for a king, and Decennium Primum is yet another fine jewel in the triple crown.”

~28~

Lich King – The Omniclasm

“Along with Municipal Waste, Lich King was one of key figures in reviving the crossover-prone brand of thrash metal in the United States that Suicidal Tendencies and Anthrax first brought to the forefront in the mid-1980s. They tend a bit more towards the technically savvy guitar work of the 80s than their waste management counterparts and they prefer the undead aesthetic that allows them to fit in a bit more with the darker side of metal, but the Omniclasm is best understood as the dark forces’ court jester, refusing to take things too seriously and boosting moral by giving the orcs and trolls a good chuckle to go with the bone-crushing riffs and ax-slinging madness.”

~27~

Ne Obliviscaris – Urn

“The netherworld that exists between extreme and progressive metal has been one of the wildcards in the ongoing war, and Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris has provided a highly unique twist on the same world occupied by the likes of Persefone and Opeth, even if arriving to the scene a bit later with their debut Portal Of I in 2012. Urn continues the same formula in perhaps a more spacey and ethereal way, emphasizing atmosphere and nuance as a subterfuge for its true intent between the worlds in which it dwells.”

~26~

Rhapsody Of Fire – Legendary Years

“Some of the old guard of the power metal revolution that kicked off the millennial revival in the mid to late 1990s have opted to take the occasion of receiving some new blood into their ranks by retreading old material. With a new vocalist and his former band mates touring on their seminal material under Luca Turilli’s banner, Alex Starapoli has opted to do for the same in the form of a studio reminiscence of their formative period. The result is a heavier, crisper and more polished production, and apt performances all around, making all the power metal faithful hopeful for the next LP under the Rhapsody Of Fire moniker.”

~25~

Aether Realm – Tarot

“Stealth is a tool not normally employed by Vikings, but considering that Aether Realm hail from the southeastern United States, they are the exception that proves the rule given that they are often thought to be from Scandinavia. Their hybrid assault of Finnish inspired melodic death metal and a heavily symphonic folksy atmosphere reminiscent of Equilibrium make their sophomore effort Tarot a formidable foil to the likes of Wintersun and Ensiferum, actually outclassing both of their respective 2017 efforts at every turn.”

~24~

Shadow Of Intent – Reclaimer

“The club-wielding ogres of deathcore tend to catch a bad wrap among the metallic orders of darkness, but every now and again an individual of the race comes along that proves equally as musically capable as his old school and tech savvy forerunners. Shadow Of Intent is one such giant, stomping through the cosmos like a colossal deity from the world of Lovecraft, their latest concoction Reclaimer being flashy enough to pass for Necrophagist, symphonic enough to trade blows with Fleshgod Apocalypse, and with a sense of melody consonant enough to rope in some melodeath fanatics, hardcore trappings and occasional breakdowns not withstanding.”

~23~

Bloodbound – War Of Dragons

“It’s not uncommon in the metal world for a dragon to change his scales, and Swedish power metal mainstays Bloodbound have seen their fair share of fascination with the dark side of metal despite their highly melodic inclinations. Lately their gaze has fallen upon the way of the dragon-rider, and their heroic heavy/power romp War Of Dragons sees one foot planted in the raging speed of Helloween and the other in the arena fanfare world of Sabaton, all the while continuing their ongoing fascination with George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice.”

~22~

Ancestral – Master Of Fate

Ancestral

“The Italian power metal warrior caste has tended towards the lighter, more keyboard and symphonic strain of slaying the dark forces, but there are a handful of members that take some clear influence from the German speed/thrashing mode of assault typical to Mystic Prophecy, Sinbreed and early Blind Guardian. One such protege is Ancestral, and their returning sophomore effort after a 10 year studio hiatus in Master Of Fate is an unmitigated riff master and speed-based assault from start to finish.”

~21~

Hamka – Multiversal

“2017 definitely proved to be a year of comebacks, as older and learned commanders that were long thought retired came back with a vengeance. Hamka’s long-awaited follow up to Unearth dubbed Multiversal is a two-fold triumphant return, one being that of beloved Spanish amazonian front woman Elisa C. Martin taking up the sword after a string of auspicious guest/session works with Kerion and Peter Crowley’s Fantasy Dream, and also the return of the second half of Fairyland’s creative duo Wildric Lievin to the songwriters chair. With a progressive and world music-tinged power metal edge comparable to Angra and the same symphonic bluster that made Fairyland’s Of Wars In Osyrhia a manifesto to rival Rhapsody Of FIre’s sound, the triumph just keeps on coming here.”

~20~

Wind Rose – Stonehymn

“Arguably one of the best kept secrets in the Italian power metal scene is the band of prog-infused barbarians and their folksy trappings known as Wind Rose. Originally styling themselves after the mold of Symphony X with a bit more of a knights and valor theme on their debut, they found themselves in a fairly unique position as a southern European practitioner of power-infused folk metal that merges the symphonic pomp of Equilibrium and the through-composed songwriting style of Tyr on Wardens Of The West Wind. Stonehymn follows a similar course, but ups the ante in the folk department, chanting and gang-chorusing itself straight into Game Of Thrones soundtrack territory.”

~19~

Astral Doors – Black Eyed Children

“Some wizards take the instruction of their masters to the point of total emulation, and few have carried the torch that Dio passed down to the heavy metal forces of darkness and light than that of Sweden’s Astral Doors. Though often overshadowed by the similarly based musical exploits of Jorn Lande, this order of sorcery has a reciter of incantations far closer to the original in Nils Patrik Johansson and their latest album Black Eyed Children covers all the stylistic bases from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’s eponymous debut up until Dio’s Lock Up The Wolves with an eye for effective hooks and rocking guitar work.”

~18~

Persefone – Aathma

“Among the ethereal orders that populate the metal world, Andorra’s Persefone has often been compared to their slightly younger Australian counterparts Ne Obliviscaris. However, in the former spirit entity there is a greater affinity with the corporeal, leaning a bit more towards the old school, technique-based progressive tendencies of Dream Theater with an extreme bent that occasionally sounds similar to Scar Symmetry, while at others more like early 90s Cynic. They’ve kept their deeds quite consistent over the past 13 years, and Aathma is a fun, collective ride through the world of eastern metaphysics.”

~17~

Eldamar – A Dark Forgotten Past

“In what way do the intellectual class among orcs, goblins and trolls view nature, what is their sentiments regarding the aesthetics of being? One particularly compelling musical answer comes from the one-man Norwegian atmospheric black metal project Eldamar. Drawing from the ambient sensibilities of Burzum in a fairly similar fashion to the likes of Lustre and Elderwind, A Dark Forgotten Past is rich with keyboard landscapes and beautifully somber vocal melodies, yet maintains a consistent blackened presence that is palpable to the more traditionally minded.”

~16~

Secret Sphere – The Nature Of Time

“Though Italy’s Secret Sphere has always had a progressive streak to their sound, they never quite took the full plunge into the less fantastical and more introspective world of Dream Theater until fairly recently. The Images And Words vibe that one gets from the album art that adorns The Nature Of Time doesn’t stop there, as musically this is a far more stylistically nuanced and deep affair than past works. They still maintain a power metal tendency to their approach that is highly similar to that of Labyrinth and Vision Divine, but this is an album that is equally as comfortable in the world that Ayreon and Threshold occupy on the metallic battle field.”

~15~

MindMaze – Resolve

“In warfare, as in all things, superior strategy can make all the difference. Up and comers MindMaze have put forth an impressive array of battle plans over the past several years that walk a thin line between power, progressive and traditionally-based metal. With their 3rd studio offering Resolve, the pendulum has swung in favor of the progressive end of their formula, unleashing a volley of highly memorable and technically involved songs that rival the recent exploits of Symphony X, save in more of an 80s Queensryche and early 90s Dream Theater package.”

~14~

Aldaria – Land Of Light

“Originally pioneered and later popularized by pre-millennial power metal hero Tobias Sammet via Avantasia, the notion of a soldier taking up his own command with several other prominent figures on his team has become fairly common of late. Though in recent years Avantasia has fallen into a bizarre world of directionless experimentation, the slack has been picked up by Norwegian guitarist Frode Hovd’s Aldaria, a similarly styled collective of power metal anthems with a similarly credible cast of characters. Aided by vocalists from powerhouses such as Falconer, Dragony, ReinXeed, Masterplan and Damnation Angels, Land Of Light sees this project entering a keyboard-heavy, Stratovarius-leaning world of wonder not too far off from where The Metal Opera originally broke ground back in 2000.”

~13~

Labyrinth – Architecture Of A God

“The Italian contingent of the metallic legions of light were in rare form in 2017, but on the power/prog end of things it proved to be longtime mainstays Labyrinth that were at the head of this revitalized effort. Though they made an auspicious return to form years back with their sequel to Return To Heaven Denied, Architecture Of A God sees that spirit brought to its entire former glory, walking that thin-line between the introspective lyrical and songwriting influences of Fates Warning and Dream Theater while still maintaining that Helloween edge that made them a stylistic outlier in the mid 1990s.”

~12~

Overkill – The Grinding Wheel

 

“While most of metal’s dark forces wear black, Overkill has stood out as augmenting the standard uniform with a necrotic green to mark their elite status. Accused by some in old school thrash circles of showing their age by slowing down following 1991’s Horrorscope, they’ve nevertheless maintained a respectably consistent output in the quality department, sometimes being more groovy than at others, but never skipping up on the heaviness. The current decade has seen them retrace their 80s speed/thrashing roots a bit following the 2010 smash Ironbound, and though their 4th offering of the decade The Grinding Wheel sees them pushing the envelope towards the multifaceted and longer-winded character of the early 90s mode of thrash. Nevertheless, with riffs that crush necks of all shapes and sizes and maddened goblin-necromancer Blitz Ellsworth at the mic, the Killbox is always completely stocked.”

~11~

Keldian – Darkness And Light

“Though both sides of the metallic wars have their own internal spectrum where few are purely light or dark, there is always that one de facto extreme that comes so close to total purity that they defy definition. Norway’s Keldian stand on that stylistic fringe of light in the power metal world, being so utterly melodic, consonant and smooth in their approach that some might question whether they are a metal band or a hard rock band with an affinity for 80s New Wave. The blackest thing about them seems to be their lyrical fascination with the cosmos, which is reflected in the dense keyboard atmospheres and spacey guitars that typify their sound. Darkness And Light stands as yet another example of a consistent stylistic niche that is in a class all by itself, a blazing white star amid the black abyss.”

~10~

Elvenking – Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire

“The old guard have fared quite well this year, and on the Italian front, power/folk mainstays Elvenking have been on a gradual uptick following their failed 2007 experiment The Scythe that many thought reached its absolute peak with 2014’s The Pagan Manifesto. With the release of Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire, all will be compelled to ask just where the roof is on this thing as they’ve managed to outdo themselves yet again, invoking the same woodland spirit of their debut Heathenreel and with a heavier feel and larger production that will take the fiddler from the green to the sky.”

~9~

Firewind – Immortals

“The comeback surge of 2017 in the power metal world has covered much of Europe, but it arguably first picked up steam in Greece early on following Gus G’s return to his flagship project Firewind and Metalium’s vocal gymnast Henning Basse returning to the power metal world via the same band. Immortals, in addition to being a brilliant homage to a commonly covered historical event in the metal world (The Battle Of Thermopylae), sees the old adage of less is more by taking a straightforward songwriting approach that merges the melodic splendor of Stratovarius with the heavy grit of Mystic Prophecy that will bring the hordes of the Achaemenid Empire to its knees.”

~8~

Cromonic – Time

“The old warriors have indeed become young again in 2017, as the long awaited debut of Sweden’s Cromonic has surfaced a full 12 years after their 2005 demo. In a sense, Time continues the tradition that several members of this band originally served up in the early 2000s under the moniker of Freternia, a band that took power metal to a heavier and more aggressive place reserved to Blind Guardian, as exemplified in their contemporaries Persuader and Tad Morose. With a powerful production update and the same ballsy approach to melodic splendor, this is an album that will have all entreating the sands of time to go slowly.”

~7~

Ancestral Dawn – Souldance

“Shifting allegiances are common in warfare, even if it means simply transferring to another battlefront. The exodus of two principle members of the Peruvian answer to Stratovarius Nautiluz has paved the way for a new answer, this time a mildly progressive and very South American oriented one similar to Avantasia, uttered in a manner more comparable to Angra. Like their Norwegian counterparts Aldaria, Ancestral Dawn’s Souldance features an impressive cast of vocal characters are along for the ride (including but not limited to Fabio Lione, Ralf Scheepers, and Rick Altzi), but here the outcome is just a little stronger. If this shaman’s high octane riffs won’t grab you, his mastery of the pan pipes surely will.”

~6~

Threshold – Legends Of The Shires

“Though often overshadowed by their more flashy American competitors Dream Theater, Threshold has been at the fine art of bringing the progressive ideals of Rush into the metal world for almost as long and in their own unique way. Though veteran soldiers with an eye for strategy, Legends Of The Shires sees a long-awaited return in vocalist Glynn Morgan, who had a very brief run compared to the two other personas that held his post in the past. With an eye firmly affixed on nuance and evolution, this album crosses stylistic lines with ease and presents an album that is quite ambitious, but more so in terms of varied expressions rather than constant virtuoso noodling, culminating in a sonic masterpiece.”

~5~

Iron Savior – Reforged – Riding Through Fire

“The clash between dark and light in the metal world can and often does forsake the terrestrial battlefield for an intergalactic one, and German speed/power extraordinaire outfit Iron Savior is one of the go-to platoon for taking the fight to the stars. Combining the speedy traditionalism of Judas Priest, the heaviness and groove of Accept and the power-infused melodic brilliance of Helloween and Blind Guardian, engineer turned front man Piet Sielck and company always deliver an aggressive slab of metallic wonder. The introduction of a new drummer and the passage of time has caused this outfit to hit the studio to re-visit old classics (something Gamma Ray has done a fair bit of lately), and though Reforged will ring familiar to the initiated, it also includes some fresh perspectives on much of this band’s first 5 albums and the same degree of perfection.”

~4~

Eternal Thirst – The Hellish Fight Goes On

“Sometimes evil doesn’t come dressed in black, but rather in a burning red and shooting bolts of electricity from a clenched fist. That visual, while a tad cartoonish, is the one that adorns the latest album art of Metal On Metal Records’ latest adherent from Chile in Eternal Thirst. For the past decade they’ve been an underground phenomenon with a revolving door of vocalists leading their German speed metal infused take on USPM, but their 3rd LP The Hellish Fight Goes On sees a shrieking sorcerer of perdition after the heart of Crimson Glory’s Midnight leading the charge, and what is left behind once the sonic carnage ceases is a sea of smoldering embers.”

~3~

Havok – Conformicide

“Of all the attitude-heavy berserkers to come out of the old school thrash revival in the past decade or so, few have sounded as distinctive as Denver’s own Havok. Though largely drawing from the same Bay Area and Teutonic influences as their contemporaries, they’ve made plenty of occasions to up the ante in terms of both aggression and technicality, sometimes blurring the lines between thrash and death metal. Though they’ve always had a slight progressive edge to their approach, Conformicide listens closer to that experimental period between 1988 and 1991 where elements of funk and groove were introduced into the thrash world, though Havok learns from the mistakes of their forerunners and keeps it tasteful and riff-oriented, all the while lyrically kicking the asses of every self-appointed speech policeman and cultural vigilante that comes along looking for trouble.”

~2~

Orden Ogan – Gunmen

“Metal’s most enduring strength has been its versatility, its seemingly limitless array of both lyrical and musical possibilities. Among the recent acts to stretch the boundaries of the ongoing onslaught has been Orden Ogan, a folk-infused power metal machine out of Germany that carries many commonalities with Blind Guardian, both visual and musical. Taking on the rarely explored world of The Wild West, their immortal witness and trouble-making mascot Allister Vale brings forth tales of woe and violence from the American 1800s, compacted into the same melodic and fast-paced majesty that is this band’s standard sound, along with a few tasteful nods to the music of the old Spaghetti Westerns here and there.”

~1~

Evertale – The Great Brotherwar

“The greatest battles are the ones that fall just shy of a stalemate, where evenly matched titans struggle with no clear victor until the bitter end, and said victor humbled by his opponents determination. Taking all of the speed, intensity, and melodic splendor of Blind Guardian’s 1990s material and putting their own Sci-Fi twist on it, Evertale has shifted the war from the high fantasy realm of an impossible and bygone age to one not all that different from Warhammer 40k. The result is a colossal yet reasonably compact concept album that could bear incessant repeated listens and lose none of its splendor. It was an epic struggle in itself choosing between this grand opus and Orden Ogan’s latest, but no matter how one looks at it, even with an impressive display by the veteran warriors of metal, the future still belongs to the next generation.”

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