Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Music of 2013 - Part 2

Part 1 of this post, which I wrote yesterday, was a bit more of a general blog about music in 2013 but this is what everybody has been waiting for, my Top 10 albums of 2013! As usual, it was very hard to narrow the many excellent albums that I bought throughout the year down to just ten albums, but I think I have managed it. As always, only studio albums of new material count towards this list therefore live albums, compilations, EPs or any form of re-recorded/acoustic albums do not count. For more detailed information about each album, click on the album's title to be taken to my original review of it where you can read about it in more detail and watch a video that is relevant to it. Anyway, without further ado, here is my list:

10) Killswitch Engage - Disarm the Descent
One of the original, and best, metalcore bands came back in 2013 with their sixth album Disarm the Descent. Original frontman Jesse Leach returned to the band in 2012 and they have been on fire ever since. This album perfectly mixes the rawness of the early albums with Leach and the melodic sheen of the more recent ones featuring Howard Jones. The production is excellent and the songwriting is laden with hooks as always. This is heavy, yet accessible, music with plenty of soul and fight.
Listen to: Beyond the Flames, In Due Time & Always

9) Saxon - Sacrifice
Saxon have been pretty consistent throughout their career but their current run of form is particularly excellent. 2011's Call to Arms was much more varied than many of their albums and Sacrifice gets back to what the band does best - metal! This is easily the best traditional metal release of the year and Andy Sneap's production just makes everything seem much heavier. The riffs are great and the songs are anthemic, just like heavy metal should be! Biff Byford still has a very powerful voice despite being in the game for nearly 40 years now. This album rocks, seriously!
Listen to: Sacrifice, Made in Belfast & Night of the Wolf

8) Heaven's Basement - Filthy Empire
I first got into this band back in 2008 when their self-titled debut EP came out but I had to wait five years to hear their first full-length album! Luckily, it was worth the wait and what we got is an album full of attitude and energy. The youthful cockyness of the band is infectious and only helps with the album's enjoyability. Like the Saxon album, this is an album with very little fuss or tricks. They rely on their songwriting and riffs to make an impression and they have with many people. Heaven's Basement have been on tour almost constantly this year, supporting so many different bands, so I am glad that they are finally getting the exposure that they deserve.
Listen to: Nothing Left to Lose, Lights Out in London & Heartbreaking Son of a Bitch

7) Leaves' Eyes - Symphonies of the Night
The band's fifth album is probably their best work yet. The beauty and the beast vocal partnership that the band is known for is back in full force on this album and the tunes are bigger and more memorable than ever. Just every aspect of the songwriting and performance has been slightly improved on this release with the guitar work in particular being much more interesting than previously. Frontwoman Liv Kristine uses many more sides of her voice to create her most dynamic performance on any album of her career so far. This is an album with a lot of scope that delivers on all accounts.
Listen to: Maid of Lorraine, Galswintha & Hymn to the Lone Sands

6) Dream Theater - Dream Theater
A self-titled album is always a statement of intent from a band and Dream Theater return with another powerful album full of technical prowess, huge melodies and complex song structures. When listening to this album, you get the feeling that the band realise they now have nothing to prove and are just writing songs that they enjoy playing. Having said that, the epic closing number Illumination Theory is probably their most complex composition yet which seamlessly goes from bona fide classical to funky drum and bass work in the blink of an eye. Plus, frontman James LaBrie is on fire!
Listen to: The Enemy Inside, The Looking Glass & Illumination Theory

5) Avantasia - The Mystery of Time
Tobias Sammet is probably the most consistent songwriter in modern metal at the moment. This is his fiftteenth full-length album since 1997 and it is just as great as anything else he has ever done. He has amassed another excellent array of guest singers for the sixth Avantasia album including Saxon's Biff Byford and former Rainbow frontman Joe Lynn Turner. As usual, it is over-the-top, bombastic and full of memorable songs. It might not be quite as good as some of the previous Avantasia albums, but I defy anyone to listen to this album and not have a few of the choruses stuck in their head afterwards!
Listen to: Black Orchid, Savior in the Clockwork & What's Left of Me

4) Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose
Black Star Riders rose from the ashes of Thin Lizzy and this, their debut album, was released with a lot of hype surrounding it but I think it managed to live up to the expectations. The songs have all the classic Thin Lizzy hallmarks without sounding too much like a rip-off of their greatest hits. Ricky Warwick has really established himself as a great songwriter on this album and the legend that is Scott Gorham plays his heart out throughout with many excellent solos and twin guitar leads with Damon Johnson. Great classic rock for the 21st Century.
Listen to: Bound for Glory, Kingdom of the Lost & Hey Judas

3) The Quireboys - Beautiful Curse
I have never been more wrong about a band and I am glad that seeing The Quireboys support Saxon earlier this year finally made me give their back catalogue a go. This is British rock 'n' roll at it's finest and Spike and Co. lead us through another selection of excellent foot-stomping tunes. Heartfelt ballads and big rockers mix well to create a very balanced album. There is something for everyone on here and you would have to be very cynical (like I used to be..) to not enjoy this album. Gravely vocals, bluesy guitar solos and big organs in places, what more could anyone want?
Listen to: Too Much of a Good Thing, Mother Mary & Diamonds and Dirty Stones

2) Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche
Finally, Queensrÿche are back! New frontman Todd La Torre has given the band the shot in the arm that they needed and they are back to playing excellent metal with great guitar leads and soaring vocals. It is certainly no classic, but to hear the band back to what is very close to their signature sound that made them so popular in the first place is a joy to hear. The production is odd in places, and it does seem a little short, but the songs are all excellent. It has the feeling of a starter before a great main course to come, but anyone who likes metal is sure to enjoy this album.
Listen to: Where Dreams Go to Die, In This Light & Fallout

1) Fish - A Feast of Consequences
As soon as I heard this album I had suspicions that it would be my album of the year. In truth, it really is head and shoulders above every other album I have heard this year and might just be the best album that Fish has ever been a part of - and that says a lot considering all of his excellent work with Marillion and solo albums like Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. The High Wood suite is probably the best series of songs he has ever done and is probably the best songs ever written about the horrors of war. It is not all doom and gloom though, as the cynical yet upbeat All Loved Up provides a little bit of comic relief. This album is a triumph, and all involved should be very proud of what they have achieved!
Listen to: A Feast of Consequences, the High Wood suite & The Great Unravelling

So, there you have it. Those are the albums I have picked as my favourites of the year. There are a few honourable mentions however, as always! Two of the bands that founded the hard rock and metal genres, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, have both released excellent albums this year in 13 and Now What?! respectively so it is great to see that the old favourites can still deliver. Elsewhere, Children of Bodom returned to form in explosive fashion with Halo of Blood and Megadeth put out the controversial but excellent Super Collider. Finally, the biggest surprise of the year was hearing Mutiny Within's Mutiny Within II: Synchronicity. Despite the fact they are not officially together anymore, they decided to finish and release their abandoned second album that was shelved when they were dropped by Roadrunner Records. I am so glad they did, as those songs are too good to be sat on someone's hard drive somewhere unreleased!

Top 3 gigs of 2013:

3) Uriah Heep, The Wharf, 24/02/2013
Legendary rock band Uriah Heep seem to spend most of their time touring Eastern Europe so it is important to catch them on the rare occation that they play some UK shows. They played a career-spanning set that included a few from their latest album Into the Wild as well as many classics from their 1970s heyday. For a band that has been around for over 40 years they have a huge amount of energy. The only downside of this gig was the fact that Trevor Bolder was not touring with the band at the time due to illness and has since passed away. R.I.P. Trevor, you will be missed by many!

2) Fleetwood Mac, LG Arena, 29/09/2013
I have become a huge fan of Fleetwood Mac over the last couple of years and thought that I would never have the opportunity to see them live so I jumped at the chance when some UK dates were annouced for 2013. They did not disappoint and played a greatest hits set with a few rarer numbers, including the magnificent Sisters of the Moon, thrown in. Seeing Lindsey Buckingham live was such a treat as he is probably the most underrated guitarists of all time, his playing style is totally unique.

1) Queensrÿche, Rock City, 17/10/2013
This was my first proper Queensrÿche headline show and I was right at the barrier as many of my all-time favourite songs were being played. Todd La Torre excels as the band's frontman and the setlist was excellent featuring a few songs that had not been placed live in ages. They also mixed in a few from their excellent new self-titled album to create a heavy set that die-hard fans of the band really lapped up.

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