Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Music of 2012

Note: Usually I have written this on Facebook, but that was before this blog existed. If you want to see my lists from 2009, 2010 and 2011 then go look there :)

2012 has been another great year for new releases. Do not let the press tell you otherwise, as I bought well over 40 albums that were released this year, and enjoyed most of them hugely. As always, it has been very hard to narrow down 2012's albums into a top 10, let alone in any sort of order. I have left this as long as possible because there were a few late albums I wanted to listen to first before writing this. Such has been the diversity of the albums to choose from, that if I wrote this next week the odds are that it would be totally different. However, I think this is a fair representation of my musical tastes of 2012, and what has been circulating around my iPod the most. As always, only studio albums of new material count; so live albums, EPs and acoustic re-records don't count. So here are my top 10 albums of 2012:

10) Lynyrd Skynyrd - Last of a Dyin' Breed
The veteran southern rockers seem to be having a bit of a resurgence of late. Their last album God & Guns was excellent and they have followed it up with another collection of hard rocking songs. Featuring more of a bluesy overtone than some of their previous work, this album contains some real belters - none more so than the title track which features their signature triple guitar attack and plenty of delta-style slide. There is a good balance between the rockers and heartfelt ballads to create an album which does not really add anything new to the Skynyrd legacy but is hugely enjoyable none the less.
Listen to: Last of a Dyin' Breed, Homegrown & Life's Twisted

9) Panic Room - Skin
This is the hard working Welsh band's third album and it continues to build upon the musical palette created by their first couple of albums. This is their most dynamic release yet and sees the band pushing beyond genre boundaries and creating something special. There is something for everyone here with real rockers mixed with jazzy-prog epics and more delicate acoustic numbers. Frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder sounds better than ever here and her voice and performance is the icing on the musical cake, proving that she is a real rising star in the business. However, I do feel that there is prehaps too much variety as the album fails to sit with me as a coherant whole. Never the less, this an excellent collection of songs and the band are destined for much more!
Listen to: Song for Tomorrow, Screens & Hiding the World

8) Delain - We are the Others
Symphonic metal maybe slowly fading in the public's conscious, but that does not stop one of the genre's up and coming stars from releasing their best album yet. After fighting with their label for months to get it release, Delain's third album impressed from the off. This album focuses on songwriting and tight melodies rather than any flashy showboating and benefits hugely from it. The pop-influenced choruses mixed with crushing guitars and soaring keyboards is a mix from heaven and the songs benefit from a gorgeous, warm production which really enhances the melodies. Current metal pin-up Charlotte Wessels really excels herself here, and I hope that this is Delain's moment to shine.
Listen to: We are the Others, Generation Me & Babylon

7) Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Ascension
Coheed and Cambria have always divided opinion in the rock/metal community but with their sixth album being so strong, I would not be surprised for this to change. This is easily their most focused collection of songs yet, with each one dripping with melody and retrained virtuosity. Being the first part of a double album, it is rather short compared to their other albums but it means I have been able to really digest the songs. Claudio Sanchez has matured as a songwriter and his voice is still as unique and powerful as ever. Musically, it is much simpler and less bloated than their previous albums - a real step forward for them. I look forward to their second part, Decension, next year!
Listen to: Domino the Destitue, Goodnight, Fair Lady & Holly Wood the Cracked

6) Sabaton - Carolus Rex
While 2012 has largely been disappointing for power metal, Sabaton's concept album about King Charles XII of Sweden is a real gem of an album. Again, it does not really bring anything new to their sound but it seems to flow better than their previous albums and really needs to be viewed as a whole rather than just listening to individual songs. It is proudly overblown and pompus but that is, in my opinion, it's greatest achievement. Sabaton have always been about having fun and this is nothing more than a great fun album despite it's historical concept. I defy anyone to listen to this album and not have most of it stuck in their head by the end of it, fit for a King indeed! It is also avaliable with Swedish lyrics for those who fancy something a bit different
Listen to: Gott Mit Uns, Carolus Rex & Long Live the King

5) Mostly Autumn - The Ghost Moon Orchestra
The second album featuring Olivia Sparnenn on lead vocals, this album is a step up from their last album Go Well Diamond Heart. It is a refinement of their already well-honed style rather than anything drastically different but this diverse collection of songs is a winner. Having said that, this really is their 'rock' album with plenty of big choruses, guitar solos and hammond organ. Sparnenn's vocals are outstanding here and Bryan Josh has written some of his best songs yet. The final three songs, starting with the epic Tennyson Mansion and ending with the melancholy Top of the World is as an emotional climax as you will ever find on any album and it is a real achievement.
Listen to: Unquiet Tears, Drops of the Sun & Top of the World

4) Europe - Bag of Bones
Once one of the forerunners of the hair metal genre, Europe have gracefully matured over the last decade and have taken on a new lease of life. Bag of Bones is the end result of all this and the raw production, big organ sounds and bluesy guitar solos create images of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Europe have not forgotten how to write catchy tunes though, and this album is packed full of melody and fun. It is probably their heaviest album yet and also their most consistent and fluid. Those who believe that Europe are only about The Final Countdown should give this a go, it sounds nothing like that at all! There is even some guest guitar by Joe Bonamassa on the title track.
Listen to: Not Supposed to Sing the Blues, Demon Head & Doghouse

3) Marillion - Sounds That Can't be Made
It was four years since Marillion last released an album but it was worth the wait as Sounds That Can't be Made is a delight to listen to from start to finish. Opening with a 17minute song is always brave (pun not intended) but Gaza stands up so well and really makes a bold statement from the off. It is a microcosm for the album with dense instrumental sections, soaring trademark vocals from Steve Hogarth and amazing guitar work from Steve Rothery mixing beautifully to create what I consider to be their best album since Afraid of Sunlight. It breaks new ground for the band, yet also looks to the past - Mark Kelly's keyboards have not sounded this good since the early 90s! It is a long album, but one that deserves repeated listens to really uncover all the secrets buried in the meandering and adventurous song.
Listen to: Gaza, Power & Montréal

2) Kamelot - Silverthorn
When frontman Roy Khan left the band last year, many feared the worst for the American metal band. However, when Seventh Wonder's Tommy Karevik was annouced as his replacement I knew that they would be safe. While Silverthorn heralds no great change in style, it is packed full of so many excellent songs that it does not matter. Karevik has a similar voice to Khan but he is no clone, and has brought his own style to the vocal melodies and overall sound of the band (ballad Song for Jolee could have been a Seventh Wonder song). While all the talk has been about Karevik, for me this is keyboardist Oliver Palotai's defining glory. His keyboard solos and orchestrations are sublime and his full involvement in the songwriting shows. A real joy to listen to!
Listen to: Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife), Song for Jolee & My Confession

1) Threshold - March of Progress
This is a really special album, and I have known for a good few months now that this would be my album of the year. It sees the return of original vocalist Damian Wilson and the addition of second guitarist Pete Morten who has brought two of the albums best songs with him! There are few progressive bands who can merge technical virtuosity and great songwriting with accessibility and infectious melodies. It is a triumph, there is no doubt of this. It seems foolish to try and pick out highlights because all of the songs are stellar but opener Ashes has possibly the best chorus written over the last few years. This album takes the best of their previous few releases and puts it all together in an unbeatable album full of vision and class.
Listen to: Ashes, Return of the Thought Police & Coda

Despite the fact these are what I think are the best albums this year, it really is only a snapshot of my musical year! There plenty of great albums that could have easily made the cut, but these ones were the ones I felt connected to the most. Other albums I could have chosen were Broken Bones by veteran rockers Dokken, the excellent Adventures in Neverland by a new-look The Reasoning and Slash's Apocalyptic Love might have been included if I had more time with it. There were also a couple of great debut albums from Sankara and theFALLEN, both of whom will hopefully have great futures ahead of them.

Top 3 gigs of 2012:

3) Europe, Rock City, 27/11/2012
Swedish rockers Europe played to a packed Rock City crowd and nearly took the roof off the place! With a setlist that looked forward rather than rest on past glories, 6 songs from new album Bag of Bones were present, they really impressed. They rocked hard, and an encore performance of The Final Countdown had everyone singing along.

2) Lynyrd Skynyrd, HMV Hammersmith Apollo, 03/06/2012
The sold out Hammersmith Apollo welcomed Lynyrd Skynyrd like old friends and the party atmosphere never let up during a set crammed full of hits. Southern rock music is always great live and these guys are the masters of the genre, mixing stone cold classics like Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird with newer songs like Skynyrd Nation. An excellent night with one of the best rock bands out there.

1) Guns N' Roses, Capital FM Arena, 19/05/2012
It really does not get any better than this. Easily the best show I have ever been to and I hope it is not long before they come back to the UK. They played for nearly 3 hours and mixed songs from the excellent Chinese Democracy album with plenty of fantastic oldies. It is easy to see why they are often regarded as one of the best rock bands of all time!


  1. Need to pick up the Threshold album. Got all their ealier ones, but passed on this initially because I felt the last few were a bit samey.

  2. You can do a lot worse than pick it up! Have you ever seen them live?