This year saw a return to form for two classic metal bands: Judas Priest's "Firepower" is as good as they've released since "Painkiller", and Metal Church's "Damned If You Do" feels like a throwback to my high school years rocking out to my casette copy of "Blessing in Disguise". So too were we treated to Eminem's aptly titled "Kamikaze", full of take no prisoners vocal fire that has been his signature, but rarely as good as this since "The Eminem Show". The honorable mentions list is packed full of bands that produced great albums this year (as some have done for decades), so please don't pass them by just because they didn't make it into the highlights this year.
Like last year, I've added headphone recommendations. I said last year it probably wouldn't be an annual thing, so you know much to trust my thoughts from last year. :)
I'm always excited for new material from BTBAM, and this year it came in the form of two EPs: Automata I and Automata II. This year has been really strong for progressive metal bands, and this is exactly where I'd slot Between the Buried and Me; vocals include some clean, but they are predominantly death-style growls. The two EPs are clearly meant to be listened to back to back, which is how they live in my car. The dichomoty of beautiful melodies and brutal vocals has always been a trademark here, and it's easily as good as you'd expect from any full-length BTBAM album.
The best way to describe Oceans of Slumber is that it leans toward the darker and heavier side of melodic progressive metal. There are occasional growled vocals, but clean is the predominant delivery. The Banished Heart grabbed me immediately and became a regular player in my car; it's honestly not clear to me how the band doesn't hold a spot in every metal-head's heart.
The music is executed with a mix of precision and emotion which often eludes technically skilled bands. Cammie Gilbert's voice is a study in contrasts: smooth yet haunting, powerful yet gentle and soaring.
Let's be clear: the music on this album is fun and as catchy as almost anything else released this year. That alone is reason enough for it to be on this list, because I go back to it again and again to enjoy the fruits of Janelle's 5 year hiatus.
That said, she does something far above and beyond with her 48 minute "emotion picture" that weaves the futuristic sci-fi story of the album with its glorious music:
My tastes tend towards prog metal, and there's hardly anybody as out there in prog metal as Voivod. Genre bending? "Sci-fi apocalyptic progressive thrash metal" seems ridiculous, but it's as close as I can come to explaining how Voivod works. Feeling slightly weird and uncomfortable upon first listen is what you should expect, but the hooks underneath are honestly chasm-like in their ability to swallow you into the record. Voivod continues to remain ahead of their time in a way that's reminiscent of Pink Floyd. They are one of Canada's best exports, right after poutine.
I made a prediction on Twitter in August:
If anything, that undersold how thoroughly this album got under my skin. Skeletonwitch is not exactly a group that I listened to on a regular basis, and this is the first album of theirs that I've owned. Ironically I picked it up after watching a mediocre review lamenting the change in vocal style, realizing as I listened to the clips how much it resonated with me. The opening minute of Fen of Shadows starts with a very simple guitar melody, with a brief pause, and thundering double bass comes in. It isn't really until about the 90 second mark, though, when you hear the rhythm guitar part, that you realize that this is not going to be your every day black metal album. The melodies are catchy, the beats intense without feeling mechanical, and there are little musical surprises waiting in almost every song on the album.
Rainier Fog by Alice in Chains
Queen of Time by Amorphis
The Unheavenly Creatures by Coheed & Cambria
Kamikaze by Eminem
Prequelle by Ghost
Vector by Haken
Firepower by Judas Priest
The Shadow Theory by Kamelot
Damned If You Do by Metal Church
Diluvium by Obscura
The Burning Cold by Omnium Gatherum
Electromancer by Paul Wardingham
Where Owls Know My Name by Rivers of Nihil
Wasteland by Riverside
Sonder by TesseracT
Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic by The Ocean