Top Ten Albums
10. Melechesh - Emissaries
Brutal, Messopotamian metal - this album was a slab of brilliant phrygian melody and goddamn neckbreaking riffery.
9. Dark Moor - Tarot
As gloriously over the top as you could hope for, Spain's Dark Moor delivered a damn fun album. Each song is dedicated to a different card from the Tarot deck. My personal highlight is the gloriously cheesy "The Moon" - which is pretty much Beethoven's 5th and Moonlight Sonata meshed together and converted into a metal song. The production values are top notch in this album, with everything so smooth and polished it practically reflects the light.
8. Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance
Katatonia were one of my big finds of 07 (yes, I know they've been around for about 20 years. I'm slow, sue me). As melancholy as a room full of chocolate lovers at a broccoli convention, this album is also beautiful. Jonas Renkse is an amazing singer whose voice floats in and out of the music, sometimes commanding your attention, sometimes sinking into the churning mass of guitars. He conveys great fragility over the powerful rhythms.
7. Kamelot - Ghost Opera
Roy Khan has a voice made for musicals. He is destined I think to play the Phantom of the Opera one day. One of the many reasons I like Kamelot is the theatricality of their music - it may be disguised as symphonic/power/progressive metal, but with a little stripping down and rearranging, I think it would be perfect for the stage. With Ghost Opera the band seem to embrace that more than ever - with the opening string onslaught to set the mood it's like being led into an overture. When songs like "Love you to death" and "Anthemn of Life" make their entrance, you can again see the characters on the stage singing to one another. This is a top album that doesn't have the amazing standout moments of their previous album Black Halo, but probably has more cohesion and functions better as an album.
6. Within Temptation - The Heart of Everything
You know, I'm coming to like Sharon Van Adel better than all the female lead singers of all the symphonic female fronted bands I listen to (quite a few as it transpires). She's picking up more range as the band's albums progress. What I am impressed by is how much more the band themselves are picking up. Their symphonic arrangements in previous albums were truly awe inspiring, but a closer listen revealed always just how boring the guitars and drums were. With The Heart of Everything, the band seem to come into their own a little more. It's still Sharon and the orchestra's show, but the album is made much more powerful by asking the other band members to step up. This is one of the only albums where none of the songs felt like filler.
5. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade
Go on, laugh at me. I don't care. This is a celebration of camp rock operas as played by poe-faced emo-rockers. Musically and structurally it's a love note to Queen and Cabaret, while keeping itself firmly ensconced in traditional punk rock. From the opening track The End where ethereal fingerclicks, ghostly falsetto harmonies and wailing chorus'd vocals all feature to Liza Minelli's appearance in Mama, this is an album that sounds like it's a big, gloriously camp rock and roll joke, the kind that Freddy Mercury could pull and we'd love him for it.
The joke is of course that the band are deadly serious. This isn't meant to be camp, and it isn't tongue in cheek. If there is one truly disappointing fact about this album it is that it takes itself too seriously. Yet in spite of Gerard Way's posturing, the album is still infectious and when the songs get caught up in the excellent music it's easy to set aside the often pretentious and self-righteous lyrics and just enjoy the moment.
This album kept me singing along while I was driving all over the countryside, and while MCR as an entity might be somewhat shameful to like, I don't think that their image prevents appreciation of what is a good album.
4. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
My appreciation of this album was immeasurably helped by seeing them live - Muse have a strong presence on stage, an awesome light show, and a lead singer/guitarist/pianist who might look like a skinny rodent offstage, but cavorts across the stage like a rock god - and pulls off the closest thing I've seen to it in years.
The album is quintessentially Muse, the way the textures are uitilised, the way the music is evoked. That being said, this is the most stylistically diverse of all their albums, bouncing across moods, rhythms and genres brilliantly. The poppy hooks of Starlight, the sexy bassiness of Supermassive Blackhole, the powerful balladeering of Invincible, the latin-esque sounds of City of Delusion, the grandiose orchestrations of Hoodoo... and of course the epic space western sounds of Knights of Cydonia (more on that later).
This is an album that is often otherworldly, sung with such elegant fragility and woven to provide a surprisingly complex tapestry. It's sometimes eclectic, but always compelling.
3. Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia
The Dresden Dolls are the "punk cabaret" - the swaggering alternative rebels of the burlesque stage. Their music is simple - piano and drums, with the occasional acoustic guitar. They're a two piece act with a whole lot of friends to bring to all of their shows, and their pure theatricality is divine.
The songs are songs of heartache, of sexual adventure and misadventure - they push the vulgar into the sublime. You're confronted with simple stories of girls who can't escape their dependancies; of self-pleasure and the rush of guilt and loneliness that accompanies the raw power of the moment; of the pain and awkwardness and absurd beaurocracy of having a sex change; of backyard abortion clinics and many others. The tales are often dark and seedy and sexy and sung like a theatre ditty. Yes Virginia is a compulsory purchase for everyone.
2. Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
The concept album of the year easily - Therion have eclipsed their former albums with this one in my opinion. It has a smaller vocal cast, but a very competent one, and they evoke the strangeness and epic history of cultures dead long before our own. I love this album as it has a little of what I like about Ayreon in it, but it carves its own path as a darker, and at times more powerful album. Certainly a more epic one. Thundering crescendos, operatic singing, and amazing light and dark contrasts make this album one of my highest recommendations. Nobody can evoke the ghosts of ancient civilisations like Therion.
1. The Butterfly Effect - Imago
The Butterfly Effect are my favourite Australian band. It helps I've seen them half a dozen times now and they do a great live show. What I love about them though is what I love about bands like Tool and Muse and others - their ability to build textures. At no point listening to Imago do you ever get dazzled by the technical prowess of the band - but as each layer builds, each ambient processed effect is introduced - you're taken on a journey that has a beginning, a middle, and a real climax. The amazing vocals are what carry the journey and what a casual listener would notice first and foremost, but rest assured it is the music that lends the atmosphere that makes the vocals so effective.
Imago has moments of sublime beauty (most of the album) and moments of rocky angst (the early singles that made it to Triple J). It isn't as diverse or as complex as Muse's album earlier - but it's this comparative simplicity that makes me so damn fond of the album. It's a beautiful album, a singalong classic and a joy to listen to.
Meatloaf - Bat out of Hell
I've listened to this album a shitload this year, and it remains one of the most passionate, exciting rock operas in existence. It's a poor pun to say that Meatloaf sings with "guts" - but it is an apt phrase when so much gusto and feeling is thrown into every verse. A brilliant album.
Jeff Martin - Live in Brisbane
This is a live recording of the very concert I went to - and while the CD doesn't quite capture the incredible magic of being there, it does succeed in helping me relive all the amazing moments that made it one of my favourite concerts ever.
Devin Townsend - Ziltoid the Omniscient
Devin Townsend is a character that draws attention to his work just by being himself. His talent however is abundant. This is a character he created as a boy and has now turned into a riotous, bizarre heavy metal concept album, full of absurdist jokes and weird spacey storylines. For the light storyline though, the music is still as crushing and intense as anything Devin has ever done. This album is fun and intense in equal measures.
Top Ten Songs:
10. Nightwish - Amaranth
Nightwish's first single from their new album with new lead singer Annette Olzen is great - a real power ballad that captures a lot of what Nightwish was about, while still coming across as relatively new - very like Within Temptation, their primary competition for the very epic. Considering Within Temptation started as the imitators, I'm unsure what to make of the development - still, this song and all of Dark Passion Play are great, and I appreciate them triply since seeing the band live.
9. The Dresden Dolls - Mandy Goes to Med School
Stonking bassy cabaret that lyrically might be about backyard abortion clinics. It's not as frightening as that makes it sound - point of fact it's pretty damn fantastic. The Dresden Dolls are back alley theatre and I love them for it.
8. Within Temptation - The Cross
This song has a chorus that gets me every time. Within Temptation keep getting better and better, and this song is proof.
7. Dream Theater - Dark Eternal Night
The first song I heard off Systematic Chaos - it is a great tune, with stacks of fantastic hooks and the masterful musicianship you expect from an act like DT. It now also boasts the claim of having the coolest video clip when synched onstage with the band playing live. Defeating monsters with the power of rock - OH YEAH!!!
6. Therion - Trul/Tuna 1613
A tie between these two songs. Tuna 1613 is an awesome song, galloping and grandiose. Awesome riffery, addictive hooks - from a purely guitar point of view this song would win, but everything else works within it as well. Trul meanwhile is a bit more of a ballad - more folk-metal, with a celtic edge to it. Another top song, and they follow one another on the album making it a double act to be remembered.
5. Gotye - Heart's a Mess
Gotye is why I love the world today - he proves that incredible art can be made anywhere, without millions of dollars, just merely taking advantage of jumps in technology and distribution. This guy has crafted the most incredible tunes, all in his bedroom. Heart's a Mess was a perennial favourite on Triple J, but I won't hold that against it. It's a beautiful, quirky and melancholy pop/electronica/percussion based piece that should be listened to again and again.
4. Meatloaf - Paradise by the Dashboard Light
My dream woman is the kind of person that would spontaneously duet this song with me. Paradise by the Dashboard Light is the naughty Grease, fits right into Cry Baby. It's a mischievous rock opera in a single song, and it's a glorious tribute to teen hormones, sex drive and nostalgia. Are there better songs out there? Hmmmm... let me sleep on it.
3. Kansas - Carry on my Wayward Son
Thanks to Supernatural, I've been flung this song a billion times. Not that I mind at all, it's a fantastic piece of prog rock with a wonderful melancholy refrain that frequently breaks down to fast guitar solos, prog riffery and keyboard warbling. Having listened to a fair bit of Kansas this year, I think it's safe to say they never hit the heights of this song ever again.
2. Muse - Knights of Cydonia
Triple J's hottest 100 made this song Number One - the first Number One that has deserved it in a LONG time! Muse's epic sci-fi prog rock western packs atmospherics, virtuosity, epic-ness and one of the best riffs in years into one song. It has all the great qualities of rock - characters struggling against the odds, obscure metaphor making, and goddamn awesome guitars that are heavy in some moments, and echo like a Morricone soundtrack in others. Knights of Cydonia also has what I think might be my favourite music video of all time. Go now. Search it on YouTube. By the time the Unicorn arrives, you'll know you're watching something very special.
1. Jonathon Coulton - Still Alive
How could it be anything other than this unabashedly chirpy pop ditty that closes the game of the year, Portal? Filled with sweet lyrics, sugary singing, but blacker than black humour it's the perfect blend of nerdy material and great but simple music. It's the kind of song that creeps inadvertently into people's souls - just try singing the opening lines and see who the people are that stop in recognition and grin. It's the most talked about hidden gem on the internet today, and part of its beauty is that it is built on contextual knowledge of its source. It evokes a stimulating experience that produced universal good will and excitement amongst an entire community. Still Alive is a glorious tribute to the altar of pop culture, and goddamn if it isn't the song that can guarantee cheer me up.