5) Zeal and Ardor, Devil Is Fine (Self-Released)
Blues, black metal, spirituals, and a dash of trip hop in one album. It’s as unorthodox as it sounds and the list of ways it could go wrong is extensive. But somehow Manuel Gagneux, the one man behind the band, pulls it off. The instant you put on “In Ashes” you’re treated to what sounds like Howlin’ Wolf with a backing band from Norway. It’s crazy, weird, and one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard. You certainly have to keep an open mind going in and purists probably stopped reading after I mentioned trip hop, but this really is something completely different.
4) Ihsahn, Arktis (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
The only thing predictable about Ihsahn is his unpredictability. This time around, the unpredicted bit is that Arktis. is actually a bit more structured than its predecessors, but it’s far from conventional otherwise. The different sights and sounds you experience throughout the album will have you tilting your head inquisitively, moving from the high energy, dual guitar drive of “Mass Darkness,” but then going full blown Randy Rhoads/Jake E. Lee on “Until I Too Dissolve”. It’s creative and captivating, making you want to give it a second lesson not long after.
3) Haken, Affinity (InsideOut)
Haken’s fourth outing is a breath of fresh air for tried and true prog rock/metal. With a dash of 80’s synth driven music this time around, the band manages to distinguish themselves from other young prog acts by sidestepping the pitfall of too much noodling. Instead, they opt for strong, flowing songwriting that ranges from the retro heavy track “1985” to the fifteen minute centerpiece “The Architect”. If you missed out on the buzz from 2013’s The Mountain, make sure you catch this one instead.
2) Gojira, Magma (Roadrunner)
One of most highly-anticipated albums of the year, I’m sure this is one you’ll be seeing on other “Best of so far” lists as well as the “End of Year” lists six months from now. And there’s a reason for that. Magma is another winner in the books for Gojira, offering up some of the tightest musicianship you’ll hear this year without being flashy or gimmicky. Dark emotion merges with the groovy, punchy riffs you’d expect from Gojira, who also dip their toes in experimentation on tracks like opener “The Shooting Star” and closer “Liberation”. Truly, Gojira are a pillar in the community of modern metal.
1) Dream Theater, The Astonishing (Roadrunner)
The story of a rock opera or concept album is usually more of a background thing, something for the avid listener to sink their teeth into if they like the album enough. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t get caught up in the story of Dream Theater’s The Astonishing. Take a little bit of Rush’s “2112” and Game of Thrones and you’ve got The Astonishing, spinning a dystopian tale of royals and rebels with the gift of music at the center. The band’s musicianship is as stellar as ever, but they really did find a way to put the songwriting and story up front, yielding one of the best albums in their discography.