We’re at the halfway point of 2018, and I think it’s a great time to reveal six of my favorite metal albums. I’ve chosen one from each month. Perhaps a favorite artist of yours has made the list, or maybe you’ll discover something new to enjoy.
January – Arkona, Khram
As an avid folk metal listener, Russia’s Arkona has been a constant in my musical library. Khram (English: Temple) is an ambitious departure from Arkona’s typical sound, bringing in elements of black metal, epic pieces, and chants, all while staying true to the band’s pagan roots. The album opens with Mantra (Intro), a mysterious and chilling chant, which sets us up nicely for Shtorm, a barrage of folk melodies and frontwoman Masha Scream’s distinct vocals. While the Russian lyrics may be intimidating to English-speakers, I urge you to give it a shot, as Khram showcases Arkona’s technical and storytelling abilities both lyrically and musically, and reinforces the band’s staying power as one of the top folk metal groups worldwide.
February – Therion, Beloved Antichrist
Inspired by Vladimir Soloviov’s “A Short Tale of the Antichrist”, this album is arguably Therion’s most ambitious to date. Therion began as a death metal act, but listening to Beloved Antichrist, we’re taken on a melodic, classical, symphonic journey which combines heavy riffs with extreme operatic vocals. This is a great album – well, metal opera – for those who think metal is mainly comprised of “that screamy stuff”, and don’t enjoy harsh vocals. However, if you’re going to dedicate time to listen to this album, be sure to block out about three and a half hours. Yes, you read that right. Beloved Antichrist is made up of three acts, totalling 46 songs. This is Christofer Johnsson, founder of Therion’s magnum opus. In an interview with label Nuclear Blast, he explains, “we have taken a great story by a classic Russian philosopher and modernised and perfected it into a great new story that could make it worthwhile for a very broad audience”. There have been mutterings of a large-scale theatrical production of Beloved Antichrist, so stay tuned.
March – The Absence, A Gift for the Obsessed
I referred to “screamy stuff” in the last review, and The Absence’s most recent release is most certainly chock full of screams. Consistently fast-paced with heavy and hard-hitting riffs, thundering drums, and cutting harsh vocals to match, A Gift for the Obsessed is not for the faint of heart. Initially, I came upon this album not being familiar with the band. After checking out two of their previous albums, Riders of the Plague (2007) and Enemy Unbound (2011), I can say I’ve noticed a marked improvement in production quality as well as, in my opinion, a less jarring, more melodic style, which I enjoy. Many melodic death (melodeath) albums can sound repetitive after a while, but The Absence showcases their varied vocal and instrumental abilities – or should I say shredabilities – throughout A Gift for the Obsessed. I highly recommend this to fellow melodeath fans.
April – TesseracT, Sonder
British progressive metal band TesseracT released their much anticipated album Sonder, and they did not disappoint! Having recently hopped onto the prog bandwagon, I was hyped to listen to the new release. Prog is, to me, a versatile genre that can conjure up many moods and tones in the span of one album. Sonder definitely showcases fine musicianship and versatility, from the gentle pulse of “Orbital” (track three), to the funky yet heavy riffage of “Smile” (track six). If you enjoy more experimental genres, favor multiple pace changes, and want to be kept on your toes, Sonder is the album for you. Like many other musical styles, prog can be repetitive. However, TesseracT seems to have mastered the art of song structure, blending the ethereal with the robust, the rough with the playful and funky in their seven song creation.
May – Thy Catafalque, Geometria
I was introduced to this band through their song “Trilobita”, and was immediately engrossed by Thy Catafalque’s style. Hailing from Hungary, Thy Catafalque is an avant-garde metal group who, like other artists mentioned, have honed their storytelling abilities to take us on a wild journey with their music. Enter Geometria. This album perfectly encapsulates the avant-garde style, characterized by “unconventional” uses of sounds and structures, as well as experimentation. In the first track alone, we hear soft, sweet notes that eventually fade into an eerie, yet hypnotizing, tune. “Szamojéd freskó”, the second track, is a direct contrast to the first, opening with tremolo picking on downtuned guitars coupled with the double bass drum typically heard in heavier music. Later in the album, track nine, “Balra a Nap”, brings us some light pop-style drums and guitars. It’s reminiscent of popular indie tracks and certainly grabs the listener’s attention. There’s so much going on in this album, and it’s a lot to digest, which is why I suggest you listen to it… over and over again! Each listen provides a new layer, and it’s nearly impossible to be bored of Thy Catafalque’s incredible, innovative, and progressive musicianship.
June – Ghost, Prequelle
I was on the fence about renowned Swedish metal/rock band Ghost for some time. Their newest album, Prequelle, has me partying with fellow Ghost fans, however. For me, the most interesting and unsettling thing about this album is the stark contrast of dismal lyrical themes combined with energetic and, dare I say it, upbeat melodies. Prequelle’s eighth track, “Witch Image”, is an excellent example. The lyrics “While you sleep in earthly delight / Someone’s flesh is rotting tonight / Like no other to you / What you have done you cannot undo” are paired with a catchy beat and clean vocals, as opposed to the “typical” shredding guitars and extra fast drums of heavy metal. Fear not, for frontman Papa Emeritus and his gang of ghouls delivers on the “heavy” front as well. Track two, “Rats”, provides high-energy with its catchy licks and groovy bassline. There’s even a taste of harsh vocals sprinkled in! As a whole, this album is bizarre in the best way. Their sixth track, “Dance Macabre” perfectly embody Ghost’s character and willingness to push the envelope with their music.
As a whole, 2018 has been a pretty remarkable year for metal, with bands pulling out new sounds and techniques. I can’t wait to hear what’s next!