2006: A Year in Review II
Alright, I’m going to be doing one of these myself, primarily on request from ADD. This shall be an in depth run down of the year 2006 in music, from my point of view. I plan to break this into 2 main sections:
I The Albums
II The Concerts
Personally, this year has meant a lot to me. 2006 has proven to be the hardest year for me to determine a top albums list of any year since I’ve been heavily interested in music. To me, this was a year that put a lot of weight behind the theory that not only is metal still alive, it’s going as strong as it ever has before. I picked up a lot of new releases, but nowhere near as many as some other people I know. I’d say my total release count for the year comes in somewhere around 25 owned, and a good 10 more burned or downloaded or what not. There were many great releases in my opinion, but the year really was all about 2 of them in particular.
The first of these needs very little introduction. It’s no news that Iron Maiden released a new album this year. Now Maiden has been my favorite band for a number of years now, and this album only further cements them in that position. To me, A Matter of Life and Death is a bold statement for Maiden. This album proves that not only are the band still around, but are capable of making an album that can stand up next to anything they’ve ever done and still look damn good. The main thing I wanted with this album, I got, and that was variations of the formula of the past 2 releases, so I really can’t complain. I think the songwriting and playing on this album was a big leap ahead of where it was on the last album as well. I was VERY impressed, and months later, still listen to the album on a regular basis.
The second of these albums is one that many of you probably have heard about but very few have actually heard. Zachary Stevens has been out of the legendary Savatage for a few years now, and this year was basically the sink or swim for Savatage vocalists, with Jon Oliva and Zach both releasing albums with their respective bands. I think there is absolutely no question about who swam and who sank. The Circle II Circle album, “Burden of Truth” is one of the best albums I have bought in a LONG time, and after months of playing it almost nonstop, has become one of my favorite albums, bar none. I’ve grown to love this possibly even more than any album Zach did with Savatage, which is saying a lot. First off, I don’t know where Zach found these musicians, but the playing on this album is absolutely spectacular. Some of the best all around guitar playing I’ve heard on any album this year. The songwriting is just unbelievable. To listen to some of these songs and then think about the fact that Zach never wrote in Savatage is damn upsetting, as the majority of these songs are absolutely amazing. The production is a full 10… all the instruments sound great, the quality is great, no matter how much I turn it up or how I listen to it, I can’t find one complaint on the sound, which is surprising. A common misconception about this album is that it’s a concept album based on the Da Vinci Code. This is false. The album is a concept album, but the story is actually new. It’s actually a strong in the same vein, possibly even picking up where the book left off. The story in it’s own right is also a real keeper, full of energy, passion, and fire… allowing Zach to give possibly the top vocal performance of his career. Enough said.
However, I shall not let the Circle II Circle album take all the credit, as many other great albums came out this year. I’ll now run through many of my topic picks and do a little spiel about them.
Bloodbound – Nosferatu. Some of you may be familiar with Swedish traditional/power metal band Tad Morose. Singer Urban Breed left the band in 2005 and wasted no time in joining the ranks of this amazing up-and-coming traditional/melodic power metal act. Urban’s vocals sound 10 times better than they ever did with Tad Morose, the songwriting is great, and the guitar playing is absolutely out of this world.
Dungeon – The Final Chapter. Dungeon recently announced their official departure, which now means they will have gone through a incredible career with virtually no recognition for it. The Final Chapter marks the 5th full-length release for these Ausie metal kings, and proves to be just as great as every album proceeding it. Another great batch of songs that mixes the best elements of power, thrash, speed, progressive, traditional, and melodic metal… This album proves why I’m going to miss these guys so much.
Riot – Army of One. Riot have now been around for 30 years, and have gone through several different incarnations over that time. For the past half dozen albums of so, they’ve had singer Mike Dimeo fronting the band, and frankly, I don’t feel that there have been too many better frontmen out there. Dimeo has one of the best and most powerful voices I have ever heard to this date. Not a high pitched falsetto guy, but more derived from blues and soul, with a strong melodic sense. I was very impressed by this albums diversity, showing bits of their speed metal tendancies, tons of melodic metal, and a surprising return to the old days of 70s blues-driven hard rock. Definitely a great album that most fans of hard rock and metal should enjoy.
Firewind made a really awesome move towards a more melodic direction with their new album Allegiance, which proved to be a very nice surprise. Axel Rudi Pell turned out “Mystica”, which is sure to please any fan of melodic hard rock with power metal and 70s hard rock tendancies (think Deep Purple and Rainbow). Edguy made a daring move to continue their move towards an 80s traditional metal sound with the solid release Rocket Ride. After more than a few tries, Jorn Lande finally released a great solo album! “The Duke” is sure to please fans of progressive, traditional, and melodic metal. And Blind Guardian proved why after almost 20 years in the business, why they are still one of the biggest forces in the power metal scene with “A Twist in the Myth”. Hammerfall released “Threshold”, which while it may not be an amazing album, definitely showed improvement over the terribly average “Chapter V”. Astral Doors pumped out another album of old-school-styled heavy metal, passing up pretentious keyboards in favor of good old hammond organ. Fans of Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Dio take note here. Prog Metal kings Vanden Plas released a surprisingly great album in the form of “Christ 0”, which frankly, I’ve been listening to a whole lot recently. Also, Dream Evil redeemed themselves nicely with the offering “Untied”, which showed they could survive without Gus G, even though his other band released a far superior album this year.
Despite having a quite a number of great releases, I found that 2006 also had a fair share of dissapointing albums. This is where I’m expecting to piss someone off. There were 3 big dissapointments this year for me. One was in the form of Evergrey’s Monday Morning Apocalypse. The album is fairly good, but I think it pales in comparisson to every previous album of theirs. I think it would be wise of them to cut the vocal effects and tune back up before it’s too late, since the classic songwriting element is still there. Queensryche failed to impress me, as I knew they would. The fact of the matter is this: Writing a sequel to Operation : Mindcrime is like writing a sequel to The Bible… no matter how good it turns out, you’re gonna fail. I will give it this though, I liked it more than every Queensryche album since Empire, and I still went to see them play it live. Jon Oliva released the final big dissapointment in the form of his Pain’s “Maniacal Renderings”. Now most of you know that I’m a HUGE Savatage fan, but this album makes it painfully obvious that Jon is desperate and has just started stealing his own ideas. Through The Eyes of the King sounds familiar… Maybe that’s because it’s the same exact concept as In the Hall of the Mountain King, written almost 20 years ago. Also, Jon has lost all ability to sing at this point. He should just reside himself to writing for TSO and getting this Savatage 25th Anniversary tour going.
Alright, I’ve been actively going to concerts for a few years now, and 2006 held just as many great shows, if not more than any year in the past, including a number of big surprises.
On March 1st I saw Overkill at Croc Rock in Allentown, PA… I would’ve went anyway, but I was there since my band was opening. The show proved one thing, they definitely love what they do and are one hell of a fun band to see live. Just a few days later some friends and I went to see Seven Witches and W.A.S.P. at the same venue. Now I’m not a big big W.A.S.P. fan, but I was really impressed, and the show was a lot of fun. May brought one of the most hectic weeks of my life thus far. On the 1st, I made the trip up to New York City to see power metal legends Gamma Ray perform one of their first shows ever on U.S. soil. To say the least, twas an amazing show. These guys have one of the best live sounds of any band I’ve seen. The best part of the show however was watching my best friend go absolutely psycho since Gamma Ray are his second favorite band and he never thought he’d get to see them… and he met them after the show. 2 days later we went to see Dragonforce down in Philly, for one of the gayest shows I’ve ever attended in my life. At this point, I had already started losing my patience with their growing popularity, but I figured I’d still go since I payed for my ticket already. The show disgusted me. For anyone curious, don’t believer what you’s heard, they can NOT pull off their hyper-speed disney metal live. The sound was terrible and incoherent the entire show, which only added to the monotony. A week later we went to see Yngwie Malmsteen play at Croc Rock in Allentown, which was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a total wank fest, but the show was very entertaining so I didn’t mind. Also, I’m an avid Doogie White fan, so I wasn’t really watching Yngwie half the time. Haha. We were front row center and I got 3 guitar picks and a drum stick. I met Derek Sherinian before the show (plays keys for Yngwie now) and Mike Portnoy after the show, since he actually lives remotely close to me. The summer was very eventless when it came to concerts unfortunately. At the end of August, my best friend and I went to a local venue called the Sterling Hotel to see Icarus Witch play, since our friend booked the show. I went on a whim, but came home very impressed. Some of the best musicianship I’ve seen at a show ever… the guitar playing was very impressive. We met the band after and I got the set list. Very enjoyable experience. At the beginning of October my friend and I went to see Overkill again at Croc Rock, and the show was once again very fun. After the show we hung out with Blitz for a while, and DD Verni basically invited us over to the tour bus after the show. Very cool guys. Less than a week later we were in for the event that marked my year in concerts… Iron Maiden live @ Tweeter Center – Camden, NJ… October 7th. I had seen Maiden before, back on one of the lone Dance of Death dates in January 2004, and I had been waiting for this ever since. The day was perfectly planned. The night before the show, we gathered for a huge “Maiden-party”, watching various DVDs from over the years… We left for Philly at 11 AM, and spent the whole day psyching ourselves up for the show, we got to the venue a good 3 hours before the doors opened and spent the whole time blasting Maiden out of the car and meeting some cool people. The show was a ten on every level, stellar production really. I am really proud of the band for playing the whole new album live, and despite white some fans might think, I think it’s one of the best ideas the band has had in years. I love every moment of the show, lost my voice completely, and spent $100 on merchandise. At the end of October my friend and I made what we thought was going to be a relatively easy trip to Hoboken, NJ to see a tour package entitled “True Metal America”, featuring the bands Twisted Tower Dire and Attacker. The trip wound up taking 3 and a half hours each way due to all sorts of unexpected problems. We got to hang out with our friend who we rarely see, met all the bands, and had a great time, so it was all worth it… even getting pulled over on the way home and being stereotyped as drug addicts since we were metal fans. The beginning of November brought my 4th time seeing Queensryche live since February of 2005, and this show was just as great as every show proceeding it. Despite my general contemption towards Mindcrime II, I really enjoyed the show. Also, earlier that day my friends and I went to a meet and greet and got to meet Mike Wilton and Scott Rockenfield, who were both very awesome guys and signed tons of stuff for me. In mid-November some friends and I went to see Sebastian Bach at Croc Rock… the funny thing is, my best friend and I didn’t really go to see him… we went to see one particular member of his band. The drummer, the myth, the legend… Bobby Jarzombek. For those of you who don’t know Bobby, he’s known for his work with bands such as Riot, Rob Rock, Demons and Wizards, and Halford, and one of the best drummers I’ve ever heard. He also turned out to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He was a very awesome guy, signed all the stuff I brought for him, and after the show he event stopped my friend and I to give us his drumsticks. On December 1st, I went to the random concert of the year… My good friend had tickets to a Pink Floyd tribute, and asked me less than 24 hours prior to the show if I wanted to go. I did, and I enjoyed it a bit, despite not being a Floyd fan myself. The following night though, came another top show of the year. Blind Guardian at the Trocadero in Philly. After a record 3+ hours in line, we wound up front row and had the time of our lives… Truly an amazing show. Hansi is an incredible frontman, very commanding of the audience. Both my friend and I got set lists. A really enjoyable experience we won’t soon forget.
So yeah, that's the body of the year in music for myself.
My band was on a hiatus the majority of the year, though we still managed to play a half dozen shows, most of which are among the best we've done thus far. Also, we wrote a few songs which are without doubt the best we've written yet. We can't wait to get out and play this stuff live in 2007.
Speaking of 2007, I have my predictions and such as far as the music of the coming goes... Some big names in 07 releases for me would be Primal Fear, Thunderstone, Masterplan, Sonata Arctica, Symphony X, Kamelot, Edguy (?), Stratovarius (?), and Gamma Ray (?)... Also there's the fact that Jon Oliva confirmed a Savatage 25th Anniversary Reunion/Farewell tour, likely to happen in the summer of 07. Speaking of shows, I already have a couple lined up for later in the year... Hopefully the year to come can live up to this one, as I know for me it will be hard...