This Italian symphonic power metal act underwent a major, albeit amicable, split in 2011: founding guitarist Luca Turilli left the band to form Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, while keyboardist Alex Staropoli and vocalist Fabio Lione kept Rhapsody of Fire alive. This disc is almost stripped-down by RoF standards—sure, the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra are present, but their flourishes are kept to a relative minimum, and there’s no storyline, or portentous narration from Christopher Lee, this time around. This is pure power metal, hooky as hell, with new guitarist Roberto De Micheli (an original member of Thundercross, the band that became Rhapsody of Fire) cutting loose with solos that aren’t quite as virtuosic as Turilli’s, but definitely get the job done and then some. And with lyrics in both English and Italian, you might even learn something as you pump your fist and sing along.
Stream “Rising from Tragic Flames”:
9. Suffocation, Pinnacle of Bedlam (Nuclear Blast)
Suffocation are one of the most important American death metal bands; it’s impossible to really embrace the genre without exploring their discography. Pinnacle of Bedlam offers the more-or-less simple pleasures their albums have always possessed in abundance, but there are some unique touches that vault it out of the pack. For one thing, the mix, by producer Zeuss, is extraordinarily clear. Every element is clearly audible, which wasn’t the case on 2009’s blurry, bludgeoning Blood Oath. For another, Pinnacle finds lead guitarist Terrance Hobbs…frankly, showing off. He throws in jazz chords, lets all the other instruments drop out leaving his guitar naked in the spotlight, and plays some killer solos. Plus, he wrote most of the album himself. Pinnacle of Bedlam proves that 20 years in, Suffocation are at the peak of their powers. (Read our interview with Terrance Hobbs.)
Deicide made their name in the 1990s, debuting at the beginning of the decade, but truth be told, they went through a slump for quite a while after their earliest albums. Fortunately, the band’s guitarists, brothers Eric and Brian Hoffman, fell out with bassist/vocalist Glen Benton and left in 2004, forcing him to replace them with much better players like Obituary‘s Ralph Santolla, Cannibal Corpse‘s Jack Owen and now Kevin Quirion. Beginning with 2006’s The Stench of Redemption, Deicide‘s been on a creative hot streak; granted, their overall style hasn’t changed a bit, and Benton hasn’t abandoned his relentless anti-Christian ranting (except on 2010’s Till Death Do Us Part, which was basically a concept album about his divorce), but the riffs have more potency, and the solos are better, than at any time in the past. Deicide are playing to their strengths here—they’re a great band, and this is a great record.
Stream “In the Minds of Evil”:
7. Immolation, Kingdom of Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast)
Here’s another veteran death metal act that’s undergoing a surprising late-career surge. Immolation‘s never made a bad record, but their last two studio efforts—2010’s Majesty and Decay and 2011’s Scion AV-sponsored Providence EP—were astonishing statements of purpose, heavy as a rain of anvils and the product of pure artistic self-confidence. This band knows who they are, and what they do well. It’s something of a surprise, then, that this album finds them shifting their lyrical focus from anti-religious rhetoric to politics; the songs delve into some of the same we’re-all-slaves-to-the-nameless-Them ideas that can be heard on latter-day Megadeth records like The System Has Failed, Endgame and United Abominations. Fortunately, these guys are smarter than Dave Mustaine.
Watch the lyric video for “Indoctrinate”:
6. Fueled by Fire, Trapped in Perdition (Noiseart/Napalm)
Trapped in Perdition, produced by Hate Eternal‘s Erik Rutan, is Norwalk, California’s Fueled by Fire‘s best album to date. Guitarists Rick Rangel (who also sings) and Chris Monroy riff with intensity and precision, and their dual solos have a wild, nearly out-of-control quality reminiscent of Slayer. But drummer Carlos Gutierrez is one of the band’s true MVPs; his powerful, behind-the-beat groove gives the band serious power (especially on slower songs like “Forsaken Deity”) and his hi-hat work is a subtle highlight, accenting riffs and phrases and making the listener’s ears perk up across the album. Rangel’s vocals have an unformed quality; he still sounds like he’s been reluctantly drafted following the departure of original vocalist Gio Herrera (heard on their debut, 2006’s Spread the Fire). But he gets the job done, and frankly, the vocals are mostly just there to fill space between the guitar solos, which are seriously ferocious. (Read our full-length review.)