Winds of Plague – Blood Of My Enemy

It's easy to see why Winds of Plague are the butt of jokes in "internet metal circles". As they rose to popularity during the most oversaturated era of deathcore, their imagery and lyrical content was mostly emblematic of all the tropes of the genre. Their most recognizable songs were aggressively simplistic thematically and musically. This reception is almost a shame, because Winds of Plague have always had a brilliant band hidden somewhere in that well of unrealized potential. The entirety of The Great Stone War, which was a progressive deathcore showcase, and tracks like "Angels of Debauchery" from their debut showcased the band's more creative and clever aspects, but it's also undeniable that the band brought this upon themselves with tracks like "Reloaded". Regardless, there's been a small contingent of fans wishing for a return to the more nuanced and epic sound that they often hinted at. After 4 years and a nearly-entirely-new lineup, the band returns with Blood of My Enemy, which doesn't fully satisfy that craving, but is a massive step in the right direction for the band.

Ensiferum – Two Paths

In the 2000s, metal went through a strange phase. Scandinavian high octane melodeath bands found a shared passion for melody, hooks, and flashy guitar work with power metal bands as well new lyrical inspiration from folklore. Overnight, it seems metal spawned a whole scene with a new pool of clichés (well, sort of new) to exploit. Folk metal was nothing new at the time but there was a huge rebranding of it and every label was jumping on board. New bands popped up every year, some great and some boring as hell. One of these bands, Ensiferum, unfortunately introduced heavy metal’s most notorious edging expert, Jari Mäenpää, into the world. Jari left in 2004 to focus on Wintersun, but Ensiferum has continued its steady output of quality music since his departure. Their new album, Two Paths, continues their streak.

Orden Ogan – Gunmen

Orden Ogan has made an extremely enjoyable power metal record with Gunmen. Like fellow power metal acts Unleash The Archers and Witherfall earlier this year, the band manages to make their respect for the genre’s past clear while still finding new sounds to play with. Originally a small-time act in the folk metal boom of the mid-2000s, Sebastian Levermann, the mastermind and frontman of the group, has worked to make the act one of the most unique and fresh voices in the current power metal scene. There’s so much to talk about here not least of which is Levermann’s talent for writing choruses with lots of huge choirs. Just listen to the opening title track.

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons

There's clearly some brilliance hidden somewhere in Wintersun. It's not trivial to make concept albums with long songs and multi-layered instrumentation. To even attempt such a feat takes a certain degree of ambition and courage. Even when an attempt like this fails, it's hard to fault a band for trying. Hard, but not impossible. It can be made especially easy when the band act arrogantly and set themselves up for failure. Positioning an album as "this is not the amazing album we promised, but something inherently and intentionally inferior to tide you over" is just not an attractive proposition for fans. Even setting that aside, if the music was good enough, that could erase all bad will. If it is good, that is. And it isn't.