This year, I made an effort to stay more or less on top of the new releases. This was probably due to the fact that a lot of bands that I really like came out with something new this year. Even though Time II hasn’t made it to the public yet, there was a lot to look forward to. So here are some of my picks from 2014.
This unquestionably goes to my Canadian favorite, Devin Townsend, for The Devin Townsend Project’s delightfully fantastic Z2. What was great about this album? Everything. What was crappy about it? Nothing! My only complaint was that when I wanted to listen to “March of the Poozers” on repeat for six hours, I had to keep listening through the narration at the end. Then it was brought to my attention that good ol’ Devin released a 3-CD version of the album that had Dark Matters (the Ziltoid part of the album) without the narration. How considerate is that? Man, I can’t believe I only started listening to him in March.
I loved Epicloud, so Z2 was easily a good followup for me, because the Sky Blue part of the album was a bit reminiscent of that. Also, have I mentioned how much I love Devin and Anneke van Giersbergen? What a combination. I have always loved that pairing, ever since I saw them performing together at Tuska a few years ago. Also, for whatever reason, I wasn’t big into the original Ziltoid, but I really enjoyed Dark Matters. It was easier to follow and the songs were, to me, catchier. Also, seriously, “March of the Poozers.” But more on that later.
Before I move on, however, I want to throw out a special mention to Machinae Supremacy for Phantom Shadow because, as much as I loved Z2, this was, in fact, a tight battle, and a battle between story albums no less! Z2 has the advantage of having two full albums to compete with, but Phantom Shadow was a great album with an incredible story – you just have to really dig to find it, and that’s the only reason this was not a tie.
I had a toss-up for this one between “Fallout” and “March of the Poozers” from Z2. Since I have no category for Best Female-Fronted Song, I decided to give this one to “Fallout,” because that song is just… it’s just great. Anneke van Giersbergen is just wonderful. Devin is wonderful. The harmonizing is chilling. The song is huge and addictive. It fills me with joy.
BEST FOLK ALBUM
Like last year, this was another easy choice for me. None of the main folk bands I know/care about put anything out other than Eluveitie, but their latest was solid. Origins was a good album. It has a nice balance between history and music, which I’ve always liked in their work. Also, it was a nice followup to Helvetios, which I also really enjoyed (especially after the disappointment that was Everything Remains). It’s a solid album for a straight-through listen, and I have yet to actually pick out individual songs because it just works as a whole. Also, points for not having any songs I want to skip over.
BEST FEMALE-FRONTED ALBUM
I would give this to Devin Townsend again if I could, but I think logically that would be unfair. It isn’t really female-fronted, even if there are female vocalists on almost, if not every song on both albums. In the end, I’m going to give this one to Amaranthe for Massive Addictive. Weird choice, you say? I’ll explain myself. I think Lacuna Coil has gotten more and more uninteresting since Shallow Life and found Broken Crown Halo to be totally boring. And while I think Hydra was a huge step back in the right direction for Within Temptation after they broke my heart with the terribleness that was The Unforgiving, it wasn’t enough to sway me to their cause. However, Amaranthe’s latest impressed me, mostly because for the first time, there was a little differentiation on the album. This band has kept my attention solely because of their cute vocalist and their ability to hit me right in the feels with their slow songs (“Amaranthe” and “Burn With Me” from the last two albums respectively). “True” again got me right in that special spot, but mostly, I was happy to not feel otherwise like I was listening to the same song over and over. “Dynamite” was like their old music, but not. It shows progress for them as artists, and for that, they win this category.
BEST FOLK SONG
This was a tad tricky. As I said before, Eluveitie had the only contender for Folk Album, but I liked the album as a whole. I had no one single song that I skip over, but neither did I have one that gripped me. As a result, I will go with “Call of the Mountains.” It was the single and the first song I heard off the album, and I liked the music video, so it is, as a result, the only song that I have listened to separately and therefore sticks out a bit. It’s also a good song.
MOST EPIC SONG
Yay, we’re here! You saw it coming – the Devin Townsend Project‘s “March of the Poozers” from Z2! This song is just… just… holy shite. When I heard it, I loved it immediately. I couldn’t stop listening to it. This song makes me happy, makes me want to jump around, makes me want to pound my fist in the air, and makes me completely unable to wait for Devin’s next show in Helsinki. The marching-beat tends to always get me in a song, but this is more than just the epic march. It is everything I want in a song. It wins. It is taking all my willpower not to make it win every category here (yes, including Best Slow Song).
Special mention again goes to Machinae Supremacy for “Versus” because that’s where the album gets to the climax of the story, and it’s just freakin’ epic.
BEST SLOW SONG
It seems that, for the third album running, I’ll be handing this to Amaranthe. With their self-titled album they won it with their title track in 2011, and again in 2013 with “Burn With Me.” This year, “True” is going to take it once more. It was again one of the only songs off the album that really jumped out at me lyrically, and it is likewise the slowest one on the album. But as I said, they have an ongoing tradition of hitting me right in the feels with their slow songs and they did not disappoint me on the third album. I’ll keep to the original version though – the acoustic didn’t impress me as much as I hoped it would.
MOST CHILLING SONG
As much as I want to throw awards at Z2 for everything and anything, I have to go back to Machinae Supremacy for this one. I will say that until I knew the story behind Phantom Shadow, I had given this award to “Fallout” by DTP for the haunting intermingling of voices, but… once I knew the lore and story, this award cannot go anywhere other than “The Bigger They Are (the Harder They Fall)” by MaSu. For the character of Skye to find Agnes – the one true innocent in their group – resurrected and soulless (a phantom), and to have to kill her… it’s gut-wrenching.
BEST COVER SONG
Just like last year, there weren’t really any contenders for best cover song. I usually look to bands like Children of Bodom, Blind Guardian, Turisas, or Ensiferum for my cover fix, but none of them put out any albums this year. I could award this to Within Temptation for any number of their covers – “Summertime Sadness” or “Radioactive”… but I likewise didn’t think any of those were earth-shatteringly great. I’ll give them special mention for being the only band I listen to who did covers, but ultimately I’ll give this a no-winner.
Also, special mention to Fates Warning’s cover of “In Trance” by the Scorpions. It most certainly didn’t come out this year, but I discovered it this year, and it’s awesome.
Like I said last year, since I’m not a very technical music critic, this is a harder category for me to pick out because I have fairly limited knowledge on the subject. Of course, when something grabs me, it grabs me. That wasn’t exactly the case this year, but in a way it was. If you’re familiar with Machinae Supremacy at all, I’d like to hope you’ve heard their excellent album from 2010, A View from the End of the World. If you have, you may remember a song called “Indiscriminate Murder is Counterproductive,” with its super-catchy main line. Well, their latest album included a song called “The Second One” with a very similar, very catchy line. I’m not gonna lie, I am very impressed with a band who can rip off their own riff and still make a kickass song out of it. It was my favorite from the album and one of my favorites of the year. Winner hands-down.
I could list the entire Life and Times of Scrooge by Tuomas Holopainen (the instrumental version) for this entry as one big fat winner, because that album was magical and powerful. Unfortunately, the rules I myself made up prevent me from doing that, so I’ll have to go ahead and tell you my favorite song, instrumentally from that album. That would be a tough call, but I’ll go with “Cold Heart of the Klondike.” There is beauty and power in it. I love it.
BIGGEST POSITIVE SURPRISE
This one barely broke a tie. You already know my reasons for being positively surprised with Amaranthe’s Massive Addictive. It’s an evolution, and a positive one. That, in and of itself, demands my attention. However, I also want to give some credit to Within Temptation for Hydra. It’s no secret that I considered The Unforgiving to be a complete and utter disaster. It was perhaps the hugest step down I’ve ever seen a band take (except maybe Turisas2013) and I was horrified by it, even if in hindsight I enjoyed some of the songs. That being said, Hydra certainly isn’t back to their old standards, but it took risks and didn’t compromise and in the end, I think it was a step in a good direction from a band I had come to expect nothing from, and thus I was quite positively surprised with it. If I have to pick between the two, I’d go with Within Temptation, because it’s easier win my heart if I’ve never really liked you than it is if you lost my love for starting to suck.
BEST NEW DISCOVERY
I had a phase this year where I got back into hair metal/glam metal and started listening to a lot of Reckless Love (how did I miss their totally awesome third album last year?) and then at Tuska I was introduced to Santa Cruz. They are the most adorable band ever and their newest releases have been quite catchy and enjoyable. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do.
I’d also like to give a special mention to a not-so-new band made up of old members of Creed – Alter Bridge. Holy crap, the Blackbird album is amazing. It’s like the singer from Volbeat made a vocal baby with a hint of the dude from The Mars Volta. I hate the singer of Volbeat and The Mars Volta is a little weird for my taste, so I get some light metal or hard rock with great vocals, great music, and great lyrics. No complaints. It is seriously good stuff. They don’t qualify since they’re not exactly new, but I wanted to bring some attention to them nevertheless.
Ahh, blandest album of the year. This has been a tough one for the last few years. So many bands have been putting out really bland albums. Sonata Arctica’s Pariah’s Child? It was okay, I suppose. In Flames’ Siren Charms? It actually grew on me after a few listens. That leaves Broken Crown Halo by Lacuna Coil. I’ve listened to that album probably three or four times now and I still couldn’t even name the single, let alone any other song off it. So dull, just like the one before it. They’ve been on a slippery slope to forgettable lately, which is unfortunate. It’s not good, it’s not bad… it’s just forgettable.
This one floated around between a few bands. Iced Earth almost took it for me with Plagues of Babylon. The album itself wasn’t awful, but I had really high hopes for Iced Earth + Stu Block after Dystopia, so when Plagues wasn’t as good, I was really let down. In Flames, again, could’ve taken this one, but after Sounds of a Playground Fading, I honestly wasn’t overly surprised that Siren Charms was a pretty big step away from their old sound. I can’t really call it a disappointment because I hadn’t built it up.
In the end, I’ll go with In This Moment. This is a band I have been known to enjoy from time to time and I sort of forget them and come back to them frequently. I loved The Dream. Star-Crossed Wasteland had some good stuff. Blood was pretty good. But Black Widow? I found it mostly harsh, loud, and too much of an amalgamation of weird sounds (metalcore, rap, etc). I found the whole album to be a bit overwhelming and too much. I can see how some people into thrashier music might have liked it, but I thought Blood was a lot better.
My bands actually stayed together, for the most part, this year. However, there was a bit of a tragedy in the Nightwish family. Jukka Nevalainen seems to have been suffering from some pretty brutal insomnia. You could even see from his farewell video that he seems gaunt and exhausted. It’s a shame to see an active member of a band be forced to say goodbye, be it temporarily or permanently, due to health reasons, so he’ll take this one. I am enthusiastic to see what Kai Hahto will be capable of in his stead though.
This was a no-brainer for me after seeing Thunderstone perform with their new line-up before and after Tuska. While Rick Altzi was adequate, they weren’t the same without Pasi Rantanen. And really, nothing quite beats a good singer coming back home. Like Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson, or Iced Earth and Matt Barlow (for as long as that lasted), it’s just awesome. Especially if, like me, you discovered the band after the best vocalist left, and you suddenly find yourself able to see them live in their prime.
This isn’t just about Pasi Rantanen either though. No one likes to see drama in the family, but that is unfortunately the case with these lovely gents, so I was very pleased to see Atte Palokangas fitting in beautifully with them as their new drummer. Not only is he adorable and full of smiles, but he’s really fun to watch on stage. He plays well and he’s got style. I am very enthusiastic to see what their upcoming album will be like!
BEST COVER ART
This was an easy one for me, because while there was a lot of nice artwork this year, I can’t say anything inspired me to drop a bunch of money on a print of it. Oh wait, The Life and Times of Scrooge did exactly that. Not only did Tuomas Holopainen write a beautiful album, but he actually had Don Rosa, one of the original Donald Duck artists, draw the album cover – a melancholy look at Scrooge with his sack of gold, seeing the eyes of his lost love in the moon. I’m getting teary-eyed just writing about it.
WORST COVER ART
Iced Earth has always been a favorite of mine with album art. I was even once tempted to get a tattoo of one of the figures from The Righteous and the Wicked. With that in mind, I was pretty solidly disappointed in Plagues of Babylon’s cover art. While… I’m going to call him the slave driver, has the same oldschool Iced Earth look, the rest of the album is in a new style which, I won’t say is bad, but it’s rather unappealing. Their usual bright colors are muted to dirty, grimy colors (probably in tune with the whole “plagues” thing) and it’s all quite gruesome. But I think my main complaint here is the line-work. I tend to be a bit nostalgic in my taste for album covers and if you have an ongoing style, I am a little judgy when you stray from it (see Iron Maiden: The X Factor). This essentially had the same effect on me as Iron Maiden post-Derek Riggs. Plaguey? Yes. Proof of talent? Sure. Appealing? Not in the slightest. But hey, maybe that was the point.
BEST LIVE SHOW
This is often one of the hardest categories to pick. This year, in particular, I went to so many shows. In Flames may not have impressed me with their album, but the live show had everything I look for in terms of quality and atmosphere. Apocalyptica really stepped it up with the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra. Tarja Turunen’s show was small but really quite impressive. Finntroll is always great live, no matter when or where you see them. Moonsorrow stepped out of the closet for the first time in ages and apart from missing my favorite song, really let us have it. Devin Townsend was here! Children of Bodom were as tight as can be at Tuska. I’ve already mentioned that I love Thunderstone’s new line-up. It’s tough to pick.
So with all the nominees in place, I’m handing this one to In Flames. Usually when a band tosses out a questionable album, the live show suffers from the quality of the new music. That was absolutely not the case here. Their show in early November (sorry for not reviewing it) was one of the most insane shows I’ve been to in ages. I went into the pit for the first time in years and completely ruined my body (I totally screwed up my old whiplash injury and couldn’t move for two days afterward). Even the song choice was solid, with favorites like “Cloud Connected” and “Only for the Weak” mingling in with some of the only songs I liked off the disappointment that was Sounds of a Playground Fading and the uncomfortable newness of Siren Charms. That show was just brilliant and made me happy to have gone even though I’m still not sure how I feel about the latest album.
BEST MUSIC VIDEO
Oh dear, I always have trouble picking this one, unless there happens to just be an insanely pleasing music video, like “Thousandfold” had when Eluveitie put out Everything Remains (As it Never Was) a few years back.
First off are the special mentions. Sabaton had an interesting video about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being in a war. Even though they didn’t win any awards this year, their latest album was fantastic, and I want to at least mention them once in here somewhere. And props to Arch Enemy for “War Eternal,” because I do love a good old fashioned heavy performance video, and their new singer just looks and sounds amazing. The video for “Through Oblivion” (In Flames) was also interesting, to say the least.
In the end, I’m going to have to tie this one. I am a huge fan of nature and scenery, so in that regard, I badly want to give this one to Eluveitie for “Call of the Mountains.” That video is just straight-up beautiful, as is wherever they shot it. It also works so nicely with the song. Alas, I cannot deny the beauty in “A Lifetime of Adventure” by Tuomas Holopainen, which features Don Rosa drawing the album art, which as I mentioned before, is both beautiful and moving. Both of these appeal to me equally in different aspects, and therefore I cannot choose between them.
Most potential must go to Santa Cruz. I really enjoyed their live show at Tuska and I’ve been enjoying their single, “We Are the Ones Who Fall.” I’ve been hoping for an album to go with it for some time, but it won’t be released until next year. Let’s see if it takes any awards once it’s out!
So, 2014 was a pretty excellent year in music. The Devin Townsend Project, Sabaton, Machinae Supremacy, and Tuomas Holopainen all put out fantastic albums. I tried to cut back on live gigs this year and ended up seeing more shows in 2014 than I’ve ever seen in the course of a year before! There were some awesome music videos. It was hard to decide between many of the nominees this year, because there was so much great stuff to pick from.
Also, special mention to Queen Extravaganza and The Beards, neither of whom were contenders on these lists because they aren’t metal, but totally would have been if this was open-genre.
And before this gets wrapped up, let’s take another look at some upcoming albums that we’re definitely looking forward to from 2015!
2015 Potential Nominees:
1. Blind Guardian
A lot of my favorite bands either have albums planned or designated for 2015, so I am waiting with bated breath. I’m still waiting for Time II by Wintersun. Fingers crossed that Jari Mäenpää gets to do his crowdfunding project! Blind Guardian has always been one of my favorites and they’re usually a shoo-in for the album art category if nothing else. Nightwish? You can’t imagine how excited I am to see what they do with Floor Jansen and Troy Donockley. Helloween and Katatonia are also old favorites of mine. And you are now aware of how excited I am about Thunderstone’s new album based on their new line-up. Plus three of the big old names have material in production: Metallica, Megadeth, and Motörhead! Even Alice Cooper is putting out an album of covers, so there may be something in there for the cover category! Who even knows!? I can’t wait.
2015 Albums of Interest:
1. Bullet for My Valentine
2. Bring Me the Horizon
4. Dream Theater
5. The Darkness
Bullet for My Valentine and Bring Me the Horizon are two bands that I don’t know very well but have been known to enjoy in some respects – the former I hear from time to time on the radio, and the latter I’ve seen live at a festival or two. And Apocalyptica and Dream Theater are not usually in my top picks for the year, but I do like them and am always hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And The Darkness always gets a laugh out of me, no matter what.
And so to finish up, here is the full list of the 2014 Metal Awards:
1. Best New Album: The Devin Townsend Project – Z2 (Sky Blue & Dark Matters)
2. Best New Song: The Devin Townsend Project – “Fallout”
3. Best Folk Album: Eluveitie – Origins
4. Best Female-Fronted Album: Amaranthe – Massive Addictive
5. Best Folk Song: Eluveitie – “Call of the Mountains”
6. Most Epic Song: The Devin Townsend Project – “March of the Poozers”
7. Best Slow Song: Amaranthe – “True”
8. Most Chilling Song: Machinae Supremacy – “The Bigger They Are (The Harder They Fall)”
9. Best Cover Song: no winner
10. Best Solo/Riff: Machinae Supremacy – “The Second One”
11. Best Instrumental: Tuomas Holopainen – “Cold Heart of the Klondike”
12. Biggest Positive Surprise: Within Temptation – Hydra
13. Best New Discovery: Santa Cruz
14. Biggest Whatever: Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo
15. Biggest Disappointment: In This Moment – Black Widow
16. Saddest Farewell: Jukka Nevalainen (Nightwish)
17. Best Replacement: Pasi Rantanen & Atte Palokangas (Thunderstone)
18. Best Cover Art: Tuomas Holopainen – The Life and Times of Scrooge
19. Worst Cover Art: Iced Earth – Plagues of Babylon
20. Best Live Show: In Flames
21. Best Music Video: Tuomas Holopainen – “A Lifetime of Adventure” & Eluveitie – “Call of the Mountain”
22. Most Potential: Santa Cruz