2015: Reflections, Retrospectives, Awards & Thanks!

Well, 2015 is just about to pass and, with it, 2016 is about to start. It’s been a busy year for all of us, but, before we all start singing ‘Auld Lang Sign and waiting for the fireworks to signal the New Year, I figured it was time for me to look over all of the records I heard this year and see how I feel they stand up now at the turning of the year. I’m also going to throw in a few extra awards to stuff where I feel it deserves recognition for various reasons, a list of ten of the songs that I feel personally define 2015 for me and a bunch of thanks yous for those who I feel deserve them, so grab an eggnog (or whatever you usually have around this time) and let’s get talking!

2015 Awards

Most Insightful Record Of 2015

Part of the challenge of reviewing material which isn’t in a genre you usually listen to a lot of is that you have to approach the record from a different perspective from how you might approach material in your preferred genre. I’ve always said that the best way to explain how to be a good reviewer is to ask whether you would look at a punk album from a progressive rock fan’s expectations (or vice versa). Most would recognise that that is, obviously, unfair to the album, as what the progressive rock fan would want the album to do would be completely at odds with what punk stands for (and vice versa), yet a lot of people do it, looking at what would make the album better for them rather than what would improve the album in the eyes of its target audience. Even I will admit to having done it this year (with the benefit of hindsight, I approached Operation: Mindcrime’s The Key from the wrong perspective, although I doubt anyone could blame me for approaching the album from the perspective I did and I still stand by what I said in my review), as it’s easy to do it.

Yet this is why I always try to look at material outside of the rock spectrum, because I like to learn more about other styles of music and it allows me to look at what I like from a different perspective. It means I’m always learning about new stuff and continually improving my writing because it means I can look at something I might not like and can go “OK, this is why a fan of the genre will like this record, despite my personal dislike of it”. Hence the purpose of this category: to shine a spotlight on the record that I felt taught me the most through listening to it.

I did have one very easy pick for this category, I’ll admit, and that is Resistance by The Souljazz Orchestra. Combining soul, jazz, blues and world music, this record was one I had no expectations for: it is based in three genres which I rarely listen to, it is by an artist which I hadn’t heard of and it could have easily turned into a mess. Yet the record impressed me with high quality songwriting, excellent blending of the genres and legitimately good performances on all fronts. It was a joy to listen to and it opened my eyes to a lot of genres of music in a way that left a solid impact upon me, so it basically had this award nailed down from the moment I heard it.

Runner up: From Kinshasa by Mbongwana Star

Biggest Improvement Of 2015

One of the things about reviewing is that you have to cover stuff by artists you might not have been impressed by the first time around. Normally, you’d get a repeat of the previous time, but sometimes, you find that the artist surprises you in a good way and actually impresses you when you previously had written them off. This could be for multiple reasons: a band member who was dragging the band down leaves the band and is replaced by a much better musician, a shift in genre which actually works better for the band…heck, even something as simple as improved songwriting could make the difference between a band disappointing again and impressing.

This year had quite a few potential nominations for this category, I’ll admit, and, even up until I was writing this, I wasn’t sure who deserved the award the most. Eventually, I decided to ask myself one question: “Which artist, had I only had their previous record to judge by, would I have said had no chance?”

That decided the matter very quickly: Santa Cruz, by a landslide. Their debut, Screaming for Adrenaline was a source of mockery (albeit light) from me when I first heard it: unimpressive songwriting that sounded like they’re listened to too much Guns ‘n’ Roses, a vocal performance that seemed like a failed attempt to be Sebastian Bach and decent, but unremarkable instrument performances across the record, I had basically written Santa Cruz off as a band that would be forever stuck in the shadow of far better glam revival bands like Crashdiet.

Then their self-titled second album dropped and I was eating my words very quickly. Everything had stepped up impressively (even the vocals had gone up in my opinion!), the shift to a darker glam sound somewhat reminiscent of Toxic Rose actually worked brilliantly for them and the production, while far too loudly mastered, actually gave the album an edge they hadn’t had on their debut. It still has its problems (the songwriting isn’t quite so impressive about three quarters of a year down the line from when it was released and I still think the vocals could do with a bit more work) and I don’t think Santa Cruz are going to escape the shadow of Crashdiet any time soon, but this isn’t so much a step in the right direction as it is a running jump over the Grand Canyon! Nicely done, Santa Cruz.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2015

With every band that impresses after previously leaving you disappointed, there are often just as many that disappoint after previously leaving you impressed. Again, this can happen for many reasons: expectations being too high, a step back in the songwriting quality due to a lack of inspiration, a change in members which hurts the record due to a worse (or, at least, ill suited for the band) performance…there are many reasons!

This year had quite a few records I wanted to give this award to. One band only got spared it because they hadn’t impressed me that much in the first place and I felt giving them it would be missing the point of the award a bit (consider yourselves lucky, Jettblack!) and quite a few only got spared it because I didn’t feel the disappointment was a sufficient enough drop from the previous record to warrant handing the award to. Eventually, I had to ask myself which disappointments were ones that I felt failed as being records as well as follow ups to previous records and I finally managed, after some tough thought, to narrow it down to one choice: Repentless by Slayer. Yet another Slayer-by-the-numbers record, but with weaker songwriting than usual, Repentless is a record which pretty much shows how far Slayer have fallen since Seasons in the Abyss. Most will probably not like to read this, but, let’s be honest, Slayer are victims of their refusal to evolve, as their sound has been copied by so many bands that it’s hard to see how Slayer fits into the metal scene any more as a relevant force. However, Repentless is pretty much showcasing what happens when this refusal to evolve is not at least redeemed with strong songwriting (some will argue that God Hates Us All also showed this, but I’m talking about their records which were indisputably thrash metal). The songwriting is just typical Slayer, but without the spark to make it worth paying much attention to, the lack of Dave Lombardo and Jeff Hannemann is REALLY noticeable (the drumming feels JUST too restrained to help give the songs the energy they need and the absence of Hannemann’s songwriting on most of the record hurts it, as King’s songwriting barely pushes past acceptable), Araya’s vocals sound tired and the production is just brickwalled to death, making it a pain to listen to. If Repentless was meant to reassure fans that Slayer can carry on without Hannemann, then I hate to think what telling them they were giving up would have sounded like…

Worst Company of 2015

There’s been A LOT of jerkass behaviour this year that is worthy of condemnation, but this category was pretty much reserved for Konami. Seriously, Konami have been so determined to piss off gamers and throw every little bit of their legacy down the toilet that you’d be forgiven for wondering if Axl Rose has taken charge of Konami…actually, no, I seriously think Axl Rose would be a much better leader for Konami than whoever they currently have! Jesus Christ, where do I begin with Konami this year? The cancelling of Silent Hills and refusing to let Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro continue making anything like it after it was cancelled (despite, by pretty much all accounts, the teaser for the game, P.T., being one of the best horror games of the year AND having famed horror manga artist Junji Ito involved in the project)? Trying to remove all mentions of Hideo Kojima from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (a game HIS OWN STUDIO MADE WHILE PART OF KONAMI)? Shutting down development of games pretty much entirely just to focus on pachinko machines (which have never really caught on outside of Japan), which are LICENSED VERSIONS BASED ON THEIR OWN PROPERTIES? Hiring a CEO who apparently has NO experience in video games? Refusing to let Hideo Kojima attend an award ceremony for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain AND BACKING IT UP WITH LAWYERS?

Yep, that’s all been done by Konami in this year alone. And I’m pretty sure I’ve missed stuff as well. I know a lot of people hate EA with a passion (not entirely unreasonably), but, if anyone can seriously tell me after reading that list of Konami’s actions this year that EA is worse than them, I will have to ask what I’ve missed EA doing this year that tops all of that.

Being completely serious for a few seconds, I’ve never worked in business before in my life and I can tell you while half asleep and my attention not entirely on what is going on that all of those moves are BAD moves. No “I don’t approve of their decision, but I can see the logic behind it” comment from me on any of those: this is just flat out idiotic behaviour that anyone with half an ounce of common sense would know to not do. If Konami wants to burn every bridge they’ve built up in the gaming scene and destroy every tiny bit of their legacy, then mission accomplished, Konami! You could have bowed out from games development with grace and left behind an incredible legacy that would forever be remembered by gamers as one of the greatest legacies in the video game industry, but no, you opted to go out in a blaze of idiotic decisions that pretty much mean you’ve dug your own company’s grave, because NOBODY is going to forgive you for this and nobody is going to want to give you a second chance should you change your mind later. Congratulations, Konami, was it really worth gaining the scorn of just about every gamer in the world and pretty much alienating your core audience just to do all of that?

On behalf of all gamers everywhere, I would like to finish off by saying this: fuck you, Konami. Fuck you and your asinine, assholish, immature, unprofessional behaviour.

Worst Cover Song of 2015

Some bands opt to cover songs when they’re recording their own material. Some of these covers end up rivaling the original, if not displacing the original in the eyes of the public in a few rare cases. Usually, you get something which is a disappointing cover, but a decent listen in its own right. And then you get the covers which feel like they were mistakes of epic proportions to have been done. The covers that disgrace the original song by having to be connected to it. This award is for the worst of these.

I’m not going to lie, this one was nailed down very quickly. There were a few poor cover songs this year, but the one which angered me the most was Devil You Know’s cover of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, because there WAS potential for a good cover. A heavier version of this song, with Howard Jones’ vocals, could have proven very interesting to listen to, or at least fun.

What went wrong? Harsh vocals in this song, and not well integrated either. Protip for anyone who wants to add harsh vocals to a song: check whether the song actually NEEDS them first. If not, don’t do it, because THIS is the kind of thing you end up with. It adds these vocals when it clearly doesn’t need them, resulting in something which feels like it added the vocals because “we’re metalcore and we need these in every song we do”. There might be more offensively bad covers than this, but the addition of harsh vocals to an iconic bit of 80s culture is just inexcusable to me.

Best Free Game of 2015

Well, since I’ve made it now my mission to play free games, I guess I might as well give out something resembling an award to my favorite free game of 2015, so let’s get the obvious one out of the way now: Eternal Senia, the game which pretty much kickstarted the whole series of free game reviews. A JRPG that is based in the RPGMaker engine, it’s a game which stands out due to strong characterisation, a surprisingly deep, heartbreaking story, good balance to the gameplay, boss battles on a surprisingly grand scale and a surprisingly large amount of replayability. It might not be the best game of the year, but, if you are stuck with playing free games for financial reasons, then you can’t do much better than this in the JRPG free game market and the effort put into the game helps it to rise above most of the free games I played this year. Highly recommended!

Tragedy of 2015

2015 was a year that had some really painful events happen in it, but probably the big one was the terrorist attacks on Paris in early November. With over 100 people killed (several of whom were attending a gig by the band Eagles of Death Metal) and much of the EU, if not the whole world. shaken by the attacks, it was a tragic event that serves as a grim reminder of the fact that you can go about your day normally and still be killed by people who don’t even know who you are and just want to watch the world burn, that the world can turn upside down literally overnight based on the actions of a small group of people determined to spread terror. It is a grim reminder that what we live in is not so much peace as it is a lack of an active engagement on our soil and, in this day and age, that is not something which can be guaranteed to remain that way forever.

Top 10 Songs That Defined 2015 (For Me)

Considering how much music has been released this year, it’s fair that even trying to listen to 1% of it all would be a futile task. However, there are a bunch of songs that I pretty much have as my playlist of 2015, so let’s pick out ten of the songs which defined my year!

‘There I Said It’ by Adam Lambert

I will admit that this one is an odd choice for me: I’m not a big pop fan overall and Adam Lambert is one of the most iconic pop stars out there at the minute, so seeing him storm into my top 10 songs of the year is probably going to seem very odd to most onlookers. The reason this song made it into the playlist, however, is that it manages to be a surprisingly touching ballad while still showing Lambert’s vocal skills off very nicely. Throw in the fact that the song has got some surprisingly good lyrics and it happened to arrive into my life in a time when I really needed something to make me pull myself back together again and this song ended up keeping me going pretty much between the album’s release and starting my counselling class. It isn’t going to be anyone else’s pick of 2015, I imagine, but, for me, this song is a case of being the song I needed to hear when I heard it and, while the emotional impact it had on me is probably not going to apply to most people, I feel failing to acknowledge it would be an insult to a song that could very well have been the reason I finally snapped out of a depressive streak that I hadn’t even realized I’d been unable to escape from.

‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ by The Agonist

I will freely admit, I felt (and still feel) that Eye of Providence was a disappointment. After the more progressive influenced Prisoners, I was expecting the band to try to include more progressive material on the follow up to it, so their decision to strip the technicality down didn’t sit well with me. Even now, I’m still not convinced that it was a good decision, as I don’t feel the band really replaced the technicality they stripped out with anything that made up for the simpler material. However, I will admit that this didn’t stop ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ from being a frequent staple of my casual listening material over the course of 2015. A very solid chorus, some pretty great instrumental work and Vicky’s screams (which aren’t as good as Alissa’s to my ear, but work nicely on this song) just come together to form an excellent song that I can’t help really enjoying.

‘Artificial Love’ by Broadway

Melodic post-hardcore is a genre that is generally hard to do right, much like melodic metalcore. On the one hand, the genres pretty much demand you to be as heavy as you can be, but they’re also demanding you to have a strong sense of melody (not necessarily be poppy: poppy implies a pop sensibility, which means a fairly short song with a strong singalong chorus, lyrics focused on themes everyone can relate to and limited technical skills on display in the song, which is a far cry from how much most people would describe, for example, Amon Amarth!), which is basically like trying to be a pop punk band while also being a technical death metal band (hmm…sounds like something Devin Townsend would do while bored!). Broadway are probably one of the most interesting bands in this genre I can name, not necessarily for the quality of their album they released this year (although, to their credit, Contexture: Gods, Men, And the Infinite Cosmos is still a fun listen), but because ex-members of the band went on to form Sleeping With Sirens. I debated over whether to give Sleeping With Sirens the spot on the top ten list over Broadway for ‘Better Off Dead’, but, when I sat down to listen to them both, I found myself admitting that, overall, ‘Artificial Love’ impressed me more than anything on Madness (that and ‘Artificial Love’ was less depressing to put on the list). It’s just a great song that, while not really going to win any awards for complexity, stayed on my casual listening selection throughout the whole year with little difficulty.

‘Lost in America’ by Helloween

I am probably in the minority when I say this, but I was actually disappointed with Helloween’s post-7 Sinners outputs, 2013’s Straight Out of Hell and this year’s My God-Given Right. Maybe it’s because my first Helloween album was 7 Sinners, but I always felt the attempt to combine the more upbeat style of Helloween’s early records with the sound of 7 Sinners didn’t pay off. While I’d say Straight Out of Hell was the better of the two on an overall level (having some legitimately awesome song on it, but just failing to grab me the same way 7 Sinners did), I will admit that Helloween also came out with a song that I have loved since I first heard it on My God-Given Right: ‘Lost in America’. Not to be confused for an RTZ album, the song is one of the rare times where I have felt Helloween nailed the sound they were going for since 7 Sinners, as it is still surprisingly heavy (not as much as Straight Out of Hell, but certainly more than might be expected), but it has a very melodic chorus that is bound to get an enthusiastic singalong started up and has a surprisingly set of lyrics to it. It’s not 80s Helloween and I think My God-Given Right is probably their weakest record since 2003’s Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, but ‘Lost in America’ shows that Helloween can still put out tracks on their records that are worth listening to.

‘Where Is The Love’ by Khymera

I’m noted for my love of somewhat cheesy stuff (as I’m sure HVN will be able to attest from when I drunkenly started singing ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ on a night out once…), so me and 80s influenced music go together like gloves and hands. One guaranteed way to get my attention is a great power ballad, which Khymera did so well that it was pretty much guaranteed to have a place on this list from the moment I heard it. A very grand power ballad that builds up from a piano up to a full band performance, the song shows the importance of dynamics and having a build up to a epic finale with this kind of music and is very well sung by Dennis Ward. Even if power ballads aren’t your kind of thing, I would seriously recommend giving this a listen if you want to know how to write a great ballad, as this (and ‘There I Said It’, mentioned earlier in this list) pretty much show how to do it excellently.

‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ by Nightwish

Nightwish’s career since Imaginaerum has been pretty weird. First a movie that didn’t really go anywhere, then a soundtrack album that was pretty much the same album without vocals and some rearrangements (which is already kind of weird when you remember that the album originally WAS the soundtrack for the film, so what we got was basically a soundtrack for a film that already was worked on alongside its own soundtrack…confused yet?), then previous vocalist Anette Olzen being fired for reasons that are still somewhat controversial, then a solo album by Tuomas Holopainen based on the tales of Scrooge McDuck (yes, seriously), then claims of diva behavior from vocalist Floor Jansen (which I personally feel are a bit unfair, but whatever) and then a PR disaster after whoever operated Nightwish’s Facebook page named and shamed someone who leaked ‘Elan’ three days early. It was pretty much at the point where Endless Forms Most Beautiful was going to have to be one of the best albums of Nightwish’s career (or, at least, better than their albums with Anette) for them to undo all of the weird (at best) decisions they’d made since 2012.

…I don’t think they did, but I seem to be in a minority on this one. Still, for what it’s worth, the title track from the album has stayed on my playlist pretty much since the album came out and, while I’d be lying if I said that I don’t hear any similarities to previous Nightwish songs (‘Bye Bye Beautiful’ and ‘Master Passion Greed’ spring to mind), it’s still a song that I can’t help really enjoying.

‘The Sound of Silence’ by Disturbed

A VERY late addition to the list (I first heard this song on the 14th of December), but probably the only one where I just went “You fucking nailed it!” upon hearing it for the first time. I’m hardly a big fan of Disturbed, I’ll admit (I do have a copy of Ten Thousand Fists in my record collection, but I’ve never really listened to it in full), but I never quite discounted them either: some of their songs that I have listened to are fun enough for me to happily listen to when they come on and they never felt like they were constrained to a subgenre of metal too much either, instead producing a sound that was a very solid blend of many made into a cohesive whole. Still, I would be lying if I said that the news of their reunion got me really excited to hear them again and some of the word of mouth I’d heard indicated that it was a somewhat mixed affair, so I never bothered to pick it up.

 

Yet one thing I was curious about was when I noticed mentions of a cover of ‘The Sound of Silence’. Being a huge fan of Simon & Garfunkel, I decided to give it a listen…and I was blown away. A grand, atmospheric treatment of the song was presented to me which was completely atypical from what I expected from Disturbed, yet was different enough from the original to feel like it’s own creation, and it was just amazing to listen to. I seriously would go far enough to say that this is the greatest cover of a Simon & Garfunkel song that I’ve ever heard, if not one of the best covers I’ve ever heard in my life. A truly magnificent cover and an excellent song in its own right, this is one cover that, at the very least, proves that Disturbed can do absolutely brilliant covers of other songs.

‘Misfits’ by Owl & Mouse

Another weird choice on paper, I’ll admit, and I’m not going to lie, this one has a really odd reason for being on this list. As most people who know me in real life are aware, I have a REALLY bad set of sleeping habits and tend to be on edge a lot of the time because I rarely completely relax, so I tend to not enjoy overly mellow music because it just leaves my attention too quickly to grab me. Owl & Mouse, as such, were a genuinely pleasant surprise, being mellow (and rather delicate and soothing as well), but really enjoyable from the start of their record. The best song, however, was ‘Misfits’. When I first heard this song, I felt completely at peace and was able to drift into a brilliant sleep when I tested it out, but it was a song I liked singing along to as well.

So yeah, this got on the list because it’s a great song which also helped me to drift off to sleep. You see why I said it got on for an odd reason now?

‘Orphan’ by Toto

I will admit that, with the benefit of hindsight, I was a bit harsh on Toto XIV. Sure, it wasn’t a flawless record and some aspects of the production still grate on me, but it still has some absolute gems of tracks and ‘Orphan’ sits proudly on my best of 2015 playlist. A somewhat poppy track compared to the rest of the record, it has a pretty good chorus, some well placed Christian imagery in the lyrics that actually manages to enhance the point being made without coming across as preachy (which is surprisingly rare to notice) and some solid performances overall (including the vocals, which still sound fairly good when you realise the only member younger than 50 was drummer Keith Carlock). It’s not the best song in Toto’s discography by any measure, but an excellent song it remains nonetheless.

‘Wasted & Wounded’ by Santa Cruz

Most people who know me will be able to tell you that I love glam metal, especially of the sleaze metal variety. Yeah, the roads most glam metal bands walk down nowadays have been so finely tread that you could use them to start a potato farm if you wanted to, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun in a mindless kind of way and it’s far more upbeat than the average groove metal song, so I’m happy to keep listening to it. I had to think quite hard on whether to have Santa Cruz on the list or not, considering they’ve already received praise from me in this article, but I eventually figured that, as much as I loved ‘Mental Slavery’ by Shiraz Lane, I still preferred to return back to ‘Wasted & Wounded’ by Santa Cruz over it. The production is far too loudly mastered, but there’s nothing else I can really fault the song for: the vocal performance is excellent, the instrumentation is very solid and the overall song is so catchy that it could spread faster than the common cold and will stay in your head for hours. Not really a lot I can say except that it’s a legitimately great song and still regularly played by me whenever I get a chance!

Complete 2015 Albums Retrospective

So, now we come to the most important part of the article: the breakdown of every record I heard this year. I’m going to keep things fairly easy and restrict myself only to full studio albums, so no EPs, singles, live albums or demos will be covered for this, and I’m not going to count records that I got for free on bandcamp. This is mostly for convenience’s sake: if I included either of them, I’d still be writing this article at the end of January!

So, with that out of the way, let’s get started!

10 Songs by Aaron Fyfe

This record is actually a lot better than I originally gave it credit for. Some limited songwriting prevents it from reaching the heights I’d demand from it to give it a strong recommendation (I would prefer Fyfe to do more varied material, as he tends to stick with just a guitar and vocals, which makes the moments when he steps outside of that stand out all the more!), but, for folk singer-songwriter standards, it’s actually not too bad, with some great performances on it and some songs that are really enjoyable. Worth checking out if you like folk singer-songwriter material!

Birth and the Burial by Act of Defiance

Clearly cut from the vein of old school thrash metal, but with some of the more progressive touches one would expect from Megadeth and Forbidden and some touches of melodic death metal, this album is pretty much proof that Dave Mustaine was an idiot to not let Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick contribute more thrashy material in Megadeth. Backed up with a surprisingly good vocal performance from lead vocalist Henry Derek, some excellent songwriting and performances that remind you that the key members of the band were in Megadeth for a reason, Act of Defiance is a very solid thrash metal record that pretty much anyone with an interest in thrash metal should check out.

The Original High by Adam Lambert

Probably Lambert’s most varied album to date, and just about everything hits the spot nicely. Whether he’s tackling modern pop, ballads or somewhat rockier numbers, Lambert performs everything with the skill expected of a performer on his level and doesn’t disappoint. The album itself, while not going to appeal to those not interested in pop music, is very well written overall and, even at worst, is very listenable. Probably his best record to date, in my honest opinion, and worth a listen if you’re a pop fan.

Eye of Providence by The Agonist

Stripping out the technicality that The Agonist had on full display on Prisoners in favor of a more simplified metalcore/melodic death metal fusion, The Agonist feel like they’ve made a crucial mistake in not replacing the stripped out technicality with something worthy of note. New vocalist Vicky Psarakis does an admirable job at replacing Alissa White-Gluz on an overall level and the songwriting isn’t bad, but, compared to Prisoners, it feels somewhat underwhelming and like it’s lacking something. Die-hard fans of The Agonist only.

Always and Forever by Alien Ant Farm

Aiming for a more alternative sound than might be expected from the band who covered ‘Smooth Criminal’ so memorably in 2001, Alien Ant Farm feel more like they’ve survived the years through sheer perseverance than due to any real quality to their material. While there are some decent tracks here, it’s nothing you’re going to miss too much if you give it a miss. Being funded through PledgeMusic means this is automatically reserved for fans of the band on principle, but it feels like they didn’t stop to consider a wider audience would get to hear the album later as well. Non-AAF fans need not apply.

iDentity by Alpha Tiger

A more varied take on traditional heavy metal/power metal than Alpha Tiger’s previous efforts, this record is probably the band’s weakest record to date, feeling like the band stretched their sound too thin and tried to do more than they were actually capable of pulling off. While they do have their successes on the record, it’s generally an unimpressive listen that doesn’t show the band at their best. Fans of the band’s previous records will probably enjoy this, but it’s not going to win over anyone not already fond of the band.

Secret Garden by Angra

Fronted by long-time live vocalist Fabio Lione, this record is pretty much what you’d expect from this South American progressive power metal band: technically demanding melodic metal with a few unconventional twists and turns that show the band still have some good tricks up their sleeves and aren’t going to be running out of ideas any time soon. Worth checking out if you like progressive power metal!

Raise a Little Hell by The Answer

Pulling off the old school blues rock so authentically that you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for a lost blues rock album from the 70s instead of a new album, this album offers nothing new to the veteran blues rock fan, but still sounds like a surprisingly good breath of free air for those tired of post-grunge. Some unimpressive songwriting stops the album from really reaching the heights I’d like it to before recommending it and there’s a definite feeling that it’s offering nothing new, but it’s ultimately a fun listen and done well enough that fans of bands like Deep Purple, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin who were too young to see them in their glory days should really enjoy it!

Disorientated by Arkentype

Progressive metal is a tough beast to get right with me, so Arkentype getting a good response from me is quite an achievement! Combining extreme metal elements and melodic elements with concise songwriting that doesn’t fall into the “everything including the kitchen sink” style of songwriting pioneered by Dream Theatre and a more atmospheric feeling that gives the record a very interesting feeling to it while being well performed throughout, my only major criticism is that the overall sound of the record is one that makes for a very uncomfortable listening experience for the uninitiated listener, which makes it difficult to recommend to those not already used to extreme progressive metal (or Nevermore or Dir En Grey, for those wanting a quick jump in point). Extreme progressive metal fans, though, should find this worth somewhat enjoyable!

Art of Anarchy by Art of Anarchy

A hard rock supergroup that included ex-Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland, ex-Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot and Disturbed bassist John Moyer, one would be forgiven for expecting a lot from this record. Sadly, while Weiland’s performance is very good, the rest of the music lets him down, being unimpressive hard rock that sounds uncannily like the worst aspects of post-grunge crammed into one package, with only Weiland’s vocals really making the record worthy of note and feeling a bit like a waste of talent from the rest of the members of the band. Some fun can be had from this record, but you’re not missing much if you ignore it.

Under the Savage Sky by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Combining soul and punk in a way that fits together far better than it sounds like it should on paper, this record is a surprisingly fun blast of fresh air that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. Lead by Whitfield’s impressive vocals (he doesn’t sound like he was pushing 70 when he recorded this album!) and some generally impressive songwriting (with a few songs that fail to grab, but aren’t necessarily bad either), this is a record that fans of soul and punk will find really interesting to hear.

Unholy Savior by Battle Beast

Dancing the fine line between traditional heavy metal and power metal, the biggest problem with this record is that it feels like a rehash of what the band did on their self-titled record, just without the same level of songwriting that made the self-titled record so great and a few moments of less-than-subtle plagiarism (the opening riff of ‘Far Far Away’ bears more than a slight resemblance to ‘Stand Out and Shout’ by Dio, to name the big example). While the performances across the record still show a level of professionalism that would be expected from the band, the songwriting just doesn’t grab me as much as the self-titled record did. A disappointing follow-up, but still enjoyable enough if you take it for what it is.

Citizen by Billy Sherwood

A very grand progressive rock album, yet one that fits on the more subtle side to the progressive rock spectrum. With some great performances overall (the only one which feels underwhelming being Sherwood’s vocals, but he doesn’t do a bad job overall) and some strong songwriting that holds my interest despite my personal lack of interest in progressive rock, it’s hard to find any major flaws in this record and it’s certainly easy to see this record having appeal even to those not normally interested in progressive rock. Really worth a listen if you like old school progressive rock and a good hopping on point to the genre for those who are curious about the genre, but not actually fans of it.

Black Rivers by Black Rivers

A very varied indie pop record by the two members of Doves not named Jimi Goodwin, this is a record that shows how indie music can be really good to those who might normally give indie stuff a wide berth while still being very much what indie fans will want to hear. Some very solid performances combined with excellent songwriting make this a very easy to recommend record to those who like indie stuff and those who are wanting to see what the indie fans are making such a big fuss about with the genre.

The Killer Instinct by Black Star Riders

Hard rock that is (very predictably) in the vein of Thin Lizzy, this record is clearly aiming to be the follow up that everyone wanted it to be, but the final result lacks some of the more interesting touches that helped make the band’s debut so interesting, having stripped out the Irish folk influences and some of the more obvious Thin Lizzy-influenced touches that ironically made the record so special. While some could argue this makes the album sound more like it has its own identity than the previous record did, it just doesn’t grab me as much as you might expect. Combine this with weaker (not bad, I should stress!) songwriting and some songs which feel out of place (‘Sex, Guns & Gasoline’ in particular feels like the band covering a glam metal song) and it’s hard to feel that this is a worthy follow up to their debut. Still, overall, it’s not bad if you take it for what it is, so hard rock fans should find this a good listen.

Beyond the Red Mirror by Blind Guardian

Augmenting Blind Guardian’s already rather grand power metal sound with orchestras and choirs, this record certainly feels like it has the epic scale to make you admire the band’s devotion to their craft. Unfortunately, most of it ends up not really making the impact it should do (and even gets dropped from the record at a few points in favour of a return to Blind Guardian’s usual sound) and the songwriting in general feels like it’s lacking something to really propel it to the heights expected of Blind Guardian. It is still well performed overall, though, and there’s still enough to like on the record to make calling it bad feel very harsh. A disappointing follow up, but not a bad record at the same time, either.

Speedways by Blood Red Saints

80s rock done so convincingly that it’s hard to believe that the record was released this year even to a trained ear, the big flaw with this record is that it doesn’t quite have enough strong songs to shake off the feeling that it only got the acclaim it did because of a relative lack of competition than out of any major quality, as it hits every cliche of the genre so well that you could almost play bingo to it. However, it is still a very fun listen if you like this kind of thing and, considering it’s the band’s debut, there’s audible potential in them. Probably not going to be anyone’s album of the year, but fans of the genre will find this enjoyable enough!

In Death We Rot by Bloodstrike

Female fronted death metal from a recent addition to the metal scene, this record has some really good tracks and very impressive vocals courtesy of vocalist Holly Wedel, but feels like it suffers a bit from the songwriting not really being all that exceptional in the death metal scene and the performances (aside from the vocals) feeling like what you’d expect to hear from a typical musician of this genre of music. I hear some great potential in this band, but further work is needed for them to reach the heights they’re capable of. Good if you want some female fronted death metal to listen to, but won’t be an album of the year for most people.

Colours by Blue

Proof that calling boy bands dead is now no longer true, this record serves both as a reminder of why boy bands were considered punching bags by most critics while being loved by teenage girls worldwide and as a testament to why Blue at least avoided some of the scorn that most critics could conjure up with ease. Clearly cut from the vein of post-reunion Take That, but with some touches that show Blue’s greater range of influences than the average boy band (including covers of some REALLY old ballads), it’s a record that is ultimately inoffensive, but isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion on the band by any measure.

The Firewatcher’s Daughter by Brandi Carlile

A folk singer-songwriter record with more than a few nods towards country music and a few more grand sounds which are admirable in their determination to avoid the stereotypical guitar and vocal combination, this record is a bit flawed in that the more mellow moments fail to hold interest, but mostly comes across as a very good record, with some great songs, Carlile’s excellent voice and instrument performances that, while not technically impressive, are still more than suitable for the demands of the music. Worth a listen if you like folk and country music.

Contexture: Gods, Men, And the Infinite Cosmos by Broadway

Showing that melodic post-hardcore can still be highly varied, this album has some excellent songs, but also has a few songs which just don’t do anything of any real interest and can sometimes suffer from songwriting that feels a bit too varied to allow the record to flow properly. The performances are enjoyable across the record and there’s nothing really bad about it, though. Probably best reserved for fans of melodic post-hardcore than a general audience, since the lack of a consistent tone may make the record hard to click with.

Searching for Zero by Cancer Bats

Combining hardcore punk with heavy metal and southern rock (…yeah, let’s just say “sludge metal” from here on out to keep things easy!), this record is basically what you’d expect to hear if you heard Hatebreed trying to sound like Ozzy-era Black Sabbath. This is actually a lot better than it sounds on paper, as the worst that can be said about the record is that it’s not an easy record to get into, but it is worth the effort. If you like hardcore punk and Black Sabbath, then this should be worth a listen.

Chaos Magic by Chaos Magic

Combining the vocal talents of newcomer Caterina Nix and general skills of Timo Tolkki, this record had potential to be somewhat good, but, to put it bluntly, fails to deliver, with songwriting so unimpressive that I grew bored of it before I’d even got halfway through my first listen of the record, instrument performances that, while not bad, mostly feel very beneath Tolkki’s level of talent and production that feels like something about the vocals wasn’t mixed properly. With that said, Nix’s voice is very pleasant to listen to and I can’t say she’s a bad vocalist at all, so, with the right talent behind her, she could do really well…

The Valiant Fire by Damnation Angels

The long awaited second album by a British symphonic metal band (with a Norwegian vocalist, who has since left the band), this record has some very solid moments across the whole record (with PelleK’s vocals being an indisputable highlight), but, unfortunately, is let down by songwriting which takes so long to build up to where it is going to that I tend to find myself skipping through the build up whenever I hear the record because I get so bored of it. There’s definitely a lot of reasons to like this record, though, so symphonic metal fans and power metal fans should still check it out.

What Kind of Love by Danny & The Champions of the World

An combination of old fashioned soul music and rock music, this record is an excellent record that manages to feel fresh in today’s current popular music landscape. With some strong performances, Danny Wilson’s vocals sounding exactly like an old school soul singer and incredibly great songwriting, this is a record that I think anyone with an interest in soul music or rock music would be well advised to check out. One of my picks for best non-metal record of the year!

They Bleed Red by Devil You Know

The second record of a metalcore supergroup combining the talents of ex-Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones, Devolved drummer John Sankey, ex-All Shall Perish guitarist Francesco Artusato and ex-Bleeding Through bassist Ryan Wombacher, this is a record that seems like it should be highly impressive on paper, but, in practise, comes across as your average metalcore record, with only Jones’ vocals separating it from being completely generic. Not an awful listen, by any measure (except for the cover of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, which attempts to add harsh vocals to a song that flat out don’t suit them), but those who aren’t metalcore fans will find nothing here of interest.

Fallen Empires by Diviner

Probably the closest InnerWish fans will get to a reunion of the band’s Waiting for the Dawn line up, Diviner manage to condense pretty much everything great about old school traditional heavy metal and US power metal down into about 50 minutes. Excellent vocals (making me think of a somewhat more aggressive version of Dio), incredibly strong songwriting that, while not offering anything new, is bound to get fans of old school metal excited and instrument performances that show a band who are very professional about their work and more than capable of delivering the goods. One of the best debut albums of 2015!

Revel in Demise by Endless Recovery

Combining thrash metal and early extreme metal together to form something surprisingly interesting, this record has a lot of interesting ideas to it that definitely show a band with a lot of potential. the songwriting is very good and the album is very well performed overall. Unfortunately, the record suffers from the “everything at top speed” problem that a lot of thrash metal records do, as the band focuses so much on speed that the record can feel like it’s blending together because there’s not a lot of variety to the tempo of the record. Still, worth a listen if you’re a thrash metal fan who also likes early extreme metal.

Hate Me by Escape The Fate

A metalcore record that feels like it has taken more that a few cues from modern rock at the same time and incorporated a few gothic elements to give it all a darker vibe, it’s hard to say whether this record has succeeded in winning me over or not. On the one hand, the album feels somewhat schizophrenic due to the sounds feeling like they’ve not been properly integrated together to a complete sound and the performances don’t feel that exceptional overall. On the other hand, the songwriting, despite being a bit predictable, is still fairly enjoyable and I have to say that the greater range of influences saves the record from feeling like just your typical metalcore record. If you like metalcore and modern rock, then this is worth a look into, but I don’t think I can recommend this record to people who aren’t sold on either genre, as it don’t do either to a level that makes them worth trying out if they’re not your usual listening material.

War of Kings by Europe

Continuing in the vein of Europe’s post-reunion sound (which is more akin to heavy metal-tinged hard rock, with a bit of blues rock influence thrown in for good measure, than their well known sound showcased on ‘The Final Countdown’), this is a very well written record on the songwriting front and is very well performed (Joey Tempest’s vocals have stood up surprisingly well to the tests and trials of time, too!). Unfortunately, the band’s current sound might make it a hard sell to those expecting the band’s 80s sound, as it is very different from what they’re well known for. If you like heavier hard rock and can put aside the band’s iconic 80s sound enough to give this record a fair chance, then this is worth a listen!

Expect Delays by Evans The Death

A record which sounds more like it was comprised of a bunch of demos than properly recorded, this would be a very easy record to write off on that basis alone if it weren’t for the fact that the music on the record is actually pretty good, with some strong (if a bit chaotic and hard to follow due to the way the album was recorded) songwriting, a lot of energy to the instrument performances and a rare case where the typical indie rock singing style actually works in favour of the music being performed to my ears due to serving like the calm in the centre of the storm that is the sound of the record. Overall, it’s actually a lot more interesting that I’d expected. If you like indie rock and don’t mind really raw production work that’s almost demo level, this is worth checking out!

Sol Invictus by Faith No More

A comeback done right, this record has a lot of variety to it that utilises Mike Patton’s still impressive vocals to their best effect while still backing itself with some very interesting performances and dressed up in a somewhat unsettling atmosphere that makes the record very engaging to listen to. Hampered a bit by a track or two which don’t quite hit as well as they should do, but holds itself together so well that it isn’t as big a problem as might be expected. An all around solid record that anyone who has even the slightest interest in Faith No More should enjoy!

Just Like You by Falling in Reverse

A metalcore record that is equal parts enjoyable and embarrassing. On the one hand, there’s a disturbingly large amount of the record which feels very embarrassing to listen to when you realise it is being sung by a man in his thirties, some of the songs feel like they’re trying too hard to appeal to a teenaged audience and just come across as creepy as a result, the instrumental performances are nothing special and the tonal shifts between pop punk and metalcore across the record are almost whiplash inducing. On the other hand, the songs that hit the mark are genuinely enjoyable and Ronnie Radke’s clean vocals (not so much his harsh vocals) have held up surprisingly well with time. Has its moments and is hardly awful enough to warrant any real hatred for it, but hard to recommend to those who aren’t already fans of the band.

From Safer Place by Fawn Spots

A post-punk record that feels like it actually doesn’t know for sure what it wants to be. On the one hand, it has a few songs which are very clearly punk based and work very well as a result, but it has a few songs which also clearly want to be more in the alternative rock vein, which doesn’t work well with the punk-focused vocal style. This results in a somewhat schizophrenic record that, while well performed, can be very hard to enjoy as a complete whole. Hardly a bad record if you like that kind of thing, but I think the band needs to pick one genre and stick with it or combine both genres together rather than trying to play both, as it damages the record to do what they have.

Behind the Devil’s Back by Fightstar

The long awaited fourth album by (now returned) Busted vocalist Charlie Simpson’s alternative rock/post-hardcore band, this record feels like it has taken more cues from the alternative rock side of Fightstar’s sound than the post-hardcore sound, with the only real cues toward the latter being Simpson’s screams and the occasional heavier moment. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as the record is very well written and performed on all fronts. Fightstar fans should really enjoy this record and it’s worth a listen if you’re interested in alternative rock and post-hardcore, as it handles both of them very well!

Dark Angel by Find Me

A project teaming up the drummer of The Murder of my Sweet and the vocalist of Blanc Faces, Find Me might not have the most impressive of names, but, on record, that is another story! While hardly the most original of albums, it is backed with some impressive performances and some very strong songwriting that makes it a very solid AOR rock album. A very good album overall, but more reserved towards fans of the genre as opposed to a more general audience.

From the End of Heaven by Gods of Eden

Confusingly labelled as a progressive death metal album (it feels a lot more like progressive gothenburg metal to me…which, admittedly, is a form of melodic death metal!), this is nonetheless a surprisingly engaging album, with some strong technical performances and some excellent songwriting. Might be a bit difficult for people to get into who aren’t used to this style of music, but a rewarding enough listen to make it recommendable to those who like stuff like Sonic Syndicate and Soilwork and want a more technical take on their styles of music.

Mantras of War by Goodbye to Gravity

Probably one of the only albums released this year which is linked to a tragedy due to the deaths of four of the band members and the fire at the album’s launch party which killed over fifty people and injured over a hundred more, this record is almost impossible to talk about because the circumstances behind how it (and the band) came to most people’s attention overshadowing it. However, it is ultimately not a bad listen if you like melodic metalcore, as it has some very solid songs and the performances on the record, while nothing special overall, are still decent and shows that the band had some potential that was tragically cut short.

Into the Wild Life by Halestorm

Showing more variety than they did before, this record certainly shows that Halestorm have made a good effort to avoid being perceived as an artist who refuses to evolve their sound. Unfortunately, most of the variety doesn’t really stop the songwriting from generally being unimpressive and it doesn’t take long before you realise that the core of the record is still based on the band’s previous formula of post-grunge tinged hard rock with poppy choruses. Not an awful listen by any measure and still a very enjoyable listen to those who like this kind of thing, but not really going to convince anyone who wasn’t already on board with the band’s style of music. For fans only.

HCSS by Hardcore Superstar

An attempt by the band to return back to the sound which they started off with, this record is actually a bit disappointing overall, which is hard to admit due to my love of sleaze metal and fondness for the band’s previous record, 2013’s C’mon Take on Me. The songwriting feels like it has stripped itself down too much and feels somewhat lacking in comparison to their previous record (although it’s still a very enjoyable sound overall: I liken it to party punk!), which is a shame, because Jocke Berg’s distinctive vocals are still very recognisable and the musicianship is great. Still, it does have some songs on it which I’ll admit to liking very easily, so this is hardly a bad record, just a bit too far stripped back from what the band previously did for my liking. If you like sleaze metal and haven’t heard of these guys, then this isn’t the best starting point, but still a fun listen!

My God-Given Right by Helloween

Following up 2013’s Straight Out of Hell (which I personally felt was unimpressive overall, but grows on you), this record seems to have suffered from a drop in songwriting quality that causes a disturbing large amount of the record to feel underwhelming, although not without its charms when it gets things right. The performances are still very good by the members of the band, though, and Andi Deris in particular still has a very good voice for a guy who has been singing in the band for over twenty years now. More dedicated towards fans of latter-day Helloween than general power metal fans.

Smoke + Mirrors by Imagine Dragons

The second album by a surprisingly popular newcomer to the indie rock scene, this record is one which feels like it suffers from somewhat inconsistent songwriting, as the songs range from being genuinely very good to very unimpressive. Nothing so bad that it isn’t worth listening to, but the songwriting is still in need of tightening up. However, the performances on the record are still very good for indie rock standards and the good stuff is very enjoyable indeed. Not going to win over anyone who isn’t fond of indie stuff, but still decent enough to be worth a listen if you like that sort of music.

The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden

Following on in the vein of the last two Iron Maiden albums, but without someone to get the band to trim the songs down, it’s really hard for me to see why this album got the praise that it did. Full to the brim of overly long songs that could have easily been trimmed down to be far stronger, unimpressive and repetitive songwriting that even the comments of the band having evolved beyond their 80s sound doesn’t completely justify, claims of being more experimental that can only be justified if you points towards one song (‘Empire of the Clouds’) and none of the others and a production job that has more compression than it needs, about the only thing that stops me from completely writing off this album is that it’s well performed and some moments are really good across the record. One for fans of post-2000s Maiden only, then.

Disguises by Jettblack

The third attempt by chronic underachievers Jettblack to prove they have a reason for me to care about them, and their third failed attempt in a row. Some fun can be found from the record and it’s got some decent moments, but the vast majority of it feels like it’s been done far better by so many other bands in the genre that it’s hard to really get excited over this. Lacking even a single song that I feel worthy of interest, it’s one of my least favourite records of the year, and only spared some of my harshest criticisms through virtue of at least being easy to forget.

Haven by Kamelot

The second post-Khan era Kamelot album, there’s nothing really to fault this record over, as it follows Kamelot’s gothic-tinged power metal sound as laid down by The Black Halo very well and has some incredibly good songs on it. However, it feels like the band are still playing it safe after the controversial Poetry for the Poisoned and aren’t pushing themselves to the extent they should be, which results in a record that is enjoyable, but has the unavoidable vibe of being something fans will have already heard before. Probably more intended for the already established fan than winning over a new audience, but still solid enough to be a decent first Kamelot album for those wanting to get into the band.

The Grand Illusion by Khymera

A record that probably would have made better sense as a Dennis Ward solo record when looked at hard enough, this is still a fairly fun romp of AOR by the man behind Pink Cream 69, Unisonic and Project Vendrone. Some great songwriting and an overall strong set of performances, the only real stumbling blocks are Dennis Ward’s unimpressive (though not terrible) vocals and adhering to the typical AOR formula so faithfully that it doesn’t even try to add anything new to the AOR genre. Not likely to win over those who are looking for something new in the AOR genre, but a great listen if the lack of originality isn’t a problem for you.

City of Heroes by Kiske/Somerville

The second collaboration album of iconic metal vocalist Michael Kiske and well regarded session musician and vocal coach Amanda Somerville, this album is basically a very enjoyable hard rock meets melodic metal album, with strong performances from the instruments and some truly excellent singing (although this is probably unsurprising to anyone familiar with Kiske or Somerville’s other performances). My only real complaint is that the songwriting feels somewhat safe and doesn’t do anything that you’ve not heard already if you’ve heard more than a few melodic metal records, which makes it hard to give the record a particularly strong recommendation. Still, there’s nothing really bad about the record, so make of that what you will.

No Sad Songs by The Lilac Time

Combining folk rock and alternative rock, this record managed to surprise me quite a lot with hindsight, being very varied overall in terms of what is on display on the record, yet never feels like it lacks any quality to the songwriting. With Stephen Duffy’s very solid vocals backed by strong performances on the instruments, it’s very easy to enjoy this record if you like either folk rock or alternative rock. If you don’t, but like relatively calm material, then this is still worth a look into, as it has enough variety on display that it might well surprise you.

Rebel by Lynch Mob

One of three outings this year with George Lynch, this record unfortunately feels underwhelming to me. Some very strong performances from Lynch do not make up for Oni Logan’s vocal performance (which isn’t bad per se, but doesn’t really fit with what the band are trying to do with their music) and songwriting which generally feels like it is lacking outside of Lynch’s guitar work, and a production job which feels like it is louder than is really acceptable doesn’t help much. Not recommended unless you’re already a huge Lynch Mob fan.

Kingdom of Rock by Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall

One of the few cases where I’ve been feeling left cold by a record while still finding it an excellent record overall, this album fits all of the cliches of traditional heavy metal and power metal in a way that makes you realise that there’s nothing new on this record, but is still strong songwriting overall, backed with some excellent performances and excellent guest performances. Definitely a strong record, but the lack of anything new stops me from giving it a particularly eager recommendation.

Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Valley Doom Part 1 by Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Valley Doom

A rock opera in the same vein as Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia and Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, this record is not without an excellent idea behind it and, to its credit, has some very solid songwriting (which is basically so gloriously cheesy that you’d be forgiven for thinking Manowar had a hand in making the album) and vocal performances to it. The instrumental performance is also very good. Unfortunately, most of it is hurt by a poor production job, as the vocals all sound very similar (to the extent that even knowing what every vocalist on the album sounds like doesn’t make it easy to identify when different vocalists are singing) and the focus overall is on the vocals, which makes some of the instrument performances feel undermixed. However, this is the only real flaw with the record, so power metal fans should find this a really fun record to listen to.

From Kinshasa by Mbongwana Star

Combining traditional music from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with dance music and post-punk, this is a record that is so far out there that it’d be very easy to expect the record to be impossible to like. However, it is actually a really incredible listen, with incredibly strong songwriting, great performances and strong vocals. It’s going to be difficult to get into if you aren’t used to folk music from Africa, but, if you have even the slightest interest in it, then this is not only highly recommended, but downright essential!

Carry The Fire by Millennial Reign

A heavy metal record in the vein of traditional heavy metal bands like Judas Priest and early progressive metal bands like Queensryche and Crimson Glory, this is a record that is generally very solid in terms of the songwriting and has some very decent performances on the instrumental front. However, I think the big problem with the record for me is the vocals, as James Guest’s singing voice feels just too high and wispy for me to enjoy, as if he’s trying to sing in a range that isn’t comfortable for him. If you can handle Guest’s vocals, though, then this is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the bands mentioned above!

Beth Out of Hell by The Murder of My Sweet

The third record (and first concept album) by Swedish symphonic metallers, this record has a very grand feeling to it that fits perfectly with the cinematic scope that the band are going for with their sound. The songwriting is fairly good (although it doesn’t impress quite as much as it did when I first heard it) and the performances are very good overall, with Angelica Rylin’s vocals being particularly noteworthy. It’s let down a bit by some questionable production decisions, though, as the mixing is a bit too guitar heavy and the mastering can make the guitars seems overwhelming. Still, if you’re a symphonic metal fan, this is worth at least a single listen.

Lovers Know by The Mynabirds

An indie pop record which shows that indie pop can be very enjoyable even if you’re not into that kind of music. The songwriting is mostly fine (it falls apart a bit on the longer songs, but not to the extent of become bad songs), the performances are very appropriate for indie pop (they’re not technically impressive, but they come together to form a great whole) and Laura Burhenn’s vocals have a decent range to them and sound very good overall. Worth a listen if you’re into indie stuff, and could prove to be worth a look into if you’re wanting a starting point on indie pop.

Goat Whores on the Killing Floor by Never To Arise

Technical death metal which has a MUCH stronger lean towards standard death metal than expected, this is a record that is based on some brilliant guitar riffs and decent bass playing and some genuinely rather impressive death metal growls. Some flaws are noticeable in the record (it can be rather difficult to be sure of what vocalist Gordon Denhart is singing (which might be for the best when you consider the song titles on the record are already kind of disturbing if you’re not used to death metal!), the use of programmed drums will be a problem for old school death metal fans and the production falls under the usual extreme metal problem of being very brickwalled), but I can see a lot of death metal fans really enjoying this record, as it’s very memorable while still being incredibly heavy and has some truly great songwriting on it!

Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Nightwish

A record that’s come on the heels of a bunch of problems in the Nightwish camp, this record has managed to do several things which just make me unable to really recommend it: it manages to waste a talented vocalist (Floor Jansen) in such a way that I almost feel embarrassed that she’s on this record, it fails to add anything new to the band’s sound (and even sounds like it has descended into self-plagiarism on more than a few points) and it lacks any really strong songs that make it stand out. You could fairly argue that part of the problem is that Nightwish’s standards of quality are so high that I’m being harsh, since this isn’t an awful record, but, as a debut for Floor Jansen, it’s so underwhelming that I almost wish she’d stuck with ReVamp instead and, as a Nightwish record, it feels like more of the same, but with severely diminishing returns. For Nightwish fans only.

Chasing Yesterday by Noel Gallagher’s Flying Birds

The second post-Oasis album by Noel Gallagher, this is a record that is a lot better than I was expecting it to be. The songwriting is very solid, with a somewhat atmospheric vibe that reminds me a bit of some of Oasis’ early stuff, the performances on the record instrumentally are very good (though not exactly technically impressive) and Noel’s voice is actually pretty good. It’s not something I personally would listen to a lot, but it is certainly very enjoyable and worth a listen if you like early Oasis!

Lost Isles by Oceans Ate Alaska

The debut album of a Birmingham based metalcore (some claims indicate mathcore, which, based on what I’ve read about the genre, also seems fairly accurate) band who have been around since 2011, this is a record that is really hard to sum up effectively. The songwriting feels very scattered and unconnected in flow due to stop starting a lot and jumping between degrees of heaviness with little warning, but in a way that feels like a deliberate decision and helps to showcase the surprisingly good technical skills of the musicians as opposed to being an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to songwriting, and the vocals are able to jump between quite a few different styles of screaming while also having clean vocals that make me think a bit of pop punk. I think there are reasons to like this record, but it’s not something to approach without being aware in advance of what you’re getting in for, so consider this something that progressive metalcore fans only should approach.

The Key by Operation: Mindcrime

The first album of Geoff Tate’s post-Queensryche project and first part of a planned trilogy of records, I will admit that I was overly harsh on this record first time around…but that doesn’t save it from feeling more like a continuation of Operation: Mindcrime II-era Queensryche than a totally new project, and doesn’t stop me from finding it a very unimpressive record overall. Some of the songwriting can be decent and the performances (aside from Tate’s vocals, which still seem to be in need of some work to get to the point that they would be tolerable for me) are at least OK, but nothing really makes this record ascend from being decent at best, those familiar with Tate at his best will struggle to see what the big deal about this record is and it inviting comparisons to Operation: Mindcrime is a VERY poor decision due to it creating expectations that this record had no chance of meeting. Those who liked the last three or four albums by Queensryche with Tate on vocals will probably find this decent enough, but it’s not going to win over most people.

Departures by Owl & Mouse

A very different album compared to most of the rest of this list, this record is a very calming combination of indie pop and folk music that is very soothing to listen to. The performances are appropriate for the genre and songwriting is very good, which makes it a very strong record on the performance front, although the vocals can be a bit on the weaker side. Probably not one of the best albums of the year by any measure, but still a decent listen if you like this kind of stuff.

Contradictions by Paul Smith & The Intimations

The third solo record of Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith, this is an indie rock record which has a lot of good songs on it with some really strong songwriting and is backed up by some very strong performances. Paul Smith also has a really good voice which shows why he has been fronting Maximo Park for so long. It’s a very easy record to recommend to fans of indie rock and, even at worst, the record is still enjoyable, so there’s a chance that you might enjoy the record even if indie rock isn’t usually your kind of thing.

Modern Language by Postcards From Jeff

The first record of producer Postcards From Jeff, the record is a combination of folk music, country music, indie rock and poetry which seems like a really interesting combination on paper. Unfortunately, something about the execution of the record just doesn’t work for me: the performances are generally not all that impressive overall, the vocals seem to combine indie styling with country tinges that, while not bad, seem very odd to listen to and the songwriting doesn’t always hit the mark properly. Not an awful record, but it’s hard for me personally to recommend it.

Legacy by Praying Mantis

The tenth (or ninth, depending on how you view it) album of one of NWOBHM’s underappreciated bands and the long awaited follow up to 2009’s Sanctuary, this is a record that definitely has its moments, but suffers from some underwhelming songwriting as the record goes along which damages the impact the record could have made. The performances on the record are fairly decent, however, with new vocalist John Cuijpers making a very good impact overall. Hardly an essential purchase outside of the band’s fandom, but, if you like NWOBHM and want a more melodic take on it, this is a decent enough listen!

Condition Human by Queensryche

Following in the same vein as 2013’s self-titled album, this record has two key flaws which badly damage it: the songwriting, which feels like it is trying a little too hard to harken back to the band’s early days (although, compared to the band’s material post-Promised Land, this is probably appreciated by the band’s fanbase!) without being backed by the strong chorus hooks that helped to make the earlier material so strong, and the production, which is among the most brickwalled records I have heard all year and can be a chore to listen to as a result. It has its moments and is probably going to be very much in line with what most Queensryche fans want to hear, but, for me personally, it doesn’t offer enough to warrant a recommendation to those not already fans of the band.

Where Evil Dwells by Ranger

A record that aims for an old school speed metal sound and is well performed, this is an authentically old fashioned sounding record which I’d normally be recommending very enthusiastically if it weren’t for the fact that the songs are all longer than they need to be. Speed metal relied on brevity to avoid the songs wearing themselves out and didn’t suit progressive touches or long songs as a result, a lesson which Ranger seems to have missed and paid the price for as a result. If you like speed metal, this is worth a listen, but the song lengths may result in more frustration than expected.

Crimes Against Humanity by Rapture

A Greek thrash/death metal record which has a member who is also part of Endless Recovery (guitarist Apostolos Papadimitriou) and is odd in that it has the lead vocalist swap between clean vocals and harsh vocals. I’m not sure how well most old school death metal fans will take to this combination, but I personally quite like it! The songs mostly fall under the “fast as possible” approach, which can result in them blending together a bit, but there are more than a few moments across songs which don’t fall into this category, so there’s definite variety, just not enough for my liking, and I can’t say I found the songs bad at all, just that they don’t work very well as a cohesive whole. The performances are pretty good as well (with drummer Giorgos Melios deserving praise for the insane speeds he can play at!). Overall, not really anything exceptional, but still a fun enough listen if you like thrash metal and death metal.

Richards/Crane by Richards/Crane

A very odd change of pace from what you’d expect from Ugly Kid Joe vocalist Whitfield Crane, this record is actually more akin to acoustic guitar singer-songwriter material, which may raise a few eyebrows if you’re expecting something different. However, it isn’t badly done (although it will catch you off guard if you go into it expecting a loud rock record), with some decent guitar playing and Crane’s vocals suiting this style of music surprisingly well. I doubt Ugly Kid Joe fans will take well to this record on first listen, but it’s certainly got some good moments that make it worth a single listen, if you can come into the record without expecting something like Ugly Kid Joe.

XIII – Devil’s Dozen by Royal Hunt

The thirteenth record by prolific progressive power metallers Royal Hunt, this record is one of the few progressive metal records from this year which I really enjoyed. While some of the songs could have done with a tiny bit of trimming, they never get boring (indeed, the best songs actually fit their song length perfectly) and the performances are very solid overall. While I personally expected more from D.C. Cooper than I heard, it’s overall a very solid record that is fairly easy to recommend to fans of progressive and power metal.

Santa Cruz by Santa Cruz

A much heavier affair than the band’s debut, this record is probably the biggest surprise of the year for me because I did not expect to like this as much as I did! The songwriting still needs a bit of improvement and the mastering is a problem for me personally, but the performances have made a very impressive step up, the change in sound is very well done and the issues in the songwriting are not major enough to make me dislike the record. Great if you like sleaze metal and will impress those who had written the band off from their debut!

Pre-dating God Part 1 by Satan’s Host

The first part of Satan’s Host’s double album (each part released separately on the same day, for some odd reason), this is a record which has some strong ideas for songs, but suffers from overly long songwriting from pretty much everything except from the cover of Grim Reaper’s ‘See You in Hell’ (which is, admittedly, not a bad cover, though not a patch on the original by any measure). It is well performed and Harry Conklin’s vocals are more varied than he showed in Jag Panzer, but the songwriting drags the whole experience down for me. If you’ve been wanting some new blackened power metal, this is hardly a bad listen, but it isn’t essential.

Pre-dating God Part 2 by Satan’s Host

The second part of Satan’s Host’s double album, this record, unfortunately, has the same problem as the first part, but it also has a blatant filler in the form of a reprise of a song from the first part, which could have easily been cut from the record and resulted in the record being a single (very long) album. Beyond that, though, the same can be said of this record as what I said about the first part of the double album: the songwriting drags down some good performances and Conklin’s surprisingly varied vocals compared to his iconic band, which results in something which isn’t a bad listen, but not essential by any measure.

Return to Forever by Scorpions

Effectively a bunch of old songs combined with a few newer ones, this record certainly feels like a of rejected tracks, as the songs aren’t as strong as the band would be expected to produce, but have the old school feel that fans of the band’s 80s period will appreciate and still has some solid tracks on it which stop the record from being a complete waste of time. The performances are still solid and Klaus Meine’s vocals are still pretty good for a man in his sixties, so there are reasons to like the record, but the material isn’t really strong enough to gather a recommendation to anyone who isn’t already a Scorpions fan.

Blaster by Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts

The second album from this year with Scott Weiland on vocals, and my personal favourite of the two. With a feeling that is much more unique than on Art of Anarchy, the music feels like a combination of psychedelic music and grunge which is really interesting to listen to, and is well performed to boot. Unfortunately, the record has a generally unimpressive vocal performance from Weiland which, while not awful by any measure, makes Weiland feel like the weak link in his own band. However, there’s nothing to really dislike about the record either. If you’re a Stone Temple Pilots fan, this is probably going to be worth checking out, but it might be a hard sell if you’re not.

Brave by The Shires

Modern country music in the vein of Taylor Swift, this is one of those records that isn’t especially deep, but is a fun enough listen if you like this kind of thing. The key problem, unfortunately, is the songwriting, which seems somewhat hit-and-miss and can result in a listen which alternates between being really good and very dull with disturbing regularity. However, the performances are fairly decent, the songs that hit the mark are very enjoyable and it’s hard to believe that this is from a British duo due to how convincingly from Nashville the album sounds. Worth a look into if you like modern country music and pop, but not going to be your cup of tea if you’re not into any of that!

Chapter IV: The Reckoning by Signum Regis

The third concept album (and fifth release by the band overall), this record has a sound that is clearly rooted in power metal, with a few minor progressive touches. The songwriting is very good and it is well performed, with vocalist Mayo Petranin having a pretty good voice as well, but I do have my complaints with the production of the record, as I feel that the mastering is a bit more than it should have been (not to the extent that it badly damages the record, but it did cause some ear fatigue for me) and something about the mix bugs me, although I can’t place exactly what it is. Overall, there’s nothing really bad about this record aside from the production (which isn’t even bad, just could have done with some improvement), so power metal fans should find this worth a listen. I don’t think it’ll win over anyone who isn’t already interested in melodic metal, though.

Conquer & Command by Silent Knight

Combining the best aspects of European power metal and US power metal, this album was one of my biggest surprises of the year and stands very strongly as one of my favourite records of the year. While hurt a bit by an overly loud mastering job and a lack of originality to the band’s music, the songwriting is absolutely brilliant, the vocals of newcomer Jesse Oz are great, the rest of the band perform very well and the overall production (beyond the mastering) is pretty much perfect for this sort of music. Highly recommended for fans of power metal and melodic thrash metal!

Are You Satisfied? by Slaves

The debut record of a punk duo, this is a record which I’m not sure I can really recommend. On the one hand, the songwriting is definitely rooted in old school punk and it has some moments which can be somewhat enjoyable, but the problem is that the general songwriting feels very lacking to me, without a lot to really make the record worth listening to. The performances aren’t bad musically, but they’re very simplistic (even by punk standards) and the vocals aren’t that impressive, which makes this a record which just doesn’t work very well. There is a potential audience out there for this record, as I can see it being liked by people who like alternative rock and punk and don’t mind both combined together, but, for the most part, this isn’t really worth checking out, in my honest opinion.

Repentless by Slayer

A record that shows why losing your best songwriter and your iconic drummer is a sign that you probably need to hang up your coats. The songwriting feels very much like Slayer-by-numbers, but without the strength to save it from feeling dull, Tom Araya’s vocals feel tired, the drumming feels JUST too contained to give it the push of energy that Slayer relies upon and the production is horrifically brickwalled. You might be able to get some enjoyment out of this record if you’re a die hard Slayer fan, but that’s about the only people who I can see enjoying this, and even they aren’t going to be calling this one of Slayer’s best efforts by any measure.

Madness by Sleeping With Sirens

A record that pretty much embodies the words “mixed bag”. On the one hand, Kellin Quinn’s clean vocals are excellent, the more poppy songs are very enjoyable (if lacking in any real depth) and the performances aren’t that bad. On the other hand, the attempts to be post-hardcore just fail horribly due to Quinn’s unimpressive harsh vocals failing to give them the drive they need and his clean vocals clashing with the songs due to sounding very out of place and the songwriting in general doesn’t seem to be entirely sure whether it wants to be poppy or heavy, with the end result that it tries to dip into both territories and feels somewhat schizophrenic as a result. Hard to recommend for a general audience, but fans of the band probably will still get a kick out of this.

Ripe by SLUG

A record which claims to be avant-garde, but doesn’t really seem to be experimenting with much to my ears, this is a record which I have to admit that I probably was a bit hard on the first time I heard it. The worst I can say about it is that some of the songs are a bit underwhelming, but not bad, with some solid performances overall and vocals that I have to admit have grown on me over the course of time. I still disagree with the band claiming themselves to be avant-garde, but it is still a very solid record and rather interesting to listen to if you like alternative rock.

The High Country by Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin

An indie pop band with a name that is a real pain to type out and their first album without John Roberts, I have to admit that this record is a lot better than I remember it being when I heard it the first time around. Most of the songs are somewhat enjoyable and catchy, with decent performances by indie pop standards and vocals that, while not exceptional, are still very solid. I actually am wondering how I misjudged this album so badly the first time around, as this is actually very solid stuff that I should have appreciated the appeal of. It’s not an essential listen if you’re not a fan of indie pop, but it’s got a lot of things about it which indie pop fans should really enjoy!

Resistance by The Souljazz Orchestra

A record that combines soul, jazz, blues, Latin American music and afrobeat into an excellent complete package, this is a record that is one of my picks of record of the year, and a well deserved one in my honest opinion. With some incredibly strong songwriting, strong vocal performances and brilliant instrumental performances, this is a record that is authentically unique in the music landscape today and genuinely worth hearing if you have any interest in any of the music genres I mentioned above. An outright essential listen in my book!

Carousel by Speaking The Kings

Hitting the scene about a decade too late to make the impact they should have done, Speaking The Kings combine melodic metalcore with pop punk elements to produce a result that would be great if it weren’t for the fact that this sound has been played to death by so many other bands. The songwriting is generally decent (a few weaker tracks slip into the album, but the only outright dud for me is opener ‘Breathe’), the clean vocals by Bobby Burap are pretty good (the screamed vocals, not so much) and the instrument performances, while hardly offering anything new in comparison to most metalcore bands, are still decent enough. If this was the early or mid 2000s, I’d be recommending this fairly enthusiastically, but now, the impact of what the band are doing has diminished so much that it’s hard to say that there’s much reason to check this out unless you really miss this sound. Melodic metalcore fans only, then.

Daydreamin’ by Starsick System

Glam metal from Italy, this record is another one which I feel I was too hard on when I first heard it, as I didn’t bother to review it because I wasn’t impressed by it first time around and I couldn’t be bothered to put aside some time to review it. With hindsight, this was a very bad decision, as this record is actually pretty solid, with some good instrument performances and fairly good songwriting that, while offering nothing new, is still very enjoyable. The vocals could be better and the mixing of the record can make the vocals difficult to understand, but, beyond that, there’s nothing I really dislike about the record. I can’t give it a particularly strong recommendation, but it’s definitely got enough good moments to make it worth a look into if you’re a fan of glam metal!

Fallen by Stryper

Stryper’s follow up to the surprisingly strong No More Hell to Pay from 2013, this record feels to me to be a bit of a letdown when compared to its predecessor, but is still a very enjoyable record in its own right. Michael Sweet’s vocals still sound impressive for a guy in his 50s (even hitting notes that some people in their 20s would struggle with!), the instrument performances are decent (with only the drums being a bit of a let down for their relatively uncomplicated style by comparison to most other drummers on the band’s level) and the songwriting is actually pretty strong overall, with the only flaw being the production, which is VERY loudly mastered. If you don’t mind the band’s Christian focused lyrics and aren’t actively holding their glam history against them, then you’re going to want to pick this record up, as it is truly a monster of an album that blows most older bands out of the water!

Only To Rise by Sweet & Lynch

A collaboration between Michael Sweet and George Lynch, this record is basically a combination of everything that makes modern Stryper great (Michael Sweet’s vocals and strong songwriting) and everything that makes Lynch Mob great (George Lynch’s impressive guitar work). Needless to say, if you like Stryper and Lynch Mob, this is basically a dream come true, and the music doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Everyone brings their A-game to the record and the songwriting is mostly solid. The only issue for me is the production, which is mastered louder than it should be to avoid ear fatigue. Overall, though, this is a record that lives up to the sky high expectations that you’d have for it if you like Stryper’s No More Hell to Pay and Fallen and Lynch Mob’s stuff in general.

Dormant Heart by Sylosis

The fourth album of British thrash/death/progressive metallers, it’s really hard to say whether this record is really worth checking out or not. On the one hand, the band are made up of very solid musicians who can certainly do their own material justice and vocalist Josh Middleton is definitely a pretty good vocalist, able to use his vocals to very good effect across the whole album. On the other hand, the songwriting attempts to be progressive by throwing every idea the band has into a song as opposed to making the whole song flow well, which can damage the songwriting as a whole because it’s difficult to feel that the songs have had careful thought put into them, and it’s only the relatively short lengths of most of the songs on the record (only closer ‘Quiescent’ is noticeably over the 5 minute mark) that saves it from becoming a major problem. There’s definitely reasons to like the record, but it might be difficult to recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the band.

Teen Men by Teen Men

A keyboard heavy indie pop record, this is a record which I’ve always described as feeling like what you’d expect to mentally hear if you stared at glasswork due to how delicate, yet beautiful, it is. The songwriting is very solid, focusing more on subtly creating a mood than anything else, and is backed up by some very good performances and vocals which help to enhance the mood of the record. It’s not my personal cup of tea, but I can get the appeal behind it and I feel it would be a crime to not recommend it to indie pop fans, as it is genuinely worth the listen! It’s not going to win over anyone who isn’t interested in indie pop, though, so keep that in mind.

Human by Three Days Grace

The first record by the band since the departure of frontman Adam Gontier, this is a post-grunge/alternative metal record which had the potential to be a major bomb, which makes me relieved to say that it isn’t…but that doesn’t mean the record is particularly good either. The songwriting is inconsistent, with some really good songs lumbered along with some clunkers, and Matt Walst, while hardly a bad vocalist, doesn’t carry the same impact that Gontier did. The instrument performances are still very solid, though. Hard to recommend to those who aren’t already fans of the band, if I’m being completely honest.

To Kill a King by To Kill a King

A record that is confusingly labeled as having folk rock elements (I hear more indie rock myself), this is a record that has its moments, but I can’t say I like it much. The material just seems kind of dull to me (although there are some songs which are actually fairly interesting) and Ralph Pelleymounter’s vocals just fail to grab my interest. The performances are decent enough, though, and I do accept that this record isn’t my cup of tea, so I’d not take this to be a definitive statement on the record.

Toto XIV by Toto

The thirteenth studio album (the band counts their 20th anniversary record, Toto XX, as part of their core catalogue, but I don’t) by one of the most iconic names in AOR (or just 80s pop rock in general), this is a record that has a lot of interesting moments (although it isn’t really pop rock by this point: it’s more hard rock with blues, jazz and pop elements). It is backed up with mostly strong songwriting (a few weaker tracks are on the record, but nothing that’s bad per se, just underwhelming by comparison), performances that are very good and vocal performances which are surprisingly good for a bunch of musicians who are mostly in their 50s (past mid-40s at least). If you’re interested in this kind of music, then this is certainly worth checking out!

Queen of the Clouds by Tove Lo

The debut album of a Swedish electropop artist who pretty much exploded out of the underground, this is a very solid record that is surprisingly varied despite maintaining an audible core clearly rooted in the genre. Tove Lo has a very strong voice and the songwriting on the record is very good. A very nice change of pace from my usual listening material and a record that I’m sure electropop fans will appreciate quite a lot!

Zero Hour by Triaxis

The third power/thrash record by female fronted Welsh metallers, this record is pretty much the sort of record that I wish most US power metal bands would release. The songwriting across the album is really solid, with a decent variety of tempos across it to avoid the record from blending together as well, the instrument performances are pretty great across the board and the vocals, while taking a while for me to really click with, fit the band perfectly and are genuinely pretty good! Fans of US power metal and power/thrash combinations in general, you’re going to want to pick this up!

Silence in the Snow by Trivium

The seventh record by one of the biggest names in metalcore, and probably their furthest record from the genre to date (arguably leaning more towards modern rock, although it is worth noting that the band don’t entirely drop the metalcore elements from their sound), the results are actually rather engaging and show that the band is capable of playing material which is outside of their comfort zone. The songwriting is generally pretty solid, the instrument performances are fairly good and Matt Heafy’s clean vocals (the harsh vocals are dropped entirely from this record) are actually not too bad, although I do feel that the lack of harsh vocals ironically makes Heafy less interesting as a vocalist because they don’t allow him to show how versatile his voice really is on this record. I probably would put this as my favourite Trivium record to date, although it is worth bearing in mind that I’m not a huge metalcore fan, so I’m not the best judge on this! You might be disappointed by this record if you liked the band’s metalcore sound, but, if you’ve been curious about the band and normally give metalcore a wide berth, then this record is probably the answer to your problem!

Exterminans IX:XI by Tsar Bomb

A blackened death metal record, and the band’s second record to date, this is a record that I honestly can’t say that I like much, but there is definitely some appeal to it that I can see. The performances are generally pretty solid (although the drumming is done by a drum machine), the songwriting, while suffering from the usual problem of focusing on speed which can make the final result blend together, is genuinely pretty strong and the vocals are actually pretty effective and fit the music better than I was expecting them to. The only problem for me is the mastering, which I find to be painfully loud! Overall, though, it’s not a bad record, just not something I personally enjoy much.

Gal’aki by Tyrant’s Kall

Belgium’s contribution to doom metal, death metal and heavy metal (seriously), this is a record that is very interesting in terms of the overall sound, perfectly fitting the works of H. P. Lovecraft’s works. It’s well written (although some of the songs didn’t grab me personally) and the performances are very good, but I can’t say that I was overly impressed with Esmee Tabasco’s vocals on the record. They weren’t bad, just didn’t impress me overall. Overall, this is a record that feels more valuable for those who are H. P. Lovecraft fans to listen to than most people, but the combination of genres does make this worth a look into if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

A Conspiracy of Stars by UFO

The 21st record by one of the UK’s most underappreciated hard rock bands, this is a record that truly feels like an old school hard rock record, a feat that a lot of bands struggle to pull off today even among the old guard, but which I feel doesn’t offer a huge amount of any real interest to most people. The songwriting is generally unimpressive (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad either) and the vocals of Phil Mogg are definitely showing their age, but the instrument performances are still decent enough. Probably best reserved for long time UFO fans than those wanting to get into them.

Uglier Than They Used ta Be by Ugly Kid Joe

The band’s fourth record (and first in 19 years, after 1996’s Motel California…subtle move, guys!) and funded by fans through PledgeMusic, this record is generally a decent enough record, staying fairly close to the band’s hard rock and heavy metal sound and including two fairly good covers as well. The songwriting of the original tracks is fairly decent, the instrumental performances are fairly strong and the vocals are pretty good. It’s hard to say whether to recommend this record to those who aren’t Ugly Kid Joe fans, but I think this is a record that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t try to cater for those who aren’t interested in that, so it’s probably best to give this a miss if you aren’t a fan of the band.

Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II by Vanden Plas

The second part of a concept album based on the series Chronicles of the Immortals by German author Wolfgang Hohlbein, this is a progressive power metal record with orchestra touches that is executed very well, but suffers from the fact that the songs are mostly mid tempo and a bit on the lengthy side of things for my personal liking. The performances on the record by the band are genuinely very good overall and Andy Kuntz’s fairly unique voice is genuinely very enjoyable as well. Not my personal cup of tea, but I can see it appealing to a lot of progressive power metal fans!

Hounds Of Megiddo by Vigilance

A blackened heavy metal record, this is not in the vein of Mercyful Fate or King Diamond, but instead feels more like a traditional heavy metal record with a black metal vocalist on it, a combination that I will admit is far more intriguing in practice than it sounds on paper. The songwriting is pretty good, the performances are interesting (although the lead guitar parts have a habit of sounding like they echo a bit, which is either going to be a nice old school touch or drive you nuts, depending on how you view it) and the vocals are very well done, managing to avoid being too far in the black metal spectrum to feel out of place, but still audible rooted in the genre to create something which sounds surprisingly old school, yet unique at the same time. This is actually worth a look into if you like traditional heavy metal, thrash metal or black metal, since the overlap of genres is enough to give it a surprisingly wide range of metal fans that it can appeal to and they are all balanced so well that it’s really worth checking out if you like them!

Chiaroscuro by Vingulmork

The debut album of this Norwegian blackened thrash metal band, this is a record that I was originally a bit dubious about, but I have to admit that it works incredibly well in practice, reminding me a bit of Sabbat. The vocals, which I was expecting to dislike, were actually very appropriate here and worked well, the instrumentation is nothing special, but does the job well enough, and the songwriting manages to offer enough variety to stop it from falling into the “always fast” trap that a lot of modern thrash metal bands do. Not sure how well this will go over with those who aren’t into black metal, but I personally dug it and I think thrash metal fans who like Sabbat should find this a decent amount of fun!

Waterfall by Voodoo Hill

A hard rock record teaming up ex-Deep Purple bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes and producer Mario Dallo, this record is a very old school feeling record that is very well done overall. The songwriting is genuinely very good, with only a couple of tracks that could have done with a bit of improvement, the performances are actually rather good and Hughes’ voice, while not as good as it used to be, is still decent enough. If you like old school hard rock, then you’re going to want to pick this up!

Exodus by Waken Eyes

Progressive metal debut from a progressive metal group with some serious star power, this is a record which I was expecting to find really dull, but which won me over due to the fact that it combined everything with a lot of atmosphere, variety and without overdoing the technicality to breaking point. Strong songwriting keeps the whole thing together very well, the incredible performances by all of the band members keep this record interesting without coming across as merely an attempt to show off instrumental skill and vocalist Henrik Bath does an excellent job across the whole album. The song lengths may make the record a hard sell if you’re not a fan of progressive music in general, but, if you are, then I would recommend checking this out!

Brainwashed by While She Sleeps

A metalcore record that has touches of melodic metalcore to it, but mostly avoids the tag, this record is one which is really aggressive, backed up with some great songwriting (‘New World Torture’ in particular only JUST failed to make it into my top 10 songs of the year), good performances and strong screamed vocals. Metalcore fans will really enjoy this record, and it’s probably worth a listen if you’ve wanted to dig into the non-melodic versions of metalcore, as it’s got JUST enough melody to keep you engaged, but is heavier than most melodic metalcore.

Symphony for a Hopeless God by Whyzdom

The third record by French symphonic metallers, and easily the most boring symphonic metal record I have heard since HolyHell’s debut. The songwriting is very unimpressive, with nothing of any real interest to any of the songs to make me want to care about them, the instrumental performances feel like they’re just fitting every cliche that you can expect from symphonic metal without any quality moments to save it from being unimpressive and the vocal performance, while hardly bad by any measure, just doesn’t really hold my interest, clearly being let down by the poor songwriting. Not recommended, not even to symphonic metal fans.

Rise of the Animal by Wolfpakk

The third record by Germany heavy metallers, this record is one which has some good songwriting, but generally doesn’t succeed in impressing. The songs are mostly very good, with some good performances on the instrument part of the record and with some good vocal performances from everyone. The problem, unfortunately, is that the whole record just doesn’t feel like it comes together well as a whole. Hardly a bad record, but I feel that the material works better as individual songs than as a full record.

AmERICa by Wreckless Eric

The first solo record by rock n roll/new wave artist Wreckless Eric since 2004 (although he has done other records over the years, including three with his wife Amy Rigby), this is a record that I’m honestly not entirely sure whether I like it or not. On the one hand, the performances suit the music and Eric’s voice is actually fairly good, but, on the other hand, the songwriting wears itself out due to a sheer lack of changes in what the music is doing for most of each of the songs and lyrics, while very enjoyable in their own right, don’t stop that from being a problem. It’s probably best to skip this one unless you’re already a fan of Eric’s work, in all honesty: while it has its moments, it’s not enough to stop the record from being generally unimpressive.

Hopes For 2016

New Anthrax turns out to be good: I loved Worship Music and, thus far, they are the only member of the Big 4 who has NOT been a disappointment since the 2010s started, so I‘m hoping they continue that streak.

Queen + Adam Lambert release an album: I will admit, I was skeptical about Adam Lambert when I first heard about him. However, when I saw Queen with him early this year, I was won over by him both as a vocalist for Queen and as a vocalist in his own right. While I’m not expecting to see a new Queen album after 2008’s disaster with Paul Rodgers, I would certainly be interested in seeing what he could do with Brian May and Roger Taylor for an album.

Green Day’s new album doesn’t suck: OK, as much as I love American Idiot, Green Day’s last four albums have been unimpressive at best. I’m confident the band still have a good album in them, as there was a good album buried within their trilogy from 2012, I just hope the band realise it and deliver it…

Planxty reunites: not expecting this one to happen, but I can dream, dammit!

Fefe Dobson releases a new album: I freaking loved her previous album, Joy, and still regard it as one of my favourite pop albums, so I’m hoping that she finally gets her new album released.

Thank Yous: 2015

First of all, I have to thank Metal Detector Music Promotions, Maric Media, Ulterium Records and Red Sand PR for supplying the site with promos over the course of 2015: you guys are all awesome and it’s been great working with you all so far! I’d also like to place thanks to Pure Steel Promotion, Non Nobis Productions, Beyond The Storm Productions, Inner Wound Recordings and Cooked Vinyl for agreeing to let us do stuff for them, despite us not having done so this year due to the lateness of us applying to work with them: it’s great to be on board with you guys and I hope we don’t disappoint you in the slightest!

Secondly, a well deserved shout out is due to the staff of Cuckoo Review and the ex-members and staff of The Unheard Voices: without you guys giving me the opportunity to cover stuff for you, I wouldn’t be doing this now! I particularly want to single out Stacy Washington, the former editor-in-chief of The Unheard Voices: without her taking a chance on some random blogger who happened to drop her a message at some weird hour in the night, I wouldn’t have found the courage to even leave my blog, let alone start up this site! Sincerely, thank you all so much!

Thirdly, I have to thank the current members of the site and those who were part of the Facebook group before we moved over to the site: Captain Phoenix, Heinz Variety Nerd, T-Buster and Bearded British Gaming. It’s been a wild year, to say the least, and I truly appreciate having you guys as gaming buddies, fellow music lovers, fellow writers and friends (not necessarily in that order!).

A fourth shout out is deserved to Carl and Tom, who kindly have let me sit in on their show before mine at the radio station since November and put up with my occasional bouts of silliness while making me feel like I’m part of the show, despite me mostly sitting in a corner with a notepad and pen frantically writing set lists out and cracking awful jokes while songs are playing. I might not be much of a gardener, but your talks about gardening have never failed to be interesting and your music selection has always proven to be excellent! You’re awesome and I look forward to seeing and hearing you in the New Year!

A further shout out is deserved to Taylor, Birdie and Chunk, at least one of whom have tended to be the reason I’ve been getting up at seven o’clock in the morning to travel to Newcastle and been more social than I normally would be! I love hanging out with you guys and my door is always open if you guys ever find yourself in my neck of the woods and need to crash somewhere for the night!

Brief additional shout is due to Geek Retreat Newcastle and the staff there. Thanks for putting up with all of our loud nonsense whenever we’re in and not throwing us out like most people probably would have done by now…and apologies about that chair!

I also want to take the time to thank my family, who have patiently put up with some of my more questionable decisions in life (to put it mildly) and helped me to get myself back on track more times than I care to admit! Sorry that it’s taken me so long to finally get my act together and I promise that I’ll try not to screw up quite as epically as I have in the past from now on!

Lastly, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank you, the person reading this. Even if you just skipped to the end of the article (I wouldn’t blame you for doing that: this was a ridiculously long article!) and this is your first time reading anything by us, it’s great that you’ve taken the time to look at this article and I really hope that you like what you’ve read so far!