(Andy Synn begins his annual List Week with a collection of albums which perhaps failed to reach their full potential)
As I always like to stress, around this time every year, this particular article is not an excuse to be a troll or a hater (or whatever word “the kids” are using these days). Nor are we attempting to farm for clicks or cause controversy for controversy’s sake (and I’m sure at least a few of these picks will be controversial).
Because the truth is, I don’t hate any of these albums. Some of them I even think are pretty good, despite some obvious (and occasionally massive) flaws.
But in a world of (metallic) media that often seems loathe to offer even the mildest of criticisms – whether through fear of the resultant online backlash or an unwillingness to risk losing their precious access to the bigger, more famous names (who, let’s be honest, tend to get treated with kid gloves when, really, they should be being held to even higher standards) – I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes the bands we love don’t live up to our expectations… or their own potential.
In that spirit, then, let’s consider this a safe space, one where we can acknowledge that no band is perfect, and being disappointed by their new release doesn’t necessarily make you any less of a fan, even if it hurts a lot when it happens.
So, please, put down your pitchforks and douse your torches… and remember that we’re not here to hate, we’re here to heal.
BLACK ANVIL – REGENESIS
We’re starting off with perhaps my biggest disappointment of the year, and certainly the one which hurt the most.
As someone who was a big fan of the band’s first three releases, and thought that they’d truly found themselves on As Was (which remains, to this day, one of my all-time favourite and most-played records) I was so looking forward to this album and, to be fair, there are several bright spots (probably enough to make a really good EP, if I’m being totally honest).
But there’s no question in my mind that there’s just something missing from most of the material, with the band trying out a bunch of different ideas that never quite land, and never quite seeming to know exactly what direction they want to go in. I don’t hate it, by any means, it’s just… disappointing.
BLOOD INCANTATION – TIMEWAVE ZERO
Ok, cards on the table. I don’t actually find Timewave Zero to be a disappointment. As someone who occasionally imbibes a bit of ambient music I found it to be pretty good overall, and it’s clear that the band themselves absolutely love this kind of music with all their hearts.
But what I am disappointed by is all those outlets and outfits who had the gall to make this one of their “best albums of the year” picks – based purely, as far as I can tell, on the name-brand recognition involved.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with all liking different things, and all liking those things in different ways. It’s all subjective in the end, after all. But the accepted reasoning that “this band can do no wrong” (and, to be clear, none of their previous albums was perfect, despite what the hype-machine might have you believe) just reeks of lazy group-think. And Blood Incantation are worthy of more than that.
FACELESS BURIAL – AT THE FOOTHILLS OF DELIREATION
I ummed and ahhed about putting this one on the list for quite some time. After all, Faceless Burial have been on a roll ever since they burst onto the scene with 2017’s Grotesque Miscreation, and 2020’s Speciation was most definitely one of the best Death Metal albums of the year (and at least as good as, say, anything the above-mentioned Blood Incantation have ever put out).
But despite enjoying At the Foothills of Delireation initially I quickly found my interest waning – the oddly thin and brittle production certainly didn’t help its staying power, or lack thereof, either – and I rarely seemed to want to go back to it. And after such a stunning display of punishing power and subtly proggy ambition as Speciation that couldn’t help but feel like a disappointment to me (and I know I’m not alone in feeling that).
FALLUJAH – EMPYREAN
If there’s one album featured here that’s guaranteed to get a few hackles up… it’s this one. Fallujah fans are, after all, nothing if not loyal (some might say fanatically so) and tend to (over)react to even the mildest of criticisms with violent (though mostly online) apoplexy. But, even knowing that, I still stand by my decision.
Don’t get me wrong, this is an impeccably performed and produced record, and the addition of Evan Brewer on bass somehow manages to further enhance the band’s already impressive technical talents, but – much like 2014’s The Flesh Prevails, probably the album it most closely resembles overall – it’s hard to remember a single stand-out track from Empyrean once it’s finished playing. The whole thing just blends together into one shreddy, shimmery stream of style over substance.
But, hell, feel free not to listen to me. After all, I’m the guy who really liked Undying Light because it had actual songs on it (although, as an aside, it’s amusing to see the people who attacked the vocals on UL for being too “emo” going crazy over this one, as some of new vocalist Kyle Schaefer’s clean moments are at least as “emo” as anything on that album – which is not a criticism btw, just an observation).
GOSPELHEIM – RITUAL & REPETITION
I rarely put “new” bands in this particular list, but the ridiculously overblown hype around this one meant I couldn’t avoid it (making this one of those not-entirely-uncommon cases where the band’s PR actually did them a disservice by setting them up for a fall).
It’s not just that the vocals feel flat and half-hearted (and, no, that’s not just because they’re being “Goth”) or that the rhyming-dictionary-reliant lyrics seem to get noticeably worse with each listen… the whole package just feels tired and played out already. And it’s only the band’s first album!
PARIUS – THE SIGNAL HEARD THROUGHOUT SPACE
You know how they say that “less is more”? Well this is a perfect example of why.
At over twice the size/length of their previous record, no-one can accuse The Signal Heard Throughout Space of lacking ambition, but the problem with the band throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at the wall over the course of this hour-long Prog-Metal odyssey is that remarkably little of it actually sticks.
That doesn’t mean it’s bereft of redeeming features, by any means, and there’s a couple of absolutely killer cuts nestled within the track-listing, but this is one occasion where the band in question have simply spread their obvious talents far too thinly.
PORCUPINE TREE – CLOSURE/CONTINUATION
Look, if I have to be the person who says that the emperor is naked, then so be it.
I know how much you love Porcupine Tree. I know how much we all love Porcupine Tree (in particular, that three album run from In Absentia, through Deadwing, to the absolutely untouchable Fear of a Blank Planet is a thing of absolute beauty). But if The Incident was a disappointing finale to a fantastic career (and it definitely was) then Closure/Continuation is an even more disappointing come-back, which often sounds more like a collection of left-overs from Wilson’s uneven post-PT solo-work (despite the fact that it’s been reported that this is the band’s most “collaborative” effort ever).
The exception to this – which, in truth, actually proves the rule – is the final track, where all the different elements come together perfectly (although perhaps more by accident than design) to demonstrate just how good this album could have been… which, ultimately, makes it all the more disappointing.
VENOM PRISON – EREBOS
“But Andy,” I hear you cry, “didn’t you like this album when you reviewed it?” Well yes, I did. And, for the most part, I still do.
However, time has only made its flaws stand out even more, and while the second half of the record features a bunch of tracks which are (arguably) up there with their best work, for the most part the band’s new-fangled melodic and/or atmospheric experiments often feel disappointingly tentative, with the result being that Erebos ultimately lacks both the confidence and the consistency of their previous work(s) and will probably go down more as a “transitionary” album for the group when the history books are finally written.