Hey, I decided to do this as a note on Facebook, so I'm just copying and pasting all the text and code in here. Enjoy. Comments welcome, no bashing.
In general I found this year to be pretty disappointing. There were definitely a lot of good, even very good albums, but very little stuff I would call "great". Only the few near the very top of this list really surprised me at all in a good. It also should be noted that I prefer my #1, 2, and 3 albums from 2008 over my #1 from this year. In addition to the overall lack of greatness, I was considerably let down by a few bands, which I will get to in a little bit.
In total I heard almost 60 albums this year, which I think is a record for me. Usually I wind up with just over 40, but my dissatisfaction with some of the bigger names' albums led me down a path of exploration.
First, five honorable mentions:
25.Jorn - Spirit Black
Frankly I've been pretty disappointed with the direction of Jorn's solo stuff recently. He's pretty much abandoned all the creative, progressive elements in favor of generic hard rock. Some of the songs do still really work (Rock and Roll Angel, World Gone Mad), but overall this one was kind of a disappointment. The best thing about this is the bonus track, which is an absolutely astounding cover of Thin lizzy's "The Sun Goes Down".
24.Place Vendome - Streets of Fire
Second album by the band that is essentially Michael Kiske + Pink Cream 69. Probably all-around heavier than the first record, though still essentially heavy pop music. Some very good, memorable songs, but not amazing and Kiske's voice can start to get annoying in this situation. I'm hoping the forthcoming Unisonic project with Dennis Ward will be better.
23.Constancia - Lost and Gone
First album from a sort of "super-group" of unknowns, making enjoyable, catchy melodic metal. Not great, definitely not bad. Just kinda there. I enjoy it when I listen to it, but not a ton makes me want to come back afterwards.
22.Edgend - A New Identity
This should probably be much higher than it is, but I was short on time to properly listen to it. This is something that came to me highly recommended at the last minute, and more or less this is highly recommended for anyone looking for stuff like Symphony X. Seriously, like a lot like Symphony X. At times the similarity is uncanny, which I guess is either good or bad, depending on how you feel about that.
21.Primal Fear - 16.6
This record simply let me down because it comes across as "Primal Fear on Cruise Control". Aside from 3 great tracks (Riding the Eagle, The Hands of Time, Under the Radar), this album just kinda passes by, the rest of the songs seeming to go through the emotions. It just feels like it needs a booster shot in terms of power and originality. Still pretty solid though.
Alright, onto the real list:
20.Cain's Offering - Gather the Faithful
Favorite tracks: Stolen Waters, Dawn of Solace, Into the Blue
So, for those of you who don't know, this is the new band/project of former Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani liimatainen and Stratovarius vocalist Timo Kotipelto, and to be honest, it's very good, though pretty damn standard. Nothing here is going to blow you away, but if you're a fan of either of the two aforementioned bands, I don't think you can go wrong with this. Frankly I think they hit more home runs when they try to just do catchy uptempo songs, the record probably could've benefited from more of them. All in all, I hope they do a second album.
19.Stratovarius - Polaris
Favorite tracks: Forever is Today, Blind, Higher We Go
Most Stratovarius fans, myself included, never thought the band could produce something even this good. Between their last record being an embarrassment and then losing Timo Tolkki, they seemed doomed. However, the band managed to make a very solid record which definitely has its moments of greatness, including a handful of tracks which actually really recapture the magic of classic Stratovarius.
18.Brainstorm - Memorial Roots
Favorite tracks: Shivers, The Conjunction of 9 Planets
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with this. I thought the last album, Downburst was great, whereas this was just pretty good, and honestly suffers from a kinda lousy and flat production. Still some very good songs in the vein of Brainstorm's classic German Power Metal with a Traditional/Heavy metal edge. A slight mis-step in my opinion, but still a solid effort.
17.Coldspell - Infinite Stargaze
Favorite tracks: Infinite Stargaze, Greed, Solid Ground, Keep On Believin'
This album kinda faded for me as the year went on, mostly due to inconsistency, but this is a definite "must-hear" for fans of 70s/80s melodic hard rock. A lot of catchy melodies to be found, creative uses of backing keyboards, really strong songwriting from time to time, and just an overall very solid and fun record. Being that this is a debut, I could see this band going great places in its future.
16.Vindictiv - Ground Zero
Favorite tracks: Modern World, Reach Out, Venom, I'm Back Home
The second album by this technical prog/power outfit, this time featuring a triple-threat of vocalists, two whom are two of my personal favorites (Oliver Hartmann and Mark Boals). When this band feels like getting to the point, they make absolutely excellent melodic prog/power tunes, but I think they tend to get lost a bit much in the noodly guitar/keyboard breaks. Basically, think of Yngwie Malmsteen's soloing, but not only is there a guitarist, but a keyboard player as skilled and as apt to extended solo breaks. Most of the songs here are 7 minutes long and most of them should've only been 5. Aside from that flaw though, this is absolutely superb stuff.
15.Impelliterri - Wicked Maiden
Favorite tracks: Last of a Dying Breed, Weapons of Mass Distortion
At times this suffers from "Shredder Solo Album" syndrome, but overall this is just a fun, in your-face, guitar-driven heavy metal record, topped off by some excellent vocals from Rob Rock, a man with an amazing set of pipes. His voice kicks unheard of amounts of ass and are the perfect compliment to the crunchy riffs and metallic solos of Chris Impelliterri. This isn't doing anything incredibly innovative, but there's some nifty keyboards here and there, and at the end of the day it's just a damn fun listen.
14.Lion's Share - Dark Hours
Favorite tracks: Phantom Rider, The Presidio 27, Full Metal Jacket
This is this band's second album since abandoning their melodic prog roots in favor of a straight-forward traditional metal sound, and is also their second with now renown "rent-a-vocalist" Nils Patrik Johansson at the forefront. Most of the songs here are very short and to the point, and if this album lacks anything it's simply diversity and complexity. The best moments here tend to be when they do venture into other areas, but overall it's hard to go wrong something like this. It's pretty formulaic in a very good way.
13.Saxon - Into the Labyrinth
Favorite tracks: Battalions of Steel, Valley of the Kings
This is album #17 for Saxon, who are defying age and reason by pressing on and making some of their best records to date, and remaining incredibly active as well. The album has its low points and as usual for the band, some obvious filler, but those tracks are covered for by a few of the best damn classic heavy metal tunes I've heard all year, and among the best of the new Saxon era, period. These guys are still a forced to be reckoned with, putting bands half their age to shame.
12.Outloud - We Will Rock You to Hell and Back Again
Favorite tracks: We Run, What I Need, Broken Sleep
Firewind have been nearly silent all year, but thankfully two of the guys (Bob Katsionis and Mark Cross) have formed a new side project which is somewhat similar to later Firewind, but with more of an 80s hard rock/AOR vibe. This might have to take the cake for "fun" record of the year, rife with catchy upbeat hard rock songs that will have you singing along and bobbing your head on the first listen or two already. If you're looking for something incredibly innovative, this would not be for you. But otherwise, you can't go wrong. The vocalist is actually well above average for someone whom I've never heard of otherwise.
11.Mind Key - Pulse For a Graveheart
Favorite tracks: Sunset Highway, The Seventh Seal, Graveheart
This is the second album from this great progressive metal outfit out of Italy. If anything, I'd say these guys could back off of the prog at times, for this album hits it's marks best with the more catchy, melodic moments, helped along by the band's great vocalist. In general this is actually very much in the vein of what I wished Jorn lande's solo albums sounded like. Taking a great melodic hard rock-style voice and marrying it with great progressive metal that keeps things very interesting while not losing sight of good songwriting. There's some notable guests on this record as well, one of which is one of my favorite vocalists, Tom S. Englund of Evergrey fame.
10.Dream Theater - Black Clouds and Silver Linings
Favorite tracks: The Count of Tuscany, A Rite of Passage
For this band to produce something nearly this good comes as a downright miracle for me. Systematic Chaos was easily my least favorite Dream Theater record, and I thought their future looked awfully bleak. However the band somehow came out of left field with what I feel is probably their best post-Scenes From a Memory record, which surprisingly has a lot of great, memorable melodies in hooks in addition to top-notch playing. This is definitely one of those cases in which I am more than happy to admit I was wrong in prematurely judging a record. Congratulations are certainly in order here.
09.Anubis Gate - The Detached
Favorite tracks: Find a Way (Or Make One), lost in Myself, A liftetime to Share
This album took a very long time to start growing me, much like the band. I'm not sure why, I guess just because their sound is rather progressive and unique. This is a band that really does have its own sound, driven by its very unique vocalist Jacob Hansen. The rest of the band delivers very nicely as well, kicking off the proceedings with one of my favorite tracks of the year, and delivering the prog nicely throughout the disc. I gotta say I absolutely adore how the band has buried recurring melodies throughout the album, popping up occasionally, really helps keep the listener on their toes. I probably preferred their last record, but this is definitely a very, very good album. Highly recommended for any Prog Metal fan.
08.Killing Touch - One of a Kind
Favorite tracks: The Touch, Wheel of Fortune, One of a Kind
Fortunately ex-Vision Divine vocalist Michele luppi is sticking around, via his new band Killing Touch, whose debut record is nearly on par with the 3 previous Vision Divine masterpieces. This is really just great Progressive Power Metal with strong, soaring vocals and great playing throughout. Production is kinda rough but I won't knock too many points for that. Also, definitely need to award some individuality points, I don't know of too many other bands who would stick a 9-minute piano piece in the middle of a concept album.
07.DGM - FrAme
Favorite tracks: Heartache, Hereafter, Away
This was definitely the "late-comer" on the list, coming to me highly recommended near the year's end. Not a whole lot to say. Generally progressive power metal, incredibly well done with strong vocals and playing. A few really catchy songs, generally all very enjoyable, and I am very excited to probably get to see these guys at ProgPower in September.
06.Savage Circus - Of Doom and Death
Favorite tracks: Of Doom and Death, Chasing the Rainbow
I wasn't incredibly thrilled with the first Savage Circus record, something about it just didn't really grab me. However, that was not the case this time around. Maybe it's just been that it's been over 3 years since the last Blind Guardian record and I'm jones-ing for more, in which case this album certainly delivers, at times sounding like the would-have-been follow-up to Tales From the Twilight World if it were recorded now. The opening cut and "Chasing the Rainbow" have absolute power-house choruses and overall the CD is just a buffet of awesome power/speed metal, definitely worth checking out.
05.Machines of Grace - Machines of Grace
Favorite tracks: The Moment, Better Days, Read Between the Lines, This Time
Machines of Grace was actually the pre-Savatage band of vocalist Zak Stevens and drummer Jeff Plate, who have now resurrected it and recorded a proper studio album, whereas all the band had prior were some very old demos. This is an absolute must-hear for ANY fan of melodic hard rock music. There's a very 90's or current vibe to a lot of this, but in a very good way that makes the music sound very fresh and not dated. The songs have a very genuine, honest vibe to them and Zak's vocal performance is right up there with his best ever. Frankly I much preferred this to the last Circle II Circle record, and am hoping this band actively tours a bit and puts out a second album in due time.
04.Jaded Heart - Perfect Insanity
Favorite tracks: Psycho Kiss, Freedom Call, Love is a Killer
Picking up where their 8th album, "Sinister Mind" left off, Jaded Heart continues their evolution in a more power metal-styled direction, kicking the ass of a lot of the genre's seasoned veterans. Another downright enjoyable record from start to finish, featuring probably my favorite production job of the year. This record just sounds like a monster, and all the playing is great, though the lyrics at times are quite silly. Highly recommended to any fan of 80's metal or hard rock, as well as melodic power metal.
03.Lord - Set in Stone
Favorite tracks: Redemption, 100 Reasons, Someone Else's Dream
lord/Dungeon have been one of metal's best kept secrets for years and years, with main-man Tim Grose being the center of it all, constantly pumping out absolutely fantastic albums that really cover the bases of every worthy metal subgenre. There's elements of power metal, thrash, prog, 80's metal/rock, some catchy AOR moments, and even some growls and such as well - it's all here, and packaged together very nicely as always with razor-sharp production, a symphony of guitars, and a kickass set of tracks. For someone like me who has been following every record Tim's done since 2005, this comes as unsurprising, but that's not to say it's not fantastic - it certainly is.
02.Bloodbound - Tabula Rasa
Favorite tracks: Sweet Dreams of Madness, Dominion 5, Take One, Tabula Rasa
Where did this album come from? After two solid, but unmemorable and overall bland albums, this Swedish band came out of nowhere with a defining album that absolutely rules from start to finish, and amazingly blends catchy power metal with progressive melodic death and thrash metal riffs and breakdowns. The face-melting heaviness of the music married with the soaring melodic nature of the vocals really makes this album stand out, which it does, as a crowing achievement for this band and frankly genre in general.
01.Redemption - Snowfall on Judgment Day
Favorite tracks: Black and White World, Leviathan Rising, What Will You Say, Another Day Dies
In sharp contrast to the surprise of the Bloodbound record, we have this, which I have to say was in no way surprising, quality-wise. I have been singing the praises of Redemption for years, long before their massive jump in popularity following a support tour with Dream Theater, so I had very strong hopes they'd produce a third damn near-perfect prog metal opus. The combination of Nick Van Dyk's amazing, emotional songwriting with Ray Alder's powerful and perfect vocals, as well as the instrumental prowess of the entire band, makes for yet another incredible testament to the power of modern prog metal, and frankly, music as a whole. This band is the real deal, and I think this album, while not my favorite of theirs, will do a lot to solidify their place in the genre's big picture as a force to be reckoned with.2
And finally, we have my five "dishonorable" mentions. These aren't my five least favorite albums from the year, merely the five albums I was most upset with, albums I feel are particular worthy of a few harsh words from myself:
01.Heaven and Hell - The Devil You Know
I'll probably take crap for this, because, as hard as it is for me to understand, this album got good reviews. I found this album to be a complete disappointment. I'd been waiting for years and years for Dio Sabbath to reunite and do a new album, and this was the best they could do? I'm not impressed. This album, to me, was completely void of substance, hooks, or anything that made me want to listen to most of it even a second time. Just very dull overall.
02.Sonata Arctica - The Days of Grays
The single "Flag in the Ground" really got my hopes up that the band had gotten over their experimentation and decided to make something more along the lines of their older stuff. Boy, how misleading. Parts of Unia really grew on me, but this just refuses to do so. It's just experimentation for the sake of experimentation. It's not metal, it's just weak, artsy-fartsy garbage, if you ask me. I'm being very blunt here.
03.Vision Divine - 9 Degrees West of the Moon
Speaking of being blunt, where the hell did this come from? After 3 amazing records, this band re-acquired their original vocalist and de-evolved in a way I thought nearly impossible.
04.Queensryche - American Soldier
In Totally Unsurprising News, Queensryche released yet another album that sucked. Not surprised, not disappointed, but with every single release you always have a few people going "No guys, I promise, this one's better!", but they never are. This band's entire remaining actual fanbase consists entirely of fanboys, because everywhere with a discerning opinion gave up on them a long time ago.
05.Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Night Castle
I don't hate this album, but god damn, what a let-down. After all the hype and the insane wait-time, Paul O'Neill and Co. turn out a bloated double album long-winded on faux-epicness and incredibly short on real emotion or quality. The Rob Evan-sung songs steal the show as expected, though they are a bit too long. There's a few other solid tracks, but this album definitely could've been half as long, and I'm not even going into how much I hate the rerecording of "Believe".
So there you have it. Technically, my top 25 albums of 2009, all mini-reviewed, as well as a run-through of my biggest disappointments. Perhaps this gave you an idea of some stuff to check out, maybe some stuff to avoid, and possibly even some stuff to bitch at me about. At the very least, hopefully it at least entertained you.
I might get around to doing shows and DVDs and such, depending on the responses I get on this.