The Best Symphonic Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2017

The strong doom flavor of Beyond Forgiveness's debut might have pegged it as a gothic metal album, but its dynamic death metal edge and capacity for up-tempo (and not depressing) melody push it into the symphonic genre, according to the high-tech machines we utilize to ascertain this sort of thing. The mixture of ethereal cleans and ragged growls to guide the album's mood is a common characteristic of bands in this category, but it's something Beyond Forgiveness does well, and the first-album rawness gives The Great Wall some further charm.

With their fifth full-length, the Dutch ambassadors of dark baroque metal drag the listener into their familiarly seductive danse macabre, where the guitars are weaving melodies of horror and the keyboards, piano and orchestrations paint obscure and haunting landscapes. Dramatic and passionate vocals tell the theatrical tales of a girl playing a little too long with her Ouija board and Carach Angren's ghostly atmosphere reigns supreme in Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten.

With a career spanning two decades now, Austria's Edenbridge have not only crafted their own sound over the years, they have yet again released a momentous, exquisite album with The Great Momentum. Songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist Lanvall never fails to disappoint, from his stellar solos in tracks like "The Visitor," to the spiritual inspirations of "Shiantara," while the voice of Sabine inspires us all with her instantly recognizable style, filling every song with a grace and depth few in the genre have even approached. The Great Momentum reminds us that life is precious, a mere moment in cosmic time, and that nothing in our future is set in stone; our choices are ours, and only ours to make at every turn.

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From the powerful opener and album highlight, "Until You Break," End Of The Dream aim straight for the heart with their blend of catchy, impassioned songs that remind us that not all music has to be complex to be excellent. Mastermind Armen Shamellian offers an endless supply of lush synth melodies and atmosphere, while vocalist Micky Huijsmans will have you ready to smash away every failed relationship you've had in favor of new beginnings. From the frustration of songs like "Who Do You Think You Are," to the tender honesty of "The Heart In Me," End Of The Dream ask you to walk with them as they traverse the light and dark we've all felt at the hands of love, and love lost.

With their stunning, self-released debut, The Sign Of Life, Ukraine's Ignea not only introduce their own vision of symphonic metal infused with Middle Eastern and assertive progressive touches, they offer us a diverse album ready to challenge the current state of human cultures. From the first single, "Alga," the listener is treated to a call to arms by vocalist Helle Bogdanova above crunchy guitars and orchestral backdrops, while other stand-outs like "Seytanu Akbar" and "Alexandria" deliver a fist-raising mix of her growls and clean singing beside intricate synth melodies and pounding percussion. For those looking for a new voice in the world of metal, look no further than Ignea, a band not willing to follow in others' footsteps, but ready to walk on their own road.

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Septicflesh: the consistent MVPs of the Symphonic category. The Greek quartet's brass-buttressed, string-saturated brand of massive, massive death metal has many pretenders, but only one master; Codex Omega is merely the latest installment in an impressive run of albums that have enthroned Septicflesh as the undisputed champions of this sound. Throaty gutturals, harsh riffs, and frantic orchestration make for a deadly combination.

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Georg Neuhauser's warm warbling gives Serenity the heart and the power to succeed in a field where so many other artists are pursuing a similar aesthetic. Free of the florid affectations that bog down a lot of symphonic power metal, Lionheart is lean and genuine, a friendly roster of catchy tunes waiting to be sung along to. Just like the namesake of this album, Serenity's sound is rich and lionhearted.
Never let it be said that good symphonic metal can only come out of Europe - Boston natives Seven Spires are officially throwing their flouncy hat into the ring with their debut album, Solveig. Their brand of symphonic metal sounds more like Kamelot's Ghost Opera than Nightwish or Epica. Another (f)actor that sets them apart is the guitarist Jack Kosto, who really puts metal guitar back into symphonic metal, as well as frontwoman Adrienne Cowan, who impresses with her diverse palette of sounds and moods ranging from deep gutturals to power metal shrieks.

At times delicate, at times assertive, France's Talvienkeli fuse progressive metal with symphonic soundscapes, telling us stories of fantasy, despair, and hope. Heavier tracks like "Atlas" and "Scream-Her" take the listener in quickly, showing off Pierre's intricate synths beside deliberate guitar and bass work, while the softer stories of "The Explorer" and "Raining Moon" highlight vocalist Camille's warmth and ethereal technique. Talvienkeli have crafted a journey of uniquely thoughtful and yet elusive symphonic beauty, mixed with the dreamy stories of worlds near and far, sure to appeal to not only our child within, but our aging adult as well.

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Fans of ex-Nightwish singer Anette Olzon often point out that the material she was singing was never written to fully fit her voice, and while the albums they made together are well-loved, there's truth in that criticism. But when ex-Sonata Arctica, Cain's Offering guitarist Jani Liimatainen writes an album for her, it's a match made in heaven. The strains of pop and AOR play right into Olzon's wheelhouse, the keys and the tempos are made for her to show off her vocal sweet spot, and the juxtaposition of Liimatainen's trademark sardonic lyrics and the bubbly Swede's voice is super charming. Hopefully this match produces more than a one-off project.