Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)
Thanks for another entertaining edition of the Arsies and the thoughtful summary of your views on the current state of metal! Both were thought-provoking and deserving of detailed responses….
It is interesting first to note how little overlap there was between the albums I purchased last year and the ones you considered in your First Listens. Of the 137 on your list, I initially had only 33, although I subsequently purchased 4 more (Soilwork, Hatesphere, Extol and Darkane) based on tips from the Arsies brackets. That is still only about a 25% overlap in terms of exposure to new original music for a year in which I bought 86 original full-lengths and EPs, a new personal best for JaPaBo. In addition, I counted about the same number of acts (36) that I had never even heard of prior to seeing your list. I then compared our lists further and found that when you subtract the overlap (37) and albums I purchased by Japanese artists (10), more than two-thirds of what remains (29 of 39) are albums by European artists of which again more than two-thirds (20 of 29) feature primarily or only clear vocals. Many of the bands in this latter category play power or gothic metal (e.g. Amaranthe, Battle Beast, Gamma Ray, Mastercastle, Revamp, Seduce the Heaven, Tarja, etc.), operatic or symphonic metal (e.g. Avantasia, Ayreon, Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Serenity, etc.) or doom/retro-rock metal (e.g. Avatarium, Spiritual Beggars, etc.). There are of course some death metal acts with growlers in the broader European group (e.g. Hail of Bullets, Hypocrisy, Illnath, The Resistance, etc.), but the major commonality appears to be European acts featuring clear vocals.
The differences between our lists are revealing. First, they show the wide breadth of the world metal scene in 2013. There is so much out there now that two dudes independently trying to catalog metal’s broad currents still come up with very different results. Second, it obviously reveals my stronger tolerance for cheese (musical cheese, that is, as your tolerance for real cheese is legendary and beyond compare) and, to a lesser extent, female vocals. My entry into heavy metal was Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and I still crave that classic NWOBHM sound, even in the company of the innovations of newer sub-genres, such as some growling, heavily de-tuned guitars, double-bass drumming and female or operatic vocals. Third, the differences in our lists, as well as some of the insights in your summary of the scene, force me to admit that my tastes greatly depart from one of the major developments in metal over the last decade: the rise of the mathcore or noisecore sub-genre. Whatever you want to label it, the music of bands like Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan just does not appeal to me. I have tried on numerous occasions to get into Dillinger and even purchased the last two Converge albums, but I have never been able to get past the impression that the music is noisy and aggressive but has not much else to offer. Although I will concede that Converge mixes it up a bit, the only thing I have been able to find in Dillinger is the energy, which, while undeniably present, seems almost purposely unfocused. I write this less as a criticism of these bands (which I know are adored by critics and fans alike) and more as an admission of personal defeat (and to a lesser degree perhaps my advancing age). The era of Peak Ballou and the “market saturation of The Sound” you write about represent perhaps the first major development in metal that I have been utterly unable to grasp.
Despite the above admission, I generally agree with your optimistic view of 2013. You are absolutely right that excellent releases from come-back veteran artists such as Black Sabbath and Carcass provided a strong foundation for a year that also saw great releases from mid-career bands such as The Black Dahlia Murder and young bands such as Revocation. However, I also think it was a good year for other reasons. First, the Japanese metal scene has continued to contribute entertaining and very original music spanning from the techno-metalcore of Crossfaith to the modern thrash of Outrage to the technical power metal of Light Bringer to the J-Pop-infused heavy rock of female bands such as Gacharic Spin, Cyntia, and Aldious. Second, some of the European bands mentioned above were responsible for great albums, including Amaranthe’s The Nexus, Avantasia’s The Mystery of Time, Ayreon’s The Theory of Everything, Seduce the Heaven’s Field of Dreams, Serentity’s War of Ages as well as the self-titled albums from Avatarium and Battle Beast. In many ways, it is in developments outside of North America that I find some of the brightest spots of the year.
As for where we go from here, in addition to expected new releases from Meshuggah and Anthrax, Machine Head, Mastodon, In Flames, Black Label Society, Opeth, Triptykon, Nightwish and Down are scheduled to put out new albums in 2014, as well as possibly Tool (?), Slipknot (??) and Slayer (???). We already have new releases from Behemoth, Iced Earth and Cynic. What do you think so far?