Ever since 2009, at the end of the year, after I’ve had enough time to digest everything from the past 365 days, I write up a list of what I think were the best and the worst tracks and albums in the metal world (out of whatever I had listened to). Every year, I pick out what I thought were not just the best songs and albums and fill out a list of categories I’ve created.
However, 2013 proved to be problematic, as nothing truly earth-shattering was released this year. It makes for a very difficult to pick favorites when nothing stood out, but lets see what I can come up with!
As I just mentioned, there was nothing particularly *great* in 2013. However, I was very happy with Blodsvept by Finntroll. I like the direction they’re going in, I like their new sound, and this album is lots of fun to listen to. It wasn’t incredible by any means, but it’s good enough to get this vote.
Unfortunately, I have no winner for this award. It’s pretty common for my favorite song of the year to come from my favorite album, but in this case, I enjoyed the album as sort of a whole, completely, and no one song lashed out at me and dragged me into its depths. So though there were many good songs this year, I am unwilling to label one the ultimate champion over all others.
BEST FOLK ALBUM
This one was a pretty easy choice for me. I’ve never been on the Amorphis train enough for to be a contender, the old favorite for this category, Turisas, seems to be against the Viking/folk association these days, and I’m not familiar enough with Orphaned Land to want to give them this award when Finntroll has been consistently making me happier and happier over the years, and Blodsvept was another step in this direction. I love Finntroll’s funkier stuff, so this album was actually my favorite of theirs so far and was definitely deserving of the award. To be fair, Orphaned Land put up a good fight.
BEST FEMALE-FRONTED ALBUM
A bit trickier to choose was the Best Female-Fronted album. Bands like Sirenia and Tristania have never captured me enough to consider them, though I do keep an open mind in case they happen to surprise me. Leaves’ Eyes hasn’t put out anything that’s really blown my mind in quite some time, and Symphonies of the Night was no exception to this, though it was an improvement over Meredead. So, even though I’m not an overly big fan or even supporter of pop metal, I’m going to default this award to Amaranthe, since The Nexus was the only female-fronted album of 2013 that I would actually play for fun, and actually had one of my favorite songs of the year on it. I will not give the award without my usual complaint though – seriously guys, all of your songs sound the same. You’re lucky that one sound is really catchy.
BEST FOLK SONG
Now, I had a bit of a hard time with the Best Folk Song as well. For one, there were so many great folky songs on Blodsvept that it was hard to choose just one. And while Turisas2013 had practically nothing folky on it, there was “No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea.” In the end, Turisas loses this award because of the Alvin and the Chipmunks bit that ruined the song for me. I picked what I thought was the funkiest song from Blodsvept, and handed the award to “Två Ormar,” though it was a close call. If I listen to All is One by Orphaned Land some more, it’s possible that I could choose a song off that album that is equal to Två Ormar, but Finntroll’s stealing this one just because I’m more familiar with that album.
MOST EPIC SONG
The Most Epic Song was a bit easier. For one, there were not many bands that I listen to that put out big epic songs this year. Though Dream Theater released some great material, their songs are so long that it’s usually only part of the song that I love. As such, I’m going to give this one to Helloween for “Nabataea.” That song was an immensely good throwback to their older material with a bit of new flare and I enjoyed it probably as much as the rest of the album combined.
BEST SLOW SONG
The Best Slow Song was again no contest. While I often harshly criticize Amaranthe for their generic-sounding, catchy, poppy fast songs that all sound the exact same, they have been consistently hitting home runs with their slow songs. “Burn With Me” is a very passionate, emotional track, and it tugged on some chords within me that made this an easy choice. It is an easy successor to their winning slow song of 2011, Amaranthine.
MOST CHILLING SONG
Most Chilling Song usually goes to a track that makes me feel like my life will never be the same without it. Past winners were “Time” by Wintersun (2012), “Huuto” by Moonsorrow (2011), and “Curse My Name” by Blind Guardian (2010). Remember how I said that not a single album in 2013 really gripped me? Well, there was certainly nothing in 2013 to claim this award as a result.
BEST COVER SONG
Best Cover Song didn’t have many… or even any contenders this year, at least that I heard about, save maybe Within Temptation’s okay cover of “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons. I was about to announce “no winner” in this category until I was reminded that Children of Bodom did a version of “Sleeping in My Car” by Roxette. I’ll give them credit – while I’m not a big fan of Alexi Laiho or his ego, or their music for that matter, they usually do quite well with their covers and that happens to be my favorite Roxette song.
I often have a hard time picking the Best Solo/Riff of the year, because my knowledge of music is rather limited, technically speaking. Sometimes the choice is obvious, like in 2010’s winner, “The Lights are Many” by Kiuas. The keyboard solo in that song still gives me chills to this day. However, 2011 didn’t have a winner because there were no great solos that caught my attention. But, since I spent a good portion of 2013 complaining about Turisas2013, I’d like to give them a little credit for their drinking song, “No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea.” There was not nearly enough violin audible in that album, so that song made me really happy. Not only could you hear the incredibly talented Olli Vänskä for the first time during the whole album, but he was amazing. I can happily give this award to Turisas and ignore the weird Alvin and the Chipmunks bit that lost them Best Folk Song, since it has nothing to do with the riff itself.
Best Instrumental. Hmm, did I even hear an instrumental track in 2013? Dream Theater had some unbelievable instrumental work on their self-titled album, but they weren’t full instrumental tracks, so no winner.
BIGGEST POSITIVE SURPRISE
And, since every album that I expected to be good was good, and every album that I expected to be terrible was terrible, there was also no winner for Biggest Positive Surprise.
BEST NEW DISCOVERY
Likewise, I didn’t discover any amazing new bands in 2013, so there was no winner for Best New Discovery. Orphaned Land isn’t a new or remotely new band, so they aren’t eligible by my made-up rules for this.
This is one of my favorite awards. I give it to the band that had the blandest album of the year. The album that was tolerable enough to be adequate, but did not blow any minds. This probably had the most contenders of anything. I’ve been giving this to Leaves’ Eyes a lot lately – Meredead won it back in 2011. Symphonies of the Night was a perfectly okay album with absolutely nothing special about it. That is basically the definition of this award, and as such, they can have it again. However, I’m going to give special mention to Within Temptation’s Q-Music Sessions. It’s not a winner because it wasn’t a “real” album and lots of this material will end up on their 2014 album, so it doesn’t qualify. However, this album was a collection of cover songs from non-metal bands and even the covers of songs I liked were nothing more than mediocre. Better luck with your original work in Hydra in 2014, guys! I’m hoping you don’t take Biggest Disappointment again like you did in 2011 with The Unforgiving.
Speaking of Biggest Disappointment, this year was another no-brainer. Turisas2013, from the name to the album art to the songs was the definition of a step down for a band. Though I understand that these guys are trying to avoid the whole Viking/folk metal label, they went a little too far into the pop-metal sound, abandoned the original use of great instruments, even dropped the ostentatious symphonics of Stand Up and Fight, and just got way too generic-sounding. These guys stole the show in 2008 with Best Album and Best Song, and even kept up Best Folk Album in 2011 with Stand Up and Fight, even though it wasn’t that folky. This was nothing more than what the award states: a big fat disappointment.
Now, most years bands part ways with certain members or with each other in general. Nightwish lost Tarja Turunen, Norther dropped Pete Lindroos, and Iced Earth lost, regained, and lost Matt Barlow again. This year, the saddest thing to break my heart was Kiuas’ decision to disband. They have been a favorite of mine since I was introduced to them when I moved to Finland in 2009, and I am actively convinced that the reason they made this decision was because Ilja Jalkanen actually was irreplaceable as a vocalist. Since his departure broke my heart in 2010, I suppose this one was to be expected in the end. Thanks for the great albums and unbelievable live shows. Lustdriven will always remain one of my favorite albums.
With the sadness of loss, there is often joy in the selection of new members. In 2012, the saddest farewell was given to Anette Olzon when she gave up on Nightwish. While she was never my first choice for Tarja’s replacement, I enjoyed the music she made with Nightwish. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Floor Jansen is exactly the kind of vocalist I would’ve picked if I had been given the choice. I loved her with After Forever, and I loved her as the replacement vocalist for Anette over the summer. I am delighted that they made the situation permanent (and special mention to the addition of Troy Donockley), but the Best Replacement is undeniably Floor Jansen in Nightwish.
BEST COVER ART
Best Cover Art is usually a great award to give, because I don’t need to love the album to love its cover art. However, whenever Blind Guardian is a contender, they pretty much always steal the award without question (with the exception of A Night at the Opera in 2002). So even though I am a huge fan of Samuli Ponsimaa and the art he does for Finntroll’s albums, I still think Blind Guardian’s Memories of a Time to Come compilation had one up on them. If I’m not allowed to include boxed sets though, then Finntroll wins it as the runner up.
WORST COVER ART
I’m pretty sure I already mentioned this, but Turisas2013 is the winner without a doubt. For one, the overexposed, gritty quality of the picture doesn’t appeal to me. Also, when you’re meant to be a band, it bugs me a little bit when you only feature one member on an album cover. Couldn’t the rest of the band (especially with all those new members) have been included in the background or something? Anyways, have you seen the movie, Almost Famous? The band has an argument in the middle of the movie because there’s a misprint on their first T-shirt and only the guitarist is in focus. The vocalist calls it a metaphor for their whole band’s dynamic. That’s kind of how I feel about this Turisas album cover. Not only do I dislike the overall style, but I feel like the vocalist might just be a big ol’ man-diva sometimes, and this only reinforces that feeling. Also, why is the top of his head missing?
BEST LIVE SHOW
This category may have had the most contenders. I managed to see a few bands live for the first time this year, some of which were surprisingly good. One example is that I saw Manowar for the first time in my life in 2013. They didn’t even make the top three. What does that tell you? Probably that Manowar shouldn’t play overfull club gigs, that’s what. Anyways, the runners up for 2013 were The Darkness, with their crazy stage performance, and encore with the vocalist riding around on his brother’s shoulders in the crowd, and any Nightwish gig I saw with Floor Jansen. Seeing Tuomas Holopainen smiling like that warmed my heart. They didn’t win this one though, because they’re only just starting their new life together and I expect them to remain contenders for the award when their next album is released. With that said, the ultimate gig of 2013 was undoubtedly Kiuas’ farewell show. I’ve never seen anything like it. They had every member they’ve ever had performing with them, which at times meant two keyboardists, two drummers, and two vocalists together. The only complaint I had about it was that they brought the bad singer back, and he was offensive in the same way he was when he was active with the band. But I love Kiuas with Ilja Jalkanen so much that I’m willing to forgive that call and still award them with the show of the year because I’ve never seen anything like it, and don’t expect to see anything like it again.
BEST MUSIC VIDEO
When it comes to music videos, it’s always a tough call. It’s very subjective, and I myself am a bit judgmental when it comes to what I’m seeing my bands do in their videos. Though Amaranthe’s “The Nexus” had an interesting first-person-shooter thing going on, I ultimately am going to go for something simpler in picking a favorite. “The Wanderer” by Amorphis was set to a simple yet nicely-done video of the band performing the track. Sometimes less is more, and for 2013’s selection of videos, I think they nailed it. I could’ve given the award to Dark Tranquillity for “Construct” or Avenged Sevenfold for “Hail to the King” on the same criteria, but in the end, I liked Amorphis’ song better, so they took it. I’ll give a special mention to another runner up, Within Temptation featuring Tarja Turunen, for their video for “Paradise (What About Us?).” It was a cool video; I just wish I knew the story behind it.
This was another tricky one, because like I said, I didn’t really find any up-and-coming bands this year. However, I’m gonna default this one to Anette Olzon’s solo album that’s due out in 2014. I heard her first release and while it is rather Evanescence-like, I was actually surprised at how metal the album was. Pop-metal sure, but I honestly didn’t think she’d go heavy at all when working on her own, so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that I like her upcoming album as much as any Evanescence album I’ve ever heard before.
At this point, I’ll express my condolences over the loss of Clive Burr, Jeff Hanneman, Claudio Leo, and any other artists who passed away in 2013. I never listened to Slayer, and I don’t know much about the musicians from Lacuna Coil, but Clive Burr was the original drummer from a band that greatly changed my life as a teenager, and surely without these musicians’ contributions to music, many lives would be different today. Farewell and rest in peace.
So, that’s it. I just wasn’t blown away with anything new that came out in 2013… at least not enough to actually name a best song. However, I’m going to leave on a positive note and list some of the albums that I’m looking forward to in 2014, in the hopes that some of them make nominations for these awards in early 2015!
2014 Potential Nominees:
1. Iced Earth – Plagues of Babylon
2. Within Temptation – Hydra
3. Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child
4. Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo
5. Delain – The Human Contradiction
6. Tuomas Holopainen – Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
7. Sabaton – Heroes
8. Wintersun – Time II
A few comments on these potential nominees, if I may. It looks like it’ll be a good year for female-fronted bands. Lacuna Coil and Delain haven’t impressed me much with their last albums, so I hope those two make a comeback. Sonata Arctica’s 2012 album was rather mediocre, but “The Wolves Die Young” has led me to hope for something a bit better this year. Iced Earth’s Dystopia album with Stu Block was a good start for the new singer and I hope they do even better this time. Sabaton holds a pretty solid standard that I hope they stick to in 2014. And if Wintersun releases the second part to Time as promised, I’m certain it and Tuomas Holopainen’s album are going to be duking it out for most of the awards.
2014 Albums of Interest:
1. van Canto – Dawn of the Brave
2. Anette Olzon – Shine
3. Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead
4. Epica – The Quantum Enigma
Van Canto is more of a “for fun” band for me, and I don’t take their music seriously enough to qualify them for awards. Who knows though – they may just surprise me yet. I already mentioned that I don’t expect more from Anette Olzon than an Evanescence-quality album, but I’ve been known to enjoy Evanescence from time-to-time, so I hope she surprises me. Epica is another band that I enjoy but not actively. I love them live but their music has always gone a bit too operatic for me, but I’ve been enjoying their newer albums more, so here’s hoping they continue to impress me. However, since they’re not in my top female-fronted bands, I don’t expect to like their 2014 album better than Lacuna Coil or Within Temptation. And Gamma Ray is a popular band in these parts, but their music always sounded far too close to rip-offs of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Helloween for me to take them seriously. I’ll give their forthcoming album a try nevertheless though.
And so to finish up, here is the full list of the 2013 Metal Awards:
1. Best New Album: Finntroll – Blodsvept
2. Best New Song: No winner
3. Best Folk Album: Finntroll – Blodsvept
4. Best Female-Fronted Album: Amaranthe – The Nexus
5. Best Folk Song: Finntroll – “Två Ormar”
6. Most Epic Song: Helloween – “Nabataea”
7. Best Slow Song: Amaranthe – “Burn With Me”
8. Most Chilling Song: No winner
9. Best Cover Song: Children of Bodom – “Sleeping in my Car” (Roxette)
10. Best Solo/Riff: Turisas – “No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea”
11. Best Instrumental: No winner
12. Biggest Positive Surprise: No winner
13. Best New Discovery: No winner
14. Biggest Whatever: Leaves’ Eyes – Symphonies of the Night
15. Biggest Disappointment: Turisas – Turisas2013
16. Saddest Farewell: Kiuas’ disbanding
17. Best Replacement: Nightwish – Floor Jansen
18. Best Cover Art: Blind Guardian – Memories of a Time to Come
19. Worst Cover Art: Turisas – Turisas2013
20. Best Live Show: Kiuas – farewell gig at Nosturi
21. Best Music Video: Amorphis – “The Wanderer”
22. Most Potential: Anette Olzon