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Few bands can reignite that once-brilliant spark after a creative low point. Then there are bands like Judas Priest, who casually dust off their disappointing albums only to release generational masterworks.

These bands all faced the end of their careers, only to come rip-roaring back with killer new records. So just remember, even when your life feels like Virtual XI, there can always be a Brave New World just around the corner.

Let’s get this masterpiece out of the way. It’s the best heavy metal comeback album ever — a phenomenal return to form thanks to Iron Maiden’s reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith (along with the welcoming of Janick Gers). Brave New World is one of the best metal albums of the 2000s, and it followed one of the worst albums of the ‘90s — the disastrous Virtual XI. Brave New World is just packed with classics, from the epic “Ghost of the Navigator” to the seriously underrated “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate.”

Maybe Exodus were smart to sit out most of the ‘90s. Impact Is Imminent (1990) is a decent record, but 1992’s Force of Habit was a serious downturn for one of thrash’s most vicious bands. Flash forward 12 years later and HOLY FUCK the boys were back! Gary Holt and Tom Hunting weren’t fucking around on Tempo of the Damned — it’s some of the best guitar/drum chemistry ever captured on a metal album. 

Remember how controversial Opeth’s Heritage was? Mikael Akerfeldt delivered arguably the best gutturals ever put to tape on 2008’s Watershed, only to shed the vocal style entirely in 2011. It was a tragic time for extreme metal… but god damn… Opeth really delivered on 2014’s Pale Communion. The album is just so unapologetically proggy and gorgeous that it brought some closure to the great guttural debate. Ten years later and “Faith in Others” still makes my eyes misty.  

A harbinger for the great thrash renaissance of the 2000s, Testament’s The Gathering might be the most purely brutal thrash album ever. The production is so fucking heavy, Chuck Billy is practically doing gutturals, Dave Lombardo’s drumming is as malevolent as ever, Steve DiGiorgio is a ridiculous gift… we just don’t deserve this record, guys. The Gathering blows Testament’s previous album, Demonic, out of the water in every way. Where Demonic was ultimately forgettable in its death metal influence, The Gathering was a home run.

Overkill’s career took the opposite direction to a lot of classic thrash bands. They actually made a ton of great stuff in the ‘90s, only to start losing their necroshine in the 2000s (minus Killbox 13). But when the 2010s came along? Iron Fucking Bound! What an unbelievable return to form this was, especially after what was likely their worst album — 2007’s Immortalis. Ironbound is just packed with fun, thrashing tracks like “Bring Me the Night” and “Give a Little,” and it really proved to be the springboard for Overkill’s second act.  

It seemed like Children of Bodom were at a creative low point with 2011’s Relentless Reckless Forever. There were some good riffs and “Northpole Throwdown” was a fun closer, but the days of Follow the Reaper and Hatebreeder were long over. Then came Halo of Blood… It’s not a Top 3 Bodom album, but the neoclassical rip-roaring style returned along with stylish, crisp production. The title track rips so fucking hard, and just listen to those solos at the end of “One Bottle and a Knee Deep.” This album is criminally underrated. 

Megadeth – Dystopia

They called it Pooper ColliderMegadeth’s 2013 album was simply awful, as is a significant portion of the band’s 21st century discography (Endgame absolutely cooks though). Was the great Dave Mustaine still able to thrash at the highest level imaginable? The thought was… maybe no? But goddamn, Dystopia was a slap in the face to those doubters. It was the perfect theme at the perfect time, with the band’s strongest lineup since the ‘90s. An absolute modern classic. 

When your new album’s cover is just a dude with a turd in his mouth, it’s probably time to take a break. Shitfun isn’t as bad as some Autopsy fans will argue, but it’s definitely the band’s low point. It took 16 years for a new Autopsy record to come out, and in 2011, the utterly depraved Macabre Eternal proved there was plenty more violence to go around. It’s right up there with Severed Survival and Mental Funeral

No disrespect to Kreator, but 1999’s Endorama is St. Anger levels of awful. It was one of those classic “identity crisis” albums that so many thrash bands put out in the ‘90s. In the new millennium however, Kreator went back to their hateful roots with the phenomenal return-to-form Violent Revolution. Produced to perfection by the incomparable Andy Sneap, Violent Revolution is an all-guns-blazing modern classic. Such a killer record and so much fun to listen to. 

Here’s your hot take for this list — Turbo is an infinitely better Judas Priest album than Ram It Down. Now here’s a take we can agree on — Painkiller is a goddamn masterpiece that should be mounted in the Smithsonian. We good? There’s no album that says “we still got it” quite like Painkiller. While Ram It Down felt a bit cliche and listless, Painkiller was the genuine article that still rips harder than 99.9 percent of all metal albums before or since. 

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