TOP 10 METAL ALBUMS OF 2007: VINCE NEILSTEIN’S PICKS
Well, it’s been another year in metal. It may not have been a great year in that an overwhelming amount of bands put out landmark albums the way, say, 2006 was — but nevertheless there was a shit ton of really, really good metal released this year. As metal continues its second golden age, let’s all bask in the warmth that is the fact that we get so much good, new music to listen to.
While it’s hard to say what defines “best” when it comes to music, I’ll just say this: these were my favorite albums of 2007, the ones I liked most. I hope you think so, too… but if not, fuck off.
After the jump, my picks for 2007.
10. Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient
Ziltoid the Omniscient, the latest solo album from metal’s resident crazy genius Devin Townsend, is an amazing listen. I mean, the idea of writing an entire album about an alien invading earth in search of the universe’s finest coffee is ridiculous to say the least, but Ziltoid the Omniscient is just executed so well through and through that you can’t help but take it seriously. The music is oftentimes punishing and brutal, but Ziltoid also takes the listener to a previously unexplored galaxy for Townsend in the way of some more straight ahead rock songs. Townsend (along with Jason Suecof) deserves some kind of award for craziest genius dude in metal. I mean, the guy comes off as a real nutjob live, but he’s clearly one of the more intelligint sentient beings on this planet… or is that Planet Ziltoid?
9. Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works
Who knew these guys had it in them? Last I checked (which, admittedly, was years ago) Dillinger Escape Plan were too busy mixing hardcore breakdowns with spastic turnarounds that I wouldn’t have even considered using the word “metal” to describe their music. Though Ire Works was a late entry this year, it sure is a doozy and proves that the band has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years, crossing genres like they’re Mexicans crossing the U.S. border during the Bush administration. Ire Works is a more focused work; somehow all of the insanity makes sense this time around, especially with the band’s increased willingness to show their metal side. Vocalist Greg Pucciato nods his cap to spazz-rock pioneer Mike Patton, and the band sometimes hits a groove and a mood that channel his old band Faith No More. Ire Works will inspire many, many listens for sure, continuing to reveal levels of sonic complexity for years to come… well, at least for anyone who likes to take a toke every now and then.
8. Sixx A.M. – The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack
Talk about unexpected — to accompany his autobiography, Motley Crue-bassist Nikki Sixx went out and wrote a full-on, Tommy-style concept album that rarely sounds like anything resembling Motley Crue. Sixxi’s tales of addiction, death and pain are brought to live by producer James Michael who also sings, ex-Beautiful Creatures guitarist DJ Ashba, and of course Sixx himself who was always the songwriting might behind the Crue anyways. The Heroin Diaries is an extremely varied and complex album that proves just how talented Sixx is; with the help of Michael, songs run the gamut from hard rockers to string and piano-led numbers that come off sounding like Broadway scenes. The result, along with the book, is a remarkably cohesive album that should be put in its own separate “amazing work of art” category.
7. Nuclear Blast All Stars – Out of the Dark
It feels like cheating to give an “all stars” collaboration a Top 10 nod, but this album is just so solid that it’s deserving in every way. Produced and written by ex-Soilwork guitarist Peter Wichers, the album gives an array of famous metal vocalists a chance to lend their voice to a song, each of which Wichers skillfully crafted in a style reminiscent of that member’s band. Highlights include Anders Friden’s (In Flames) “Dysfunctional Hours,” Peter Tagtgren (Hypocrisy) “Schizo,” and ex-Anthrax crooner John Bush’s “Paper Trail,” but really everything on this album is expertly put together. Wichers’ old battery mates from Soilwork even help him out on drums and in one case vocals, making this feel like a Soilwork album all its own. At the very least Wichers has written an awesome producer reel, and we’re the lucky beneficiaries who get to hear it.
6. Machinehead – The Blackening
It’ll be hard to find a Top 10 list this year that doesn’t include Machinehead’s comeback album The Blackening, but the accolades aren’t undeserved. After languishing in mediocrity for the better part of a decade, Machinehead returned with a triumphant, epic album that put them right back on the map of important metal bands. “Epic” being the operative word. While I can’t say I think that all the praise this album is getting is deserved, it is absolutely one of the year’s finest. The epic songwriting is the most notable element, as the band has thankfully arisen from their descent into nu-metalesque riffs and barks with something much, much more involved and intricate. “Halo” might just be one of the best songs released all year.
5. Down – Down III: Over the Under
The original New Orleans supergroup returned after a 5 year hiatus with an album that speaks as equally on a lyrical level as it does on a musical one. Down’s original mix of southern groove/doom metal is uniquely their own, one that’s instantly recognizable as “that Down sound,” and their third album continues their legacy. But the members never settle or rely on their musical pedigree — they haven’t lost any of their chops, and above all else Over the Under comes across as genuine and honest in every way. The music serves as the perfect vehicle for ex-Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo’s tales of post-Katrina New Orleans; the Hurricane greatly affected the band members and their friends, a theme which comes through not only in the lyrics but the music as well. Down III is also Anselmo’s first recorded release since Dimebag Darrell’s death, and while he may never hit those high shrieks in “Cemetary Gates” ever again, the newly sober singer sounds like a freshly rejuvenated man.
4. The Showdown – Temptation Come My Way
With Temptation Come My Way, The Showdown made an entirely unexpected album for 2007, a hard rock / metal headbanger that invokes the spirit of Crue, Ratt, and Priest with nary a trace of irony. The lack of flavor-of-the-moment growls and anything even resembling metalcore cliche in the way of chuggery or breakdowns is refreshing from a band whose members are so young, but Temptation doesn’t come off as an ill-informed copy of the band’s influences the way, for instance, Black Tide does. Temptation Comes My Way is an album I kept coming back to on my iPod because the songs are also just so damn good through and through.
3. Between the Buried and Me – Colors
Colors may just have elevated the status of Between the Buried and Me from crazy prog-hardcore newcomers to prog-metal kings. The complexity and skill necessary to execute this music is dizzying, and it seems that everyone has taken notice including Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, which undoubtedly must have made the band members a bit starstruck. Don’t expect endless masturbatory sessions from BTBAM, though — Colors combines frenetic, head-spinning hardcore spazzes with classic metal moments and ethereal, spacey passages that might feel more at home on a Pink Floyd or King Crimson album. But the result is a truly fresh approach that is sure to impress anyone who appreciates A-level musicianship. Colors is a breakthrough album for BTBAM in every way.
2. At All Cost – Circle of Demons
Austin, TX newcomers At All Cost showed that metalcore doesn’t have to be the same old, trite breakdown-city crap fest. Circle of Demons is a truly original, creative effort that combines the members’ metal and hardcore influences to move the sub-genre forward instead of langering in mediocrity. Every song is a winner, and the band finds ways time and time again to do something other than what’s expected. A fresh listen every single time, the complexity of the arrangements and playing reveal new treats with each listen.
1. Avenged Sevenfold – Avenged Sevenfold
The most controversial band in metal delivered an album that topped even their previous breakthrough effort City of Evil; Avenged Sevenfold showed that this band is the real deal. The album showcases both the band’s stellar songwriting skills and musical complexity, no easy feat to accomplish with the same piece of music; complex arrangements and astounding musicianship don’t detract from the overall arc of the songs. A7X never sacrifice aggression for melody, oftentimes incorporating both simultaneously, and singer M. Shadows has grown tremendously as a vocalist. The production, which includes full orchestras, horn sections, additional singers, slide guitar and other goodies is also extremely impressive, and even moreso considering the band produced themselves for the first time ever. This is the album Axl Rose wishes he could make. Avenged Sevenfold is the band metal-heads are too scared to like because they’re that damn good, and Avenged Sevenfold is the album that cements their status at the upper echelon of modern metal.
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Baroness – The Red Album: One of the most buzzed about bands of 2007 for a reason, Baroness took their own brand of stoner/psych/prog-metalrock to the next level.
The Bled – Silent Treatment: The album Thrice would’ve made if they kept getting heavier instead of going all experimental.
Bloodjinn – This Machine Runs on Empty: Critically overlooked metalcore pioneers put out a raging slab of metal that hits like a bludgeon to the brain.
Carnal Forge – Testify for my Victims: Atypically diverse Swedish metal that strays from the melodeath formula. Not that melodeath is a bad thing, but you know.
Chimaira – Resurrection: The band’s most ambitious, heavy, and complex offering yet, with the epic track “Six” as a shining highlight of what they are capable of.
Dethklok – Dethalbum: This cartoon band captured the imaginations of metalheads EVERYWHERE, outselling pretty much any metal album all year and doing so in glorious, true style.
Emanuel – Black Earth Tiger: ’90s post-metal revivalists summon Terry Date to produce a ripping modern metal album that channels Deftones, Faith No More, Quicksand and Helmet.
Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace: Rock’s elder badass Dave Grohl delivers yet another album full of amazing songs and passionate performances
Megadeth – United Abominations: Despite some cooky political rhetoric, Dave Mustaine put together his best effort in years that was met with praise by fans and critics alike.
Raintime – Flies & Lies: Big, bombastic, epic Swedish style melodeath with enormous production and great musicianship from a bunch of young Italians.
Sikth – Death of a Dead Day: Came out in 2006, but no one knew about it, so here it is anyway… extremely well executed modern prog-metal incorporating elements of hardcore, jazz, pretty much everything.
Thrice – The Alchemy Index Vol I & II: Thrice continues their descent and weird-osity with the first two installments of their four part basic element-themed set, and they do so with surprising creativity and execution.