Thursday, 25 December 2014

My top 50 melodic albums for 2014

It's list time again. As usual I will be doing three separate lists. The first and what I consider the most important list is my top 50 melodic albums for this year. The thrash and death lists will follow in due course. I might add the albums below the top 50 in time as I surely like a heck of a lot more but we need a top 50 for this post in any case.

50. Elvenking - The Pagan Manifesto.
The first Elvenking album I have ever liked. Good stuff if you like your power metal folky and earthy with robust epic melodies.

49. Lords Of Black - st
Heavy Italian power metal from outta nowhere. Cool tunes everywhere with nice powerful vocals.

48. Boguslaw Balcerak's Crylord - Gates Of Valhalla
Polish dude goes all Yngwie on us with good results helped no doubt by vocals from Mark Boals. Good, solid and melodic songwriting always helps too.

47. Twilight Force - Tales of Ancient Prophecies
Unknown Swedish melodic power metal with strong Helloween influence. Vocals traverse the stratosphere on occasion but the songwriting remains sporadically excellent.

46. Amberian Dawn - Magic Forest
New female singer and less symphonic AD but no less song writing skills thankfully and a wonderful production to boot.

45. Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon
Definitely not as immediate as Dystopia but I grew to love the power of the album. Definitely one of Schaffer's heaviest and angriest works. Maybe try to bring more melody next time?

44. Brother Firetribe - Diamond In The Firepit
I should have placed this higher but alas space was at a premium. Finnish AOR troops deliver the melodic goods as usual with much grace and pomp.

43. Gamma Ray - Empire Of The Undead
What can one say about Kai Hansen. The guy is a legend no doubt. Even if the GR album isn't something totally spectacular and amazing it is still a must for

any fan of the genre.

42. Winterstorm - Cathyron  
German unknowns deliver the goods on their second album. It's a shame they are not better known in Europe as they have a knack for brilliant symphonic power

metal with choirs galore.
41. Angels of Kings - Kings of Nowhere
Debut UK AOR band deliver the goods and then some. Coming across as mix between Harem Scarem and other UK stalwarts like Ten and Dare. The songwriting is top

notch as are the vocals. Hope they continue onwards and upwards.

40. Edgedown - Statues Fall
Yet another newcomer band from Germany with young members delivering classy melodic power metal with big vocals. Plus they bring the tunes so you can't go

too far wrong there.

39. Edguy - Space Police - Defenders Of The Crown
Edguy won me back with this release. Not saying their last few were that bad but they just didn't hit the melodic sweet spot so to speak but this one brings

me back to a little of the Theater of Salvation era. A definitely positive result from Toby and co.

38. Ancient Bards - A New Dawn Ending
Italian symphonic power metal band deliver a pretty spectacular album with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. If you enjoy the dramatic aspects of

power metal then this band is for you!

37. Freedom Call - Beyond
Another band who lost me but gained me back with this release. This maybe a bit controversial but this could be the best FC album ever! The melodies start to

worm their way into your brain soon enough and your sword is soon raised high!

36. Neonfly - Strangers in Paradise
UK melodic power metal come melodic rockers deliver a superb second record with a wonderful array of styles. Sometimes power and a little progressive and

sometimes AORish. An ambitious work indeed!

35. Crystal Eyes - Killer
I adored the first two albums from these guys and since then they've been good but not great and even the album with the great Daniel Heiman wasn't all that

but now the original singer is back and they've nailed it again. Their best album since the debut signed, sealed and delivered!

34. Galneryus - Vetelgyus
My fave Japanese power metal band ever deliver what I expected. A spectacularly produced melodic shred metal album. Basically they are Dragonforce Japanese

style. New singer Sho produces a superb performance behind the mic, my only wish is he had more confidence to sing completely in English and gain the band a

far wider audience.
33. Hammerfall - (r)Evolution
Hammerfall is back! They got over the dark period and returned to glory, letting the hammer fall mightily once again!

32. Salamandra - Imperatus.
A bloody Czech band in my top 50? Surely some mistake but by golly it's true. These guys delivered a super melodic power metal album with hymns galore in the Helloween style and a surprisingly great vocal performance from the Czech dude. Is he really a Czech dude I wonder?
31. Monument - Renegades
One of if not the best UK Maiden worship band deliver a really awesome throwback album. Take the energy and feel of the first 4 Maiden records and wrap them

up in modern crisp sound with air raid siren vocals on top and you have the perfect combo for classic metal. They deserve to be far bigger than they are

though I'm not sure they'll make it to be honest. Great try though!

30. State Of Salazar - All The Way
Another new AOR band deliver a superb debut album of light and fluffy tunes to please the ear for hours and hours. The singer especially is a real find. That guy can sing and sing and sing till the cows come home and I wouldn't get tired.

29. Overland - Epic
I love Steve Overland's epic soulful voice and his similarly titled solo album is much better than his day job in FM in my opinion. It's more melodic and the backing music is superbly colourful and a joyous ride on a lazy summer day.

28. Sonic Station - Next Stop.
The debut was good but very light but this is something altogether more special. The singer has a superb crystal clear voice and they've beefed up the production no end. Perfect music for those hot summer months to laze around and be happy to!
27. Grand Design - Thrill of the Night
The world's numero uno Def Leppard worship band. The thing is I like this band more than I ever liked Leppard! The production values on this thing are totally amazing. I'm sure they've used every studio knob and trick in the book to make the album sound this good and they're not a big band by any means. The
vocalist's high pitched wail might turn some people off but I've gotten used to him and I enjoy the songs immensely.

26. Bloodbound - Stormborn
Their last album was ok but it wasn't all that really. It was trying a bit too hard and it wasn't coming too natural but this time the metal cheese flows much easier and the band sounds in superb form from singer to drummer and all things in between. The songwriting has also got a strong whiff of Sabaton about it. This may irk many who shout copy but I could care less. If the songs are good I'm as happy as a pig in shit!

25. Savage Messiah - The Fateful Dark
Are they thrash or power. They definitely used to be very thrash but I think they've sort of moved on a little bit to a thrashy shredding power metal hybrid with majestic epic choruses to boot. Front man Dave Silver sounds much more confident in his melodic vocals. The guitars in this band will surely impress the hardest of critics that's for sure and their song writing is at a top level. Next album will no doubt be even more melodic than this one.

24. Audrey Horne - Pure Heavy
For some reason I never got into AH's last album. It was ok but the songs never really clicked with me but when I heard the lead single Out of the City from this album I was clean blown away. It was so melodic and catchy that I was desperate to hear the rest and I wasn't disappointed in the least. The other tunes still had wickedly catchy melodic choruses and wonderfully fluid Lizzyesque guitars. These guys deserve to be much bigger and they could be chart botherers if people gave rock music a chance but alas I know they won't.

23. Unisonic - Light Of Dawn
I liked the first Unisonic album a lot but this is an improvement in every dept. Much heavier and a crisper production with better and more epic songwriting. Maybe Kai saved the best tunes for Micki this time!

22. Noble Beast - st
This US band took me by real surprise when I first heard them on youtube. I love theatrical, epic vocals and by jove this dude had that and then some. The guy sings in a low baritone like he's the lead in a west end musical or something. To top it all off the band done a remarkable Falconer impression musically speaking. So much so that the real thing's album whilst good didn't make this list whilst the copy did!

21. Arion - Last Of Us
A bunch of Finnish youngsters with an impossibly good album for a debut. The sky is the limit from here as far as symphonic power metal goes. As it stands this debut showcases their phenomenal talent perfectly. The singer probably needs to be a touch more confident in his own abilities to take them to the next level of European power metal bands.

20. Voyager - V
Aussie melodic progsters deliver the kind of hooks that I need in my prog. In fact the less proggy it is the more I like it and Voyager definitely focus on melody first and foremost. The massive production also pleases the ears immensely.

19. Free Spirit - All The Shades Of Darkened Light
I loved the debut from this unheralded Finnish AOR band and the follow up is probably even a bit better. The songs are a little heavier and still very catchy and melodic. Any AOR fan will be happy with this album.

18. Ten - Albion
Since they came back they've released two very solid albums but I think Gary Hughes just surpassed himself this time. The production is also the best it has ever been. Gary is one of the best storytelling song writers the melodic rock field has ever known. The guy just knows how to spin a yarn and mix it up with epic melodic rock as backing.

17. Threshold - For The Journey
Like I said I need my prog with actual songs and Threshold is just about the best in the business when it comes to songwriting. Damian Wilson owns this disk as well with his majestic performance behind the mic. Amazing live act too.

16. Seven - 7
An unknown band that never made it the first time round returns to deliver one of the classiest slabs of AOR goodness available this year. The original songs have been hanging around for years but they've been recorded with today's technology and thankfully the album sounds like a million dollars. The songs are
very strong and feature awesome choruses in every single one more or less. If you are a fan of old Foreigner or classic AOR in general then you need Seven in your player.

15. Wolf - Devil Seed
Believe it or not it actually took me about 3-4 plays before I realised this fucking kicked ass. I don't know if I was in a bad mood or had my ears on back to front but I wasn't feeling the songs and melodies at first but then suddenly things started to kick into gear and then some. I loved Shark Attack from the get go but the other songs took a while to warm me up but once they did that was it. Nothing but Wolf for weeks!

14. Astral Doors - Notes From The Shadows
I have loved this band from the very beginning and I continue to love them. Maybe less than the early days when they used to pierce my top 10 regularly but I think this latest offering is about as good as one can expect from these guys after so many albums. They tried their best to make the songs as catchy as possible and in that they succeeded and with a singer like NPJ in your ranks you just cut him loose and let him belt out the hymns which he does with much grit and glory!

13. Night Mistress - Into The Madness
An unknown Polish band comes up out of the blue with a superbly slick melodic heavy metal album very much in the vein of Bruce Dickinson's solo works. The guitar style is quite similar as is the sense of melody that the singer has. His voice is close to Bruce but not completely similar either so that you can still distinguish between the two. The songwriting is above average throughout though there are stand out tracks as well. But for a Polish band with no name in the wider metal community, they have really outdone themselves and it bodes well for a follow up.

12. Primal Fear - Delivering the Black
The German stalwarts keep delivering the goods! I think these days with PF every one knows how the album is going to sound. It's going to sound big and bold. Some songs will pound, others will scream and the odd one will caress. It's all about how you like the songs and in Delivering the Black they definitely hit their stride to produce something to be proud of and one of their best and most melodic albums. Oh and Ralf is just the king of metal vocals these days!
11. Dragonforce - Maximum Overload
The band that most people love to hate but the fans love to love and continue to love and not give a fuck about what the haters think. OK so this is the second album with Marc Hudson and he's made me forget about ZP now. His vocals are a perfect fit for the band and he turns in his best performance yet. The production is also the heaviest and thickest it's ever been. The video gamey sound is really not that prevalent at all. Sure they still write quite fast and their mid pace is still probably most people's uptempo but they never forget about the actual song. The choruses on the new songs are some of their best ever and they have a large catalogue of brilliant ones so credit to them for making probably their best album ever.

10. Riot V - Unleash The Fire
Riot is a band I've pretty much let pass me by in the past. I've liked various songs and albums from the past. I remember liking the Mike DiMeo album of the past but I think the new Riot or Riot V album may be my fave Riot album ever. Probably sacrilege to most but older Riot never hit me as being something orgasmic or legendary but heck I enjoyed this new effort a great deal. Mainly thanks to the new singer's awesome voice. Is he new even? Anyway this guy is just a wicked high pitched yet melodic singer and I like the fact that they didn't forget to write memorable choruses as almost every single song has one. I hope this incarnation continues to deliver more albums of this magnitude.
09. Crosswind - Vicious Dominion
This band came from the proverbial blue to shatter my peace one fine day with their incendiary and heavy melodic take on power metal. The singer especially hit me like a ton of bricks with his melodic yet extremely sharp, soaring voice which effortlessly took centre stage above the clatter and blood spatter of the mayhem going on around him. The guy is probably the best power metal singer I've heard this year bar none. He could have been the new Lost Horizon singer, he's that good IMO. He holds the songs together with his powerful pipes and belts out some spectacularly invigorating choruses whilst his band mates create a whirlwind of power behind. One for the fans of heaviness in power metal!

08. Sabaton - Heroes
Ah my heroes. For they truly are heroes themselves. Sure they've been going to that well seven times now but the well hasn't run dry even yet. The Swedish war machine may not be every ones cuppa but their popularity grows and grows and I don't see it slowing down any time soon. Heroes maybe a very safe album for them but I don't think experimentation and Sabaton really go hand in hand. Maybe try a couple of more epic tunes next time guys just to spice it up a little and don't forget - heroes never die!
07. Within Temptation - Hydra
Is this the best Within Temptation album? I don't know but it's definitely the album that they needed to make. It's got more of everything that the band is known for but it's all been multiplied by a thousand or whatever number you like. Sharon's vocals are the best they have ever been. The rap song is a slight "...ehhh well whatever" moment but the actual song itself is not that bad. The rest of the album sees the band at their very best. This could be a bold statement but probably the biggest European female fronted metal band ahead of Nightwish now. Over to you Mr. H!

06. Stormwarrior - Thunder & Steele  
This was my number one album of this year for a very long time but I decided to drop it down a few places towards the end of the year as I felt other releases had gained preference over it. The album is still a corker of Teutonic German power metal ala Running WIld. There is no hint of a filler track on this album. The singer may not be a technically good singer but his voice is perfect for the band in the sense that Rock n Rolf is perfect for Running Wild. Sacred Blade is one of my favourite songs of the year but on another day it will be something else from this awesome album.
05. Iron Savior - Rise Of The Hero
The previous comeback album (The Landing) from Piet and co was good but Rise of the Hero blows it clean out of the water This is a wickedly catchy heavy metal record up with their best album which I consider to be Unification. The production is thick, loud and screaming and Piet's characteristic vocals are fully maximised to the fore. These are the kind of melodic anthems which I simply love when I'm listening to power metal and Iron Savior are a class apart when it comes to anthems!
04. Kobra And The Lotus - High Priestess
Kobra where have you been all my life and why have I ignored you all this time? OK I didn't ignore them or her completely but their previous album didn't really strike much of a chord with me. But Goddamn High Priestess has remedied this impasse and then some. I completely adore Kobra's voice now. I don't
quite know what it is about her I like so much. She's just got a beautiful way of singing and she enunciates so clearly. I really like to be able to understand lyrics and with many European power metal singers that's nigh on impossible but with singers like Kobra that's not a problem in the slightest. Her band mates have delivered her a classic heavy metal backing with which to weave her magic and every song on High Priestess is a gem make no mistake. The only slight quibble I have is that the production is a bit up and down and could have used a little more heavier guitars. If they sort that out next time and maintain the songwriting skills then that will be one spectacular heavy metal record. Mind you it's going to very difficult to top High Priestess as it is.            
03. Allen-Lande - The Great Divide
Wow the best Allen/Lande album by a country mile! Not that the others weren't good but this is beyond good. It's really something that these two legends of the mic both turn in amazing performances although I just feel Jorn wins this battle or maybe I just like his voice a little more than Russell's. Either way huge credit must go to much maligned Mr Tolkki for not fucking this up like he did his own solo album. We salute you sir for thankfully making this sound good and not shitty. To top it all off the songwriting is very good indeed. I think he wrote most of the songs with Jorn in mind more hence his songs sound just that little bit stronger than Mr. Allen's. Either way the fans win with this masterpiece, one of Tolkki's best recent projects by a long long way. I actually wouldn't mind if Tolkki worked with Jorn on his next solo cd after the Dracula thingy which is coming out soon in 2015.
02. Dynazty - Renatus
From glam metal and rock to modern shiny melodic power metal sheen! Quite a jump and a big leap of faith but wow was it worth it in the end. Sure they will lose a few fans along the way but damn they'll have gained a whole heap more. This really is a spectacular release that hits you like a ton of bricks from the get go. I actually liked both styles of the band so this style change whilst surprising only turned me on to the band even more. The songwriting approach changed with riffs being blistering and faster with a huge melodic edge still in tact. To go with that musical the singer also had to up his game and boy did he do that. The guy literally turns in a phenomenal performance. He doesn't have say the power of a Ralf or the Greek guy from Crosswind but he has an awesome melodic edge and tone to his voice that bring the songs to life. And what songs they are. Incredibly memorable, engaging and hummable long after the song has ended. I do wonder how the next album will turn out with these guys though. Will they pull a step back or will they forge ahead with this melodic modern metal path? We will see but for now Renatus is a fantastically awesome release in it's own right.
01. Work Of Art - Framework
Normally my number one album is likely to be a power metal or a heavy melodic rock album but this year my brain and ears where engulfed by the pure melodic joy that is Sweden's Work of Art. I must admit after the initial plays I thought the album was amazing but not better than In Progress their previous album. I would have probably placed it in the top 10-15 and loved it no less. However as time has gone by this album has been getting constant plays and I mean constant plays. Two or three times in a row in fact. I sometimes wonder what should I play next and I find myself thinking nah I won't play this or play that it's good but I'm bored of it. However with Framework this never happened at all. The urge to reach for it was constant and often. It's all mainly because of singer Lars Safsund. That guy makes me swoon. I still can't even believe his vocals are even real. I'd love to see WoA live one day and see if he can really song that clear and smooth in person. On record the guy is just like velvet candy being poured into your ears. The band is brought to life of course by the brilliant songwriting of Robert Sall. He works on a lot of Frontiers projects but it seems he always saves his best stuff for his own band the cheeky monkey! Not that I'm complaining as like I said this album is my album of the year by a country mile. There is not a single second of this that I find contrived or boring. Even the ballads will capture your heart. Of course it's not the ballads that I'm paying my money for, it's those uptempo swooning rockers and mid temp heart breakers that I'm on about. The best song on the album is the utterly mesmeric Shout Till You Wake Up. I don't know how they will ever top this release but I'm sure Lars and Robert will keep trying for their talent for mesmeric AOR is endless.

Stay tuned for more lists to come!            

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