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Sonic Cathedral's Best Releases of 2010


Sonic Cathedral’s Best Albums of 2010

It’s that time of year when we turn the page on the previous year and embrace the new one. But, not without some reflection. And what better way to reflect on last year’s music than with our very own lists of favorites! Our five current writers on Sonic Cathedral’s staff mulled over the many female-fronted metal albums released in 2011, and each came up with a list of what they consider to be the best.

Before we get started, let’s take a brief look back at this past year in female-fronted metal...

2010 was a milestone year for two highly popular Dutch bands. Epica embarked on their worldwide "Design Your Universe" tour, selling out shows in the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe, and cementing their place as one of symphonic metal’s premier acts. And, Delain became the latest band to make their first jump across the pond. Fans rushed to Delain’s first shows in North and South America, including the band’s US debut at ProgPower Festival.

For other bands, 2010 was bittersweet. Frontwomen Kerstin Bischof (Xandria), Ruby Roque (WitchBreed), and Telya Melane (Whyzdom) left their respective bands, to the disappointment of their fans. (Xandria and Whyzdom have since announced their new singers, while WitchBreed has yet to as of press time.) Theatre of Tragedy, one of the most influential female-fronted metal bands of all time, criss-crossed the globe on their final tour and played their farewell show in their hometown of Stavanger, Norway. Dutch gothic metallers Morning also disbanded in November after 10 years and two albums together.

Most importantly, 2010 had lots to offer in terms of new music. Only a few big-name bands put out new albums – but they made quite an impact. Edenbridge and Tarja reclaimed their seats near the top of the symphonic metal perch with their respective CDs. Therion’s "Sitra Ahra" reminded the world who’s boss when it comes to gothic metal. And, metalcore maestros In This Moment toured almost non-stop to promote their third album "A Star-Crossed Wasteland," which crashed into the Top 40 US album chart this past summer. 2010 also had its share of comeback albums. Tristania put out "Rubicon," their first CD in over three years, while former After Forever chanteuse Floor Jansen jumped back into the scene with her new band ReVamp and their hotly anticipated self-titled debut. And speaking of debuts, 2010 had plenty of those. Diabulus in Musica, The Mariana Hollow, Seven Kingdoms(w/female vocalist), Magion, and The Murder of My Sweet are just a few names that come to mind.

So, which albums made our writers’ lists of favorites for 2010? Well, without further ado…


Robin Stryker's Top 5 Albums

My Ruin

1. My Ruin – "Ghosts and Good Stories"

Much to my surprise, an album from the heaviest end of the metal spectrum tops my list for 2010. My Ruin’s sixth album, "Ghosts and Good Stories," is equal parts a cry of triumph and howl of outrage that announces in no uncertain terms that this Los Angeles band is not fading into the long dark night any time soon. Their release is a sledgehammer of aggression, forged in the fury of Tairrie B. Murphy’s blistering screams, venomous whispers, and rippling spoken-word passages, then given shape on the anvil of Mick Murphy’s rock-infused guitars. Yet, despite being marrow-splatteringly heavy, "Ghosts and Good Stories" ultimately is an album that speaks the band’s personal truth with lovely (if brutal) clarity.

2. Winter in Eden – "Awakening"

The debut album by UK metallers Winter In Eden shines with an arctic beauty spun out of threads of loss, longing, sorrow, desperation, and the darkest urges of the human heart. "Awakening" is not a happy romp, nor do the vocals stray into the operatic range. But, you would be hard-pressed to find a more darkly satisfying album of symphonic metal this year. Vicky Johnson’s clear, mid-range voice packs an emotional wallop that fits perfectly with the brooding themes and vivid imagery, and the composition and musicianship (especially the keyboards) are all top notch. For a sampling of Winter In Eden at their finest, check out the heart-breaking "Cry," the war-ravaged "At The Edge Of The World," and the surprisingly tender closing track "The Awakening Chapter Two: Unspoken."

3. Seven Kingdoms – "Seven Kingdoms"

Ah, the rarest of metal breeds: female-fronted power metal. Banish any facile comparisons to Nightwish or Epica. Instead, Florida’s Seven Kingdoms falls solidly into the camp usually inhabited by male-fronted bands such as Iced Earth, Hammerfall, and Blind Guardian (for whom Seven Kingdoms opened during their entire 2010 North American tour). Fans of power metal expect fiery guitar riffs, precision drumming, and fantasy-themed lyrics, all of which Seven Kingdom’s self-titled album delivers in spades. What vaults this album beyond being merely an entertaining listen is Sabrina Valentine’s flexible voice, which is muscular enough for the martial tracks and utterly lovely on the pastoral ballad, "A Murder Never Dead." My only criticism of "Seven Kingdoms" is the Cookie Monster vocals that distract from what is otherwise a finely-crafted sound.

4. Embassy of Silence – "Euphorialight"

If you think the only metal Scandinavian bands create is either operatic or black, guess again. Finland’s Embassy of Silence hits the sweet spot with their melodic metal debut album, "Euphorialight." The album has a distinctly literary bent that flirts with everything from Shakespeare to "Wuthering Heights" to "The Silence of the Lambs." Rather than being the aural equivalent of Brussels sprouts, "Euphorialight" is oddly hypnotic with unexpected bursts of sly humor. Ines Lukkanen has a slightly throaty, mid-range voice that has no trouble holding its own against the spiraling guitar riffs. I was especially impressed that relative newcomers are confident enough in their craft to allow each song to unfold at its own pace. At the moment, Embassy of Silence’s album is not available in the United States unless you can snag a copy from eBay. Here’s hoping this injustice is remedied in 2011.

5. AnsoticcA – "Rise"

The German/Dutch gothic metal band AnsotticA’s debut was released late in 2011, but quickly muscled its way into heavy rotation for me. "Rise" is a guitar-centered album that is occasionally softened by keyboard and violin passages. On balance, however, the sound is unusually thick and heavy, with even the semi-ballad "Willing To Believe" ending with a crash of guitars. This approach works brilliantly for the most part, but the album would have benefitted by a true ballad at the midpoint to let listeners rest their ears. Petty quibbling aside, the highlight of "Rise" is Carie van Heden’s warm, caressing voice that shifts effortlessly from the low end of the scale to dizzying heights. Mercifully, while Carie is capable of hitting ear-piercing notes, her voice stays in the mid-range for the bulk of the album. Expect to hear much more from AnsotticA in 2011.

Honorable Mentions: In This Moment – "A Star-Crossed Wasteland"; Triosphere – "The Road Less Travelled"; Snovonne – "It’s Sno, Baby (Not Sugar)"; The Birthday Massacre – "Pins And Needles"; Holiness – "Beneath the Surface"; Last Red Ransom – "Sleep Well Sweet Vanity"; Samandriel – "Awakening"


Doctor T’s Top 5 Albums


1. Magion – "Close to Eternity"

Although there are a lot of great releases coming from the Netherlands, this may be the finest since 2008’s "Amygdala" from Ex Libris. Magion vocalist Myrthe van Beest can do it all: the metal, the operatic, and everything in between. And, the production sets new levels for sophistication, and it takes that kind of production to showcase the strong musical setlist that makes up this solid musical tour de force. As with so much of the Dutch gothic metal, there is a heavy dose of the classical. Sometimes, it’s the entire selection. Other times, it’s the vocals, or interspersed throughout a track. But, the Magion musicians know their way around a song and are a perfect compliment to van Beest’s vocals. They allow that they are influenced by the best; Nightwish, After Forever, Within Temptation, etc. And, they clearly carry on that tradition with flair.

2. Six Magics – "Behind the Sorrow"

Some sounds just reflect your reality at the time and make an impression that just won’t go away. This CD came my way at a time that met those criteria, and the music is just something I can’t get out of my mind. I kind of like the singer a lot, too. But, Six Magics reflects a dynamic musical environment that is taking hold in South America and has to be at the top of that continent’s musical ladder in female-fronted metal. The music is a little different than the typical symphonic operatic I generally prefer. But, with a vocal like the one presented by the truly lovely Elizabeth Vasquez, you have nothing left to desire. The band spends enough time in Western Europe to be familiar with that sound, but adds that subtle South American component that makes this CD pretty much unforgettable.

3. (The)SLOT – "Mirrors" EP

This one might be higher on my list if it was a full CD, but I’ve been listening to this band for so long I know pretty much everything they’ve ever done – and I love it all. Again, no operatic vocals, no heavy synthetics. Just some good, solid Russian metal – and always performed in Russian, except this release, which will shortly be followed up by a full release in English. This is an important band, certainly one of the first Russian bands to take full aim at the West and show us that the Russians are a musical presence to be reckoned with. Don’t be surprised to see them at the Female Metal Voices Festival one day. They’ve conquered most of the old Soviet Union and are on their way to Western Europe. Nookie and the boys can crank it, in Russian or English.

4. Emerald Mind – "Tales of Soveena"

A little known Russian band that presents a vocal that can compete with the best. They don’t even have a CD for sale; it’s free. And, although the instrumental work may not always compete with the best from Western Europe, the songwriting and incredible vocals from the lovely, blond singer Svetlana Vysotskaya are as good as they get. It’s full opera full-time, with enough instruments backing it up to make the strong song set appealing across every song. I’d like to be more familiar with the lyrics, but I can listen to this pretty much all night and enjoy. Another of what may become a Russian invasion of Western Europe and the Americas in the years to come.

5. Lateless – "Lateless"

And finally, another Russian band. What a shock. I guess my liberal tendencies are showing. Lateless is more of the Russian metal sound, with a metal vocalist who is pretty much in the middle between SLOT’s Nookie and Emerald Mind’s Svetlana Vysotskaya. Nataly can do the stronger metal but can approach the operatic when she goes into her higher registers. It’s more of a catchy rhythm orientation, with a slightly gothic direction to some songs. But, the guitars thunder, the drums are crushing, and the overall feel is killer metal, with a flowing vocal that drives the music. Again, strong songwriting drives this music as it does for most of the music I enjoy no matter what the orientation. But, the Russians seem to have captured the magic in female-fronted metal. Now, if only we could just get to see them live.

Honorable Mention: Heonia – "Winsome Scar"; Evil’s Desire – "Initium"; Samandriel – "Awakening"; Enemy Star – "Light It Up"; Factory of Dreams – "A Strange Utopia"


Sara Letourneau’s Top 5 Albums

Star One

1. Star One – "Victims of the Modern Age"

Well, yes, Arjen Lucassen’s Star One project predominantly features male vocalists. But, Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever) is one of the best singers in metal, thus making "Victims of the Modern Age" eligible for our lists. And, boy, "Victims" is absolutely mind-blowing! Lucassen has not only reunited the original Star One vocal / musical line-up and recaptured the magic of "Space Metal" (a great album in its own right), but he has also improved the Star One sound. The unique mix of prog metal / space rock is heavier and more guitar-driven, the lyrical content more serious, and the vocal performances superior to those on "Space Metal." It’s rare that an artist can make a follow-up album that’s better than its debut. And, every time I listen to "Victims," I feel like I’m riding a rocket from one edge of outer space to the other – and I’m enjoying the ride so much, I don’t want to come back to Earth. Isn't that the feeling your favorite album of the year should give you?

2. The Mariana Hollow – "Coma Heart"

I can’t recall the last time I was so impressed by a new band. The Mariana Hollow has a sound that is truly unique. (I’m always cautious when it comes to using the word "unique," but it’s 100% fitting in this case.) On their debut album "Coma Heart," this alternative metal quintet from London proves that metal isn’t just about shredding, growling, and operatic training. Singer Rebecca Spinks has an emotive fierceness in her voice that’s refreshing to hear. Equally as striking is the sophisticated guitarwork by Danny Russell and Richie Walden. These two musicians alone deliver some of the most captivating soundscapes I’ve heard in a while. However, perhaps the most important reason why I love "Coma Heart" so much is because it came to me in the middle of a difficult, emotional summer. This CD offered comfort and escape when I needed it most – and got pretty heavy rotation on my iPod as a result. All this explains why "Coma Heart" was far and away my favorite surprise of 2010 – and why I believe The Mariana Hollow is on the verge of a major breakthrough.

3. Diabulus in Musica – "Secrets"

Call this band an Epica wannabe if you want, but Spain’s Diabulus in Musica is the new force to be reckoned with in symphonic metal. Their debut album "Secrets" is bursting with energy and bold musicality, and presents a new twist on the tired genre. It’s also got great string arrangements and piano-playing, some ethnic flair, and great hooks that will stick in your head for months. I have to commend Diabulus in Musica most, though, for their fearlessness. This band isn’t intimidated by complex song structures and lengthy compositions, and the strongest songs on "Secrets" use both of these elements. Original? Perhaps not. Daring for a new band? Absolutely. Give "Secrets" a listen, and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with one of the best new bands in the business.

4. Avariel – "The Dawn"

I’ll admit, this album may be a biased choice, since I personally know the members of Avariel. But, I can’t tell you how psyched I still am that the Boston area has its own female-fronted symphonic metal band! And, in all honesty, "The Dawn" is one of the strongest independent releases to come out of North America this year. The songs are well composed and show the band members’ varied influences from both American and European metal. And, while many American bands tend to repeat the same motifs and lyrical topics in their songs, Avariel offers plenty of variety. Graceful power ballads, triumphant uptempo numbers, winding epics, even a punishing death-metal-esque anthem. You name it, Avariel has it on "The Dawn," and they’ve done it well.

5. Seven Kingdoms – "Seven Kingdoms"

I’ve only had this album for a couple of weeks, and all I can is… Wow! America finally has a female-fronted power metal band that can compete with their male-fronted counterparts – and that band is none other than Florida’s Seven Kingdoms. The guitarwork, courtesy of Camden Cruz and Kevin Byrd, ranges from rhythmic and intricate to thunderous and wild. As for singer Sabrina Valentine, her voice is rich and has the range, power, and emotion that will make the more famous singers in female-fronted metal shake in their boots. Did I mention "Seven Kingdoms" also has death grunts, lyrics inspired by Norse mythology and fantasy stories, and virtually no strings or keyboards? Yes, that’s correct. No orchestras or choirs. This is intense, unadulterated power metal at its rawest and finest. Expect a review of "Seven Kingdoms" from yours truly in early 2011.

Honorable Mentions: We Are The Fallen – "Tear the World Down"; ReVamp – "ReVamp"; Kingfisher Sky – "Skin of the Earth"; Hydria – "Poison Paradise"


Max Levites’ Top 5 Albums

In This Moment

1. In This Moment – "A Star-Crossed Wasteland"

In This Moment have made quite a stir on the scene over the past few years, and for good reason. Their newest album, "A Star-Crossed Wasteland," is an apocalyptic metalcore masterpiece, with great songs, a great concept, and a great band behind the instruments and the mic. Maria Brink is easily one of the most versatile vocalists in the business, and one of the few who sings with true emotion in her voice. "World in Flames" might just be the only song to ever bring me near tears, and the rest of the songs are equally as emotive, just in different ways. The album has a couple songs that sound great live and potential metal anthems for future generations, including "Blazin'" and "The Gun Show," as well as one of the most epic songs I've ever heard: "Iron Army." This is hands down my favorite release of 2011, and I really can't imagine In This Moment topping this one. We shall see.

2. Dirty Little Rabbits – "Dirty Little Rabbits"

Dirty Little Rabbits is the second band of Slipknot drummer Shaun Crahan, fronted by the eccentric and exciting Stella Katsoudas, truly a one-of-a-kind gal with an attitude to boot. They released their self-titled debut album this summer, and I was taken aback by the absolute awesomeness of it all. The diversity of not only the vocals, but everything else on this album is amazing, and it miraculously stays cohesive and makes total sense in a deranged sort of way. From creepy circus organ music to angst-filled explosions to vulnerable ballads, this album spans the gambit and successfully captures the listener's interest throughout its entire duration. At least, that's it what it did for me. It might not be for everyone, considering Stella has been described by people who've seen this band live as "bat-shit insane." But, that's probably why I love it!

3. We Are The Fallen – "Tear the World Down"

We Are The Fallen is made up of three former members of Evanescence and a former American Idol contestant, so it's obvious why many don't take them too seriously, quickly writing them off as an Evanescence copy. Though similar in sound (mostly because guitarist Ben Moody wrote most of the songs on Evanescence's debut, "Fallen") the two bands have obviously gone in different directions; and with added influence from other band members, We Are The Fallen has released an impressive debut album that puts them on the map as a legitimate force. "Tear the World Down" is full of good songs, and though not overly complex or something completely outside expectation, it is an enjoyable album that shows the potential for something even greater to come. I remember finding this band one day, and, seeing on their Myspace that they were playing a show sort-of-near me the next day, bought tickets and went to see them. Totally worth it, and I really hope to hear more and more from this band in the future.

4. Tristania – "Rubicon"

Tristania has released two of the best gothic metal albums to date: 1999's "Beyond the Veil," and 2001's "World of Glass." Since Morten Veland's departure after the former, the band's lineup has more or less changed completely, retaining only one or two from the original gathering of musicians. Their albums have also gotten steadily worse after "World of Glass"; I think "Ashes" and "Illumination" were rather horrible. However, with the departure of Vibeke Stene, the band hired a new frontwoman, Mariangela Demurtas, and released "Rubicon," an album pretty much completely different from all the others. It also happens to be absolutely wonderful! The songs are great, catchy, and interesting, and Mariangela has a wonderful voice, completely different from Vibeke's. In my personal opinion, however, this is not Tristania. Sure, bands are allowed to evolve and grow over time. But since the lineup is pretty much completely different, it might as well be a different band. The album is great, though, and I hope they do continue making more awesome music in the future.

5. Tarja – "What Lies Beneath"

In all honesty, I thought Tarja's last album, "My Winter Storm," was absolutely horrible. I figured that, without Nightwish, she was just a lost soul riding on the fame of her previous band. Needless to say, my expectations for her sophomore effort were low. Very low. This is why this album took me completely by surprise. In fact, there really isn't a song I don't like on "What Lies Beneath." Tarja has stepped it up and delivered an album more worthy of someone with her vocal talent, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. Her voice really is fantastic, especially evident on tracks like "In For a Kill" and "Crimson Deep." Although the heavier, uptempo songs on this album are good in their own right (although a bit forced at times), it's really the slower, softer songs where Tarja really shines. It's no Nightwish, of course, but Tarja really has proved that she's got the skills to give us something worth listening to.

Honorable Mentions: Indica – "A Way Away"; Diabulus in Musica – "Secrets"; The Murder of My Sweet – "Divanity"


Frozen Angel’s Top 5 Albums

Meden Agan

1. Meden Agan – "Promo 2010"

Well, I have to admit that Meden Agan is the biggest surprise of 2010 for me. I saw them live in March 2010. I still remember the feeling. They are the most promising act I have ever seen! Really, they are! Five tracks only didn’t really feed my "appetite". I want more, and I really can’t wait for their forthcoming debut album. Progressive elements with combined with amazing soprano vocals! A real "bomb," in a positive sense of the word. I have no words to describe how good they were live. I truly believe that, in a few years, they will rock the whole world.

2. Tarja – "What Lies Beneath"

Tarja does not need any further introduction. She is unique. She is the leader (in my personal opinion) in what she is doing. Her second solo album is a lot better than the first one. It’s obvious that she moved one step forward in her personal plan. She is doing very careful steps. And, every step leads her further. Not a real masterpiece, but still "What Lies Beneath" is a really good album. With many guest appearances (Van Canto, Phil Labonte, Will Calhoun, and Joe Satriani), that album couldn’t be something less than exceptional. Tarja is following her dreams. And, her fans are going crazy. She is the queen, after all.

3. Diabulus In Musica – "Secrets"

Diabulus In Musica was another big surprise of this year for me. I had noticed that they were in the line-up for MFVF 2010 and decided to check them out. I didn’t regret it. Their debut has everything. Power, energy, beautiful lyrics, and great melodies. Everything is in the right place in that album. Zuberoa is a very charismatic vocalist with a unique tone. Certainly the future belongs to them. I can’t wait to see them live (I have noticed that Zuberoa is even better live than on the album!).

4. Star One – "Victims of the Modern Age"

I feel too young and too small to criticize Mr. Arjen Luccasen. Really, I do. He is one of the "brains" in the metal music industry. I admire him and respect him. Some years before, after making the first Star One album, Arjen said in an interview, "‘Space Metal’ was really magic. I am afraid that I will fail to capture the same atmosphere and actually ruin it! I am actually against sequels, you cannot repeat the same atmosphere and feeling like you had with the first album." Thank God that Arjen was back in 2010 with that album. There is already a very good review about that album, so I will just say that he opens new doors and gives new breath in metal music. Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Damian Wilson and Dan Swano combine their voices perfectly and make that album a real masterpiece.

5. Tristania – "Rubicon"

To tell the truth, I wasn’t one of the Tristania fans who were waiting so impatiently for their new album. I miss Vibeke. She is one the most amazing voices, and I really want her back onstage. But, I have to admit that Tristania released an amazing album. Mary was a very good choice. Although, in my opinion, the band should have changed their name. Nothing in that album reminds of the old Tristania. Only one member is left from the old line-up. They have picked a brand new sound with new elements and characteristics, and I really like that. They have their own new identity and their own sound. I think that we have here a brand new band that will become a really huge name in the future. But, I can’t really imagine how a vocalist like Mary will sing songs like "My Lost Lenore" or "Deadlocked" live.

Honorable Mentions: ReVamp – "ReVamp"; Skeptical Minds – "Skepticalized"; Amberian Dawn – "End of Eden"; Therion – "Sitra Ahra"; Indica – "A Way Away"; Exilia – "Naked"; Kingfisher Sky – "Skin of the Earth"

...And there you have it! Our writers’ favorite female-fronted metal albums of 2010. And who knows what 2011 will bring. Several bands have either set dates for new releases or are in the studio working on new music right now. All we can say for now is that 2010 was an exciting year – and we hope this year will be even more so!

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