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Articles : Gary Carson’s 2013 Hit And Shit List

By on January 1, 2014

A Happy New Year to you all and welcome to the second of my annual wrap-up of the hits and shits of progressive and power metal from 2013.

As of today I’ve purchased around 250+ prog/power CDs (CD buying, it’s an addiction) including everything in the following list. There are, of course, a number of albums I haven’t yet heard due to passing me by or they had release dates of late December (Human Fortress, Silent Force, Crystal Viper, and Majesty specifically – strangely four albums I’m really looking forward to hearing!).

This list is based around the albums that we have aired on Screaming Symphony (yes, you’re allowed to click on the link and like us) and whilst I’m not here to debate what is and what isn’t progressive or power metal, let’s keep it really simple: it’s metal with clean vocals, so even though I wanted to put Soilwork (The Living Infinite) and Carcass (Surgical Steel) in this list – they’re not here.

My hope is that:

  1. This list allows you to re-visit some really fine albums,
  2. This list introduces you to some really terrific bands, and
  3. You disagree with me

I’ll just quickly repeat something I wrote about last year’s list: Some of the following may not be the pinnacle of the genre, the most creative, or the most technical but they are albums that have stood out and stood up and they are albums that I continue to listen to.

Oh, and it’s ordered alphabetically.

Let the albums…. Commence.

The Hit List

Artlantica: Across The Seven Seas (SPV)


It was a fairly weak year for neo-classical metal but with Artlantica’s arrival in May it brought with it a bunch of established artists doing something that they’re very, very good at. I speak of: John West (Artension), Roger Staffelbach (Artension, Angel of Eden), Mistheria (Angel Of Eden, ex-Rob Rock), and John Macaluso (ex-Ark, ex-Yngwie). The guys are also joined by bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death), dummer Dani Loble (Helloween), and guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage). Yes, it’s all wanky with over-the-top performances and keyboard and guitar solos no matter where you look, but this is also fast and heavy and features John West’s finest vocal performance for a long time.

Ayreon: The Theory of Everything (Inside Out)


Honestly, nothing was going to stop this from being on this side of the list. Nothing at all. I could crap on about it, suffice it to say it’s vocally Ayreon’s strongest album since The Human Equation and it harkens back to some of the older Ayreon releases (specifically The Final Experiment).

Battle Beast: Battle Beast (Nuclear Blast)


Female singers. Sometimes they can be weak as piss. And sometimes they will drop your dacks, step on your balls, and scream their way into your consciousness. Noora Louhimo is Battle Beast’s new BEAST and she is a woman from hell who has more testicles than me, you, and your mates put together. As they say: 100% metal (with keyboards), 0% bullshit. Great disc.

DGM: Momentum (Scarlet Records)


A few years ago I mentioned on-air that the heavy side of progressive metal (in the Symphony X Iconaclast style) would take off. Well, hello DGM. Granted, they’ve been pushing this sound for a while but on this album they nail it. Using about 100 nails in an area the size of a non-porn star’s butthole. The album opens up with a duet between Mark Basile and Russell Allen (Symphony X) and whilst you’re still getting over that song, the rest of the album slams you. Repeatedly. In the testicles. Sure, some of the songs sound similar but I’m not complaining.
Note: A duet hints that a song is quaint. It ain’t quaint.

Epysode: Fantasmagoria (AFM Records)


I love Ayreon and Avantasia, who use some pretty high profile singers to get their conceptual masterpieces to the masses. In many ways I prefer the b-team who use known (as opposed to well known) singers to bring their conceptual masterpieces to the masses. Samuel Arkan is a Belgium guitarist and his second Epysode release is a supernatural thriller called Fantasmagoria which sounds remarkably like one of his guest vocalists’ bands: Evergrey.
Vocalists: Tom Englund (Evergrey), Henning Basse (Metlaium, Sons of Seasons), Ida Haukland (Triosphere – honestly, you need to hear this woman sing), Matt Marinelli (Borealis – honestly, you need to hear this man sing), and Tezzi Persson (Between The Silence).
Musos: Leo Margarit (Pain of Salvation), Simone Mularoni (DGM), Julien Spreutels (Ethernity), and Mike LePond (Symphony X).

Gloryhammer: Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife (Napalm Records)


It’s got dragons. It’s (mostly) Scottish. It’s completely and utterly gay. And it’s from the twisted mind of Chris Bowes (Alestorm). This is traditional fantasy power metal that runs the perfect line between piss-take (or cheese) and seriousness (or cheese). Stunning.

Hell: Curse & Chapter (Nuclear Blast)


A late yet highly anticipated contender and Hell’s second album in 24 years is a smidgen behind the brilliance that was 2011s Human Remains. This is theatrical metal that takes elements of classic bands like Iron Maiden, Savatage, and Morgana Lefay and adds more chorus like elements from the current bards of Blind Guardian. It’s twisted, it’s English, and it’s up there with the best of them. And an absolutely stunning band to see live too.

Hollow Haze: Countain To Revenge (Bakerteam Records)


In 1998, Italian band Athena created this wonderful prog/power album called A New Religion? and for 15 long years I’ve been looking for something similar. My search is over. Hollow Haze have had something like four singers and not one of them has quite nailed what the band was aiming for: enter Fabio Lione (Athena / Rhapsody of Fire) to really open up their sound which is easy listening progressive light with highly catchy and melodic choruses.

Illusion Suite: The Iron Cemetery (PowerProg Records)


Whilst I don’t like to elevate one band over another as I consider every band in this list to be of a very high quality, every year there’s still one album that I play more than any other and this is it. In many ways it copies what has come before it but there aren’t many bands that channel the behemoth of melodic progressive metal bands like Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder, Pagan’s Mind, and Symphony X. It’s shorter and punchier than their previous disc and this has worked in its favour, throwing everything they have into a very short 39 minutes.

Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall: Free Fall (Frontiers Records)


If you like gay-arse catchy melodic metal with lots of different vocalists, and let’s face it wouldn’t be in this list if I didn’t like the style, then this album is for you, and you, and you and….. you. Magnus Karlsson is the guitarist from Primal Fear (who brings them the more melodic songs) and originally from Last Tribe and on this album he featured everybody from Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Russell Allen (Symphony X), and Mark Boals to Tony Harnell (TNT), Rick Altzi (Masterplan), David Readman (Pink Cream 69), Mike Andersson (Cloudscape), and Herman Saming (A.C.T.). Super smooth.

Orphaned Land: All Is One (Century Media)


Progressive metal, Middle-Eastern style who have redeemed themselves after the shithouse (well, I didn’t like it) Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR. And they’re touring (some parts of) Australia in March 2014. It still plays to a mid-paced audience but this time around they actually included some interesting, vibrant tracks and a complex undertone that rewards those who listen.

Powerwolf: Preachers of the Night (Napalm Records)


Epic German power metal. Horrifically simple songs that are old the second you hear it. A band who have repeated the same album five times over. Albums that cherish blood and erections. Songs with more style over substance. But mostly…. a fucking entertaining band who know how to write stuff that Europeans (and some others) love. Having seen them four times in Europe in 2013 I can repeat every hilarious joke they made on stage and can recite every song but this is just part of their superb live show. It’s bad but so, so good.

Queensryche: Queensryche (Century Media)


Would it or wouldn’t it be in this half or the other half? I was surprised. Perhaps it was the fact that no one in the Queensryche camp had released a good album since Promised Land (although for some even that is a stretch). What I can say is that the album is so short that there’s not enough time to hate it and the songs also show an emotion that the band haven’t had in a long time. I also think (hope) there’s better to come. Either way, this is a great reboot and an album that I’ve continued to listen to since its release hence its inclusion here.

Stratovarius: Nemesis (earMusic)


I love this album. In many ways this is atypical of Stratovarius though. It’s more pop focussed than ever before with dance beats that I should hate just on principal, it’s got songs like Fantasy and Dragons that a five year old could write, and …. nope, honestly, that’s all. On the flip side, keyboardist Jens Johansson owns this album, it’s got choruses that are primed for power metal, and it displays all the catchiness of a cold at a kindergarten. Reminds me of when I first got into them (Fourth Dimension, Episode, Visions).

Tellus Requiem (Nightmare Records)


If only it wasn’t so expensive nor freezing cold, I would move to Norway just to watch bands like Circus Maximus, Pagan’s Mind, Illusion Suite, and now Tellus Requiem. The band deliver on the progressive and power metal fronts with a touch of the orchestral, some supremely catchy crunchy riffs, and some huge big choruses. And I’m listening to it now. Again.

The Prowlers: Point of No Return (Perris Records)


Firstly, The Prowlers’ singer, Fabio Minchello, sounds like an accented Danny Cecati from Eyefear with those fantastic English-As-A-Second-Language lyrics that I adore from Italian bands. Secondly, their sound is akin to some other Italian bands Vision Divine and Labyrinth just without the big budget epic sound. Finally, they play a brand of prog/power metal where keyboard solos mix with guitar solos, mixed with my own air solos. Unlike other albums that mix killer songs with filler songs, The Prowlers delivered one of the most consistent albums of the year – which is why it has remained on rotation.

Vandroya: One (Inner Wound Recordings)


I’m rapt that this list contains two (and a half) female fronted bands because aside from Noora from Battle Beast and Ida from Epysode, if there’s one female singer you to need to hear then it’s Daisa Munhoz. Sure, the melodic, Symphony X influenced music may not be 100% original, but when you have a woman who shines with melodic power, a touch of Doro-like balls, and nicely multi-layered choruses all help bring this album to one of my favourites.

The Shit List

There were some bad albums released this year. Similar to last year’s list there’s a couple of well-worn names here. In truth, I don’t wish any band to be in this list although, perversely, I’d rather a band sit here than right in the middle – the 5 out of 10 albums where there is nothing fresh or original to say. At the very least, the following albums moved me – just in the wrong way – and I’d rather an album move me to disgust than the middle ground of mediocrity. Still, some of the following are more disappointments or frustrations rather than out and out poo-bags.

And just one more comment about the shit list. Every album in this list I paid money for the physical copy. Every single one. And sometimes it is hard to recommend an album that I’ve paid $20 AUD for.

Circle II Circle: Seasons Will Fall (earMusic)


I love you Zak Stevens, formerly of Savatage, and if there was such a thing as man-love – you’re it! And honestly I don’t ask for much but I want to hear the emotion in your voice and the emotion in CiiC’s songs. Unfortunately both were missing from this album.

Highlord: The Warning After (Scarlet Records)


I see what they did with the title but I wonder what they did with the music? Perhaps they should rename the band Lowly Lord as this was a pretty average album.

Ivanhoe: Systematrix (Massacre Records)


I don’t want to sound like a scalding parent, but if I could put a request in it would be to purge that modern, dirigible sound from the progressive metal that I love. Am I asking for too much?

Jorn: Traveller (Frontiers Records)


It’s just too long in the tooth now, Jorn. Too many albums. Like The Hobbit being dragged out for too many films, I fear the fire may have died. Yes, you still have the voice of the gods but just not the songs of the gods. Where are ye, gods?

Kaledon: Altor – The King’s Blacksmith (Scarlet Records)


The new vocalist hasn’t settled in well with Italian power metal band Kaledon. I don’t want seriousness – I want my (vegan) cheese back.

Max Pie: Eight Pieces – One World (Mausoleum Records)


Or as I like to put it, eight songs, mostly broken. Mostly broken by mediocre riffs and a less than stellar vocalist. I typically love the neo-classical work and the artwork is incredible but they it’s all down to the songs and Max Pie just don’t deliver.

Minotauro: Master of the Sea (Dust on the Tracks)


Man this was terrible. This was like a bunch of primary school kids writing a 5th grade happy power metal album.

Powerworld: Virtuality (SPV)


The last one was bad enough yet you came back for more, didn’t you? Stop it you’re hurting me.

Seven Witches: Rebirth (Frostbyte)


Get a good vocalist. Honestly, the great Alan Tecchio (ex-Watchtower) appears on the final track of the album and he slays their main singer. If that’s not indication enough then I don’t know what is.

Tragedian: Decimation (Icewarrior Records)


Pun coming. Yes, it lived up to its name. This is power metal done wrong.

Turisas: Turisas 2013 (Century Media)


Wow, how crap was this? Honestly, for a band that released three pretty much spot-on albums, they clearly reached the precipice and decided to jump off the epic cliff without any thought whatsoever. Which makes it somewhat epic, just stupidly epic. And, really, Turisas 2013?

Visions of Atlantis: Ethera (Napalm Records)


I give up on you, Visions of Atlantis. I give up. Turf your male singer. Turf your female singer. Turf your song-writers. Begin again.

The End

Until 2014


Since 1999, Gary Carson has co-hosted Australia's longest running prog/power metal radio show on Screaming Symphony. Gary has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology/Sociology and enjoys horrifically violent games, horrifically violent books, and horrifically violent movies. And gay power metal. Check out Screaming Symphony every Thursday night from 10pm (Melbourne time) on PBS.FM