In this post, I venture into new territory – album reviews! While they are not the focus of this blog, I wanted to provide a brief overview of five recently released albums that I listened to extensively in the past year. All of them exhibit greatness but I have specific criticisms that help shape the following ranking:
When I came across the video for the song Bròn by Saor, I was quite moved. In fact, the 2019 release Forgotten Paths is the most beautifully emotive metal album I have ever heard and a true masterpiece for this Gaelic, one-man band. The follow up, Origins, is quality stuff, with plenty of Scottish melodies mixed seamlessly into black metal underpinnings. With that said, it does not create the same magical atmosphere that defined prior work. The track Fallen stands out with its shifting momentum and neo-folk apex that carries the song’s second half. The rest of the tracks are good but less memorable, even after many listens. In spite of this, Forgotten Paths takes listeners on a unique musical journey though the majestic wilderness of the Caledonian Forest, an aura that is hard to match.
Amorphis is a band that was very formative for me in my early days of listening to extreme metal. I immediately connected with the doomy sound of 1994’s Tales from the Thousand Lakes. That album holds a special place in my heart because the lyrics are based on the Kalevala, an epic national poem that reminds me of my Finnish grandmother. The band evolved to embrace a progressive style and did so successfully, becoming one of Finland’s most renowned metal artists. I enjoyed Halo because it provides the nostalgia of Eclipse by not shaking the foundation of the post 2000s Amorphis formula. Northwards is a strong opening track that sets the tone for this collection of mid-paced pieces that draw on Eastern melodies and prominent percussion. The interplay of clean and roaring vocals throughout the album reinforces its recognizable sound. The Moon reminds me of The Smoke with a similar opening and catchy chorus. A New Land gestures back to songs like Into Hiding but with a polished feel. My main criticism is that much of this album gives me déjà vu with familiar songs that blend and lack distinctiveness. Still, there are jazzy keyboard solos and choral elements (for example, at the end of The Wolf) that keep things interesting.
What happens when you mix Children of Bodom’sFollow the Reaper, the folky tempo of Finntroll, and an “internet famous” hype man turned talk show host goblin? The result is Nekrogoblikon, a Southern California melo-death ensemble that does not take metal so seriously, but is still seriously good. The Fundamental Slimes and Humours is jam packed with EDM-inspired, synth focused tunes that alternate vocal styles between clean singing, hardcore-style shouting, and the signature gobliny gutturals. The riffs in Yin and A Lesson in Hate are in the vein of Korpiklaani while singles Golden Future and Right Now incorporate elements of nu-metal. Bones is a slam-dunk with its memorable battle cry chorus. For a band that relies so much on humor, the lyrics are less comical and not nearly as self-aware as the 2015 single We Need a Gimmick. Thematically speaking, I would describe it as avant-garde polka with a gloomy and reflective tone. This album is one of their best yet, but it does not surpass 2018’s Welcome to Bonkers (because The Skin Thief is just unbeatable).
As a fan of their 2019 release, Prokopton, I had high expectations for this French melodic death metal quartet. They did not disappoint. In fact, this is the best album I have heard in at least a decade. The only reason why it is not my top album of 2022 is because it actually came out in 2021. A Dream of Wilderness channels the spirit of Alexi Laiho with a strong neoclassical edge and stellar composition. Guitarist and vocalist Marion Bascoul mixes harsh growls with bursts of operatic vocals, creating a dynamic mix that elevates the album. Every song is excellent but the singles Antigone and Panta Rhei are particularly impactful with powerful Mozart worthy melodies and near perfect arrangements. The album demonstrates impressive cohesiveness and clean production without sacrificing aggressiveness. I predict that Le Radeau de La Méduse will earn a permanent spot on future set lists as it takes listeners on a varied voyage of a shipwreck that is immortalized in a famous French painting. With its beautiful aesthetic inspired by nature, Greek mythos, and French culture, A Dream of Wilderness defines of the future of melodic death metal by being technical, symphonic, and importantly, holding true to the subgenre’s origins.
If someone told me in 2010 that my top album pick of 2022 would be an album released by Ghost, I would not have believed it. Back then, I was still an elitist. Ghost was deeply offensive to me because they were obviously not metal and were clearly complete posers for mixing an accessible sound with black metal theatrics. Over the years, I warmed up to Ghost’s catchiness and developed an appreciation for Tobias Forge’s successful application of the KISS formula, which brought the band tremendous success in recent years.
Many describe Ghost as “throwback metal” with a vintage sound that beckons arena rock of the late 1960s or 1970s. However, Impera throws me back to a time that I really want to be thrown back to – the 1980s. This entire album is dripping with Foreigner and Whitesnake vibes. My favorite track, Spillways, emulates Bon Jovi’sRunaway and Toto’sHold the Line in an overproduced, radio friendly, don’t forget the backing choir fashion. The track Respite on the Spitalfields reminds me of Alice Cooper’sPoison with its distinctive opening and mid-tempo progression. Despite these familiarities, the album does not lack originality. The song Twenties mixes Megadeth-esque riffing with orchestral horns and awkward lyrics (In the twenties (twenties), we’ll be singing in a reign of pennies! What?). Singles Call Me Little Sunshine and Hunter’s Moon showcase the sound that defined 2015’s Meliora and built the following that Ghost enjoys today.
The nice thing about being an elder metal head is that you don’t have to care about what is and isn’t metal. You get to appreciate music for what it is. Regardless of how we should define Ghost,Impera is simply good.