Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Mainstream Rock)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal

Mainstream Rock

Although bad music is slowly killing it off, listening to the radio is a great way to get into music. If you or someone you know is into radio rock, then there’s both good and bad news for you. The bad news is that very few of the bands that topped the rock charts this year released recommendable albums. The good news is that 2007 was filled with solid rock albums that deserved more radio play than they likely received. This holiday season is a perfect time for radio rock fans to expand upon their taste, and the crop of quality accessible rock albums from 2007 is a great place to start.

Bad Religion
New Maps of Hell

If you’re looking for a revolutionary album that bends genres and experiments with new musical territory, you can safely pass on New Maps of Hell. Unless you’re a longtime Bad Religion fan, this isn’t an essential album, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of a recommendation. Bad Religion knows how to play punk music, and a consistent punk album by a hard working genre vet is just what 2007 needed. New Maps of Hell is solid throughout, and the songs have a quality old-school punk sound that is rarely found these days. In a time where great punk albums are hard to come by, this is certainly a breath of fresh air, and fans of punk should take note that Bad Religion is still here and still putting out good albums.

From Beale Street to Oblivion

From Beale Street to Oblivion belongs in the collection of every rock fan. It’s an album that’s accessible to fans of mainstream rock, heavy enough for metalheads, creative enough for alternative fans, and just plain great enough for any rock fan. Clutch is the hardest working band in music, and they’ve created a sound that’s the epitome of both uniqueness and rock ‘n roll. This is one of the best albums Clutch has ever released, and it’s also one of the most accessible. If you’re a fan of any type of rock, it’s highly recommended, as well as their entire discography. Although not every song is a gem, the list of things Clutch does well is endless. The superb energy, intelligent and sometimes humorous lyrics, outstanding instrumentals, and an overall unique sound are just a few of the things that make this band and album great. Any fan of rock music should consider picking up From Beale Street to Oblivion during the holidays.

Dropkick Murphys
The Meanest of Times

Although an album by a Celtic punk band from Boston may seem like an odd recommendation for mainstream rock fans, Dropkick Murphys’ The Meanest of Times is exactly what a rock album should be. The band is as energized as ever, as well as more consistent than they’ve been in the past. More than anything, however, it’s just a good time. If you’re looking for simply a good fun rock album, look no farther. The Meanest of Times is one of the most fun albums released in 2007, and it’s a great punk album as well. It’s an essential album for the fans of the band, and punk fans looking for something new should give this a look as well.

Fair to Midland
Fables from a Midfly

It’s hard to tell what’s more surprising: the fact that Fair to Midland broke through with a radio hit in 2007 or that Fables from Midfly turned out to be a great album. Combining aspects of hard rock, alternative, heavy metal, progressive rock, and metalcore, Fair to Midland can best be described as a calmer and more accessible System of a Down. Fans of System of a Down would do well to pick this one up, and anyone who enjoyed the surprise radio hit “Dance of the Manatee” would also most likely enjoy Fables from a Midfly, as the full album takes everything that works from that song and creates a unique sound that remains unpredictable throughout. Even for more open-minded progressive fans, this may be worth considering. Not everything they try works, but there’s no doubt that Fair to Midland has created a unique album, as well as musical weirdness that is oddly accessible.

Vol. II

Hurt is one of the few modern radio rock bands worth supporting. Just like their first album, Vol. II is more ambitious than the typical modern hard rock album, and although it doesn’t succeed at everything it tries, it makes more for an interesting listen. Anyone who purchased Vol. I should add Vol. II to their collection without hesitation, as the band as shown a good amount of improvement and evolution in the last year. Anyone who has heard and liked the single “Ten Ton Brick” should also consider Vol. II, and even those just looking for something unique and ambitious in a genre that has become tired and generic would probably enjoy what Hurt has done on this record. Hurt hasn’t put it all together yet, but Vol. II still has enough going for it to warrant a high recommendation for modern and/or mainstream rock fans. Whether or not you decided to pick this one up over the holidays, this is a band with a very promising career ahead of them.

Mondo Generator
Dead Planet

Ignore that Nick Oliveri has tried to pass his newest band off as a metal band, and ignore that this band played this summer’s Ozzfest tour. Mondo Generator is a rock band through and through, and it’s likely that metalheads that aren’t into punk or modern rock are going to hate this album. Dead Planet is a punk rock album that has more energy than maybe any other rock album released this year. Although the album stands on it’s own as an outstanding record for modern rock fans, it’s worth noting that the band’s frontman, Nick Oliveri, was a founding member and former bassist of Queens of the Stone Age. As good as Era Vulgaris is, this is the album to get if you’re a Queens of the Stone Age fan that can only buy one record this holiday season. The energy and pure rock ‘n roll that’s been missing from the last few Queens of the Stone Age albums is found in bulk here, and anyone who longs for the return of Kyuss (the band Oliveri and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme were in prior to Queens) should strongly consider adding this one to your holiday list. Oliveri's vocals take a bit of getting used to, but the album’s pure energy and emotion is fantastic to say the least.

Nine Inch Nails
Year Zero

At this point, Nine Inch Nails deserves a category of their own. Unless you really aren’t into modern music or you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, chances are you or the person you’re buying for have already formed an opinion of Nine Inch Nails. If you’re a fan, this is a great album that’s certainly worth getting. If you’re not, then this isn’t going to change your mind. If you’re in between, then your enjoyment of the album will likely depend on what you like about the band. Since Year Zero is a more alternative and industrial album that their early work, fans of that side of Nine Inch Nails will likely enjoy it. However, those looking for a return to Nine Inch Nails’ heavy metal days likely won’t find much to like here. Those who still aren’t sure are advised to get it and give it a try, as Year Zero is a quality album at the very least, and it’s hard not to appreciate a musician as dedicated as Trent Reznor.

Serj Tankian
Elect the Dead

Although it’s unlikely that Elect the Dead will appeal to anyone that isn’t already a fan of System of a Down, Serj Tankian’s debut solo album is a good enough album to warrant a recommendation to mainstream rock fans. Thankfully, it’s an improvement over the last few System of a Down albums, and it’s likely that fans of the band that have yet to purchase this will find a lot to like in the songs that use the same style Serj established with the band. The lack of Darren Malkian’s backing vocals, as well as a return to more intelligent political lyrics, are what makes Elect the Dead an album for both System of a Down’s current fan base and any fans that lost interest in the band over time. It’s not perfect, and the experimental songs that stray from System of a Down’s formula don’t work well at all, but there's certainly enough here to recommend.

So Long

So Long is album that fans of any type of rock music should enjoy. It’s a perfect blend of old and new, and it’s far better than any modern rock played on the radio this year. It’s rare that a modern hard rock album does something truly unique, and it takes an album like So Long to remind one that rock doesn’t need to be boring and generic to sound mainstream and accessible. So Long may not have gotten the mainstream recognition that it deserved (in fact, it may be difficult to find the album in the first place), but any fan of mainstream rock needs to own this album. So Long is as good of a post-grunge album as the genre has seen, and it’s a good time from start to finish. It’s worth repeating again that fans of modern rock need to take notice, and fans of classic rock or grunge that lost interest in what’s on the radio these days should also give So Long a strong consideration.

Queens of the Stone Age
Era Vulgaris

Era Vulgaris is a perfect mix of pure rock ‘n roll, alternative, experimental, and the just plain weird. Although Queens of the Stone Age has always been a band best judged by listening to their albums in their entirety, they’ve previously managed to craft some truly great tracks that work on their own as standout singles. One of the biggest flaws of Era Vulgaris is that this album doesn’t have a ton of true gems that work on their own, but instead smaller pieces of work that make an album that's better than the sum of its parts. The other flaw is that Queens of the Stone Age still lacks the energy that they lost when bassist Nick Oliveri left the band, and it’s that lack of energy that makes Era Vulgaris a weaker album than its predecessors. Even with its flaws, however, this is some of the most creative rock you’ll hear on the radio these days, and it’s certainly worthy of a recommendation.

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Classic Metal)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal

Classic Metal

If you’re the type of person that still listens to the great metal bands of the 80s and early 90s, then you’re in luck. Not only was 2007 a great year for classic metal artists, but also a return to form for many. It’s been years since a new Ozzy Osbourne, Fu Manchu, or Megadeth album has been recommendable, and it’s been just as long since a Down album was out in the first place. There may not be any modern classics on this list, but there are still a number of great albums that should please longtime metalheads.

Over the Under

As unfortunate as it is that Pantera will never be able to record again, fans of heavy metal can rest at least somewhat happy knowing that Down is back. Whether the album is as good as their 1995 debut is something fans of the band have and will likely continue to debate, but the fact that there is a debate to begin with is impressive. Phil Anselmo sounds far better than he has in years, and Pepper Keenan’s melodic riffs are just as trance-inducing as ever. Fans of Down should own this album. Fans of Pantera should own this album. Fans of stoner metal should own this album. Even fans of metal in general should consider owning this album. For the first time in a long time, there’s passion in both Phil Anselmo’s voice and lyrics, and Down is once again living up to their potential.

The Atrocity Exhibition… Exhibit A

Despite its inclusion on this list, The Atrocity Exhibition may be better suited for newer fans of Exodus. If Rob Dukes' vocals didn’t impress you on Shovel Headed Kill Machine, they still won’t here. That being said, the songs have a ton of substance, the thrash metal is high quality, and anyone that doesn’t mind Exodus’ latest vocalist will almost certainly enjoy this one. Exodus doesn’t necessarily make any drastic changes on The Atrocity Exhibition, but the scope of the album is more ambitious than anything the band has done in some time. The album doesn’t always work as well it could have, but most the album works well enough to warrant a recommendation to fans of classic thrash metal.

Fu Manchu
We Must Obey

It’s hard to call We Must Obey a comeback album because Fu Manchu has been releasing albums at a fairly rapid pace. That being said, it’s been years since one of those was worth recommending to anyone that isn’t a huge fan. We Must Obey is the best Fu Manchu album in a very long time, and although it’s not a classic by any means, it is a very solid stoner rock album that fans of Fu Manchu and stoner rock/metal should love. The album’s approach is simple and effective, and the band goes back to the genre’s basic to be able to create a sound that is a prime example of the genre done right. Stoner metal doesn’t need to be complicated to be done right, and We Must Obey is certainly an album done right. It’s one of those albums that tailors perfectly to what fans want, and those fans should love it.

King Diamond
Give Me Your Soul… Please

At this point in his career, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend any of the newer King Diamond albums. Give Me Your Soul… Please is no exception, and it would probably be a stretch to say it’s better than any of the other mediocre albums this legendary musician has released in the last five or ten years. Despite that, King Diamond deserves a lot of credit for his willingness to experiment and not just release the same recycled material every few years. Those expecting the same level of darkness of Abigail or “Them” will likely be disappointed, but those looking for nothing more than another King Diamond experiment that gets more right than wrong should find something to like here. What’s important is that Give Me Your Soul… Please is a concept album that’s dark enough to get it’s story across, and it’s worth recommending to fans of King Diamond that already own his best work.

Machine Head
The Blackening

The return of lead guitarist Phil Demmel has done wonders for Machine Head, and The Blackening is proof that Machine Head is back and better than ever. The album is a return to Machine Head’s early groove metal form that helped create the genre. However, their sound is more polished than ever before, and the high energy political lyrics represent a perfect balance between political intelligence and emotional rage. Any fan of thrash and groove metal should strongly consider The Blackening. Even those who have yet to get into this band should consider it, as this is one of the best and most accessible albums of their career. For fans of the band looking for a return to the glory days, The Blackening is a must.

United Abominations

United Abominations is one of the year’s easiest albums to recommend. It may not be on the same level as Rust in Peace or Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, but almost any fan of Megadeth or thrash metal should find something worthwhile with United Abominations. On top of that, it doesn’t sound like a throwback album in a way. United Abominations is instead a high quality thrash album that sounds just as modern as any other album released in 2007. However, it still has everything that makes a Megadeth album great, including Dave Mustaine’s opinioned lyrics and outstanding guitar skills. This is the best album Megadeth has recorded in years, and it’s a great pick for both new and old fans of metal.

The Last Sucker

Although it's unfortunate that Ministry will no longer be recording after this album, it’s safe to say that they’ve gone out with a bang. The Last Sucker is a fantastic album by a longstanding band that has impacted industrial metal in as big a way as one could imagine. For all Ministry has accomplished throughout their career, The Last Sucker is a fitting end, and it’s an album that Ministry fans need to own by the end of the year. The blend of serious political outrage and intelligent humor is almost interchangeable, as the lyrics represent both sides of the spectrum. If you want a political album, you’ll find some very well thought out lyrics here, and those who are looking for comedy will get just as much out it. Add in some of the best industrial metal of the last five years, and you have an album that should please just about any metalhead. This is an absolute must-own for fans of industrial metal and Ministry, and those previously uninterested in the band might also want to consider it.


Casual fans of 80s thrash metal may not know Overkill as well as they know the big four, but most metalheads know and understand the greatness that was early Overkill. Although the days of Overkill innovating are gone, Immortalis might just be the best thrash metal album released this year. This is the heaviest the band has been in some time, as well as the most focused. Although Overkill has never really gone through a drought, Immortalis is somewhat of a return to greatness. This not only sounds like classic Overkill, but it’s thrash metal done right. At the same time, it’s ironic that Immortalis sounds like a more modern and evolved album than the many modern bands playing classic thrash metal. Immortalis is a reminder that thrash metal doesn’t have to sound old to be great, and fans of any style of classic metal will likely love this album. It’s simply a fantastic album from start to finish, and it’s an example of an album that can please both classic and modern fans of the genre.

Ozzy Osbourne
Black Rain

If all you’re looking for is a good metal album, Black Rain properly isn’t the album for you. However, if you’re looking for a good Ozzy album, Black Rain might just be essential. It won’t change the way metal is played, and this is the type of album that probably could have been released 20 years ago with similar reception, but that doesn’t mean Ozzy isn’t at the top of his game. The lyrics are of surprising quality, but what really makes Black Rain a great Ozzy album is that Ozzy has gone back to being Ozzy. It’s safe to say that Ozzy Osbourne has established his sound by now, and there’s no reason to change that. Black Rain is no more and no less than ten quality Ozzy songs done in classic Ozzy style. If that sounds good to you, then Black Rain is almost certainly worth owning.

The Inner Sanctum

It’s truly amazing that Saxon has remained so good for so long, and it’s even more amazing that they’ve received such little credit all these years. It’s true that the band had a period of time in the late 80s where they were beyond terrible, but fans that gave up on the band after the initial releases could not pick a better time than now to get back into Saxon. Like their last few releases, The Inner Sanctum is a very solid album that sees the band continuing their return to form. Unlike the new Ozzy album, The Inner Sanctum doesn’t sound like an 80s album released in modern times, but instead an album that actually sees the band evolve. It still features everything Saxon fans loved about the band in the early 80s, but the songs here actually sound fresh and unique. This isn’t an old album with a new coat of paint. It’s a true heavy metal album that doesn’t sound out of place, and it’s highly recommendable for any fan of the band or 80s British metal.

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Alternative)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal


For the most part, alternative and indie rock had a fairly disappointing year. Major label debuts by indie veterans Modest Mouse, Interpol, and the White Stripes failed to rank among the genre’s best of the year, and there weren’t enough quality alternative rock records to divide the best into more specific subgenres. That being said, there were still a few truly outstanding alternative records released in 2007, and even a few “Album of the Year” contenders.

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible

Neon Bible has been out since March, so chances are that fans of the band’s debut already own this album. If you’re one of the few Arcade Fire fans that are still up in the air, know that Neon Bible has some truly outstanding moments that make up for its shortcomings. The album is a solid experience as a whole, and many of the songs themselves stand alone as some of the best of the year. Alternative fans who aren’t sure if they should buy into the band’s massive hype are advised to take the plunge, but not at the expense of some of the other albums on this list. There are times when the Arcade Fire sound amateurish, and Neon Bible is not as polished of an album as their debut. However, what works is generally outstanding, and there’s enough of what works to highly recommend Neon Bible to all alternative rock fans.

Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Worst Nightmare

The Arctic Monkeys deserve credit for number of reasons. The first and most simple reason is that they’ve made a great album. On top of that, they’ve created an accessible album with great lyrics, catchy beats, and some surprising evolution. It’s rare to see a band that has had as much success as the Arctic Monkeys improve as much as they have on their sophomore album. Fans of their first release may be disappointed by the darker and more serious sound of Favourite Worst Nightmare, but anyone that wants more than just a catchy beat should be more than pleased by the band’s improvement. With this album, the Arctic Monkeys have ascended beyond just a young band that can combine catchy tunes with witty lyrics. Now the band has evolved into a truly unique indie artist with as much substance as wit. Any fan of alternative rock should enjoy Favourite Worst Nightmare, and it’s surprisingly one of the best alternative albums of the year.

Black Lips
Good Bad Not Evil

Describing the sound of the Black Lips is quite a difficult task. Fans of the band should know what to expect, and it’s doubtful that anyone who is already into noise rock or the Black Lips will be disappointed. If you’re already lost, then this album probably isn’t for you. Although Good Bad Not Evil is more accessible than one would expect, it’s hard to tell who exactly will like this album outside of the Black Lips’ fan base. In all actuality that’s the beauty of both of the band and album. The Black Lips have evolved their sound to the point where it is truly unique, and open-mindedness is a requirement to fully appreciate what they’ve accomplished here. If you’re not lost at this point, this album is highly recommended. If you’re one of the many who have no idea who the Black Lips are, then listen to a few songs and get the album if you like what you hear.

Explosions in the Sky
All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone isn’t an album that everyone will enjoy, but those who appreciate beautiful instrumental music are highly recommended to give this band a listen. Those who are already familiar with the group might be disappointed by their lack of evolution, but it’s hard to argue with yet another beautiful release from one of alternative’s best. The emotion put into the melodic riffs creates a far more touching story than any lyric, and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone is an album worth experiencing for anyone that appreciates sheer instrumental talent and beauty. You won’t find anything catchy, but you will find true musical beauty. It may not farther their sound much, and this is in no way their best album, but Explosions in the Sky have created another worthwhile gem.


Although Grinderman’s self-titled debut is about as pure rock ‘n roll as modern rock gets, its appeal has been mostly with indie and alternative fans thus far. Nick Cave, a famous indie musician known for work with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is certainly talented and creative, and his Grinderman project might just be his best work to date. The dark, catchy, and often sexually driven songs make Grinderman an album that can almost certainly be recommended to indie faithful, and open-minded fans of hard rock might also be wise to give this one a shot. Nick Cave has made an album that varies from genius to just plain odd, and the result can be recommended to any open-minded adult (this album is NOT for children or families, and that can’t be stressed enough) rock fan.

In Rainbows

If you only buy one album this year, do yourself (and the music industry) a favor and make it In Rainbows. You won’t find this one in stores, but instead exclusively on Radiohead’s website (radiohead.com). The album’s much talked about sales method lets the buyer pick their own price, and that revolutionary protest of CD prices is worth the download alone (even if you chose to download it for free). However, In Rainbows isn’t on this list because of its sales method. It’s on this list because it’s quite possibly the best album released this year. The album is brilliantly experimental, as well as accessible, and any fan of music will likely find at least something to love about In Rainbows. Just download this one immediately and experience it for yourself. You’ll thank me later.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Unless complicated instruments are a requirement for you, any and all alternative rock fans need to take notice of the outstanding music Spoon has been putting out throughout their career. They get more and more creative with each release, and although the music seems to only get simpler, the band’s music is only getting better with time. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is an album just as simple as its name, but also just as charming. It’s catchy, creative, and especially unique. The lyrics are simple but intelligent, and the band knows what they’re good at. Spoon doesn’t try to do anything overly complicated, and they don’t even do anything outstanding in particular, but it’s the entire package that makes things great. This is an album that is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of any alternative fan, and it’s the type of album that can and should be appreciated by anyone.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen
The Good, the Bad & the Queen

One look at the personnel behind The Good, the Bad & the Queen will make any alternative fan start to drool. Considering the amount of creative talent that went into it, it’s easy to call this supergroup’s self-titled debut a disappointment, but the initial listen to this album is one of the best experiences of the year. The problem is that the album lacks standout tracks and staying power, and it’s likely that only huge fans of Damon Albarn are going to find life in this album past the first couple of listens. That being said, The Good, the Bad & the Queen is a unique experience that makes for a very interesting listen. Fans of Albarn’s other projects (Blur, Gorillaz) that are interested in this one are advised to go ahead and get it, as you’ll almost certainly get at least something out of it. Any alternative fan looking for a unique experience should put The Good, the Bad & the Queen on their list as well.

The National

Boxer is a perfect example of quality indie rock. On top of being one of the year’s most consistent albums, The National has proven with this album that they know what it takes to play indie rock right. You won’t find tricky riffs or complicated instrumentals, but you find intelligent lyrics with clever wordplay, soothing guitars that bring the listener into the dark and beautiful world of Boxer, and a large amount of musical variety. Any fan of indie rock should appreciate what The National has accomplished with this album, and Boxer is accessible to warrant a very high recommendation for any fan of alternative rock in general. In fact, anyone that appreciates dark and beautiful music should at least consider Boxer this Christmas. It’s a superb album, and unlike many other indie gems of the past few years, you don’t need to be a fan of the genre to appreciate the brilliance of this record.

The New Pornographers

Often beautiful and always interesting, Challengers is an album that may not rank as the band’s best, but it’s easily among the best alternative albums of 2007. Although the band hates being labeled as a “supergroup,” that’s essentially what The New Pornographers are. They’re a supergroup made up of some of the most creative indie rock musicians of today, and their albums continue to show just how creative indie rock can be. The only thing holding Challengers back from being a must-buy album is that the band has released slightly better albums in the past. If you’re looking to get into the band, this album shouldn’t be your first, but this is an easy recommendation for those who have already delved into the creative world of The New Pornographers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holiday Buyer's Guide Update

Unfortunately, I will not be able to post the next three sections of my Holiday Buyer's Guide tonight. The writing is finished, but I need some time to work out the html errors and proofread it. The Alternative, Mainstream Rock, and Classic Metal sections will be posted after school tomorrow (11/27) at around 3:00 or 4:00 PM. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you again to anyone reading this.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Accessible Metal)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal

Accessible Metal

2007 was a year full of terrible metalcore and “mainstream” metal albums, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find quality metal albums that are accessible to any and all fans of the genre. Whether you’re looking to get into metal for the first time, or you’re just simply a fan of more accessible genres of metal, there’s a wide of variety of quality albums to choose from.

3 Inches of Blood
Fire Up the Blades

The excessively high vocals may initially incite laughter, but that doesn’t mean 3 Inches of Blood is a joke. In fact, the band has more talent than many of the bands their spoofing, and the music they make is certainly compelling. Fire Up the Blades may not have anything that comes close to their infamous “Deadly Sinners” from their last release, but nearly all of the songs present work. Whether you’re looking for a quality album that can be appreciated by any fan of metal, or you’re just looking for one of the most fun albums of the year, it’s hard to go wrong with Fire Up the Blades. Just make sure you don’t expect anything too serious.

As I Lay Dying
An Ocean Between Us

Personal preferences aside, As I Lay Dying deserve some credit. Not long ago, they were just another generic metalcore band that did very little to differentiate themselves from the many other metalcore outfits populating MTV. To their credit, they’ve played that style better than most, and the band did potentially have the talent to break out and evolve. With An Ocean Between Us, they finally do. The album introduces a moderate amount of thrash metal influences that finally cause the band to stray from the generic metalcore sound that has held them back throughout their career. At the same time, the band doesn’t compromise the sound that garnered them a large fan base to begin with. The metalcore base is still the same, but couple that with surprisingly great guitar work and a heavier thrash metal edge, and you have as good of a metalcore album as there is. Fans of the band should either already own this or add it to their collection immediately, but even if you’re the type of person that’s found only marginal interest in As I Lay Dying in the past, An Ocean Between Us may very well be worth a purchase.

Between the Buried and Me

Part metalcore, part progressive, and part whatever else they feel like playing at the moment, Between the Buried and Me is essentially a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” band. Their sound is all over the place, and it’s nearly impossible to explain. It’s hard to even tell which parts of the album work and which don’t. All that can be said is that Colors is one of the most creative metalcore albums ever released, and the band’s musicianship continues to improve with each album. It’s hard to recommend Colors to anyone in particular, but an album this good deserves a recommendation nonetheless.


Forget what you think you know about Chimaira. Resurrection takes nearly all of the band’s past flaws and throws them out the window. The band has made a full transition from nu-metal to true heavy metal, and the result can be recommended to just about anyone that hasn’t already passed Chimaira off a no-talent band that will always be awful no matter what they do. For everyone else, Resurrection is an album that takes the band’s angry sound to a new level. This is the type of album that can cause severe headbanging, and deserves to be listened to with the stereo turned way up. There may have been a large number of subpar angry metalcore albums released this year, but Resurrection is not one of them. Chimaira’s rage takes things to a new level, and their musicianship has improved dramatically. Resurrection is pure calculated rage, and if that’s what you’re looking for, this album should satisfy.

The Hinderers

Quite possibly the best debut album of the year, Daath’s The Hinderers is an album that can be wholeheartedly recommended to almost any fan of heavy metal. The band mixes a number of different metal subgenres, and their sound is a perfect blend of uniqueness and accessibility. Despite being a death metal band at their core, aspects of industrial and thrash metal cause their sound to become both more accessible and more unique. Metalheads that are tend to avoid the accessible side of the genre should still find a lot to love with The Hinderers, and Daath’s sound is accessible enough to metal fans that aren’t into the extreme or underground. The Hinderers truly has something for any metal fan, and that combined with the music’s exceptionally high quality earns this album a very high recommendation.

The Dethalbum

On top of being one of the most brilliant comedies of the year, The Deathalbum is an outstanding death metal release. Cartoon band Dethklok (as seen on Adult Swim’s Metalocolypse) may have been created strictly for the purpose of humor, but it’s really quite amazing what Brandon Small and Gene Hoglan (the actual personnel behind the album) have accomplished. The actual death metal that Dethklok performs is certainly of great quality, and it’s also accessible on top of that. You don’t have to be a fan of extreme metal to enjoy The Dethalbum, but it doesn’t hurt if you are. This is easily the most accessible death metal albums ever released, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it one of the best either. Even if the music isn’t your thing, the humor in the lyrics is top notch, and it’s as fun as death metal gets. In fact, this is as fun metal or even music gets.

The Last Kind Words

The Last Kind Words is an album for DevilDriver fans. That may seem obvious, but DevilDriver has done an exceptional job of creating an album full of everything their fan base loves about the band. From a musical stand point, it’s not outstanding, but it’s clear that the point of the album was to please their fans, not craft a masterpiece. DevilDriver is very good at what they do, and they do what they do a lot on this album. Fans of metalcore and/or groove metal should get a lot out of The Last Kind Words, but it’s doubtful that anyone who isn’t already convinced will find much to like here. However, this is a highly recommended album for fans of the band and genre, and if you’re a newer metal fan looking to get into something heavier, The Last Kind Words may be a good place to start.

Dimmu Borgir
In Sorte Diabli

Dimmu Borgir is easily the most accessible black metal band on the planet. Fans of black metal may not think much of them, but for those looking to get into heavier styles of metal, it’s hard to imagine a better starting point. In Sorte Diabli is an accessible album that incorporates elements from both black and symphonic metal, although the album is probably best enjoyed by those who are looking to get into the genres or are already members of the band’s fan base. Dimmu Borgir’s style is certainly unique, and condensing a genre like black metal into an accessible package is certainly an impressive accomplishment. It’s hard to compare Dimmu Borgir albums to anything but other Dimmu Borgir albums, and it’s probably fans of the band that will get the most out of In Sorte Diabli. Even for those who aren’t already interested in the band, this is a quality album, and you could certainly do a lot worse.

The Road to Bloodshed

The Road to Bloodshed is an album sure to please almost any thrash metal fan. On just their first album, Sanctity has avoided two common trends that often plague newcomers to the thrash scene. Firstly, they don’t copy what the legendary 80s thrash bands did, but instead create a sound that doesn’t sound like something that could have been released 20 years ago. Secondly, Sanctity avoids the repetitive Pantera influenced riffs that has plagued the genre over the last few years. Sanctity instead sounds like a breath of fresh air in both thrash metal and metal in general. Everything from the riffs to the production is solid, and it’s hard to imagine a fan of thrash metal not finding something to like here.

Shadows Fall
Threads of Life

It’s debatable whether Shadows Fall is the most talented band in metalcore. That is to say, Shadows Fall is easily the most talented band in metalcore, but it’s debatable whether they fit into that genre in the first place. Threads of Life doesn’t sound like your typical metalcore album. With expert guitar work that sounds more like something from a high quality thrash record than a metalcore release, as well as a mix of harsh and clean vocals that show both sides of Brain Fair’s outstanding vocal ability, Threads of Life is a great album no matter how you look at it. This very well may be the most accessible album on this list, and it could be recommended to any fan of rock. However, this is an album that any metalhead can and should appreciate. Shadows Fall have truly evolved as a band, and they’ve recorded an album that should please just about anyone. Any fan of metal or even rock in general that doesn’t already own this should consider Threads of Life this holiday season.

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal

Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal

None of these genres had great enough years to warrant a category to themselves, but together it contains more essential albums than maybe any of the other eight categories. Fans of the “artsy” styles of metal should recognize most of the names of this list, as the genres’ best just keep getting better.

The Divine Conspiracy

It would seem that Epica can do no wrong. From beautiful ballads to brutal death grunts to some of the finest symphonic metal ever recorded, everything Epica does on The Divine Conspiracy is pure bliss. Not enough can be said about the pure beauty of the album. The contrast between Simone Simmons mesmerizing vocals and the backing death growls allows for an experience filled with variety and emotion. Every metalhead should give this album a chance, whether or not you’re into symphonic metal, and even those aren’t interested in metal would do well giving this one a try. This is one of the best albums of the year regardless of the genre, and it deserves to be appreciated by any fan of music. If you want to give (or receive) the gift of beautiful music, there’s no better option than The Divine Conspiracy.


Although it was released last year in Europe, Firewind’s Allegiance was finally brought to the United States in January. Power metal fans would be wise to take advantage of that. Despite the addition of a new vocalist, Firewind sounds as polished as ever on this record. Gus G.’s melodic riffs get better and better with each release, and power metal fans that haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him are in for a treat. Add in a duet with the lovely Tara Teresa, and you have a very solid power metal album that fans of the genre should get a lot of enjoyment out of.

Gambling with the Devil

Gambling with the Devil isn’t going to change the way power metal is played, but Helloween already did that 20 years ago. Since the glory days of this band, the genre has evolved immensely. Helloween may not have improved their sound much in the last 20 years, but compared to their last few releases, Gambling with the Devil is a classic. It’s not going to replace their early albums that arguably created the modern power metal sound as the most recommendable albums in their discography, but it’s a relief that Gambling with the Devil gets the band back on track. For better or for worse, it’s a solid power metal release, and playing solid power metal is one thing Helloween certainly knows how to do. Whether you’re looking for a quality power metal album or simply a quality Helloween album to add to your collection, Gambling with the Devil is both a solid and safe bet.

Ghost Opera

Ghost Opera could very easily be called a disappointment compared to Kamelot’s masterful work on 2005’s The Black Halo. That being said, Ghost Opera is still an outstanding work of art. Kamelot continues to combine high quality power metal with equally high quality symphonic metal, but the balance isn’t as great on this particular album. The band has moved into a more symphonic direction, and as purely a symphonic album, Ghost Opera is excellent. This may not be the best album Kamelot has released, but that only means the competition is slightly closer to the greatness that is Kamelot. It may not be the band at their best, but Ghost Opera is still well worth owning.


If you or the person you’re shopping for isn’t as keen on the seriousness of bands like Nightwish, Epica, and Kamelot, then maybe a good fun folk metal album will be more to their liking. If that’s the case, then look no farther than Korpiklaani’s Tervaskanto. Tervaskanto is a good fun folk metal that should please anyone amused by songs about wolves, Vikings, and ale. It’s hard to deny the band’s talent, and it’s somewhat of a breath of fresh air that they don’t take things too seriously. Tervaskanto isn’t a comedy by any means, but instead an album that sounds fresh and fun. Unlike many of their peers, you don’t need to embrace yourself in the music to be able to enjoy Korpiklaani. Tervaskanto is fast and fun and it should be an enjoyable experience for any folk metal fan that doesn’t take their music too seriously.

Dark Passion Play

Fans of Nightwish that are still mourning the departure of Tarja Turunen should grow up. That may sound harsh, but to pass on an album as spectacular as Dark Passion Play just because Tarja is no longer with the band would be unfortunate. Nightwish is too good of a band to crumble because of one member’s departure, and in a way, the change to a vocalist that isn’t an opera singer works out to their advantage. If there’s one thing that can be said about Dark Passion Play, it’s that the band never sounds generic. Nightwish hasn’t done anything quite like this before, and the tracks that work (which are most of them) range from stunningly beautiful to exceptionally heavy to just plain epic. There’s a lot to like about Dark Passion Play, and at 70+ minutes of 13 varied tracks, there’s a good chance any fan of music will find something to enjoy.

Sonata Arctica

After 2004’s brilliant Reckoning Night, it’s surprising that Sonata Arctica has gone in a completely different direction. Far more symphonic and progressive than Sonata Arctica’s past albums, Unia is an interesting experiment that works well enough to warrant a recommendation to both power and symphonic metal fans. Unfortunately, the parts that work are the same parts that have worked on previous Sonata Arctica albums. Only this time, there are less of those parts. The progressive elements don’t work well at all, and the album sometimes sounds far too pop-like for its own good. However, most of the album works, and when Unia works, it works exceptionally well. It’s not the best album in their discography by any means, but Unia may be a solid introduction for the few power metal fans that have to yet to hear Sonata Arctica, and fans of the band that haven yet to hear the album should get enjoyment out of most of Unia.

Gothic Kabbalah

It’s been a long time since Therion had any sort of misstep, and Gothic Kabbalah continues that trend. In fact, Gothic Kabbalah may even be better than Therion’s last few albums, and that’s saying something. Gothic Kabbalah is a concept album that tells an epic fantasy story and incorporates some of the best symphonic metal the genre has to offer. With nearly 20 musicians working on the album, this is truly one of the best and most unique experiences of the year. Often beautiful and always epic, Gothic Kabbalah is an album that every symphonic metal fan should experience. It’s among the year’s best releases, and it’s easily the most epic metal album released in 2007.

Solens Rötter

Solens Rötter is certainly an odd album to say the least. Andreas Hedlund and Mattias Marklund have shown once again that they are one of the best duos in metal today, and it’s safe to say that their music deserves to be in the collection of any fan of folk metal, black metal, progressive metal, or any type of European metal. As previously mentioned, the combination will mostly likely sound odd to newcomers, and the Swedish lyrics won’t do anything to help that, but fans of the band and genres they mix would do well to give this one a consideration. The combination of folk, black, and prog metal is as heavy as one would expect, but its Vintersorg’s beauty that really allows Solens Rötter to reach greatness. This is easily one of the best folk metal albums of the year, and it’s in no way a stretch to call it one of the overall best metal albums of the year either.

Within Temptation
The Heart of Everything

Within Temptation has gone through a major style change since their last album, and unfortunately, it’s mostly for the worse. However, that doesn’t mean The Heart of Everything is bad. Instead, it’s an album that may not satisfy symphonic metal purists (especially those who have heard the latest Epica and Nightwish albums), but anyone looking for a quality hard rock album with great lyrics and outstanding vocals should be more than pleased with it. Unfortunately, the change to a more mainstream sound has garnered comparisons to Evanescence, but the quality of the songs on The Heart of Everything far surpasses anything Evanescence has done in their career. For fans of hard rock/metal bands with female vocals, The Heart of Everything is highly recommended, and even though it may be a disappointment to symphonic fans, it’s still worth recommending to them as well.