Arno’s Best Albums of 2013

January 3, 2014 in Top Lists by Arno Callens

As the first releases of 2014 start rolling in, it’s time to take a look at the year that’s passing. In 2013, power metal fans were again spoiled for choice, and on a personal level I began expanding more into (not necessarily neighboring) other genres. To prevent this list from becoming a “top of everything I liked”, I limited it to ten slots, and no more. Below will be a list of honorable mentions (limited to 20 or it would never stop), not including every album of 2013 I enjoyed, but the best of the rest. So here’s to 2013 and may 2014 be even better. I’ll settle for just as good.

10. Royal Hunt – A Life To Die For

royal hunt

Royal Hunt’s discography is a strange and various wonderland, but my favorite era is still the early one with classic albums such as Land Of Broken Hearts, Clown In The Mirror and Paradox. Since D.C. Cooper came home, the Danes made the connection with the past and have been better than ever as a result. If Show Me How To Live was the overture to a new age, A Life To Die For is the crescendo. Personal despite the bombast, human despite the larger-than-life attitude, and overall splendidly melodic. A Life To Die For is, as I’ve punned before, to die for.

9. Bane Of Winterstorm – The Last Sons Of Perilyn

Bane Of Winterstorm - The Last Sons Of Perylin

Fantasy power metal saw a Renaissance in 2011 with Dragonland and Lorenguard radically changing the board with ambitions tall as mountains and the story no longer an afterthought, but irrevocably intertwined with music. Bane Of Winterstorm follows in that trend, and crafts an album so engraved in its tale it threatens to exclude everyone but the authors. Luckily the music is up to the task of drawing us into this world, with long but never boring epics throwing melodies, twists and guest singers at us as if someone edited a 45 minute version of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy together. While Rhapsody Of Fire is looking for itself, Bane Of Winterstorm (and at least one other) are pushing the genre further, and now even Dragonland and Lorenguard have heavy tasks at hand next year.

8. Stratovarius – Nemesis

Stratovarius Nemesis

Call me a power metal blasphemer, but I never cared much for Stratovarius until they died. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the likes of Episode, it’s that ever since their rebirth they have been so much better than that. Polaris set the stage, Elysium played on it and Nemesis burns it straight down to the ground. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more instantly catchy album this year, and one that so overflows with energy and drive. Timo Tolkki may have Tobias Sammet’s address book for his new projects, but Stratovarius doesn’t need anyone but themselves to crush the competition in sight.

7. Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess

Atlantean Kodex - The White Goddess

Atlantean Kodex’ The Golden Bough was quite the rage at the time, and even I (normally a power/prog aficionado) got swept up in their epic heavy metal swirl. It’s not an album I return to much, but when I do it’s a blast. The White Goddess however will be much more revisited, as it builds on everything The Golden Bough did right, and makes it better. The songs are more focused, the feel less doomy and more epic and the melodies more memorable. This is no longer an underground obscurity, but a unique band ready to dominate more of the world.

6. Arrayan Path – IV: Stigmata

Arrayan Path - Stigmata

Tommy ReinXeed suffered from a bit of a burnout this year, but so far the equally prolific Arrayan Path have staved off a much feared dip in inspiration. After releasing another standout album with Astronomikon’s Dark Gorgon Rising the Cypriots returned the same year with their main band’s fifth. It’s a move that would make Tobias Sammet jealous. Terra Incognita and Ira Imperium already showed significant growth and IV: Stigmata goes even further. The ideas never stop and here’s a power metal album on which you haven’t heard all the choruses before. Arrayan Path is at the top of their game and with another new record slated for 2014, let’s hope they don’t pull a ReinXeed.

5. Evertale – Of Dragons And Elves

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Bane Of Winterstorm I covered, let’s get to THE fantasy power metal album of the year. Out of nowhere (well, Germany technically) Evertale came, saw and conquered their entire subgenre. Combining the storytelling grandeur of Dragonland with Teutonic riffing they craft the finest dragon-and-elves-based album coming out of Germany since Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle-Earth. The first half may be a bit of table-setting, but the second half destroys such complaints with ease, one instantly classic track after another. It’s huge, it’s heavy and proof power metal about wizards still has places to go.

4. Caladan Brood – Echoes Of Battle

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For the first time ever I have a favorite black metal album of the year. Surely including Caladan Brood’s mix of black metal with film score soundscapes is a bit of a cheat, but shut up. Taking a page out of the Austrians’ book, these Americans out-summon Summoning themselves. Vast and bleak, as the Malazan Book Of The Fallen series it’s based on, its atmosphere is massive and the clean sung passages a huge plus. In a year where Summoning returned with the great Old Mornings Dawn, it’s rare to see what some would deem a copycat do so much better.

3. Avantasia – The Mystery Of Time

Avantasia-The Mystery Of Time

Angel Of Babylon left a somewhat sour taste in the mouth, as it reeked of commercialism and a lack of “kill your darlings” on Tobias Sammet’s behalf. Then came Edguy’s Age Of The Joker and expectations for more Avantasia again climbed. So of course the man delivered. The Mystery Of Time may very well be the best Avantasia album since The Metal Operas and that comes from someone who adores The Scarecrow. It feels as a whole, not various showcases for fancy guest stars, and even though the story makes no sense whatsoever, it has a mystical attraction. On top of that it’s still the best crossover between Helloween and Magnum at the top of their game, and now I can’t wait for that new Edguy next year.

2. Illusion Suite – The Iron Cemetery

illusion_suite_cover_the_iron_cemetery_hq

Final Hour was a promise Illusion Suite would go places, but never did I expect they would get there so fast. The debut was excellent, the follow-up is more than that and beyond. Retaining the complexity, Illusion Suite has crafted a prog album you don’t need a course in mathematics for to understand. It’s complex yet accessible, with melodies so sublime you wonder if they don’t actually have Orpheus locked up in their cellar. The title track is without doubt my favorite track of the year, and not just because it’s about Nikola Tesla coming back to life to wreak havoc with a robotic army or something.

1. Keldian – Outbound

Keldian - Outbound

Albums anticipated intensively often end up disappointing. Not so with Keldian. After a band-and-fans collaborative campaign Outbound saw the life of day and power metal’s best kept secret entered its third chapter. Since Heaven’s Gate and Journey Of Souls the sound has gotten a modernized update, while keeping the strengths of the band in check. Glory and solitude go hand in hand, and this is at last how space metal should be. With all due respect to Star One and Pagan’s Mind, Keldian does not make music about space, they make music like they’re actually in space. And so, with every numerous repeat, are we. Otherworldly.

Honorable mentions

Tad Morose – Revenant // Overtures – Entering The Maze // Haken – The Mountain // Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn // Gloryhammer – Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife // HeavatarOpus I – All My Kingdoms // Magnus Karlsson – Free Fall // Until Rain – Anthem To Creation // Dyscordia – Twin Symbiosis // Serenity – War Of Ages // Lord – Digital Lies // Masterplan – Novum Initium // Helloween – Straight Out Of Hell // Wisdom – Marching For Liberty // Iron MaskFifth Son Of Winterdoom // Dragonhammer – The X Experiment // Eden’s Curse – Symphony Of Sin // Dark Moor – Ars Musica // Astronomikon – Dark Gorgon Rising // Dreamtale – World Changed Forever