This year ended up being and incredibly strong one, and I'll admit going into it I wasn't sure what to expect. A few minor flubs, and a few incredible surprises await! Join me, won't you? A change from last year, though; I can't number them this year, as I had at least 4 albums clustered at the top that I could for the life of me not pick between. And, in all honesty just being on the list makes them worthy of your time! Because my opinion is that important. Make sure you check out the links under each cover art for my favorite cuts of each album!
Megadeth - Th1rt3en
So, a short few years after the release of the outrageously stellar Endgame, Megadeth return with their 13th album... Th1rt3en. Fucking christ, it literally makes me cringe to type that out. Corny phonetic spelling aside, this album is solid, but it definitely pales in comparison to their previous ass-kicker. This album has all the signs of contract fulfillment written all over it, what with half of the songs being written somewhere in the mid 90's and some of the others written for video games. It comes across as somewhat half-assed, but half-assed Megadeth still manages to be good, which is a testament to Dave's writing ability and the sound technicality of the band. My favorite songs off of the album tend to be the older ones that were reworked or rerecorded, with the exception of Neverdead, which is really fucking good.
Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising
If you would have told me early in the year that this album wouldn't make my top 10 I would have probably punched you in the face. Shockingly, it doesn't quite make it, but it has as much to do with the strength of the field as it does with this album being slightly disappointing. Amon Amarth's previous album is quite possibly my favorite of their entire catalogue, and while this is a great album... it just doesn't have the songs to breach the top 10. I can always count on AA to bring me a solid melodic death metal album about vikings, but that doesn't guarantee a spot. Still, any fan of the band will enjoy it immensely.
Turisas - Stand Up and Fight
Turisas have become a bizarre and awesome beast as of the last few years. After Battle Metal, the band has been surging forward into epic territory with a vengeance. The Varangian Way was a fantastic album, and I preferred it over the debut, what with it's outrageously epic numbers and fist pumping anthems. Well my friends, if you enjoy fist pumping you are in luck, because this album is basically all fist pump all the time. While I can't say I enjoy it as much as TVW, this album smokes. I love the direction this band is taking, which is somewhere between epic folk/power metal, and the Harry Potter film soundtracks. Great stuff.
Edguy - Age of the Joker
I honestly struggled with this one, as Edguy are one of my favorite bands ever. Edguy have been straddling the line between melodic hard rock and Metal for a few albums now, and they aren't changing it up with this one. While the melodic soundness of the band remains in tact, and hooks abound remain... they seem slightly lacking in the energy department in this one. In all honesty it sounds A LOT like the recent Avantasia ventures, which is by no means bad, but I would prefer if Edguy and Avantasia remained their own entities and not some sort of giant Tobias Sammett lovechild. This album does have enough deliciousness to make my Honorable mentions, but I will long for another Hellfire Club until they give me one. Which probably won't ever happen as the song Mysteria makes Tobias clutch his chest and nearly pass out when he tries to sing it live.
Falconer - Armod
This album is probably the one that came closest to punching through to the top 10, but in the end the competition ended up being a bit too stiff. This album RULES. Straight up Power/Folk with one of the most unique singers Metal has ever had the privilege of holding among it's ranks. I think what managed to keep it out of the top 10 was that the album was the fact that the entire thing is in Swedish. You'll notice that other bands that made the top 10 all sing in foreign languages, but what makes this a problem for Armod is that Falconer traditionally are CATCHY as hell, with some of the best hooks in metal. The Swedish language doesn't exactly lend itself to that cause and it's just not as instantly memorable as their earlier works. This is entirely on me and not on the band, as they are being authentic and amazing all over the place on this release. I have to judge these albums by which ones I enjoyed the most and as that hangup hampered that, this amazing album rests just outside the promised land. A triumphant release none the less.
The Top 10 of 2011
Rhapsody of Fire - From Chaos to Eternity
Power Metal's lords of over the top pomp and glory return with what appears to be the last album featuring the founding core of the band in keyboardist Alex Staropoli, singer Fabio Lione, and guitarist Luca Turilli. It's a shame, because they really hit their stride with their previous album, and this one just turns up the dials on everything to an absurd level. This album is truly their most adventurous to date, with swirling orchestrations, shockingly heavy guitar riffs and snarled vocals, and some progisms that would make even the most skeptical metalhead turn his head. Rhapsody clearly did a shitload of soul searching during the battle with Magic Circle Music, as they managed to put together 2 fantastic albums out after the dust settled. Fantastic stuff.
Jag Panzer - Scourge of the Light
In what ended up being their last album, Jag Panzer brought us this fantastic example of US Power Metal. Guitarist Chris Broderick left for Megadeth a few years ago, but new (old) axeman Christian Lesague returns to the fold to bring searing leads and great songwriting chops to boot. Great, haunting melodic tales of power and might spill from this triumphant disc, which ends up being a great swan song to a legendary band that every fan of metal should appreciate. Goodnight, sweet prince(s).
Alestorm - Back Through Time
The title of this album references pirates going back in time and fighting vikings to the death. Seriously, what the fuck else can I say about this album to convince you of it's spectaculartude. I'll try I guess, but nothing will compare. This, to me, is Alestorm's best album by FAR. While Alestorm were always a fun curiosity prior to this album, this is the first release by the band that I can officially say fucking rules. And it really does. The band has gotten tighter and more focused, while still having all the charm and tongue-in-cheek hilarity that made them a success. I love this album, and it's a fantastic party album provided you don't have a bunch of gaping vaginas for friends.
Hibria - Blind Ride
Triumphant Brazilian Power Metalers Hibria have returned with Blind Ride, which is without question their most varied and experimental album to date. Not off the wall crazy, mind you, but enough variation to keep things fresh and interesting. Clearly a greater emphasis on melody is obvious on this album, but they still manage to pummel your sorry ass with riff after riff. Hibria, for those not in the know play a more intense and riffy style of Power Metal, which can be a nice change up from the almost hyperactive at times with melody sounds of their euro bretheren. I love that stuff too, but sometimes I need a good kick in the balls courtesy of Iuri Sanson's wailing vocals. Great stuff.
Nightwish - Imaginaerum
Woooo. This is one wild ride. Nightwish throw the fucking kitchen sink at this one, in what ends up being a much better, more complete album than their previous album Dark Passion Play. Without question, the aspect that pushes this album ahead of it's predecessor is the more confident vocals of Anette Olzon, which have improved to the nth degree. This album plays like the soundtrack it is, with songs varying wildly from one to the next. From abba-meets-power metal to smooth jazz to Tim Burton to Finnish folk, it's all here. Tuomas, as always, is the hook master supreme, with nearly every song being catchy as hell. Great, great album. Tarja, who?
Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa
Moonsorrow are the undisputed kings of extreme folk metal to me, with their epic soundscapes, chilling vocals, and catchy melodies. This band can do no wrong to me, and this album is absolutely no exception. A concept album about one's slow descent into death while walking through the cold wilderness, this album's 4 songs (and 3 interludes) suck you in and never let go through the duration. The track I linked to, Huuto, is one of the best songs of their career and I can't see any open minded Metalhead disliking it. It's spellbinding melodies and intensity are breathtaking. Another wonderful album from Moon FUCKING Sorrow.
Stratovarius - Elysium
Stratovarius, the veterans of Melodic Power Metal from Finland grace us with what is, to me, their best album ever. This album floored me with it's sent from the heavens songwriting the first time I ever listened to it. This band hasn't skipped a beat since the departure of Timo Tolkki, which I can only assume had held the band back for years and years prior to his bizarre episode (hurrrrr) and consequent leaving of the band. I know it may be an unpopular opinion to some, but this band is better than ever, with the fresh blood bringing some new life to this legendary outfit.
Dalriada - Ígéret
Surprise of the year, right here folks. Dalriada came from out-of-fucking-nowhere this year to floor me with this album of complete Folk Metal mastery. Dalriada are a female fronted Folk Metal band that take cues from both extreme and Power Metal in their songwriting, which shows from the link I posted to their lead single. The folk runs VERY strong though through this one, as the Hungarian folk instrumentation always plays a key role in bringing the danceable melodies to the forefront. The choruses in this album are sublime, to a degree that I haven't heard in quite a while from a folk metal band. Stellar, stellar stuff that I can't recommend enough.
Iced Earth - Dystopia
ICED FUCKING EARTH. Finally, finally Iced Earth return with the album that their fans have been waiting for for a decade. The songwriting skill of Jon Schaffer, which has laid dorment for years has emerged from it's underwater cavern of solitude to crush the nonbelievers, and with new singer Stu Block (of Into Eternity) in tow, all shall be smitten to the ground. Seriously, this album is IE renewed with a burst of power we haven't seen from them in a long time. Songs like the title track, Dark City, Equilibrium, V, and Iron Will demonstrate that IE are back to potentially reclaim their throne as the most important US Power Metal band around. Bang your fucking head.
Korpiklaani - Ukon Wacka
The greatest party metal band on the planet are back! Ukon Wacka is probably their heaviest and most direct album to date, which pleases me immensely as it gets down to the core of what makes Korpiklaani so great... PARTYING. The overall sound reminds me of a hooky, Finnish Motorhead with traditional folk elements. Tell me how in any way or form that can be a bad thing. Every song is great, and they flow together wonderfully, which lends it perfectly to downing a few beverages with friends after a hard week. Please, more of this. Omnomnom.
So, there you have it! My top albums of the year. Please, leave comments on what you think and as always... HAIL AND KILL!!!!