Every month, I’ll be posting 5 releases that have dominated my playlist over the last few weeks. The goal is to introduce people to bands they may not have heard before that are not necessarily new, or just to revisit some old classics. The playlists will likely lean a little more towards power metal than my reviews because I find this subgenre draws most of my attention these days, but I’ll do my best to switch it up. It would be great to see everyone else’s playlists for the month in the comments too! Without further ado, 5 albums that have received extensive plays in December 2017:
Domine – Emperor of the Black Runes (Italy, Power Metal, 2004)
Domine ranks amongst the most underrated power metal bands ever. They’re from Italy, so you know they’ll be symphonic, but unlike many of their Italian counterparts, this band brings the riffs on a consistent basis. There is an obvious focus on sword and sorcery lyrically, but musically, this record offers plenty of speed and double bass. The real draw to Domine is vocalist Morby, who unleashes some of the highest-pitched notes ever laid to tape. He seems to do this almost at random, but the best instance is at the start of “True Believer“.
Labyrinth – Return To Heaven Denied (Italy, Power Metal, 1998)
Are you starting to notice a theme? Power metal from Italy rules, and “Return To Heaven Denied” might be the single best album in this subgenre from Italy. Unlike Domine, Labyrinth switches back and forth between higher speed burners like “Moonlight” and “Thunder“, and slower, more thoughtful pieces like “The Night of Dreams” and “Heaven Denied“. Regardless of tempo, vocalist Roberto Tiranti is always the star of the show, with a soothing, controlled voice. This is an incredibly deep album, as even later cuts like “Falling Rain” and “Die For Freedom” are every bit as good as the openers. My obsession with this record was only amplified by the fact that it was recently announced that they’ll be playing the album in its entirety at ProgPower USA 2018, which I will be attending for the first time!
Merciless – The Awakening (Sweden, Thrash Metal, 1990)
“The Awakening” is one of the purest, most aggressive examples of death/thrash. This album sets the standard for how brutal music can be without progressing into pure death metal. The 8 tracks run just 27 minutes, but every single song overflows with enough riffs to defeat an army. Admittedly, this album does take several listens to truly understand the song structures due to the relentless speed and one-dimensional vocals, but if following along with the lyrics, the tracks are easier to decipher. No matter how you choose to listen to “The Awakening”, your ears are going to be in pain afterwards from the deafening roar erupting from your speakers.
Quiet Riot – Metal Health (USA, Glam Metal, 1983)
This album peaked at #1 on the Billboard Charts back in 1983, so it might not qualify as an unknown record, but it is certainly overlooked by the majority of the heavy metal community. Despite not having Randy Rhoads, the guitar playing is consistently on fire, particularly on efforts like “Metal Health” and “Run For Cover”. The most underrated song is the sublime tune “Don’t Wanna Let You Go”, which isn’t quite a ballad, but certainly lacks in distortion. Even if you avoid records in this style, there are more than enough truly hard rockin’ riffs to keep your ears interested. “Metal Health” is highly recommended for anyone into classic heavy metal from the 1980s.
Vendetta – Go And Live… Stay And Die (Germany, Thrash Metal, 1987)
Both of Vendetta’s early albums from the 1980s were reissued in mid-2017 by Massacre Records. While it took me longer to track down the debut than it did “Brain Damage”, the former has been earning more consistent playtime. This is a fierce German thrash album that does not lean on any death metal elements for its aggression. Like many of the band’s contemporaries, the singer’s German accent is very clear. The guitars achieve the often sought-after buzzsaw tone. Though it’s difficult to top ragers like “Suicidal Lunacy” and the title track, the biggest surprise is the incredibly short “Drugs and Corruption”, which accomplishes as much in 1:18 as most songs do in 4 minutes. Your quest for German thrash metal isn’t complete if this album still eludes you!