Dan & Arno’s 2011 In Recap: Biggest Disappointments

January 11, 2012 in Top Lists by Arno Callens

Every year features a number of bands performing beyond our wildest expectations, yet at the same time other bands deliver products below our standards. This is a list to celebrate those acts that have disappointed us over the last year and will therefore not be getting many positive vibes from us with their next release(s), until (and IF) they redeem themselves. They were not sent a Christmas card either. Mind you that these are not all exclusively bad to outright dreadful albums, their quality is in this case measured to an esteemed (part of the) back catalogue or the general reputation of the band in question. Save those torches and pitchforks for the Apocalypse before you murder us in our sleep for expressing a controversial opinion.

1. Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Arno: I was never biased when Tarja left the band and I really enjoyed Dark Passion Play, but this album is an inconsistent mess, packing some interesting ideas but putting them in uninteresting songs. There is an overdose of poppiness, balladry and repetition (the title track is a lazy rehashing of themes from the album), not to mention pretentious and boring poetry. Only “I Want My Tears Back” and “Last Ride Of The Day” manage to stand out and they both pale compared to most of the material on Dark Passion Play. With all the preceding hype and self-important advertising, I expected at least an album worthy of its ambition, but it gets lost in trying to be deep, clever or whatever it is Tuomas Holopainen tried to pull out of that big head of his. I want my tears back. Now.

Dan: Like Arno, I wasn’t turned off by Dark Passion Play, and there was some great content on it. To avoid being redundant: This feels like a Holopainen solo album. While reasonably well-composed and strikingly catchy in places, the instrumentalists have been relegated to playing music that would have bored me in my second year of lessons. This album also proves that Anette Olzon, while having a niche that she fills very well, is remarkably inept when it comes to vocal flexibility. Just because she attempts a husky jazz ballad and a harsh shrieking doesn’t mean that she does either well, nor does it mean that they help develop the imagery that the band is looking for. For me, this actually destroyed much of the album. Summed up concisely: If any other band that wasn’t as well-established released something like Imaginaerum, you’d quickly see a division in fans between those that enjoy the simplicity and redundancy of this album, and those who are looking for something more. Some following Nightwish have continued to hang on out of long-established fandom or some strange feeling of self-inflicted obligation to accept from this once-great band what they would from few (or no) others. And that’s the trick: with all the polish and pomp, Nightwish is really hoping that you won’t notice that under all the poppiness and glimmer, there’s only a couple good tunes and a half-baked concept which was mediocre from the get-go.

2. Morifade – Empire Of Souls

Dan: Man was I excited when I heard about this. Morifade dropped a couple of excellent power metal releases back in what I now think of as their “glory days”. Now? Well, it’s not a poor album, but most similarities to the great group I knew have gone out the window. The vocals are poor to middling in quality, the songs feel stiff and lacking the energy and that special character that made their earlier work so great, and the whole album feels like it was released out of obligation and not out of passion. This new formula is not a winning one, and I’m scratching my head over what Morifade are going to do after this moderate bungle. In my opinion, they should have just formed a band under a new moniker, so that this wouldn’t draw such keen criticism in comparison with old music.

3. Highland Glory – Twist Of Faith

Dan: When we last left the intrepid Highland Glory, they were churning out better-than-average heavy/power metal with the mighty Jan Thore Grefstad at the forefront of their efforts. What they’ve done now, replacing him with the questionably talented Trine Elise Johansen, is not really forgivable. How any band member could have seen her as an apt replacement is beyond me. Instrumentally, this is a more tame effort than in the past, but not poor by any means. However, it’s pulled right down the sieve into the trough of forgettable power metal albums by the vocal work.

4. Hammerfall – Infected

Arno: A lot of the praise for this album seems to be centered around the fact that it’s not as bad as No Sacrifice, No Victory. But since when do we judge albums based on how well they compare to another lowpoint? I’m not saying Infected isn’t a nudge above its predecessor, but it’s definitely not the redemption this band so desperately needed. Offensive in its stupidity (“One More Time” anyone?) with only a few vague flashes of former glory in “The Outlaw” and “Dias De Los Muertos”. And even those two songs underperform when you wistfully glance at the tracklist of Glory To The Brave or even Threshold. Hammerfall is a braindead zombie waiting to be shot in the head and if we can’t do that, at least but them into quarantine so they don’t infect any others.

5. Symphony X – Iconoclast

Arno: We wil probably catch a lot of flack for featuring this album on a list of disappointments, so let me be clear from the beginning: I do not think Iconoclast is a bad album. I do think it is underwhelming after the stellar Paradise Lost, because it sacrifices all the emotion and heart of that album for mechanical riffing and a surprisingly uninspired vocal turn by Russell Allen. The man growls where he used to soar and  the rare instances where he does are too derivative of past triumphs. The lyrics are seriously dumbed down this time (“We are strong. We will stand and fight.” Is this a Manowar-song?), so not even the concept can save the lack of feeling that pervades this robotic affair. It’s alright for a couple of spins, but grows too dull too fast and can not be mentioned in context with previous albums without wearily shaking your head. I hope they recover from this one, because there is too much talent here to waste it on subpar releases like this.