AFM records, Battle Beast, Brainstorm, Burning Point, Elis, Elvenking, Helion Prime, Jag Panzer, Metal Blade, Napalm Records, Nightmare, Nightwish, Orden Ogan, Powerwolf, Saint Vitus (2019), Season of Mist, Seven Kingdoms, third eye cinema podcast, Watchtower
Here at Third Eye, we review incoming materials, all brand spanking new and au courant.
As a rule, these are graded on a slight curve. By comparison with the bands they’re so obviously drawing style and inspiration from, yes, but more importantly against the avalanche of similarly inclined bands and albums being released at that time.
A mediocre album in a particularly horrid month may get a relieved bit of praise larger than it may have merited against a barrage of superior albums; a good album may be lost and seem more average in the same postulative situation. And so it goes.
As such, and given the tendency of reviews of a given band to agree over the span of several releases, I defer to the printed reviews for those genres not covered herein.
That said, with the passing of another decidedly dicey decade (whose ending is far, far worse than its dawn ever was), many folks have been sharing “best of the decade” lists…and while outside of the site, yours truly’s tastes lean decidedly to the glory days over more current slim pickings, there certainly have been a number of bands and albums who have made quite the impression, first in the course of the monthly reviewables and eventually worming their welcome way into the personal collection and black heart of yours truly.
So here’s our decidedly power metal skewed take on the best releases of the decade:
Battle Beast – Steel
Burning Point- s/t
Remember when Anton Kabanen decided to build a diehard trad metal band, with a killer femme frontwoman and flashy leads…marred only occasionally by his misguided attempts at gargle-snarl “singing” a verse or two?
Yep, once there was a band worthy of its moniker, all suited up for battle and taking the lead. You know, before they swapped frontwomen…
Similarly, there was a band whose work sort of flew under the radar, until they made the ingenious choice to grab said Nitte Valo and bring her onboard for a half-reworked “hits”, half new material wall to wall slammer.
Even the covers were great on this and it’s somewhat lesser, more depressive followup…amazing material from two bands who’d done (or would do) far less.
Guess the common denominator.
Orden Ogan – To the End
From a middling (if far better produced and more melodic and anthemic both vocally and musically) reworking of Blind Guardian’s massive multitracked choral approach, these Germans really made their mark with this album, building off the loveably silly “we’re pirates!” to a grim, icy bombast on a completely different level.
The subsequent Gunmen would prove an interesting shift into unusual territory, but that title track’s irresistible riff (and some uncomfortably cheesy lyrics) aside, it just didn’t have the singles to drive it…which To the End certainly does, in spades.
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost,
Just Highs No Lows
Oddly denigrated by the public at large as “working class power metal”, these long running, suprisingly dark toned Germans are quite simply THE best thing in European power metal since Rhapsody surrendered the crown back in the Dark Secret days. Riffs like there’s no tomorrow, earworm melodic bridges and boisterously anthemic choruses, with few dud or filler tracks on recent albums.
While their AFM material tends to be far stronger and more accomplished in these respects (especially on the recent Midnight Ghost and the slightly earlier then-career high of Firesoul), anything you’d ever want to hear from their angrier, less polished Metal Blade run is present, accounted for and works so much better in the cherry picked all killer no filler 2 disc 2009 compilation Just Highs No Lows, which lives up to its title so well, it becomes their de facto best album to date (and well worth squeaking in under the wire).
Get these three albums, you have all you need…thus far.
Nightmare- Dead Sun
After two amazing albums back in the 80’s, this on again, off again French power/trad metal band floundered for many a year and forgettable album before updating their sound to something a tad more industrialized, with a Leather Leone-esque frontwoman and some surprisingly punchy, melodic tracks.
It’s been a few years, and given their track record, we can only hope they come back with another similarly minded record soon…
Powerwolf – Preachers of the Night
Blessed and Possessed
Sabaton’s cheesier, more amusingly engaging Austrian cousin really delivers the simplistic but entirely irresistible earworms here, on their two strongest albums to date. Even a recent covers album showed bands leaning heavily on this pair for their choice of material…that should say it all right there.
A goofy image, a silly schtick about werewolves and faux-black metal corpsepainted distaste for religion (while writing songs about holy priapus, coleus Sanctus and blessed ejaculate…yeah, it’s all tongue in cheek to say the least) marry to the stupidly winning material to pull these two well into the forefront.
Sadly, their latest simply doesn’t cut it, with a change of style and approach sure to leave fans of their peak material cold.
Helion Prime – s/t
Seven Kingdoms – Decennium
A rare pair of US based (if still rather Euro in approach and style) power metal acts who can actually pull it off, the two acts contrast in choice of lyric and stance (while Seven Kingdoms sticks to a more fantasy/Lovecraftian thing, Helion Prime works an SF dystopia along the lines of a more Jurassic Park take on Iron Savior) but meet in quality of musicianship and a pair of essential frontwomen driving the material.
While Seven Kingdoms has since dropped a mediocre if not rambling EP, Helion Prime is the jump the shark moment, having lost frontwoman Heather Smith and opted for some generic male to take the mic, to decidedly yawn inducing result.
Caveat: these guys appear to have learned their lesson and recruited another frontwoman to the ranks before album #3…good on ya for learning from your mistakes, guys.
Elis – Catharsis
The sudden passing of Sabine Dunstler left up and comers Elis at a crisis point. While they’d built a name for themselves over the course of a trio of albums, the lady was not only the public face and voice of the band, but their lyricist.
Grabbing pretty Sandra Schleret from third tier acts Siegfried and Dreams of Sanity, they first released an EP containing the final tracks Dunstler recorded and used their most accomplished track “show me the way” as a showcase for their new vocalist.
Far more visual and stage-ready than her predecessor, Schleret lent her quirky yet powerful vocals to what many of us at the time dismissed as “not Sabine”…but which the passage of time reveals as Elis’ very strongest and most consistent album.
Far more melodic, radio friendly and even anthemic at times than all but the best moments of the Dunstler albums, Catharsis was both a tribute and dedication to their departed frontwoman and a step forward into something new and arguably more powerful…or so it could have been.
Persistent health concerns were reported with Schleret, and whatever the case, bandleader and guitarist Pete Streit briefly threw in his lot with the internally combusting Leaves Eyes, only to wind up yet another piece of meat for the grinder that band proved to be in its post-Legend Land heyday. To date, there have been no further glimmers from this band, who appear to have thrown in the towel for good. Schleret has apparently settled in as a housewife and who knows what became of Streit and company.
At least they went out on a real bang…if you haven’t indulged yet, do so immediately.
Saint Vitus – s/t (2019)
This confusingly untitled release – not to be confused with the band’s 1981 debut, also untitled – parallels the prior decade’s Candlemass self titled in that it represents a long awaited reunion and return to form after decades of forgettable material, most of which featured a very different frontman and approach.
This is also a parallel in terms of its limitations, as neither quite lives up to the lineups’ respective heyday(s). But.
Where Candlemass floundered poorly apart from beefy afro’ed dramatic tenor “Messiah” Marcolin, Saint Vitus actually garnered some acclaim for their earliest work with “Wino” Weinrich, who eschewed the horror fantasy lyrics and distinctive quirky individualist vocal stylings of (superior) original frontman Scott Reagers in favor of a far earthier, bluesy approach and lyrics more based on substance abuse and regret – a literal doomy stoner, if you will.
And there’s no question this somewhat radical change worked quite well on Born Too Late and moreso on the Thirsty and Miserable EP. But a succession of unimpressive albums, brief reunions with Reagers (mostly on the live end, but also with the rather dodgy Die Healing, which impressed no one in its failure to sound like either Weinrich or Reagers stylistically) and hiatuses left the band very much a legacy act.
But finally, this album brought the original band back into the studio for an album that, far moreso than the aforementioned Candlemass reunion, actually recaptured the sound and feel of their glory days. If you didn’t know so many years had passed, it’s conceivable a naive listener could be fooled into thinking this was a direct follow up to Hallows Victim, or even the self titled and Walking Dead EP before it.
No, it’s not perfect…but it’s the most authentic feeling comeback album you’re ever likely to hear.
Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
While too much of this is instrumental bombast gone awry, we’re including this album for proving quite a revitalization to the long-floundering post-Wishmaster Nightwish and the equally long-slumming Floor Janssen, whose last quality performance came in the Mark Janssen days of After Forever with Decipher! When this album works, when Floor is opening up and letting ‘er rip…you’ll almost believe gothic/symphonic metal is a thing again.
Elvenking – the Winter’s Wake
Yeah, yeah, it’s a few years prior to a decade back…but they’re still kicking around, despite producing far more generic material nowadays. This was by far their best, mixing their AFI sensibilities with a post-Skyclad folk metal and the anthemic melodicism of European power metal. Now if only they’d circle back and drop an album worth of this…or Wyrd…or Tragedy Poets again.
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Two words. Joey Tafolla.
He’s back, they sound better than they have since the unreleased (at the time) Shadow Thief…what the hell else did you need to know? Melodic, Schenker-esque, masterful, and big throated frontman Harry ‘Tyrant’ Conklin sounds great as well. A comeback album we’ve been waiting decades for.
Watchtower – Concepts of Math
Not as essential as the Jason McMaster demos, but for those who prefer the Alan Tecchio era, this is a welcome comeback EP. As ever with these guys, it’s flash at the expense of harmony or melody…but no question they house all the new kids and show ’em just how it’s done.