05) Beast in Black, From Hell With Love (Nuclear Blast)
Catchy, cheesy, power metal fun. Add in a heaping shovelful of anime fan service and you have a hit to me. This album is a blast from start to finish, with damn near every song being a driving, anthemic jam. The best part is that they’re playing ProgPower USA next year and I’m going to get to hear a bunch of it live. Now, in contrast to how Zenae approached the album, I’m going to come out and just say it. Battle Beast who?
Key Tracks: “From Hell with Love” “Unlimited Sin”
04) Soilwork, Verkligheten (Nuclear Blast)
This one has stuck with me all year. It was the very first new release I listened to in January, and I loved it from the start. Verklighen has been continuously thrown on in rotation and holds no matter where you start on the album. There are even some Night Flight Orchestra influence bleeding through to great effect. Now when are they going to tour the US again? That Amorphis / Soilwork tour they did in Europe was a tease that I’m not going to drop this until they bring it here. Especially now that Tomi from Amorphis did a guest spot on this album. It has to happen.
Key tracks: “Witan” “The Ageless Whisper”
03) Devin Townsend, Empath (HevyDevy)
This is definitely Devin, for better or worse. I thought better, and clearly many others have as well, but it’s not a release for everyone and that’s fine. I’ve thrown the word diverse into a few of these already (although I probably deleted a few by second draft and I’m not going back to count), but here’s where the word gets stretched to its max. From the esoteric prog goodstuff in “Genesis” to the Disneyesque “Why?” and beachy sounding “Borderlands,” Devin really pushes the boundaries of what can be expected musically out of any single artist and still have it come out amazing.
Key tracks: “Borderlands” “Why?” “Evermore”
02) Tool, Tool, Fear Inoculum (RCA)
Time to date myself as the young one. This was my first Tool album release. 13 years is a long time, and I had slept on them until a few years ago. While I have collected a few physicals of theirs over the years and enjoyed delving into their back catalog, them coming onto into the digital world the way they did really struck me. It took me a solid 4-5 times through the album to fully appreciate what was going on but when I did every song seemed to fall in place. This album is 7 meticulously crafted masterpieces that serve as the logical progression of the band post-10,000 Days and I love it. The songs are amazing, the physical packaging is gorgeous (shout out to Alex Grey), and seeing them live again was a show unlike any other. Now here’s where I get bold and say that “7empest” is the weakest song on the album despite everyone else’s apparent immediate attraction to it. It’s not bad by any stretch, but if you’re sleeping on the rest of the album because there are no hit singles and that one was the most outwardly heavy song then just go back to bed.
Key Tracks: “Invincible” “Descending”