Saturday, February 28, 2009

2008 Heavy Metal Review

I haven't given any music reviews in a long while. I know I'm very late in getting this information out there, and it probably loses a bit of relevance due to that fact, but I think I've listened to these albums enough to be able to give you a good, solid opinion on them. I'll take them up in alphabetical order, by album name.

Slipknot: All Hope Is Gone
4 Stars

Arguably one of the best metal bands of all time, they continue strongly in the same vein as their last effort, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. While on their second and third albums they showed a great deal of evolution and improvement, there's not much unexpected on their latest effort. However, it's still a good solid Slipknot album, which is something in itself.

Iced Earth: The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked, Part 2
3 Stars

Vocalist Matt Barlow is back on this one to finish up what is essentially a 2-and-a-half album long concept album begun on 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes (which is, in my opinion, their strongest album). Like many concept albums, though, this one focuses too much on the story, and not enough on the music. It starts out fairly well with "Behold the Wicked Child," but slows down and almost loses your attention (unless you're getting into the story) on the next few tracks, until the 8th track, "I Walk Alone," after which it finishes strong. The over-the-top drama they're known for doesn't work without the thrashy backdrop, and the thrash is sorely lacking on this record.

Soul Embraced: Dead Alive
4 Stars

On this album, Christian death metal band Soul Embraced has firmly established itself as no longer merely a side project of two Living Sacrifice members, but instead a force of its own. This effort comes on with so much more intensity--and a lot more old-school guitar embellishments--than their earlier efforts, they sound almost like a completely new band. Unlike most Christian popular music, this holds its own against its secular counterparts.

Metallica: Death Magnetic
5 Stars

They are finally back. This album is definitely their best since Master of Puppets, and quite possibly their second best album ever. It combines the ferocity and power of their early work with the polish and maturity of their later work (St. Anger excluded, though I still think that album deserves its place in their catalog). It's a testament not only to the staying power of the greatest metal band of all time, but also to the sheer genius of producer Rick Rubin.

Disturbed: Indestructible
3 Stars

I hope they're going on an every-other-album-is-great and the ones in between are meant to tide you over kind of strategy here. Their first and third albums were great, but like their second, Indestructible doesn't really do anything fantastic. Don't get me wrong: it's still Disturbed, and it's still worth a listen, but if you were only going to buy one or two albums from them, this wouldn't be one of them.

Kingdom of Sorrow: Kingdom of Sorrow
3 Stars

This relatively new supergroup of sorts (featuring members of Hatebreed and supergroup Down) put out a fairly solid album here. It seems like a slowed-down, depressed version of Hatebreed, more in the doom metal vein of things than anything else, though still with a distinct undertone of metalcore. Like most supergroups, they have a few moments where it works extremely well ("Grieve a Lifetime" is excellent) but overall it falls short.

Mudvayne: The New Game
3 Stars

Mudvayne still can't seem to get back the raw intensity and brilliance of their debut album. There are still some hints of that Meshuggah-esque math metal here (notably on the title track), leading me to believe they do most of their writing on paper with a calculator close at hand to get their counter-intuitive rhythms, but as I've come to expect it is less evident than on their first album. Still a solid Mudvayne album, but probably their weakest studio album to date. It's for die-hard fans only.

Meshuggah: Obzen
4 Stars

As always, these Swedes rock, and they do so excellently. You either get it, in which case you'll love it, or you don't. If polyrhythmic beats and atonal chords brilliantly matched together sounds like noise to you, then perhaps you should be listening to something that's not genius.

Opeth: Watershed
5 Stars

Opeth is easily the greatest non-American metal band, and one of the few groups (along with fellow Swedes Soilwork) to consistently get better and better with every album. I didn't think they could get any better than they were on 2005's Ghost Reveries, but somehow they managed to do it. "Burden" is the obvious standout here, but there is not a weak track on the album.

This is really all I've had a chance to really listen to out of 2008 releases. Overall, 2008 was not the best year ever for metal, but with at least two truly great albums, it certainly wasn't a bad one.

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