Due to work circumstances, I haven’t really been able to write a lot for HBIH in the second half of the year, but music is what kept me going through the long, tiring days at work the entire year. Without further ado, I present you the 15 albums, 3 EPs and 1 video that really became a part of my daily routine and made my life much more colorful. I really enjoyed listening to these over and over and I feel like they’ve become a part of me. That’s what matters with music, right? Also, I put a link/embed to listen to my favorite track from each album, so you can enjoy them like I did!
Without further ado, bring on my arbitrarily ordered list of enjoyable albums from this year that you should take seriously!
15. Jamie Christopherson – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance OST
For those who don’t know, I’m a pretty avid gamer, but I rarely listen to game OSTs. However, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance changed that. Not only is it one of my favorite games of the year, but it also has incredible music. Mixing metal with electronic elements, great hooks and an overall extremely epic feel, this OST made me care about OSTs. Regardless of the game, it’s a great album and one I frequently listen to.
14. Gorguts – Colored Sands
Given that Gorguts are the originators and still-unsurpassed masters of unsettling progressive death metal; it’s no surprise that their followup that took longer than a decade to surface is excellent. Still very unsettling yet very thoughtfully constructed, Gorguts have shown that they still have it and they’re still better than anyone else with Colored Sands.
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Wormed are another oddity in the death metal world. Their unhumanly (we’ll get to that in a bit) vocals and alien riffing create such a unique sound that you can’t not listen to them. The trick they pulled with Exodromos is that they made unfathomable and techy riffs memorable. Everything about Wormed is so over the top that the sheer ridiculousness makes this album worth a listen, if anything.
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12. Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief and The River’s End
This album came out of nowhere and charmed me instantly. Combining a sound similar to The Safety Fire with a more mellow outlook, Caligula’s Horse‘s latest effort is a very well crafted progressive metal album. It’s so easy to get lost in the mood this album creates and drift off, which is always the sign of an exceptional album for me.
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11. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
Confession time. Even though I’ve always enjoyed Emperor and Ihsahn quite a bit, Ihsahn’s solo stuff never really clicked for me except for 1-2 tracks per album. They’re all great songs, but they just weren’t doing it for me. Well, with Das Seelenbrechen, that changed. Here, Ihsahn retains his signature sound but also takes aspects of it to a new, more avant-garde level which I appreciated immensely. A very solid and experimental album.
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10. Unhuman – Unhuman
Unhuman are a band I’ve been following for years. I accidentally stumbled upon a song of theirs, and I was instantly hooked. Guitarist/vocalist Youri Raymond (ex-Cryptopsy) has a vocal range that is even crazier than Chalky (Mephistopheles, ex-Psycroptic) and the guitarwork on this album, shared between Youri and Beyond Creation‘s Kevin Chartre, is just phenomenal. Not falling into the trappings of tech death yet still taking the genre to the next level is a hard task, but Unhuman manage it. This album will leave you speechless.
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For the longest time, I slept on this album. I thought it was one of those pretentious bands that hipsters listen to that was just a borefest of slow riffs and no emotion. Boy was I wrong. Ironically, its artwork being used during an Apple conference really put this album on the map for me – the sheer curiosity of “Hey, isn’t this a metal band? How come Apple are putting this onscreen?” got me to finally check this out. And I was blown away. I like black metal, and I like upbeat music, but I never thought they could have been put together so well. So essentially this album came out of nowhere for me and immediately enchanted me. Such a powerful album with immense riffs and pained vocals. I can always appreciate music that truly tears its heart out and puts it out there for you.
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8. Cyclamen – Ashura
Cyclamen… How does one describe Cyclamen? A melodic and slightly blackened take on the frantic progressive musings of Sikth? I’m not sure, but Ashura is awesome. Every element of the band’s sound is so unique and well-executed. The songs are both emotional and frantic, and the riffing is both creative and technical. It’s not often that bands combine an extreme sound with a progressive, mellow sound without making any compromises from either, but Cyclamen are not concerned with such limitations that plague other bands. Ashura is an album that you just have to listen to.
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7. Arsis – Unwelcome
I have a love-hate relationship with The James Malone Revolving Door Quartet (aka Arsis). A Celebration of Guilt is one of my all-time favorite albums and We Are the Nightmare is also pretty cool, but United in Regret and Starve for the Devil are just horrible. It seems that Arsis alternate between great and awful albums, and thankfully (I guess?) their last album was horrid, so Unwelcome is amazing. Effortlessly competing with ACOG for the title of their best album, Unwelcome is a flurry of good riffs that come together to create awesome songs. There’s something addictive about how the weedly guitars and snappy drumming come together and make for some of the best moments I’ve listened to all year. Unwelcome was a very welcome surprise from Arsis. I mean, any album that contains an actually good cover of the 80’s pop classic “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” with a straight face deserves some credit, right?
Speaking of bands that release a good album after an unspeakably bad one, we have After the Burial. Forging a Future Self and Rareform would easily make it into a list of my top 10 favorite albums of all time, whereas their 2011 effort In Dreams would probably be #1 in my list of most disappointing albums. Given the potential the band showed in their first two albums, the laziness in In Dreams basically turned me off from the band completely. I approached Wolves Within extremely negatively expecting to hate it, but I was very pleasantly surprised. While it’s not as technical as Rareform, Wolves Within combines a lot of the aspects I loved from the previous albums (yes, even In Dreams had some upsides) and gives us a bunch of really good songs. The production is absolutely awful and it’s a huge shame that Sumerian Records did not help the band out in that aspects, but the songs are so enjoyable that I’m almost willing to look the other way. Since I obtained the album, I have been unable to stop listening to it, it’s that catchy.
5. The Safety Fire – Mouth of Swords
The Safety Fire are quickly climbing my list of favorite bands. Not only was their 2012 debut Grind the Ocean was superb, but they also followed it a year later with yet another great album. Not content with rehashing their first album, TSF took the defining elements of their sound and made it even more elaborate. The riffing and drumming is even crazier, the vocals are pushing harder, the songs are generally more involved. Mouth of Swords is an absolutely great album and it shows that TSF aren’t just a one-hit-wonder.
4. Chthonic – Bú-Tik
I have a soft spot for melodic death metal. I also have a soft spot for symphonic metal and far eastern themes in general. Well, combine the three and we get Chthonic. I kind of view them as a tamer mixture of Wintersun and Sigh, two of my favorite bands. And they’re also one of those bands that just keep getting better with each album. Bú-Tik scratches all the right itches and is full of powerful songs that I just can’t stop listening to and singing along to. In the end, that’s all that matters to me.
3. Maximum the Hormone – Yoshu Fukushu
Speaking of the far east, Maximum the Hormone from Japan are probably the best metal band from their part of the world. Combining hardcore punk, pop, several genres of metal and many other genres to create a crazy sound, this 4-piece are very well renowned for a reason. Each song is incredibly catchy and well-crafted. There are so many things that are incredibly right about this band. Yoshu Fukushu is the long-awaited followup to Buiikikaesu (due to drummer/singer Nao giving birth) which was considered a masterpiece by many (including me) and it doesn’t disappoint at all. The album has so many great songs, no filler moments, a constant outpouring of memorable riffs and choruses… It’s just great! Seriously, if you don’t care about strict genre labels, you should listen to MtH. There’s no other band like them.
I really can’t decide between the following two albums so I’ll have them share my #1 spot.
1. Leprous – Coal
I really, really love Leprous. In fact, they’re my second favorite band of all time. I love the sound they have on each of their albums and how they keep evolving. Coal is their fourth album, and it’s quite intriguing. The album is mesmerizing, the songs paint an auditory landscape that I so often get lost in. The hypnotizing atmosphere, the incredible vocal work, the great production (by Ihsahn) and the textured synths together create a sound that is so incredibly satisfying. It’s quite hard for me to talk about the album because it’s better experienced than described, but I did my best in my review. Check it out, and listen to the album. It’s incredible.
1. Trivium – Vengeance Falls
What can top an album from my second favorite band of all time? Well, an album by my (first) favorite band! Those who know me know that Trivium have always held that title for me, no contest. I know every Trivium song by heart, and I will never not enjoy listening to them. Obviously, I was extremely excited for Vengeance Falls, their sixth studio album. Well, as it is the case with every Trivium album, I didn’t like it at first. These guys have a knack for reinventing themselves after every album, and they’ve done it yet again. The Crusade was probably their most divisive album for some (I love it obviously), and Ascendancy is what many consider to be their best album. Well, if In Waves was a reinvention of Ascendancy, Vengeance Falls is In Waves’s The Crusade. It’s a very divisive album due to the focus on vocal melodies and simpler guitar riffs, but it actually has some of the best songs they’ve ever written. Also, if you get used to the direction they took with this album, you’ll realize that the songs are really, really well made. Vengeance Falls definitely has the best vocal work by singer/guitarist Matt Heafy, and as such it’s a very emotive album. I’ve already memorized all the songs on Vengeance Falls and love all them all. Just like every other Trivium, Vengeance Falls easily earns its spot in my list of albums that I can’t live without.
I haven’t really listened to a lot of EPs this year, but there are three that I have had on repeat non-stop for a while and I still go back to.
3. Jeff Loomis – Requiem for the Living
Jeff Loomis is an absolute master of guitar. There’s seemingly no end to the stuff he comes up with, and it’s always great. This EP also features a song with vocals by Jeff Loomis’s backing guitarist Joe Nurre, and the songs on here are just great. Definitely worthwhile.
2. Black Crown Initiate – Song of the Crippled Bull
Opeth in their prime meets 8 strings. That’s the best way to describe Black Crown Initiate. Going between crushingly heavy and soul-soothingly mellow, Song of the Crippled Bull is an instant classic. The only bad thing about this EP is that it’s over too quickly. Seriously, it’s so incredibly good.
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1. Keep of Kalessin – Introspection
Fun fact: Keep of Kalessin‘s Reptilian is probably in my top 5 all-time favorite albums list. Now that you know that, you can probably understand why I’ve been so excited for this EP. With guitarist Obsidian Claw also picking up vocal duties due to an extremely odd set of circumstances, the band have now become a 3-piece, but they have not in any way slowed down. In fact, the EP contains a more extreme version of their Eurovision entry candidate “The Dragontower”, and also a piece based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s classical piece “Flight of the Bumblebee”. The EP also contains a song that it shares its title with, and the song makes me very excited for the future of the band. With them recently announcing that a new album is almost done, all we can do is wait and introspect.
Music video/single of the year
Behemoth released a new video of a new song this year, so this award obviously goes to them.