Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Best of 2014: Mid-year hard rock and metal

Just so we’re clear, this list gets completely blown up in a couple of weeks when I can officially add Judas Priest’s Redeemer of Souls, which I’ve been jamming at high volumes for about a week now. But, at the official midpoint of the year, these are my picks in hard rock and metal.

Overall, it’s been a good year thus far in the genres. There are a few old favorites, at least one newcomer and a couple of surprises …

No. 10 — BODY COUNT – MANSLAUGHTER: Eight years after a disappointing return with 2006′s Murder 4 Hire, Ice-T’s metal outfit brings back its early glory, delivering a violent gutpunch of an album that’s a little heavier on gratuitous sex and violence than social commentary, but still entertaining.

No. 9: LACUNA COIL – BROKEN CROWN HALO: No big surprises from the Italian goth rockers on this outing, just a solid dose of what Lacuna Coil does best — with, of course, some great performances from vocalist Cristina Scabbia.

No. 8 — ARCH ENEMY – WAR ETERNAL: The Alissa White-Gluz era begins for Arch Enemy without a lot of shakeup. White-Gluz’s growls sound, perhaps, a bit more feminine than Angela Gossow’s, and much of the music on War Eternal does seem to have a more symphonic sound but, by and large, it still sounds like Arch Enemy.

No. 7 SEBASTIAN BACH – GIVE ‘EM HELL: Bach continues a string of solid solo records with this outing. He still has a tendency to get a bit diva-ish in places, but there are some really good songs — and he gets a hand from Guns ‘n’ Roses/Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan and Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. 

No. 6 BLACK LABEL SOCIETY – CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN: Not as strong overall as the outstanding Order of the Black, but a nice addition to Zakk Wylde’s catalog. It’s got a good mix of everything he does, from Sabbath-influenced heavy tunes to Southern rock ballads.

No. 5 GRAND MAGUS – TRIUMPH AND POWER: This is just great, old-school heavy metal. It’s filled with big, heavy riffs, catchy melodies and hooks and plenty of songs about Viking warriors. Sure, it belongs firmly in the 1980s, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

No. 4 GUS G – I AM THE FIRE: Gus G’s first solo record is a bit of a different beast, bouncing all over the hard rock spectrum from the power metal of his band Firewind to a little bit of thrash to some commercial hard rock, but he’s got a collection of great songs, particularly those that feature Mats Leven.

No. 3 DELAIN – THE HUMAN CONTRADICTION: This one has been the surprise of the year for me, so far. I’ve never been that interested in Delain before, but something about the record grabbed me. There’s a heavy dose of 1980s pop in the melodies, some of the bombast of Queen and a lot of memorable tunes. “Stardust” hasn’t strayed far from my playlist since I first heard it.

No. 2 — DOWN – DOWN IV: PART II: If you know me at all, you pretty much know that Down can do no wrong in my eyes. They’ve never disappointed me, and they don’t start here. They do another excellent job of mixing those huge, heavy, sludgy Sabbath grooves with just a little flavor of their hometown of New Orleans.

No. 1 — ANTI-MORTEM – NEW SOUTHERN: I’m not sure what it is about this record, but I liked it the first time I heard it, and it’s done nothing but grown on me. It’s a little metal, a little hard rock and a little Southern. I guess it just fits my own personal tastes and attitude. Good songs, huge hooks, a rare debut album these days that reels me in completely.

The rest of the year promises just as much good stuff as the first half. The year-end list might be a little crowded. Here’s a look at some I’m anxiously awaiting …

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (July 8): So I’ve already got this in hand and can pretty much tell you that everone on this list is going to bump down a notch on July 8. Priest really recaptures the classic sound on this one.

Pinnick Gales Pridgen – PGP 2 (July 8): I loved the first collaboration between these three musicians. This one hasn’t hit me quite the way that one did, but it’s still enjoyable.

Ted Nugent – Shut Up and Jam (July 8): Oh Ted, Ted. An uneven collection of tunes that features a few outstanding moments (“Everything Matters” featuring Derek St. Holmes, in particular) and some of the outlandish stuff that we’ve come to expect from Nuge in recent years.

November’s Doom – Bled White (July 15): I haven’t heard this one yet, but I’ve heard very good things about it. It’s on my list.

Overkill – White Devil Armory (July 22): Not too impressed with the first tune from this record, but Overkill has been on a roll recently, so this is a must check out for me.

Alestorm – Sunset on the Golden Age (Aug. 5): Probably my most anticipated album of the rest of the year. August 5 is going to be fun.

Skid Row – United World Rebellion, Part 2 (Aug. 5): The first EP installment of United World Rebellion was far and away the best thing with the Skid Row name on it since Subhuman Race. I’m hoping this one is as good.

Opeth – Pale Communion (Aug. 26): I wish I could get excited about this, but the 1970s progressive rock thing just isn’t doing it for me. The thing I loved about Opeth was the blend of everything, and they’re not the same with the heaviness gone.

Slash – World on Fire (Sept. 16): I loved Slash’s first record with Myles Kennedy, and I’m looking forward to hearing the follow-up.

Sanctuary – The Year the Sun Died (Sept. 30): With Nevermore on hiatus and possibly done, we get the first Sanctuary album since 1989. A lot of things have changed, how much will the music?

Texas Hippie Coalition – Ride On (TBD): Originally rumored for June release, no date is out on this one yet, but the band hit a great balance on Peacemaker, and I hope they continue it on this one.

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