No. 10: GLORYHAMMER – TALES FROM THE KINGDOM OF FIFE: Christopher Bowes, the man who brought us Scottish Pirate Metal with Alestorm, now brings us Scottish Epic Fantasy Metal. Tales from the Kingdom of Fife pokes a little bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at the formulas of power metal, but also shows a great respect for the music. It’s a little cheesy, a lot of fun and better than a great deal of the “serious” power metal out there. If for nothing else, this album gets a nod because “Angus McFife” is the most fun I’ve had singing along to a song with my son all year.
No. 9: HOLY GRAIL – RIDE THE VOID: The second full-length release from these Pasadena traditional metal merchants shows a great deal of maturation in songwriting and composition. None of the songs are as instantly catchy as some of those on their debut Crisis in Utopia, but they’re still quite good, showcasing the band’s best attribute, the twin-guitar attack of Eli Santana and Alex Lee.
No. 8: PINNICK GALES PRIDGEN – PINNICK GALES PRIDGEN: It’s hard to go wrong with the lineup of Dug Pinnick, Eric Gales and Thomas Pridgen. It’s funky, it’s bluesy and it rocks hard. What more could you ask?
No. 7: SKID ROW – UNITED WORLD REBELLION, CHAPTER 1: Thus far, this has been the surprise of the year for me. I didn’t really expect much, but the first part of United World Rebellion is really, really good. It has a little of the vibe of Slave to the Grind, but also adds a few new tricks.
No. 6: SUICIDAL TENDENCIES – 13: Here’s that rare record that was worth the 13-year wait. Suicidal Tendencies is re-energized and ignores all barriers on this album. They get funky like Infectious Grooves, thrash like the late 1980s version of the band and dash out energetic punk like it’s the early days. Throw in a few slow, soulful numbers, and you’ve got a comeback album of epic proportions.
No. 5: AMON AMARTH – DECEIVER OF THE GODS: It’s Amon Amarth. It’s bloodthirsty, chest-pounding Viking metal, and I expect no less. Pass my sword and fur loincloth, please. On second thought, no one really wants to see that.
No. 4: SOILWORK – THE LIVING INFINITE: I always groan when I get a double album. In most cases, they contain one record’s worth of good music and a record’s worth of filler. The Living Infinite breaks that mold. There is filler, but not as much as you’d think. The record marks the band’s most diverse effort, ranging from their melodic death metal past to some really moody and progressive material.
No. 3 BLACK SABBATH – 13: If you had asked me in January, I would have laid money on the fact that this record would top my list at this point, but it’s been a slow grower on me. Iommi’s riffs are monstrous, and I suspect it will continue to rise as time goes on.
No. 2: FLOTSAM AND JETSAM – UGLY NOISE: The band’s last album, The Cold, served as a comeback, but this one ups the ante. Ugly Noise plays up the more progressive side of the band and even experiments with a few new sounds. For me, it’s on par with Drift, my favorite F&J record.
No. 1: TOM KEIFER – THE WAY LIFE GOES: Keifer’s first solo record may end up being for this year what Blackberry Smoke’s The Whippoorwill was for me last year. It’s an album filled with songs that really connect with me and where I’m at in life right now. The Way Life Goes features great variety, ranging from hard rockers that will remind listeners of his other band Cinderella to 1970s blues rock to some country-flavored material. It hasn’t strayed far from my speakers since its release.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT:
AMORPHIS – CIRCLE: Amorphis experienced a creative resurrection with the addition of vocalist Tomi Joutsen in 2005, and I thought their last two albums were incredible – with 2009’s Skyforger being, perhaps their masterwork. Circle, though, is still simmering in my head. There are several standout tracks, but as a whole, it hasn’t impacted me like their last few.
VOLBEAT – OUTLAW GENTLEMEN AND SHADY LADIES: You’d think the Western concept would play right into Volbeat’s strengths with the country and rockabilly flavors they’ve brought in the past, and on occasion it does. A guest shot from King Diamond also doesn’t hurt. But there’s a bit of blandness and sameness to many of the songs on the album. After the unexpected commercial success with their last album, I was afraid this one might move more toward a mainstream sound, and it often does.
QUEENSRYCHE – QUEENSRYCHE: I fully expected this album to be my favorite from the band in quite a while, but I find I’m liking it even more than I expected to. Each trip through, I come away with something new, but it’s going to take a little more time before I can say where it belongs.
WHITE WIZZARD – THE DEVIL’S CUT: White Wizzard has been one of the more disappointing acts in recent years for me. After their amazing full-length debut Over the Top, the band has been a revolving door of musicians, and they’ve never quite found themselves again. The Devil’s Cut certainly tops 2011’s Flying Tigers, but there still seems to be something missing.
WHAT’S COMING UP?
OLIVA – RAISE THE CURTAIN (July 2): Yeah, somebody’s getting booted off the list in the first week of July. Featuring the last unrecorded music from the late Criss Oliva, what I’ve heard of Jon Oliva’s first solo album blends the classic Savatage sound with a more progressive ‘70s rock bent. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
PHILLIP ANSELMO – WALK THROUGH EXITS ONLY (July 16): The songs released so far are pummeling, but also have some pretty good grooves. It has elements of all of Anselmo’s projects – Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual – but sounds quite like none of them.
NEWSTED – HEAVY METAL MUSIC (Aug. 6): I was a bit disappointed by the EP released earlier this year, but I still have hopes for Jason Newsted’s first solo project.
BLACK WATER RISING – PISSED AND DRIVEN (Aug. 13): I loved the band’s debut record, which was a collection of no-nonsense hard rock. I’m hoping the follow-up delivers more of the same.
JUDAS PRIEST (no title or release date): Rob Halford has been hinting at a new Priest album by the end of the year. Following up the concept piece Nostradamus, Halford has said this will be more of a straightforward Priest record.