This is been an interesting year for me. Unlike, I think, some of the others on this site, I’m relatively new to metal. Sure, I grew up listening to some of the classics, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Motorhead. And I was introduced to bands like Rhapsody and Demon Hunter later on. But it really wasn’t until this year that I really got back into my love of metal and started branching out in a big way. That’s what got me writing for Damnation and what still has me scouring around for the most different and unique bands.
All that said, my top albums are the ones that were the most comfortable for me. They’re the ones I can listen to again and again when I don’t even know what I want to hear. They might not be technical masterpieces, but they resonate with me. Theirs are the songs that stick in my brain well after the headphones are out and I should be paying attention to whatever else I’m doing.
5. Decennium by Seven Kingdoms
Seven Kingdoms was one of those bands new to me this year. Which is a real shame since they’ve been around since 2007 and they’re definitely my speed. They’ve got that epic sound that I associate with Power Metal, with everything seeming larger than life. Sabrine Valentine’s vocals are fantastic, sweeping and powerful, she really brings the already great music to another level. If I were being my usual critical self, I would admit that the album isn’t amazingly different, it falls well into that power metal groove I expect. But it’s done so well that I don’t care. Decennium is an album that just makes me happy and takes me back to the days of listening to power metal before I even knew how to critically examine it as an art.
4. No Grave But the Sea by Alestorm
This has been a pretty good year for Alestorm. Their new album, being a part of Warped Tour (an interview about that can be read here), and headlining their own European tour, Alestorm is making waves. And I am so glad to see that. Alestorm is an example that any weird or off the wall idea can be big in metal. Pirate metal? Sure, why not. Metal fans are into the skill and the fantasy of metal, and these guys are the pinnacle of that idea. They’re a beacon for other musicians with an unconventional dream that says “Yes, you can do it to, if you believe in your vision.” Of course it helps that they are skilled enough to make amazing music regardless. Pirate metal like this is a unique blend of sounds with metal guitars and drums, as well as horns and keyboard and accordions. It’s wild, outrageous, totally its own thing, and amazing. And I’ve barely even mentioned the album itself. Everything previously mentioned applies here as well. No Grave But the Sea is bombastic and fun, mixing some hard-hitting songs like “To the End of the World” and “Rage of the Pentahook” with songs like “Mexico” which is just insane. They walk this line between a comedy band and a “serious” metal group with grace and they’re all the better for it.
3. Healed By Metal by Grave Digger
Like I said above, I grew up with some of that 80’s rock and metal. That’s been the baseline of my music tastes all the way until today. So when I get to hear something that not only was around then, but kept that spirit and feeling in their music, I was hooked. Grave Digger still sounds like their first release all the way back in 1982 with their demo. Sure, there’s been a few member changes and the tech has gotten better, but the heart of the band is the same. From the badass grungy voice of Chris Boltendahl to the headbanging guitar, Healed By Metal is a master class in that old school sound in the new millenium. Grave Digger is a band that I can always turn on and get amped up. They light a fire in me.
2. Rhapsodies in Black by Exit Eden
I mentioned in the beginning that I’m “new” to metal, so that would entail that I have a lot of other musical styles that I like. And occasionally it’s trash pop songs. We all have our weaknesses. While I mostly got my fill from Punk Goes Pop, when I found that there was going to be a metal cover album, I was intrigued. And Exit Eden delivered in spades. At the forefront is a quartet of powerful female metal queens: Amanda Somerville, Marina La Torraca, Celmentine Delauney, and Anna Brunner. Each of them in their own right is a joy to listen to, but when they come together, it’s a thing of beauty. There’s something for everyone here and if you haven’t listened to this album yet, you’re missing out. I won’t go to much more on this as I have a review of this album on the site here. Check that out for my complete thoughts. Just know, I love it and whenever I don’t know what to listen to, I default to this.
+1 Grasp of the Undying by Pentakill sponsored by Riot Games
So this one is for me, more so than any of the other albums on here. It doesn’t really deserve a spot on the list, but I still want to talk about it While the others are artistic expressions from their various artists done out of love and passion for the music, this one is straight marketing at the core of it. I’m a casual fan of League of Legends, I don’t care about season ranks or ELO or whatever. I play ‘cause it’s fun and I like the lore. So when they combine the game with some epic power metal, I’m all on board. And don’t let its birth as a corporate outreach take away from the fact that it’s still a good album. The music is solid and the vocals are provided by legend Jørn Lande. They put some effort into this. Sure, it’s like metal fruit snacks for me, not all that deep and in the shape of a thing I like, but that’s what makes me like it so much. Not enough maybe to give it a real spot on this list, but enough that I feel I should mention it if any of you like LoL like I do and haven’t given it a shot yet.
1. Apex by Unleash the Archers
This album. This album is the reason I wanted to do this list in the first place. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about it with anyone who loves it with the same passion that I do. This is the album I recommend to people whether they like metal or not. This is the album I have played over and over and over again, in the car, at work, while showering, in my life. Unleash the Archers is my favorite band and this album is a showcase of what makes them great.
Where to start with this one? Well, for one, I’ll say for any power metal fans that like a story, this is the album that does it right. Now, I love Rhapsody, but their story albums are difficult to follow when listening. Not here. The story is simple and clear, but not lacking in depth for it. The story of an immortal warrior summoned by an evil mistress to do her bidding is rife with opportunity for interpretation and discussion. It’s a story that got me thinking, about it’s message, themes and motifs, and how it functions as a medium. Basically I let myself English nerd out on it and was compelled to write a whole literary essay on it just because it drew me in so deeply. (Link not associated with Damnation Magazine, just in case I say anything REALLY stupid in it.)
But I’ve said before that I don’t come to music for the storyline. It’s all about the music. And hot damn if they don’t kill it on this album. Every member brings their A-game. Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley are fantastic guitarists, shredding like crazy and setting up melodies that stick to you. Nikko Whitworth is making his album debut here, and he’s a rock solid backbone for the rest to build on. Scott Buchanan on drums is just nuts. Have you seen their playthough video? Man looks like he’s riding the Tour de France on those kick drums. And Brittney Slayes. Good God Brittney Slayes. Her vocals are the stuff of dreams for me. Their powerful and impactful, with an absurd range, and magnificent control. Her voice is the thing that cements Unleash the Archers as my favorite band. I could go on for pages waxing poetic about her, but I think that would cross the line from passionate fan to creepy internet stalker.
All this said, Apex is all I wanted out of a power metal album and so much more. I’m a fanboy, so I know that I’m biased here, but that’s the point of these articles, to let our hair down and share the things we love.
Music lists like this are always going to be subjective. That’s the fun, to see what resonated with one fan and didn’t with another. Even here, Damnation’s own Sean Cantor had Apex on his number 30 while it’s my number one. What I think we can all agree on is that it’s a good time to be a metal fan. There’s new music all over the place and space enough for us all to find something to love. Maybe you agree with my list, maybe not. Either way, I’d love to hear what you, our readers, have to say in the comments below. And feel free to hit me up on Twitter to discuss your favorites, @frozenscarecrow.
Here’s to the end of 2017 and the start of 2018. In the words of an old Irish blessing, “May you always have walls for the wind, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all your heart might desire,” and metal as awesome as you are.