Plenty of good albums this year, some not so good. Here’s my top 10 in ascending order:
10. Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
The first concept album for the Swedish vikings, Jomsviking is a diverse set of songs telling an original story of love, war and betrayal. Full of emotive and hard-hitting anthems that will become popular live staples, particularly “Raise Your Horns”.
9. Sabaton – The Last Stand
The Last Stand, a collection of songs about famous battles against the odds, sees Sabaton at their most exuberant. Epic and cinematic on one hand, direct and succinct on the other, songs like “Blood of Bannockburn” will get blood and fists pumping everywhere.
8. Grand Magus – Sword Songs
3rd successive Swedish band here (other nationalities are coming up, promise), Grand Magus live, breathe and eat metal and Sword Songs is another great, steel-plated example of this. Completely eschewing trends and sub-genres, the likes of “Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel” are among the most unadulterated metal anthems released this year.
7. Dream Theater – The Astonishing
Ambitious even by Dream Theater’s standards, The Astonishing is the quintessential “grower” album. 130 minutes, 34 tracks, 2 discs: several listens are required to fully appreciate this sprawling sci-fi concept album. Anchored by standout songs like “The Gift of Music” and “Our New World”, The Astonishing is ultimately one of the most engrossing prog rock albums of recent years.
6. Joe Bonamassa – Blues of Desperation
One of the most prolific artists of recent times, acclaimed blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa has moved away from cover versions on his more recent albums with Blues of Desperation solely containing self-penned material. He’s rarely sounded more impassioned, confident or technically brilliant, with the likes of “Mountain Climbing” and “Distant Lonesome Train” destined to become future classic of the blues canon.
5. Abbath – Abbath
Proving he doesn’t need his Immortal bandmates to make great music, one of black metal’s most enduring characters has crafted a great album of grim, frosty anthems. Abbath’s debut solo album is equal parts ferocious and epic, thanks to songs like “Ashes of the Damned” and “Root of the Mountain”; hopefully a sign of even greater things to come.
4. Black Stone Cherry – Kentucky
Following the lacklustre Magic Mountain, southern rockers Black Stone Cherry returned with arguably their strongest album to date this year. Hard-hitting, emotional and full of swagger, this is what 21st century hard rock should sound like. There’s no arguing with the likes of “Soul Machine” and a perfect cover of Edwin Starr’s “War”.
3. Avantasia – Ghostlights
Tobias Sammet’s most ambitious rock opera yet, the likes of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel lend their vocal talents here, alongside regular Avantasia collaborators like Jorn Lande and Michael Kiske. Each song is perfectly crafted; from the 12 minute epic “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” to the apocalyptic powerhouse “Lucifer”, Ghostlights is a masterpiece of symphonic, gothic theatre.
2. Gojira – Magma
A band I’ve not paid much attention to before, France’s Gojira have received a bit of stick from longterm fans for releasing an album with a somewhat more commercial sound than previous efforts. I however believe that Magma has the potential to be a Black Album for the 21st century; an accessible metal album that can appeal to mainstream rock fans whilst retaining the crushing heaviness and intricacy that have cemented Gojira’s reputation. “Silvera” and the title track are among the numerous highlights here.
1.Babymetal – Metal Resistance
No doubt a contentious choice, I can’t recall the last time a band divided the metal community so much. For my money though, this is a groundbreaking album; a seamless blend of eastern and western musical styles resulting in a strong set of songs from start to finish. “Karate”, “Meta Taro” and “The One” are among the highlights of an album that I for one will be listening to for years to come. I look forward to seeing what these young Japanese ladies come up with next.