The Top 30 Albums of 2008 (#16-#30)

2008 was another great year for new Hard Rock and Heavy Metal albums and I was lucky to have heard a great many of them. There were hundreds of new albums released by hundreds of bands over a wide range of Metal genres, it was very hard to keep up especially when I’m spending my hard-earned cash! Unfortunately, I can’t buy every new album so there are more than a few that I have missed. I buy a lot of music but the failing economy took it’s toll on my music budget. I was very lucky to have caught the attention of many labels, PR firms, and bands sending in their CDs for review (to all of them I would like to extend a very grateful THANK YOU), without these promotions I would have never heard some great releases.

The only criteria I followed for my Top 30 was that the album had to be a studio album, not a live record, best of, or covers collection. The ranking of the Top 30 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 doubled the list this year so I will be splitting it into two posts. Be sure to check out the links to the album reviews. So here it is, my Top 30 Albums of 2008 (#16 – #30):

#16

motorhead-motorizerMotörhead – Motörizer

The only thing that Motörhead does year in and year out is make really good Heavy Metal albums and this year is no exception. MOTÖRIZER isn’t groundbreaking, it sounds just like all the other Motörhead records before it, but it’s a solid consistent effort from a band that is legendary but never gets the success it deserves. Any year with a new Motörhead album in it is a good one.

#17

acdc-black-iceAC/DC – Black Ice

It only took 8 years but AC/DC finally came roaring back with a really strong album in BLACK ICE. It’s more Blues than in your face Hard Rock but the typical AC/DC punch is still there. Brian Johnson sounds like he turned back the hands of time and the team of Angus & Malcolm Young on guitars still has the fire that burned in the ’70s & ’80s. A great comeback!

#18

Gypsy Pistoleros - Para Siempre (2008)Gypsy Pistoleros – Para Siempre

Technically, PARA SIEMPRE is a reissue of the Gypsy Pistoleros’ debut, WILD, BEAUTIFUL, DAMNED (2007), remastered with two additional songs added in. I wasn’t sold on taking traditional music from Spain and mixing it into a Hard Rock blender but the Pistoleros do a great job of channelling the Crue, GNR, and Hanoi Rocks mixed with flamenco and Spanish music. I’m half Colombian so I dig the Spanish influences and I really like the mix of English & Spanish (the band calls it “Spanglish”) to give it an added dimension.

#19

jorn-lonely-are-the-brave-2008Jorn – Lonely Are The Brave

Jorn Lande continues to make some of the best Metal records of the last decade and LONELY ARE THE BRAVE is no exception. Jorn is a monster vocally and the surrounding cast is as solid as they come. Unfortunately, I bought this very late in the year so I haven’t had much time to enjoy it.

#20

Brainstorm - Downburst (2008)Brainstorm – Downburst

Another great album from one of the most underrated bands in Heavy Metal. Brainstorm plays great epic Power Metal but DOWNBURST shows a band that is willing to evolve it’s sound and becoming more dynamic. It’s not a groundbreaking album but the band follows the path laid down by Primal Fear and Kamelot.

#21

dokken-lightning-strikes-again-2008Dokken – Lightning Strikes Again

Dokken’s best album since 1999’s ERASE THE SLATE, the band continues to play melodic Hard Rock with a great musicianship and songwriting. Jon Levin adds some George Lynch style playing back into the overall Dokken sound and the rhythm section of Barry Sparks and Mick Brown is as solid as ever. Don Dokken’s vocals are a little underwhelming because he doesn’t hit the highs he used to and there really isn’t a solid backing track. Still a very good album.

#22

nightranger-holeinthesun-usa coverNight Ranger – Hole In The Sun

HOLE IN THE SUN is a more modern sounding Night Ranger but there is still the trademark melodic sound that made them a big success back in their ’80s heyday. Best performance on the album goes to drummer/singer Kelly Keagy because his vocals were excellent. This album didn’t really get me at first but it grew on me as I played it more.

#23

temujin-1000-tears-2008Temujin – 1000 Tears

I’m a big fan of female-fronted Gothic/Ambient Metal and Temujin debuts with an album that has the guitars leading the way and the vocals keeping the listener entranced. Temujin vocalist Kelly has a beautiful voice that reminds me of The Gathering’s Anneke Van Giersbergen in that her performance is powerful without going over the top. A solid debut.

#24

tyr-landTýr – Land

LAND was my first experience listening to Týr and I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the terms Pagan Metal or Viking Metal throws fans off but what really is happening is Metal mixed with Nordic influences. Týr blends traditional folk to their Metal and uses their native language, as well as choir style backing vocals, to enhance their sound. This album got me into a whole new genre of Metal.

#25

Pharaoh - Be Gone (2008)Pharaoh – Be Gone

Pharaoh creates gool old traditional U.S. Metal based on good guitars, a solid rhythm section and good vocals. The band puts the power forward but you get the general idea after the first few songs. The album gets better as it continues and the band stretches out a little.

#26

the-sword-gods-of-the-earth (2008)The Sword – Gods Of The Earth

I didn’t get into The Sword’s first album but, when I put on this new album, I immeadiately heard what I was missing. GODS OF THE EARTH has an early Thrash and NWOBHM element added to a sludgy Doom Metal groove. It’s a very heavy record that’s grown on me all year long.

#27

Griffen - Linked In Eternity (2008)Griffen – Linked In Eternity

I found out about Griffen because of my obsession with ’80s Swedish metallers Torch: two current members of Torch are in Griffen. Technically, LINKED IN ETERNITY is a promo demo E.P. but it’s done so well I’m throwing it in the countdown. The band plays a really good blend of Traditional Metal and melodic Hard Rock so I have no idea how these guys aren’t signed to a label.

#28

uli-jon-roth-under-a-dark-skyUli Jon Roth – Under A Dark Sky

Anytime guitar maestro Uli Jon Roth releases a new album it’s a good year! How can you deny the talent of a man that was so unsatisfied with regular guitars that he went out and invented one (the Sky Guitar) that suited his ability? I gues you could call this a true Rock opera with all the classical elements and orchestral movements but the underlying focus is Roth’s playing.

#29

Black Tide - Light From Above (2008)Black Tide – Light From Above

A strong debut from a band whose members are only a couple years removed from high school. I was surprised with all the old school Metal influences in the music from such a young band. What the band lacks in experience they more than make up for in attitude and energy. A solid debut.

#30

metallica-death-magneticMetallica – Death Magnetic

See what happens when a band goes back and listens to their previous records, they make a Heavy Metal album! This is the album that Metallica needed to make to prove that they can still play Metal. Some of the songs are a little long but that’s a small complaint, the songs are really good…..better than I expected. Hopefully Metallica continues in this direction.

——————————————————————————————–

Please check out the Top 30 Albums of 2008 (#1-#15) for the other half of my Top 30 list.

——————————————————————————————–

In case my list wasn’t enough, or you simply don’t agree, some other great Music blogs have listed their Top Albums of 2008:

All Metal Resource
Bring Back Glam
Hair Metal Mansion

Hard Rock Hideout
Heavy Metal Time Machine

Imagine Echoes
Layla’s Classic Rock
Metal Excess

The Metal Minute
The Ripple Effect
Rock And Roll and Meandering Nonsense

Rock Of Ages

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008)

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008, Cruz Del Sur)

  1. Speak To Me
  2. Dark New Life
  3. No Remains
  4. Red Honor
  5. Buried At Sea
  6. Rats And Rope
  7. Cover Your Eyes And Pray
  8. Telepath
  9. Be Gone

Band Lineup:
Tim Aymar – Vocals
Matt Johnsen – Guitars
Chris Kerns – Bass
Chris Black – Drums

Total Time = 47:11

Pharaoh official website
Pharaoh MySpace page
Cruz Del Sur Music

U.S. Traditional Metal masters Pharaoh caught my ear back in 2006 with their second album, THE LONGEST NIGHT. What I discovered two years ago was that pure Traditional/Power Metal in the same vein as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden was being forged by this Philadelphia band. I was under the impression that Pharaoh was a European band because of their Italian label, Cruz Del Sur, and the ease in which they play this brand of Heavy Metal. With the Power Metal surge coming from overseas, I was more than surprised that Pharaoh was from the U.S. BE GONE is the band’s third record and could be their ticket to Metal’s upper echelon.

‘Speak To Me’ opens the album with a distinct Iron Maiden style riff  moving into Primal Fear territory as the song progresses. Right away you notice Matt Johnsen’s masterful guitarwork that sounds like a twin axe attack and Tim Aymar’s (ex-Control Denied) attacking throat. The pulsating riffs of ‘Dark New Life’ recall Maiden again but there is a more sinsiter feel to the music kind of like another Maiden band disciple, Iced Earth. The solos feature a couple of guests from another U.S. Traditional/Power Metal band, Riot’s Marke Reale & Mike Flyntz. ‘No Remains’ is a galloping metal feast with superb drumming from Chris Black and a Aymar vocal that evokes power and emotion. Johnsen’s layered guitar carves it’s way through the song using different tones.

‘Red Honor’ continues the assault of hard and fast Metal, almost like old school Thrash. The song is marked by some incredible axe-slinging by Matt Johnsen, especially come the solo, and the distinct pain riddled shriek of Aymar. Things slow down a bit with the beginning of ‘Buried At Sea’ but the power and speed is still there, just a little more controlled and melodic. ‘Buried At Sea’ reminds me a little of Manowar but without the high pitch vocals. Things speed up again with ‘Rats And Rope’ with it’s Euro Metal main riff recalling Dragonforce, this is the fastest burner on the record.

The acoustic intro to ‘Cover Your Eyes And Pray’ hides a heavy mid-tempo groove with solid riffs and a consistent double bass pounding from the kit. The pace is considerably slower from the breakneck pace of ‘Rats And Rope’ but the song owes it’s deceiving speed to Johnsen’s fluid delivery and Black’s pounding drums. There’s some room to breathe here, room enough for the band to stretch a little. ‘Telepath’ covers more of speed riffery of the previous songs while the title track ends the album with a bit of Progressive flair.

Bottom Line:
Traditional Metal is alive and well in the U.S. and one of the bands forging ahead in this overlooked genre is Pharaoh. BE GONE is full of high powered riffs and precision drumming layered within a pumping bass and a vocal full of power and despair. The solos are fantastic and the production flawless. So what is the downside? Not much really, the only problem is that the band continually rams the songs down and doesn’t take time to explore different styles and paces. After the first four songs, you get the idea, but when the band does stretch out, it adds more variety to the album. For fans of Power and Progressive Metal. Favorite songs here: ‘Buried At Sea’, ‘Dark New Life’, ‘Speak To Me’, ‘Cover Your Eyes And Pray’.

Current Playlist

Most of the CDs I’ve been listening to are up for review but I also decided to give a few oldies a spin…..

Lana Lane – Red Planet Boulevard (2007): I am kicking myself for not buying this when it came out in late 2007. If I did, this album would have easily made my Top 15 Albums of 2007. I think I have spun this CD more in the last two weeks than any album I’ve bought since the beginning of the year. It is going to be a staple on my playlist for more than a few weeks.

Testament – The Formation Of Damnation (2008): The label was nice enough to send me a copy to review but I would have been more than happy to buy my own copy. I’ve only had a few spins but I like what I hear so far.

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008): I’ve been enjoying the latest Pharaoh album for a couple of weeks now and I should have a review soon. BE GONE is released in Europe later this week.

Asia – Phoenix (2008): Bought this today but I only had a quick listen in the car on the way home from the record store. Every year there are controversial albums, this year one of them is Asia’s PHOENIX. I have read a lot of reviews and it’s considered either a return to form or very boring and bland, there has been no middle ground.

Saints Of The Underground – Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner (2008): I heard about this “supergroup” toward the end of 2006 but I really didn’t think it would see the light of day. I picked this up with the Asia album and I gave it a spin while I walked the dog today. I’ll review this soon.

W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985): My favorite W.A.S.P. album. I never get tired of it except for maybe ‘Blind In Texas’ because it’s always on VH-1 Classic. ‘Fistful Of Diamonds’ is a great song, so is ‘Widowmaker’…..classic W.A.S.P.!

KISS – Animalize (1984): KISS is my favorite band but I know the songs so well that I don’t bother to listen to them that often. For some reason, I had to hear ‘Get All You Can Take’ so I listened to the whole album rather than skip to the song. ANIMALIZE is a solid KISS record, probably their best until 1992’s REVENGE…..there’s more to the album than ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ but that is still a great tune.

Saxon – Denim And Leather (1981): “Denim and leather, brought us all together”…..no truer words are spoken! Pure NWOBHM and classic Saxon with tracks like ‘Play It Loud’, ‘Princess Of The Night’, the title cut and ‘Never Surrender’. The band still revolves five of the songs here in and out of their current setlist.