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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Albums of the Year 2007

The time has come for my annual review of what I believe have been the albums of the year. Generally it will be full of heavy metal releases, being the music of choice in the Peters realm.
Take this as you please, but I recommend the top ten heartily.

THOSE THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE GRADE


There were a hell of a lot of new albums released this year by the bands that I frequent regularly, so much so that a lot of them haven't received as much listening as I would like.

Some, like Masterplan's Mk II, Iron Savior's Megatropolis and Sonata Arctica's Unia had a lot to live up to with previous releases and were unable to meet those (my) expectations, though were quite good albums in themselves. Each is a good solid album that I can easily put on to listen to at any time. They just suffer in comparison to the band's earlier efforts, and in some way may have hampered their rating in this year's list.

Some, like Iced Earth's Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1) and Velvet Revolver's Libertad are in the same boat, but are generally just average albums. The constant rumours over Velvet Revolver's future, and the fact Iced Earth have sacked vocalist Ripper Owens for former frontman Matt Barlow less than two months after Armageddon's release shows that the albums suffered from painful productions.

Some, like Machine Head's The Blackening and Arch Enemy's Rise Of The Tyrant were my introduction to the bands' material, and I was more than impressed by both. The fact they have not featured in the top ten here is perhaps more a fact that so many of the bands I have followed for two decades and more released albums this year that I favoured more.

Dream Theater's Systematic Chaos again failed to ignite a passion in me. Along with 2005's Octavarium, I feel Dream Theater have moved away from the kind of music I enjoyed of theirs. Having conversed with bigger fans of the band than I am it would appear I am on my own in this, but that can't be helped. In a similar way, Primal Fear's New Religion also didn't quite get me as their previous releases have, whereas most other fans of the band think it is possibly their best. Queensryche's two releases, the double live Mindcrime At The Moore and covers album Take Cover are perhaps better left unreviewed.
Perhaps my taste is changing, if ever so slightly, as I get older.

Albums I did not include in the top ten for others reasons include Black Sabbath's The Dio Years, a compilation of the best songs from the three albums fronted by Ronnie James Dio, and including three brand new songs. As a 'best of', I did not consider it for the list. Same goes for the Megadeth boxset Warchest. Also, the live release Live At Hammersmith Odeon was not considered as it was recorded in 1982.

Now, let's get into the important stuff...

10. New Protection / RIDE THE SKY

12 months ago Uli Kusch left Masterplan, having helmed two brilliant albums, and began to start new projects. One of them was this, Ride The Sky, resulting in New Protection. Sounding very similar to Masterplan, this album is similar to the way I feel about Masterplan's Mk II album this year – good, but just missing something that makes it a classic. However, if you love the European speed/power metal sound like I do, you will enjoy this album. Good vocals, fast guitars and drums and catchy songs. It's not in the same echelon as Uli's better stuff from the past, like Helloween's The Dark Ride or Masterplan's self titled first album, but it's fun enough to make number 10 in this year's list.

9. Dominator / W.A.S.P.

Following the debacle that was the two Neon God albums, I have no problem admitting that the prospect of a new W.A.S.P. album brought me no great joy. Imagine my surprise then when I first heard it, and discovered Blackie Lawless had returned to his best – well, his 1990's best, anyway. Returning to a sound reminiscent of Unholy Terror and in places The Crimson Idol, Dominator was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. There's just no chance of the band reproducing the greatness of their first five releases, but this is a solid album that delivers on levels that has been missing for a lot of the recent albums.
Best on the disc are “Mercy”, “Long Long Way To Go” and “The Burning Man”.

8. Black Rain / OZZY OSBOURNE

Another veteran, returning quite a few years after an eminently forgettable album (Back On Earth) and doing a better job this time around. With an obviously heavy influence from guitarist Zakk Wylde, the album mixes heavy thumping songs with the occasional slower melancholy one (something that Ozzy and Zakk both do so well). OK, so it's no No More Tears, but it restores some of the balance lost in the preceding years. Ozzy's vocals are still great (can he cut it live though?) and Zakk as always is great. In a lot of ways, it feels like a Black Label Society album with Ozzy singing, though perhaps that is no great surprise at this stage of their respective careers.
Best on the disc are “I Don't Wanna Stop”, “Civilize The Universe” and “Trap Door”.

7. Live At Radio City Hall [Live] / HEAVEN AND HELL

The triumphant return of the Dio-era Black Sabbath brought this release of a live album and DVD from one of the early gigs on tour. Comprised entirely of material from the three albums with Ronnie at the helm – Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules and Dehumanizer – this is a purely magical experience. Even in their 60's, these four musicians are at the top of their game, and still manage to produce an awesome show.
OK, maybe I'm biased – my lifelong obsession with Dio, the fact that the show I saw them in August in Wollongong was the greatest gig of all time – but this is a must-add to the collection if you don't already own it.

6. The Legacy World Tour 2005/06 – Live In Sao Paulo [Live] / HELLOWEEN

Following on from the release of Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part III – The Legacy, this double disc live album covers the tour, which is a great mix of the old classics and more recent Deris-era songs. All are performed impressively, and the songlist is just terrific. What I like most is that they were not afraid to play their lengthy songs - “King For 1000 Years”, “Keeper Of The Seven Keys”, “Eagle Fly Free”, “Occasion Avenue” and “Halloween” all get a run, and are just brilliant.
This excels even the band's previous live release, High Live. A great set list is complemented by all players being on top of their game. Sure, you never get used to Andi Deris singing the early songs, but the performance of the latter songs is note-perfect.

5. Gambling With The Devil / HELLOWEEN

Helloween seems to be turning full circle with this release, returning to a sound reminiscent of The Dark Ride, which is strange considering that they let two members of the band go after that album because it was seen as a wrong direction musically. Anyway...
Despite tinkering with their format once again, this is another pearler of an album. In a rearguard fight against their advancing years as a band, Helloween have rediscovered a formula that works for them and continue to put out great albums. More impressive to me is that they seems to get better every time you listen, which is certainly the case with Gambling With The Devil. The themes are a little darker again, and the riffs a little heavier. Overall another great album from one of the best bands out there.
Best on the disc include “Kill It”, “As Long As I Fall”, “The Bells Of The 7 Hells” and “Dreambound”

4. United Abominations / MEGADETH

A brilliant return from the Dave Mustaine-led Megadeth. I said it during the year when the album was released – unlike other bands who release albums that sound so different from what they are renown for, this 'sounds' like a Megadeth album from the opening riffs. Dave has got together a combination of musicians he is happy with again, and it shows on this album. Hopefully he/they can maintain the rage for the foreseeable future.

3. Paradise Lost / SYMPHONY X

It's been a long wait for the follow up to Odyssey, but the time has been well spent, and this is a belter. This spent as much time on my playlist all year as any other album, and with good cause. Some fans didn't enjoy the direction this album went – ie heavier – but I think it is a triumph in every way. Screaming vocals, flailing guitars and flying drumming. A brilliant allround album.

2. Land Of The Free Part II / GAMMA RAY

This is so hard to judge, as it was released so late in the year, and as such I haven't been able to give it my full attention to this point. The fact is, it is the first time in my annual review since 1994 that a Gamma Ray album hasn't been ranked #1 in a year when it has been released. However, from the opening song you know it is another classic. There's no doubt it is a Gamma Ray album, but the key is probably to ignore the title of the album, as to try and compare it with the incomparable 1994 release Land Of The Free would be ludicrous. The lyrical content makes it a 'sequel' of sorts, but the songs do stand on their own as well.
To me, Gamma Ray are the most consistently brilliant heavy metal band in the world, and this album continues their dominance in this direction.

1. Humanity: Hour 1 / SCORPIONS

The comeback of the decade? Almost without question. After a number of years of average releases and average reviews, Scorpions come out with this concept album that has gripped me from the first time I put it on this year. One could ask “Where did they pull this from?” For me, it is an amazing recovery to be able to produce this after, for instance, Eye II Eye, which I found incredibly boring. Instead, this ranks with Lovedrive and Love At First Sting and Blackout as one of their finest achievements. A superb collection of rockers and ballads which tell a thoughtful story at the same time. A remarkable achievement, and deservedly the Album of The Year.

In reality, the group of the first four album would all tie at the top, such is their excellence, and to rank them 1 to 4 was difficult, but that's my job. Hopefully you all get out there and have a listen to all of them, and decide for yourselves.
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