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The Best Symphonic Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020

1.  Delain - Apocalypse & Chill 174
2.  Ad Infinitum - Chapter I: Monarchy 167
3.  Seven Spires - Emerald Seas 69
4.  Lorna Shore - Immortal 63
5.  Blackguard - Storm 46
6.  Nightwish - Human. :II: Nature. (write-in vote) 35
7.  Scardust - Strangers (write-in vote) 13
Total votes:

Founded by Melissa Bonny as an avenue for greater artistic freedom, Ad Infinitum reward fans that crowdfunded their early endeavors with a strong debut release in the form of Chapter I: Monarchy. Surrounded by rousing strings and delicate keyboards, the metal works in tandem with the symphonics rather than being overshadowed, with dense low-end chugs, double bass drum rolls and solid guitar solos, with the sound somewhat reminiscent of more recent Kamelot efforts instrumentally. Unsurprisingly given that the project was founded for this explicit purpose, Bonny is the star here, and the songs live and die on the quality of her vocals and vocal melodies; thankfully, she demonstrates why she is worthy of her own vehicle, delivering quality performances on every song to elevate the material here. Ad Infinitum have been busy, with an acoustic re-imagining of the album released near the end of 2020 and Bonny shaping up for a tour as a guest singer with Kamelot later in 2021 (Covid permitting), and symphonic fans are likely to be eager for that to translate into a second full-length in the near future based on the quality of this first outing.

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A lot of symphonic metal - most, really - comes to us by way of power metal, and the line that separates the two is often blurrier than most, if not totally conjectural. Rarer is the band, however, that applies its brass and choirs to a chassis of extreme power metal, exchanging the speed metal riffs for thrash ones, soaring vocals for gnarly shrieks, and ruffled blouses for war paint. Blackguard takes after Ensiferum a lot more than Nightwish, to the extent of incorporating traditional instrumentation and melodies from time to time as well; you can be assured of some medieval fantasy with a name like Blackguard, and correspondingly a name like Storm heralds a thundering rampage of high-velocity riffs, crushing crescendos, and bracing breakdowns. Every now and then, symphonic metal can go beyond the ballroom to seize the spirit of the frozen north (in this case, Canada rather than Finland), and that's where you'll find Blackguard plying their trade.

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No matter what you think of the Apocalypse & Chill's cover and the antithesis it is trying to highlight, the music of Delain's latest is hitting the nail on the head; it takes modern metal guitar hooks that sound surprisingly heavy at times and adorns them with keyboards and choral and symphonic elements in a very balanced manner. The album stays strong throughout its runtime, featuring its best material in the second half. Make sure to check out Charlotte's duet with Yannis Papadopoulos (Beast In Black) on "Vengeance", the super-heavy "Creatures" with its chorus nodding to Queen's "The Show Must Go On", the absolutely epic "Masters Of Destiny", and the djenty instrumental "Combustion".

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A number of bands within deathcore have shown ambition to push the confines of the genre, and on the back of Shadow Of Intent's inclusion in last year's edition of this category, Lorna Shore have also embraced the possibilities opened up by adding symphonic elements into the mix. Immortal was released under a cloud following the abuse allegations against and firing of vocalist CJ McCreery, but the remaining bandmates have strived to distance themselves from McCreery, and the quality of the album that they put out should help them continue on an upward trajectory. Perhaps even more so than Shadow Of Intent, the symphonics are put right at the front of the mix from the off, with the title track opening with piano, strings and choirs, and "Hollow Sentence" dominated by keys and chorals. At the same time, this is still based in deathcore (albeit with some blackened influences also included in the equation), as evidenced by the bludgeoning riffs and breakdowns (particularly on display midway through the title track) and vicious vocals. It makes for a marriage made in hell, and a stunning display of what can be accomplished by combining extreme and symphonic metal styles.

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Seven Spires is one of those rare cases where the vocalist is also the keyboardist, hence both parts of what makes this symphonic metal are due to Adrienne Cowan. I also had to check that it was her doing the harsh vocals as well. It is. Emerald Seas works as a prequel to the story from Solveig, which we nominated in this same category back in 2017. This one returns with even better production, performances, and songwriting. Filled with moments that go from piano ballads to speed metal to cheesy power metal to symphonic black metal, Emerald Seas is quite the voyage, even if you know how the story ends.

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