Fri. Jan 22nd, 2021

Tuonela Magazine’s Annual Staff Picks: Didrik’s edition

2019 has come to an end. Whether this year has been a great success to you or a complete disaster, it’s undeniable that throughout these 365 days a lot of brilliant music was released. 2019 was one of the biggest years for metal in quite a while with a couple of long-promised new records that we have been looking forward to for years, such as TOOL, RAMMSTEIN, and SLIPKNOT.

Tuonela Magazine‘s staff took a look at all the releases, and each member of the staff choose their favorite ones for each category. Today we’d like to introduce you to our reviewer Didrik Mešiček‘s list.

Wow, what a year! I dare say the best year metal has seen in a long, long time. After death metal seemingly dominated 2018 there is an absolute abundance of quality released throughout the metal subgenres this year. I’ve found a certain new affinity for melancholy and misery this year as well as progressive elements and those ended up the type of albums that have stuck with me and affected me the most. In fact, this was supposed to be a top ten list, but I ran into a slight problem when my absolute-must-inclusions were already nearing 15. So now you get to read a top 20 list. Blame all the brilliant bands coming up with magnificent releases this year.

BONUS PICK: CATTLE DECAPITATION – DEATH ATLAS

This album has only been released a few weeks ago and while it’s absolutely not my usual style, it’s also undoubtedly terrific and I’m gonna talk about it so it’s my bonus pick on this list. “Death Atlas” is one of the more peculiar releases this year in general as CATTLE DECAPITATION absolutely pushes the boundaries of modern death metal as they have with their previous two releases. This album is an ode to the world that’s – quite frankly – dying in front of our eyes, it’s a warning, or rather an announcement that things are really bad. CATTLE DECAPITATION do not compromise with their music or their message, they push to the absolute extremity, while their vocalist Travis Ryan, already renowned as one of the best extreme metal vocalists, brings things to another level with an outstanding mixture of screams, growls and a downright bizarre clean vocal style that’s suspiciously reminiscent of a troll or a goblin. Even if you’re not usually into death metal, “Death Atlas” is well worth a listen, if nothing else, at least for the experience and a taste of the (potentially) bleak future.

Songs to hear: “The Geocide”, “Bring Back the Plague”, “Finish Them”

20: ROTTING CHRIST – THE HERETICS

ROTTING CHRIST is actually the oldest band on this list, having been founded in 1984, although the Tolis brothers who are now the only two official members of the band hadn’t joined until 1987. The band has gone through several different stages and sounds, but now displays a melodic, somewhat atmospheric black metal, heavily focused on religious themes. As someone who’s really not a fan of traditional black metal, this record is just the perfect blend of approachable while still keeping enough interesting elements from the subgenre (I’m not very kvlt, I know). One of the most interesting details about the record is that they include quotes from famous authors and philosophers such as Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and Voltaire in the songs. Otherwise, the album also has a guest appearance from MELECHESH’s Ashmedi and another exploration into poetry as the last track is a black metal version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven“.

Songs to hear: “Vetry Zlye”, “I Believe – Πιστεύω”, “The Voice of the Universe”

Read more: Rotting Christ at Tavastia (Live report)

19: FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE – VELENO

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE is indubitably one of metal’s most unique bands, combining death metal, which often delves into the technical side, with classical compositions as well as a female soprano. Their latest album “Veleno” follows the highly acclaimed “King” and it does actually manage to be just as good. Made up of eleven tracks, two of which are instrumental, the deluxe edition also includes a cover of RAMMSTEIN’s “Reise, Reise“, a nocturnal version of “The Forsaking” from their 2011 album “The Agony” and instrumental versions of all the songs. “Veleno” is the next logical step in the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE discography. If you’ve liked what they’ve done so far you’ll enjoy this as well. If you’re unfamiliar, however, this is a band and an album you really need to explore for a unique blend of classical music and modern death metal.

Songs to hear: “Fury”, “Sugar”, “Worship and Forget”

Read more: Fleshgod Apocalypse – Veleno (Review)

18: WIND ROSE – WINTERSAGA

A band that successfully walks the line between power and folk metal as well as adding in some symphonic elements, WIND ROSE has really blown up this year, mostly thanks to their highly successful cover of “Diggy, Diggy Hole“. The Italian quintet has a very distinct theme surrounding dwarves, especially the ones from Tolkien’s universe and the music is fittingly cheery and, well – dwarvish. Their sound is full of catchy folky melodies, choirs, and fast drums and a nice mix of vocal techniques from Francesco Cavalieri. I feel like this album can be best summed up by saying it’s a lot like Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit“, in which Bilbo Baggins famously goes on an adventure. But a lot more dwarven. Let’s boldly call it The Dwarf.

Songs to hear: “Diggy Diggy Hole”, “Mine Mine Mine!”, “The King Under the Mountain”

17: INSOMNIUM – HEART LIKE A GRAVE

INSOMNIUM, the biggest exporters of Finnish misery and an interesting contrast to the traditional Finnish edgy melodeath in the style of NORTHER or CHILDREN OF BODOM have released their eighth studio album with “Heart Like a Grave“. It brings a beautiful mixture of cold despair with hard-hitting instrumentals and deep growls of vocalist Niilo Sevänen as the quintet strives for a symbiotic relationship between symphonic beauty and straightforward fury. The album reaches just over an hour in length with the two bonus tracks included, but never drags on, even if the songs themselves rarely go under five minutes. “Heart Like a Grave” is a continuation of the INSOMNIUM we knew with “Shadows of the Dying Sun” from 2014, but with more variety, sorrow and absolute beauty, especially in songs such as “Valediction” and “And Bells They Toll“.

Songs to hear: “Valediction”, “Mute is My Sorrow”, “And Bells They Toll”

Read more: Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave (Review)  | Insomnium (Interview)

16: AVANTASIA – MOONGLOW

Tobias Sammet has grown into one of metal’s most prominent and well-known composers and rightly so as he once again demonstrates on “Moonglow“, which is filled with guest appearances from the absolute crème de la crème of what metal has to offer such as KREATOR’s Mille Petrozza, BLIND GUARDIAN’s Hansi Kürsch, and the ex-QUEENSRŸCHE frontman Geoff Tate to name only a few. “Moonglow” is the pinnacle of epic power metal with behemoth songs that near or even go past ten minutes, naturally the extremely varied vocalists and Sammet himself who ties it all together excellently. One of his biggest talents is possibly actually finding ways for all the guests on his albums to shine – a lovely example of which is Candice Night’s performance on the titular track “Moonglow“, which heavily reminds one of a NIGHTWISH song. AVANTASIA is a lot more than a simple power metal band, it’s a lot more complex, layered and intricate and will keep you entertained throughout its 70 minutes.

Songs to hear: “Moonglow”, “The Raven Child”, “Alchemy”

Read more: Avantasia – Moonglow (Review)  |  Avantasia (Interview)

15: FINSTERFORST – ZERFALL

FINSTERFORST is a six-piece blackened folk metal band from Germany and they’ve always kind of been considered the German version of MOONSORROW. But “Zerfall” has definitely taken their sound to a new level and absolutely defines what the word epic refers to in metal. The album is made up of only five songs, but the longest, “Ecce Homo“, clocks in at an incredible 36 minutes and a half. For those of us who are more impatient they did include a shorter single version, although if you do enjoy atmospheric metal with folky overtones you’ll certainly manage to lose yourself and love the song in its entirety. The album overall gives a feel of a gloomy walk through the forest (the band’s name is fittingly a reference to Schwarzwald), a relaxing walk albeit with danger always looming as the folk melodies intertwine with the black metal influences.

Songs to hear: “Fluch des Seins”, “Zerfall”, “Ecce Homo”

14: MÅNEGARM – FORNALDARSAGOR

MÅNEGARM is another band that has been around for quite a while now and “Fornaldarsagor” is already their ninth full-length album since their beginnings in 1995. If you’ve listened to the band before you know what they’re about – classic Viking themes and as close as you could get as calling something Viking metal. They take a melodeath sound and add folky elements such as the violin, some soft female vocals thrown in much like on “Ett sista färval” and a nice, never overbearing, touch of black metal elements. The band has a tendency to sing mostly in Swedish, from which they don’t stray on “Fornaldarsagor“, except for the MOTÖRHEAD cover “(Don’t Need) Religion“. By this point in their discography MÅNEGARM know exactly what they’re about and don’t compromise or try to make themselves more appealing to a wider audience, they simply play their vikingy folky blackened melodeath and are absolutely very good at it.

Songs to hear: “Hervors arv”, “Slaget vid Bråvalla”, “Ett sista färval”

13: LINDEMANN – F & M

I’ve spoken about “F & M” before in my review, but if you’ve not read that, LINDEMANN‘s second release is full of experimentation between two seasoned musical geniuses – Till Lindemann and Peter Tägtgren. It has a healthy amount of RAMMSTEIN-like sensations, as well as a clear touch from the Swedish multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. The album doesn’t stray from controversy and sexual topics with songs such as “Allesfresser”, “Knebel” and “Ach so gern“, the latter of which is done in a PAIN style on the deluxe version of the album. LINDEMANN seem to naturally be able to do almost all things right in music, no matter how experimental they decide to go. The notable difference – and a good one at that – is definitely that Till Lindemann sings in his native German as opposed to the awkward English on the debut release.

Songs to hear: “Knebel”, “Ach so gern”, “Allesfresser”

Read more: Lindemann – F&M (Review)

12: TROLLFEST – NORWEGIAN FAIRYTALES

Easily one of the craziest bands in metal, TROLLFEST have released their eighth album entitled “Norwegian Fairytales” and it’s naturally absolutely crazy and enormously fun. The album, as the title implies, consists of stories from Norwegian folklore, which are vocally delivered with Trollmannen’s uniquely high-pitched growls, which I’m pretty sure no one else can emulate. TROLLFEST calls the language they sing in trollspråk or troll-speak and refers to their style as true Norwegian Balkan metal, which while making no sense at all is also somehow accurate. Seeing the band live is also quite an experience as well as they currently tour dressed as princesses (arguably not very pretty ones) and equipped with lots of balloons. In short, “Norwegian Fairytales” is an eleven-track album of pure insanity with some non-traditional metal instruments such as the accordion and the saxophone and fitting for those who don’t always feel the need to take their metal very seriously.

Songs to hear: “Kjettaren mot strømmen”, “Espen bin Askeladden”, “Fanden flyr”

Read more: Trollfest at Nosturi (Live Report)

11: IN MOURNING – GARDEN OF STORMS

Since OPETH’s continuous movement into progressive rock the throne of progressive (death) metal has been vacant for a number of years now. IN MOURNING is easily one of the best candidates to conquer that throne with “Garden of Storms”, an album full of proggy goodness, terrific guitar work and some of the best and deepest growls you’ve heard since Mikael Åkerfeldt. Yes, I am making a lot of OPETH comparisons here, because this is the band I wish OPETH would be. “Garden of Storms” is a seven-track masterpiece, with no song going under six minutes as they elegantly navigate between heaviness and a softer touch inspired by classic prog bands of old. They master the art of maintaining brutality while making the song get stuck in your ear as with the chorus on “Yields of Sand“.

Songs to hear: “Black Storm”, “Yields of Sand”, “Tribunal of Suns”

10: MORTAL KOMBAT – DECENIJA

No, you didn’t accidentally switch over to the gaming webzine, MORTAL KOMBAT is a band as well! They are a Serbian quintet from Beograd and play a pretty classic, catchy heavy metal with a fair amount of punk influences. This may not be an album that will get international recognition, nor one of extreme musical quality, but it is incredibly fun. Especially if you can speak Serbian and understand the lyrics, which are often satirical and mocking of pretty much anything that the band members seem to be slightly annoyed by. “Decenija” (decade) talks about music, feminism, fake news, modern men, the upbringing in the streets and, most importantly, wishing death to everyone and everything in “Smrt“.

Songs to hear: “Mortal Kombat”, “Balkan Info”, “Smrt”, “Ulica”

9: SABATON – THE GREAT WAR

I was somewhat unimpressed by SABATON’s previous album from 2016 “The Last Stand“, but “The Great War” is once again exactly what I want from the Swedish power metal giants. It’s fast, catchy, mighty – everything SABATON was and should be. “The Great War” has no filler songs, each song can stand on its own and gives the album the feeling of heroism, and a slight glimpse into the absolute brutality of trench warfare. Exactly a hundred years after The Great War ended, SABATON brought us a new version – and this time it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Songs to hear: “The Attack of the Dead Men”, “Devil Dog”s, “Great War”, “A Ghost in the Trenches”

Read more: Sabaton – The Great War (Review)  |  Sabaton (Interview)  |  Sabaton in Helsinki (Live Report)

8: ELUVEITIE – ATEGNATOS

ELUVEITIE’s first metal release after their massive line-up change is fittingly called “Ategnatos” – Gaulish for rebirth – so one could say this is sort of a renaissance for the band, although frontman Chrigel Glanzmann says there’s no correlation. The album has a classic folky melodeath ELUVEITIE feel but utilises the vocals of their new female clean vocalist Fabienne Erni more than previous records – although not at the cost of brutality. It’s a reasonably lengthy album clocking in at one hour as it tells more stories of ancient Celts and their mythology. It also features a guest performance from LAMB OF GOD‘s Randy Blythe on “Worship“. “Ategnatos” is another immersion into the ancient world full of Gaulish fury.

Songs to hear: “Rebirth”, “Ambiramus”, “Deathwalker”, “Ategnatos”

Read more: Eluveitie – Ategnatos (Review)  |  Eluveitie (Interview)  |  Eluveitie in Helsinki (Live report)

7: LEANDER KILLS – LUXUSNYOMOR

It causes me physical pain that more people outside of Hungary, where they’re very popular, is not familiar with LEANDER KILLS.Luxusnyomor” is their third full-length release and the third that has been included in my end-of-year top albums lists. Singing all of their songs in Hungarian, the vocalist Leander Köteles switches between lovely clean vocals to harsh growls that could be considered metalcorey, but he might possibly be the only vocalist where I don’t mind that. The tracks range from fast-paced and heavy classic LEANDER KILLS style to softer songs such as “Hazavágyom” and “Hull az elsárgult levél“. Towards the middle, the band experiments with some electronic sounds, which I don’t think was the best idea, but it still works well with the overall album sound. If you wanna sing in an absolutely bizarre language you understand nothing of and enjoy catchy, but heavy music this is a fantastic album for you.

Songs to hear: “Kell a háború”,  “Hazavágyom”, “Hull az elsárgult levél”,
“Majd úgy sírsz értem”

6: GLORYHAMMER – LEGENDS FROM BEYOND THE GALACTIC TERRORVORTEX

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you take the often already cheesy genre of power metal and turned that to a hundred? Have you ever killed a goblin on the moon? Chris Bowes wondered about both and he figured it’d be incredibly fun. Chris Bowes was right. “Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex” is GLORYHAMMER’s third album set in the fantastical alternate universe where the Scottish hero Angus McFife fights space battles while there are unicorns and dragons flying about. The album consists of ten extremely fun, catchy songs with a great rhythm that will keep you moving, as well as an additional symphonic version of the songs that comes with the deluxe version. GLORYHAMMER manages to pull off parodying the genre while simultaneously being one of the best in it. They’ve fully embraced the cheesiness and gleefully continue to save the world (or at least the Scottish steadfasts of Cowdenbeath and Auchtermuchty) from the evil Zargothrax.

Songs to hear: “The Siege of Dunkeld (In Hoots We Trust)”, “Masters of the Galaxy”, “Gloryhammer”, “The Final Defender”

Read more: Gloryhammer in Helsinki (Live report)

5: ELVENKING – READER OF THE RUNES – DIVINATION

ELVENKING is another Italian band that has always managed to walk the line between folk metal and power metal and they consistently deliver very solid albums with “Reader of the Runes – Divination” being their tenth and the first of what is supposedly to be a series of albums in a new universe that the band has created. The sextet brings a dark, mysterious yet alluring sound as they sing of paganism and fantasy. The album has a nice even flow but does provide a few surprises such as with “Malefica Doctrine“, which reminds heavily of a Swedish melodeath sound with fast drums and guitars as well as some harsher vocals than ELVENKING normally goes for. Finally, the album and the first part of the story are concluded with “Reader of the Runes – Book I“, a majestic ten-minute piece, which displays all that ELVENKING has to offer, including piano, violin and the harp.

Songs to hear: “Divination”, “Sic Semper Tyrannis”, “Reader of the Runes – Book I”, “Silverseal”

4: RAMMSTEIN – RAMMSTEIN

It’s been a long ten years since the last RAMMSTEIN album, and with such big bands who haven’t released for a long time, I always worry if it’s just going to be one of those albums to kind of shut up the fans. Naturally, it gets praised either way because they’re a big band. But RAMMSTEIN, perhaps quite fittingly as they’ve always been special in every regard, absolutely did not follow that pattern and delivered a genuinely outstanding album. “Rammstein” is an album with no shortage of controversy in a classic RAMMSTEIN manner. The most disturbing song of all being “Puppe“, a harrowing story of a little child who’s given a doll by his sister to keep him company as she works as a prostitute in the neighbouring room. It’s songs like this, which – while hard to hear – really showcase Lindemann’s vocal talent and his ability to project emotion with his signature vocals. Furthermore, the lyricism is once again exquisite and filled with wordplays as it has been in the past. “Rammstein” is the perfect RAMMSTEIN album to encapsulate RAMMSTEIN. “Rammstein“. RAMMSTEIN.

Songs to hear: “Deutschland”, “Ausländer”, “Puppe”, “Was Ich Liebe”, “Diamant”

3: CELLAR DARLING – THE SPELL

CELLAR DARLING was not a band that was on my spectrum at all until this release and I only listened to the album a bit out of pure curiosity. How glad was I that I did though. “The Spell” tells a beautiful, haunting story of a girl that falls in love with death. The band made up of former ELUVEITIE members has truly found their sound with this proggy (OPETH influences!) melancholic story in which Anna Murphy shines more than ever before as a vocalist as well as utilising her signature hurdy-gurdy. Mayhaps I’m getting old, but there’s beauty I might not have previously seen in the tragedies of death – beauty and romance that can be evoked no other way. Ultimately, “The Spell” is a tale of life, love and the acceptance of the inevitabilities, but whether that inevitability is good or bad is for you to decide. As far as art goes, it’s brilliant.

Songs to hear: “Death”, “Love”, “Insomnia”, “Hang”, entire album in order to truly feel the story

Read more: Cellar Darling – The Spell (Review)  |  Cellar Darling (Interview)  |  Cellar Darling in Helsinki (Live report)

2: SWALLOW THE SUN – WHEN A SHADOW IS FORCED INTO THE LIGHT

Tragedy will always produce the best art, as tragic as that is in itself. After the death of his girlfriend, Aleah Starbridge, the founder of the band, Juha Raivio, channeled all of his pain into “Lumina Aurea“, a 2018 single of pure gloom as well as forming the band HALLATAR with Tomi Joutsen of AMORPHIS and Gas Lipstick, most known as the ex-drummer of HIM, to honour her. “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light” is a story of recovery, however. It’s moving on. Although still filled with sorrow and pain, it leaves you feeling hopeful. SWALLOW THE SUN has evolved into a band that’s very difficult to sort into a subgenre. Typically labeled death/doom, they do keep some of those elements, but this record is perhaps slower and gentler than their previous work and has fewer death parts. The juxtaposition between Mikko Kotamäki’s charming clean vocals and screeching black metal growls creates a special aura of heartache that has probably never been achieved quite as well in their previous work. The album also features lyrics from Starbridge on “Clouds on Your Side“, part of which is in French. If there’s an album that’ll make you cry this year it’s this one, but remember le soleil de nouveau percera, et tu verras un autre jour.

Songs to hear: The entire album with a box of tissues.

Read more: Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light (Review)  |  Swallow The Sun (Interview)  |  Swallow The Sun in Helsinki (Live report)

1: SOEN – LOTUS

The emotional theme is continued with this year’s number one pick – SOEN’s fourth album is absolute prog metal perfection with big influences from bands like TOOL and OPETH, something the band doesn’t try to hide. The album may not seem all that special at first listen, but its complex beauty is definitely revealed after the fifth, tenth,… listen and you will likely find something new every time. Joel Ekelöf, the band’s vocalist has a unique sorrowful voice, which really helps the highly exemplary lyricism shine through. The album itself walks the line between prog metal and prog rock, however, it is heavier than its predecessor “Lykaia“. The album’s title song, “Lotus“, is a beautiful soft track with heavy PINK FLOYD influences, which then moves onto one of the heavier songs in “Covenant“. The instrumentalism is flawless as well, as the guitar work is intricately woven in with the keyboards and the drumming of the ex-OPETH man Martin Lopez to create a somber atmosphere into which you’ll want to surrender. “Lotus” doesn’t make a wrong step throughout its nine-song journey, despite the proneness for experimentation and that’s why it’s my album of the year.

Songs to hear: All of it, obviously.  Repeatedly.

Read more: Soen – Lotus (Review)  |  Soen in Helsinki (Live report)

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