Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scott's Top 30 Albums of 2013

2013 was by far the most successful year in music for me. I heard well over 100 albums this year, and, as a result, I can't do a top 10 like I have in the past. Instead, I had to cap it at 30 releases, and even doing so, I feel like I've left out some of my favourite albums of the year. Nevertheless, every single one of the albums on this list is well worth hearing. The only caveat is that these albums don't necessarily match up with the ratings I gave them when I initially reviewed them, only because many of my favourite records are growers.

#30. Children of Bodom - Halo of Blood
This release sort of came out of nowhere to be awesome. The prior record was a step up for the band, but "Halo of Blood" brought them back to being really good. Unfortunately, it doesn't reach the brilliance of "Follow the Reaper" or "Hate Crew Deathroll" because it seems like they aren't too heavy on the classical elements anymore, but the songwriting is finally interesting again. The use of blast beats on the album was a nice touch, and it definitely made for something different for the band.

Highlights: "Halo of Blood" and "Transference"

#29. Lost Society - Fast Loud Death
What makes this album so good is that despite being very straightforward thrash, there's really nothing quite like it. The lead playing is completely bluesy, and the energy on this album is unparalleled. I feel like this band will be boring very quickly (they've already finished recording their next album), but this is definitely an interesting novelty. This isn't really a crossover album, but it should definitely appeal to crossover fans as well as fans of more fun thrash bands.

Highlights: "Trash All Over You" and "KILL (Those Who Oppose Me)"

#28. Sodom - Epitome of Torture
When it comes to quality, Sodom is among the most consistent bands ever. While they change their sound often, they always deliver a good record. I think this one fell a bit short of "In War And Pieces", but it is nonetheless a stellar album. There are plenty of hard-hitting riffs. They are by no means unique, but still enjoyable. The band took a bit of a heavier turn at times, which brings back memories of "Tapping The Vein", but ultimatley, this album is pretty much exactly what you'd expect based on the last 4 Sodom albums.

Highlights: "Epitome of Torture" and "Stigmatized"

#27. Razormaze - Annihilatia
If there were an award for most improved band of 2013, it would go to Razormaze. The prior releases of theirs were made worse by the vocals, but it seems like Razormaze has solved that problem. In addition to that, they've taken a more serious and technical approach. Almost like "...And Justice For All"-lite. This album is wicked, and I really hope people check it out because I think a lot of metal fans would like it simply because it isn't your standard thrash album, despite having a lot of common thrash tendencies. 

Highlights: "Worshipping The Void" and "Electric Deception"

#26. Coldsteel - America Idle
This band sort of came out of nowhere with a new release. Coldsteel is a thrash band from the early 90's that put out one album before disbanding, but has recently reformed to put out this EP. The vocals are a bit gruff, and the riffs are nothing special, but the songwriting is contagious. The band makes effective use of gang vocals, and is generally pretty uptempo. I was actually familiar with them before they got on the Helloween tour, but they were awesome there, and that made me enjoy this release even more. 

Hightlights: "America Idle" and "Blood Secrets"

#25. Anvil - Hope In Hell
This is a bit of a disappointing release from Anvil. It is by no means bad, but "Juggernaut of Justice" was amazing, and this was a step down. A lot of the lyrics feel cliche, but that doesn't stop several of these songs from being really catchy. Also, it's hard not to like an album of this quality when you consider that Lips is 57 and still going strong. I suppose this ranking is the result of my excessive love for Anvil, but it's an enjoyable album nonetheless. 

Highlights: "Hope In Hell" and "Eat Your Words"

#24. Havok - Unnatural Selection
This was one of my most anticipated records, but it didn't turn out perfectly. A few songs on this album are completely brilliant. They're thrashy, fast, and aggressive. But then the band made some questionable choices (the Sebastian Bach-esque vocals on "Under The Gun", the "Children of the Grave" cover, etc). It seems like the thrash community really disliked this album, but everyone else loved it. I fall right in the middle of those two, as I do enjoy listening to it, but my expectations were much higher. 

Highlights: "I Am The State" and "Unnatural Selection"

#23. Huntress - Starbound Beast
Huntress took a huge step up on this album as Jill Janus got rid of her "wailingness". The songs in general seem more focused. This album took a few listens to sink in, because it didn't have any standout hits like the last record did. I'm not sure why the band gets the hate they do, but I love Huntress' music. It's pretty simplistic, but it's just fun traditional heavy metal. 

Highlights: "Destroy Your Life" and "Spectra Spectral"

#22. Timo Tolkki's Avalon - The Land of New Hope
You have to respect Timo for never giving up. Even though he ran Stratovarius into the ground, he regrouped with the decent Revolution Renaissance, Symfonia, and now with this Avantasia copy. The good news is that this album is actually really enjoyable. It slows down a bit in the middle, but when you bring in Michael Kiske to do a straight-up plagiarism of "Keeper of the Seven Keys" for the title track of the record, you have a winner. Even though there are a number of moments that sound like they've ripped off another band, I suppose my love of power metal has made me overlook it. 

Highlights:  "A World Without Us", "Enshrined In My Memory", and "The Land of New Hope"
#21. Mindmaze - Mask of Lies
From the moment I first heard "Never Look Back", I knew this band would be awesome. The album took a while for me to really get into, because I'm not much of a prog guy, but the power metal elements reign strong as well so that helped. Part of what makes this album work so well is that the female vocals are not at all gimmicky, and that's so rare to hear in metal that it stands out a lot. The guitar work is incredible too. I also really enjoyed the tribute to Savatage in "Remember". 

Highlights: "Never Look Back", "This Holy War", and "Remember"
#20. Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods
I only recently became an Amon Amarth fan, but this album is just awesome. It's really no different from anything else they've put out recently, but the production and songwriting are so impressive that it's hard not to love this album. I think because it's their first album of theirs that I've heard that is new since I became a fan, I put more time into learning it than the others, so I came away enjoying it more than the last two. Either way, it's right on par with all of the over stuff. 

Hightlights: "Deceiver of the Gods", "As Loke Falls", and "Father of the Wolf"
#19. Death Angel - The Dream Calls For Blood
Can anybody explain where this Death Angel came from and what they did with the Death Angel of albums past? I've always been a huge supporter of Death Angel, and I did like their previous albums, but they had a bad habit of putting a couple of fast tunes on their records and then easing off the gas for the rest of the album. On "The Dream Calls For Blood", they did no such thing. This album is pure speed for the most part, and is really impressive. If this is the new direction of Death Angel, I will definitely get to be more excited for each of their releases. 

Highlights: "Son of the Morning", "The Dream Calls For Blood", and "Caster of Shame"

#18. Vesperia - An Olden Tale
Vesperia is a folk/melodic death metal band that features my awesome former guitar teacher shredding it up on lead guitar, alongside the bassist/drummer of Crimson Shadows. I'm not usually one for folk, but this album is just awesome. It has what might be the catchiest melody I've ever heard in "The Swordsman". If there's one thing you listen to on this list, try 30 seconds of that song and you should be hooked. I'm probably a bit biased on this release, but it really is brilliant. 

Highlights: "The Swordsman", "Forsaken Shores", and "An Olden Tale"
#17 - Deicide - In The Minds Of Evil
This is by far the most old-school sounding Deicide album since "Serpents of the Light". While it isn't as obviously catchy as "To Hell With God", it is probably just as good. I think this one ranks so high just because it caught me by surprise. Benton sounds amazing, and it's nice to hear modern Deicide without Ralph Santolla. I did like some of Santolla's soloing, but it really didn't fit Deicide. Kevin Quirion has done a much better job complimenting Jack Owen on this release.

Highlights: "In The Minds of Evil", "Godkill", and "End The Wrath of God"
#16. Axxion - Wild Racer
RACER! I'M A WILD RACER! That is literally the only thing that goes through my head when I think about this album because it's so brilliant. It took me a while to warm up to the vocals on this album, but now I love them. They're very much in the Skull Fist "crazy guy shouting melodically" style. Overall the album has a lot of awesome speed metal burners, but they can still slow it down when they need to. Sir Shred definitely lives up to his name on "Wild Racer".

Highlights: "Wild Racer", "Stallion", and "Still Hungry"

#15. Holy Grail - Ride The Void
This is one band that could have messed up badly, but luckily they managed to create something pretty good. It gets a bit misguided at certain points, but there are enough good songs to make me keep coming back to this album. They continued the emphasis on shredding, which is enough to keep me happy despite the questionable moments with metalcore elements. 

Highlights: "Sleep of Virtue", "Silence The Scream", and "The Great Artifice"

#14. Phantom - The Powers That Be
Toronto's traditional heavy metal scene is currently the best in the world, bar none. Phantom may appear to be newcomers, but they're actually the result of Ash Lee Blade breaking up. This first EP from the group is seriously one of the best things I've ever heard. The first three tracks in particular are so undeniably catchy that I always have them randomly popping into my head. While this band sounds nothing like Skull Fist or Cauldron, fans of both bands should definitely enjoy them. 

Highlights: "The Powers That Be", "In Metal", and "Keepers of the Flame"
#13. Ghost - Infestissumam
Trendy pick #1 on my list, but this album deserves it. I was certain Ghost would buy into their own hype from the last album, and when I first heard "Secular Haze" and "Year Zero", I was convinced that happened. I decided to give the album a shot anyways, and it was a great choice. This record is far better than the first one. It's simplistic, but catchy. The zaniness of the both singles ended up growing on me, and the bouncy "Jigolo Har Megiddo" became in the running for song of the year for me. There's so much that is great about this album to say, but it's really something everyone needs to hear if they haven't. 

Highlights: "Secular Haze", "Jigolo Har Megiddo", and "Monstrance Clock"
#12. Hatchet - Dawn Of The End
I was a huge fan of Hatchet's first album. It was a modern thrash masterpiece, and that's probably why this album took a bit to grow on me, but now I enjoy "Dawn of the End" even more than the debut. The production is perfect for a thrash record, with one of the crunchiest tones ever (best noticed on the mid-paced title track). Once again, Jules' signature lead guitar style is really noticeable, despite a bit of a shift in the style of the riffs. There's even some Iron Maiden influence in "Fall From Grace". As you saw from earlier in the list, this was by far the best thrash album of the year by a mile, until another contender arrived. Nonetheless, it will go down as one of the great retro thrash records of all time. 

Highlights: "Fall From Grace", "Dawn of the End", and "Vanishing Point"
#11. Satan - Life Sentence
This is the second and last trendy pick of my list, but, again, this is quite deserving. I actually got to hear this album well before it leaked/was released, and I knew immediately it was something special. I don't think there has ever been a release in the last decade that has sounded so convincingly old-school. I honestly don't think I can say anything about this album that hasn't been said by anyone else, so I'll just ended it here. 

Highlights: "Twenty Twenty Five", "Siege Mentality", and "Testimony"

#10. Blazon Stone - Return To Port Royal
Forget "Resilient", this is the album you need to hear to fulfill your piracy needs! This isn't even Running Wild worship; it's the second coming of Running Wild. The vocalist isn't quite a dead ringer for Rolf, but his voice is equally as fitting. Ced (the guitarist/mastermind) totally understands the intervals that make those pirate-like riffs. I'm really surprised no one is talking about this, because there are a ton of Running Wild fanatics out there.

Highlights: "Return to Port Royal", "Stand Your Line", "Curse of the Ghost Ship", and "Blackbeard"

#9. Warbringer - IV: Empires Collapse
This is not at all the Warbringer album I wanted. After several listens, however, it did grow on me. The band went out and did some things different. Even the song that seemed like it was going to ruin the record ("The Turning of the Gears") has become one of my favourites. I do think had the band just run with the Vektor/HeXen influence they used on "Hunter-Seeker", this would probably be the top album of the year. That song is easily the best on the album, and already one of the greatest thrash songs ever. I'm not totally sold on the doomy "Leviathan", but aside from that track, this album was a pleasant surprise.

Highlights: "The Turning of the Gears", "One Dimension", "Hunter-Seeker", and "Iron City"

#8. White Wizzard - The Devil's Cut
If you are in a band and want your band to be awesome, listen to this album. I have never heard an album that is more blatant about the fact that they have better guitar players than you. With Dragonforce, it's a novelty (and a great one at that), but on "The Devil's Cut", White Wizzard uses every single opportunity where there is no singing to shred. Also, it's great to see that Jon recovered from "Flying Tigers". That album had some good ideas, but it was too ambitious for its own good. There are still some moments on "The Devil's Cut" that aren't 100% memorable, but this is still an impressive release. While this is probably my favourite White Wizzard lineup already, I'm not at all concerned that they've all been fired again, because Jon Leon will put it all together again in a great way. 

Highlights:"Strike the Iron", "Torpedo of Truth", "Storm Chaser", and "The Sun Also Rises"

#7. Screamer - Phoenix
This was the first album from 2013 that I heard and it still stands out as one of the best. This band seems practically unknown and I cannot figure out why, because they've released two traditional heavy metal albums that match or exceed what bands like White Wizzard, Enforcer, Cauldron, and others are doing. This album holds back on the hard rock influence a bit and is more focused on metal than the last record, but is probably still a slight step down. The record has everything you could want, from high-speed riff-fests, to long epics with wicked shredding, to headbanging inducing hard rock riffs. The vocalist is one of the most genuine sounding singers in metal, as are the guitarists. The leads were better on the prior album, but "Lady of the River" manages to have one of my favourite solos ever.

Highlights: "Demon Rider", "No Sleep 'til Hamilton", "Mr. Noman", and "Lady of the River"

#6. Gloryhammer - Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife
When Alestorm's mainman announced a side project, I didn't think it would be anything better than Alestorm. Until I saw the cover art, that is. This record is everything I love about power metal. It feels epic, the melodies are soaring and catchy, and it's just a lot of fun. It doesn't take itself seriously, but it doesn't need to. The vocalist is really impressive, and I'd love to hear him do some more material. The only downside to this album is that there are a couple of melodies that sound very similar to some melodies from Alestorm records, but it is nothing too egregious. 

Highlights: "The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee", "Angus McFife", "Amulet of Justice", and "The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder"

#5. Helloween - Straight Out Of Hell
Helloween is on an absolute roll with their last 4 records. "7 Sinners" in particular really blew me away, so I knew not to get my expectations too high because I didn't think they could match that album. "Straight Out Of Hell" goes above and beyond what "7 Sinners" was, and is probably the best Helloween album since the Keepers records. Although I'm not a fan of 60+ minute albums, there is little wasted material here. I loved the classic Helloween stomp of "Far From The Stars", while "Burning Sun" delivered the scorching speed metal that I want to hear from the band once in a while. "Nabataea" is a true epic in every sense of the word, and it also has a few classic Helloweenisms (the "children children" part, and the "Once there was a land midst of the chaos" drum build up). "Hold Me In Your Arms" might just be the best ballad they've ever done, while the track that precedes it has one of the world's catchiest melodies. I cannot say enough good about this album, but it definitely proves that the inventors of the genre are back on top (well, not quite; but more on that later). 

Highlights: "Nabataea", "Far From The Stars", "Waiting For The Thunder", and "Asshole".

#4. Rocka Rollas - Metal Strikes Back
This is among the most brilliant metal albums ever written. It is a perfect release of speed/heavy/power metal for fans of Running Wild, Judas Priest, Grave Digger, and others. The guitar solos are fantastic, as they've always been on Rocka Rollas' albums, and the band's vocalist just screams metal. It's impossible not to like lyrics like "We were born to play the loudest metal!/Only victory and epic battles!". "Metal Strikes Back" is by far the most underrated album of 2013, and it's something you really need to hear to believe. It may take a couple of listens to sink in, but I assure everyone that this album is well-deserving of most people's year-end lists. 

Highlights: "Night of the Living Steel", "Metalive", "Heavy Metal Strikes Back", and "Blazing Wings"

#3. Crimson Shadows - Sails of Destiny
This EP may only be 3 tracks, but those 3 tracks are just as strong as anything on the band's debut, and Crimson Shadows continues to show why they were the Wacken Metal Battle winners. This band is like Dragonforce with death and black metal vocals. It is completely brutal stuff. I completely understand why those people who don't like guitar solos wouldn't like this, but I don't understand why some metal fans don't like guitar solos in the first place! 

Highlights: "Freedom and Salvation", "Maiden's Call", and "Moonlit Skies and Bloodied Tides"

#2. Stratovarius - Nemesis
I don't think there's a better band in metal right now than Stratovarius. Their last two albums have been complete masterpieces. "Elysium" topped my 2011 list, and "Nemesis" comes extremely close as well. This album was more of a grower than the last one, but it is just as good. There are songs that are ridiculously catchy ("Unbreakable" and "Fantasy"), as well as some more experimental stuff ("Halcyon Days"), and then there are songs that just rock really hard ("Abandon" and "Dragons"). There isn't a weak moment on this album, and I have to think a lot of that is because of the influence of the newest guitarist Matias Kupiainen, but even if it isn't, the band has gelled now better than ever before. 

Highlights: "Abandon", "Unbreakable", "Fantasy", "Dragons"

#1. Avantasia - The Mystery Of Time
Every single time Tobi comes out with a new Avantasia or Edguy release, he tries to test the patience of his fans. I'm sure "Lost In Space" really shocked people as a single, but "Sleepwalking" has taken this to new limits. And somehow, I ended up liking it. The good news is that the rest of the album is heavier, but this is still one of Avantasia's least-metal albums. The guest vocalists did a great job on this album (particularly Eric Martin), and Tobi always sounds amazing. There are two long epic songs on the record, and they're both interesting in their own way. The first is more of a speed metal track, whereas the second one is a grandiose end to the greatest album of 2013. 

Highlights: "Spectres", "Black Orchid", "Savior In The Clockwork", "What's Left of Me", and "The Great Mystery"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tormenter – Phantom Time

It’s been 3 years since we last heard from Tormenter, as they released their debut full-length, “Pulse of Terror”, in 2010. This time the band is back with an EP that will again continue to impress fans of thrash, and certainly the fans of anything released on their label, EBM Records. “Phantom Time” kicks off with the perfect opening interlude, which is highlighted by shredding guitars over top of a relatively tame backing track. The true thrashing begins with “Manifest Supremacy”, and it does an incredible job of catching your attention. Perhaps most surprising is that the best riffs are left until the middle of the song, where Tormenter unleashes hellacious brutal down-picked riffs that quickly double up in speed to become tremolo-picked.

For those unfamiliar with Tormenter, they’re a pretty standard thrash act. The guitar tone is among the stronger out there for newer thrash bands, and the vocals are primarily shouted. The singer definitely has the ability to go a bit harsher than a standard thrash yell (there is certainly some German influence in his vocals). Musically, the band rarely slows down, and if they do, it is to unchain a riff that is sure to cause some devastation. Surprisingly the solos can straddle the line between more technically accomplished bands, and the Kreator style of wailing. On “Parasital Exposure”, there is a guitar solo that is definitely more advanced in technique; however, it doesn’t sound like the guitarist is entirely in key the whole time, which definitely gives off that looser feel that Kreator and others have. The following track shows even more virtuosity, but once again has a few notes that may seem a bit astray. Another thrash standard, the gang vocal, does occur on this release, but it is not used as often as a crossover band would abuse it. 

The only real surprise on the album is the cover of Metallica’s “Motorbreath”, which is only shocking because I’ve never seen another band cover it. There is nothing particularly unique about it, aside from the fact that the vocalist tries to destroy his voice as much as possible, likely to differentiate it from the original. It doesn’t reach the heights that Metallica did, but it’s still a great song, so it is a welcome finish to the EP. Overall, “Phantom Time” is a pretty impressive release for the sheer number of riffs delivered. It probably won’t blow you away unless you’re a huge thrash fan, but if you are, it is well worth hearing.

Be sure to check out and like Tormenter on Facebook!

"Manifest Supremacy"
"Command Control"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Enmachined – Thrash Assault

Enmachined is the first thrash band from Bangladesh that I’ve come across, and if they are any indication of the quality of metal from that country, I need to find some more Bangladesh thrash. “Thrash Assault” is their first and only demo so far, and it is exactly as advertised. This 3-track experience features a number of quality riffs. Even better, however, is the stellar vocals. It seems like most of the better 80’s thrash bands had a unique vocalist, and this is something Enmachined has managed to emulate. Their singer sounds like no other. He has some of the snarl of Blitz, with the character-filled shouting of Zetro, along with a few other less obvious influences. Though he spends much of the demo yelling frantically at the listener with little display of vocal range, he definitely fits the mold of a charismatic thrash vocalist. 

Loggerhead”, the opening track, is mostly a mid-paced track that is centered around a few good riffs. It doesn’t inject you with speed, but there is definitely a bludgeoning heaviness to it. The opening to the title track has some very prominent Exodus influences (you might hear a bit of “Scar-Spangled Banner” in it), but this track is a bit faster and thrashier than “Loggerhead”. Much like the first song, this tune has some impressive lead guitars. In fact, this song uses a technique much used on Metallica’s “Kill ‘em All” where there is a shreddy lead that quickly cuts back to a rhythm riff. This pattern is then repeated a couple of times, before breaking into the longer portion of the solo. “Thrash Assault” is definitely the highlight of the album, primarily for its speed. The closer, “Piranha”, will not quite give you visions of the Exodus classic. Once again, this song shows the band in more mid-paced territory. The vocalist does manage to throw in some more flair with higher screams that will definitely conjure up visions of Bobby Blitz singing. While this song does work well (alongside the first one), the band should definitely get in the habit of writing faster stuff. On “Thrash Assault”, Enmachined is at their strongest when they thrash out, and while a demo can survive two out of three tracks being mid-tempo, a full-length record would need far more speed.

Be sure to check out and like Enmachined on Facebook!

"Thrash Assault"

Final Rating
4.1/5 or 82%. 

Written by Scott 

Incarceration – Sacrifice

Incarceration is a death metal band that originally hailed from Brazil, but now is located in Germany. “Sacrifice” is their first EP, and it is 9 minutes full of heavy-hitting death metal. From the opening seconds of “Forsaken and Forgotten”, you are sent straight into the abyss of blazing riffs that Brazilians and Germans have always pulled off best (in their thrash roots). The EP as a whole shows this thrash influence prominently, as the band rarely slows down.  Forsaken and Forgotten” is pretty simplistic, and it barely cracks two minutes, but the roaring chorus is surprisingly memorable. The vocals are guttural, but retain that old-school feel. In fact, the entirety of the EP is like a throwback to the early 90’s. The production isn’t perfect, but it suits the atmosphere appropriately. As the band never relents, the drums pound furiously throughout the whole EP, but the 90’s-era production means that the snare doesn’t crack through your skull each time it is played.

The title track of the EP follows a similar formula to the opener, except that it puts an bridge where the band takes a slight detour from speed to give you more pummeling, digestible riffs. It isn’t long, however, before they return to the breakneck tempos that will give you whiplash. This song features a solo, which shows homage to Kreator’s axemen of the 80’s. The final track is pretty similar in terms of its ability to force you to headbang. Overall, it’s hard to find a flaw in this EP. The band manages to shed the biggest problem with death metal (memorability), while ignoring all of the issues of modern death metal (production being the biggest contender). This is seriously among the most impressive releases of the year, and it would be a disservice to fans of death metal if they did not hear “Sacrifice”. 

Be sure to check out and like Incarceration on Facebook!

"Forsaken and Forgotten"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott