When crafting a progressive metal album, most bands add a select few stylistic differences to their music in order to set it apart from more mainstream metal. Then there are bands like Arcturus that go full tilt and create something that even the most devout prog fans scratch their heads at. Arcturian sounds like the result of running an EDM show, a black metal concert, and a garage rock jam session in the same venue at the same time, and yet somehow, it works beautifully. The ability to transition seamlessly from crushing blastbeats to upbeat electronica is a gift, and this is coming from someone that absolutely detests EDM under normal circumstances. If Arcturus can make a believer out of me, then they can convert anyone.
Key track: “The Arcturian Sign”
I am an uashamed devotee of former Scar Symmetry vocalist Christian Älvestam, and any work that features him usually ends up on my radar sooner rather than later. The man is a gifted vocalist, possessing one of the most gorgeous clean singing voices in all of metal and supplementing it with a full range of screams and growls. The sophomore album from Solution .45 puts Älvestam’s vocals on full display, and boy, does he deliver an incredible performance. The vocal work on Nightmares in the Waking State – Part I is on par with Älvestam’s breakout performance on Scar Symmetry’s 2006 record Pitch Black Progress, and that is not an easy record to match by any means. The rest of the band certainly pulls their weight as well, with instrumental performances reminiscent of early 2000s Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity. This band may only have a cult following, but they deserve so much more attention.
Key track: “Winning Where Losing is All”
How is Iron Maiden still kicking so much ass in 2015? They may be the exception rather than the rule, when considering the current status of most of their peers, but that doesn’t change the fact that the British pioneers sound better than ever on album number sixteen. This is not just due to one single factor, either – the fact is, Maiden still functions better as a combined unit than many bands half their age. The writing talent of this band is unprecedented, when considering that this is no longer just the Steve Harris show. Five of the six band members have writing credits on this album, and every single song is top-quality. If I had to pick one standout element on this record, though, all credit in the world goes to Bruce Dickinson, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest voices in all of metal, if not the greatest ever. Every time I listen to this record, I am more amazed by his vocal range and stylistic depth, especially at the age of 57. Here’s to hoping that Bruce still has several more albums left in him, because I’m not ready to stop hearing new music from him or from Iron Maiden.
Key track: “Speed of Light”