2006 - The Year of Simplicity
What was outstanding about 2006 was not only the volume of high-caliber releases (and tours I was treated with) but the approaches all the bands, that at least on my list, took in creating their music. It's been a relative departure in recent times, where excess was a formula for success. Not so any longer. This year, it was a return to the elementals - the essence of the early heavy metal spirit back when Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple ruled the hard rock scene with their slick fingers, cunning ideas and wily solos. Many of the artists that appear on my list this year dispensed with overburdening extravagance; the type that only encourages audiences to demand the impossible from their metal heroes, stretching them to the limit of artistic integrity and creativity (and theiir sanity). Their self-imposed limitations this year have yielded some extraordinary releases. The stripped back approach Evergrey adopted was a welcome highlight (although barely missing out on the Top 10), as well as Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden's offerings that re-aligned themselves with their roots. It allowed their original inspirations and their personalities to shine through, usually filtered by adding too much mechanical wizardry and eagerness to impress into the mix. Again, many returned to creating organic and wholesome sounding records. The most distinguishing bands were Amorphis' folkier approach and Insomnium's forest-like touches, their brethren across the Atlantic in Agalloch doing the same, the intensity of their words and music as deft as a winters' chill and twice as compelling. Enough of my over-dramatic introduction and onto the Top 10 from Down Under 2006!
First off, the honorable mentions who scarcely missed the cut:
Amon Amarth - With Oden on our Side (Gold Type Commendation)
Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death (Silver Type Commendation)
Evergrey - Monday Morning Apocalypse (Bronze Type Commendation)
Scar Symmetry - Pitch Black Progress
Elvenking - The Winter's Wake
Noumena - Anatomy of Life
The Devin Townsend Band - Synchestra
Lordi - The Arockalypse
Not forgetting my new section celebrating the up and coming artists in the metal scene:
The Herman Li/Eyeless Sentry Joint Award for Most Outstanding Unsigned Release: Raise the Shield - Play with Fire
Mr. Dave Cardwell's ambitious take on traditional metal was a stunning debut from this multi-talented and faceted instrumentalist and vocalist. Penning and recording all the tracks single handedly, he has crafted a rousing set of rockin' tracks that will leave half the masses partying and the other half in awe of his abilities.
Honorable Mention: Storm The Castle - (The Free of) CHARGE! (Demo)
(This year I've also provided all the discs' original positions. These are from when I first wrote my tentative list about half-way through the year, to give you an overall feel of how everything fell into place)
10. Into Eternity - The Scattering of Ashes
Uhh. Where to begin. Gargantuan thrash riffs. Machinegun-style blast beats. Progressive-inspired lines from the heartland of Europe. Fret runs that peaking shred fiends would struggle to keep up with. Blind Guardian style gang choruses. Rob Halford power screams. Where do these people get their ideas from? Is it all that pot they smoke in Canada? Not since Neil Peart and his old mate Geddy Lee shacked up together have I been so impressed by a band (not individuals here, Devy) of such diverse influence. Although their previous efforts never really held my attention, I now realize that this is one of a handful of bands whose songwriting abilities are so advanced that they are able to meld an abundance of seemingly contradictory elements into a consonant whole.
Original Position: 9 - Held for a month
9. My Dying Bride - A Line of Deathless Kings
Aaron Stainthorpe and Andrew Craighan are the only survivors from the beginning of their slow march into the caverns of despair back in the Trinity/Let Loose The Swans/Like Gods of the Sun classic era, but have managed to impart their longing and anti-romantic sentiment onto a new generation of pale pallored listeners. Their songs are draped in veil of misery that is forever inimitable. A talent unrivalled in the gothic doom scene and have shined through efforlessly once again.
Original Position: 9 - Held since December
8. Mastodon - Blood Mountain
Although I should have my fire extinguisher at the ready to douse any flames, the ingeniousness of such accomplished musicians never fail to impress me, as these Southern psychedelic metallers entreat us with a platter of choice riffs plucked from the turbulent unconcious of a chaotic mind. This is music weaved out of wispy strands that threaten to yield into entropy, only to surprise listeners by holding fast to a strange attractor of tremendous melody and conceptual lyricism. It is a piece of limitless scope and unfathomable intricacy that creates images so fantastical in one's mind, it almost renders the lush and vivid artwork included with the album redundant. Sometimes I lay myself down to sleep and wonder if the wolf is really loose... Commendations to Josh Homme for his creepy drone-like vocals on Colony of Birchmen.
Original Position: 6 - Held for a month
7. Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain
What can be said about this mysterious and eerie record? I'm not entirely sure. I'm actually stuck for words trying to describe it. On initial listenings, it seems a macabre and twisted reflection into the barren parts of one's own soul - riffs imbued with heathenistic anger crash like waves upon the senses, alien like vocals ensnaring one's ears away to a place that only the imaginations of these artists could create. Its black metal heritage is not lost amongst the minimalistic post-rock texturing, defiantly casting off the shackles of genre to create something very unique indeed.
Original Position: 7 - Held since November
6. Mind's Eye - Walking on H20
A record that strikes the ears with a youthful exuberance - a feast for your aural senses, if you will - a grandiose soundscape that fuses progressive musicianship with the most delightfully and tenderly concieved glam-style melodies reminiscent of ELO, Queen and The Sweet. It never fails to impress with every spin. For those in the know, this was my No 2. choice for most of the year - if Amorphis and Blind Guardian didn't ruin their party, that's where they would have remained!
Original Position: 2 - Held for 3 months
5. Insomnium - Above the Weeping World
Superbly crafted Finnish melodic death metal that captures the essence of the tundras of that harsh, violent place that almost gives one a chill when they press play. The interplay of wonderous melodies as deft as the collision of smoke upon mist. Gruff, despair-ridden riffs give a sense of deathly and crushing sadness. Even the lyricism is poetic and laden with imagery that has a power to empty listeners and have one teetering on the edge of melancholy themselves. One of the best melodic death albums to ever come out of the northernmost shadow-covered land.
Original Position: 5: - Held since November
4. Amorphis - Eclipse
A fitting title - for this work almost does overtake Tales from The Thousand Lakes' once unassailable reputation. A conception borne swimming in the oceans of 70s psychedelic prog, brimming with folky guitar passages and Beatlesque melodies all laced with passionate vocal performances that rival Stanne, Hietala and Mustaine themselves. Not one note out of place can be heard. A quilt of warm, interweaving textures and melodies that you want to wrap yourself in nearly every minute of the day.
Original Position: 2 - Held for 3 months
3. Blind Guardian - A Twist In The Myth
Eschewing the pomp and bombast of their almost untoppable A Night At The Opera, they reference its' namesake liberally throughout this polished gem, stripping away its pomp while adding progressive (songwriting) influences without sacrificing their seductive, palatial sound. There's a new verve sparking through the Bards' Castle and its name is the Howitzer-like drumming of Frederik Ehmke. Fused together with the juggernaut twin guitar attack of Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich (chanelling Brian May and Eric Clapton at times!) and the thunder direct from the stormy bowels of Hansi Kursch's lungs, Blind Guardian has rarely sounded better. This is definitely their Day At The Races to compliment their A Night at the Opera.
Original Position: 2 - Held for ~1 week
2. Mercenary - The Hours that Remain
Sure, the cyclone that was Kral threatened to steal their thunder (*groan* - ed.) by leaving the band mid-production, but the rest of the band regrouped to record and embark on such a grand experiment that has again yielded sheer brilliance in heavy metal music. Its relentless hammering of bludgeoning riffs, mellifluous melodies and well penned songs knock your head about and leave you craving more. They tread the stormy waters of fan reaction by intricately sculping their songs to be both sing-a-long classics with the intensity of jackboots marching upon concrete. Arguments that different styles of metal cannot be intermixed falls on deaf ears compared to this riveting thrillride of a record. In sum: 11 Dreams is one of my all time favorite metal albums. This album is better than 11 Dreams.
Original Position: 2 - Held since September
1. Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance
Big surprise, right? This is the album that sustains the gloomier, visceral side of one's imagination with every spin. Doom metal taken to it's illogical but most poignant and well-crafted extreme. The soundtrack to a mind's meaningless decay; jarring, calculating, malevolent - but perversely enticing all the same. Excellent. No album came close to dethroning this magnum opus from it's rightful title of the best album of the year. I didn't give it a perfect score just because. (Hell, i'd give the Vinyl edition with its four amazing bonus tracks - including one of the best B-sides ever cruelly omitted from an album, Dissolving Bonds - in first place and put the in CD second if I could...)
Original Entry Position: 1 - Held since February
Top 5 Gigs of 2006:
The general consensus among metalheads in Australia is that 2006 was one of the best years for international acts - albeit not for superheadliners such as Iron Maiden or Slayer like other countries are regularly entreated to - very nearly unsurpassable. As the status of metal begins to climb, so will the tremendous amount of acts that start to come out. I've said it before and i'll reiterate it here - Black, Death, Power and Prog: it's all metal. Support your scene as much as you can without being a scenester. Fans are the lifeblood of live metal and the collective wallets as well as the enthusiasm of a moshpit will ultimately determine who comes out and to where.
- Dark Tranquillity at the Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom, Melbourne - 19.9.2006
One word review: Trancendental(ly fucking awesome, I can't believe I got to see them, Stanne, Sundin et. al. are GODS! GODS I SAY!)
- Gigantour.OZ.2006 (Megadeth, Soulfly, Arch Enemy and Caliban) at Festival Hall, Melbourne - 24.10.2006: Mustainetastic
- Dragonforce at the Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom, Melbourne -15.5.2006: Hilarious
- Gamma Ray at the Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom, Melbourne - 9.12.2006: Thrilling
- Nevermore at the Gershwin Room at the Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda - 28.10.2006: Phenomenal
2007? JUST BRING IT! (Especially with Blind Guardian touring in February!) Happy Holidays from the Sentry! Remember kids - "Two riffs don't make an Opeth."