The first six months of this year have been an interesting ride in the rock and metal world. We've seen big name bands releasing well-received new records, big name bands releasing records that have been disappointments to large portions of their fan-bases, and new groups coming out of nowhere to win acclaim. After a slow start, releases have been picking up, with plenty of good new albums finding their way to our ears. At the mid-point of the year, it's a good time to take a look back at the music that's made an impact so far, both for better and worse.
Manowar - “The Lord Of Steel”
My hopes weren't high as I prepared to listen to this album, and even so, I was still horrified by what I heard. Listening to “The Lord Of Steel” is truly painful, the kind of experience you only subject on yourself as a dare. Everything about the album, from the songs to the performances to the production, is downright awful. Thirty years in the business should teach musicians a little bit about how to make music, but Manowar must have slept through class, because this is the worst thing they've ever put their name on. And given their reputation, that's saying quite a lot.
Storm Corrosion – “Storm Corrosion”
The combination of Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson promised big things with their first collaborative outing, and with Opeth's move in a more traditional progressive direction, this project was a prog lovers' dream. The end result was something unexpected, a slow-burning album of textural sounds with minimal percussion and structure. Beautiful moments spring up from time to time, but too much of the album wanders in search of a song.
Candlemass - “Psalms For The Dead”
After a successful reunion with Messiah Marcolin on their self-titled album, and two solid albums with Solitude Aeturnus frontman Robert Lowe singing, the band's final album fails to live up to the legacy they have established. The slow tracks lack the killer riffs that stick in your mind, and the faster songs lack the melody that was pervasive on “Death Magic Doom”. Like them or not, they deserved to go out on a better note.
Adrenaline Mob - “Omerta”
Mike Portnoy debuted two new bands this year, with Adrenaline Mob being the most straight-forward music he's ever been a part of. Backing Symphony X singer Russell Allen, “Omerta” is an album of dumbed-down groove metal that tries too hard to be metal, often to embarrassing ends. With so much talent in the band, the results should have been so much more than the few good songs offered here.
5. Affector – “Harmagedon”
A progressive metal supergroup of sorts, featuring current Spock's Beard vocalist Ted Leonard, and guest appearances by Neal Morse, Derick Sherinian, and Jordan Rudess. Don't let the Christian lyrics fool you, this is quality progressive metal that has plenty of tricky riffs, crazy keyboard solos, and enough vocal hooks to hold it all together. This new project lives up to the hype.
4. The Flower Kings – “Banks Of Eden”
The five year wait for this album proves to have been worthwhile, as “Banks Of Eden” is the best pure progressive rock album of the year so far. Lush orchestrations, fiery guitar playing, and an ear for melody combine in an album that never feels inauthentic. The epic doesn't feel as long as it is, and the shorter songs each bring a different feel. The bonus tracks heighten the experience, making the hour-plus duration anything but a chore.
3. Slash - “Apocalyptic Love”
Borrowing singer Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge, Slash builds on the success of his first solo album with a collection of songs that is his most consistent since the glory days of “Appetite For Destruction”. Slash has always had great tones, and his guitar roars through the album with one of the best rhythm tones ever on a rock record. Kennedy tries too much to sound like Axl Rose, making his voice unusually shrill, but manages to help Slash put together an album of songs that are both heavy and melodic.
2. Flying Colors - “Flying Colors”
Mike Portnoy's other new band, this supergroup steps outside the comfort zone of the members, eschewing progressive music for an amalgam of pop and rock styles. Great musicianship abounds, set in the framework of a diverse set of memorable songs. At times rocking, at times emotional, “Flying Colors” is music made by professionals who know exactly what they're doing.
1. Halestorm - “The Strange Case Of...”
A major step up from their debut, Halestorm produces my favorite record of the year so far. A perfect blend of huge guitars and pop melodies, “The Strange Case Of...” is packed with catchy songs, plenty of attitude, and one of the best rock singers on the planet today. Lzzy Hale's voice is a wonder, as she sneers her way through the rockers, and belts out the ballads with equal aplomb. She is the centerpiece of the album, and it's only as great as she makes it.
Those are the highlights of the first half of the year. Now, on to what's next.