The first two months of this year have been remarkable, in terms of how much really good music has been released. With that being the case, and since I like lists, here are my five favorite albums and songs so far this year (in no particular order):
Nightingale – Retribution
Nothing goes down smoother than melodic rock, and it’s seldom done any better than this. Dan Swano may be more famous for his death metal work, but Nightingale should not be overlooked. “Retribution” is a gorgeous, layered album full of lush sounds and fantastic melodies. Capped off with Dan’s unique vocals, and you have an utterly brilliant album. Oh, and the full-dynamic mix that’s available is mind-blowing. I haven’t heard a better produced album in years.
Jorn Lande and Trond Hotter present – Dracula: Swing Of Death
Since I grew up worshipping Meat Loaf, I am no stranger to cheesy music. This is about as cheesy as it gets, but that makes it even more awesome. You can have a laugh with it, or you can sit back and enjoy a surprisingly diverse set of songs that are jam-packed with awesome vocals and melodies, and some truly superb soloing. It’s just a record that is overwhelmingly fun.
UFO – A Conspiracy Of Stars
UFO is mostly known as being that band everyone thinks is underrated. That’s sort of true, but they were never really that good. They are now, however. This album is a strong collection of no-frills rock that delivers some bluesy riffing, strong melodies, and Phil Mogg’s weathered-yet-even-better vocals. Forget Michael Schenker, because this is as good as UFO’s ever been.
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
The drummer of Journey is singing, while being supported by the bassist/singer of Night Ranger, and the former guitarist of Dio and Whitesnake. Yeah, that sounds like a train-wreck, yet it works. The vocals are stronger than I ever would have thought, but it comes together because of the fantastic songwriting. Yes, it’s heavily in the mold of Journey and other 80s cheese-rock bands, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I love a good sing-along.
Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Neal is pretty much the reason I’m into prog. Between his solo albums, and Transatlantic, he’s responsible for most of my favorites. This album is different, however, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly where it stands. While I miss the more overt poppiness of “Momentum”, there are some beautiful harmonies here, and plenty of fantastic playing. Everything Neal does is high-quality, and this is no exception.
Nightingale – Forevermore
The best song on a brilliant album, “Forevermore” is able to put it all together. It has a groovy main riff, a killer vocal performance by Dan Swano, beautiful keyboards, and a song structure that isn’t straight verse/chorus. Most of all, the song has swagger, and it’s the sort of thing I can listen to over and over again without it seeming tired.
Dracula: Swing Of Death – Walking On Water
Picking one song from this album is hard, because there are a few absolute gems. In the end, I’m picking “Walking On Water” because it’s the best embodiment of everything Jorn’s music is supposed to be. It’s heavy, Jorn’s vocals are incredible, and the soloing is phenomenal. It’s the least theatrical song on the record, which makes it one of the few that works outside the context of the album.
Revolution Saints – You’re Not Alone
I am a sucker for ballads, and this is a great one. It’s got all the sweeping grandeur you would expect from a sappy ballad, a killer melody, and great vocals by both Deen Castronovo and guest singer Arnel Pineda.
Orden Ogan – A Reason To Give
In the midst of their modern power metal assault, Orden Ogan slows down for this song, which is the best example of what can be called ‘tavern metal’ I can recall. The acoustic guitars and folk flourishes make the song feel like it should be played at an old tavern, while the melody is killer. Even the people who aren’t into Orden Ogan’s type of metal should be able to appreciate this.
UFO – Messiah Of Love
What I love most about this song is how little it seems like the band is trying to impress anyone. Vinny Moore plays one of his bluesy riffs, Phil Mogg sings one of his trademark melodies, and the whole thing is exactly what you would expect from UFO. And that’s why it’s great. Moore’s guitar tone is spectacular, Mogg’s voice is the perfect amount of weathered, and the hook is incessant. It’s simply a great rock song.