All week, we’ve been counting down the 25 best metal albums of the year (here’s Part 1; here’s Part 2; here’s Part 3; here’s Part 4), and we’ve finally reached the end. These are the top five. Enjoy!
5. Myrkur, M
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Myrkur is the project of Danish singer-songwriter Amalie Bruun. Her work blends folk, post-rock, and black metal into a swirling, foglike sound that prioritizes none of these elements, but manages to keep them from sounding tacked-on or cut and pasted together. The use of traditional instruments and almost liturgical harmonies alongside noisy, deliberately ugly guitars sets up an otherworldly paradigm that has little to do with rock, and neither is it particularly “black metal,” despite genre partisans’ attempts to categorize Myrkur thus, for good or ill. Her work deserves consideration as modern composition more than anything else, and its singularity demands (and rewards) serious attention.
4. Huntress, Static
Huntress’s third album is more accomplished and focused than its two predecessors. The band are fluent in a variety of styles, from doom to the almost punky hard rock of “I Want to Wanna Wake Up,” while avoiding a trying-on-hats feel. All these songs sound like Huntress songs, not like covers or style-pastiches. Lyrically, singer Jill Janus has shifted gears. The first five songs on Static make up a kind of suite, in which the lyrics reflect very real, autobiographical pain. The album’s second half is a little more escapist, but the feeling that all these songs are deeply personal for Janus is inescapable. That’s not the direction many would have predicted for Huntress after hearing either of their first two albums, but it’s a welcome and impressive evolution.
3. Chaos Echoes, Transient
French black/death metal band Chaos Echoes combine the relentless density of acts like Portal and AEvangelist with the space-rock experimentation of Spektr and Blut Aus Nord. With its cold and inscrutable synthesis of psychedelia, industrial, death metal, black metal and even free jazz, their debut album has set a new mark that others must strive to surpass. The band’s sonic repertoire features throbbing bass, sculpted feedback, skittering drums, and an atmosphere like the inside of an empty, haunted spaceship. Meanwhile, the vocalist doesn’t enter until 25 minutes into the album, his hoarse, choking growl bouncing from one side of the stereo field to the other like a phantom inside the listener’s head. This is a deeply unsettling record.
2. Hate Eternal, Infernus
Infernus is Hate Eternal’s most progressive and expansive album. The first few tracks are full-blast death metal, guitarist Erik Rutan’s psychedelic, almost hovering riffs and ranting vocals propelled by J.J. Hrubovcak’s throbbing bass and Chason Westmoreland’s relentless blast beats. But as Infernus goes along, surprising compositional touches begin to emerge; the title track begins with an ominous, dramatic spoken interlude atop atmospheric guitars, before launching forward with a tumbling rockslide rhythm. Meanwhile, “O’ Majestic Being, Hear My Call” brings in warped vocal treatments, and a dramatic arrangement that gets shockingly epic in its final minute—it’s a jackhammering assault and one of the most ambitious songs Rutan’s ever written.
1. Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus
If artistic ambition and listener surprise are the measuring sticks, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody may be the most extreme band in metal today. Turilli is the ex-guitarist of the Italian band Rhapsody of Fire (formerly Rhapsody). Formed in 1995, that group split amicably in two in 2011. Rhapsody of Fire record concept albums, with narration that carries the story along (Christopher Lee served as narrator on seven releases from 2004 to 2011). Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody take a more song-based approach than the concept-album-loving Rhapsody of Fire (who still exist). Both bands play symphonic power metal; their songs are fast and dizzyingly complex, featuring extended guitar and keyboard solos and soaring, operatic vocals, with an orchestra sawing away in the background more often than not. The lyrics are sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian, and never guttural or harsh—instead, they’re sung in a highly theatrical, even operatic style. The mood shifts repeatedly on LTR’s two albums to date, with the unifying factor being a kind of bonkers, everything-wilder-than-everything-else compositional exuberance.
Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus is, if possible, even more over-the-top than its predecessor. The symphonic element has been substantially upped, the strings surging and swooning at virtually every moment. The album’s intro track, “Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)” features a male and female chorus, which leads directly into the piano, orchestra, and shredtastic guitar of “Il Cigno Nero.” Turilli is a genuinely exciting guitarist, capable of wild fretboard stuntwork but never tipping all the way over into ridiculous Steve Vai-esque swoops and squeals. By the third track, “Rosenkreuz (The Rose and the Cross),” the techno synths (and English-language lyrics) have come back; the chorus has a chant-along feel reminiscent of Scandinavian folk metal acts, clearly intended to inspire the hoisting of many, many beers…except that the verses, on which Conti and another female vocalist shriek and gibber at each other, are so far out they literally sound pulled from Italian opera. “Prometheus” lets the orchestra go completely wild; the band is practically a background buzz until the first chorus, at which point metal, techno, and neoclassical pomp all swirl into a huge caramel-coated popcorn ball of creative indulgence.
Prometheus is decidedly not a concept album, by the way: track titles pull from multiple mythologies (OK, fine, “faith traditions”) and popular fantasy series, and include “One Ring to Rule Them All,” “Yggdrasil,” “King Solomon and the 72 Names of God,” and “Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer’s Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis,” which in the spirit of all sequels, is a full two minutes longer than the original. This is an album of head-spinning ambition, aiming to inspire wonder and awe in the listener, and it’s easily one of the most extreme pieces of music (if you define extremity as pushing artistic boundaries, rather than as a traditional palette of sounds) you’re likely to hear this year.
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