It’s about halfway through the year, and you know what that means – we’ve only got half a year left to get new album of the year candidates. There have been some surprises so far this year, both good and bad. We saw a return to form by a few bands, and a fall from grace from others. Here are the five best albums at the halfway point of the year:
First up, Rhapsody of Fire with The Frozen Tears of Angels. Known as a band who always puts out solid symphonic power metal albums, it’s hard to really step your game up beyond “really good” after seven albums, but somehow Rhapsody of Fire have found a way to do so. In somewhat stereotypical fashion, the album starts off with an ominously narrated intro track, but then Luca Turilli’s fingers catch fire, and he plays the most furious and blistering guitar riffs I’ve ever heard from Rhapsody of Fire. The rest of the band follow suit, delivering what is easily the band’s best performance since Dawn of Victory.
Next is the latest gem from Matt Pike, High on Fire‘s Snakes for the Divine. A bit of a change from the band’s last release, Death is This Communion, the band has delivered yet another record very much their own style and very obviously a solid record. All of the instruments, including Matt Pike’s voice, are as grimey as ever – but at least now it doesn’t sound like they were recorded in a garage. The problem about the production is that it’s a very acquired, but fitting, taste for the music. The whole album sounds very dense, and there isn’t much breathing room between instruments. Snakes for the Divine definitely shows more of Matt Pike’s influence from his days in Sleep, most notably in the slower sludge sections of “Bastard Samurai.”
Third we have an album that is a godsend in the modern thrash times, a return to form of one of the oldest thrash bands still around, Overkill‘s Ironbound. In recent years, Overkill had put out a number of mediocre thrash albums, and many fans were ready to put them out to pasture. Overkill have definitely quieted the critics with what is their best album in nearly two decades. Finally back to being a real thrash band and playing what they know best, Ironbound is a loud, fast, angry, and pure thrash album that is best listened to at ear-splitting volumes while giving yourself voluntary whiplash from headbanging.
There’s a lot to be said about our next album, but most importantly, you should know that it isn’t actually from the 1980’s. White Wizzard‘s Over the Top is often criticized for its obvious Judas Priest and Iron Maiden influences, something that detracts from the talent of the band. It’s not as if White Wizzard are a crappy cover band, they’re just a band that really loves New Wave of British Heavy Metal and do it well, even if they are a couple decades late to the party. How can you argue with a band that writes lyrics like: “You’re gonna make it, you’ve got the fire, flames of your destiny, burning with desire. You’ve got the dreams, you’re burning higher. On wings wings of steel you fly to heights that will inspire!” (taken from “Over The Top”)?
The fifth album on this list is from a band I thought had thrown in the towel a few years ago, but have returned to deliver the best album of their entire career. Perhaps it’s just the “Gene Hoglan gene” that makes any band with him on drums sound awesome, but either way, it sure is nice to know that Fear Factory‘s Mechanize is a killer album. It takes the old school aggressive and raw sound of Fear Factory combined with the newer sound from albums like Archetype with big drawn-out clean vocal sections. If you ever heard Fear Factory and though “Hey, this isn’t too bad” you will most likely love Mechanize, as it takes everything Fear Factory ever did right, and steps it up a notch.
Surprisingly, there were some great metal bands that put out unenthusiastic and sub-par albums this year, including Arsis, Gamma Ray, and Heaven Shall Burn. The second half of 2010 looks quite promising with new albums from Blind Guardian, Whitechapel, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Iron Maiden, and many more all on the horozon.