Welcome to the first in a series of Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s “Best Of” selections where we explore a genre of music and each of our dedicated authors pick a favorite album to share a personal experience with. For our first round, we have chosen a genre close to the hearts of many—Melodic Death Metal. Conceived in the early 1990s in Sweden by pioneers like At the Gates, melodic death metal was a way to combine the memorable, harmonized riffing of British heavy metal with the harsh edge of death metal creating a sound that was unlike any other at the time.
Over the years, the genre has expanded and given birth to many other styles, melding with progressive acts to provide a harsher edge and creating what we now call metalcore. Nowadays, it’s a broad enough label that very distinct bands can exist under its umbrella, so the diversity of the genre should make our first pass at this format quite interesting. It’s also the genre that brought many of us into the metal fold, and has always reigned as a favorite among the staff here. So, without further ado, here are our favorite melodic death albums!
Wintersun – Wintersun
Alright, this might be pushing the boundary of the “melodeath” label, but it has melodies, blast beats, screaming, clean vocals, keyboards, harmonized guitars and soaring solos. Blending elements of black metal, power metal, folk metal and neoclassical into a framework of melodic death, this album is just incredible. Progressive songs that go between chants, ballads and extreme metal sections are not easy to pull off, but Jari Maenpaa is one of the few masterminds in metal that can all do it all. Wintersun is in my top 5 albums of all time, and no other album affects me emotionally like it.
Insomnium – Across the Dark
Across the Dark is a melodic death metal masterpiece and has had me hooked ever since Noyan introduced me to it. From its many layers to its epic choruses to its incredible usage of simple melodies, this album never disappoints. What is most striking about this album is how free-flowing the songs feel. There is a definite structure to each song but the usage of various melodies and transitions make the songs feel very liquid. It is easy for me to lose myself and be consumed by this album, which is something that not a lot of albums can make me do. This album does everything that a good melodeath album should do and more. Across the Dark is fantastic and I still have yet to find a melodeath album, besides Whoracle by In Flames, that comes close to it in terms of quality from the first track to the last.
Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun
It’s taken me a long time to connect to melodic death metal. I found the scope of emotions and the sheer epicness of the sound a bit off putting, as I tend to prefer more personal and “human” performances. It’s no surprise then that Insomnium‘s latest album struck a chord deep within me, as it skirts and plays within the boundaries of the genre. Lilting among more epic and guttural passages live enchanting folky melodies and touching clean vocals that really sealed the deal for me. For more dedicated fans of the melodic death genre, plenty of soaring and powerful riffs exist, accentuated by superb and iconic drumming. Shadows hits hard and deep, carrying massive emotional weight.
Dark Tranquillity – Damage Done
Years ago, when I was a wee lad who was just discovering his footing in heavier music, a dear friend from high school introduced me to Dark Tranquillity’s Damage Done with ‘Hours Passed In Exile.’ It was such a strange sensation to find a musical pairing that managed to marry growled vocals and melodic music while still retaining both a sense of aggression and lay on the spectrum of sadder emotions. Having previously only encountered Children of Bodom in this similar category, Dark Tranquillity swept in like a breath of fresh air. In the years after, I have managed to see them perform a total of four times (which will hopefully continue to grow) and kept on listening to their music which has retained my youthful perception I once had while simultaneously evolving enough to stay interesting. Damage Done is something I consider a “perfect album,” as it manages to stay engaging all the way throughout and never really makes any serious missteps in its songwriting. Others would call Haven Dark Tranquillity’s masterpiece, but to me, even though Haven is technically a “better” album, Damage Done will always reign as their best.
The Black Dahlia Murder – Nocturnal
When someone hasn’t heard The Black Dahlia Murder, the first album I reach for is Nocturnal. Easily the best record from their discography, this album brings to light what it is fans love about this band. From the riff-laden introduction in ‘Everything Went Black’ to the way ‘To a Breathless Oblivion’ transitions into the driving force that is ‘Warborn’, each song has its own distinct colour. There are hooks aplenty, without feeling unfocused or like the band has spread itself too thin. This album feels like the perfect evolution from Miasma, Nocturnal‘s predecessor, while also providing a home to tracks like ‘What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse’, one of the album’s most memorable songs (and video clips). This album is what I imagine a modern Slaughter of the Soul would have been like.
Be’lakor – Of Breath and Bone
Grandiose, yet evocatively dark and atmospheric, Of Breath and Bone is a modern day melodic death metal classic, and has been largely responsible for reinvigorating my interest in this style of music. While composed within the traditional confines of the melodeath songwriting framework, it is the poetic nature of its contrasts and the clarity of its sound that elevates this Of Breath and Bone into the upper echelon of the genre. Changes in tempo and timbre abound, and its instrumentation is prominently varied, all of which combine to create a stirring musical narrative. Furthermore, Of Breath and Bone captivates with its moods which, while restrained, are mesmerisingly rich and boodingly malevolent.
Given its obviously Scandanavian influences, it is somewhat surprising that Of Breath and Bone was produced by a bunch of Aussies. However, while Be’lakor might not yet have achieved the degree of recognition afforded to the genre’s Scandanavian pioneers, Of Breath and Bone has set a new standard for the performance of melodic death metal, and should be required listening for any melodeath fan.
Soilwork – The Living Infinite
A double album for most bands is a great undertaking that yields watered down results and simply too much material…but Soilwork are not all bands. The Living Infinite blazes triumphantly across the two discs without so much as a misstep. None of the tracks on this album feel like they were simply tacked on to make it appear that there was a wealth of material, but rather that they were included because they each have a unique statement to make. They make those statements using huge choruses, driving instrumentals, and a larger than life sound to make this record a tour de force of melodeath.
In Flames – Clayman
My gradual introduction to so-called “extreme metal” was pretty typical for a dorky high school kid in the mid-2000’s. Though I like to think that my tastes are a bit more eclectic now, I still have a soft spot for some of the albums that helped me discover the world of music beyond the modern rock radio format. One of those albums is In Flames’ Clayman. A lot of melodeath purists prefer the band’s earlier efforts like The Jester Race, but to me, In Flames were never more on-point and filler-free than they were on Clayman. Forceful, fizzy rhythm guitars propel the record, accentuating omnipresent, infectious lead guitar harmonies. Anders Friden’s vocals have never sounded better than they did on Clayman, either – his distinct pinched, gritty yelping elevates the admittedly pedestrian lyrical content of songs like ‘Suburban Me’ and ‘Bullet Ride’ to anthemic heights. I will never forget how it felt to stand on the deck of a cruise ship during my freshman marching band trip to the Bahamas, staring at the open ocean, tasting the seabreeze, and listening to that awesome noodling guitar line in “Swim” through the headphones of my cheap-ass Sony walkman. Memories, man.
Dark Tranquillity – Haven
Haven is an important album for me for several reasons. It was one of my first melodic death metal albums, and the one that got me into Dark Tranquility. Stanne’s heartfelt, emotional lyrics spoke volumes to me at a time in my life when I was very receptive to such things, and the music itself is accessible and catchy enough to help ease me into the genre without losing any of the elements the band was known for. There aren’t any bad songs on here, and each one sounds different from the last. Haven is a true classic and my personal favorite album in the genre.
Wintersun – Time I
I’ll be honest: I wrestled between putting this album, Carcass’ Surgical Steel or Bloodshot Dawn’s self-titled album as my top melodeath album, but at the end of the day, Wintersun’s epic, majestic and downright perfect Time I has had a huge impact on me, and it is an album that I sincerely believe everyone needs to hear. From the serene, oriental-inspired opening notes of ‘When Time Fades Away’ to the closing piano run of ‘Time’, there is not a dull moment to be found, and there is so much epicness within it, you won’t be able to resist the urge to lift the giant battle axe you never knew you had and go rushing into battle against an entire army of Orcs. Jari Maenpaa truly is a musical genius, and he is one of the few composers in modern metal who can write 10+ minute epics and keep the listener engaged intently all the way through. Every time I listen to this album, I have to listen to it all the way through, simply because it demands to be enjoyed as an entire musical suite. The stark, yet masterful contrast between razor-sharp riffs, insanely fast blasts and some of the most beautiful, soaring melodies you’ll ever hear make Time I a true masterpiece in the vast realm of melodeath.
Soilwork – Natural Born Chaos
I’m sure some melodeath purists would argue with me whether or not this belongs in the category, since it’s one of Soilwork’s least death metal albums. Regardless, this album was paramount in pushing the movement forward into more catchy and pop-driven territory. I’d heard Soilwork prior to this album coming out, but hadn’t paid much attention until I heard Devin Townsend would be producing. His touch is apparent everywhere on the album, from the bed of ambient elements that work with the keys and underneath the backbone to the catchy and raspy melodic vocals of Bjorn “Speed” Strid. It’s a fine tuning of the melodic sensibilities they merely flirted with on previous album A Predator’s Portrait. The production is notably better as well, with Fredrik Nordstrom tightening up the mix with a more cutting guitar sound, huge vocals, and perfectly tuned and eq’d drums. A monumental album in the scheme of my life as a musician and a metal fan.
In Flames – Come Clarity
Okay, so this will likely be a controversial choice for this write-up, as many fans feel that Clayman was the last great In Flames album. Hell, even some purists draw the line at Whoracle. Even still, for me, Come Clarity is and always will be a stellar melodic death metal record, despite barely being tethered to the group’s death metal roots. Also, Ben already wrote up a great report on Clayman, and I found it best to not be redundant. In high school, Come Clarity flipped a switch in my mind that altered my listening habits forever. As a then-recent fan of nu-metal exploring the metalcore scene, that opening to ‘Take This Life’ was absolutely DEVASTATING and unlike anything I had heard prior and found enjoyable. This album had everything I was looking for at that time in my life, and I didn’t even know it yet. Ballad title track aside, the album was packed with intensely memorable songs that were still reasonably heavy. For me, Come Clarity is more just a mid-tier In Flames record. It was a portal into the world of death metal and it still holds up to repeated listens, even when taking off the rose-tinted nostalgia glasses.
Well, that was a dozy! We’re planning to keep these lists going, exploring more and more genres within our massive, diverse and much loved community. Any specific genres you’d like us to tackle? Sound off in the comments below!