JaPaBo’s Best Metal Albums of 2008

Estimated reading time: 44 minute(s)

1. Opeth  Watershed
This is getting boring. Opeth keeps putting out the best album of any year in which they release an album. The operative word here is “effortless.” That is how they make it seem as they continue to do innovative work that is nonetheless accessible and interesting. I thought the loss of Lopez and Lindgren might slow them down, but, technically at least, they actually seem to be a stronger band now! I could go into a song-by-song breakdown, but I love them all (including even the fucking Japanese bonus track!), so I won’t waste your time.

2. Judas Priest   Nostradamus
As Zig has already read more than anyone should ever have to about my thoughts on this album, I will be mercifully brief here. It took some huge, brass balls to release this; the pure audacity of it makes me smile. Rather than quietly fading into the sunset running on the fumes of past glories, Priest has decided to stir the pot, challenging a metal world obsessed with heaviness to reconsider the value of melody. If you are someone who wants to hear one of your favorite bands test their skills on a relatively new musical landscape, succeeding more than they fail in the process, you will probably like this record. If not, I recommend “Metal Works.” That’s probably the last Priest CD you will ever need.

3. Slipknot    All Hope Is Gone
I can’t stop listening to this album. Lyrically provocative, chock full of monster riffs, and strangely melodious, it has it all. In a single album, they veer from the crushing political heaviness of “Gematria” to the bleak acoustic melancholy of “Snuff,” yet somehow still manage to retain their signature stomp. Although all the members are the same, this is simply a much better band than the one that released Iowa—and that is saying a lot right there!

4. The Haunted   Versus
This album would be higher except that it is not as good as The Dead Eye, whereas the top three all show improvement over the last effort. Still, considering how good The Dead Eye was, this is not much of a criticism, and Versus has much to praise. The Japanese edition included the entire Collateral Damage EP as bonus tracks, resulting in a 17-song spread of infectious, concise Swedish death. “Rivers Run” is my favorite song of the year, and the chorus riff in “Faultline” makes me want to reach across the Pacific and throttle you all. Also, “Versus” is the best title track to not be included on an album ever (it’s one of the Collateral Damage songs)! My main complaint is that the inclusion of Jensen-penned thrashers in the midst of Dead Eye-style mind-blowers hurts the consistency a bit (although who doesn’t like a song like “Moronic Colossus?”).

Full Disclosure: I went to see the Japanese tours of all the top four picks, which may have influenced my thinking somewhat, since they all abso-mutha-fuckin’-lutely ROCKED (catch phrase courtesy of Cliff Burton, R.I.P)!

5. Deadlock   Manifesto
I’ve been pushing this band on you guys for years to no avail, but here I go again: This group of music conservatory nerds may be the best death metal band outside of Scandinavia and is certainly the most fearless. The new album begins with a techno-beat intro, one of the songs features sax shredding, and another includes a lengthy rap (and I don’t mean shitty Linkin Park talk-rap; they hired two black dudes and let them go at it). The riffs remain huge and the frenetic soloing will not disappoint. Although you may find their lyrical message off-putting (it’s an album-length rant against the way humans treat animals, even the rap!), I actually find the sincerity (or naiveté) in their politics to be appealing. Highlights include “Martyr to Science,” “The Brave/Agony Applause,” “Fire at Will,” and “Seal Slayer.” The album was officially released in the US this time, so check it out.

6. Gojira   The Way Of All Flesh
I had very little exposure to Gojira before picking this up on Zig’s recommendation, yet I knew it was something special after just one listen. It usually takes me several times through with music this complex, but there is something about their sound that got me immediately. I think it might be the potent mix of the atmospherics you expect from black and gothic metal with the healthy appreciation for strong riffing and interesting phrasing. My favorite song is probably “A Sight to Behold,” but I basically like them all: this one is smooth going down. I never thought French (not French-Canadian) culture could sustain a great metal band, but I was very, very wrong. Viva la France!

7. Metallica Death Magnetic
After the soul-crushing disappointment of the Load albums, I thought St. Anger was a step in the right (metal) direction, despite its many glaring flaws. However, I never thought Metallica could again make a great record, which is what we have here. Although it incorporates sounds from all the eras of the band, with much of the influence from the classic early albums sounding like it came from Kill ‘Em All, the album nonetheless holds together well, establishing a sound that is neither retro nor a dramatic departure. Perhaps what I like most is that it sounds like four guys who are enjoying what they are doing. Whereas the Load albums were self-conscious attempts at a musical makeover and St. Anger was a painfully honest musical breakdown, Death Magnetic is simply a solid and entertaining metal record. Who would have thunk it? Highlights include “The End of the Line,” “Cyanide,” and the best instrumental of the year, “Suicide & Redemption.” Metal up your ass, at last!

8. Trivium   Shogun
Although I thought Ascendancy was okay, I ran screaming from the steaming pile that was The Crusade, vowing never again to fall for the seemingly empty promise of Florida metal core. However, tempted by the Japanese theme, I checked out the new album streaming on MySpace and was floored. Is this even the same band? Shogun shows light years of growth since the last record and is easily Trivium’s best work. The intricate soloing, the strong sense of melody, the overall “maturity” of the song writing…this album does not sound like it was made by a bunch of high school drop-outs! Matt has also improved his singing, incorporating more vocal styles while developing a better sense of his own limitations. If you doubt me, check out the riff at the end of “Torn between Scylla and Charybdis” or the vocal melody in the middle section of “Into the Mouth of Hell We March” or see if you get bored during the nearly 12-minute title track. Every song on this platter impresses!

9. Nachtmystium   Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1
This might be higher on my list if I had more time with it; I only picked it up a few weeks ago after reading about it in the metal mags. However, after only a few listens, I recognize its utter greatness. It creates the coolest atmosphere and really sees it through. Highlights include the title track and the “Seasick” trilogy. I was slow to this boat, but, come on, good black metal from Chicago? That sounds about as realistic as a black man from Chicago being elected president! Hey, wait a minute…

10. Enslaved   Vertebrae
I never tire of listening to this album on my iPod on the way to work. There is something so unreal about the contrast between the unhurried vibe of songs like “To the Coast” or “Center” and the overwhelming rush of the Tokyo Metro in the morning. “Unhurried” is not an adjective I would generally use to describe a metal album, but it certainly applies here, and in a good way. Each song is given time to develop, usually resulting in a rewarding experience. Although I am happy to continue along on the journey from Viking metal to “heavier Pink Floyd” territory, my only concern is that Enslaved maintain their metal foundation. This album has a few too many Alan Parsons Project moments. It also lost a notch because the intro riff to “Ground” sounds so much like Rush that Geddy, Neil and Alex may want to call their lawyer.

11. Amon Amarth   Twilight Of The Thunder God
I generally stay away from bands with gimmicks (except for Slipknot, Kiss, Dimmu Borgir, Eluveitie, AC/DC, Carcass, W.A.S.P.…okay, let’s face it, I love bands with gimmicks!), but Amon certainly rises above theirs. Although merely a beer and music appreciation society for day jobbers until their last record, Amon have now blossomed into a serious metal threat. Did you know that Martin Lopez (formerly of Opeth) was their original drummer? You should see them on the back cover of their first album; it looks just like Antonio Banderas in The 13th Warrior! Anyway, the new record condenses their sound into a surprisingly melodious but still riff-oriented affair, kind of like ear candy made of brass knuckles, if that makes any sense. The main riff in “Guardians of Asgaard” hereby receives Boydo Riff of the Year honors. What a monster! L.G. Petrov’s guest vocals also make that song! The number that surprised me the most was the nearly 7-minute “Embrace of the Endless Ocean.” Although the chord progression is not that complicated, Amon definitely expand their sound on that track. Show me your Viking horns!

12. Eluveitie    Slania
Over the years, I’ve gotten into a fair share of Swiss metal bands, such as Celtic Frost, Coroner, and Krokus (I probably shouldn’t have owned up to that last one!), but I didn’t think the scene was producing many good newcomers. Until now. Eluveite is a folk metal band that uses traditional instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, flute, and fiddle to play folk melodies over Gothenburg-style death riffs. The combination is pretty intoxicating and their live show (as far as I can tell from DVD) is over-the-top sick. If you like Amon, you will probably think this is cool. Eluveitie released a tour version of the album with a bonus live CD that is mucho hilarious, so buy that version if you get it.

13. AC/DC   Black Ice
Okay, I’m old. Deal with it. This is their best record since their albums actually came out on record!

14. Meshuggah   Obzen
2008 was the year I finally got Meshuggah. It took seeing their live show at Loud Park to completely shed my objections to their near utter lack of concern for melody, but I also think Obzen makes their sound more accessible to the uninitiated. “Bleed” is a particularly memorable track, but I also like the opener, “Combustion.”

15. Tesla    Forever More
This is Tesla’s best album since Bust a Nut. That’s right, I said Bust a Nut! Did I mention I have some gray hairs?

16. Cynic   Traced In Air
This album is a cool experience from beginning to end; I probably should have rated it higher. I am particularly impressed with how they are able to return to the scene with a sound that is both a logical progression from Focus but still true to their style on that record. I mean, what have they been doing for the last fifteen years? It is also interesting to reaffirm how bands like Opeth and Gojira were influenced by the Cynic sound. My main complaint is the dearth of death metal vocals; I felt the screaming on Focus really grounded their sprawling efforts in a tight metal foundation. I also don’t think Paul’s clear vocals are very strong, and the effects-drenching gets a tad annoying at times. Still, this is a beautiful album.

17. In Flames   A Sense of Purpose
Although Jesper’s off to alcohol rehab again (“Sober and Irrelevant,” my ass!), In Flames continue to show how to grow old musically and still keep it classy. Maintaining the direction of Come Clarity, they put together a slightly more commercial collection of songs this time. Old school fans may balk at the big choruses in songs like “Disconnected” or “Delight and Angers” and at the inclusion of a lengthy ballad (“The Chosen Pessimist”), but the overall strength of this material simply cannot be denied. It is rare to see a band mature their sound with such grace. Can’t wait for their show here next week with Lamb of God and Unearth!

18. Bleeding Through   Declaration
This is the selection that I struggled with the most. I had to listen to it a ton of times before I finally even decided that I liked it! Bleeding Through is an Orange County band with a keyboard player that mix metal, hardcore and some punk into a sound that had become over the last two records increasingly concise and melodious, including some clear singing. However, Declaration is like the musical equivalent of a ton of bricks! Less clear singing, blast beats galore, and, most importantly, a heavy injection of black metal keyboards combine to make this album really stand out from both the band’s back catalog and the rest of the metal core scene. I am not sure this new sound works on every song, but it clearly comes together on the last track, “Sister Charlatan.” Rob Flynn of Machinehead rated this as one of the best songs of the year, and, in my opinion, this track alone opens up a good bit of new territory for metal core bands. I think Bleeding Through may have just done something important here.

19. Moonspell    Night Eternal
Moonspell is from Portugal. How the hell did they get so good? Night Eternal continues in the heavy gothic vein of their last two releases, far closer to black metal than Type O Negative. However, with a generous dose of harmony guitars and real attention to the riffage, this band is now simply more metal than anything else. Let’s call it metal with a sense of drama. The crushing title track is really all you need to check out to see if you like them. “Hers is the Twilight” and “Dreamless” also kill.

20. Shadow    Forever Chaos
Shadow is an Osaka-based death metal act with a female screamer that debuted around the same time as Angela joined Arch Enemy. Metal is a tough business in Japan though, and it took them until 2008 to release their sophomore effort. It was worth the wait. First, whatever she may lack in terms of vocal range or polish, Tokiko Shimamoto makes up for in sheer low end trauma. Damn! That little Japanese girl’s got balls! Second, their lead guitarist, Yuichi Sumimoto, is beyond sick. It makes my fingers hurt just listening to it! Some of the riffs are so fast and fluid they sound like a continuous solo. And rare is a death metal band that is capable of coming up with so many strong guitar melodies. The title track is truly triumphant, as is the closer, “Land of a Dream.” All the songs are in English. The Japanese version also includes a respectful cover of Dio’s “Stand Up and Shout.”

Honorable Mention:
Cavalera Conspiracy    Inflikted : Finally, the “vast left-wing conspiracy” has arrived!
Grand Magus    Iron Will : This is the best doom metal album of 2008.
Soulfly    Conquer : Is there any way I can get more Marc Rizzo records in one year?
Straight Line Stitch   When Skies Wash Ashore : SLS’s lead singer is awesome. And black. And a woman. Beat that, Obama!
Unearth   The March : Back under the wing of Adam D., these five Massholes find old ways to shine anew.

Best Non-Metal Album:
You’re kidding, right?

Purchased Original Studio Albums
Total: 48

AC/DC    Black Ice
All That Remains   Overcome
Amon Amarth     Twilight Of The Thunder God
Avantasia     The Scarecrow
Benedictum     Seasons Of Tragedy
The Black Crowes    Warpaint
Bleeding Through    Declaration
Cavalera Conspiracy   Inflikted
Children Of Bodom    Blooddrunk
Circle II Circle   Delusions Of Grandeur
Cynic   Traced In Air
Deadlock     Manifesto
Death Angel     Killing Season
DragonForce   Ultra Beatdown
Edguy   Tinnitus Sanctus
Eluveitie   Slania
Enslaved     Vertebrae
Evergrey     Torn
Gojira   The Way Of All Flesh
Grand Magus   Iron Will
The Haunted   Versus
Iced Earth     The Crucible Of Man – Something Wicked
In Flames     A Sense of Purpose
Into Eternity   The Incurable Tragedy
Jon Oliva’s Pain    Global Warning
Judas Priest   Nostradamus
Meshuggah   Obzen
Metal Church   This Present Wasteland
Metallica   Death Magnetic
Moonspell   Night Eternal
Motörhead     Motörizer
Nachtmystium   Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1
Onmyo-za     Chimimouryou (Spirits of the Mountains and Rivers )
Opeth   Watershed
Protest the Hero   Fortress
Queen & Paul Rodgers   The Cosmos Rocks
Revolution Renaissance   New Era
Serpent     Gods
Shadow     Forever Chaos
Slipknot   All Hope Is Gone
Soulfly   Conquer
Straight Line Stitch   When Skies Wash Ashore
Tesla   Forever More
Testament     The Formation of Damnation
Trivium     Shogun
Unearth   The March
Warrel Dane   Praises To The War Machine
Yngwie J. Malmsteen    Perpetual Flame