by: Chris Rigney
Stratovarius "Elysium" (Steamhammer/SPV)
Stratovarius continue to release epic power metal in a manner that other bands can really only hope to achieve. It's true that they tend to be a little cheesier than other bands of the same ilk, but that's part of their charm. For those of you who really enjoy bands like Gamma Ray and Edguy, this should be up your alley.
As They Sleep "Dynasty" (Solid State)
As They Sleep had won the "Next Great Metal Band" contest held by Metal Blade Records & Metal Hammer Magazine in 2009. This is their sophomore album, and they rock pretty hard. No sophomore slump for this band. Some pretty technical deathcore at its finest, and fans of bands like Black Dahlia Murder, All Shall Perish, Wretched, Job for a Cowboy, and Whitechapel will really dig this release a lot. You won't find a lot of melody here, and thankfully they don't overuse breakdowns. All of the musicianship is really solid, but you won't find guitar work as intricate as you would find with straight up technical death metal bands (Necrophagist, The Faceless, Origin, etc.). As They Sleep doesn't reinvent the wheel, but they sure give it one hell of a spin. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
Volbeat "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" (Universal Republic)
Once again this Danish band has released a hit of an album. For those unfamiliar with these guys, they combine Elvis style vocals and rock/blues trading off with heavy metal riffs and drums. Ultimately, they deliver some pretty heavy material that is accessible enough for mainstream rock fans to really dig it. The contrast between the vocal style and music can catch you off guard, but give it a chance and you'll really enjoy it. This band is still totally unique as far as I know, since there isn't any other band out there with a similar style. These guys have received numerous awards for their releases in Europe, and it's clear why. Very highly recommended.
Angra "Aqua" (Steamhammer)
Another excellent power metal release by these guys. The band enthusiastically supports this album as one of the best pieces of music they've ever composed. It's a concept album based on Shakespeare's work "The Tempest." It has many progressive metal elements that Angra had in the past, but it also takes the band in a different direction by tempering much of their sound with progressive rock. Other Brazilian/Latin influences show up as well, helping to mix up the sound. The musicianship is stellar, and I think this is a really cool album.
Helloween "7 Sinners" (The End)
This release is the 13th full length release by Helloween, and it's also some of the darkest material they have put to record. This release doesn't have the intensity or speed of earlier Helloween releases, so some fans may be disappointed and think it more tame. Saxon frontman Bill Byford makes a guest appearance to do some narration, and one track even has a flute solo. Ultimately, this is a solid album to add to Helloween's extensive catalog.
Crowbar "Sever the Wicked Hand" (E1 Music)
Crowbar has been around for quite some time, and they've been a good source for sludgy, southern-style metal in the same vein as Down, Eyehategod, and Pantera. Jamie Jasta had taken some time to dedicate to his project Kingdom of Sorrow, but since then he's returned to help Crowbar release a helluva album. This album actually has some thrashier tracks to it, so it's not sludge all the way through.
Blackguard "Firefight" (Victory)
I'm really excited about this band. Finally someone has taken material that sounds like it's from Children of Bodom's early career and jumpstarted it for modern times. This band is out of Canada, and they have a lot to offer. They also have some folk elements similar to aspects of Ensiferum and similar bands. Very highly recommended.
Becoming the Archetype "Celestial Completion" (Solid State)
These guys have been somewhat struggling to find a real musical identity with their albums, although prior releases have demonstrated that this band is not afraid to use some experimentation. However, this release really establishes the band as a force to be reckoned with. It's got some very heavy production, and the songwriting is excellent. Clean vocals and harsh growls/screams are thrown in with careful measurement so as not to sound cliche or gimmicky while providing excellent contrast, and I think the songwriting is strong enough to really make this album stand out as something heavy and beautiful at the same time. Some of the songwriting is reminiscent of metalcore/deathcoer bands, but there are virtually no breakdowns and lots of melody through the whole disc. EXTREMELY recommended.
Devin Townsend Project "Deconstruction" (InsideOut)
This is by far Devin Townsend's most bombastic and musically overwhelming album to date. It is a concept album about self-discovery and the process an individual goes through trying to make sense of self, religion, and purpose. As always, there is a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, such as when the meaning of life is revealed as a double-cheeseburger and the protagonist in the song is a vegetarian. The songwriting is varied, carefully crafted, and fantastic. It is absolutely progressive in nature, so you won't find any truly straightforward tracks on the whole disc. The album incorporates just about everything from Devin's previous career from Strapping Young Lad to Devin Townsend Band to Ziltoid the Omniscient. One of the biggest selling points about this album are the sheer number of guest appearances by other major players in the heavy metal scene: Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Ihsahn (ex-Emperor), Oderus Urungus (GWAR), Paul Masvidal (Cynic), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah), Joe Duplantier (Gojira), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), and Floor Jansen (After Forever).
Rhapsody of Fire "From Chaos to Eternity" (Nuclear Blast)
Yet another excellent release by power metal act Rhapsody of Fire. If you've liked the latest previous releases by these guys, then you will surely like this album as well. Fantasy themes still abound in the lyrics, and actor Christopher Lee (LOTR, Star Wars) still narrates the album as he has done on previous ones. The musicianship is high quality as always, and the album is highly recommended for power metal fans.
Hammerfall "Infected" (Nuclear Blast)
Power metal veterans Hammerfall return with an album inspired by mass viral infection and destruction. Solid metal anthems are all over the place, whether its the track "Bang Your Head" or "666 - The Enemy Within." Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
Scar Symmetry "The Unseen Empire" (Nuclear Blast)
Despite previous line-up changes in the vocal department moving from a single vocalist to two vocalists (performing clean and harsh vocals separately), this album is quite possibly the best yet by this band. The songwriting is fantastic, and the progressive, technical aspects are still there just like on the previous release Dark Matter Dimensions. These guys only seem to get better and better. Some excellent melodic death metal with harsh/clean vocal contrast and wonderful musicianship. Highly recommended.
Hell "Human Remains" (Nuclear Blast)
This one is awesome for fans of Iron Maiden and other members of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) from the 80s. Definitely a mix of both rock and metal, these guys provide great music in an upbeat manner despite the dark subject matter. Very cool stuff for fans of the genre.
While Heaven Wept "Fear of Infinity" (Nuclear Blast)
These guys provide a nice dose of progressive, epic power metal. Orchestration and atmosphere are pretty heavily involved, and fans of similarly styled power metal should be a huge fan.
Chrome Division "3rd Round Knockout" (Nuclear Blast)
Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) is back once again to show off his guitar chops with this boozin', swingin', rock 'n roll band. Vocals have changed over this time to the frontman from Susperia, which isn't a bad thing. A cool cover of Johnny Cash's Ghost Rider in the Sky in on this one, too. Fans of balls out rock 'n roll should have a lot of fun with this one, especially for fans of Motorhead and AC/DC.
Symphony X "Iconoclast" (Nuclear Blast)
Long time progressive metal veterans Symphony X release a new chapter in their epic saga. This time around the songs have a bit more rock influence than on prior records, but that's not a bad thing. There is still a lot of guitar wizardry going on here, and the album as a whole is great.
Amorphis "The Beginning of Times" (Nuclear Blast)
This has been a highly anticipated album from Amorphis, and they continue in the same direction as their last few releases. I personally think that this is a heavier effort than the previous album Skyforger, although there is of course still lots of melody, orchestration, and clean vocals to go around. Tracks like "My Enemy" are a little catchier than usual for some mainstream hard rock/metal appeal, but it's not a bad thing on this album. On the whole, this album is pretty awesome and continues the band's concept albums about historical figures in Finnish folklore. Wonderfully melodic with deep growls and crisp clean vocals without sounding formulaic or rehashed.