The environmentally-conscious Frenchmen have been providing us with metal that’s heavier than a neutron star for around 20 years, and their latest release Magma was no exception. Some say it’s less heavy than their previous releases, but without a doubt it’s up there with their greats (From Mars to Sirius and The Way of All Flesh, if you were going to ask). The first single, “Stranded”, had us hooked from the first seconds where that riff kicks in, and we literally cannot wait to mosh to this one when they come back to London in March. Whilst there are some more mellow and more experimental moments on here, the metal gems are rock solid, especially “Silvera”, which blends their heavier moments with a frankly genius main riff, and the title track, which lures you in with the classic, grinding guitar sound that the band have perfected over the years.
We kind of miss the whales, but musically speaking Joe, Mario and co. have really outdone themselves on this one.
In Flames – Battles (CD | Limited Edition CD featuring 2 Bonus Tracks | Vinyl | Limited Edition Picture Vinyl | EMP-Exclusive CD & 2-LP Boxset with Photo Card, Poster, Slip Mat, Certificate of Authenticity and More)
Who doesn’t love a good bit of melodic death metal? Are you with us? If so, you are not going to want to miss Battles. Our favourite screaming Swedes are back in style with this all-round rocking release. Sing along or mosh? It’s hard to decide, with instant classics like “Drained” combining top-class singable choruses with impassioned screams and soaring melodies alternated with punchy metal riffs. In fairness, nothing has really changed here. If you liked Siren Charms, you will not be disappointed by Battles. Considering that these guys haven’t really changed their sound one bit since the 90s, you might be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth picking up the new CD, but we say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ If you’re new to In Flames, and 60 minutes of high-energy metal with great clean and growled vocals sounds like your cup of tea, then you should definitely give this one a try. If you’ve been listening since Jester Race days like us, then you’re not going to be able to argue with one of the most technically flawless slabs of metal the band have ever released.
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (CD | Vinyl | EMP-Exclusive Viking Ship CD Boxset with Bonus Live DVD)
Let’s face it. Every time there’s a new Amon Amarth release, you kind of know what’s coming. 60 minutes of Viking battles, gutteral growls and a mixture of brutality and joyful Norse spirit that only the Swedish thunder gods can reproduce time and again with aplomb. It’s immediately clear that festival season will see us all raising our horns (and beers) to the chants of epics like “Raise Your Horns” along with a legion of muddy and sweat-soaked fans. The melodic elements are intact, and show up time and again, especially on our fave from the album – “Wanderer”. In case you’re wondering what a Jomsviking is, they were actually Norse mercenaries, and the album follows the tale of a young man who swears revenge after his love is married to another man. Not everyone loves a concept album, but Amon Amarth struck a good balance here between providing Viking fireside stories and the semi-melodic, semi-brutal death metal that we know and love.
Every time Opeth bring out a new album, it has us all on tenterhooks waiting to see whether it’s going to predominantly feature blistering death metal, folksy acoustic rock or complex jazzy blues. This time, it turned out to be a mixture of them all. As the last few albums have hinted, the Swedish prog death maestros have been drifting away from the truly heavy material they produced on classic albums like Ghost Reveries and playing a hell of a lot more proggy, jazzy experimental stuff that has split opinion. Well, that stuff certainly hasn’t disappeared on Sorceress. In fact, the title track seems to be the distillation of years of work on each of these styles, and perfectly demonstrates Åkerfeldt and crew’s ability to make genres that really shouldn’t work seem like they were born to be together. Coming in at ‘only’ 6 minutes, Sorceress is as close to perfect as anyone could wish. Even fans of the sublime prog rock produced by compatriots like Beardfish are going to be blown away by the mix of bluesy guitars, proggy solos and soothing folk elements. The only people who are going to be disappointed are those who expect to have their faces ripped off by the type of death metal that Opeth have produced in the past, but those types have had more than their fair share of warning. In fact, this is classic Opeth but with a real leap forward in terms of experimentation and seamless blending of styles. Don’t miss it.
You didn’t think we’d have any sort of ‘best of’ list without including Metallica, did you? Come on! Anyone who thought that Metallica were past their best had to eat a pretty big slice of humble pie when they heard Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. Whilst it doesn’t quite match up to their …And Justice For All glory days, it makes a pretty good attempt. The title track makes it clear what’s to come: a relentless slab of classic riffing, with catchy melody after catchy melody hitting where it hurts. Our highlight has to be “Moth Into Flame”, which could easily have nestled in among the hook-driven classics on the black album, with guitar work that reminds us all why Metallica are the KINGS of modern thrash. True, there is no track that stands out quite as well as, say, “Master of Puppets” but the progress made since the opinion-dividing St. Anger is clear. Welcome back, Metallica!
2016 delivered a heavy blow to power metal fans with the semi-breakup of genre legends Rhapsody of Fire (ok, that’s another post in itself), but it’s not been short of epic music for fans of the musical answer to Dungeons & Dragons. The Last Stand, as the name might hint at, has drawn inspiration from a number of historical ‘last stand’ battles – such as the final battle between the samurai and the Japanese army in “Shiroyama”. If you don’t find yourself shouting along with rousing refrains such as ‘overrun but never outdone’, or ‘surrounded and outnumbered’ then please send back your power metal fan badge right now. Otherwise, stand alongside the last 500 samurai, raise your fists and sing along. Power metal gold right here.
Loved these releases, or totally disagree? What were your top picks for 2016? Let us know! Here’s to 2017 rocking even harder.