This is going to be short and sweet. Here are 10 albums that have changed my life over the last fifteen years or so. I wouldn’t be the musician I am, nor the person I am had it not been for this music.
I listen to a lot of different genres of music and I’m by no means a metal elitist, but melodic death is my pride and joy. So, if you’re a stickler for sub genres, you might not agree that all of these releases should be considered melodic death. There’s been some controversy here and there with a few of these titles, but I’m not one to dwell on semantics or the squabbling of demo hoarders (I say that with love). No, I’m the guy that just knows what he likes and thinks a good album is a good album. So, let’s do this!
These are in no particular order:
1. Omnium Gatherum- Beyond
I must confess, this is the first album I heard by this band and it only came out in 2013. I’m extremely late to the OG party. However, with the exception of Insomnium, nobody does melodic death with melancholic undertones the way Omnium Gatherum does. The vocals, the riffs, everything- it all paints this dismal picture that gives me goosebumps during every track on every album. The first time I heard these guys was when I saw them live in Cleveland with Dark Tranquillity. They chimed in with the intro track on Beyond called “Luoto” and I had instantly found a new favorite band. If you don’t know OG and you’re into this genre at all, check out this particular intro and the song it goes into, “New Dynamic”. You’ll be in love, I promise.
2. In Flames- The Jester Race
This was one of the first melodic death albums I ever heard. It was the late ’90s and I didn’t have a clue. All I knew was that I was blown away by everything I was hearing. Back then, I had no idea that bands were writing happy riffs with beautiful harmonies and brutal harsh vocals veiled over them. Not to mention, the production on this album is so raw that it’s amazing you get the riff clarity that is present here. I can’t say I’m much of an IF fan anymore, but everything prior to 2001 is top notch!
3. Dark Tranquillity- Character
A lot of people get on DT’s case because of the clean singing, the use of keyboards and the westernized choppy riffing that comes and goes on their new albums, but I still hold these guys at the top of the melodic death food chain. As one of the originators from Gothenburg, Sweden, like At the Gates and In Flames, DT certainly has changed a bit since The Gallery or The Mind’s I, but to me, they’re still the same old Swedish hellhounds they started out as. I can say without hesitation that I love every DT album I’ve heard over the years for different reasons, but Character seems to have the best balance of all of those dynamics combined. Songs like “The New Build” and “Lost to Apathy” carry the torch for anthem like choruses, while “Mind Matters” has all the fist pumping riffs, “Am I 1?” brings all the weird proggy synth stuff and the album closer, “My Negation” is the harsh, yet melancholic ballad you’ve all been waiting for. I swear, this record is the whole DT package and the perfect one to get you started if you’re new to them. Then again, if you just want the raw, dirty Gothenburg stuff, go for The Gallery or The Mind’s I as previously mentioned.
4. In Flames- Clayman
If I had used the typical countdown format for this list, I would’ve saved this bad boy for last. Technically speaking, this is the first melodic death album I ever heard in its entirety, back in my illegal mp3 downloading days with Bearshare, Napster and Limewire (’99-’00). The first track I heard was “Swim”. Now, if you know the song, you know that’s quite a first melodic death riff to have someone hear. It’s a little more polished than what the band had in mind back in ’95 I’m assume, but music has a tendency to evolve, and the melodic death formula has certainly done just that. Clayman has some “perfect” songs in my opinion. “Bullet Ride” is the perfect opening track, “Pinball Map” has great riffs and an incredibly catchy chorus. Actually, every chorus on this album is so damn infectious, it’s like how I imagine pop fans feel every time a new one hit wonder appears on the charts. “Another Day in Quicksand” is probably my favorite. To me, it’s the most “involved” song on the record. The riffs, lyrics, leads and production are all perfectly woven together and well thought out, like every good song should be. But on this particular track, it just feels a little different (in a good way). Anyways, moving on…
5. Darkest Hour- The Eternal Return
As a longtime DH fan, the first time I heard this album, I breathed the longest sigh of relief of my life. Everything the band released up until Undoing Ruin completely blew my mind, then Deliver Us happened and I got worried. It’s a good album, but it has one of those “overly hooky” vibes with a lot more clean singing than I was used to at the time, so I started thinking, “Oh, boy…here comes the big let down”. I was waiting for the band to make a huge plunge like In Flames did with Reroute to Remain, but thankfully it never came. The Eternal Return has moments that remind me of At the Gates demos. It’s still pretty polished and it’s still very Darkest Hour, but some of these riffs are so dirty, you’d swear you’re listening to a textbook Gothenburg throwback piece, similar to Mark of Judas. And unless my memory deceives me, I don’t think there’s any clean singing on this album. Please correct me if I’m wrong (I’m too lazy to scan it right now). DH let a lot of people down with their followup to this, The Human Romance, but I never found myself “hating” it. They released their latest album (self titled) shortly after that, which I’m amazed at how much I like. Their latest album has more clean singing and clean guitar on it than any previous DH album, but I feel like the songs are so well written and the production is so spot on, that I can’t look down on it. It’s something I catch heat for, and it’s certainly not melodic death, but I can’t help it. I think I’ll always be a DH fan, even if they start releasing synth/pop albums. But back on point, The Eternal Return rules!
6. The Absence- From Your Grave
“WOW!!!” That was my first thought after giving this album a good once over. What bothers me though, is that nobody seems to know about this band. I’ve only had decent conversations about this band with 3 people (Luis Colon, Christopher Miller and Robby Warren) and it kills me. These guys burst through the placenta in the mid 2000s and released this album, which in my opinion, is the closest anyone has ever come to making a 21st century Slaughter of the Soul. Everything about the lyrics, vocal tones, riffs, leads, bass tones, drumming and production makes this a phenomenal melodic death listen. Their subsequent albums, Riders of the Plague and Enemy Within don’t carry the same punch for me, but they’re still good. But as far as this release goes, if you’re unfamiliar, you have to give “Heaven Ablaze” and “Necropolis” a listen. Those two jump out at me like crazy. I guess that’s my absolute favorite part about this genre- good melodic death songs sound filthy and beautiful all at once for their duration. It’s a sound that has something for your super angry metalheads, your good guy, sensitive type metalheads and everyone in between.
7. The Black Dahlia Murder- Unhallowed
Here’s another controversial band when it comes to genre. Some people call them death metal, others call them “pop death”, I just call them melodic death metal. They dip in and out of the death metal pool from time to time, but these guys have a sound all their own that just punishes the listener. I have to confess, after Nocturnal, I kind of fell off the bandwagon, but I’ve taken a listen to songs from subsequent releases here and there and I think they’re still nailing it every time they put something out. Trevor’s vocals are beastly and the riffs scream poetic justice by infusing European goodness into the West’s breakdown abusing culture. Unhallowed was BDM’s first album of any popularity and it just kills. The intro is creepy as fuck (I think it’s audio from an autopsy) with a crushing “slamdown” riff building up in the background. But from there on out, it’s blast beat city into the next track, “Funeral Thirst”. My favorite tune on this album however is “Closet Casket Requiem”. It’s too catchy to ignore and makes you want to 2-step dance while punching your boss in the face.
8. Dark Tranquillity- Damage Done
I brought up Character earlier as an ideal DT release, but I simply can’t ignore this album. It has the perfect balance of dirt, clarity, synth and progressive transitioning that I look for with this band. Now, I know I said the exact same thing about Character, but the reason I have to include Damage Done on this list is because of it’s standout raw vocal tones. Mikael Stanne has always had a knack for unique raw rasps, making him standout against other melodic death vocalists, but there’s a certain aspect of the vocal production on this album that brings out that “yelling down a hallway” feeling. It’s perfect for a band like this and it might be a simple bit of reverb or chorus, but the way it’s done here is fantastic. “The Treason Wall” is probably my favorite track, next to the opening track, “Final Resistance”.