Dan and Arno’s 2014 in Review: Best Debuts
2014 has featured a terrific number of hard-hitting debut albums from bands in every genre. In a move that surprises no one, we’re going to list off our favorites, along with a summary, from the world of progressive and power. These are in no particular order (other than the order in which they came to mind), and there are too many honorable mentions, so don’t ask about them, lest you risk Arno’s razor wit.
Stilverlight – Stilverlight
Dan: In a mocking twist of the natural order of power metal, I seem to be nearly alone in appreciating this album as much as I do – thereby cementing my determination to include it on this list. This Russian newcomer enticed me with its mixture of uplifting, easy-listening European power metal with deeper vocals and a heavier textural approach similar to some riffier Germanic bands. Sure it hasn’t got everything, and has plenty of space to grow, but I can’t help coming back to it as one of my favorite debuts on the year.
Twilight Force – Tales Of Ancient Prophecies
Arno: And the award for Best EP of the Year goes to…I think you get it. Twilight Force may have scraped together little more than a half hour of music for its debut album, A Title That Sounds Like Rhapsody Already Used It, but it made each minute of that limited running time count. Well, except for all the silly interludes that amount to nothing at all. Still, what remains is a rock solid collection of classic fantasy power metal songs – it’s as if the band members had been possessed by the wisdom of the kings themselves. 2013 had Gloryhammer, 2014 Twilight Force, and so the grand wheel of time (or rather cheese) keeps on spinning. Now for the follow-up, we would love less interludes and more enchanted dragons, please.
Skyliner – Outsiders
Dan: It’s weird to think of this album as a debut, since I’ve been listening to half of the songs for several years (the same is true for Noble Beast), but a good album deserves its due, and it’s a rewarding thing to see long-planned dreams coalesce into a whole that delivers as appropriately as I could have wished for. Much of Skyliner’s charm stems from its raw emotional enthusiasm, unapologetically poignant lyricism, and unorthodox approach to a typically well hammered-out genre. I wholly understand why some listeners find Skyliner none too exceptional, but it’s these three elements which grant Outsiders consistent replays on my stereo, and make it a refreshingly different entry in a crowded scene.
Noble Beast – Noble Beast
Arno: Noble Beast came to my attention as some US cult curiosity that my dubiously-respected colleague Daniel kept yapping about. Not knowing the man to easily oversell something, especially not out of jingoism, I checked these guys out, and found the praise being heaped upon this underground miracle to be more than deserved. Straddling the line somewhere between the native and European varieties of power metal, Noble Beast has composed a diverse collection of songs for its debut. Proof of this is how everyone seems to have a different favorite song from this one. Mine are “Master Of Depravity” and “We Burn”, for the record. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last list Noble Beast will feature on, and no, I’m not talking about “Worst Cover Art”, because that is badass.
Noveria – Risen
Dan: The most explosive “out of nowhere” debut (and indeed, one of the best period) of the year for me, Noveria is, without mincing words, grade AA fantastic. “But Dan, you only like this because it sounds so much like DGM!” Yes, well, congratulations on those deductive reasoning skills, but let’s not simplify Noveria’s contribution to the scene. Sure this band excels at a similarly catchy, complex, uptempo, clearly Italian realm of progressive power metal, but there’s more to Risen than just that. It’s a lovely blend of the DGM style that I love with a lot of sinister overtones and imagery, creating an album that I find pretty unique in both appeal and execution. If I had to pick a single favorite debut of the year, gun to my head, this would be it.
Arion – Last Of Us
Dan: Arion’s debut has gotten a decent amount of press this year, largely due to the general consensus that “it’s just great that a bunch of kids made such a good power metal album”, but the underlying point is not just that Arion seems to have a bright future ahead of itself. Sure it’s pretty basic, has some shortcomings, and in some ways requires musical maturation, but Last Of Us is a legitimately good orchestral power metal album that pays both capable and joyful homage to its inspirators.
Astralion – Astralion
Dan: This one borders on “guilty pleasure” for me. Screaming “Power Quest” from the keyboard intro to “Mysterious & Victorious”, Astralion hammers home the frenzied, double bass-heavy style of European power metal that captivates me quite thoroughly when it’s on point. Astralion is *on* most of the time, and does a more than adequate job of reviving the energy of many a band now defunct or on hiatus. I’ll look for more originality next time, but for now I’m extremely content to let this one roll around in the player for a good long while.
Daydream XI – The Grand Disguise
Dan: A late year surprise, Daydream XI offered up a tight group of songs in The Grand Disguise, an album that walks the line between concise prog and mid-tempo power metal with surprising grace. The hefty tone of the album and the refreshing advent of some very good prog from Brazil make this an easy pick, and make Daydream XI a band that we should all be watching.
Cullooden – Silent Scream
Arno: That name, that cover…by all means this should be some C-grade prog rock wannabe with nothing but an Mbox and an outdated version of Photoshop. Instead, it’s a fresh and modest debut of some Swedish prog metalheads that recalls the young and “what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it?” attitude of Scandinavian colleagues Above Symmetry (for the uninitiated, also known as Aspera). It’s a little too political for my tastes, but these guys can write tunes and hang them up on some splendid hooks. Silent Scream isn’t quite big league material just yet, but it’s sure getting there. Now, someone make them an entry on the Metal Archives, stat. Unless there is some qualm again about them being “metal” enough? Maybe name the next one Luciferion’s Primordial Excretions, guys, that should do the trick.