1. Alcest - 'Les Voyage De L'Âmes' (Prophecy)
Alcest's previous releases have created odd, fae-like landscapes, throbbing with magical potential and painted the colour of twilight. Les Voyage De L'Âmes immediately takes a stronger, more direct approach. While this group have always excelled at creating music that explores the inner landscape, with this record they are pressing outward with a more impetuous, active mood than ever before.
This sense of energy is enhanced by subtle changes in the musical techniques employed on the album. Whereas on earlier records the guitars thrummed with the dainty, darting energy of a dragonfly, they now pulse, much more powerful and muscular, like the strokes of an owl's wings splitting the air and propelling it forward. The guitars are employed to create sense of urgency and importance, a forward momentum.
Nightwish's music has always been cinematic, but the movie tie-in gives Imaginaerum even more of a film score vibe. It is also a very diverse album. Upbeat and heavily orchestrated songs like “Ghost River” are contrasted with sparser ballads such as the jazz-tinged “Slow, Love, Slow.” Perhaps the catchiest song on the album is “I Want My Tears Back,” with a memorable chorus, a Celtic vibe and both male and female vocals.
Sometimes albums are so diverse that they become disjointed, but that never happens here. Even though there are a lot of different styles represented, there's still a cohesiveness and common thread tying everything together.
3. Lamb Of God - 'Resolution' (Epic)
When it comes to musicianship, Lamb Of God is a well-oiled machine. Drummer Chris Adler is extremely creative, and the guitar work of Mark Morton and Willie Adler is taken to an even higher level. Bassist John Campbell is not the most high-profile member of the band, but songs like “Terminally Unique” showcase his chops.
When a band has developed a distinctive style, there's a risk of everything sounding too similar. Lamb Of God definitely sticks to their sound on Resolution, but expand their sonic palette to avoid that pitfall. From brief (sort of) melodic singing on “The Number Six” to actual melodic singing on “Insurrection” to strings and female vocals on “King Me,” the band continues to push their boundaries while being true to their core sound.
Indulgence overrules brevity on The Thousandfold Epicentre. The band heads further into prog territory, with songs that go way beyond the times clocked in on their first album. This extra space is used for jam-like instrumental sections and ominous ambiance drawn from distorted guitars and noisy keyboards. The last third of the record is heavy on these two, especially on the boorish 15 minutes of “Feverdance.”
It’s not all gloom for The Devil’s Blood, as the tracks that precede the last few are some of the best rock songs heard in a while. “On The Wings Of Gloria” capitalizes on the two-minute intro “Unending Singularity,” with frightful vocals disguised by the presence of boisterous guitars, and the type of graspable hooks that were big from bands like Jefferson Starship and Boston. The orchestration on the title track gives a hefty scope to the tune, which is helped by the multiple tempo shifts and classy piano line streaming through the middle part of the track.
5. Beyond The Bridge - 'The Old Man And The Spirit' (Frontiers)
The Old Man And The Spirit is an ambitious release, to say the least. If you have the time to read the lyrics and allow yourself to be fully engrossed in the story, then it will be an even better listening experience. Hearing the disc through headphones is also highly recommended.
The Old Man And The Spirit will appeal to progressive, symphonic and general metal fans, as well as people who appreciate great music. In this day and age where time is valuable and our short attention span competes with our daily lives, something such as this release is most appreciated. For a band to create art such as this — to take the time to craft, create and render every fine detail like a well-crafted vintage automobile or a beautiful woman — is very commendable.