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Best of 2018

Nicholas Franco's Top 40 Albums of 2018

Posted by on December 5, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Heavy metal, apart from centering and nurturing the spirits of her devotees, provides a needed counterpoint to the continuing madness everyday life shits forth at us. A form of music that is supposed to be untouched by corporate sway and the expectations of the unenlightened, heavy metal has of late fallen prey to a culture of political correctness enforceable by both slander and violence, and a form of morality policing the likes of which it has never before endured. Not even in the days of the PMRC and Tipper Gore (which many of you only dimly remember, but some of us lived through) has heavy metal experienced such a concerted effort to trammel its vibrancy. The reason today's madness is worse? Because this time around the divisiveness and the mental shackling is coming from within its ranks.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, one thing is certain. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like, those who know our music know that our music is for them. True fans of heavy metal, from backgrounds as wonderfully diverse as the varied strains of the music itself, have each heard the call. Each of them has been drawn to metal's flame. And each of them has been welcomed to sit at that fire for life. Because we metalheads are in this thing for the long haul, are we not?

True fans, this music; we will weather this storm too. Look around. The sheer talent and creativity out there is astounding, and we are damned lucky to be alive right now.

Before you is a list of the top 40 albums created and bestowed in 2018, as I have painstakingly deemed them. Painstaking is the word; this year was an absolute clusterf**k of great releases. I've also offered up three standout tracks for each release. Each of these albums stands head and shoulders above hundreds more released this year, and there is, as usual, a ton of parity. Enjoy, and best wishes to all of you…

40.   DracarisNowhere

Coming straight out of New York City, debut album Nowhere by blackened death metal upstarts Dracaris is the result of years of hard work and live appearances honing their sound. Oppressive, dynamic, and murky, Nowhere throbs with an urban heart even as it takes the listener into dank aural corridors of the mind. Full of well-placed timing changes, the hyperactive guitar riffing of Kamron Robinson is underpinned by a monstrous drum performance courtesy of Matt Slagle (ex-Side 3). Nowhere, simply put, is everything that is good about underground death metal. Clocking in at a tidy 38 minutes, the album hits like a brick to the face. The future looks bright for Dracaris.

Standout tracks: "Swimming in the Vomit of Memories" "Perception of Time" "Thorazine Goddess"

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39.   WatainTrident Wolf Eclipse

Black metal seems to produce a band or two every so often who manages to poke its corpse-painted head a bit too far above the deep underground for the comfort of the orthodoxy. Sweden's provocative Watain has done just that. After a period of sonic exploration that divided its fan base, Trident Wolf Eclipse appears to be a statement that the heart of the Satanic trio is still intact. This album is an absolute stormer, and its difficult to find much fault with it, if any.

Standout tracks: "Nuclear Alchemy" "Sacred Damnation" "A Throne Below"

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38. Moongates GuardianLeave The Northern Mountains

Sure, there is already a duo creating odes to J.R.R. Tolkein's timeless Middle Earth sagas, but then again there are also umpteen bands making second wave black metal odes to Satan, and no one is complaining. From Kaliningrad, Russia comes Moongates Guardian and their latest album Leave The Northern Mountains. Sprawling, wrought with magnificent arrangements, while using a multitude of instrumentation with choirs and female voices to counter the rasp of the main vocal, the music is far too convincing to be written off as derivative. There is even a stunning cover of "Nightshade Forests" by Summoning.

Standout tracks: "The Darkness Dwells in Durin's Halls" "Mordor" "Beneath the Moon and Under Star"

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37.   Nervosa – Downfall of Mankind

Album number three from these Brazilian ladies, Downfall of Mankind stamps a boot firmly into the backside of thrash metal. Gritty, unrelenting, and heavier than hell, Nervosa shows no signs of going soft or commercial. If anything, they're honing their fury with some improving songwriting, and swiftly climbing past dozens of other thrash outfits the world over.

Standout tracks: "Horrordome" "And Justice For Whom" "Selfish Battle"

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36.   UnreqvitedMosaic I: L'amour Et L'ardeur

From the northern reaches of Canada comes this fantastic work of art from Unreqvited. Post-black metal is a strange term, and while in a pinch it can be used to describe Mosaic I: L'Amour Et L'Ardeur, it really doesn't do the music justice. Part reflective soundtrack and part sprawling black metal grandeur, it is one of the most singularly beautiful pieces of music you will hear. Who gives a shit what genre it is? Just turn it up and get lost in it.

Standout tracks: "Balance" "Radiant" "Permanence"

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35.   Harakiri For The SkyArson

Austrian duo Harakiri For The Sky were a band I think I avoided because, well, I just couldn't get past the cumbersome band name. How stupid of me, because they are amazing, and Arson is an absolute tour de force of quality songwriting and tortured depressive atmospheres. The rampant double-bass drumming, tormented vocals, and the way each song never rests on its laurels ensure this is no shoegaze affair. Arson is a triumph.

Standout tracks: "The Graves We've Dug" "Heroin Waltz" "Tomb Omnia"

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34.   Elände – Dödens Rike

Spitting forth malice from Goteborg, Sweden, Dodens Rike is a raw yet melodic debut album of second wave black metal of great quality from the mysterious Elande. Featuring a cavernous drum performance by Trish Kolsvart (Urarv, ex-Asagraum), the album is just polished enough to create that grim and frostbitten atmosphere so unique to this form of music. No mold-breaking here, just good black metal the way we like it.

Standout tracks: "Blodmane" "Den Varld Som Var" "Gengang"

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33.   NecrophobicMark of the Necrogram

The old school Swedish blackened death metal has perhaps never been uttered so perfectly as when performed by Necrophobic. Unlike some of their countrymen from the same era, these veterans continue to make albums. Mark of the Necrogram not only sits proudly within their discography, but it is also another step forward in pure melodic brutality, containing some of the strongest material they've written to date. Returning vocalist Anders Strokirk sounds vicious.

Standout tracks: "Tsar Bomba" "Sacrosanct" "Pesta"

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32.   SummoningWith Doom We Come

Majestic, reverent, and brimming with Middle Earth narrative, Summoning return once more to bewitch us with their echoing, dungeon and castle, synth-laden take on strains of neo-classical and ambient black metal. With Doom We Come is another glorious addition to their growing canon, setting a cinematic atmosphere appreciable even for those unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings saga. Using choirs and horns, spoken word, and allowing the endlessly incredible world of J.R.R. Tolkein to manifest, Summoning transport the listener once again. Incredible stuff, and even comes with a bonus disc that is well worth hunting down.

Standout tracks: "Silvertine" "Herumor" "With Doom I Come"

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31.   VarathronPatriarchs of Evil

Adventurous songwriting abounds on Patriarchs of Evil, as the storied Greek underground legends Varathron return to lay waste to much of the competition. Occult metal never sounded this epic, as spiraling leads accompany endless riffs, just the right amount of keys, fabulous drumming, and of course the rough-edged vocal attack of frontman Stefan Necroabyssious.

Standout tracks:  "Orgiastic Nightmares of the Arch Desecrator" "Saturnian Sect" "Into The Absurd"

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30.   TribulationDown Below

The silky Swedes return with Down Below, another twist on the velvet road to Satan, made palatable by lush arrangements and hellacious vocals that are somehow smooth as red wine. Powerful songs and incredible artwork make for yet another installment of Tribulation's unique brand of death fueled blackened bliss.

Standout Tracks:  "The Lament" "Nightbound" "Come, Become, To Be"

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29.   Unreqvited – Stars Wept To The Sea

No, this isn't a misprint. Unreqvited made two incredible full-length pieces of art in 2018, both of which receive spots on my list. Stars Wept To The Sea is as organic and fantastic a listening experience as its sister album Mosaic. The music mixes ambient soundscapes with blasting, gut-wrenching sections in such a way as to transport the listener every single time.

Standout Tracks: "Stardust" "White Lotus" "Soulscape"

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28.   Mesarthim – The Density Parameter

The clash of electronic elements and the sprawling black metal medium collide magnificently on The Density Parameter by Australian dreamers Mesarthim. An album to get lost in over and over, the synthesis of disparate theaters of sound coalesce to produce stunning results, while shrieking vocals blow frigid as if from behind the stars.

Standout Tracks: "Collapse" "Transparency" "Recombination"

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27.   VreidLifehunger

As regular as rain, as solid as steel, Vreid has built a post-Windir career out of consistently providing top-notch blackened metal with a rock-n-roll heart. Stellar arrangements and hearty songwriting underpin Lifehunger, which will take its place proudly in the discography of these underrated Norwegians.

Standout Tracks: "Lifehunger" "Black Rites In The Black Nights" "Heimatt"

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26.   Heidevolk – Vuur van Verzet

Holland's heathen metal export Heidevolk return with another bombastic ode to ancient battles and tales of old. Vuur van Verzet doesn't rewrite their handbook, but it doesn't need to either. The arrangement quality and pure pagan spirit entwined in this new batch of songs are simply too good to ignore. Fantastic vocals, choir arrangements worthy of opera halls; this is no frilly drinking metal here.

Standout Tracks: "A Wolf In My Heart" "Britannia" "Woedend"

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25.  Professor BlackI Am The Rock

From one of the most fertile-minded and underrated performers in metal comes I Am The Rock by Chicago based prodigy Professor Black. Straight ahead balls to the wall heavy metal a la Motörhead, this is pure adrenaline and beer-fueled goodness. Turn it up and enjoy.

Standout Tracks: "Get It On" "Dance of Death" "I Am The Rock"

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24. Opera IXThe Gospel

Italy's long-standing black metal export Opera IX return with The Gospel, a rich, textured symphonic black metal nightmare that takes the listener on a varied sonic journey to medieval Tuscany, where witches prevailed beneath the sign of the goddess Aradia. Enveloping concept albums like this always provide a bit more to chew on, and led by the vibrant screams of Dipsas Dianaria, Opera IX is as resonant and grand as ever.

Standout Tracks:  "Gospel" "Chapter III" "Sacrilego"

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23. DjevelBlant Svarte Graner

Cutting edge black metal done the Norwegian way from these steely veterans. Djevel slice limbs with frigid riffing alongside somber passages of slower, but no less stimulating, material. Blant Svarte Graner serves it up from start to finish, unafraid to pen some longer numbers. The quality never wavers.

Standout Tracks:  "Her er ikke spor af mennesker" "Paa vintersti skal hun synge en gravsang" "Det svartner paa likbleik hud"

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22.  ElderwindThe Colder The Night

Russian trio Elderwind dishes out a brand of supremely beautiful, oddly cerebral depressive and ambient-tinged black metal on The Colder The Night, bestowing a special experience to the listener that is nothing short of musical therapy. They balance blasting sections against plaintive quietude with fantastic dexterity. For lonely walks at night, long drives, and contemplation. Take as needed for pain…

Standout Tracks: "In The Morning" "With Autumn Magic" "Leaving The Homeland"

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21.  Funeral MistHekatomb

Finally, at last, from coldest Sweden comes Funeral Mist to once more boil bones and melt off flesh. The inimitable throat of Mortuus combines with a blistering black metal attack to boot Hekatomb deep into the stratosphere of excellence. Well placed, subtle keyboard use adds that touch of creepy atmosphere to sit alongside the din. Magnificent work, once again.

Standout Tracks: "Naught But Death" "Cockatrice" "Within The Without"

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20.  SolsticeWhite Horse Hill

Its doom-laden balladry and powerful riff-poetry from UK vets Solstice, returning to fine form with White Horse Hill. A magnificent vocal performance, earworm guitar solos, and the musical equivalent of wandering among ancient ruins in old Albion, this album is one for the ages.

Standout Tracks: "To Sol A Thane" "White Horse Hill" "Gallow Fen"

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19. DeceasedGhostly White

Veteran US metallers Deceased have been making high octane heavy metal the honest way for decades, unfazed by trends or record label preferences. They return with Ghostly White, their first full-length album since 2011. Each song is no filler, no frills, honest to goodness horror-tinged speed metal. The world is better for having Deceased in it, and this clutch of songs is simply fantastic. (RIP Dave Castillo, drummer of Deceased, who passed away on Nov. 13th, 2018; gone way too soon; never forgotten)

Standout Tracks: "Germ of Distorted Lore" "Thoughts From A Leaking Brain" "Pale Surroundings"

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18.  Satan – Cruel Magic

New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Satan return with Cruel Magic, proving once again that there is so much more life left in this English outfit's soul. Another addition to the canon of harmonic and melodic grace, these songs are a shot in the arm to anyone looking for up-tempo power metal that's as classic as it is ballsy.

Standout tracks: "Into The Mouth Of Eternity" "The Doomsday Clock" "Mortality"

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17.  Violet ColdSommermorgen Pt I: Innocence, Pt II: Joy, Pt III: Nostalgia

I have to admit I am not particularly drawn to what I believe this style of music is referred to among my kind (journalists). I don't want to say shoegaze because when this triple album by Violet Cold is on, the last thing I want to look at is my flippin' shoes. I want to look UP….to the sky, the horizon, to stars, the moon….to tomorrow, to yesterday…this is some of the most intensely emotional music I have ever heard and it isn't weak or flippant. Its gravid as storm clouds yet lighter than air. It is crafted by one man, Emin Guliyev, from Azerbaijan, and it is stunning music.

Standout Tracks: "Ein Langer Weg" "Azure Dreaming" "Lebensmüde"

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16.  MAREEbony Tower

Ice-cold Norwegian black metal straight from the stygian source. Mare return with Ebony Tower, a complete and devastating chapter in the great volume of this nation's glorious musical history. Each long passage is replete with cavernous vocals both guttural and clean, guaranteed to stay beneath the skin for all time.

Standout Tracks:  "Flaming Black Zenith" "Blood Across The Firmament" "Nightbound"

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15.  Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik – Hugsja

The hybridized metal meets traditional Norse folk that these two giants among men have crafted has once more culminated in a masterwork. Hugsja picks up right where Skuggsja – A Piece For Mind and Mirror left off. This music is sure to be as timeless as the sagas and runes about which it revolves.

Standout Tracks: "Hugsja" "Ni Døstre Av Hav" "Nattseglar"

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14.  Sojourner – The Shadowed Road

I must admit I'm a little late to the party with this band, having only discovered them earlier in the year. Sojourner craft music that is not immediately classifiable, combining elements of pagan folk metal into an atmospheric black metal template, while incorporating varied instrumental and vocal arrangements, all of which combine to keep The Shadowed Road a riveting listen.

Standout Tracks:  "Titan" "Our Bones Among The Ruins" "The Shadowed Road"

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13.  Cor ScorpiiRuin

The pagan black metal spirit of Windir does not only live on in Vreid. One could argue that the same rollicking Sogndal riffage and phenomenal guitar work/drum work lives on also in Norwegian countrymen Cor Scorpii. Second full-length Ruin expands upon this emotive and fascinating sound with a utterly devastating precision and authority.

Standout Tracks: "Svart Blod (Hovmod står for fall)" "Skuggevandrar"  "Helveteskap"

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12.  Whoredom Rife – Nyd – Hymner av Hat

Seething with malice, Whoredom Rife roar back with second full-length Nyd – Hymner Av Hat, carpet bombing the genre of black metal with thermonuclear drumming, vocals from the depths, and riffs for eons. This is a special band, and with a follow up this strong, their dessicated wings will envelop the listener and never let go.

Standout Tracks: "Verdi Oeydest" "Crown of Deceit" "Ceremonial Incantations"

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11.  Visigoth – Conqueror's Oath 

Take a bus made of early Iron Maiden and crash it into a truck made of Manowar. Then have a minivan made of early Helloween crash into that and if you sift through the wreckage, you might find Visigoth from Salt Lake City, Utah. Second album Conqueror's Oath is eight of the most addictive, catchy, robust heavy metal anthems with nary a weak moment to be found. All jests aside, this is one of the best pure heavy metal records you will hear, done with a very rare combination of skill and heart.

Standout Tracks: "Outlive Them All" "Traitor's Gate" "Blades In The Night"

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10.   In The Woods…Cease The Day

The reformation of Norway's very special In The Woods… has been a joy to its fans the world over. Second album since, and fifth overall Cease The Day sees the rejuvenated band remaining in similar waters as prior effort Pure. This time around the results are even more staggering, with a bit more bite and harshness added to the progressive melancholia.

Standout Tracks: "Substance Vortex" "Respect My Solitude" "Still Yearning"

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9.  Uada – Cult Of A Dying Sun

The mistake I made was worrying that Uada wouldn't be able to top their debut album Devoid Of Light. They didn't just top it, though. The Oregon collective blew it away with follow-up record Cult of a Dying Sun. Powerful compositions that breathe with fury and a sharp sense of dynamics offer a pulse-pounding experience for the listener to return to over and over again.

Standout Tracks: "Snakes & Vultures" "Cult of a Dying Sun" "Sphere (Imprisonment)"

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8.   Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness Pts I & II

Panopticon keeps getting bolder and better, and this masterpiece provides one whole album worth of cavernous, frenetic American black metal that does not let up in quality. But wait! There's more! The second part to this is a doleful piece of American folk that is positively unforgettable. Music for staring into the campfire, hiking to the top of a mountain, and everything in between.

Standout Tracks disc I: "En hvit ravns død" "Blåtimen" "The Singing Wilderness"

disc II:      "Four Walls of Bone" "A Cross Abandoned" "The Devil Walked The Woods"

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7.  HelrunarVanitas Vanitatvm

German veterans Helrunar once more lay down a massive and heavy opus of solid pagan black metal goodness. Vanitas Vanitatvm, fortress-heavy and pounding like a cannon, is some of their strongest work to date, an album of surpassing quality and superb songwriting.

Standout Tracks: "Saturnus" "Blutmond" "Als die Welt zur Nacht sich wandt"

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6. Stilla – Synviljor

One of the most amazing black metal bands in existence at the moment is Stilla, hailing from Sweden. On Synviljor, the pagan, classically oriented arrangements are more pronounced, yet like a newly forged sword, the viciousness is also honed to a crisp cutting edge. Possessing a sound like no other, Stilla extols the mystical feeling of old-school Satyricon without sounding derivative. This album is one for the ages.

Standout Tracks: "Frälsefrosten" "En närvaro av då" "Ut ur tid och rum"

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5.  Sargeist – Unbound

Not to be outdone by Norway, the equally creatively fertile land of Finland has some black metal that is absolutely superb. Sargeist, as one of the leading (un)lights of this movement, has outdone themselves with Unbound, their fifth full-length album. A wrecking ball of Satanic might, this one rumbles along at breakneck speed, lightless yet anthemic, leaving no faces unmelted. For 2018 black metal of the orthodox variety, the album is without peer.

Standout Tracks: "Psychosis Incarnate" "Her Mouth Is An Open Grave" "Grail Of The Pilgrim"

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4. EinherjerNorrøne Spor

A band who has quietly gone about making increasingly amazing folk-inflected pagan metal, Einherjer returns with an album that may one day be regarded as their masterwork. Haugesund's finest have discovered a wellspring of melodies, riffs, and arrangements that have vaulted the Norwegian collective into serious contention. Norrøne Spor shows that progressiveness and heaviness can share the same long-ship.

Standout Tracks: "The Spirit Of A Thousand Years" "Mine Våpen Mine Ord" "Tapt Uskyld"

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3.  PanphageJord

Panphage, the work of one lone human from Sweden called Fjällbrant, has produced some fantastic folk black metal, but Jord – which for now stands as the last we will see from this individual under the Panphage name – truly crushes the competition with the sheer magnificence of its ice-cold guitars and incredible vocals. This album is a work of art nearly unrivaled in the genre and should be revered as such.

Standout Tracks: "Odalmarkerna" "Skadinawjo" "Som man sår får man skörda"

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2. PrimordialExile Amongst The Ruins

Well folks, here we are again. Primordial has made yet another peerless, in-f**king-credible piece of art for us to take into ourselves, swiftly from the ears down unto the very depths of our hearts. Dublin's most beloved sons have crafted Exile Amongst The Ruins, in the process providing some of the most heart-wrenching moments of their career. This is the music of lifetimes, honest and epic odes to the deepest corridors of the spirit. "Stolen Years" ranks as one of the all time most harrowing and beautiful tearjerkers, by itself outstanding, yet surrounded by seven other peerless and fantastic songs. Such is the standard set down by one of the finest musical collectives ever to see the light of day.

Standout Tracks: "To Hell Or The Hangman" "Stolen Years" "Sunken Lungs"

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1. Amorphis – Queen of Time

Here it is, the finest album of 2018. Queen of Time, by Finland's mind-blowing melodic death metal veterans Amorphis, was the only work of art in 2018 capable of edging Exile Amongst The Ruins for the top spot. Another group that only gets better with age, Amorphis' 14th studio album positively thrums with excellence. The synthesis of timeless melodies, unforgettable choruses, and fantastic vocals elevates Queen of Time to heights undreamt of by most mortals. Song after song, each as catchy and memorable as it is well constructed and diverse, there may not be a better heavy metal band in the world at this moment than Amorphis.

Standout Tracks:  "The Golden Elk" "Heart of the Giant" "Brother And Sister"

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