In the world of metal, 1998 saw the dawn of a new day. Finally, after several years of mediocre thrash and stale, uninspired performances, the metal world was once again ripe with great music. I could have easily done a Top 20 for 1998, as there was many albums worth of discussion. However, in keeping with the theme of my other posts, I have cut it to a Top 10.
10. Death - The Sound of Perseverance
The vocals on this album really bring it down. They are very annoying, but the music is so awesome, that I can overlook even the worst vocals. I think of it as Watchtower on steroids. Great guitar solos and pounding riffs. I cannot recall an album that could sound so heavy, yet so technically competent at the same time.
9. Hammerfall - Legacy of Kings
In 1998, power metal was dominating my CD player, and Hammerfall was one of the big acts doing pure power metal, and doing it quite well. Let the Hammer Fall is one of the best tracks in the history of the genre, and it was not the only great song here. Admittedly, this album is not as consistent as their debut, but it is still an awesome power metal record.
8. Primal Fear - Primal Fear
Well, they do not get any points for originality. When a friend of mine first heard this band, he said that the singer [Ralf Scheepers] sounds more like Halford than Halford. It is true, but in 1998, Primal Fear was better at being Judas Priest than Judas Priest was. In fact many people say that Priest should have hired Scheepers instead of Ted McGinley, and I agree. Anyway, the debut from Primal Fear is a nice mix of power metal and German speed metal, and is a really great sounding album.
7. Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle Earth
I have never read a Tolkien novel. Maybe that is why I feel that this record is overrated. Still for me it is an awesome album and deserves its spot in the Top 10, though many feel it is the best power metal album of all time. This concept album based on the writings of the aforementioned author is full of short spoken passages and instrumentals. I personally like these interludes, even if they make little sense to me. They add an atmospheric effect, not found on too many power metal albums. The music itself is great, and I really dig this album. This is probably my favorite Blind Guardian album.
6. Running Wild - The Rivalry
Many critics feel that by this time Running Wild had run out of gas. I disagree, for me this album is a return to form. Certainly, it is not as good as Pile of Skulls, but it is an improvement over the competent but certainly unspectacular Masquerade.
5. Falkenbach - …Magni Blandinn Ok Megintiri…
Vratyas Vakyas' second full length album leaves off where the first one ended. This one is a bit more polished. It has less of a black metal feel, and really explores the Norse folk elements. This is pure Viking metal at its best. The Heathenish Foray is one of the most infectious songs ever, and it fits right in to this classic release.
4. Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse
This Opeth album is the bridge between their early material, and the brilliant releases that would follow. I love the mood changes and contrast between the quiet parts and the heavy parts. These changes and transitions would be smoother on subsequent releases, but they still work great here. For those unfamiliar with Opeth, this, to me, is the logical place to start.
3. Iced Earth - Something Wicked This Way Comes
The high water mark for Iced Earth is here. Singer Matt Barlow sounds great, and the production is top notch. But more important than the production, the songs are terrific; especially the "Something Wicked" trilogy that closes the album. If not for some real turkeys (Watching Over Me and Blessed Are You), this album may have scored higher. Other than their brilliant live album, Alive in Athens, that followed, Iced Earth would digress into a parody of themselves, and lose most of the respect they garnered. Of course, the hiring of Ted McGinley as their lead vocalist was a major part of that downfall.
2. Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding
Many regard this as Bruce's finest solo album, and the album responsible for the Iron Maiden reunion. Sure it is a great album, and completely blows away Maiden's Virtual XI, but I really think it is a small step backwards from the brilliant Accident of Birth. Really, I am splitting hairs because both albums are great, and I am glad that Adrian Smith hooked up with Bruce for these two terrific records.
1. Sculptured - The Spear of the Lily is Aureoled
The debut from Washington State's Sculptured is nothing short of remarkable. An eclectic mix of styles is present here, creating an avant-garde sound. Jazz influences are woven with death metal vocals. Spoken passages give a cinematic feel to many of the tracks. Soft piano interludes with dark lyrics to create a wonderfully somber mood. This is really fantastic album, from an unheralded band who deserve far more attention and accolade than they receive.