The Top 25 Albums of 2011

I think I say the same things every year when I write the introduction to my Best of the Year list…..this year was one of the greatest years for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal! More and more new albums come out from a wide variety of bands and 2011 was no exception, this was the biggest year for Heavy Metal Addiction as far as promotional review copies go. Usually, I physically buy all my new albums but this year I partnered with more labels, more promotional people and more bands and I received more albums for review than any other year. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up and I came nowhere close to listening to all of them properly. Looking at the piles on my desk, the boxes next to it and the separate iTunes folder I reserve for promo downloads, it’s easy to estimate that I have more new 2011 albums submitted to Heavy Metal Addiction than in 2010! Add in all the new releases I bought on my weekly trips to the record stores, and my daily online searches, and it’s fair to estimate that the total number of new releases is on par with what I had for 2010. Unfortunately, I’ve let the website go a little in the last couple of years so, while I’ve been listening to almost everything, I just haven’t posted about it.

The only criteria I followed for my Top 25 was the same criteria I’ve used for the last few years: the album had to be a studio album (not a live record, best of, or covers collection) AND the album had to be released in 2011. Just like previous years, an album that was released in 2010 internationally, but was released in the U.S. in 2011, qualified as a 2011 album…..basically I went by the date on the back of the CD! There are plenty of albums that got late U.S. releases and there may be a few in this countdown. 

The ranking of the Top 25 is based solely on my enjoyment of the album and not some scientific formula. Bottom Line: I had to like it! There were so many releases this year that I could have continued with a Top 40 list but I got so far behind listening and writing so there are definitely albums I haven’t heard yet or didn’t give proper time to. We’re talking a couple hundred albums though so anything that got missed might end up in an expanded “Albums I Missed in 2011″ post during next year’s awards week. Just like last year, I will be splitting the Top 25 into three posts so it’s easier to read. Be sure to check out the links to the album reviews. So here it is, my Top 25 Albums of 2011:

25. Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011)
24. Michael Monroe – Sensory Overdrive (2011)
23. U.D.O. – Rev-Raptor (2011)
22. Riot – Immortal Soul (2011)
21. Tokyo Blade – Thousand Men Strong (2011)

Starting at the bottom of the countdown is the new Nelson album that surprised me with it’s huge melodic hooks and vocals, former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe’s latest solo album that I bought late in the year but ended up enjoying a lot and the steadiness of U.D.O.’s Traditional Metal REV-RAPTOR. I still can’t figure out what a “rev-raptor” is aside from the machine on the cover but there you go. Two huge surprises were from Riot and Tokyo Blade! Riot scored #22 with a solid record from the THUNDERSTEEL-era lineup (a record I was looking forward to big time!) but the band had to endure the loss of Riot founder/guitarist Mark Reale…..at least he left a lasting legacy with this last album. The big surprise was NWOBHM legends Tokyo Blade, who came out of nowhere with THOUSAND MEN STRONG, one of the biggest comebacks of 2011! I’ve been a Tokyo Blade fan for a long time but I really didn’t expect much when I heard the band was releasing a new album but I was completely surprised and excited, sounds like old school NWOBHM with a modern touch.

20. Stratovarius – Elysium (2011)
19. Journey – Eclipse (2011)
18. Iced Earth – Dystopia (2011)
17. Royal Hunt – Show Me How To Live (2011)
16. Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions (2011)

I came late to the Stratovarius party even though I’ve acquired a few albums over the years, ELYSIUM was another epic Power Metal record. Journey’s ECLIPSE was a leader for the Top 5 this year but, as other bands released new records, and I kept comparing this album to 2008’s REVELATION, ECLIPSE fell a little. It’s still a solid AOR album Arnel Pineda still shines as the new Steve Perry but it wasn’t as good as REVELATION. Iced Earth made another vocalist change adding Stu Block from Into Eternity but they released one hell of an album with DYSTOPIA…..another late year purchase that might have gone higher with more time. Same for Royal Hunt but their reunion with D.C. Cooper is just what I needed to add their new Progressive/Power Metal album into the Top 25. I know a lot of fans of the more extreme side of Metal look at Arch Enemy as somewhat of a commercial band, especially with Angela Gossow front and center, but they are still kind of new to me. As I open myself up to more extreme bands, a band like Arch Enemy is a good starting point. I’m more of a Traditional/Power Metal fan and a AOR/Hard Rock fan but KHAOS LEGIONS sounded great to my ears and I had to rate it higher than some of my favorite bands (Iced Earth, Royal Hunt, Riot).

15. Anvil – Juggernaut Of Justice (2011)
14. Scheepers – Scheepers (2011)
13. Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011)
12. Chickenfoot – III (2011)
11. Sebastian Bach – Kicking & Screaming (2011)

Gotta give some love to Anvil because THIS IS THIRTEEN (2007) was a great comeback album (even though they never left!) even without the movie and they had four busy years to release a follow-up. JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE continued where THIS IS THIRTEEN left off and exceeded all my expectations…..great to see the band still getting success even with the movie hoopla dying out, hard work pays off! Ralf Scheepers didn’t stray too far from the more commercial side of Primal Fear’s last few albums but his first solo album was just as good as those. What can you say about Dream Theater? They always release one great record after another and, yes, Mike Portnoy is a huge loss on drums but Mike Mangini does a great job! Another big surprise in 2011 was the new Chickenfoot album, III, because I didn’t really feel the debut album. Not to say I didn’t like the first Chickenfoot record but the songs weren’t as catchy, as memorable. On III, the songs instantly stuck too me and the harmonies were awesome between Mike Anthony and Sammy, they can take the “supergroup” label off and just be a band now. Talk about a comeback! Sebastian Bach came back and kicked his former band in the teeth with this new solo album, KICKING & SCREAMING.  Baz sounds as great as he ever did and his band is blazing! I always get disappointed with Baz because I always think he should be doing more music than interviews, or reality shows, or VH-1 related things but he really came back strong with this record.

10. Warrant – Rockaholic (2011)
9. Saxon – Call To Arms (2011)
8. Night Ranger – Somewhere In California (2011)
7. Motorhead – The World Is Yours (2011)
6. Black Country Communion – 2 (2011)

Despite original singer Jani Lane passing away, Warrant recruited former Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason (who replaced Black ‘N Blue singer Jamie St. James) and released a wicked Hard Rock record with ROCKAHOLIC. The first two songs, ‘Sex Ain’t Love’ and ‘Innocence Gone’, are two of the best Hard Rock songs of the year! Saxon is one of my Top 5 favorite bands of all time and they released another great album with CALL TO ARMS. I was a little worried when I read they were stripping back their current sound for something more like the early ’80s because they have released a string of great Traditional/Power Metal albums since 1997’s UNLEASH THE BEAST…..the good news is that the old NWOBHM guard still maintained their excellent track record of the last 15 years! I’ve been a Night Ranger fan since the early ’80s and I thought they easily made the best Melodic Rock record of 2011 after one spin of the new album, once I heard this album, the  Journey and Nelson records started to pale in comparison. Like Saxon, Motorhead is a favorite band and a staple when it comes to my year end countdowns. You know what you’re going to get from Motorhead before they album is released but you know it’s going to rip your face off and punch you in the gut! Lemmy, Mikkey and Phil just keep making great album after great album every other year…..see you in 2013 Motorhead! Coming is at #6, and just missing the Top 5 by a hair, is the sophomore album by Black Country Communion (the other supergroup in the countdown). Just hearing Glenn Hughes sing ’70s styled Hard Rock is enough to catapult any band or album into year end lists but the songs are so good and the performances so perfect that I knew this was going to be a top album of 2011 after the first spin. Hard working band too, this album came out a year after the debut, they released a live record and DVD and have toured constantly…..that’s old school work ethic and it pays off.

5. Whitesnake – Forevermore (2011)
4. Mr. Big – What If… (2011)
3. Anthrax – Worship Music (2011)
2. Michael Schenker – Temple Of Rock (2011)

Making the Top 5 is no easy task when hundreds, if not thousands, of new albums get released each year but these four albums had the #1 spot on my countdown and really put me to task to pick the best album of 2011. Whitesnake started the year off with the album to beat, FOREVERMORE being a continuation of GOOD TO BE BAD but just a shade behind that awesome 2008 album. Maybe it’s because FOREVERMORE didn’t have 11 years of waiting and then hit you between the eyes but the new album did keep David Coverdale and the band at the top again. This year’s countdown has a lot of Hard Rock comebacks with Baz and Warrant turning in solid albums but Mr. Big really made the superior Hard Rock album of 2011 and then toured the album hard with more than just a few making the live set. I expected nothing from a new Mr. Big album but WHAT IF…. was a great album from a band reuniting and not just going out for the quick nostalgia buck. I’ll tell you what, they were definitely one of the best concerts I saw this past year too! Mr. Bog would have had the top album of 2011, and the best comeback of 2011, if Anthrax decided not to release WORSHIP MUSIC! Are you kidding me? WORSHIP MUSIC is an album that should be my top record of 2011 because it’s so good, so thrashy, so hard and so melodic all rolled into one. The band is tight as usual, no problems there, but the wild card in all of this was whether the band reuniting with Joey Belladonna would make a difference. No offense to the John Bush-era of Anthrax but Belladonna is just a better fit! Joey sounds as good as he ever has, the band sounds as brutal as ever and there isn’t a throwaway song on the album. A lot of year end countdown’s have Anthrax at the top of the list and, in a year of comebacks, they have the best one but the band got trumped by one of my favorite guitarists of all-time…..Michael Schenker! The #2 album of 2011, and a serious contender for the #1 spot right to the end, was Schenker’s new TEMPLE OF ROCK solo album. Is it the Michael Schenker Group? Is it him by himself, hence a solo album? TEMPLE OF ROCK follows the lead of 2006’s TALES OF ROCK ‘N ROLL where Michael and his regular backing band teamed up with another new vocalist for the half of the new album and then did a few songs each with a different singer from Michael’s career. This time around it’s new singer Michael Voss for 10 of the 12 new songs with Robin McAuley and Doogie White each singing one…..I kind of expected Gary Barden to fit in here somewhere considering he’s done Michael’s last two albums but he’s not here. Voss sounds great, the guitar is pure Schenker mastery and the songs are all well written with big memorable hooks and solos. Best song on the album is the McAuley led ‘Lover’s Sinfony’, which I got to see live when the band came through town, with a close second being ‘Miss Claustraphobia’ performed by Michael Voss. Michael Schenker had some rough years since the mid-’90s but the guy is such a talented musician, so prolific on guitar, that the music is a reflection of the man’s genius. Definitely a tough task to beat out anyone in the Top 5, especially Anthrax, but Schenker and company came out of nowhere and blew me away.

Up until the last minute, up until I had written this post this far, I finally made the decision to place the next album as the best album of 2011…..the top album of 2011 is…..

(drum roll please…..)

#1

Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

This was a hard one to call with the Top 5 albums being so good and Anthrax and Michael Schenker being in a virtual three-way tie with Alice Cooper right up until the end. Actually, I didn’t make up my mind until I gave each album a spin one last time before I wrote this up. In the end…..Alice is the winner!

WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE is not a sequel to the iconic WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE (1975) but a continuation of Alice’s nightmares…..that’s exactly how this album won. Alice and producer Bob Ezrin weren’t trying to best one of the greatest Rock albums of all-time, they were trying to continue the tale and putting a current spin on what Alice would be dreaming about 37 years later! Turns out Alice’s nightmares just get worse! Every song on the album is well written with the usual Alice Cooper trademark humor and horror mix, the production is perfect and the performances are flawless. There are more than a few guest stars, including the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band and notable names like Vince Gill and Ke$ha, and they all move into the dreamworld effortlessly. I was especially impressed with the reunion of the original Alice Cooper band members because it just shows how much impact the original band had and how much creativity they still have because they are all great musicians. Now Alice Cooper is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and now Alice has a #1 album at Heavy Metal Addiction…..what could be better?