Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Danny's Top 10 Metal Albums

Hey readers (all like 2 of you). I'm Danny B., graduate student in astronomy education, massive nerd, and I just so happen to be a pretty big metalhead as well. So, without further ado, because you're not here to read about me, my 10 favorite metal albums!

Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails
The Flesh Prevails epitomizes everything I think technical death metal should be. Fallujah manages to combine intricacy and what I can only really describe as sheer in-your-face brutality song after song to put together one of the all-around best death metal releases I’ve listened to in a while. The Flesh Prevails also showcases some absolutely brilliant in-studio mixing that allows the listener to fully appreciate the layers of complexity written into every track. This is one of those albums that I can only listen to properly as a whole.

Iron Maiden - Powerslave
My top 10 list couldn’t be complete without an Iron Maiden album, and Powerslave takes the cake for me. The middle of this album has always been the weak point, with utterly forgettable tracks like “The Duelist” and “Back in the Village” holding it back from a top 5 spot. The rest of the album, however, features four of Iron Maiden’s all-time best songs, with particular emphasis on Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which probably ranks as my favorite Maiden song overall, and easily ranks among my all time favorite metal songs. This isn’t Maiden’s most influential album, nor is it the absolute peak of their writing and instrumental abilities, but I think the high points on Powerslave are probably among the high points of their entire career.

Ensiferum - Ensiferum
The staying power of Ensiferum (the band) never ceases to amaze me. The band has been going for 20 years now and shows no signs of stopping any time soon, even with all of almost comical the line-up changes one comes to expect from a typical metal band. But it all started here, with their self-titled album. Ensiferum is one of those albums I can always go back to for a fun time. I wouldn’t say it does anything particularly brilliantly, except maybe provide one healthy dose of folk metal cheese, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t some particularly delicious cheese at that.

Alestorm - Sunset on the Golden Age
Speaking of folk metal cheese, no one today does it better than Alestorm. A group of Scotsmen who think they’re extras in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie probably should have worn out their welcome after maybe two albums. And yet, Sunset on the Golden Age is probably their best release yet. In between the tracks that make you want to grab a beer, throw on a kilt, sing along, or perhaps just laugh at their ridiculous premises (Drink, Wooden Leg, and the highly improbable cover of a Taio Cruz song, Hangover) are some legitimately brilliant pirate metal epics (1741 and the title track in particular) that show off Alestorm’s full songwriting and musical talents. This band knows exactly what they are and embraces it to the fullest extent.

Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
It’s really hard to say that these godfathers of melodic death metal have ever hit their peak, as that would imply a decline in the time since then. While Dark Tranquillity aren’t the type of band to experiment too radically from album to album, they still change their style very slightly over time, as any good band should. I think these changes came together to produce their best album back in 2007, with the release of Fiction. This album produced a number of concert staples and fan favorites like Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive), Misery’s Crown, and Nothing to Noone, while all the tracks surrounding those are nearly as strong in their own right. Production is never a concern on a Dark Tranquillity album. With Fiction as their 8th release, this band clearly knew what they were doing, and, frankly, they still do.

Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor
While Nevermore didn’t quite save their best for last (this being their second to last album), they certainly pulled out all the stops for This Godless Endeavor. Nevermore’s bizarre combination of thrash and progressive metal styles is at its peak here. The instruments are brilliant across the board, with particular emphasis on Jeff Loomis’ shredding and soloing, but what always made Nevermore special to me was Warrel Dane. I listen to a lot of metal, and I still have never encountered another voice even close to his. Ignoring, for a second, his insane vocal range, I’ve never encountered a singer who can more naturally capture emotions in just their voice, so long as those emotions are generally very strong and very negative. I really miss this band, and Dane’s reunion with his pre-Nevermore band, Sanctuary, just doesn’t cut it.

Ne Obliviscaris - The Portal of I

This entry is just so hard to describe, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting albums I’ve encountered in the past few years. Honestly, the best way I can describe this band’s sound is if Dark Tranquillity met old school Emperor then went on a major prog metal kick and added a violin. But I really feel like I can’t accurately describe this band. Just go listen to them. Better for all of you, they even have a second album out now, so you can get twice the Ne Obliviscaris. The band’s name, by the way, is Latin for “forget not,” a concern that I feel they’ll never have to deal with once you’ve listened to them.

Turisas - The Varangian Way
After Turisas took the metal world by storm with their debut album, Battle Metal, they decided to follow it up with, of all things, a concept album. The Varangian Way tells the story of a man trying to find the truth of his heritage who joins an expedition south from Finland that eventually reaches Constantinople (known to the Vikings as MiklagarĂ°r). If you’re a history dork who happens to love heavy metal (or vice versa), this is the perfect album for you. The songs very literally trace out the route that Vikings of Finnish origin would have taken to reach MiklagarĂ°r, likely to join the Varangian Guard. The album starts with perhaps one of the best opening tracks of any metal album--a perpetually thrilling concert opener--and never fails to lose that energy throughout. While nothing about Turisas’ musical skill will ever stand out in any respect, it doesn’t need to; the whole package itself is brilliant. Unfortunately, after The Varangian Way, Turisas seems to have decided to become Mad Max extras rather than stay true to their Viking roots, making this Turisas’ last good album. I’ll still torture myself by listening to whatever they put out next, hoping they can recapture even a bit of the magic that went into what is probably my most listened-to album ever.

Insomnium - Above the Weeping World

Whenever someone talks Insomnium, Above the Weeping World is inevitably a part of the conversation. Ignoring, for a bit, that this album closes with one of my absolute favorite songs ever written, Above the Weeping World marked a turning point for Insomnium. The production was a major step up from their first two albums, and basically set the benchmark against which all of their future albums would be compared. It allows Insomnium to really showcase their talents across the board; no frills here, just the music. I never feel like Insomnium ever do anything particularly special. It’s just that the final product is all-around brilliant. Insomnium are easily the most interesting melodic death metal band active today, but Above the Weeping World is the album that really put them on the map.

Dream Theater - Images and Words
After all that really heavy and death-y metal, you may be confused about why Dream Theater’s “most likely to be confused for a Rush album” album makes the top of my list. Really though, a lot of factors come together to make this album an absolute masterpiece of progressive metal. First, and most important for my eardrums, is James LaBrie’s youth. It’s no secret that the higher end of his voice hasn’t aged particularly well. But here, he still has the dynamic range that he wishes he had today, so you don’t get any of that shrill screeching when he climbs the octaves. At this point, I feel like Dream Theater aren’t yet trying to show off (a feeling I’ve gotten especially from some of their more recent albums), but rather just make some excellent music. In this, they succeeded, with the mildly unfortunate consequence that I feel they as a band peaked nearly 24 years ago. Oh well, this album is still amazing across the board and has a regular place in my car’s CD player.

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