1998 was a big year for traditional and power metal. Many of the artists in that year's top 10 fall into those genres. There were a couple more extreme acts that made the list as well, such as Death. Here are my choices for the best heavy metal CDs released in 1998.
The Chemical Wedding was Bruce Dickinson's last solo album before rejoining Iron Maiden, (he released another while a band member in 2005) and also his best. Dickinson has one of the great voices in metal, and that combined with excellent songwriting and outstanding guitar work from Roy Z and Adrian Smith made this CD so good. From uptempo anthems to mid-tempo groovers to power ballads, there's not a bit of filler.
For the second time in the '90s the German band Blind Guardian cracks my year end top 10 list. Nightfall In Middle Earth is a concept album based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's a power metal tour de force with epic compositions. The interludes between songs have been polarizing, but they help tie the concept together. The combination of electric and acoustic guitars, other unusual instruments and the use of harmonies makes this an album that stands out above the power metal masses.
My Arms, Your Hearse was Opeth's third album, and their second appearance on my year end lists. It's a concept album, and also heavier and more aggressive than Opeth's first two albums. The songs are long and complex with many tempo and intensity changes. "April Ethereal" is a highlight, but the whole album is packed with memorable songs.
Death's final studio album was The Sound Of Perseverance. The lineup included guitarist Shannon Hamm, bassist Scott Clendenin, drummer Richard Christy and of course, Chuck Schuldiner. It's an album that's melodic and emotional, but with plenty of brutality and intensity. The musicianship on this album was among their best, and it wraps up with a pretty good cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller."
Concept albums are more common in the power and progressive metal genres, but with Obsolete, Fear Factory proves an industrial style band can pull it off as well. There are some really angry and aggressive songs here, and Dino Cazares does his usual fine job with riffs and solos. Burton C. Bell sings melodically and in a harsher style that gives the songs a bit more diversity. Some versions of the disc also include a cool cover version of Gary Numan's "Cars."
Helloween made my year end list in 1998 for the first time in a decade. Better Than Raw is an album with a lot of variety. There are some really heavy tracks along with the usual power metal style songs. Helloween also shows some progressive tendencies on a track or two, and of course have the requisite power ballads. Helloween has put out a ton of albums in their long career, and this is one of their most underrated.
Something Wicked This Way Comes was Iced Earth's fifth album, and marks their first appearance on my year end best of lists. The songs have some really heavy and aggressive riffs, but also plenty of melody. There are a ton of ballads on this CD, but they are balanced out by the heavier, more intense tracks. Matt Barlow's vocals are really good, and the album ends on a strong point with the Something Wicked trilogy.
The Finnish band Nightwish combines classical elements with power, gothic and traditional metal. Oceanborn was their second album, and a huge improvement over their debut. It's a dark and majestic release that's symphonic and bombastic. Tarja Turunen's vocals really improved on this album, and her operatic style meshes much more tightly with the songs this time around.
Nile has always been a unique death metal band, and Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka marked the debut of a fresh and unusual voice in the genre. Nile blends Egyptian themes and symbolism with non-metal instruments that add a twist of experimentation to brutal and vicious death metal. That experimentation combined with excellent songwriting and memorable riffs make for a very original release.
Hammerfall's Legacy Of Kings was their second album and second consecutive appearance on my year end list. It's a bit more polished than their debut and is filled with soaring, melodic power metal songs. It didn't quite reach the level of their first release, but was a rock solid album with some memorable tracks, especially "Dreamland."