Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s Best Of series takes musical genres and categories and highlights our staff’s personal favorites. You can read more entries from this series here.
There are three possible reactions that fans have when their favorite, long dead bands reunite for a comeback album. On the far ends of the spectrum are the optimists and pessimists, the former completely certain that the comeback record with be a comeback classic and the latter convinced that the album will do nothing but diminish the band’s established legacy. Somewhere in the middle is realist, unsure of what effect age, side projects and the context of the band’s reunion may have had on the upcoming album. While we all felt one of these three ways about the following ten albums, we are now certain after listening to them that they not only represent our favorite musical comebacks, but some of the strongest albums of their release year and beyond. These ten bands took different approaches to crafting a winning formula that translated into an album mandatory to fans everywhere even when some thought that their heydays at come and gone. Head past the jump to see which bands we feel should dominate any discussion about reunion albums:
Cynic‘s recent drama has made them the focus (ha) of the prog metal community as of late, and the status of the band unfortunately remains in turmoil even if guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal is pledging to continue playing shows under the Cynic moniker. But it’s important to remember that there’s a reason the band have garnered this much attention in the first place. Cynic’s fanbase had substantially grown over the fourteen-year hiatus that followed 1993’s groundbreaking (if supremely inaccessible) Focus not getting anywhere near the attention and praise it initially deserved, and soon enough a few reunion shows were put together in and around 2007. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the subsequent release of Traced in Air was a triumphant return to the progressive metal throne the band had always deserved. Traced is everything a sequel to Focus should have been: it boasts a more refined and evolved sound coupled with a newfound accessibility, taking cues from the style they started out with while also making sure not to retread ground they’d already covered. Masvidal’s shimmering, vocoder-laden clean vocals paint landscapes over each song, and the band’s trademark free-flowing solos alongside incredibly complex passages are present in copious amounts. If Focus sounded like it was retrieved from a meteorite, Traced in Air is that meteorite carved by a master sculptor into a true work of art, and its legacy remains no matter what the band’s current status may be.
Swans, while in no ways a conventionally “heavy” band, have remained an undeniable staple in the extreme music scene since their first album in 1982. The band, after all, does embody exactly what extreme music has always strived to be; dark, nihilistic, and almost completely overwhelming. That’s why it was seen as such a tragedy when they initially called it quits in 1997. Fortunately for just about everyone, that breakup only lasted a (measly) 13 years, and in 2010, Swans came back doing what Swans does best; dark, powerful, disturbing music all enveloped by a careful layering of post punk. Their 2010 “come back” album, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky showed Swans at their finest, with Michael Gira once again showing his utter contempt for humanity and any “normal” music. Gira spits about just about everything on this album, be it from cutting off liars tongues and sucking out their brains, to just his general harsh distaste for other people. And, to match Gira’s sadistic, darkly skewed out look on life, the music seems as if it is even darker, and significantly spacier, than any Swans music before it. My Father Will Lead Me Up A Rope To The Sky was not simply a come back for Swans, it was a testament to the fact that there never can be another band quite like Swans. After all, no band can match their raw intensity or ferocity, no matter how much heavier they try to be than Swans.
Few reunion albums were as rabidly anticipated as that of Decapitated. After suffering the tragic loss of drummer prodigy Vitek in 2007 in a horrible automobile accident that also put then-lead vocalist Covan into a coma which he remains in to this day, Decapitated mastermind and Vitek’s older brother Vogg sought to carry on the legacy and he and his younger brother began and reformed the band in 2009 with a whole new line up. Many feared the essence of Decapitated would no longer be present with two of it’s key members gone, but they proved everybody wrong with the release of Carnival is Forever. From the opening flay of “The Knife” to the closing, contemplative notes of “Silence,” this album absolutely rips the whole way through and shows a reinvigorated Decapitated who are out for blood. Cuts such as “United,” “Homo Sum,” and “Pest” feature Vogg’s downright hostile, groove-laden riffs, and they are nothing short of magnificent. The lack of Vitek’s presence is made up for with Krimh’s equally inhuman performance behind the kit, and new vocalist Rafal does Covan proud. The real centerpiece of the album comes in the form of the titular track, with it’s monolithic, catchy-as-hell main riff and hypnotic groove, showcasing a new side of Decapitated that’s wholly welcome. Simply put, Carnival Is Forever is as great a comeback as anybody could’ve hoped for, and in a very big way, it put a band back on the map that never really left in the first place.
It’s quite easy to understand why comeback albums are one of the most hyped up phenomena in music. This also makes them quite convenient to promote, which most bands use to their advantage. Godspeed You! Black Emperor never were like most bands though, and when they released ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! – their first studio release after a ten year drought – they did so with almost no warning whatsoever. In staying true to their ethos, the Canadian post-rockers were content with a silent release campaign as long as the music did all the talking – and this was an album that had a lot to say. With its flawless arrangements, lush sound and meticulous songwriting, it was as good of an addition to the Godspeed discography as fans could possible ask for – yet it also treaded new waters and offered plenty of surprises. The thrilling ‘Mladic’ still stands as the band’s heaviest, most metallic song to date, and it introduced a much more prominent form of the Eastern melodies that have since stuck with them. ‘We Drift Like The Worried Fire’, meanwhile, traded in the usual gut-wrenching melancholy evoked by earlier material for a euphoric sense of triumph that proved to be equally soul-crushing as the song progressed from one climax to the next. Sure, all of this material had long been around in live form, but even this familiarity didn’t stop ‘Allelujah from being an astonishing comeback, as it cemented GY!BE’s place as a singular, inimitable band in the realm of not just post-rock, but music in general.
Carcass have long been considered one of the most important bands in metal, and are often referred to as the Godfathers of Melodic Death Metal. Their seminal album Heartwork pioneered the sound that would eventually be taken on the the likes of In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Soilwork. However, after releasing one more album in the mid 90s, they disbanded, only to return with Surgical Steel, an album that stands up to its predecessors and has solidified itself as one of the best reunions of any band. From the moment the guitars kick in you know you’re in for something awesome, and the album is fantastic front to back. While many bands seem to lose steam after years of being away from music, Carcass never seem to have lost their stride. The amount of classics this album has on it is astonishing, and the songs sound as if the band never stopped and took a break. The band has revitalized their sound and continued to put on fantastic live shows, and we can only hope that if and when they release their next album it has the same effect as Surgical Steel has had.
Extol are a band that falls into an interesting catagory, one of being unbelievably talented and incredibly underappreciated. Their only contemporaries are the likes of Opeth and Leprous, while their sound still maintained its own feel to set them apart from the two prog giants. Extol’s last album before their self titled reunion was a slight departure from their more extreme style of albums before it, but undoubtedly the same band. After eight long years, three of the members decided it was time to resurrect and put out an opus that showed they still had that spark. Extol’s self titled reunion album featured everything fans of the band could want and then some. The song writing is unquestionably next level for the extreme prog scene, and their signature Christian oriented lyrics still belted out by original vocalist Peter Espevoll. Extol’s self titled release is the kind of reunion that many bands couldn’t pull off after almost ten years, both keeping their original sound and reinventing themselves for 2013. It maintained a solid place on my personal year end list for 2013, and still feels ahead of its time as did every other release by Extol.
It’s hard to fathom now that for most of their career, Quebec’s twisted death metal juggernauts Gorguts were a pretty overlooked band in the grand scheme of the genre during the 90s. While their 1998 LP Obscura was certainly a critical success by those in the underground, it stayed just that, festering in its own filth and being soaked up by musicians like, well, those who ironically later joined the band itself. After over a decade of silence, the tragic and untimely death of guitarist Steeve Hurdle and several other side projects, founding member and brainchild Luc Lemay assembled a brand new lineup consisting of a few of extreme metal’s most curious and unrelenting minds (Behold…the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia and Origin, anyone?), discovered progressive metal ala Opeth and cranked out what is possibly their best overall work and one of the single greatest comeback albums in metal history, Colored Sands. From start to finish, this album perfectly captures the cyclonic, dizzying riffs that made up the latter half of their career, but also adds a whole lot of breathing room for each moment to really sink in (and oddly enough, sometimes be hummed back). And whether or not the band is flying at a million miles an hour in “Enemies of Compassion,” churning out huge, fist-pounding chugs in “Colored Sands,” or writing a terrifying and dynamic string quartet piece with “The Battle of Chamdo,” the album does everything with an incredibly meticulous ear and great structuring. The album feels like more of a complete piece than anything else they’ve put out before, and it’s now so easy to see why countless bands have cited them as one of the most inspiring acts to ever come out of Canada.
When the legendary At the Gates announced that they would be releasing a new album, the underground metal community went totally bonkers. Their first since 1995’s classic Slaughter of the Soul, an album that was responsible for literally pioneering an entire subgenre of metal and directly influencing legions of bands who came after it, At War With Reality surpassed expectations and ended up being an album that rivaled the greatness of its predecessor in every way. The twin guitar attack of Anders Björler and Martin Larsson has always been at the forefront of At the Gates’s sound, and the merciless assault of riffs on At War With Reality is but one reason why this album is so fantastic. Another reason is, of course, Tomas Lindberg, whose unmistakable bark and commanding presence is just as potent and relevant as it was 20 years. At War With Reality showcased a band that sounds like they haven’t aged one bit, and it’s arguable that they’re even better than they once were. We can only hope that At the Gates decide to continue on and continue to make unforgettable metal albums, but if At War With Reality ends up being their swansong, it made for one hell of a comeback and it makes for one hell of a way to go out.
After an impactful career spanning two and a half decades, a Godflesh reunion was truly unnecessary. Etching the blueprints for industrial metal and releasing genre classics such as Pure and – particularly – the gargantuan Streetcleaner softened the 2002 split between Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green, and Broadrick went on to produce excellent music on his own (see Jesu). Yet, when Broadrick and Green announced in 2010 that they would be resuming Godflesh oriented activities, there was not a single Godflesh fan that was not trembling in zealous anticipation. And while it took four years for the duo’s announcement to manifest into A World Only Lit By Fire, fans absolved and then submitted once the bunker-busting riff that rips open “New Dark Ages” tore through their ear drums. A band announcing that they are “returning to their roots” is typically an eye-roll inducing cliché, but AWOLBF is a flawless sonic sequel to Streetcleaner, albeit with far superior production and that same hunger that Broadrick and Green exhibited back in 1989 now seasoned with decades of experience and experimentation. If Hymns was a fitting swansong for an eminent discography, AWLOBF is the second coming that will force Broadrick and Green to either continue this second incarnation or drown in the tears of their woe-stricken fans.
When one looks into avant-garde metal, Arcturus is the first name that comes up, and that’s not just because they’re alphabetically the first. They’re one of the earliest acts in the genre, and their work during the late 90s set the benchmark for the genre. ICS Vortex of Dimmu Borgir fame was part of their defining album La Masquerade Infernale, and later on he joined full-time as their vocalist. Unfortunately, they broke up in 2007 due to each member needing to focus on their own lives and careers. It was a heavy blow to the scene, but their discography before their disbanding was perfect so it was a bit easier to swallow. After much teasing, they returned to perform a few shows in 2011-2012, then released a single in 2015, then their semi-self-titled album. And what a blast it was. Coming back to the genre they helped shape, and reaffirming their command of it, Arcturian showed that the band still have it after 10 years. Not only did they demonstrate their capability to come up with material that feels like they never stopped, they also upped the ante with their creativity and what can be done within the genre, as Arcturian is perhaps their best album yet. So rare is a comeback that’s not just a worthy successor but one that also transcends its predecessor in every way and even shakes the foundations of the genre and sets a new bar. Then again, this is Arcturus we’re talking about here. They’ve always been masters of their craft, and they continue to be stronger than ever.
In 1997, Faith No More released Album of the Year to very tepid reception from both critics and fans alike. When the band called it quits the following year, however, many listeners came to realize that Faith No More had written the album with the intention of finishing a short-but-sweet career that began with the release of We Care A Lot back in 1985 (though vocalist Mike Patton had only debuted with the act in 1989’s The Real Thing). Roll on through nearly twenty years into our year of 2015 and we have Sol Invictus, a brand new Faith No More album that may never have been. Picking up more or less from where Album of the Year left off stylistically, but completed by a plethora of musical and technological advancements, it was safe to say that Faith No More had returned in a way that basically stated, “Hey, we actually never left,” heavily echoing the sentiment left by “Pristina”—essentially the band’s swansong of 1997.
Sol Invictus doesn’t wildly change the Faith No More formula, but it honestly doesn’t need to. The aggressive sonic undertones, the thick vocal melodies courtesy of Mike Patton, the chunky Gould bass—all of it exists on a plane that just screams the name of the band and none else. Why change a good thing?