Amon Amarth Conquers Phil’s Picks’ 2016 Top 10 New Hard Rock & Metal Albums List

Courtesy: Metal Blade Records

Courtesy: Metal Blade Records

The hard rock and metal community have collectively become a rather crowded field this year in terms of new albums.  It has made extremely difficult naming the year’s top new hard rock and metal records.  There have been that many outstanding records.  Metallica’s first album in eight years, HardwiredTo SelfDestruct is just one of the albums that has more than proven deserving of being on that list.  The same can be said of Amon Amarth’s latest offering, Jomsviking.  It is a rarity for the band, being a concept record.  The concept behind the record more than works.  And its musical arrangements work just as well.  On another note Prong, with its latest offering X No Absolutes has proven through its overall content (and sales) that it is another success for the band—and more specifically founder Tommy Victor, the band’s only original member.  So no doubt it belongs on the list of the year’s top new hard rock and metal albums, too as do so many others.  It was not easy for this critic to assemble this year’s list of new hard rock and metal albums considering how many outstanding albums were released in that collective field.  But a decision had to be made.  That decision is presented below.

As a reminder, the list, as with each of Phil’s Picks year-ender lists, presents Phil’s Picks Top 10 picks for the year’s best plus five honorable mention titles for a total of 15 albums.  Honorable mention is not mean in a negative fashion by any means.  They were each deserving of being named to the year’s best.  It was just that tough assembling a list of the year’s best, so the final list ended as presented here.  Without any further ado, here is the Phil’s Picks 2016 Top 10 New Hard Rock and Metal Albums.




  1. Amon AmarthJomsviking


  1. MetallicaHardwiredTo SelfDestruct


  1. All Hail The YetiScreams From A Black Wilderness


  1. NonpointThe Poison Red


  1. SpellcasterNight Hides The World


  1. WovenwarHonor is Dead


  1. ArtilleryPunishment By Perception


  1. ProngXNo Absolutes


  1. AnthraxFor All Kings


  1. DestrageA Means To No End


  1. WhitechapelMark of the Blade


  1. DevildriverTrust No One


  1. Oni – Ironshore


  1. Primal FearRulebreaker


  1. HatebreedThe Concrete Confesional




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Spellcaster’s New LP Is One Of 2016’s Most Valuable “Hidden” Metal Gems

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Portland, Oregon is not usually the first place that people think of when they think of hotbeds of hard rock and metal.  More often than not when people try to come up with famous musical names from Oregon, they come up with the likes of The Kingsmen, Everclear, Kutless, The Decemberists, and other varied acts.  So when Spellcaster started its rise to stardom in 2009, it likely came as big surprise not just to its members but to the music community in whole.  Ever since its formation in 2009 the band has released four recording recordings, the most recent being its Prosthetic Records debut Night Hides The World.  This latest offering is a solid new effort from the Portland-based quintet.  That is clear right from minute one to the end of its forty-four-minute run time.  While only consisting of eight songs, this record proves to not only be one of the biggest surprises from the wet wilds of the Pacific Northwest but also another one of 2016’s top new hard rock and metal albums.

Spellcaster’s new album Night Hides The World is one of 2016’s top new hard rock and metal albums.  It is such a breath of fresh air for those waiting and wishing for a break from all of the down-tuned guitars and cookie monster growling that has become so commonplace among today’s hard rock and metal acts and albums.  The band throws back, once again here, to another age of metal, a better age with its pure metal approach to make the album in whole one that every metal purist should have in his or her music library.  The album’s opener ‘Aria’ is a prime example of that old school sound.  The song is driven in large part by drummer Vranizan’s work behind the kit and the dual guitar attack of Cory Boyd and Bryce R. VanHoosen.  Interestingly enough front man Tyler Loney’s vocal delivery doesn’t come across as that of a standard front man.  It isn’t that cookie monster growl or even the old school Bruce Dickinson/Rob Halford style operatic delivery either.  Rather it is more akin to today’s post hardcore vocalists than a classic metal vocalist.  Interestingly enough the combination of those two styles works in the case of this song.  It is just nice to hear those clean vocals because in all honesty, hearing Loney’s more modern style does leave one instantly waiting for those all-too-familiar cookie monster growls.  So to not hear that is just so great.  Of course the song’s musical elements are just a portion of what makes the song stand out both on its own and in the bigger picture of the album.  Its lyrical content plays its own part in its presentation.  At first Loney leads listeners to believe the song is lyrically one of those familiar breakup songs as he sings in the song’s lead verse, “These visions of you and I/Used to be so strong/We knew they would in time/An image left in time/They weren’t meant for you/I’d throw them in the sea/They were only meant for me/I must live without misery.”  He goes on to make that seem even more the case in the song’s chorus as he sings, “The train of time rolls on through change/As we make our separate ways.”  The song’s second verse makes the song just as interesting if not more so.  That is because Loney sings here, “I remember the haunting light…when I found you…you said leave me on my own/Wild cries and weary eyes…you whispered three last words/Don’t be afraid.”  He goes on from here to reprise the song’s chorus.  This and the song’s second verse make for their own share of discussion.  Did the subject question die, having uttered those last words?  Or was there something else going on?  The song’s final verse would seem to answer all of that as he sings, “Don’t be afraid of/The dreams we made up/Aria saved us/Now it’s torn between us.”  One has to assume naturally here that considering this and the song’s lead verse, the song is a song about a relationship having gone bad.  That is just this critic’s own take on the song of course.  Should that be anywhere near correct, then it is an interesting take on the topic.  The addition of the song’s powerhouse musical arrangement to that lyrical composition makes the song in whole a solid opener for Spellcaster’s new album and just one prime example of what makes the record stand out in this year’s new hard rock and metal field. It is not the album’s only standout song.  ‘Betrayal’ stands out just as much in this record as the record’s opener.

‘Aria’ is a prime example of what makes Spellcaster’s new album one of 2016’s top new hard rock and metal albums.  The combination of the song’s throwback metal sound and its contemplative lyrical content makes the song both a solid opener for the record and one of its best compositions.  Front man Tyler Loney’s modern vocal delivery style even works here.  The end result is a song that is just the beginning of the enjoyment from this album.  The enjoyment continues just as much in ‘Betrayal,’ the album’s fourth offering.  This is, much as with ‘Aria,’ due in part to the song’s musical composition.  Boyd and VanHoosen form the song’s classic metal sound once again with their dual guitar attack in the song’s verses.  Vranizan keeps the song moving solidly forward with his work behind the kit.  And Loney even presents more of a classic metal vocalist sound with his delivery here.  Each man plays his own important part in the song’s musical arrangement.  When they are assembled together they make the song’s musical arrangement a near seven-minute ride that will make any metal purist proud.  It is just one part of what makes the song stand out.  The song’s lyrical content is just as important to note here as its musical arrangement.  Lyrically speaking this is not exactly the happiest song.  That is evident right from the get go as Loney sings, For years I’ve envisioned life/Cold in the grave/Sick, in distress from the winds that bring the pain/With each breath I feel like these seconds are my last/Emerged in the light/Without remembering the past.”  Things don’t get much cheerier from here as Loney sings, “Betrayals and the black skies will eat you alive/So don’t ever trust those who claim to be divine.”  The song goes on much in the same vein lyrically from here.  So there’s not a lot of need to go on.  Loney’s sentiment is definitely powerful to say the very least.  In speaking about “those who claim to be divine” audiences likely shouldn’t necessarily just jump to the assumption that he is addressing priests, ministers, etc.  He could in fact be commenting on the false prophets of the world.  Without full explanation behind the song it would be unfair to just lump the band in with so many others in hearing these verses.  Keeping that in mind, the discussion that is certain to be raised by the song’s lyrical content shows even more why this song stands out as one of this album’s key compositions.  That is even more clear in considering both the song’s lyrical content and its musical arrangement.  Regardless of which part one chooses that fact still remains that by themselves and together the song’s musical arrangement and lyrical content makes it another of the album’s key compositions.  It still is not the last example of what makes Night Hides The World stand out.  ‘The Accuser,’ which comes later in the album, is another key example of what makes the record stand out.

‘Aria’ and ‘Betrayal’ are both key inclusions in Spellcaster’s new album.  That is due to the combination of the songs’ musical arrangements and their lyrical content.  The combination of those elements within each work makes them clear examples of everything that is right with this record.  They give plenty of hope for those wanting an alternative to all of the crunching guitars and cookie monster growls that are so prevalent in the hard rock and metal community today.  They are not the only songs that offer that hope either.  ‘The Accuser’ provides just as much enjoyment for metal purists as ‘Aria’ and ‘Betrayal.’  That enjoyment starts, as with the previously noted songs, with the song’s musical arrangement.  Its musical arrangement harkens back to the power metal opuses of the late 80s and early 90s.  That is thanks once more to the band’s dual guitar attack of Boyd and VanHoosen.  Vranizan’s precision timekeeping and Loney’s powerhouse vocals put the finishing touch one the song.  The combination of those parts makes the songs musical arrangement alone more than enough proof of why this song stands out in the bigger picture of the album.  It is just one part of what makes the song stand out.  The song’s lyrical content is just as much worth noting as its musical arrangement.  Loney definitely generates some discussion here in regards to the song’s lyrical content as he sings in the song’s chorus, “In the faint distance/Madness manifests/Arise…as we prepare/Watching the moon turn to dust.”  He comes across as delivering a commentary of sorts in the song’s second verse, singing “Life you possess/Do you believe you’re blessed/Why do you accuse the world/I am the God/Of deceiving your thoughts/History’s never more.  The song’s lead verse is just as ear catching and thought-provoking as Loney sings, “The end is near/But don’t you fear/I’ll be the one to cast you astray.”  There is one more line here.  But without lyrics to reference it is slightly difficult to decipher what Loney is singing.  Regardless, when that lone line is set against the lines presented in the song’s second verse and its chorus, the song in whole presents something that harkens back to metal’s past just as much as the song’s musical arrangement.  It is just as certain to leave listeners thinking and talking as the song’s musical arrangement.  The two elements come together here to make the song yet another truly powerful addition to Night Hides the World and yet another example of what makes the album in whole one of the year’s top new hard rock and metal offerings.  That is not to ignore the rest of the songs featured in the record either.  Each of those songs plays its own part in the album’s overall presentation, too.  All things considered, Night Hides The World proves in the end to be a record that is a “hidden gem” in this year’s field of new hard rock and metal albums.

Spellcaster’s new album Night Hides The World is one of the “hidden gems” of 2016’s hard rock and metal field.  That is because from beginning to end the forty-four minute record reminds metal purists of all that is right within the metal realm.  From the dual guitar attack in each song’s arrangement (including the bombastic guitar solos) to the versatility of Tyler Loney’s vocals to drummer Colin Vranizan’s precision behind the kit, the band presents eight songs that will make every metal purist proud.  The songs’ lyrical content varies from one song to the next.  It goes without saying that the songs’ lyrical content will leave audiences talking just as much as their musical arrangement.  Each part plays its own integral part in the album’s overall presentation.  Altogether they make the album in whole one of the year’s most valuable “hidden metal gems.”  They make it one of the year’s top new hard rock and metal records, too.  Night Hides The World is available now in stores, online, and at every one of the band’s current live dates.  More information on Night Hides The World is available online now along with all of Spellcaster’s latest news and more at:






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Fellowship Of The Strings Tour Schedule Revealed

Courtesy:  Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Holy Grail, Exmortus, and Spellcaster are heading out on the road together this summer.

The bands, who are all also label mates, will hit the road this summer for what is being dubbed the “Fellowship of the Strings” tour.  The three-week-plus tour is being presented by Revolver Magazine.  It kicks off Thursday, July 14th in San Francisco, California and runs through Sunday, August 7th in Los Angeles, California.  Over the course of the tour’s twenty-one dates, the bands will perform not just on the west coast but the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southwest.  The full schedule for the tour is noted below.


7/14  San Francisco, CA – DNA Lounge
7/15  Eugene, OR – Old Nick’s Pub 
7/16  Seattle, WA – Highline 
7/17  Portland, OR – Panic Room 
7/19  Salt Lake City, UT – Metro Bar 
7/20  Denver, CO – Lost Lake 
7/21  Kansas City, MO – Riot Room 
7/22  Chicago, IL – Cobra Lounge 
7/23  Cleveland, OH – The Foundry 
7/24  Rochester, NY – Montage Music Hall  
7/25  Burlington, VT – Nectars  
7/26  Boston, MA – Middle East (Upstairs) 
7/28  Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus 
7/29  Richmond, VA – Strange Matter 
7/30  Johnson City, TN – The Hideaway 
8/2    Houston, TX – Rudyards  
8/3    Austin, TX –  Grizzly Hall  
8/4    El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls  
8/5    Tucson, AZ – 191 Toole 
8/6    Santa Ana, CA – Malones  
8/7    Los Angeles, CA – Roxy 


All three bands will be performing in support of their respective new albums—Holy Grail for Times of Pride and Peril, Exmortus for Ride Forth, and Spellcaster for its upcoming album Night Hide The World.  That record will be released Friday, July 8th via Prosthetic Records. Ticketing information for the “Fellowship of the Strings” tour is available online now at the tour’s official website.  More information on the tour is available online at


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