Phil Anselmo, Robb Flynn, Racism and Metal: does it matter if musicians are racist?

If you have an interest in metal, you’ve more than likely by now seen, or at least heard about, the video showing Phil Anselmo’s actions at Dimebash last week:

You may also have seen Robb Flynn of Machine Head’s response video posted a few days later:

In the first video, Anselmo shouts “white power” accompanied by what is widely believed to be a “sieg heil” salute. In Flynn’s video, he points out that this is by no means the first time that Phil Anselmo has said or done something so inappropriate and that this latest incident is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back; Robb Flynn has had enough of Anselmo’s bullshit and bullying persona, and vows to never perform a Pantera song ever again.

Now this issue has seen tempers flare on opposing sides. We have fans of Phil Anselmo defending him saying that people shouldn’t be so sensitive, his personal actions are separate from his music and, even if he is a racist, metal is all about being “extreme” and “offensive” and so you’re not really “metal” if you have a problem with him. On the other hand, we have people more sympathetic to Robb Flynn’s view of things who declare that racism has no place in metal and that, just because he’s very famous and popular, Anselmo’s actions should not be simply brushed under the carpet and ignored. Like Flynn, I’ve seen several other metal fans, writers, DJs, etc. say they are now “done” with Anselmo and are boycotting Pantera, Superjoint Ritual, Down and any other band or project he’s been involved with. To be perfectly honest, while I am very sympathetic to Robb Flynn’s take on things, I can, to a degree, see where both sides are coming from here.

First of all, I am not going to debate whether or not Phil Anselmo is a racist. I don’t know if he said what he said with any element of seriousness or malice, I don’t know if he is genuinely prejudiced against people of other races and ethnicities, and I am not sufficiently experienced in racial politics (privileged white bloke speaking here) to discuss the ins and outs of what it actually means to be a racist. What is clear, however, is that regardless of intent, Anselmo’s actions were idiotic, divisive and exclusionary; even if he isn’t racist, he certainly appears to be one in this video. Moreover, even if he was “joking”, the language and symbols used here are so historically offensive that such excuses are irrelevant. Not that I’m in the business of telling people what they can or cannot make jokes about; I’m just saying that, when you attempt (poorly) to inject humour into a subject that is so hurtful to so many people on such a deep, fundamental level, don’t be surprised if not many people are laughing along with you.

The point is that the use of such language and symbols, regardless of context, will ALWAYS alienate a lot of people; to suggest otherwise is to misunderstand or ignore their historical context. But, what about the protestation (which many on Facebook, Twitter, etc. have voiced) that to criticise Anselmo for this is racist against white people? Why, they cry, is it ok for black people to say “black power”, but not ok for white people to say “white power”? Robb Flynn mentions in his video that to compare the two phrases implies a gross ignorance of (quite recent) history. “Black power” is used to fight oppression whereas “white power” is used to promote it. And yes, there have been racially-motivated crimes against white people, but to suggest that it’s anywhere near the level of persecution suffered by black people is preposterously moronic.

Essentially, dismissing the use of racist language and gestures as something that’s no big deal suggests a distinct lack of empathy. A lot of people treat the metal community as if it’s just them and a few of their mates; everyone looks the same, acts the same and has the same opinions and attitudes about everything, so there’s no need to worry about offending or excluding anyone ever. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been a metal fan since my mid-teens, nearly 15 years now, and the rock/metal community is by far the most beautifully diverse group of people I have ever known; I have met people of countless nationalities, genders, races, sexualities, religions and socio-political backgrounds. The idea that none of them should have a problem with Anselmo’s actions is ridiculous; maybe you don’t find it offensive, but what about black, Asian, or Hispanic metal fans? Maybe, for example, there’s a bunch of kids right now in India, Peru or Tunisia who have recently got into metal, are excited about maybe starting a band of their own, and then they see this video of Phil Anselmo: how do you expect they would react? Do you think they’d just laugh it off as a joke? Maybe they would, but what’s more likely is that they’d get the impression that metal is not meant for them; it’s made by white people, for white people.

This of course is just not true, and you don’t even need to dig that deep to see that metal is enjoyed by all kinds of people. Black Sabbath, Metallica, Dio, Slayer, Guns ‘N’ Roses, X-Japan, Sepultura, Suffocation, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Dream Theater, Rage Against the Machine, KorRn, Orphaned Land, Deftones, Chthonic, Lacuna Coil, Opeth, System of a Down, Dragonforce, Skindred, God Forbid, Killswitch Engage: all big-name metal bands that have had members who don’t conform to the W.A.S.P./Aryan ideal , and there are countless more besides. If the point of metal was to freely spout racist bile, then you can wave goodbye to these bands ever existing. Metal is of course an alternative, non-mainstream subculture but that doesn’t mean it’s an exclusive club, only open to a select few. There is nothing “extreme” or “alternative” about being racist; if you look throughout human history, it’s just about the most pro-establishment, conservative thing you can be! Mainstream culture often excludes and alienates many people, and metal is an “alternative” to that. As Rob Zombie said in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey: ‘Metal is all the weird kids in one place’. If metal is not an inclusive place where people from all walks of life can feel accepted, then what on earth is the point? Ignoring racism is not “metal”; fighting it and welcoming victims of it certainly is.

As I said at the beginning though, I can to an extent see where both sides are coming from here. Looking at the people who wish to ignore Phil Anselmo’s actions, they are invariably going to be big fans of his music, and it can be hard to accept that your idols are sometimes much less than perfect human beings. Especially with music, it is something that is often enjoyed as a total escape from the world and thus many people would rather not pay attention to its context (i.e. they’d rather concentrate on appreciating the music for its own sake). So, if such people are confronted with unpleasant contextual information (such as a musician’s offensive personal views or actions), they choose to ignore it, deeming it irrelevant in determining how good the music itself is. On the other hand, given that we have people saying they are turning their backs on Anselmo’s music as a result of his actions, it looks like the reverse is true too; that is, we have people refusing to listen to, if not outright disliking, music because of negative contextual factors. My personal position is somewhere in the middle though and, to explain why, I’ll need to recall something I learned at university several years ago…

I have Bachelor and Master’s degrees in philosophy, and one subject I studied was aesthetics: the philosophy of art. A central topic in this area of philosophy is the question of what it means for a piece of art to have value. We learned that a piece of art (be it a song, film, book, painting, etc.) can be said to have both “aesthetic” and “non-aesthetic” value. The aesthetic value of a metal song or artist, for example, would be found in its composition, style, musicianship and anything else that makes it good from a technical standpoint. Non-aesthetic value however comes from external factors; moral, social and political considerations for example (i.e. anything that is separate from how good a song is on a technical level, but which can still affect how it is critically perceived). Aesthetic and non-aesthetic considerations can often conflict and contrast, so that we may find ourselves struggling to determine how valuable a piece of art is. A key example of this that I looked at during my studies was the film Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl.download

Aesthetically, it is considered a work of brilliance due to its ground-breaking cinematography. Non-aesthetically, it’s, well, a Nazi propaganda film; regardless of how technically good it is, the controversy of the subject matter invariably affects many people’s opinions of it. So, you might say the film is “good” if you place more importance on aesthetic factors, but “bad” if you place more importance on non-aesthetic factors. In either case, your overall view of the film is limited. Both aesthetic and non-aesthetic factors are necessary in order to determine how good or valuable a piece of art is; if we just focus on one or the other, we don’t see the full picture.

So what does this mean for Phil Anselmo and the large quantity of music that he’s produced?  It means that it’s understandable to criticise or boycott it as his actions arguably affect the non-aesthetic value of his music. Conversely, his actions do not necessarily affect the aesthetic value of his music, and thus many people remain happy to listen to it. I personally think it’s important to try and balance the two though. I am not the biggest Pantera fan but I’ll generally bang my head and so forth if “Cowboys from Hell” or “5 Minutes Alone” comes on in a club. Will I stop doing that now? I don’t know, but I do know that it will perhaps affect my overall enjoyment of the music. Similarly, I think Ted Nugent has written some decent songs, but his right-wing views leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth when I’m listening to them. Art does not exist in a cultural vacuum; how it relates to cultural norms and sensibilities is certainly going to affect many people’s opinions of it as it is just one little piece in the jigsaw of a person’s life. Personally, as well as being a proud metalhead, I also identify as being English, Irish, bisexual, an atheist, a humanist, a liberal, a social democrat, and a feminist: I don’t stop being any of those things when I put my headphones in or attend a gig, and so they all feed into how I interpret and appreciate my music. 100 people may each recognise the technical brilliance or raw power of a great metal song but a multitude of factors can affect how non-aesthetically valuable they each judge it to be.

To conclude, racism should not be accepted within metal as it threatens the community’s inclusivity; we are a family, where no one should be made to feel unwelcome. Does that mean we should all stop listening to Phil Anselmo’s music? I personally think it’s understandable whichever decision you make there. Pantera’s influence and legacy are undeniable and if you are such a big fan of their music (or of Superjoint Ritual or Down), you might very well find it impossible to stop listening to it. But, don’t give people a hard time if, like Robb Flynn, they have decided to turn their back on it. The unacceptable nature of Anselmo’s actions means that, for many people, his music is now irreparably tainted. It may not be bad technically, but it is really hard to enjoy something if it offends, excludes or alienates you. For metal to survive as a thriving community, it requires us to ultimately be respectful of the differences we have; metal can make you feel free and liberated from the often oppressive nature of mainstream society and no one should be denied this.

Megadeth – Dystopia

(2016, Tradecraft)

Recruiting new, prominent members is one sure-fire way of making people pay attention to your new album. Dystopia marks the Megadeth debut of Angra’s Kiko Loureiro on guitar and Lamb of God’s Chris Adler on drums, and their respective reputations have ensured that this is the band’s most anticipated album since the “reunion” album The System Has Failed was released in 2004.

This new line-up change could have been a risky strategy; Megadeth has always been, to all intents and purposes, Dave Mustaine’s band and so recruiting 2 new musicians who are essentially both leaders in long-established and respected bands themselves runs the risk of egos clashing and Mustaine’s vision for Megadeth becoming somewhat compromised. Luckily though, listening to Dystopia suggests that this potentially sticky situation has not come to pass; this new group of players sounds great together and, as a result, Dystopia is arguably Megadeth’s strongest album in years.

The new members make their presence felt immediately on opening track “The Threat is Real”. Following an ominous middle-eastern vocal intro, the song sneaks up on you, hits you round the back of the head and steals your lunch money. The band sounds more energised than it’s been in years, and Chris Adler shows that he is perhaps the tightest drummer Megadeth have ever had.

“Fatal Illusion” is another early highlight. “Spilling all their blood was a promise that he’d keep/Hate so strong revived him from a deep necrotic sleep”: this tale of a serial killer who seeks revenge after being buried alive is classic thrash material. These lyrics accompanied by a distinctive David Ellefson bassline mean that this fast but precise track wouldn’t sound out of place on Megadeth’s earlier albums. We’re also in classic territory with “Lying in State”, which has an intensity that many Megadeth fans may have missed; probably the heaviest song on the album, this is where we feel the full effect of Adler’s drumming.

This is ultimately a fairly diverse album, and there are several other tracks that highlight Mustaine’s ambition. “Bullet to the Brain” is one of the more dynamic numbers here with militaristic drumming and a multitude of technical riffs. “The Emperor” shows Mustaine’s punky, pissed-off side as he snarls “You’re bad for my health, you make me sick, you prick!” And “Poisonous Shadows” is perhaps the most ambitious song Megadeth has ever done. A chorus of palm muting and double-bass drumming blended with symphonic elements, it’s almost like Meshuggah meets Nightwish. Throw in Kiko Loureiro showing his diversity with a piano outro and you have a grandiose achievement that is thoroughly impressive though, admittedly, may not be to everyone’s tastes.

While the high points here are numerous, Dystopia is not quite the all-conquering triumph that many people would like to think it is. The instrumental track “Conquer…Or Die!”, while technically impressive, is not really much of a “song”; it sounds like a scale exercise that someone’s recorded by mistake. Moreover, “Post-American World” lumbers along uninspiringly but the most divisive track here is perhaps the title track. “Dystopia” has a good upbeat feel to it, and it’s where we properly get to see what Kiko Loureiro’s made of as a guitarist, but the parallels with “Hangar 18” are embarrassingly obvious, right down to the bridge in the middle that precedes a barrage of solos. Nods to past efforts are dotted throughout the album, and “Dystopia” is undeniably played with a level of skill and precision that most bands would dream of, but that doesn’t stop it from ultimately being a highly derivative song. When a band tries to recapture past glories, you do run the risk of copying yourself; in fairness though, the fact that Megadeth only really cross this line on one track on Dystopia indicates that, overall, it remains a decent album.

All in all, this new line-up of Megadeth has made a good start to working together. Elements brought from Lamb of God and Angra are evident, but do not overshadow or compromise that quintessential Megadeth thrash sound. One or two misfires aside, this is a rebirth and rejuvenation akin to Testament’s The Formation of Damnation or Kreator’s Enemy of God. Who knows if the new members are here on a permanent basis, but I look forward to seeing what else they contribute if they are.

Verdict: 8/10

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Abbath – Abbath

(2016, Season of Mist)

The future of Immortal, everyone’s favourite meme-generating Norwegian panda metal band, appears uncertain since the departure of frontman/guitarist Abbath Doom Occulta last year. Fortunately though, if the remaining Immortal band members struggle to continue without him, Abbath has shown with this new band and album that bear his name that his former band’s legacy of icy black metal is at least safe in his hands.

Accompanied by go-to Norwegian metal sideman King Ov Hell on bass and French session drummer Creature (aka Kevin Foley) on drums, Abbath has crafted 8 excellent tracks of varying degrees of extreme metal ferocity. “To War!” kicks things off nicely, doing exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a pounding, anthemic call-to-arms that recalls the thrash/black crossover sound of latter-day Immortal. “Winterbane” follows with a rhythm that some purists may feel is a bit too upbeat for black metal, but this does nothing to diminish the cold atmosphere that the title implies (and the doom-laden, semi-acoustic midsection is brilliant).

It’s a shame that Creature has since left the band, as his death metal origins (he’s previously played with Benighted and Sepultura amongst others) add an interesting dimension to the band’s sound, leading to similarities with the blackened death metal of Behemoth. This is most notably heard on “Ashes of the Damned”, which, like Behemoth’s music, includes horns to enhance the atmosphere.

Immortal didn’t just rely on high speeds to create the right mood, and neither does Abbath. “Ocean of Wounds” is a great mid-paced number, as is “Root of the Mountain”, which I would say is the album’s standout track. Taking cues from the likes of Enslaved and Amon Amarth, the band’s conjured up a great Viking atmosphere here, with King in particular delivering a superb galloping bassline that would have even Steve Harris himself nodding along in approval.

Don’t worry if you think this all means Abbath has abandoned his true, grim black metal roots. “Fenrir Hunts” and “Endless” are more traditional black metal fare, with blastbeats and howling guitars aplenty. Moreover, the thrashy “Count the Dead” is full of crushing riffs and blistering solos, with Abbath trading licks nicely with session player Ole André Farstad. The sonic diversity and clear production on show here might ultimately disappoint some old school Immortal and general black metal fans (though they probably haven’t liked any black metal albums released in the last 20 years, so it’s a largely insignificant point!)

Following all the tragic deaths that the rock world has suffered over the past month (I’m typing this having only heard of the passing of Rainbow and Dio bassist Jimmy Bain a few hours ago), we need to remind ourselves that there is still plenty of great music being created by many great musicians. Whether Abbath is someone with “legendary” status or not is a controversial debate topic, but one thing’s for certain; he’s made the first great metal album of 2016. This is an album to be played loudly and proudly, and should hopefully satisfy most long-term Immortal fans, whilst also appealing to metal fans in general. Don’t let the memes fool you, there’s much more to Abbath than wearing odd makeup and running around forests in the snow.

Verdict: 9/10

P.S. Make sure you get the special edition to hear a cracking cover of Judas Priest’s “Riding on the Wind”.

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Rhapsody of Fire – Into the Legend

(2016, AFM Records)

Rhapsody of Fire’s extreme, exuberant and unashamedly orchestral take on symphonic power metal has delighted and exasperated metal fans in equal measure since their 1997 debut album Legendary Tales. Into the Legend is the Italians’ 11th full-length release and is pretty much a case of business-as-usual.

This is the second album since the original band divided into 2 camps; vocalist Fabio Lione, keyboardist Alex Starapoli and drummer Alex Holzwarth kept the Rhapsody of Fire name, whereas lead guitarist Luca Turilli, session guitarist Dominique Leurquin and bassist Patrice Guers formed Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. It’s an interesting situation, where both bands continue the legacy of operatic fantasy metal amicably. At first glance, it looks like fans now have 2 bands for the price of 1. However, while Into the Legend is by no means a bad album, there will no doubt be many fans wishing that Luca Turilli was still at the helm.

In many ways, Into the Legend has everything that fans would expect from a Rhapsody of Fire album; they are the kind of band whose sound is unlikely to change much. If you’re new to them, I’d warn you that it’s like learning to drive in a Ferrari; it’s fast, loud, takes a lot of getting used to and is anything but a gentle ride. Opening instrumental “In Principio” starts quietly, but it’s not long before a frantic string section and a choir join the party to create a melodramatic atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place on an X-Factor results show.

“Distant Sky” and “Into the Legend” get things going properly; neoclassical guitar leads, catchy choruses and operatic choirs aplenty. “Winter’s Rain”, a mid-paced “Kashmir”-esque number, provides a slight break from the intense speed, with a distorted riff and a hurdy-gurdy creating a distinct, droning atmosphere. There are also softer moments on “A Voice in the Cold Wind”, with woodwind, harpsichord and whistles in the foreground creating a folk metal sound not too dissimilar from that of seminal Spanish band Mägo de Oz. So far, so good.

However, it’s in the second half of the album that the wheels come off Rhapsody of Fire’s winged chariot somewhat. “Valley of Shadows” starts off well enough, with an ominous opening riff, Wagnerian female vocals and dramatic Italian lyrics, but its repetitive nature means that, at 7 minutes, it outstays its welcome and is the first major sign that, on Into the Legend, the level of songwriting is not quite as high as it has been on previous releases.

There are various elements in the album’s closing tracks that you can’t help thinking would not have been allowed if Luca Turilli were still in the band; he was after all Rhapsody of Fire’s primary composer, conceptual mastermind and de-facto leader. “Shining Star” is a throwaway token ballad that serves no purpose besides giving your ears a rest; it is a far cry from the band’s great ballads of old, such as the duet with the late, great Sir Christopher Lee, “The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream”. And while “Realms of Light” and “Rage of Darkness” contain a Dream Theater-esque guitar/keyboard duel and a very catchy chorus respectively, they’re also both full of uninspiring power metal clichés.

The big letdown of Into the Legend is closing track “The Kiss of Life”; at 16 minutes, its shortcomings neutralise the album’s positive earlier elements. The epic “long song” is something Rhapsody of Fire have done several times in the past, it often being a prime opportunity to flex their creative and conceptual muscles to maximum effect. “The Kiss of Life”, however, runs out of steam fairly quickly. It could have been condensed into 5 minutes, but has been artificially drawn out by unnecessarily repeating earlier sections from the album, like some sort of musical Frankenstein’s monster. Repeating motifs to signpost certain themes is of course an oft-used technique in opera, and is one that Rhapsody of Fire have borrowed from that genre intelligently in the past. On “The Kiss of Life” though, and to a lesser extent on Into the Legend in general, the overreliance on recycling existing motifs indicates that the band have struggled for ideas, with the outcome being that you wish the album was a good 15-20 minutes shorter.

In short, this is a bog-standard Rhapsody of Fire album, but it is nowhere near as good as it could be. While there is promise in the first half, the second half is full of incessantly repeated themes and examples of power metal clichés that the band has utilised much more effectively many times before. It is far too long but, when all is said and done, there is nothing here that fans of this kind of music would class as “bad” per se. Rhapsody of Fire are clearly still finding their feet in the post-Luca Turilli period of their career and, if they are struggling to write good enough songs, they should exercise some restraint next time so that only the necessary bits make the final cut.

Verdict: 6.5/10rhapdosyoffirelegend_638

Cauldron – In Ruin

(2016, The End Records)

In this strange post-Lemmy world that we now sadly find ourselves in, a lot of people’s hunger for traditional, uncompromising rock and heavy metal has been greatly renewed. Not that anyone could adequately replace Motorhead, but any band that can satisfactorily live up to the example shown by the likes of Lemmy and co is greatly appreciated right now.

Sadly, judging by In Ruin (their fourth album), Cauldron fall somewhat short of this mark. The Canadian 3-piece are generally considered to be part of the so-called “New Wave of Trad Metal” that emerged 5 to 10 years ago; alongside contemporaries such as Enforcer, White Wizzard and Wolf, Cauldron helped to reinvigorate classic early-80s sounding metal, acting as a welcome contrast to metalcore, post-hardcore, and everything else-core. They first came to my attention with the catchy and brilliantly titled song “Chained up in Chains” from their debut album Chained to the Nite, but In Ruin unfortunately does not reach the same heights.

Cauldron being what you might call a “retro” metal band, you wouldn’t expect to find much in their music that you’d consider to be original or innovative. Personally, I have nothing against young bands that wear their influences proudly on their sleeves and simply want to have a good time making music that sounds an awful lot like that of their idols. The main problem with Cauldron though is that they don’t sound like they are having a good time. Much of the performances on In Ruin sound laboured and forced, as if making this album was some sort of unpleasant chore as punishment for not eating all their vegetables. Jason Decay and Ian Chains are respectively perhaps the most boring singer and guitarist I’ve ever heard; they both sound half asleep and distinctly uninterested.

Credit where credit’s due though, Cauldron do actually have some talent as songwriters, though this is only shown sparingly on In Ruin. Opening track “No Return/In Ruin” has a good beat with a steady driving rhythm and shows that they have a particular knack for writing a strong vocal melody that you’ll be humming for hours afterwards. This is followed up by “Empress” which is one of the few proper fist-pumping metal songs here; an intricate folk guitar intro reminiscent of the In Flames instrumental track “Dialogue with the Stars” leads into a melodic metal anthem that Hammerfall and Gamma Ray fans will certainly appreciate. Apart from that, it’s really only closing track “Outrance”, with its chugging speed metal riff that reminds me of Dio’s “We Rock”, that really hits the mark here. The remaining 6 tracks are varying shades of generic blandness that attempt to pay tribute to 80s metal heroes. “Hold Your Fire” is like a Ratt B-side with none of the sleaze and snarl, and instrumental “Delusive Serenade” sounds like a poor man’s “Orion”, a weak attempt to sound deep and serious. And I’ll never forget “Santa Mira” with its embarrassingly bad chorus lyrics: “Santa Mira/drawing nearer/sign in the mirror/face getting clearer”.

All in all, Cauldron could perhaps make a good album if they tried to sound a bit more excitable and full of life. This kind of heavy metal is best enjoyed with a pint in your hand and a smile on your face, but if Cauldron were the house band at a party I attended, I’d probably leave early. Moreover, in a world where bands that have clearly been a big influence on Cauldron, like Iron Maiden and Saxon, are still making great music, they need a lot more of an effort to be properly noticed and appreciated. Moments of good songwriting and some half-decent vocal melodies do not stop In Ruin from being an overwhelmingly dull album.

Verdict: 5/10cauldroninruincd

2016 in Music: A Look Forward

New blog, new year: having a look forward to what albums are due to come out later this year seems as good idea as any for my first post. So much anticipation, like it’s still Xmas Eve or something…

Anyway, it looks like it’ll be a decent year indeed for rock and metal; here are some albums that I am particularly excited about: –

Avantasia – Ghostlights (due for release: 29th January)

Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet returns to his “metal opera” project this year, and he’s once again recruited rock royalty for vocal support. Alongside old friends from past albums (Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel, Magnum’s Bob Catley and Helloween’s Michael Kiske to name a few), there are new faces in the shape of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and Nightwish’s Marco Hietala. The main thing that has me champing at the bit in anticipation though is the return of iron-lunged former Masterplan singer Jorn Lande, who was sorely missed on Avantasia’s last album, The Mystery of Time. This is sure to get 2016 off to a bombastic start.

Dream Theater – The Astonishing (due for release: 29th January)

Albums by two of my favourite bands on the same day, it must be my birthday. Never one to shy away from a challenge, the prog kings’ latest effort is a two-disc rock opera about a heroic band of rebels fighting an evil empire, complete with orchestration by acclaimed composer David Campbell. Some worry that this sounds too ambitious even for Dream Theater, but they’ve gambled and won many times before so I can’t wait to check it out.

Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika (due for release: 1st April)

Keeping with the bombastic theme, Finland’s most sonically ambitious band return after a five-year absence this spring. Following a successful show in York last year, Moonsorrow are undertaking an extensive co-headline tour of the UK with Korpiklaani in support of their new album later this year. This could be the perfect opportunity for this band of pagan folk metal warriors to make serious inroads over here.

Alice in Chains – TBC

Black Gives Way to Blue and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here were both great triumphs for Alice in Chains. William DuVall’s fantastic contribution to the Seattle grunge band has been a source of welcome relief for long-term fans who were worried the band wouldn’t survive without much missed frontman Layne Staley. They’ve not just survived; they’ve soared. Hopefully their upcoming album will carry on the successes of the previous two.

Dimmu Borgir – TBC

Abrahadabra was one of the highlights of the symphonic black metallers’ career, but that was six years ago now. Dimmu Borgir tend to take their time with each album, creating a powerful, well-crafted statement each time. Let’s hope their new one follows suit.

Tool – TBC (eventually…)

Ok, I’m being a bit optimistic here, but it’s now TEN YEARS since rock’s most enigmatic group last provided us with some new material. If the long-awaited fifth Tool album finally surfaces this year, it’ll certainly be worth the wait as this is one band who has never ever done things half-heartedly.

I am just scratching the surface here, and I can’t wait to see what else might appear this year, from both old and new bands.