Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 28

Can you believe that it’s already day three of my 2015 ‘Album of the Year’ countdown? I hope you’re enjoying my series and although it is early days, perhaps you’ve discovered something new or I’ve managed to change your mind about an album. Who knows, but what I do know is that, as intense and hard work as this series is every year, I’m really enjoying myself. I just love talking about music and I love giving plaudits to music that deserves it. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving space on my blog to artists that have, in some way, made a positive impression on me.

A reminder that 30-16 are only loosely and rather arbitrarily numbered. They are all extremely good and worthy of attention, hence the increase from a top 20 to a top 30 – it was too strong a year to only pick 20!

If you’ve missed the previous two instalments, you can read them here:

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

Number 28

avatarium coverAvatarium
‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’
Nuclear Blast Records

Those that know me and my music tastes will know that I’m not the biggest fan of doom per se. I love the symphonic melodic death/doom but when it comes to classic, down and dirty classic doom rock/metal, I’m not always so keen. Today’s pick is, therefore, another early surprise in this year’s list.

Avatarium could be referred to as a ‘supergroup’ of sorts given that the band is comprised of bassist Leif Edling (Candlemass), guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Royal Hunt/ex-Evergrey) and drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat) as well as vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith and keyboardist Carl Westholm. It’s a mouth-watering line-up for sure and they have well and truly delivered the goods with their sophomore release, ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’.

The core of the Avatarium sound is very much doom rock/metal with a rich and organic 70s vibe, where the synths and keyboards pay homage to a bygone era of music. But not content to leave things there, the quintet have added their own stamp to the eight compositions on the record. The result is something that feels both familiar and unique. Progressive flourishes blend in with dash of psychedelia and a harsher edge at times to create drama, whilst a soulful edge is injected via both Smith’s charismatic vocals and Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing.

The title track is a heady opening to the album, featuring some great riffs and a tempo that’s utterly infectious. It’s Avatarium in full flow and the result is truly glorious. Other favourites include the more ominously ponderous and sprawling ‘The Master Thief’ which features some beautifully subtle lead guitar work, full of expression. Then there’s ‘January Sea’ with its melodic chorus and great vocals, whilst ‘Run Killer Run’ is a groovy beast that lodges itself instantly into my brain and won’t let go.

As classic-inspired doom goes, there’s nothing to match Avatarium in 2015. ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’ is, as far as I’m concerned, the absolute pinnacle of this style of music and has to be heard by as wide an audience as possible.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2013 – Number 17

Welcome one and all to Day 4 of my ‘Album of The Year 2013’ countdown. I hope you’re enjoying and/or agreeing with my choices so far.

If you have missed the previous three instalments, they can be found here:
Day 1 – Number 20
Day 2 – Number 19
Day 3 – Number 18

‘Pictures From A Time Traveller’
Lion Music

I’m not normally a fan of instrumental albums. Generally, I find them either boring or over-indulgent. In the worst cases, they can be a disastrous combination of both. And yet, here we are, on day 4 of my ‘Album Of The Year 2013’ countdown and the subject of today’s post is an instrumental album. I didn’t see that coming I can tell you. But then, this album is rather good!

With this debut solo effort, the former Royal Hunt and Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell has proved that he is one smooth performer with his chosen musical weapon. On ‘Pictures From A Time Traveller’, the six-string is king but crucially, not at the expense of anything else. Sure there are solos, licks and riffs littering the record but they all have their place, never do they outstay their welcome and they are beautifully executed.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

What I like so much about this album is the variety that Jidell demonstrates. One minute he is ripping out a powerful full-on metal riff, the next he’s coaxing out some beautifully soft notes or indulging in a bluesy groove. Jidell’s playing on this album is really very expressive and surprisingly emotional at times. It is this coupled with some strong song writing that makes this album the success that it unquestionably is.

Should you require further convincing, you can read my full in-depth review of the album here. But for now, I’ll leave you with another example track from this highly enjoyable record.

Don’t forget, if you missed it last year, you can also check out my Top 20 for 2012 here.

Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller – Album Review

jidellArtist: Marcus Jidell

Album Title: Pictures From A Time Traveller

Label: Lion Music

Year of Release: 2013

When was the last time you actually enjoyed an instrumental rock or metal album? For me, the answer is probably never or, at best, very rarely. In fact, as I type, I am struggling to think of a noteworthy example of the genre. Nope, I give up….or should I say ‘I had nearly given up’? Because here is probably the first instrumental metal album that hand-on-heart, I can say that I like and thoroughly enjoy listening to.

Having never been much of a fan of Royal Hunt, Marcus Jidell was not a musician with which I was overly familiar in my formative metal-loving years. However, in 2010, the six-string maestro joined the band that I still consider to be my all-time favourite, Evergrey. From that moment, the name of Marcus Jidell has necessarily become an important one.

And, despite featuring as a guest musician with a number of other bands throughout his career (most notably Candlemass), “Pictures From A Time Traveller” is Marcus’s first attempt at a solo album. This makes it even more impressive in my opinion and I only hope that Marcus gets the success and the plaudits that this album richly deserves.

Marcus cites a number of influences on his website, from B.B. King to Yngwie Malmsteen, from Miles Davis to Ritchie Blackmore. It is an eclectic mix of styles but one that has helped to shape him into the fascinating and original guitarist that this record clearly and unequivocally reveals him to be.

marcus jidell

“Pictures From A Time Traveller” consists of just seven tracks and a running time of a little over half an hour. Many may baulk at such a brief album but in many ways I think that this has helped to avoid those criticisms that are often levelled at such recordings, that they are boring, long-winded or overly self-indulgent. That’s not the case here, with the focus very much on creating music that makes an impact, creates moods for the listener and showcases the talents of the main man without ever outstaying its welcome. Three tracks clock in at over six minutes in length but never seem too drawn out or contrived. The songs are simply that long for a reason.

For me to go into the minutiae of Marcus’ technique and style would be a disaster. I am not a guitarist. I have a guitar; in fact I have two. I even have a couple of amps, a distortion pedal and a few picks lying around. However, this does not make me a guitarist and I don’t really have the first clue about many of the intricacies at play here. What I do know though, is what I like and what impresses me.

On that score, there is much to talk about with “Pictures From A Time Traveller”. Firstly, Marcus comes across as such an intelligent and expressive guitarist, showing soft and deft touches one minute before unleashing something much more aggressive in the blink of an eye. It is this ability to create light and shade that helps to create rich visual tapestries in the mind’s eye and maintain my attention throughout. The solos are superb – fast, intricate and soaring. Opener “Arctica” builds slowly, the lead-work subtle yet captivating. It transforms into something not too dissimilar to mid-era Evergrey with fast leads and a strong rhythm before unleashing arguably the best solo on the entire record.

However, the most positive aspect is the way in which Marcus can get his guitar to sing. Without a vocalist, the music itself needs to provide that extra dimension and inject those emotive nuances in order to transform the piece of music into a song. It is here that Marcus excels. The very final track with its mix of acoustic and bluesy electric guitar is the very epitome of what I am trying to get at. It is a truly beautiful piece of music.

Away from the guitar-playing of Marcus himself, the other strengths of this record are numerous. The man himself also takes on the roles of bassist, keyboardist, cellist, pianist and percussionist. However the album also benefits from guest performances from some of Marcus’ friends, such as drummer Hannes Van Dahl (Evergrey), bassist Johan Niemann (Evergrey) and keyboardist Andre Andersen (Royal Hunt). Strong as they are, these guest performances never get in the way of the focal point of the songs and the album as a whole.

Then there’s also the song writing itself which is great throughout, blending a number of styles together seamlessly, from the more out-and-out metallic groove of “Space Dog” to the 70s hard rock undertones of “Huldra (Ruler Of The Forest)”, all brought together via the common thread of great melodies, infectious hooks and a tangible ‘joie-de-vivre’.

For the first time, I find myself in the position of being able to recommend an instrumental metal album to you. Congratulations Marcus Jidell, it has been a long time coming.

The Score of Much Metal:


Take a listen to a sampler of “Pictures From A Time Traveller” here.

2013 Is Not Finished Yet

Having gone through some of my favourite released so far from 2013, I thought I’d turn my attention to the remainder of the year and highlight some of those albums that I personally, am looking forward to being released. Based on the following list, it threatens to be another strong six months…

Haken – “The Mountain”

haken mountain

The London-based progressive rock band returns with their third album. This is, unsurprisingly, my most eagerly anticipated release of 2013.

Subsignal – “Paraiso”


I have been a fan of Subsignal from the moment it became clear that Sieges Even would come to an end and that Subsignal would effectively take its place. Essentially, Subsignal offer brilliantly-written progressive rock that’s very heavy on melody and emotion. I have high hopes for this album, having loved both albums that have gone before.

Carcass – “Surgical Steel”


Legendary UK grind/death metal band Carcass thrilled the extreme metal world with news of a reformation in 2007. The revelation of a new album has heightened fans’ excitement to fever pitch. The good news for us all is that the wait is nearly over.

Dream Theater – “Dream Theater”

dream theater

Very little needs to be said about this band. Personally, I hope this album continues in the vein of their last, “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” and the very fact that they have simply named it “Dream Theater”, must mean that they are happy with the results.

Karnivool – “Asymmetry”


Australian progressive rock/metal band Karnivool return with their third album and, on the strength of the song “I Am”, I cannot be the only one who’s excited about this forthcoming album. Complex, emotional and powerful…sounds great to me.

Marcus Jidell – “Pictures From A Time Traveller”


Ex-Royal Hunt and current Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell has recorded this, an instrumental album. Normally, I’m not massively keen on such things but, having been privileged to hear some rough ideas a while back, I must admit that I am sold and I cannot wait for the release. If you like the guitar, this is an album to check out for sure.

Mercenary – “Through Our Darkest Days”


It is album number seven for Denmark’s extreme metallers Mercenary. The band brings together the aggression of death metal with the attitude of thrash and then blends them together with a strong melodic glue. Having already heard this album (expect a review very shortly), “Through Our Darkest Days” is far and away the band’s best recording to date.

Tarja – “Colours In The Dark”

tarja colours

The uniquely talented Tarja Turunen, ex-vocalist for Nightwish, offers the world her third album. Now a powerful and respected solo artist in her own right, “Colours In The Dark” is adventurous and passionate as well as symphonic and atmospheric. It will surprise a few, but it is her best yet. I know, because I’ve been lucky enough to hear it.

Katatonia – “Dethroned & Uncrowned”

katatonia dethroned

This is slightly leftfield in that this album is a re-release of their most recent album “Dead End Kings”. The difference being though, that all the songs have been re-worked and stripped down. In the band’s own words, “the drums will be dethroned and the distorted rhythm guitars will be uncrowned! Instead, we’ll place the emphasis on the many layers of ambience, with the melodies staying central and the vocal harmonies representing the heart of the album.” Sounds ace to me!

And, if you’re interested in what I think of what has already been released in 2013, check out my posts below!

The previous instalments can be found here:
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 1
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 2
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 3
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 4
“Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 5”

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