Monday, December 30, 2013

Meister's Top Albums of 2013


Well folks, as the year draws to a close I've compiled MY favourite albums of 2013.  I've decided to break them into two of parts, #1 being the top ten more mainstream bands or groups that you've likely heard of and #2 being some more underground or relatively unknown releases.  They are not numbered within each part and are in no particular order in that manner.  Remember, these are MY favourite releases of the year, not Grammy winners, top radio airplay or your favourites, these are the albums that I personally enjoyed listening to throughout the year and they get the most play in my rotations.  Check out my thoughts and please, especially in the "Lesser known Bands" section, listen to the track links that I've included and let me know if you agree or disagree, you might just find a new gem!

Part #1: Top 10 Mainstream Releases:

Motorhead let loose their 21st full length offering, Aftershock, on October 21st, 2013.  There's nothing much different here than any past Motorhead album and that's ok...I was once told that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"!  Motorhead is certainly not broken, although Lemmy has faced some health issues this year, no doubt brought about by his "hard living rock & roll style".  Never fear, Lemmy is on the mend and Motorhead have rescheduled their previously postponed European tour dates for February 2014.  Stand out cuts here include the opener, "Heartbreaker", the comical "Silence When You Speak To Me" and the bluesy "Dust & Glass".


The biggest Christian Hard Rock band returned in late 2013 with their 9th full length and possibly strongest ever record.  No More Hell To Pay hit the stores on November 5th, their first of new material in four years.  Vocalist Michael Sweet's tell-tale high registers are present, but somehow more tolerable than I found in the past, perhaps mellowing with age.  The album includes one cover song that couldn't be more apt for these four original members with The Art Reynolds Singer's 1966 song "Jesus Is Just Alright".  Other top track choices include, "Water Into Wine", "No More Hell To Pay" and "Sticks & Stones".  Stryper are touring in 2014 with dates posted on their website, including two back to back nights in Toronto.


Canada's punk influenced rockers, The Headstones reunited after an eight year hiatus and produced a fine album.  It took some listens to grow on me, not holding up to their back catalogue at first, but now surpassing much of it.  Included here is their cover version of the ABBA classic "SOS", once a staple in their live show, it's nice to have it recorded and is bound to give any rock fan a new appreciation for the 70's Swedish pop/disco group.  Listen to "farawayfromhere""binthiswayforyears", "longwaytoneverland" and "finalanalysis".  Headstones are known for their intense live performances, especially led by vocalist/actor Hugh Dillon (REVIEW OF BACK TO BACK NIGHTS WITH THE HEADSTONES)


Canadian metal icons the KiLLeR DWaRfS bring their tongue in cheek humour to the the musical landscape once again in 2013 with the release of Start @ One.  The album was actually recorded more than twenty years ago, but got shelved due to the landslide of changes in the musical arena at the time.  The reformed 2013 DWaRfS, still carrying their adopted "DWaRf" surnames  includes originals Russ and Darrell with long time guitarist Gerry welcoming newcomer Johnny on bass.  The album credits original bassist Bad Ronbo DWaRf who did indeed play on the recording twenty years ago, but opted out of the reformation.  The DWaRfS are on tour throughout the US and Canada including an appearance aboard 2014's Monsters of Rock Cruise.


One of Switzerland's biggest exports aside from knives and chocolates has to be the hard rock outfit Krokus.  Named after a flower, they issued their second album, Dirty Dynamite, since the classic line up reunited in 2008.  Maltese vocalist Marc Storace leads the band through a great "return to the classic Krokus sound", including their penchant for including a cover song, this time in the way of a very different Beatles "Help".  The year did not pass without adversity for Storace and crew as the news of former drummer Dani Crivelli's death was announced.  Top listening tracks here include "Dog Song", "Hallelujah Rock N Roll" and "Dirty Dynamite".


With Kurdt Vanderhoof now back in the forefront of the band shredding his guitar rather than his behind the scenes composition role, the recently reunited Metal Church issued Generation Nothing.  Now consisting of Vanderhoof, vocalist Ronny Munroe, guitarist Rick Van Zandt, bassist Steve Unger and drummer Jeff Plate, the thrash metal pioneers who had an MTV hit with the video for "Watch The Children Pray" in 1986 deliver an awesome collection of grinding tracks here.  Metal Church promise to be a force to reckon with as 2014 moves forward and their Toronto dates of March 1st and 2nd are much anticipated.  Downloadable are the title track, "Generation Nothing", "Dead City", "Jump The Gun" and "Bulletproof".


Delivering an EP at the start of 2013 and following with the full length, simply titled Heavy Metal Music later in the year, Jason Newsted, the former Metallica bassist and his band, Newsted have been busy in 2013.  This extremely strong collection quickly rose in the listening rotation and "...As The Crow Flies" can still be found nestled in the mix on the MP3 player.  Other stand outs include "Heroic Dose" "King Of The Underdogs""Above All" and "Soldierhead", the three latter choices coupled with accompanying videos.  This is a definite must for fans of old school heavy metal and far superior to the last releases from the big guns like Metallica and MegaDave (Megadeth).


The Barnsley boys of Saxon issued two albums in 2013, Sacrifice in March and Unplugged & Strung Up in November.  Sacrifice is their 20th full length release and quite possibly their heaviest and best to date.  Hard pressed to pick any one track over another, they all offer something different while keeping the Saxon sound carried by grinding riffs and Biff Byford's soaring vocals.  The deluxe edition of the release comes with a bonus CD containing some re-recordings also found on the later release Unplugged & Strung Up.  Continuing what they started with 2011's Call To Arms Saxon are touring hard visiting many markets that have not seen the band in decades as in the case of Toronto.  They have also began the initial writing sessions for a follow up record.


After a 20 year hiatus Canadian hard rockers Coney Hatch release their inventively titled fourth CD, the product of a reuniting for a benefit show after Carl Dixon's horrific automobile accident while in Australia.  Once dubbed "The loudest band in Toronto", Coney Hatch possess two very different but equally talented vocalists in Carl Dixon and bassist Andy Curran and this album picks up exactly where they left off in 1985.  Check out "Blown Away", "Boys Club", "Connected" and "Keep Driving".  Coney Hatch are set to play the final Firefest Festival in Nottingham, England in 2014 and are sure to include some additional dates prior to that show, so make sure you get out and support this awesome Canadian band.


Early in the year German power metal kings Helloween issued Straight Out Of Hell in January.  This 14th release for the band features one of the most stable line ups in Helloween history with original founding members Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf being joined by Andi Deris, Sascha Gerstner and Dani Loble.  One of the most thematically upbeat albums of their 30 year career Straight Out Of Hell is solid from start to finish.  The seven minute opus (shortened for the video) of "Nabataea" begins the record, paving the way for some other truly great additions to their catalogue such as "Waiting For The Thunder", "Straight Out Of Hell" and "Live Now!".


Honourable Mentions:

U.D.O.-Steelhammer U.D.O.'s 14th studio album since departing Accept shows the German still has great songs in him.

     Kill Devil Hill-Revolution Rise, the sophomore effort from Vinny Appice and Rex Brown's new band.

Queensryche-Queensryche.  The Todd LaTorre fronted version of the band quells the naysayers and Tate fans with this strong album.

Part #2: Top 10 Lesser Known or Bands to Check Out

Shock are a band from Ottawa Canada and even though they originally formed back in the mid 80's Once Denied marks their first full length album release.  The eight songs for this record were chosen from their extensive back catalogue of music and with lots more in the tank to choose from one can only hope that Shock will be planning some future releases.  Check out "Paths To Glory", "Fighting Chance", "Flaming Towards Earth", "Splitting The Atom", "Full Speed Ahead", "Slashing To Live", "I'm Dangerous" and "Driven To Kill", that's right the whole album is a must hear!  "Flaming Towards Earth" was also featured on episode #112 of The Decibel Geek Podcast (Hoser Heavy Metal Hour Ep. #112)


Brand New Machine was born in 2009 in Grand Rapids Michigan before relocating to Dallas Texas.  The Devil Made Me Do It is their first full length release following on the heels of an EP in 2011 and starts off with a bang from the get-go with "Here I Am".  This straight up American hard rock release loaded with gritty gutter rock is a "must have" for any rock fan.  Stand out tracks include "Here I Am""Girls Like You", "Dust The Sky", "Blackout Overdose" and the title track "The Devil Made Me Do It".  The only unfortunate thing with The Devil Made Me Do It is the shortness of the songs, straight to the point I guess, but just over too quickly.


Hailing from "Down Under" Australia's Taberah pushed out their sophomore record, Necromancer, in September.  Drawing you in with chunky bass lines and larger than life guitar riffs right off the bat in the opener "2012", this power/euro metal flavoured album runs at full tilt all the way through with the exception of the short instrumental, oddly titled "One Goon Bag Later".  Having been hand picked by Lemmy to open for Motorhead I would expect to hear more from these young Aussies who began playing their first pub gigs when they were only 16.  "Dying Wish", "For King & Country", "Burn" and "Hammer Of Hades" are all good representations of what's contained herein.


Bassist extraordinaire Mat Sinner has been a busy guy in 2013 appearing on Voodoo Circle's More Than One Way Home, Silent Force's Rising From Ashes and also working on the new Primal Fear (Delivering The Black) release set for 2014.  Mat found the time to take his namesake band, Sinner and lock themselves in a studio for 30 days to re-record a selection of songs from the early days of the 17 album back catalogue.  The albums are long out of print and Sinner himself does not own the rights to those recordings so Touch of Sin 2 provides an updating while upholding the past and making these compositions available to the fans.  "Don't Believe A Word (Thin Lizzy Cover)" and "Coming Out Fighting" are great tracks, but all 14 selections are worth the album's price.


Hailing from Sweden, Sister Sin's output for 2013 is a re-mastering of their Dance Of The Wicked album originally released independently in 2003.  Also included here are three original demos and their recording of the Motorhead song "Rock N' Roll" featuring Doro Pesch.  This may not be the best starting point for a new listener, but for die hard fans like myself it is an absolute gem to have in the collection and you can hear the progression of their song writing and the maturity that has obviously set in with later works.  Liv Jagrell's strong vocals can be heard throughout and the piss and vinegar attitude of Sister Sin's old school metal assault is still prominent.  "Fall Into My Dreams", "Dirty Damn I" and "Minor You (Major Me) (Demo)" are some good listening points.


A band out of Northern Ireland crossed the radar screens this year with their album, Songs Of Iron.  Trucker Diablo formed in 2008, releasing their first effort, The Devil Rhythm in 2012.  They have played some major festivals such as Download Festival and opened for the likes of Thin Lizzy and Foo Fighters.  This album is loaded with driving, gritty straight up working man's tunes, 14 in all,  guaranteed to please any hard rock fan.  Three videos available on you-tube, "Drive""The Rebel" and "Maybe You're The One"  give a good representation of the album, but the true stand outs are "Red Light On" and "Not So Superstar" in my ears.


Killer Bee issued Evolutionary Children in the latter part of the year.  The Swdedsh/Canadian outfit originally started back in 1990 under the name Desert Rain before releasing three albums between 1993 and 1997 under the Killer Bee moniker.  They returned to the musical landscape in 2011 with Almost There, a greatest hits compilation of sorts, followed with From Hell And Back in 2012, Evolutionary Children in 2013 and plans for another in 2014!  The album contains something for everyone from the epic, brooding, Black Sabbath-esque "Evolutionary Children" to the bluesy power ballad style of "All The Things You Say" to the emotion laden piano of "Angel's Dust".  This is not a "love at first listen" type of album, but grows on you with each spin as the compositions are more complex, offering you something new each time.


I was turned onto this album by a review from a fellow Decibel Geek writer and it's a great find!  It contains all the elements of the 1980's glam heyday with shredding guitar solos, extensive harmonies and power fact if you didn't know that it was recorded in 2013 you'd probably think it was an album from the 80's.  LaValle is made up of Eddie LaValle and Paul Logue (Eden's Curse) from the US, Carsten Lizard Schulz (Eden's Curse) and Ramy Ali (Iron Mask/Kiske/Sommerville) from Germany and Italian Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline/Eden's Curse).  I'm hard pressed to choose a stand out cut, but here's a promo video for the more ballady track "Don't Cry".  I sincerely hope this band continues working together and look forward to what they can do as their relationship strengthens!


Santa Cruz, surprisingly are not from Santa Cruz, California but, hail from Helsinki, Finland.  Screaming For Adrenaline is their début record after a self released EP in 2011.  These average aged twenty year olds expertly meld their 80's hard rock influences with an updated, even punk feel at times to the record.  Check out the lead single "Relentless Renegades" or the second video for the even better song "Aiming High".  If that's not enough you could try the slower pace of "Nothing Compares To You", but for me it's the super charged "Screaming For Adrenaline" title track or "Lovin' You (Is Just For Playin')" that are the albums best.


You may have heard of Pretty Maids previously as they have been around since 1981!  You may not have heard of them either as even though they've released a whopping 12 records, the first in 1984 they've never achieved a major breakthrough in North America and that's a tragedy!  While this is not my favourite Pretty Maids release, it's a strong album from the band from Horsens, Denmark.  Motherland leads off with the catchy "Mother Of All Lies" and follows suit on a yellow brick road of melodic rock throughout the whole album.  Other great tracks include "Hooligan", "Motherland", "Who, What, Where, When, Why" and "I See Ghosts".


Notable EP's:

Loveblast from Chicago Illinois released their 5 song EP Hard Liquor In Big Glasses in June.  It is the second release for the hard hitting rock band, voted "best original band" and "best hard rock band" by Chicago Rocker in 2011, behind their self titled full length début in 2010.  While the whole EP can be found on the LOVEBLAST YOU-TUBE CHANNEL, make sure to listen to "Hard Liquor In Big Glasses" and "Wild Forever".  


Also out of Illinois, Slam Bang's seven song album, Everyday Is A Party, is chock full of sex and booze laden rock tracks dripping with just the right amount of sleaze.  This band has been known to give out free Jagermeister shots and invite attractive ladies from the audience on stage during performances.  Forming in 2007 this is their fourth effort and unfortunately the final with vocalist, guitarist and founder Jeff Swan who has relocated to California.  "Hit It" and "Naked And Stoned" are a couple of good representations.



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