Do you ever get the strange urge to hug trees? Then this WT release may be right up your street (or possibly forest). From the early end of WT's career, this album marks their transition away from doom-inspired gothic metal towards symphonic metal. Mother Earth sees Sharon try her hardest to sing like Kate Bush, but it actually works quite well. Ice Queen is an excellent fantasy tune, and it's easy to see how the song gained massive popularity in Holland and Belgium. Elsewhere on the album, there is a lot hippy-ish nature worship, but also some darker moments (like in the lovely Dark Wings).
Ice Queen, Mother Earth, Deceiver of Fools, Dark Wings, In Perfect Harmony
Mother Earth on Amazon UK.
19. What Lies Beneath - Tarja (2010)
Ex-Nightwish diva Tarja Turunen went for a more individual song-driven approach on this, her second album. It is heavier than her debut in places, but many felt that it lacked variety. Inexplicably, some of the best and more experimental tracks were hidden away towards the end of the disc and on the bonus CD. However, the album does open with the brilliantly quirky Anteroom of Death, featuring acapella metallers Van Canto. It's a shame that the most hyped songs (generally those released as singles) were all a bit, well, samey. Nevertheless, What Lies Beneath is definitely worth a listen.
Naiad, Anteroom of Death, Underneath, In for a Kill, Until My Last Breath
What Lies Beneath on Amazon UK.
18. Worlds Collide - Apocalyptica (2007)
Okay, so Apocalyptica are technically more like 'cello metal' than symphonic metal. Regardless, this is an excellent album. As the band's sixth release, it features a mixture of instrumental songs and songs with guest vocalists. Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) lends her voice to the haunting SOS (Anything But Love), while Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and Till Lindemann (Rammstein) appear elsewhere. The songs with vocals make great singles, but it is the instrumentals that really prove Apocalyptica are pretty much in their own genre. P.S: I still haven't recovered from seeing them on the Eurovision Song Contest. o.O Weird.
SOS (Anything But Love), Ion, Last Hope, Peace, I'm Not Jesus
Worlds Collide on Amazon UK.
17. After Forever - After Forever (2007)
The Black Halo on Amazon UK.
The Silent Force on Amazon UK.
17. After Forever - After Forever (2007)
This self-titled album was the last ever released by Dutch metallers After Forever. The band split in 2009, and singer Floor Jansen headed for new band ReVamp. This is my personal favourite of After Forever's albums. It has a lot of progressive elements, as you can see in the Ayreon-esque Dreamflight. The album also features a great balance of clean vocals and death grunts, with Floor's voice soaring from a rock style of singing to an operatic style. In fact, for symphonic fans who find a voice like Tarja's hard to get into, After Forever may be a great starting point.
Equally Destructive, Transitory, Discord, Energize Me, Dreamflight
After Forever on Amazon UK.
The first of Epica's appearances in my chart is their debut album, in which snakes come out of Simone's chest for some reason. Anyway, as one of only two debut albums in my chart (the other being Tarja's My Winter Storm), you can tell there must be something special about this album. Epica may have still been finding their feet as a band, but they managed to produce a great record. It is well worth a listen, particularly as it contains the middle 3 songs of Mark Jansen's The Embrace That Smothers saga (which he began in After Forever), an epic series of songs about the dangers of organised religion.
Sensorium, Cry for the Moon, Feint, Façade of Reality, The Phantom Agony
Phantom Agony on Amazon UK.
Kamelot's latest release was well-received in the metal world, and with good reason. It has some excellent tracks, including the (slightly worrying) Zodiac which is about the Zodiac Killer, and is preceded by a creepy reading of one of the serial killer's letters.
The album also features guest vocals from Epica's Simone Simons (on the duet House on a Hill) and Amanda Somerville, as well as a guitar appearance from Firewind/Ozzy Osbourne's Gus G. One thing that I found strange about the album was the decision to split the titular song into four separate tracks, when it could have just been one ten minute long song.
The Great Pandemonium, House on a Hill, If Tomorrow Came, The Zodiac, Necropolis
Poetry For The Poisoned on Amazon UK.
14. April Rain - Delain (2009)
While it has to be said that this is far more rock than metal, it is still a really enjoyable album. Martijn Westerholt (ex-Within Temptation, brother of Robert) ditched the guest musicians in favour of a proper band, and it led to a more coherent sound. Charlotte Wessels sings her little Dutch heart out, but it has to be said that my favourite tracks are those which include the vocals of Nightwish's very own Marco Hietala. Maybe it's just my inner Nightwish fangirl talking, but I think his voice complements hers well, and adds new depth to the songs. To see what I mean, check out the brilliant Control the Storm.
Control the Storm, April Rain, Stay Forever, Start Swimming, Nothing Left
April Rain on Amazon UK.
This album marks the full transformation of Sirenia from Gothic to symphonic, and also the debut of Sirenia's current singer, Ailyn. Her strong Spanish accent can be hard to get past, but she sings well enough. Some tracks, like Winterborn 77 and The Seventh Summer sound very personal to Morten and this makes them quite intense to listen to. Others, such as Sirens of the Seven Seas, feel more like the band having fun. Unfortunately, it feels in parts like the album has a slight over-reliance on the choir - who sound great, but it is hard to get a feel for some of the songs when the chorus is entirely in Latin.
Winterborn 77, The Path To Decay, The Seventh Summer, The Mind Maelstrom, Lost in Life
The 13th Floor on Amazon UK.
12. Wishmaster - Nightwish (2000)
Now, in my opinion, Wishmaster was the album where Nightwish finally crossed the threshold from average to awesome. It is probably the most power metal record in Nightwish's catalogue - the titular track is so epic that you feel like you should be quaffing mead and slaying dragons whilst listening to it. There are two quite unexpected successes on the album as well. FantasMic is an eight minute long song about Disney films, but it somehow manages to be amazing; while Sleepwalker is an electro-ballad that the band tried to enter into Eurovision (and failed, thank goodness) but again, it's a brilliant track.
Wishmaster, The Kinslayer, FantasMic, Sleepwalker, Dead Boy's Poem
Wishmaster on Amazon UK.
This is Leaves' Eyes second album, and it tells the story of Viking Leif Erikson's discover of Vinland, a.k.a. Newfoundland, a.k.a. Canada. It works very well, especially if you're a fan of Norse history and mythology (which I actually am. It's pretty much impossible to be a Neil Gaiman lover without knowing some). Liv Kristine's voice is Kristal clear (oh god, sorry) and her husband Alexander Krull provides some contrast with death growls. Liv's previous band, Theatre of Tragedy, are often credited with pioneering this style of vocals, usually referred to as 'Beauty and the Beast'.
Elegy, Farewell Proud Men, New Found Land, Solemn Sea, The Thorn
Vinland Saga on Amazon UK.
This album loosely follows the concept of the story Faust (or Eric, if you're a Pratchett fan). Opening track March of Mephisto features Dimmu Borgir's Shagrath as Mephisto (a.k.a. Satan), a pretty excellent casting choice. The song kicks this excellent album off with a bang. There are a whole host of good tracks, all following the story line. These include the beautiful The Haunting (Somewhere In Time) featuring Simone Simons. This is quite surprising really, given that The Black Halo was the album following Epica - the very same that gave its name to Simone's band.
March of Mephisto, The Haunting (Somewhere In Time), When the Lights Are Down, Soul Society, Abandoned
The Black Halo on Amazon UK.
9. The Silent Force - Within Temptation (2004)
WT's second album was what really established them in the symphonic rock genre. It was a commercial success in many European countries, and saw WT's return to a more gothic sound and appearance. There is a lot of sadness throughout the album, with songs like Pale, Memories and Somewhere filled with a haunting longing. Elsewhere though, the album gets more uplifting, particularly with opening track See Who I Am and the rather amusing Aquarius (well, I find it amusing. Maybe I'm strange. But it's basically about Sharon being in love with a sea God, who is apparently a bit salty.)
Angels, Stand My Ground, Jillian (I'd Give My Heart), Forsaken, See Who I Am
The Silent Force on Amazon UK.
Tarja's debut solo album is a real cinematic affair. Each song flows beautifully into the next across the whole of its 18 tracks (some of which are short 'intro' tracks). I have to admit that I didn't like the album at first, but it is a real grower - after a few listens I was in love with it. The album seems to divide opinions greatly, and I have seen reviews ranging from one star to ten stars. If you're struggling with it, my advice is to give it a few more listens, all the way through. The symphonic element is expertly done, and you can hear the real beauty of Tarja's voice on ballads like The Reign and her own composition, Oasis.
Lost Northern Star, I Walk Alone, The Reign, Oasis, My Little Phoenix
My Winter Storm (Special UK Edition) on Amazon UK.
Century Child marks the debut of everyone's favourite beardy bassist, Marco Hietala. His singing kicks in on Dead to the World, and really brings a new dimension to Nightwish's sound. This album has a much more orchestral and ethereal feel than Wishmaster, and songs like Bless the Child bring the ghostly beauty while End of All Hope throws in a bit of power metal. One thing that bugs me about this album is the talking parts, done by Sam Hardwick (former Dead Boy and now presumably playing the 'annoying voiced man'). Beauty of the Beast is such an epic song that it deserved a better ending than just talking.
Beauty of the Beast, Ever Dream, Bless the Child, End of All Hope, Phantom of the Opera
Century Child on Amazon UK.
This is the album that really got me into symphonic rock/metal. It pushed WT into the mainstream, and the album achieved modest commercial success worldwide (it went Platinum in WT's home country, the Netherlands, selling over 1 million copies). Don't be put off if you're one of those people who hates anything popular, though - it's a great album. There's hints of heavyness on songs like Final Destination and Hand of Sorrow, but Sharon's voice and the orchestration are so beautiful on every track that I honestly couldn't give a damn how heavy the music is. Check out the gorgeous All I Need and Forgiven to see what I mean.
The Heart of Everything, Final Destination, Hand of Sorrow, All I Need, The Howling
The Heart of Everything on Amazon UK.
Does anyone else get the feeling that Epica are trying to sell more albums by putting naked Simone on the front? Anyway, The Divine Conspiracy is a truly epic album, unsurprisingly. Mark Jansen finally concludes The Embrace That Smothers story with the ridiculously awesome Fools of Damnation (I make no secret of it being my favourite Epica song). Another highlight is the perfect Chasing the Dragon, a song about heroin addiction.
P.S. Apparently the special edition has a cover of Fear Factory's Replica on it - heard it on YouTube and it's amazing! If anyone could send it to me/show me where to buy it, it would be great.
Fools of Damnation, Chasing the Dragon, The Divine Conspiracy, The Obsessive Devotion, Sancta Terra
The Divine Conspiracy on Amazon UK.
Hey look, it's Epica again! Not surprising really, because their albums are consistently top quality. This album is no exception, and the band expertly blend symphonic elements with heavy beats and death growls. This is most evident on the incredible Kingdom of Heaven (part of the A New Age Dawns saga), a 13-minute masterpiece. For those who like things a little more chilled, check out White Waters, Simone's gorgeous duet with Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica. If you fancy a bit of a laugh, check out the video for Unleashed. The song is amazing; the video makes little sense. And has Simone dressed as some kind of ghost nurse.
Kingdom of Heaven, Martyr of the Free Word, Unleashed, Design Your Universe, White Waters
Design Your Universe on Amazon UK.
I'm going to admit something that will probably make a lot of people want to stab me: I'm an Anette fan. I don't think she's as good as Tarja, but I still like her. And I thought Dark Passion Play was an excellent album. So there. Opening track The Poet and the Pendulum is proof that Nightwish have still got it, and despite a few dud tracks on the album (Meadows of Heaven makes me kinda sleepy) there is great selection of songs. These range from folky goodness (The Islander, Last of the Wilds) to traditional Nightwish fantasy pieces (Sahara, Whoever Brings the Night). Also, if you can, get hold of bonus track Escapist - it's incredible.
The Poet & The Pendulum, Amaranth, Sahara, 7 Days to the Wolves, Master Passion Greed
Dark Passion Play on Amazon UK.
Honestly, I found it almost impossible to choose between the last three Epica albums. Because, frankly, they're all bloody brilliant. So this one is up at the top for one quite arbitrary reason: it's really hard to get hold of. Therefore, I'm going to urge you to try and get a copy if you haven't already. It is perhaps a bit more orchestral and a little less metal than the others, but that it is by no means a bad thing. The opening 3 parts of the A New Age Dawns saga are awesome - in fact, every single track is awesome! Epica really came into their own with this album, and it's such a shame that it doesn't seem to be for sale any more.
Another Me, The Last Crusade, Blank Infinity, Mother of Light, Consign to Oblivion
Consign to Oblivion on Amazon UK. (It's rare!)
And finally... the number one album you NEED to hear is....
Yes, it's Nightwish's fifth and final album with Tarja, a.k.a. the best album ever. Well, according to me. From the storming opener Dark Chest of Wonders to the haunting strains of the final song, Higher than Hope (and the bonus tracks if you're that way inclined), the album is consistently perfect. Tracks like Planet Hell and Wish I Had An Angel are raucous and good fun, while Creek Mary's Blood and the Finnish ballad Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan are heartbreaking. Yet by far the stand-out song for me is Ghost Love Score. Here Nightwish use the London Philharmonic Orchestra to incredible effect. All in all, a truly unmissable album.
Ghost Love Score, Nemo, Dark Chest of Wonders, Higher than Hope, Romanticide
Once on Amazon UK.
So that's it, my Top 20 symphonic metal albums! Do you disagree? Have I missed the some of the best albums ever? Let me know in the comments. :-)
By the way, I felt like I couldn't include Epica's Classical Conspiracy because it is technically a live album and contains many of the tracks that already appear on their albums. However, it is awesome, and if you like classical music/film scores/symphonic metal then it is a must-have.
Notes about the buying links:
- I have linked to normal editions only. You will have to search around if you want special editions/digipacks etc.!
- I apologise for only linking to Amazon UK and USA, but it's pretty hard to do every country. :P
All the album cover art pictures belong to the respective bands and record labels, and are only used here for illustration purposes.