Wednesday, July 6

Black Wind, Fire and Lists: first half of 2011 in review

Six months down, six to go and we at Black Wind, Fire And Steel would like to take the opportunity to look back at the best of 2011 so far and look forward to the most interesting things that lie still ahead. The main reasons being curiosity as to how much will have changed by the end of December, and attention for albums that might have slipped into forgetfulness by then. Or just an obessions with lists, who knows. So here are our top picks (five maximum), with some comments, and links to reviews where available.

The Protagonist

I listen to this album on an almost daily basis. I’m not quite sure what it does for me. Perhaps it’s the aggression of mid-era Blind Guardian/Dark Empire mixed with the mellow mastery of melody presented by Orden Ogan, but I can’t get it out of my head. Lyricism is adventurous and sometimes solemn, but this is hyper-catchy the whole way through.

A Rhapsody Of Fire album has never come up near the top on any list that I’ve done. I don’t know if it’s because of Fabio’s voice, the lack of flare in guitars, or the continuous bludgeoning of samey fantasy lyrics that the Italians are known for, but this album breaks the trend completely. Much more aggressive and sometimes darker, this is catchier and more modern than any of the band’s past efforts.

I’ve been saying since this band’s first album that they’re going to be a prominent player in the power metal scene some day. Well, that day is today, as Serenity has released it’s most well-rounded and enchanting album to date. “Death & Legacy” is a spectacular combination of symphonic metal and the dark side of a number of prominent historical figures.

4. Turisas-Stand Up And Fight
I don’t really know how much of an explanation there is for this one. It’s not jaw-dropping on any musical front other than its sheer level of fun and bombast. So much so actually that it’s inspired me (along with some other folky stuff) to begin writing!

I don’t normally like heavy metal this much (meaning the -core genre). However, “Trinity” is supremely melodic and very hard-hitting with its religious and social commentary. Definitely the strongest release that I’ve listened to from Eden’s Curse.

The Future
Wow, do I dig my power metal or what? This isn’t fair even at the halfway point through the year, because so many bands have put out admirable releases, and I’d like to have ReinXeed, Suidakra, Dreamtale, Sequester, Borealis, and Power Quest noted as having released excellent albums this year as well. However, I could write a novel on this stuff if I had the time, so I digress. Looking to the second half of 2011, my most anticipated release, hands-down, is the new record from Theocracy (whose 2008 release is one of the best pieces of modern music ever recorded). However, we know there’s a new release from Edguy coming, and the new Dragonland remains shrouded in mystery. Hopefully it’ll be out by the time TES V: Skyrim drops so that I can have a great soundtrack to dragon-slaying!


I didn't think much of this album at first glance. The whole idea of creating a concept album to go along with a video game seemed to be one of two things: a gimmick used to cover up mediocre music, or simply too ambitious a project for a band to tackle on their second record. Thankfully, I was wrong. The quality of the music here is top-notch, and "Level 2" has proven itself to be a truly excellent album; dark, complex, mesmerizing, and unfathomably deep.

I have been a fan of Rhapsody (Of Fire) since I first discovered metal, and they have never failed to blow me away with each successive release. "From Chaos To Eternity" is no different - it is a well-written, well-performed, and well-produced album, and while Rhapsody may change up a few things here (namely, there are more guitar riffs and black-metal vocals), they retain their glorious signature sound. Though we have heard much of this from Rhapsody before, "Chaos" is certainly a rock-solid album, and a fine addition to Rhapsody's discography.

3. Turisas-Stand Up And Fight
Turisas is another old favorite of mine, and I'm glad to report that their new album, though a bit of a departure from their previous efforts, is by no means a departure from their ridiculously high standards. While it may be slightly less cohesive than their first two albums, "Stand Up And Fight" is probably more fun than either. Overflowing with passion and creativity, it can best be described with one word: vibrant.

4. Unexpect-Fables Of The Sleepless Empire
I just discovered this band recently, and I've found their sound to be fascinating: bringing together any number of influences under the guise of technical progressive metal, they have created something at once mind-bending, demented, and downright frightening. "Fables Of The Sleepless Empire" takes the listener on a journey through Unexpect's mischievously dark imagination, and as I like to say, translates the truth of human existence into musical form. If you'll excuse a bad pun, there are always new things to unexpect...

The Future
I feel like my list is somewhat incomplete, as there are a number of 2011 albums that I want but have yet to check out. After reading positive reviews of new albums by Lost in Thought, Wolverine, and Pagan's Mind on this very site, I have been meaning to look into those, but alas! It seems as though I have not, and thus I am stuck with the list as it is. I am also planning to get a copy of the new Hammerfall record despite the poor review, as they are an old favorite of mine. All that aside, I am looking forward greatly to the new Opeth album, entitled "Heritage," as well as seeing them on tour. Being a fan of the Moody Blues, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cover artwork for "Heritage" bears an almost uncanny resemblance to that of the Moody Blues's "In Search Of The Lost Chord," and my excitement was only heightened when I noticed Åkerfeldt wearing a Moody Blues T-shirt in a recent promotional photo. In other news, I have heard that "When Machine And Man Collide," the second and final Control Denied album, is set to be released late in the year. I'm not sure how much of it was written/recorded when Chuck Schuldiner was alive, but it should be both interesting  and enjoyable to hear the swan song of one of my favorite guitar players and lyricists. To conclude this convoluted and rambling series of thought, I would like to thank you for reading, and wish you years of happy listening!


The mighty Symphony X have done it again! “Iconoclast” is a powerful album that brings complexity, heaviness, and melody together in one great cornucopia of progressive metal madness. Russell Allen's rougher style perfectly compliments the heavier playing of guitar maestro Michael Romeo. The album is very long, but makes up for it with many varied and distinguished tracks.

Hopes were high for this album after 2009's excellent “Polaris”, and they were rightfully exceeded. Melodic power metal of the highest quality reigns down from “Darkest Hours” to “Elysium”. This album made it very difficult to review any others, as I was constantly drawn back to it, so I couldn't listen to other great albums.

This is my first exposure to While Heaven Wept, and I want more! Although very short, “Fear Of Infinity” covers much ground with many, well, seven, varied tracks that span progressive, doom, and power metal seamlessly. This is one of the few metal albums I own I would consider beautiful, and I stand by that statement. Emotive, strong, and crushingly heavy metal awaits in the vastness of infinity.

4. Vicious Rumors-Razorback Killers
Again, my first exposure to an iconic band, although Vicious Rumors have been around for a bit longer. Mostly speedy, but with variation in all the right places make this album a necessity. Traditional heavy metal with some power metal edges to add for some melody explodes from this album in a way that brings the listener back to the roots of metal, with a bit of a modern twist.

5. Cauldron-Burning Fortune
This band has already made a big splash in the traditional metal scene with their debut, and their sophomore effort solidifies their place in the scene. Riff after riff of metal monstrosity is piled on, making for a strong and varied album. Also, they're Canadian, and I'm a major patriot. Yeah, not really, they're actually that good.

The Future
Rhapsody Of Fire's “From Chaos To Eternity” is still technically anticipated, seeing I haven't yet heard it, but I love Rhapsody and I don't think they can disappoint. Actually, the new Power Quest, Tyr, and Pagan's Mind are in very much the same boat. I'm looking forward to the upcoming first album from Scottish band, Ascension, because from what I've heard, they're going to tear up the power metal scene. There are rumors around about new Dragonland, Ancient Bards, Paradox, and Haggard albums as well which I'm very much looking forward to.


If there is a theme to my list, it’s probably “melancholy in grandeur” or “grandeur in melancholy”. Four out of five bands in the top five combine both to hauntingly beautiful results, and still there are no immediate similarities in their respective sounds.

I keep going back and forth between this and the number two for current favorite album of the year, but in the end I’m a power metal nut and there is too much sing-along value here to ignore. Serenity step up their game from the already terrific “Fallen Sanctuary” and provide us with a symphonic power metal opus for the ages. Try and pick a lesser song here, I dare you.

Probably the shortest album of the year to get major recognition, but that only makes repeat listens an absolute must. An exercise in sweeping progressive doom, rising and falling on the tides of grief, drowning you in waves of depression, only to lift you up to the heavens seconds later. And if I sound like poet on painkillers here, it’s because this album challenges the limits of language, and evoking vague comparisons with nature is the best I can do at describing it.

Quiet pianos and acoustics dominate this release, but the sporadic outbursts of distorted guitars are more rewarding for it. Not for metalheads who want their music to be riff-tastic, but fans of well-written progressive metal with strong melodic hooks shouldn’t let this go by.

The odd one out here, but the melodic heavy metal of these Brits is just too good to ignore. Religious themes are wrapped in deliciously catchy tunes that range from heavy to anthemic, from sweeping to majestic. More blessing than curse, to use a lame pun.

The sophomore album from this unique progressive/power metal outfit is every bit as dark and twisted as the debut, but more balanced and less experimental. Still no creativity or memorability is lost and Henning Basse’s performance makes you forget he was ever in Metalium.

The Future
I would have loved to include the new Rhapsody Of Fire, Dreamtale, Pagan's Mind, Solar Fragment and so many others; but that would be cheating. Besides, no one on this list is safe anyway, because there’s a lot more to come. I’m especially looking forward to (in order of boyish excitement) the new Edguy, Theocracy, Evil Masquerade, Dream Theater, Dragonland, Redemption, Anubis Gate, Circus Maximus, Iron Savior, Brainstorm, Iron Mask, Mystic Prophecy, Nightwish, Morifade and Cloudscape. Of course, some of these might be endlessly delayed, so we’ll see who makes it to the end. See you in January!


In no particular order:

The Atomic Bitchwax-The Local Fuzz
A bit of a double reference to traffic cops, and the obvious metric shitton of fuzz that the music is filtered through. 42 minutes of wall to wall riffage, and a downright heroic drumming performance to keep up. This admittedly falls in well with my 70s music love fest, but short of the most ardent opponents of instrumental music, this is one to give a listen.

As my review indicated, this is one that could be relevant far beyond its status in the 2011 AOTY race, and depending on the success of the binaural beats experimentation, this could be a revolution in music production.

While I always expected Rhapsody to keep telling the tales of the enchanted lands until it had long overstayed its welcome, its tenth and final entry more closely resembled the grand finale of a fireworks show than the death throes of Brett Favre’s career.

Much to my personal delight, this absolutely signals to a resurgence in the career of one of power metal’s biggest giants. While I originally favored Jani Liimitainen to replace Tolkki, Matias Kupiainen has proved himself to be one of the premier guitarists and composers in the genre. The title track and “Infernal Maze” (originally the same composition) are perhaps the two best songs Stratovarius has made in the last decade.

Sun Caged-The Lotus Effect
Another progressive metal entry, I’m beginning to question my professed hatred for the way the genre has gone in recent years. More tasteful than any album this technical should be allowed, it’s a dark horse for the award, but I’ll have to wait and find out if it grows on me any.

The Future
As far as the rest of 2011 is concerned, the Steven Wilson double album “Grace for Drowning” has most of my attention. Celesty allegedly has a new album coming out, it might be good. On a very un-metal note, the long awaited sequel to rap masterpiece “Deltron 3030” is expected at the end of 2011. There was talk about a Kyuss Lives! Album in 2011, but it sounds like that may be delayed until 2012. There is an OSI album in the works, I’d love to hear that in 2011.


When I first started to look at what really got me excited in the first half of 2011, I really thought I'd be choosing some super cool art-house metal (if there really is such a thing). To find out what I really liked I decided to check my iTunes and Last.FM Scrobble playlists to see what I had listened to the most. What I found was, at first, a bit surprising, but upon reflection, not surprising at all. I can't argue with numbers.

\m/ is how I sum up “Fall from Grace” from Borealis. These Canadians have sharpened their power metal song writing skills and could easily play with the big names in the genre like Everygrey and Sonata Arctica. They have a great balance between the guitars and the keyboards, all the while the rhythm section is so tight that you can set your watch to them.

2. Hibria-Blind Ride
While Hibria has been around for a while, this is my first exposure to the band. Their power metal, while fast and fancy, is also to the point and full of guitars. Power metal that is full bore guitar driven is the stuff that really amps me up, and Hibria deliver on that front much like the classic and beloved Helloween. I love guitars.

3. Consortium Project V-Species
Once again, this is my first exposure to music that has been around for a while. Ian Parry and his Consortium Project had me salivating from the opening sci-fi salvo. It is heavy, it is aggressive, it is spacey, and it is emotional. Metal bands have no problem expressing angst and frustration, but rarely, with the exception of ballads, do bands show their vulnerability and Ian Parry does a fantastic job doing that in this metal epic.

Faithsedge plays a heavy and melodic 80s style of metal, but not the crappy hairspray laden crap of the late 80s. The songs are a fresh take on music that help define an era and launch countless heroes.  Faithsedge has a classic Ozzy/TNT thing going on here with the use of heavy guitars and catchy sing along choruses. To add to my enjoyment was the interview I did with Faithsedge's main man Giancarlo Floridia and the nearly two hours of laughs and stories we shared.

This was a shocker to me, but I cant deny how often I listened to it. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I found myself turning it on quite a bit. It’s accessible, it’s heavy, and a little proggy too.

The Future
I have no idea what the future holds and I don't want to make too many predictions.  With that said, I do think that there will be a changing of the guards.  The titans of metal will continue to make good music, but the young and hungry bands have something to prove and have done a great job thus far.  I think as this changing takes place over the next year or so, it may feel that the genre is struggling.  However, I think that this is just the infusion of new life that the genre needs, and it will be as strong and as great as ever.


Admittedly I have not had a huge amount of exposure to new albums this year, since deciding to mostly buy hard copies rather than sampling them beforehand through downloads. But the following five albums have continued to impress me on multiple listens, and a strong likelihood of making it onto a Best Of 2011 list. In alphabetical order:

1. Anaal Nathrakh-Passion
Bringing another offering of industrial-esque blackened grindcore, Anaal Nathrakh have pushed even more boundaries with this release, including an almost inhuman seven minute maelstrom of a track. Although quite a shock to the system initially, I discovered some hidden gems early on in this album. “Paragon Pariah” still remains one of my favorite songs thus far this year, with a great mix of harsh and clean vocals. “Volenti Non Fit Iniuria” is also worth checking out.

2. The Black Dahlia Murder-Ritual
My jaw fell open when I heard this for the first time. TBDM have slowly been moving towards proper death metal for the past couple of records, but this cements them at the head of the game. Whatever substance Trevor Strnad was on to write and perform the material, it has created a masterpiece, at least at first light. The rest of the band are similarly tight, especially Shannon Lucas’ drum-style and Ryan Knight’s solowork. “Moonlight Equilibrium”, for those interested.

3. Primordial-Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand
Ever since hearing “The Coffin Ships” on the radio, I have been consistently impressed with every Primordial release I’ve heard, and this one is no exception. Their brand of blackened Celtic metal makes for some epic tunes, such as the brutally honest “Bloodied Yet Unbowed” and “No Grave Deep Enough”, where Nemtheanga pushes his vocals even further in both melody and black metal rasp.

My first experience of this talented bunch of prog metallers, and an album I have been returning to constantly. The dynamics, hooks and technical aspects certainly make for an engaging listen, or something to chill out to as background music equally. Highly, highly recommended, start with “Whales”.

Although I am not overly familiar with this band beyond “Paradise Lost”, I was suitably impressed by its follow-up in “Iconoclast”. The band have clearly thought this release through, and although it is a bit overloaded with goodness, it’s still a weighty contender for the title. Russell Allen’s vocals in particular are worthy of note, from melody to aggression in the blink of an eye.

The Future
Regrettably I am late to the table with some releases, in particular I am mourning not hearing the new Amorphis yet. Also in that list are Times Of Grace, Serenity, Omnium Gatherum, Obscura, Septic Flesh and Draconian. I am also similarly excited for Opeth, Svartsot, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Persuader, maybe Dream Theater as well. So, as always, there is plenty going on in the metal world to keep my attention, while I also play catchup on albums in previous years I missed. And now to turn to my new six CDs of The Doors.

So that's it, we'll be back in January with the sequel!

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