Thursday, 1 January 2015

Music of 2014 - Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote a blog that talked about some great albums that I had not had chance to review throughout the year. This was all in aid of building up to this post, my Top 10 albums of 2014! Every music blogger feels obliged to try and rank some of the best music that they have heard over the past year, and I am no different. I enjoy trying to decide which albums I have enjoyed the most, but it is never easy. Ask me in a week's time and this list could be quite different I imagine but I think, objectively, these are the albums I have been playing the most throughout 2014. As usual, only studio albums of new material count; so compilations, live albums, and EPs do not count for the purposes of this list. For more information on each of the albums featured here, click on the album's title to see my original review of it. Without any further ado, here they are:

10) NeonFly - Strangers in Paradise
Despite only having this album for a month or so, it has really clicked with me and I am playing it a lot. NeonFly are rising stars in the British melodic metal scene, having supported bands like Magnum, Sonata Arctica, and DragonForce - and this album is sure to help them on their quest for greatness. All the songs present here are catchy, heavy and full of excellent lead guitar work - all hallmarks of the genre. For a 'small' band, this album sounds massive and the band has clearly put a lot of work into making this sound as good as is possible. A real gem in the British metal scene!
Listen to: Whispered Dreams, Heart of the Sun & Falling Star

9) Slash - World on Fire
For an album I was not originally going to get, this has impressed me a lot and still enjoys many repeated plays. Slash and his band, that features the great vocalist Myles Kennedy, have really delivered here and this is easily Slash's best work for quite some years. I still feel that it is too long, but there are so many great songs here that it barely seems to matter anymore. Anyone familiar with Slash's work will know what to expect here, as his formula has not changed at all - yet he seems to be more inspired and 'on fire' than he has for a while.
Listen to: World on Fire, 30 Years to Life & Bent to Fly

8) Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon
The oldest album in my list being released way back in January, but it continues to see regular plays on my iPod. While I do not think it is as strong as 2011's Dystopia, this is a dark, murky album that hits you over the head and fails to let you go until it is over. Stu Block has really grown as a vocalist and steals the show here with his versatile vocal performance. This is also much more of a 'band' album that sees all four official members contributing to the songwriting throughout. There is a lot of take in here, but enter Jon Schaffer's world and you are sure to find plenty to enjoy!
Listen to: Plagues of Babylon, If I Could See You & Cthulhu

7) Delain - The Human Contradiction
Time for some symphonic now as the Dutch stars roll out their fourth studio album. Not as powerful as We are the Others, but The Human Contradiction has a mood of it's own and really showcases the best sides of this band. Not worried about having the biggest arrangements or the most over-the-top string sections; Delain instead just focus on writing tight, heavy, and catchy metal songs that are designed to be sung loudly and just enjoyed. A few well-picked guest vocalists including Nightwish's Marco Hietala really are the icing on the cake, and add a bit of diversity to the album. This is polished and catchy, and that is what Delain do best.
Listen to: Here Come the Vultures, Your Body is a Battleground & Tell Me, Mechanist

6) DragonForce - Maximum Overload
After showing on 2011's The Power Within that they could survive a singer change with ease, Maximum Overload shows the band branching out and pushing the boundaries of their established sound to the limit. This is easily the most diverse album the band has done yet, and there even some hints of progressive metal in some of the songs here. The lightning fast power metal is still the main ingredient however (as it should be), but this album shows that the band are not content to only be one thing anymore. Frédéric Leclercq's full integration into the songwriting process has certainly helped, and this is a watershed piece of work for the band.
Listen to: No More, Symphony of the Night & The Sun is Dead

5) Sabaton - Heroes
After Carolus Rex, Sabaton get back to doing what they do best - pure power metal - on their seventh studio album Heroes. It is their first album since the big line-up overhaul that happened a couple of years ago, and the new members really have fit into the band well and this album sounds brilliant. I would say that the band have written some of their best songs for this album, and the lead guitar work has improved hugely with the inclusion of Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund into the line-up. Joakim Brodén steals the show as always though with his commanding vocal performance, and this is an album that I never tire of hearing.
Listen to: Night Witches, To Hell and Back & Solider of 3 Armies

4) The Quireboys - Black Eyed Sons
Coming less than a year after the hugely successful Beautiful Curse was released, The Quireboys were clearly on a roll. For a band that is constantly on the road somewhere, they had not released an album since 2008, so having two in two years really was a treat. Black Eyed Sons is not quite as good as it's predecessor, but in many ways it rocks harder with plenty of raw, riff-driven tracks with a few ballads thrown in for good measure. Spike is in fine voice, and the loose guitar interplay between Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin is a magical as ever. Plus, included in a package that includes two full live shows (one on CD and one on DVD), this is an album that every rock fan needs!
Listen to: Troublemaker (Black Eyed Son), Double Dealin' & Monte Cassino (Lady Lane)

3) Edguy - Space Police: Defenders of the Crown
As I have said many times on this blog, Tobias Sammet is probably the most consistent and prolific songwriter in metal today. Either Edguy or his project Avantasia always have an album on way, and they are usually always good. Space Police: Defenders of the Crown is the best Edguy album in quite some time, probably since 2004's Hellfire Club! Sammet is in fine voice, and lead guitarist Jens Ludwig is on top form with plenty of tasty riffs and solos. In a year that has been good for power metal, this is an album that really stands out, and keeps calling me back again and again. The song Space Police probably has the best chorus of the year too!
Listen to: Space Police, Defenders of the Crown & The Eternal Wayfarer

2) Threshold - For the Journey
Over the past few years, Threshold have become one of my favourite bands. Their brand of highly melodic and polished progressive metal might be too safe for some, but their albums are always chock full of soaring tunes that you cannot help but get into. Damian Wilson puts in the vocal performance of the lifetime on this album, and you can tell he really feels at home back in the band now. This line-up of the band might be their best ever, with guitarist Pete Morton contributing another stunning song Siren Sky and the usual writing duo of Karl Groom and Richard West churning out yet more irresistible choruses.
Listen to: The Box, Autumn Red & Siren Sky

1) Mostly Autumn - Dressed in Voices
People who know me well could probably have guessed what my album of the year would be! I have been a Mostly Autumn fan for ages now and while I have always enjoyed their new releases, I was not prepared for just how good this was going to be. It is the band's first concept album, and Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn's lyrics really draw you into the story, and the album becomes a thoroughly engrossing listen. My words cannot do it justice, so do yourself a favour and get a copy. While the band have better individual songs on other albums, as a whole piece of work, the band have never done better!
Listen to: Skin on Skin, The Last Day & Dressed in Voices

So, there you go! I doubt many of these choices will come as a surprise to those who know the type of music I am into. However, there are some albums that came very close to being included. One that missed out by a whisker was Epica's The Quantum Enigma that was not included because I just do not feel I am even halfway to really understanding all that is going on with it, more time is needed! Other excellent albums that need mentioning are Scar Symmetry's highly melodic The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity), Arch Enemy's excellent post-singer change War Eternal and the fourth album from progressive rockers Panic Room Incarnate that just suffers from not being as memorable as the previous two. Anyway, here's to 2015 and much more great music to come!

Top 3 gigs of 2014:

3) Dream Theater, Wembley Arena, 14/02/2014
Supporting last year's excellent self-titled release, Dream Theater came to town and blew everyone away with their two and a half hour show that contained fan favourites and deeper album cuts. Lots of the new album was played, along with the whole second half of 1994's Awake which was a real treat for the long-time fans. The whole band was on top form, with James LaBrie's vocals really standing out and showing that seasoned professionals can always improve and break new ground. A stunning evening of music from some of the best in the business.

2) Mostly Autumn, The Wharf, 25/07/2014
I always enjoy Mostly Autumn shows, but this one was the best I have seen them play in ages. Having Chris Johnson back in the band really helped give them a bit of a kick up the backside, and the second half the show where they played the whole of Dressed in Voices was something special to behold. I was really hoping that they would do this, but with their setlists becoming slightly stagnant recently I was worried that they would not do it. I am so glad they did though, as this is an album that needs to be heard in full, and it worked very well in the live setting.

1) The Quireboys, Rescue Rooms, 28/11/2014
While their show in Calstock in August was stunning, there was something about this Anniversary show in Nottingham that just took it to another level. The band were so tight, and it was so loud that while they were playing you could not think about anything else other than what song was currently being played. With a career-spanning setlist, including some from Black Eyed Sons, and a large crowd of die-hard fans that sung every word - it just created an atmosphere that was one of the best I have ever experienced at a concert.

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