Monday, January 28, 2008

1997 - Kick the Sand in Satan's Face

1997 was a really good year for heavy music. In fact, it was probably the best year in a long time, and things would only get better. For the first time in several years, there are some pretty good albums that did not crack the top 10.

Power metal was experiencing a renaissance and that is evident in this list that includes several bands of this sub-genre.

10. Children of Bodom – Something Wild

The original album only clocked in at a touch over 30 minutes. This album is at number 10 without the additional bonus tracks, and would be even higher if I included those. Anyway, Children of Bodom provided an original and fresh sound with terrific guitars and keyboards unlike anything I have heard before. A good start for a really good band.

9. Saxon – Unleash the Beast

Saxon’s career has been very up and down and Unleash the Beast is definitely on the upside. This album is fast and heavy and a real return to form. Certainly, it is not at their 1981 level, but this is the best Saxon album since Power and the Glory, and a welcome come back for Biff and the boys.

8. Tad Morose – A Mended Rhyme

The first Urban Breed album from Tad Morose is a real jump from their earlier albums. It isn’t just the vocals though that makes this album so much better. Basically, it is heavier. More guitars and bigger guitars. Less ballads and more power metal. More good things were to come from this band.

7. Jag Panzer – The Fourth Judgment

Colorado’s Jag Panzer had been a pretty average traditional metal band until this point. They released a record in 1984 that was pretty dull, and then 10 years later came out with an even worse record. So, unexpectedly, this 1997 release is stellar. This is real power metal, with superb vocals and guitars. Jag Panzer helped prove that metal was not dead in the USA.

6. In Flames – Whoracle

Like the Jester Race before it, Whoracle is terrific release from Gothenburg’s In Flames. I like Jester Race a little more, but both albums are really good, and probably represent the best pieces of In Flames’ catalog.

5. HamerFall – Glory to the Brave

HammerFall’s first album is one that defines the power metal genre. Speed and power are evident here. Flashy guitar solos and proficient vocals. HammerFall’s star would burn out quickly, but their first couple of records is great.

4. Psycho Motel – Welcome to the World

Fanboy alert. Adrian Smith’s Psycho Motel released two albums. This is by far the better of the two. This record proved what a great songwriter Adrian is, and really the only unfortunate thing about Adrian re-joining Iron Maiden is that Psycho Motel never got to release a follow up to this great album. As a side note, the guitar solo with Dave Murray did show us what had been missing in Iron Maiden’s music since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

3. Iron Savior – Iron Savior

This may be a debut from Germany’s Iron Savior, but these guys are not rookies. Really, this was supposed to be a side project, but it seems that Piet and the rest of the band decided they were happy with the results and decided to continue the project. A much underrated band that is often panned by fans and critics, but I will never understand why.

2. Gamma Ray – Somewhere Out in Space

The original power metal band, Gamma Ray was in the middle of a great three album stretch with Somewhere Out in Space. It is difficult to describe this album. Really look at the commentary for the power metal bands above, and multiply their proficiency. Gamma Ray, to me, is the original ad the best power metal band, and this record is further evidence of that.

1. Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth

I do not think I can be accused of being a fanboy here. Some people say this is the album that brought traditional metal back. I don’t know if I would go that far, but the reunion of two legends, Dickinson and Smith, along with another great player in Roy Z is remarkable. Skunkworks was a great album, but Bruce reached the top of the mountain with this record.

Monday, January 21, 2008

1996 - Fission Fusion Fission Makes Good Sense

1996 was a pretty cool year in metal. Things were definitely changing for the better as the sub-genres expanded. Glam was dead as disco, and everyone's fascination with bland American thrash faded. That said, better years were ahead, as the amount of quality albums would continue to increase. Really many of these albums listed below are not that great, but it was still a good year nevertheless.

One special note here, I considered including the debut from The Lord Weird Slough Feg, but because the CD that is in print now is really more of a demo with extra tracks, I decided it really was not proper to include here.

10. Iced Earth - The Dark Saga

After Burnt offerings, this was a bit of a let down, but it is still a really good album. I think there is a lot of filler (I hate that term, but here I think it is appropriate) here, and this album could have been better. On the flip side, The Hunter is one of Iced Earth's best and Violate, Slave to the Dark and the title track are all stand outs. Of course Barlow's vocals are great, and the riffage is top notch.

9. Arcturus - Aspera Hiems Symfonia

Arcturus' debut can hardly be called black metal, so I am unsure why it is considered in that genre. They are labeled as "atmospheric" black metal, but really black metal is more of an influence here than a description. It is like calling Trivium NWOBHM because they were influenced by Iron Maiden. This is not my typical music, as it is has a ton of keyboards, but it is well done, and quite enjoyable.

8. Opeth - Morningrise

Opeth - love 'em or loathe 'em. I think this album is overrated in their catalog. Black Rose Immortal is a cool song and all, but at twenty minutes, it is a bit of an earful. Still, their second album lays the foundation for the better albums that would follow, and this itself is worthy of inclusion here.

7. Orphaned Land - El Norra Alila

This is the second album from the kings of Israeli metal. I really enjoy the Middle Eastern elements in Orphaned Land's music. I think it is original, and adds a really cool groove.

6. Motörhead - Overnight Sensation

Really, this is a mid grade 1990's Motörhead album. Not as good as Bastards, but not as bad as March or Die. To me, the change back to one guitar from two meant very little, since Motörhead has never been a guitar band. However, the songs are a bit slower, and do have a tad more of a Bomber feel that its predecessor. Still, there is not much more to add, if you like Motörhead you will like this, if not, Overnight Sensation will not convert you.

5. Falkenbach - …En Their Medh Riki Fara…

The debut from Vratyas Vakyas' Falkenbach is a great start to an interesting "band". Since he is the only member, I do not know if I can call Falkenbach a band, but I digress. Anyway, this album is what I consider the original Viking metal album (his demos date back to the late 1980's so; I think that makes him first - close enough for this reviewer). This album is powerful and melodic, taking the best elements from black metal and Nordic folk.

4. Moonspell - Irreligious

I really do not care for Moonspell, as gothic metal really does not float my boat. I have heard most of their catalog, and this is really the only one of their albums I like a lot. Maybe because the song Opium is one of my all time favorite songs ever, but that is not the only good track here. All of the tracks have their own appeal or hook, keeping the album interesting and fresh. This is a dark record for sure, one I like more now than I did when I first heard it.

3. Rush - Test for Echo

T4E is a step up from Counterparts. To me it is more Rushlike. That said, it is not without its flaws. Virtuality is as dated as old milk, and Dog Years is trite crap. The rest of the album is really good though and despite the two aforementioned clunker, this is probably the best Rush album of the 1990's (I think there were three, and it is not really saying much).

2. In Flames - The Jester Race

I guess any album that defines a genre is worthy of inclusion in a top ten list. It was not the first of its kind, but it was clearly the best, and it has aged quite well, and is not at all dated. It would be easy to digress into how crappy this band is today, so I won’t do that and I will say that The Jester Race really did define the melodic death metal sound, and is the top album of that sub genre.

1. Bruce Dickinson - Skunkworks

Perhaps placing this at number one is proof positive that I am the ultimate Maiden fanboy. Sue me. Bottom line is, that while 1996 had a great blend of albums from old-timers like Rush and Motörhead and from newcomers like Falkenbach and Arcturus, I cannot deny the best singer in metal history. Skunkworks was not praised by the critics; many felt Dickinson was trying to cash in on the Seattle sound so popular in the USA. Horse hockey. There is nothing grunge about Innerspace and Solar Confinement. Besides, this album is all sci-fi and stuff, which is very ungrunge. So, it is not the most metal of Dickinson's solo albums, but it is one of the better ones.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Anybody but Suckabee

Ahh...presidential politics, everyone's favorite topic. The one candidate I really hate is Mike Huckabee. He is a typical neo-con, the likes of W. He is a holy roller, big government stooge. I really see no difference policy-wise between him and Clintobama other than this guy thinks he talks to Jesus. (Hillary talks to Jesus too, be she tells him what to do.)

I gotta tell ya.

If Huckabee gets the nomination, I will boycott the Republicans for the third consecutive presidential election. Only if Gus Hall were still around.....