BEHEMOTH: PANDEMONIC INCANTATIONS
This album found Behemoth at a crossroads. For years, Behemoth was an underground black metal band out of Poland. However, this album found Behemoth adding more and more death metal influences to their sound. The same death metal influences that would later come to define their sound. Behemoth was still mostly a black metal band, but their sound was undergoing changes. This is a very powerful and aggressive album, and is one of the better albums by the band.
BLIND GUARDIAN: NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH
This album is a concept album covering J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Silmarillion". I am not a Tolkien expert by any means so I have no idea of the accuracy of the story, but Blind Guardian does a masterful job of spinning an epic tale. There are short spoken interludes between several of the songs which are meant to further the story along. Such interludes are helpful. Otherwise, this is typical epic power metal by a band that has forged an amazing career at it.
BOLT THROWER: MERCENARY
A comeback album of sorts by Bolt Thrower. This is the first album after Karl Willetts returned. In the meantime, Bolt Thrower had done a few tours with other vocalists, such as Martin Van Drunen. However, the band never released an album with another singer. This is fairly typical Bolt Thrower output, fantastic old school death metal. This album does include one of the band's best songs, the anthemic " No Guts, No Glory".
DEATH: THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE
Of course this album was going to make it on here. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. Death's swansong is an amazing slab of progressive death metal. Chuck Schuldiner did a masterful job of songwriting on this release. The album completely transcends the death metal genre to become a certifiable work of art. Schuldiner's riffs, song structures, and lyrics are completely without par. Unfortunately, this was the band's final album.
ICED EARTH: SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
Iced Earth, the amazing power/thrash metal band from the United States, had been around for nearly fifteen years by this point, but this is their first truly great album, in my opinion. All of the elements seemed to come together on this release. Jon Schaefer's riffs have always been the focal point in the band, but Matt Barlow's vocals really shine through on this album. The songwriting is also very strong on this album, and it featured the prelude to the Something Wicked concept in the final three songs.
Honorable Mentions: Cradle of Filth: Cruelty and the Beast; Fear Factory: Obsolete; Hammerfall: Legacy of Kings; Metallica: Garage Inc.; Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse; Slayer: Diabolus in Musicana
Bands that Formed in 1998: Chimaira, Tyr