Today I’m going to look at another top ten albums of the year – this time 2003 – the year that I left Bristol for a new chapter of my life in Gloucestershire. The list includes some long-term favourite acts alongside some newly discovered artists. So, without further ado…
1. Akercocke “Choronzon”
Discovered via a magazine article, though I can’t remember with magazine it was, Akercocke were a black metal band from London, and “Choronzon”, their third studio album, was my first exposure to their unique take on the genre.
The band had an unusual visual image for a black metal band, choosing to present a suited and booted gentleman image rather than the more usual black leather and corpse paint, as can be seen in the video for the single from this album, the rather fabulous track “Leviathan”.
As with the rest of the album the music is dense and challenging and entirely evocative of the satanic theme that runs through the record. Although I also enjoy the rest of Akercocke’s catalogue, this album remains – in my view – the pinnacle of their musical achievements, containing such highlights as “Praise The Name Of Satan”, “Goddess Flesh” and “Valley Of The Crucified”. Cracking stuff!
2. Cara Dillon “Sweet Liberty”
The second new discovery here, Cara Dillon is an Irish folk singer who these days hails from Somerset where she lives with her husband Sam Lakeman and children.
“Sweet Liberty” is her second album and featured a wonderful version of “There Were Roses”, a song about sectarianism in Northern Island.
Cara has a beautifully pure voice which is very much to the fore on this excellent album. The best songs, or rather my favourites, are “Black Is The Colour”, “The Winding River Roe”, “The Emigrant’s Farewell” and the aforementioned “The Were Roses”. A brilliant modern folk album.
3. Dream Theater “Train Of Thought”
American progressive metal band Dream Theater followed 2002’s double disc concept album “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence”, which featured just six tracks across it’s 96 minute running time (including the 42 minute title track) with a more concise, direct and musically darker and heavier record “Train Of Thought”.
Seven tracks made up this single disc release, and although there is one track, “Vacant”, that comes in at under 3 minutes and another, the single “As I Am” at nearly 8, the rest are all over 10 minutes duration. Nonetheless, this is a far more accessible record than it’s predecessor featuring the angry “Honor Thy Father”, instrumental tour de force “Stream Of Consciousness” and the epic “In The Name Of God”. One of the band’s strongest albums to date.
4. Epica “The Phantom Agony”
Another new discovery to me in 2003, Epica are a Dutch symphonic metal band formed by former After Forever guitarist Mark Jansen and featuring the fantastic Simone Simons on lead vocals.
The record features parts 4-6 of Jansen’s “The Embrace That Smothers” series of songs, which had started on After Forever’s 2000 release “Prison Of Desire”. These songs are all on the theme of the dangers of organised religion.
Three singles were released to promote the album – title track “The Phantom Agony”, “Feint” which addresses the assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, and “Cry For The Moon” which is a song about child abuse carried out by Catholic priests.
The band have gone from strength to strength since, but “The Phantom Agony” is a very assured and accomplished debut album, featuring strong performances and superb material.
5. Iron Maiden “Dance Of Death”
The second studio album released since the return to the band of singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, “Dance Of Death” was even better than it’s predecessor “Brave New World”.
Kicking off with the singles “Wildest Dreams” and “Rainmaker” the record is chock full of brilliant tracks. Amongst the strongest are “No More Lies”, “Dance Of Death”, “Paschendale” and the acoustic “Journeyman”. As is so often the case, this is an essential Iron Maiden album.
6. Marilyn Manson “The Golden Age Of Grotesque”
The last really good album from Marilyn Manson until “The Pale Emperor” in 2015, “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” is probably my favourite Manson record.
For this album Manson was using themes from the Weimar Republic of the 1930s and early days of Nazism, musically and visually, as can be seen in the videos for single release “mOBSCENE” and “This Is The New Shit”. Perhaps Manson’s then-girlfriend Dita Von Teese’s burlesque style was also an influence.
A more electronic based album than previous releases, “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” also features other highlights such as “Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag”, “Para-noir” and “(s)AINT”. Dark and edgy lyrics combined with catchy and infectious grooves, this is a very good album.
7. Meat Loaf “Couldn’t Have Said It Better”
This was Meat Loaf’s eighth studio album release, and easily his best outside of the “Bat Out Of Hell” series.
Only the third album to feature no material from long-term collaborator Jim Steinman, instead having songs from a number of different composers including Diane Warren and Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx.
My favourite tracks on the record are “Testify”, “Mercury Blues”, a great cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”, “Love You Out Loud” and the title track “Couldn’t Have Said It Better”. A very solid album.
8. Opeth “Damnation”
Recorded at the same time as 2002’s “Deliverance”, which showcased the Swedish progressive metal band’s heavier side, “Damnation” highlighted the other side of Opeth – this time a far lighter and more introspective sound.
The album starts with the single “Windowpane” which is a great snapshot of the record as a whole. Progressive, acoustic, cinematic and expansive.
The involvement of Porcupine Tree man Steven Wilson, who contributed keyboards and backing vocals, the lyrics to “Death Whispered A Lullaby” as well as studio wizardry, continued to make a mark on the sound of Opeth too. A totally indespensable Opeth album.
9. Liz Phair “Liz Phair”
“Liz Phair” is the self-title fourth album from the American singer / songwriter, and was my introduction to her work. A more commercial record than her previous work, “Liz Phair” seemed to have been aimed more at fans of the likes of Avril Lavigne than her own existing fan base.
Nonetheless, I found it to be a very good rock / pop record, glossily produced and containing good songs with some great hooks.
My favourite tracks on this album include the singles “Why Can’t I?” and “Extraordinary”, as well as “Rock Me”, the delicate “Little Digger”, “Favorite” and the x-rated “H.W.C.”. All in all, accessible great rock / pop record.
10. Stereophonics “You Gotta Go There To Come Back”
Stereophonics were formed in the village of Cwmaman in South Wales, and “You Gotta Go There To Come Back” was their fourth studio album – and their third UK number 1.
Sadly it was also to be their last album with the late Stuart Cable on drums.
It felt to me that, having toured previously with the Black Crowes, there was an influence to be found within the dense sound of this record, particularly on tracks like “High As The Ceiling”, and Kelly Jones has since confirmed that the band were stoned for a lot of the recording process.
Regardless, this is one of my all-time favourite Stereophonics albums, with my personal highlights including “Help Me (She’s Out Of Her Mind)”, “Jealousy”, “Rainbows And Pots Of Gold” and the brilliant hit single “Maybe Tomorrow”. A top class rock album.
So that’s my top ten albums of 2003. Things of note that year? Prime minister Tony Blair leads Britain into the Iraq War, Manchester United win the Premier League with Arsenal winning the F.A. Cup, and some of the year’s top cinema releases were “The Lord Of The Rings : The Return Of The King”, “Finding Nemo” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean : The Curse Of The Black Pearl”…