2015 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

At the end of the year time to break the current sequence of “top ten albums of the year” posts and review my favourite releases of the past twelve months. There have been a lot of quality albums issued this year, and it’s proven difficult to narrow my list down to just ten, but here (alphabetically, as per usual) we go…

1. Europe “War Of Kings”

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Europe – War Of Kings

“…front man Joey Tempest’s vocals are as powerful and soaring now as they ever were and guitarist John Norum delivers some seriously tasty lead guitar solos. The highlights of this record, for me, are “War Of Kings”, “Nothin’ To Ya”, “California 405”, “Rainbow Bridge” and “Light Me Up”, but in truth this is a very good album from the opening sound effects through to the reprise of the title track at the end of closing instrumental number “Vasastan”…”

2. Grace Potter “Midnight”

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Grace Potter – Midnight

“…ultimately, whether you like this or not I think it’s good when an artist follows their heart musically rather than churning out similar sounding albums for fear of upsetting fans and losing sales.

Granted that approach doesn’t always make for consistently good music (see Metallica’s “St. Anger” and their collaboration with Lou Reed on “Lulu” for evidence of that!) but in the case of Potter she is, to my ears, managing to make the transition and still remain as entertaining and appealing as ever…”

3. Halestorm “Into The Wild Life”

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Halestorm – Into The Wild Life

“…I do feel that it’s easily the band’s best to date. That said, at this point in time I am really enjoying “I Am The Fire”, the delicate ballad “Dear Daughter”, the crushing “Mayhem”, “Sick Individual”, “Gonna Get Mine”, “What Sober Couldn’t Say” (with it’s lovely Procol Harum style organ work), the rock ‘n’ roll of “Jump The Gun” and “I Like It Heavy”. In truth, though, there isn’t a duff track to be found. Sure, there are different genres on display here – rock, metal, country, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. – but all put together and moulded into the unique sound of Halestorm…”

4. Iron Maiden “The Book Of Souls”

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Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

“…this is not only the best record that this line-up of Maiden have made, and all six members are bang on the money, but is right up there with the best of their entire output.

For a band now in their 40th year, and 15 years for this configuration, this is a staggering achievement. A 92 minute double album of consistent top quality…”

5. Luciferian Light Orchestra “Luciferian Light Orchestra”

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Luciferian Light Orchestra – Luciferian Light Orchestra

“…the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.

…if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!…”

6. Nightwish “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

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Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

“…designed to be listened to from start to end, as albums used to be, the record starts with a spoken piece from Professor Richard Dawkins introducing first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful”. Orchestration leads into some heavy guitar riffing before Jansen’s vocals kick in. Her voice is pure and clear, and the track’s melodies catchy. This is classic Nightwish but also the group sounding more accessible than ever…”

7. Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase”

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Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

“…anyone familiar with Wilson’s past work with Porcupine Tree, or his subsequent solo work will have an idea of what to expect with this record. This is not background music. It’s not easy listening. This is an album that challenges you. It needs and deserves to have your full attention. And with that attention you will discover what a rich and engaging album it is…”

8. Swallow The Sun “Songs From The North”

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Swallow The Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III

“…a truly great doom metal band that have incorporated a wide palette within their core sound. Now that winter is settling in and we are treated to rain, mist and dark skies I feel that it is the perfect time for something like “Songs From The North”. The fact that the project is on such a huge scale just makes it even better in my view. An ideal, and oddly uplifting, soundtrack to the melancholy and darkness of winter…”

9. Thunder “Wonder Days”

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Thunder – Wonder Days

“…to my ears nothing quite matches the magic created when you mix his songs with Bowes’ voice in the band, underpinned by the rock solid James’ drumming, Matthews’ guitar and keyboard parts and Chris Childs’ bass playing and the magic is complete. Thunder are a fantastic band, whether on record or on stage, and it’s great to have them back with new songs!…”

10. The Unthanks “Mount The Air”

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The Unthanks – Mount The Air

“…the group have gradually moved from their more traditional folk sounds to more experimental waters. Taking folk as their starting point, they now often utilise strings and brass instruments, resulting in a unique and quite haunting sound. The sisters’ voices really do compliment each other beautifully.

As a whole, listening to the record from start to finish is to be taken on a wonderful musical journey. It’s hard to convey in words what The Unthanks sound like – so it’s probably best to listen and quite literally let the music do the talking…”

So there you have it – my favourite ten albums of this year. Back on course with the Seventies and 1976 soon…

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