Dan and Arno’s Top Ten Power and Prog Picks Of Early 2012
The time of year has come that we think we have a pretty good handle on the power and prog metal that’s come out so far. The year may have started slow, but it’s turned into a bit of a bustle, and if everything this summer and fall comes out on time, we’ll have a hard time indeed choosing our favorites from 2012.
As usual, Arno and I collaborated on a list of our collective top picks (this isn’t necessarily a “best-of” list) for the first half of the year. Several dozen albums were considered, and these are those that made the cut. Keep in mind that this is confined to melodic prog and power metal that we’ve been able to hear enough of to make a judgement. A few recent releases haven’t had quite enough time to appear yet, so look for much more detail at the end of the year!
Welcome To The Theater
I think my wish has finally come true. That is, ReinXeed appealing to more than simply the niche “flower metal” crowd. Welcome To The Theater sees Tommy and company growing their style to include a bit more heaviness, progginess, and more than a little cinematic flair. All this makes the album a clear winner, surely the band’s finest work so far, and one that we anticipate will bring them numerous new fans.
2) Mercury Falling
Into The Void
By far the best surprise of the year so far, Mercury Falling hit hard with their third album Into The Void. Their brand of Teutonic power metal echoes the best of Iron Savior and Brainstorm, with some progressive influences thrown into the mix. Raw and rapturous throughout, Into The Void puts this band firmly on our radar.
3) Circus Maximus
Immediately it was clear Circus Maximus had not just repeated their trick from the excellent Isolate. Instead they went for a more mellow approach, keeping their complex and emotional songwriting style intact. Easily the warmest and most engaging melodic prog experience of the year, Nine solidifies these Norwegians as one of the frontrunners of their game.
4) Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody
Ascending To Infinity
My good colleague Graham wasn’t as enthusiastic about the cinematic character of Ascending To Infinity as I was, preferring the guitar side of things. I myself love film soundtracks and thus Luca Turilli’s first Rhapsody-outing without Staropoli and Lione registered as my favorite record of the year so far. It’s sweeping and majestic, covering diverse territory and a wide range of atmospheres. The greatest achievement of Ascending To Infinity is nailing the epic, putting the capper on an already stellar experience.
Bury The Light
Pharaoh’s new effort is equal parts thought-provoking and grinding intensity, as only this band can achieve. Pharaoh has some of the best-composed lyrics of any modern power metal band, though some of them may be grisly (see “The Year Of The Blizzard”). Bury The Light is a strong followup to the fantastic Be Gone, and I expect it to appear near universally as one of the best USPM albums of the year.
6) Vorpal Nomad
Hold on, everyone’s favorite power metal album cover illustrator can SING? And he’s GOOD? You bet he is, and so’s his back-up band. Vorpal Nomad delivers a face-burning collection of songs with unapologetically spartan production. Not only is this competent, it’s my pick for debut of the year so far. Since when are the South Americans showing Germans how Teutonic metal is made?
7) Dark Empire
From Refuge To Ruin
Dark Empire delivered excellently on the promise of its predecessor, even with Jens Carlson stepping aside for newcomer Brian Larkin. From Refuge To Ruin mixes power, progressive, thrash, and death metal into a melting pot that no self-respecting headbanger should be able to pass up. It’s dark and heavy, yet heartfelt and melodic. One of the more successful examples of crossover metal, Dark Empire’s third is a triumph.
The Power Within
Well this was one welcome surprise, to be sure. With a new singer and (apparently) new take on their music, Dragonforce keeps recycling their melodies, but this time heads back to the basics. With a very solid, non-wanky foundation, as well as a quality new vocalist in Marc Hudson, The Power Within is debatably the most solid release from the band since their debut.
If Dragonforce and Rhapsody got caught in a whirlwind, it might sound a little like Pathfinder. Fifth Element sees them built on their ambition, often even reaching for the heights of titans Lost Horizon. While falling short of that particular podium, Pathfinder nevertheless finds more restraint and focus than on their often scattershot debut. Still not everything works, but with more shimmering tracks than faltering ones, these Poles might be well on their way to releasing a true power metal masterpiece.
The Burden Of God
You can always count on Nightmare to brighten up any year they release new material. The Burden Of God takes a more melodic approach than the thrashy Genetic Disorder and progressive Insurrection. With this uplifting and addictive album, these French power metal veterans show a lot of newer acts how it’s done.