Welcome to the big pain in the ass Top 50 of 2013 list! There may be another month left, but I have received essentially all of the unreleased discs for this year that I’m interested in. I encourage you to take your time with sampling all of the music below. I guarantee you missed a few gems along the way. For those unfamiliar, this is my annual post where I put politics and label/band relationships aside. You get my honest thoughts on the releases that caught my interest this past year across numerous heavy rock/metal genres. Disclaimer: a. This list caters to my personal taste, not the full spectrum of metal genres. If you are looking for tons of death metal, black metal, whateverthefuckcore metal, or anything like that…move along…nothing to see here. b. I do not rank albums based on pure musical instrumentation ability or sonic clarity. While I fully believe that technical chops demonstrate musical superiority in many aspects, I also think it is just as hard to write a *good* hook that draws a listener back again and again. Furthermore, a passionate vocal delivery that adds emotional depth to the lyrics wins out over power/range most of the time. c. There is no right or wrong to this list. Music is a subjective listening experience. My opinion is no more valid than yours if we are on opposite sides of the fence. d. I do not listen to every single release. If your favorite disc did not make the list, I may simply not have heard it…or I could have thought it sucked. e. Keep in mind that a highly ranked disc in any genre may not make the list. For example, the 10th best power metal disc of the year is not there. It’s still a great record, but there are only so many slots. f. I may have simply forgotten a release. I reserve the right to insert a disc into the list at any time. It happens every year. My wife graciously put together a Youtube playlist for those that would like to peruse it at later date on auto-play here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLKbU7H3GVFJn_xUw6qj23QR8BpFjaNO7 Without further ado…. 50. Azazello- MegaDream: These Russians throw it all in a prog blender and let it rip. It’s a crazy and exhausting listen not for the faint of heart (aka true power metal warriors). 49. Persefone- Spiritual Migration: One of the few progressive death metal releases to make the cut. The musicianship on display is insane with heavy riffing and soaring melodic moments that would even appeal to the lamest of Dream Theater fans. The vocals are the only thing that hold me back as I don’t particularly enjoy the coreish vibe in places. 48. Withem- Phrenesis: There just aren’t that many bands out there taking up the warm, fuzzy 90’s prog style and running with it. This is an absolute no-brainer for fans of Circus Maximus. 47. Orphaned Land- All is One: I really think people take this band for granted due to their continued excellence. It never got the buzz it deserved when it was released. While they may share the Middle-Eastern sounds with lots of wanna-bes, they take it to another level. 46. Aryeon- The Theory of Everything: An Arjen release should automatically mean a top 10 ranking right? Sorry. No can do. This is one of those discs that I appreciate more than I truly enjoy. It has all the elements and stars required, but it just doesn’t excite me because of the constant interruptions in either the song flow or vocal changes. 45. Circle II Circle- Seasons Will Fall: Nice return to form with plenty of nods to Zak’s Savatage past. His vocals remain at the top of the game even after all these years. 44. Santa Cruz- Screaming for Adrenaline: Cock rock sucked for the most part this year. However, I was ready to break out the hairspray and head down to Sunset Strip and party with these boys….from Sweden. There is not a thing to analyze here. Just go get a beer and get laid. 43. Amaranthe- The Nexus: Sure, it’s pop-metal. It’s damn well-crafted pop-metal though. I’m not sure why the label hasn’t really pushed them over here yet, but they have a shot at climbing up the more mainstream metal ladder if they do. Electroheart still sucks though. 42. Vangough- Between the Madness: The band wears its Pain of Salvation inspired badge on their shirt with honor. However, there is a hell of a lot more attitude on this one than their earlier releases. This one takes a few listens to get into. 41. Powerwolf- Preachers of the Night: This band hit #1 in Germany with this release and stunned the industry. Their over-the-top power cheese is polished to perfection. Sabaton goes to hell. 40. Dream Theater- Dream Theater: The problem with ranking a DT album is that you are not comparing it to other releases. You are comparing it to their previous releases. Fair or not, that’s how it is with the band that practically invented a genre. 39. Rhapsody of Fire- Dark Wings of Steel: I don’t listen to much of the speedy, “Hollywood” stuff much anymore. However, I still recognize both Rhapsodies as the top of the genre and that keeps me coming back with a glass of Malbec to go with it. 38. Caligula’s Horse- The Tide, the Theif, & River’s End: That is the most obnoxiously, gloriously prog album title that I received this year. I put them in the “art prog” category (a la Vangough, Pain of Salvation, etc) because they have the melody and chops, but push the boundary without truly going beyond it. 37. Masterplan- Novum Initium: If you dismissed this without hearing it because Jorn is gone, you are a moron. Classy power metal with big melodic hooks.. 36. Tarja- Colours of the Wind: Once you recognize what this is instead of pining for a decade ago, you will realize how good it is. Our favorite diva’s operatic vocals remain in a class of their own. 35. Hell- Curse & Chapter: I want to dismiss the old blasphemous bastards, but I cannot. The NWOBM vibe is obviously still there, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the twenty years in the making “debut.” 34. Protest the Hero- Volition: I don’t get into much of the new wave of prog mostly because of the normally whiny or ass-like vocals. However, PtH rise above that. While I cannot classify them as technical, they sure as hell are more complex and intricate musically than the rest of their brethren. 33. Witherscape- The Inheritance: Dan Swano and his velvet pipes return to the 70’s-style prog meshed with death. This doesn’t approach Edge of Sanity, but it will do just fine for me. Perhaps he can teach Opeth a thing or two in the future. 32. Serenity- War of Ages: Serenity has reached the upper pantheon of symphonic power metal. Their songs just ooze class. The addition of Clementine on a regular basis is another big plus. This was released early on this year and deserves another listen. 31. Stratovarius- Age of Nemesis: The first Strato release in a while that was strong from start to finish. I was honestly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. Nice comeback, guys. 30. Haken- The Mountain: This one may be a bit mellower than the previous carnival prog metal efforts. However, they still push the boundary into quirkiness more often than not. I cannot help but think Queen on prog steroids at times. 29. Armory- Empyrean Realms: This came of out of nowhere recently. I had never even heard of this U.S. based power metal band. It’s a highly polished early-Edguy style with nods to Iron Maiden throughout. It would have been rookie of the year, but that belongs to another higher up the list. 28. Airbourne- Black Dog Barking: Do not dismiss them as just an AC/DC clone. Enjoy the hell out of them as an AC/DC clone that knows how to write a fantastic hook. Crank this one loud in the car. 27. The Ocean- Pelagial: A buddy of mine pushed this one me and I just didn’t get it at first. Now, I do. It’s the only other new wave of prog band to make the list because instead of chops, this one drips dark atmosphere while shifting between hardcore & depressingly mellow episodes. 26. Divinity Compromised- A World Torn: One of the few true prog/power style releases this year that appealed to a wide diversity of fans. The vocalist still reminds me of a pissed off Zak Stevens and that is a most excellent thing. 25. DGM- Momentum: It’s odd, but one of the few times where I enjoyed a prog metal band cranking up the speed portion and dipping their toes almost into the power land. The rhythm guitar and leads are fast and furious without being obnoxious. That’s the sign of a great band. 24. Mercenary- Through Our Darkest Days: It’s depressing as hell to know that Mercenary are one of the few bands on the planet that still employee the heavy as hell style of riffing I enjoy with hooks and good vocals. Damn, do I miss Angel Dust. 23. Gloryhammer- Tales of the Kingdom of Fife: “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee.” ‘Nuff said. 22. Ashes of Ares- Ashes of Ares: You cannot help but hear the Iced Earth vibe considering two of the main forces here. However, I like to think of this as a more sophisticated and refined version. Barlow brings the emotion like few others on the planet. Class act as well. 21. Royal Hunt- A Life to Die For: I haven’t heard more than two 30 second clips. I’m basically just reserving this spot as I know what to expect with DC back in the fold. It’s also too big of a pain in the ass to go back and renumber things after writing this out. (Reserved for clip link when available) 20. WET- Rise Up: Either I wasn’t in an AOR mood this year or most of the releases sucked. Perhaps it was somewhere in between. Regardless, Jeff Scott Soto rules the world in this genre. 19. Amorphis- The Circle: The last four Amorphis albums have been essentially one album. However, it’s an awesome album. They are one of the few bands that I prefer to not alter their style…at all. 18. Voodoo Circle- More Than One Way Home: I have always enjoyed their hard rock style even though it had a bit more shredding vibe on the previous releases. However, this is a Whitesnakian inspiration at their zenith. “Melissa” is such a cool throwback tune. 17. Lord- Digital Lies: The best melodic power metal band on the planet that few (other than the hardcore power freaks) have ever paid attention to. These Aussies have been at it a while with solid release after solid release. They know how to write a big chorus. 16. Leprous- Coal: The current kings of “art prog” in my book. I’ll be honest and say I don’t get everything they do, but when I do…it’s magical. It’s just missing that “Relentless” type track or it would have hit higher. 15. The Winery Dogs- The Winery Dogs: The best modern rock disc of the year. There is not a single filler song on this thing. It is uncanny how much Ritchie channels Chris Cornell in his prime. 14. Five Finger Death Punch- The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Right Side of Hell, Volume 1 & 2: If this is bro metal, then sign me up for Kappa Kicka Assa and tap the keg. Volume 1 was my go to disc to get the blood boiling during workouts. “Lift Me Up” was one of my favorite songs of the year across all genres with Rob Halford’s inclusion on that track being sheer genius. I’m posting a fan video (not official as the goober wrote) because it gives you a better vibe than the plain lyric video. 13. Saffire- From Ashes to Fire: If you only listened to one track, then you have no idea what this disc sounds like. It’s all over the place with a proggy King’s X groove on many tracks. Outstanding debut.. 12. Tierra Mystica- Heirs of the Sun: Angra’s “Holy Land” is a desert island disc for me. These Brazilians have come as close to capturing the magic of that disc better than anyone else. While the keys are a bit more prominent, its fantastic speedy power metal with those same cultural elements that enraptured me with “Holy Land.” 11. Lux Aterna- Echoes from Silence: Basic description- prog metal from France with female vocals. Advanced description: Fucking fantastic. 10. Evertale- Of Dragons and Elves: This absolutely floored me. I was expecting Rhapsody lite based on the name. What I got was down and dirty German speed metal a la early Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray with touches of folk that could have come straight off “Imaginations from the Other Side.” Hell, it may have climbed higher if I would have had it longer. The next big power band in my opinion if pushed and on my list for a future Atlanta appearance. 9. Enshine- Origin: I’m not sure how to actually classify it. I don’t’ feel right calling it progressive death metal despite the vocals being rough for the most part. It falls right between the atmosphere of AtomA and older Amorphis. That’s two awesome worlds to fall in for me. 8. Trivium- Vengeance Falls: I feel like Emperor Palpatine when it comes to Trivium, “Let the hate flow through you.” I love it when they go essentially all clean vocals and let it rip with the headbangin’ stuff. I make no apologies so bash this pick all you want. 7. Twilight of the Gods- Fire on the Mountain: Welcome to true old school dark and majestic classic metal. Remember the part where I said I preferred an emotional vocal delivery? Well, Alan from Primodial kicks your ass here. 6. Jon Oliva- Raise the Curtain: The Mountain King goes mad scientist here with a journey through his musical inspirations. For those unaware, he recorded the crowd shouts on “Soulchaser” at his songwriting workshop at PP USA. His legacy endures. 5. Volbeat- Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies- They just continue to crank out mainstream rock that appeals to essentially all walks of life. I totally dig the Western motif on this one. The inclusion of the King was a nice touch. 4. Kingcrow – In Crescendo: Their last disc was my #1 disc of 2010 and is on my desert island list now. There was no way they were going to repeat that. They came close though. The smoothest prog metal band on the planet currently.. 3. Disperse- Living Mirrors: Every now and then there is an exception to my criteria because of an extraordinary element. The vocalist does a nice job here with that 80’s pop retro style that sings around the music instead of with it. However, I fell in love with the guitar playing on this disc like no other. It zigs when I expect it to zag and just soars. They have a huge future in front of them, as I’m not sure they can even drink legally here in the States. 2. Epysode- Fantasmagoria- *This* is how you do an all-star project. You write the music to suit the vocalist’s strength instead of just having them sing your music. Tom Englund (Evergrey) rules on the darker tunes, but Ida (Triosphere) goes toe-to-toe with him with a vocal powerhouse performance throughout. All of the players and vocalist just fit perfectly with the dark proggy vibe. 1. Divided Multitude- Feed on Your Misery: The biggest surprise of the year, if not decade for me. I was not a fan of early Divided Multitude. Thus, my expectations were low when this arrived. After one listen, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. This was a different band that stepped their game up big time. It connected with me on all of my most important criteria with a disc: 1. Passionate vocals- I can just feel the pain and anger in the delivery. 2. Lyrics- Somebody in the band was brutally betrayed and poured his heart into writing these. The results are stunning- “Waiting for my fairy tale to be real” “Fighting every day just to ease the pain from the stories behind the scars” and the list of great lines goes on and on. 3. Riffs- Heavy as hell. Just the way I like it. 4. Hooks- “Scars” has the best chorus of the year. In fact, just when I thought the chorus was over, they started a second chorus that was even better than what I learned was just the damn refrain that was leading into the crescendo. Amazing work. Everything about this disc just connected with me. Congrats, guys. See you down front in Atlanta.