Dream Theater - Dream Theater
Two albums into the post-Mike Portnoy era and Dream Theater could be forgiven for wiping their collective brow. Less of a walking human hurricane than his predecessor, Mike Mangini was proving a valuable addition to the band, and the quiet life (relatively speaking) seemed to suit them.
From its concise three-part instrumental opening track False Awakening Suite to John Petrucci’s Illumination Theory, a 22-minute beast that featured a string ensemble, their twelfth studio set brimmed with confidence. And like its self-titled predecessor, it also presented another Grammy nomination – something that had eluded them during the Portnoy days.
Ghost – Infestissumam
Ghost had already made quite an impression with their debut album Opus Eponymous and shroud of mystery. Back before the legal action and unmasking we only knew them as Papa and his Nameless Ghouls and their unique mix of Black Sabbath, Satan and soft rock was an unholy revelation.
Their second album stepped things up with a jump to a major label, the skills of heavyweight producer Nick Raskulinecz and a more diverse and experimental collection of songs. Infestissumam dealt with the arrival of the Antichrist in what has become recognisable as Tobias Forge’s wry metaphorical approach and songs like the epic Ghuleh/Zombie Queen and Monstrance Clock advanced Ghost’s ever-evolving sound by several bold steps.
HIM - Tears On Tape
Just the previous year HIM had released the compilation XX – Two Decades of Love Metal, celebrating the Finns’ darkly lustrous tales of (largely) doomed romance. Fittingly, it was the beginning of the end as 2013’s Tears On Tape would prove to be their final album.
It was also an excellent swansong, packed with some of the heaviest grooves of their career alongside the sweeping melodies, understated hooks and ever-poetic lyrics. A scattering of instrumental interludes also hinted at potential new directions for the future but it wasn’t to be. Health problems and the departure of longtime drummer Gas Lipstick contributed to a gradual decline and final split – but at least we’ll always have Tears On Tape!
Killswitch Engage – Disarm The Descent
When Howard Jones left the band at the end of 2012, there were rumblings that it could have been the end for Killswitch Engage. Instead, they brought Jesse Leach back into the lineup and released Disarm The Descent.
From the second that The Hell In Me comes tearing at you like a feral rottweiler, it was clear they had pulled it out of the bag. Songs like the skyscraper huge Always and the call to the pit of In Due Time are established as essential Killswitch Engage anthems, and Disarm The Descent is an undoubted fan favourite. One of the great comebacks.
Kvelertak - Meir
The title translates to ‘More’ from Norwegian and Kvelertak certainly weren’t looking to reinvent themselves on their second full-length album. Why would they, when their 2010 self-titled debut had done such a sterling job of introducing the band’s mix n match bludgeon?
So Meir was indeed more of the same heady brew of punk, classic rock and extreme metal, with all sense of restraint vanished and all amps turned gleefully up to 11. That doesn’t mean it was entirely lacking in subtlety where needed, but this release saw Kvelertak being entirely themselves. And what they were, it turns out, was a set of magnificent bastards.
Kylesa - Ultraviolet
Now on ‘indefinite hiatus’, Kylesa were a tremendously well respected outfit who never quite made that Mastodon-style breakthrough but did leave a treasure trove of amazing albums. Like fellow Georgians Mastodon and Baroness (there may well be hallucinogens in the water), Kylesa took off from a vicious sludge-metal base and dragged their heavier influences into new psychedelic planes.
2013’s Ultraviolet still had its weighty moments but it also had a dreamlike quality in places and a wonderful ebb and flow of dynamics. The vocal interplay between Laura Pleasants and Philip Cope never sounded better and the album as a whole remains a wonderful patchwork of sound and emotion a decade on.
letlive. - The Blackest Beautiful
letlive. built their reputation on their beautifully chaotic live shows but third album The Blackest Beautiful was arguably their recorded peak. It built on the momentum of 2010’s Fake History, expanding the band’s palette while retaining at least a sense of the urgency of those now legendary live performances.
Final album If I'm the Devil… would take a more sweeping stance at the expense of some of that direct impact but here they got the balance just right. It was fiery and funky, with a punk-driven political bite tempered by big hooks, delicious grooves and an irrepressible sense of joy.
Motorhead - Aftershock
No Motörhead album sounds like anyone else. But maybe Aftershock had a little more of that style than anything they’d done over the previous 25 years. It was everything you wanted from them, but turned up just a little bit extra.
There’s blues, 50s rock’n’roll and metal influence right up front, and songs like Loose Woman Blues and Going To Mexico piled on the rhythm. Here were Motörhead coming on with new glories to live alongside their past ones.
TesseracT - Altered State
TesseracT’s debut full-length One was more pivotal in the development of what would come to be known as djent, but follow-up Altered State was arguably a better album. Split into four multi-part compositions, it was a pure progressive metal album in concept that retained the palm-muted heaviness while guiding the developing scene towards new places.
It was also the only TesseracT album to feature Ashe O'Hara before the return of original frontman Daniel Tompkins and his piercing clean-only singing added its own flavour to the release. Altered State was an important album for the band and scene alike and it still sounds razor sharp today.
Watain - The Wild Hunt
Feral black metallers Watain had a reputation for decorating their stages with rotting animal parts and flinging blood at the crowd but for many fans, the most shocking thing about The Wild Hunt was that they had a ballad on there.
Inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, They Rode On was actually a superb set-piece of dark melancholia and the most obvious curveball on an album that clearly wanted to expand the band’s boundaries. There were also doomy passages and progressive flourishes that went further than they had before, with plenty of gnashing aggression to spare lest anyone think they’d mellowed completely.