Friday, December 27, 2013

Honorable Mentions of 2013

Honorable Mentions

A Collection of cds with songs that came out in 2013 that I found enjoyable but did not make my Top 12, I still recommend every one of these though, to a certain degree.  These are in no particular order and I will only say a little about each album including one song from each and a short list of recommended songs from each.  There's a lot of cds to go through here, so let's get crackin':

Stratovarius's Nemesis

Release Date: February 2013, 2013
Label: Edel AG
Genre: Power Metal

I was sad when I had gone through the 70-some albums I listened to from 2013 to make my list of Top 12 and this album did not make the final cut.  I had liked Stratovarius in the past as one of the first huge Power Metal bands and would listen to some of their songs a lot but they had never really clicked for me until this album.  I was really looking forward to this album one I heard "Unbreakable" and once it came out, I bought the album and was not disappointed, it actually exceeded my expectations.  However, that initial wonder did not stay for long since I did not listen to this album that much in 2013 as a whole, I was not returning to it time and time again like I did for the entries in the Top 12, but I would go back every now and again to check out a couple songs.  So, on a whole, this album is entirely incredible and I do not have a single gripe with it and in fact I recommend it to any listeners of metal, you can consider this my unofficial #13 of my Top 12.

Recommended Songs: "Unbreakable", "Halcyon Days", "Castles on the Air"


Dead Letter Circus's The Catalyst Fire

Release Date: August 9th, 2013
Label: UNFD
Genre: Alternative Rock

I have made the claim before and I will do so again: Australia is the king of producing good rock.  Bands such as Birds of Tokyo, Tonight Alive, Sick Puppies, The Vines, Steriogram, Wolfmother, and Karnivool all hail from Australia and all of them produce great quality music that still holds up for me years after it is released.  Dead Letter Circus is another such Australian outfit and these guys really shocked me with their 2010 debut album This Is The Warning, an incredible release that showed me that alternative rock still has a lot of growing room and it can still surprise me even though it has been around for many years.  This album is just as good as This Is The Warning, but it did not surprise me as much as their debut.  Still a very good album and worth checking out for all fans of progressive-style alternative rock.

Recommended Songs: "I Am", "Lodestar", "Lost Without Leaders"

"I Am"

Icon Fire Hire's Icon For Hire

Release Date: October 15th, 2013
Label: Tooth & Nail
Genre: Alternative Rock/Metal/Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic, ???

I am glad these guys are getting more and more popular, this album reaching pretty high on Billboard with this sophomore release. Ever since their debut album Scripted hit in 2011, I have been raving to all of my friends about this band, trying to get everyone into them and thankfully it was not that hard to do, after hearing one or two songs most people I knew were hooked.  However, they got the Paramore comparison that every single female-fronted rock band gets and I tried my hardest to stay away from that when showing people it but eventually it always came up.  I always knew these guys were much more edgy though and I believe they are much better writers and composers, coming up with fantastic song after fantastic song with just one cd.  I have seen them in concert twice and I recommend their stage show to anyone, it is a hell of a time.  This album changed a lot up though, the band stated in concert that the first album was a little too much influenced by the distributor of the album than they would like but they had much more freedom here which is why they named it after themselves.  The genre listing up above is as close as I can get because the album moves around so much between genres that it is impossible to correctly label the album with a single genre.  The most correct is some sort of alternative rock/metal/pop hybrid with some hip-hop thrown in there due to Ariel's singing style.  Check it out to see exactly what I mean.  The only reason it didn't make my list is because there are a couple songs I tended to skip on the song but most of the songs had to grow on me so maybe the rest will eventually, its just so out there it is difficult to immediately latch on to, but I like that, it stretches musical preconceptions.

Recommended Songs: "Cynics and Critics", "Sorry About Your Parents", "Watch Me", "Rock and Roll Thugs"

"Watch Me"

Five Finger Death Punch's The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1

Release Date: July 30th, 2013
Label: Prospect Park
Genre: Heavy/Alternative Metal

I love FFDP, and I don't care if that makes me one of those people that people always link to FFDP, the "boneheads in the gym" or whatever they call them, FFDP simply makes tight music that happens to work well with working out in the gym. Whatever.  This album is fantastic and I also liked the followup, The Wrong Blah Blah, Volume 2 (not the official title), but the second did not hold up as well as the first in my opinion, kind of like how American Capitalist did not compare as well to War Is The Answer, despite both being good albums in their own right that similar bands could only hope to release.  The story is that upon writing songs for an album, they had written so many that they could not fir all on a single album so they decided to release them all in two installments instead of just cutting them out.  I like that they did this because that means more FFDP to enjoy and the albums do have a feel of continuity to them, I just happen to like Volume 1 more.  The reason it didn't make the list is because I do like a lot of it, but there are some songs that I just thought were ok or standard fare for the band rather than incredible songs throughout, it was really close though.

Recommended Songs: "Watch You Bleed", "I.M. Sin", "Mama Said Knock You Out"

"I.M. Sin"

A Sound of Thunder's Time's Arrow

Release Date: June 4th, 2013
Label: Mad Neptune
Genre: Heavy Metal

This was another new band for me and damn am I looking forward to what these guys have in store for the future.  This is their third length so they are for sure used to the music world and this well produced and well played album shows that they know exactly what they are doing and are ready to conquer the world, or the music world at least.  With such an over-the-top name, they damn well better be!  They play a type of metal that is indicative of the older 70's and 80's style of metal and rock, leaving me to put them among the list of bands in the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, a wave of music from people who have all bee missing the good old days when metal and rock dominated the charts.  They are very good at what they do, particularly lead singer Nina Osegueda, who has an incredible range and really sounds like she came through time from the 80's or something and started playing music for us now (see what I did there?).  Very good stuff but it was a bit too same-y sounding for me throughout the album, that and they didn't let the energy of their songs calm down for a bit, which is ok on individual songs but on an entire album-basis, it wasn't as appealing to me.  Still, check it out, it has gotten fantastic reviews elsewhere and holds a 91% on Encyclopedia Metallum, which is really good considering that site and their general distate for female-fronted metal.

Recommended Songs: "Power Play", "Time's Arrow", "Queen of Hell"

"Power Play"

Visions of Atlantis's Ethera

Release Date: March 22nd, 2013
Label: Napalm Records
Genre: Symphonic Metal

Even though I am a gigantic fan of Symphonic Metal (Nightwish, Delain, Within Temptation, Sirenia, etc.), I could never get into Visions of Atlantis as much. Sure, they had a few solid songs I could listen to but I would not return to them as often as the aforementioned bands.  This album was a change for me, this is where I thought they had finally secured a solid lineup and crafted a very good album that could secure them as a contender for the Symphonic Metal throne.  They have had problems in the past with members, never having a stable lineup form one album to the next and the same will apply here since almost every member except the drummer departed from the band earlier this month. Argh. Well, this album is still very good, lots of great melodies, the writing is better than it ever has been, and the dual vocals of Maxi and Mario play off each other very nicely to the point that I liked them together more than Mark and Simone, as a pairing (Simone still beats just about everyone in vocals).  I hope the new member switch was appropriate because this album was really good but could have been a little better, I just didn't like it as much as my Top 12.

Recommended Songs: "Machinage", "Burden of Divinity", "Hypnotized"


KMFDM's Kunst

Release Date: February 26th, 2013
Label: Metropolis
Genre: Industrial Metal

KMFDM! The incomparable masters of five-letter-long album titles! I jest, but KMFDM truly are masters of their craft, they are easily the best Industrial band out there and with a 30 year long record with eighteen studio albums, they do not have much comparison except bands like Ministry, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein.  KMFDM plays more of an electronic industrial type of metal rather than straightforward industrial so Rammstein is a better comparison.  The band really hasn't made a single bad record and they do that by doing exactly what they want without tailoring to other people's wants or needs and not making any music strictly to be played on the radio.  The fact that so many people happen to like their music I am sure just is an added bonus for them.  This album is no different and continues to show their strengths in the genre, making loud, unapologetic, fist-pumping songs with a big electronic element to everything.  Very fun but not every song was to my liking, such as "Pseudocide" and "I <3 Not", they are ok but didn't hold up to the incredible songs that I recommend.  Still check it and their other seventeen albums out if you like what you hear below, "Kunst", which is a gigantic self-indulgent song where just about every line of the song is a reference to their other songs such as "Anarchy" and "Sex on the Flag."

Recommended Songs: "Quake", "Kunst", "Animal Out"


Gloryhammer's Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife

Release Date:March 29th, 2013
Label: Napalm Records
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal

This album may be one giant joke, but it is a damn good one.  Gloryhammer is the epic metal baby of Christopher Bowes, the singer and keyboardist of the Pirate Metal (Yes, Pirate Metal) band Alestorm, which is a band I HIGHLY suggest to everyone, even if you aren't a metal person, it is some of the funniest and most fun stuff you will ever grace your ears with.  In 2012, Bowes formed this as a parody of epic power metal bands and most closely resembles Rhapsody of Fire.  The name of the band is over the top, the band wears costumes on stage, they have given everyone in the band character names like Relathor: The Mysterious Hermit of Cowdenbeath and Zargothrax: Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty, and they have song titles like "The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee".  When I heard all of this I was prepared to be laughing my ass off, which I was, but what I wasn't ready for was the band to be legitimately good at making epic power metal.  It may be tongue-in-cheek, but they do an astounding job and sound very similar to Rhapsody of Fire, one of the best in the genre.  If it was not for Bowes' fantastic keyboard skill and Winkler's incredible vocals, they probably would not be as notable for me.  Winker is the star here and it really shines through on most tracks, he has not done much commitment with other bands but he seems to be a natural at this kind of music and sounds like he's been doing this for years.  Its great for a good laugh but I just was not returning to this album as much, even though I still highly suggest at least one listen, its some really great stuff here and if they are anywhere as good as Alestorm is in concert, they are likely to be a blast to see live.

Recommended Songs: "Angus McFife", "Magic Dragon", "Beneath Cowdenbeath"

"Angus McFife"

Protest The Hero's Volition

Release Date: October 29th, 2013
Label: Razor & Tie
Genre: Progressive Metal

I said earlier in my reviews of Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep and Momentum (#8 and #2, respectively) that I had really gotten into Progressive Metal and Rock this year and this is another sign of that fact.  Actually, I had listened to Protest the Hero a few years back when I had stumbled upon their Fortress album and had liked a few select songs from that album.  Now with this, their indiegogo-funded fourth album, I had found many more songs by the band that I like.Its a very fast album that plays a progressive metal style closer to mathcore and some djent influences but overall it just sounds like alternative rock singing with some thrashing guitars in the foreground that will not for the life of you stop being completely insane.  Here, insane is a good thing and the insanity leads to a lot of fun nonstop energy-filled melodies.  Overall, its just a lot of fun and it showed me why Protest is a really good band, one that was really close to my Top 12 but just nearly missed.

Recommended Songs: "Clarity", "Without Prejudice", "Mist"


Hammerforce's Access Denied

Release Date: March 27th, 2013
Label: Metalism Records
Genre: Power Metal

If you could not tell yet, I absolutely love Power Metal and I search almost daily to find new bands playing the genre, leading me to find bands like Red Rose and Hammerforce.  With that name, there is not a single genre these Russians could be playing besides Power Metal and so i looked into them and really liked their debut album Dice. Well produced and very well played for their first release, I was obviously looking forward to Access Denied once it came out and thankfully, they did not let me down.  This album also has a myriad of good songs with a big symphonic element to it all, particularly staccato playing from the keyboards which gives it a spacey type of feel.  Lots of fun but was not as groundbreaking as the other albums on my Top 12 but still a notable band to keep your eyes on for releases in the future, I forsee a long future for this band.

Recommended Songs: "I Am I", "Wasted", "Mass Media"

"I Am I"

Franz Ferdinand's Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions

Release Date: August 25th, 2013
Label: Domino Records
Genre: Indie Rock

Let it never be said that I listen to music other than metal.  Though I do listen to a lot of metal, I tend to like most music, besides a majority of rap and pop, though those genres as well have exceptions that I do like.  Franz Ferdinand is one that I grew up with, I was twelve when Franz Ferdinand struck it big with their self titles debut album in 2004, the year of the indie rock revolution when Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, The Killers and others all struck it big at the same time.  Sadly the revolution did not continue as rap and pop took over Billboard again and as one of my favorite reviewers Todd In The Shadows put it, there is an "Indie Rock sweepstakes" every year to determine the indie band hit of the year since generally there is always one, with the exception of 2004 and 2012 when there were many.  I've kept my eyes on FF and hoped they would do it again but their followup releases have all been less and less in comparison to their debut, this cd is no exception.  It has some good songs on it but a majority of the last half of the album can be skipped and many of the tracks don't really stand out but their melodies are nice enough and catchy enough that they are listenable.  It all depends on what you are listening for but this cd was alright in my opinion and could have been much better but the songs I recommended here are the songs that we hope to come out of Franz Ferdinand, fun songs with a Beatles theme with interesting instrumentation. Good for at least one listen.

Recommended Songs: "Evil Eye", "Bullet", "Love Illumination"

"Evil Eye"

Amorphis's Circle

Release Date: April 19th, 2013
Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Progressive Gothic Metal

Amorphis can do no wrong by me and since their 2009 album Skyforger is my #3 favorite album of all time (right behind Falconer and A Twist in the Myth), I was eagerly looking forward to this, their eleventh studio album. Yeah, eleven. These guys have been rocking, or, for a very long time now and they are very good at what they do.  I liked this album but it wasn't as inspiring or repeatable as Skyforger, but many have called this their favorite release by the band and it is also the highest they have ever reached in Sweden and the US, as well as the fourth album to reach number 1 in their home country of Finland so maybe I'm just biased toward Skyforger.  These guys make big bombastic Progressive metal that is close to power metal with some death metal thrown in the mix to make an odd yet appealing concoction of music.  I have said in the past that if I could, I would trade my voice for that of either Hansi Kursh of Blind Guardian or Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis, it is just so haunting and melodic that it is incredible every time I hear it, listen to see what I mean.  Overall, its a good album, it just did not catch me as much as I thought and wished it would.

Recommended Songs: "The Wanderer", "Shades of Gray", "Hopeless Days"

"The Wanderer"

Derdian's Limbo

Release Date: March 13th, 2013
Label: Independent
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal

Again, I really like Power Metal, guys. Thankfully, this year was a pretty good year in power metal with releases like Majesty, Red Rose, Highlord, Jorn, Armory, Illusoria, Hammerforce, Stratovarius, Epicrenel, and Iron Mask all coming out with good albums, as well as Lord, PelleK and Kaledon which were already on my list.  However, If I reviewed all, I would be repeating myself a lot so I will sum those I have not talked about here: Go listen to them.  The ones I listed were the ones that stood out for me this year that just didn't hit my top 12 because I just didn't like them AS MUCH.  This is another album that falls into that listing, even though I believe this is the best album that Derdian has put out this far into their career.  It seems more complete and also drops the whole "New Era" concept that fans have been confused about for a while now, which they probably dropped due to the new singer Ivan Giannini, who does a very admirable job.  The lyrics are much better written here and the compositions are much more fun to listen to.  It is not as catchy as it is intricate, which I respect and to a degree enjoy, but it makes it so the album is not as memorable as it could and should be. Close, but no cigar.

Recommended Songs: "Dragon Life", Light of Hate", "Kingdom of My Heart"

"Light of Hate"

Sirenia's Perils of the Deep Blue

Release Date: June 28th, 2013
Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Symphonic Gothic Metal

Here's a little tip guys, if you see "Napalm Records" or "Nuclear Blast" attached to anything, that generally means it is a good band, Napalm and Nuclear have a tendency to get very very good bands under their protection and Sirenia is among them.  I was really looking forward to this album due to my preference of Ailyn over their previous vocalist Monika Pederson and how awesome the album was already sounding.  The strange thing was that Ailyn would do the singing and literally everything else was taken care of by composing genius Morten, who also founded the band in 2001.  This took them a long time to write and the work put in really shows as every song is very complex and fulfilling with so many layers and elements that it is overall mind-boggling. This was very close to my Top 12 as well and was the second to last final cut, next to the previously mentioned Nemesis by Stratovarius.  Very good stuff here that will give you everything you want in a musical experience and more, I have absolutely no problems with this album/band, listen to it right now.

Recommended Songs: "Seven Widows Weep", "Darkling", "Decadence"

"Seven Widows Weep"

OneRepublic's Native

Release Date: March 22nd, 2013
Label: Interscope Records
Genre: Indie/Pop Rock

OK, this album disappointed me.  On the one hand, the single "Counting Stars", the first track on the album, is incredible beyond belief, very good lyrics, great composition, an addicting melody and overall good musicianship that reminds me of Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men, who conquered popular music last year.  On the other hand... the rest of the album fails to deliver other astonishingly good songs as "Counting Stars".  I mean, its alright and it is catchy enough to be considered a decent indie/pop rock album and it definitely is an improvement over their previous albums but it is nowhere near as good as Night Visions or its other competitors overall.  A majority of the album is very slow and at a soothing pace which immediately contradicts the upbeat and happy feel of the album's opening.  It is fine to have slow songs, even an album of slow songs, but not if they put you to sleep which this album does.  Songs like "Feel Again", "I Lived", "Something I Need" and "Life in Color are okay but they are not as good as they should be.  So I suggest you buy "Counting Stars" right this very minute and you check out the rest on spotify or youtube or whatever you may have before buying the rest.

Recommended Songs: "Counting Stars", "Life In Color"

"Counting Stars"

Evertale's Of Dragons and Elves

Release Date: December 21st, 2013
Label: Independent
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal

The only reason this album is not in my Top 12 is because of the date of it's release. It was released AS I was in the process of reviewing the albums on a daily basis so I was not able in good conscious put it in the list if I haven't listened to it completely yet. I had listened to the songs that would be on the album via Youtube and their Revernation page and was very enthused by what I had heard, it was like Gloryhammer in that it was epic power metal but it was not a parody (to my knowledge) and they are taking this so seriously that you cannot help but get into it.  The stories are like Rhapsody of Fire's Symphony of Enchanted Lands II - The Dark Secret and the instrumentation is like Blind Guardian, essentially a mixing of two of my favorite bands.  I have not received my copy of the cd yet but I bought it on the day that it was first available and hope to get it soon so I can give it an appropriate and well-deserved listen all the way through and who knows, I may have to return to this list and change it up a bit once I have listened to it  completely.

Recommended Songs: "In The Sign of the Valiant Warrior", "As Tarsis Falls", "In The Dragon's Lair"

"In The Sign of the Valiant Warrior"

TesseracT's Altered State

Release Date: May 27th, 2013
Label: Century Media Records
Genre: Progressive Metal

Again, Progressive Metal and Rock was a big this for me this year, I am not sure why, maybe I was just looking for more technically appealing music in terms of composition and depth of lyrics.  Well I found a lot of that this year and I also found it in TesseacT, which is the band closest to the djent scene that I enjoy, I have not historically been a fan of Djent bands except for select songs from bands like Meshuggah and Veil of Maya.  Unlike most djent bands, these guys stick to clean male vocals completely instead of using harsher vocals that come from death and metalcore type of bands and I prefer that, I believe lead singer Ashe O'Hara does an excellent job.  The only thing that TesseracT has a problem with is finding and holding down a lead singer, they have two studio albums now and already have four former lead singers.  Regardless, this album is very complex and creative, changing the pace of what I expect metal to sound like in many terms except for the consistently thick and technical guitar work by Acle, who i the founder and the clear star here.  Overall the band is quite good and no element weighs them down, check it out if you have a chance.

Recommended Songs: "Of Mind - Nocturne", "Of Mind - Exile", "Of Matter - Retrospect"

"Of Mind - Nocturne"

Jamie Christopherson's Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Vocal Tracks)

Release Date: February 19th, 2013
Label: Konomi Digital Entertainment
Genre: Electronic Metal

I haven't even played the game and I listened to and bought this soundtrack.  This popped up on one of my industrial stations of spotify or pandora and I was listening to it thinking "This is incredible, why have I never heard of this?" Little did I know that it was from a video game that I had already thought about buying.  Most of the stuff here is done by production whiz Jamie Christopherson, who has done a lot of soundtrack work in the past but nothing this incredible and listenable outside of the game.  It also features many metal music names such as Logan Mader of Machine Head and Soulfly, Free Domineguez of Kidneythieves, and John Bush of Armored Saint and Anthrax.  This is some of the most fun soundtrack music you will ever hear, it is nonstop action-packed excitement that will keep you heart pounding.  There are a few tracks that I usually skip over, meaning this album did not hold up for me as a whole but 13 tracks and 16 other versions of those tracks all on the same cd, there is gonna be one or two you may not enjoy as much.  Still, it is very fun and full of a lot of great guitar work and electronic beats that will have me paying attention to Jamie's work in the future.

Recommended Songs: "A Stranger I Remain (Maniac Agenda Mix)", "Red Sun (Maniac Agenda Mix)", "A Soul Can't Be Cut (Platinum Mix)"

"A Stranger I Remain (Maniac Agenda Mix)" 

Hollywood Undead's Notes From The Underground

Release Date: January 8th, 2013
Label: A&M/Octane Records
Genre: Rap Rock

Last one everyone, I swear.  I have mixed feelings about this album.  On the one hand, it is Hollywood Undead, a band that makes increasingly good music despite the criticisms, and on the other hand this album has a few songs on here I absolutely loathe.  They have songs on here like "Another Way Out" and "Rain" that are incredibly written and well sung/rapped that surpass a lot of songs on their previous two albums but they also have songs like "Lion" which is just boring and the song "Pigskin" which is easily the worst song they have ever released and validates a lot of the criticisms of their lyrics.  Its dumb, repetitive, has many bad football double entandres, and the chanting and beat with give you a migraine.  What this album did well, like astonishingly well, was make a variety of slow ballads that are well written and produced, my favorite being "Rain" which actually lets someone besides Danny take over the chorus and the one that does, Charlie Scene, does such a good job that I wish he took over the chorus for many more songs on this album or let others on the HU team get their own choruses.  I was up late at night waiting for this album to be available on iTunes with one of my friends and we were both pleased but overall disappointed with this release. It did some bad things but what it did correctly, it did magnificently, so take from this what you will.

Recommended Songs: "Another Way Out", "Rain", "We Are"

"Another Way Out"

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