This time last year, I was waxing lyrical about how strong 2015 had been by the half-way mark, stating that I had already compiled a strong Top 20, perfectly strong enough to stand up to scrutiny at the full year end. Well, if it’s possible, 2016 has been even better. It’s like all of my favourite bands have sat up and, as one, said ‘let’s make this a year to remember for Matt, the Man Of Much Metal’. If only that were true!
But true or not, this is by and large what has happened. Two of my all-time favourite bands (Katatonia and Haken) have already released astounding albums, deservedly in receipt of a perfect 10 from me. And, as the year develops further, there are even more potential gems to get my teeth and ears stuck into.
So, what are those albums and bands? Allow me to elaborate:
Evergrey – The Storm Within
This band goes without saying and frankly, regular readers will be bored of the name Evergrey, such is the love I have for this band. They are my favourite band. Ever. Theirs is the exact kind of music that I want to listen to. It is heavy, passionate, melodic and with enough of a progressive edge to keep things interesting. And, in Tom Englund, Evergrey are blessed with one of the very best vocalists that heavy metal has to offer. I like every album they’ve ever released but two years ago, after a period of uncertainty, Evergrey returned with a bang. Welcoming back drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage, they released ‘Hymns For The Broken’, arguably the best album of their career, full of power, emotion and majesty. I will admit at this point to having already heard album number 10, ‘The Storm Within’, which is due to be released on 9th September 2016. I won’t give too much away at this stage but, suffice to say, I have a problem. I gave the superlative ‘Hymns For The Broken’ a perfect 10/10 when I reviewed it. So what score do I give an album that might, just might, turn out with a few more spins to be even better? Watch out for my review and the answer to this conundrum in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s a reminder of how amazing ‘Hymns For The Broken’ was…
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
This is a bit of a cheat to be honest, because it came out on 1st July and I have already offered my review of the album – read it here – However, so good is it, that it deserves a quick mention here. This album offers a little bit of everything that a fan of progressive metal could ever want; chops, riffs, solos, technicality, complexity, memorable melodies and great vocals. ‘Theories of Flight’ is the sound of one of the best bands of the genre firing on all cylinders.
Wolverine – Machina Viva
The Laser’s Edge
As with Fates Warning above, I have already written a review of this album. And, by the time you read this, ‘Machina Viva’ will be out to buy. But again, it is a storming release that is worthy of another mention and a reminder to any of you who might have forgotten that this was on the horizon. There are few bands that can create such deep, emotional and bleak music and even fewer that manager to couple this with truly beautiful and memorable progressive music. Put the two together and you have a listening experience which can be truly heartbreaking. As I said in my review, ‘…there are few artists out there that have the unnerving ability to break hearts with just one note. And Wolverine do it with such style…’ – read the full review here
My Soliloquy – Engines Of Gravity
My Soliloquy is the brainchild of Threshold guitarist all all-round top chap Pete Morten. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that here is a band that can write sophisticated and properly engaging progressive metal that’s satisfyingly intricate but that has more than enough earworms to reel listeners in time and again for repeated listens. Pete’s singing on the debut was great too, so I’m intrigued to see how he has developed as a vocalist on this new record, particularly given his lead vocal role within the band Nightmare World recently. According to the updates from Pete on social media, the album is being mixed ahead of a 1st September release. Not heard anything yet, but I have very high hopes if the debut ‘The Interpreter’ is anything to go by. Just check this track out if you don’t believe me:
In The Woods – Pure
Debemur Morti Productions
It has been nearly 17 years since Norwegian extreme metallers In The Woods released their third album ‘Strange In Stereo’. In 2000, the band broke up but they are now back and ready to unleash their fourth album, the simply-monikered ‘Pure’. Always pushing boundaries, trying new things, theirs was always a more progressive and avant-garde style of black metal. However, ever since hearing a track on a compilation disc I bought many years ago, I have been hooked. I can’t wait to hear the full album but, if ‘Cult Of Shining Stars’ is anything to go by, this could be a very interesting and special release indeed.
For a stream of a full track off the upcoming album, click the link: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/content/372-in-the-woods-premiere-cult-of-shining-stars#.V3JWqyX5NYl.facebook
Darkane – TBC
I keep mentioning Darkane in these posts, but the reasoning is simple: my admiration and love for this band never diminishes. If you’re after a band that can combine melodic death metal, thrash and a healthy dose of prog-laced technicality, then Darkane are the no-brainer choice. Savage, brutal, majestic and subtly melodic, the Swedish extreme metallers have delivered quality music time and time again over their six album career. ‘Expanding Senses’ released in 2002 remains my favourite but only by a gnats whisker. And it’s entirely possible that the new album hopefully out in the next six months or so will push it closer than ever, delighting us all once again.
Maschine – TBC
A rising star in the UK prog scene, the youngsters came almost out of nowhere in 2013 and wowed me with their impressive debut album, ‘Rubidium’. I loved the blend of technicality, melody and sheer variety, that was occasionally reminiscent of early Pain Of Salvation. Their musicianship and approach to songwriting was both familiar and a breath of fresh air, whilst utilising both male and female vocals was a master stroke, providing a relatively unique flavour to an already impressive recipe. And, despite a change of female vocalists in recent months, I’m still looking forward to album number two immensely.
Dark Tranquillity – TBC
Century Media Records
Of all of the ‘Gothenburg’ bands, Dark Tranquillity are probably my absolute favourite. Unlike many of their compatriots and competitors, every album with very few exceptions has been a positive experience where their love of the music and their hunger and desire has shone though. It seems almost impossible for Dark Tranquillity to release a substandard album and on that basis, I see no reason as to why a new record shouldn’t be a genuine contender for the best melodeath album of 2016.