CD Scavenger Hunt (June update)

It’s been a slow year so far for buying CDs and collecting but I made up for the last few months with a quality buying spree in June. There were a bunch of new releases on sale, a few hidden bargains in the used CD racks, trips to a few different record stores and the discovery of my childhood record store re-opening in the local flea market! June was definitely a good month for the Hunt…..

Luke’s Record Exchange (@ The Big Flea Market in Cumberland, RI)

Luke’s Record Exchange was my childhood record store that got me started as a record store regular and a CD scavenger hunt expert. Unfortunately, the long time Pawtucket, RI location closed a few months ago for good but a chance trip to The Big Flea Market in a neighboring town provided a link to my record store past…..Luke’s re-opened as a large booth. Prices were pretty good: 50% off the stickered price on all CDs! My oldest daughter loves music and has the record store addiction like her dad and she absolutely loved searching the racks and dark corners that the original Luke’s store had. I’ve tried to teach my oldest daughter as much about Metal and collecting as possible, now it’s up to her to decide what direction to go in.

Hair Of The Dog – Rise (2000) – $7: I started scouring the racks of CDs Luke’s had and I found plenty that used to be at their store and plenty that I already owned but with 50% off you have to buy something. I saw this Hair Of The Dog CD and remembered the name from the late ’90s editions of Metal Edge magazine so I snatched this up to try the band out. When I got home I realized I mixed up Hair Of The Dog with another band, American Dog, but a quick check of my back issues and this purchase was worth making. I’ve read some positive reviews online on Hair Of The Dog, and the band was signed to Spitfire Records back in 2000 (a label with plenty of Hard Rock bands and reissues) so I will definitely check them out when I get around ripping the cellophane off the case! Regular stickered price was $14 so it was really $7 for a brand new sealed copy of RISE. Saved $7.

Vince Neil – Live At The Whiskey: One Night Only (2003) – $6: I always meant to buy this live album when it came out but I had read some bad reviews and I decided against it back then. I did keep it on the want list just in case I came across a used copy somewhere. Over the years I’ve seen this album still at regular price anywhere from $12 to $15 and I’ve passed each time. I’ve seen Vince Neil in concert twice with his solo band and he’s been just OK performance wise and the set is always dominated by the big Motley Crue hits so it’s no surprise to only get one Vince solo song (‘Look In Her Eyes’) on this live record. maybe if there was more from EXPOSED (1993) or CARVED IN STONE (1995) then this would have been a more essential buy. Like I said, you can’t beat 50% off so I finally filled a hole in the Vince Neil solo collection. Another brand new sealed copy stickered at $12, the 50% off making it $6. Saved $6.

Wal-Mart

Def Leppard – Mirror Ball (Live & More) (2011) – $10: I hate going to Wal-Mart! In my life there is no reason to ever set foot in one but some of my favorite bands like KISS, AC/DC, Journey and now Def Leppard have forced me to enter the worst shopping place on earth to buy their exclusive releases! Sure, I could have someone else go in and buy it for me, or maybe buy it online, but sometimes we must sacrifice for the thrill of the Hunt! Definitely an old school move by the Leps with the old bulky multi-disc packaging for their double disc live record with the bonus DVD included. I’ve seen Def Lep on every tour since the 1999 EUPHORIA Tour and I saw them back in the day on the HYSTERIA Tour in 1988 so I know how good these guys are live. It’s a little surprising that it’s taken 31 years to finally get an official live album from Def Leppard but it looks like the band’s last few successful tours have finally given it to us. This was more about the new songs for me and their are three of them on Disc 2. The only positive thing I can say about the Wal-Mart experience is that the price can’t be beat…..$10 is a small price to pay for 21 live tracks, 3 new studio songs and a DVD.

Newbury Comics

Twisted Sister – Under The Blade (Special Edition) (2011) – $12: I already own UNDER THE BLADE on CD and on vinyl but I had to pick this up because of all the bonuses included. First, this is the original mix of UNDER THE BLADE as heard on the original Secret Records pressing (the 1985 reissue is remixed) so that saves the vinyl. Second, the RUFF CUTTS E.P. (1982) is the bonus on the CD. The RUFF CUTTS vinyl is easy to find but high in price for a mint copy, it’s nice getting the music on CD. Finally, the bonus DVD is the band’s performance at th 1982 Reading Festival. This is how you do a reissue! Unfortunately, some of the other Twisted Sister reissues on Armoury Records leave a lot to be desired as far as bonus material but this reissue was worth getting even at the regular price of $16. I bought this the day it was released so I got the $12 sale price saving $4.

Black Stone Cherry – Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea (2011) – $10: Black Stone Cherry is one of those newer bands that I’ve followed from their first album to present but I haven’t really gotten totally into them. I have the band’s first two albums, and I enjoy them, but the band hasn’t had the staying power for me to keep coming back. I’m hoping that BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA breaks that cycle and also forces me to revisit the band’s first two records for a fresh listen. Good band and good music but I’m just not completely hooked. This was another day of release purchase to get the sale price of $10 and save $4 but even the $14 regular price seems reasonable. Of course, the day I purchased the album, I get home from the record store and check my email and find a link from Roadrunner Records PR dept for a download of the album so i could review it! I would have bought the album anyway.

Warrant – Rockaholic (2011) – $13: Frontiers Records was kind enough to send me a download of the album for review so I have been enjoying ROCKAHOLIC for a few months prior to it’s U.S. release. In most cases when I receive a promo download for review, I buy the album for my collection if I enjoy it so I caved on buying the new Warrant. For me Warrant has a stigma…..the Jani Lane stigma. Back in the ’80s, I liked Warrant like most Hard Rock fans tuned in to FM radio and MTV but I started to really dislike the band after I got the internet in 1998 and started reading about all the dumb ass things Jani Lane used to do (cancel concert, quit and rejoin, go onstage drunk, etc). Anyway, after seeing the band reunite on the Poison summer tour a few years ago, I had hope but Jani screwed it up again and again. I thought the band’s move to replace Jani with Jaime St. James from Black ‘N Blue for BORN AGAIN (2006) was a great move resulting in a solid record. This time around it’s Robert Mason (formerly of Lynch Mob) replacing Jani (again!) and Jaime (who has a reformed Black ‘N Blue) at the mic and it’s a solid album that actually charted on Billboard’s Top Hard rock Albums Chart at #22! It’s such a good record that I would have easily paid the $17 import price but I saved $4 by waiting for the U.S. release.

Whitesnake – Live At Donington 1990 (Special Edition Box Set 2CD/DVD) (2011) – $16: Again, thanks to Frontiers Records, I was able to preview the CD portion of LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 for a few weeks before it was released but this special edition wasn’t one I was going to miss adding to my collection. Recorded on 8/18/1990 at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington Park, this is Whitesnake at it’s chart-topping best: a live album with mostly all the big hits from 1984 to 1990 and a DVD of the exact performance all packaged it a double gatefold CD digipak with full color graphics and booklet. Remember how big Whitesnake was back then? Well their bands before them were The Quireboys, Thunder, Poison and Aerosmith! Import prices online were around $25 plus shipping at most shops but the U.S. release was a regular $20…..I bought it day of release so I saved $4.

Hammerfall – Infected (2011) – $10: I had no idea that Hammerfall was releasing a new album until about a week before the release date…..and I have been following the band since 1998! It’s no secret that I’m a big Power Metal guy and Hammerfall has been one of my favorites since the Power Metal resurgence of the late ’90s so this was a no-brainer purchase for me. “No-brainer”…..that’s a funny way of putting it because the concept here seems to be zombies and being infected as one. It’s a different direction for Hammerfall but one I’m hoping to enjoy as much as their last few records. I’m a little puzzled by the lack of vibrant graphics and no sign of Hector, the band’s knight mascot that has been on every album cover, but if it’s something different then why not try it? Regular price was $16 so I saved $6 buying the album the day of release but I was lucky to get a copy because there were only two copies available when I hit the new release rack at the shop.

U.D.O. – Rev-Raptor (2011) – $12: Here’s another album that I received a promtional download for so I could review it but I added it to my want list. I’ve been an U.D.O. fan since he formed the band after his time in Accept so I’m going to buy every album that comes out but I really wanted to get the European limited edition with the bonus tracks but the online shops sold out quick and I didn’t really want to drop around $25 for a couple extra songs and a couple videos. I’ll give Udo Dirkschneider credit, he knows how to do it Gene Simmons style because there were four pressings of REV-RAPTOR: the regular jewel case, the limited edition European with 2 bonus tracks & videos, the Japanese with different bonus tracks and the special box set with a t-shirt and other souvenirs. I wish there was an easier way to get all the bonus material instead of having to buy to high price imports but I’m happy with my U.S. version. Regular price was $16, sale price was $12, saved $4.

Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions (2 CD Limited Edition) (2011) – $14: It’s only been recently that I’ve really gotten into Arch Enemy so this new album is kind of a new start for me. There’s been a lot of press on KHAOS LEGIONS so I’m hoping that it’s as good as the older material I’ve been listening to. What makes this release interesting is that there are 2 versions: the regular jewel case or the limited edition with a 4 track bonus disc and a code for a free t-shirt. I was grabbing the double disc version but what astounded me was the regular prices: $16 for the single, $25 for the double! Good thing I buy the new releases the day they come out because I save a lot of money…..in this case, the single disce was on sale for $11 and the limited edition for $14. How could I not buy the limited edition and save $11? Add in the free t-shirt and it’s a great buy even if I have to pay the shipping for the shirt and then give it to my daughter because I can’t fit in an XL!

Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstacy (2011) – $12: I got into Pagan’s Mind with 2007′s GOD EQUATION but I really haven’t gone back and tried to acquire the band’s previous releases. I like the band and I’m a fan of Progressive Metal but Pagan’s Mind just hasn’t taken hold in my listening rotation, hopefully that will change with this new album. This is another band that I didn’t know was releasing a new album but I was pleasantly surprised to find out in the Newbury Comics weekly newsletter. There are two versions of this album too: the single disc or the limited edition with 2 bonus tracks. When I went to the record store the day of release they only had the limited edition (the version I was buying anyway!) and they had plenty of copies. Regular price was a high $17 for the two extra songs but the sale price was only $12 for a savings of $5. I have been to the record store since I purchased this in the middle of June and I still haven’t seen the standard version but I assume that it’s without the bonus tracks and priced around $15 regular price.

Black Country Communion – 2 (2011) – $13: Black Country Communion is Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham…..now that’s a supergroup! The debut BCC album was awesome and made my list of the Top 30 Albums of 2010 at #5 so I was surprised when I read that the band had a new record ready to go. I waited on buying the first BCC album and ended up paying full price, the sting of that purchase was easier to take because the album was so good, but I wasn’t waiting around this time. Day of release and on sale for $13, I pulled the trigger. I like the old school stadium rock sound BCC has and Glenn Hughes keeps sounding better as he gets older while I am totally into Bonamassa’s guitar sound and now checking out his solo material…..good to see this album get on the U.S. Hot 100 chart with it’s debut. Regular price was an expensive $17 so I was glad to get the sale price and save $4.

Alestorm – Back Through Time (2011) – $13: Alestorm is another band I’ve followed from the beginning and I’ve grown to enjoy their Pirate Metal that’s a continuation of what Running Wild was doing a decade plus before. The thing is that the pirate themes and concepts are going to wear thin on the ultra serious metal fans but it’s all done well and in good fun so I don’t mind dropping a few bucks for good pirate party. I ended up buying the special edition of this album too with the hardbound book packaging and the two bonus tracks that are included. I didn’t see a regular jewel case edition at the record store but I read only that it exists. I actually almost pre-ordered this online through Napalm Records with the free t-shirt but they didn’t have the 2XL I need, the price on that package was $25 with shipping. Regular price for the special edition was $17 at the shop but I bought this on sale for $13 saving myself $4.

AC/DC – Live At River Plate DVD (2011) – $12: I’ve had my eye on this concert DVD for a few weeks but I never picked it up because the local shop had a ton of copies for weeks and the sale price kept going. Usually they take off the sale price after a couple week but they had so many copies of this DVD that the sale price was still there about a month after release. I had a little extra money to burn so I went to go pick up a copy but there was only two left this time! I’m not sure if the shop had a run on them all of a sudden or maybe transferred some to other locations but where there were many stood only two and one copy was regular price $15. Lucky for me the other copy still had the sale sticker on it so I knew that I’d be getting the price I wanted. Sure enough, when I got to the register, the DVD rang regular price but they price adjusted to the $12 sale price and I saved $3. I saw the Black Ice Tour in Foxboro, MA so LIVE AT THE RIVER PLATE will be a nice tour souvenir.

Night Ranger – Somewhere In California (2011) – $14: This is another album that I’ve had the promotional download for through Frontiers Records but I decided to pick the album up for the collection. I remember when DAWN PATROL came out back in 1982 and I was a fan of the band straight through to the break-up and reformation in the late ’90s…..this is another no-brainer purchase for me. I didn’t really get into the band’s last album, HOLE IN THE SUN (2008), right away because of the more modern sound the band used but it was still Night Ranger and it grew on me. From what I’ve read and my initial spin, SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA sounds like classic ’80s Night Ranger. I caught the band’s tour last year in Connecticut and it was a high energy show and the band sounded great, maybe taking that energy into the studio proved successful? Regular price here was $17 because it’s technically an import but I got it on sale for $14 and saved $3.

Symphony X – Iconoclast (2 CD Special Edition) (2011) – $13: I haven’t really listened to Symphony X since 2002′s THE ODYSSEY and I had no idea that they were releasing a new album (I’ve got to keep up on my Metal news!) so I was a little hesitant when i saw this album in the new release rack at the record store. Do I take a chance on a band that has released only two records since 2002? I noticed that there were two versions of this CD also (a trend for June I think!): the single disc and the special edition digipak that’s two CDs and has extra songs. I’m a sucker for bonus tracks and the sale price for this version was only $2 more than the regular so I snatched it up! I also noticed that there were a lot of copies of both versions of the album, a lot of which are still unsold and still onsale in mid-July. Regular price for the special edition was $19 so I saved $6 on the day of release. I’m hoping ICONOCLAST is a surprise record for me this year.

Queensryche – Dedicated To Chaos (Deluxe Edition) (2011) – $16: Another deluxe/special/limited edition for June’s hunt! Things with Queensryche have been hit or miss since 1994′s PROMISED LAND but I really enjoyed AMERICAN SOLDIER (2009) and I’m hoping that DEDICATED TO CHAOS is a continuation of the quality material I know the band is capable of. The wild card here is Geoff Tate and the direction his writing and leadership takes the band, one look at the back cover and seeing a bald Tate could either be a bad sign of he’s channelling his friend Rob Halford. Either way, I’ve been a fan of the band since the QUEENSRYCHE E.P. (1982) and THE WARNING (1984) so I’m always going to support the band. I bought the deluxe version for the three extra songs for only $3 more than the standard version. If you’re going to spend $13, why not just spend the $16 and get the whole package? Regular price for the deluxe version was a scary $22 so there was no way I was going to let a sale price pass me by with an opportunity to save $6 on an album I would easily buy.

Zebra – No Tellin’ Lies (1984) – $6 used: This was easily my bargain of the month and well worth the time spent digging through the used sections. I had gone to a different Newbury Comics location that had better selection than my usual store with my daughter and niece so I gave them each some money to shop so I could dive into the used bins. Unfortunately, I own most of the discs I found but NO TELLIN’ LIES, Zebra’s second album, was sitting there at a perfect price at $6 used! I’m not passing that up especially since all the Zebra records are on my want list so I can replace my cassettes. I was particularly psyched about finding a Zebra album because they had just played a local club in Massachusetts back in May (that I missed!) and the band’s hit from the first album, ‘Tell Me What You Want’, has been all over the local rock stations. My online research tells me that an original Atlantic Records pressing of this CD retails at about $15 if you can find it and the double disc reissue with the band’s third album, 3.V (1986), goes for around the same price and is easier to find. My digging saved me about $9.

Zebra – 3.V (1986) – $10 used: When out on a CD hunt always be mindful that where there’s one Zebra CD, there could be another! Zebras travels in herds don’t they? Seeing that I had good luck finding NO TELLIN’ LIES in the used bins, I decided to take the hunt over to the “Misc. Z” section of the Rock/Pop bins and there it was…..bargain #2 of June…..Zebra’s thierd album, 3.V from 1986! Here’s another pristine original pressing that goes for the same $15 alone or in the latest reissue with NO TELLIN’ LIES so I wasn’t about to pass it up! I haven’t seen original pressings of these Zebra albums in local record stores in at least ten years so I’m hoping that the recent concert at Showcase Live made some people clean out their collections. I’m not saying Zebra is a bad band, quite the contrary, but you would be surprised how many people dump their collections after a concert comes through town or the extra used stock the stores have in back makes it to the sales floor. Either way, it pads my collection and gets the want list a little shorter. Spending $10 for a used CD is a little high but I was sure I wouldn’t see it again and I still saved $5 off what would be a $15 regular price.

Helix – Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (1984/2009 reissue) – $20: Now this was a big purchase but a necessary one. Ever since I rediscovered Helix back in 2005 when I bought lead singer Brian Vollmer’s autobiography Gimme An R!, I have been snapping up a lot of their back catalogue. Rock Candy Records in the U.K. are a great reissue label that takes great care in releasing high quality reissues of classic albums by working alongside the artist in getting the album back in the stores. In the case of WALKIN’ THE RAZOR’S EDGE, I do have a cassette that is well worn and I have the single ‘Rock You’ on an ’80s Metal compilation CD so I’ve been content to wait out the last couple years and get this reissue at a good price. Depending where you look online, you can get this reissue anywhere between $15 and $25 plus shipping charges, that’s too high. When I saw the record store actually stocked the album, I jumped on it despite the price. I figured I’d pay at least $20 on the low end of the online price so I decided to buy it now instead of having to wait a week or two because of the mail services.

Total = $239

Total (year) = $559

Average Price (per item) = $10.75

Total Savings (month) = $97

Total Savings (year) = $336

Total CDs (year) = 49

Total DVDs (year) = 2

Total Box Sets (year) = 0

Total LPs (year) = 1

 

The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#26-#40)

2009 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 am still very lucky to have 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 and discovered some new bands. I have totalled up the CDs and there were 125 albums up for this year’s honors!

The only criteria I followed for my Top 40 was that 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 2009. In the beginning of the year I decided that an album that was released in 2008, but was released in 2009 for the U.S., qualified as a 2009 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 40 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 more than doubled the list this year so I will be splitting it into three posts. Be sure to check out the links to the album reviews. So here it is, my Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#26 – #40):

#40

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (2009): I have been waiting five years for a new TSO album and they announced the release of NIGHT CASTLE back in December 2008! Nothing like waiting a full year but the wait was worth it. A double album full of TSO expert Rock orchestra with enough guest vocalists (Jeff Scott Soto sings) to make it interesting. I prefer TSO’s holiday albums but NIGHT CASTLE fits in great.

#39

Immortal – All Shall Fall (2009): I’ve always read a ton of great reviews and articles about Immortal but Black Metal has never really been my genre of choice. I picked up ALL SHALL FALL to try the band out and I ended up really getting into it! What impressed me most was that it wasn’t stereotypical Black Metal but there were melodic layers to the overall sound using orchestration and some great guitarwork. I’ve started to backtrack and explore the rest of the Immortal back catalog as a result.

#38

Grave Digger – Ballads Of A Hangman (2009): Old school Power Metal at it’s best, Grave Digger has been doing it longer than most and they always seem to put out a solid album. I got this early in the year and it turned out to be a standout album for most of the year…..being a Grave Digger fan for a long time, I enjoyed it. Unfortunately there were better Power Metal albums that came out this year and I kept moving this one lower, a result of good competition.

#37

Nashville Pussy – From Hell To Texas (2009): Nashville Pussy is one of those bands I started to follow with their debut album and forgot about, subsequently missing out on a few records. I love this Southern-fried, hard drinking, sex crazed Hard Rock, it’s a cross between Motorhead, Ted Nugent and AC/DC mixed with Black Oak Arkansas & Lynyrd Skynyrd. I didn’t really expect much from this album and it turned out to be a great one, especially for the car! ‘Drunk Driving Man’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.

#36

Great White – Rising (2009): Despite my living in Rhode Island and the whole Station Nightclub Fire, Great White is still one of my favorite bands. In 2007 they released one of the biggest surprises with BACK TO THE RHYTHM so I expected another Hard Rock classic. RISING is acoustic based and slower than it’s predecessor but it’s still a solid record that reminded me of the acoustic SAIL AWAY (1994). This album grew on me over the course of 2009 but I’m still a little disappointed that it didn’t have more of the Blues Hard Rock the band is known for.

#35

Tragik – Outlaw (2009): Good to have a local Rhode Island band in this year’s countdown! Led by local AOR/Melodic Rock artist Phil Vincent, Tragik’s second album was a solid Hard Rock record with plenty of guitar and a great overall tone. Tragik follows the footsteps of ’80s AOR/Melodic Hard Rock bands like Journey, Bon Jovi and Night Ranger but there was a more modern sound. Good solid melodies and plenty of hooks to go along with the great guitar sound made this an album I enjoyed all year.

#34

Alestorm – Black Sails At Midnight (2009): I know a lot of people don’t get into the whole Pirate Metal concept but I’m definitely a sucker for a good gimmick and I really got into Alestorm this year. This album has some good songs but the one thing that pushed this album above a lot of others was that it was fun. I bought into all the whole concept and imagery of and the Pirate Power Metal is definitely different…..I really like all those traditional pirate styled instruments mixed in. Added bonus was the DVD from Wacken 2008 included inthe limited edition.

#33

Behemoth – Evangelion (2009): Kind of like Immortal, I knew nothing about Behemoth except for what I had read online. After I saw the ‘Ov Fire And The Void’ video, I had the obsession with checking out the band. Just like Immortal, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed EVANGELION because Black Metal isn’t usually my thing but what struck me was just how brutal the music sounds. The guitars, bass and drums are just so fast and heavy that you have to take notice. EVANGELION helped me start to open my Black Metal horizons and I went from trying to understand Behemoth to enjoying Behemoth.

#32

Edguy – Tinnitus Sanctis (2009): This latest album from Edguy was originally released in late 2008 but it didn’t receive a proper U.S. release until January from Nuclear Blast so I’m going with what the back of the CD says and it’s a 2009 album. I’ve been an Edguy fan since basically the beginning so their Power Metal style is what i like best but the band has gone for more of a Hard Rock style here. I had a hard time getting into this album at first because I kept comparing it to the old Edguy sound, once I got past that I started to enjoy the album a lot more. Turns out I played TINNITUS SANCTUS more as the year progressed and I kept coming back to it.

#31

Saga – The Human Condition (2009): Saga has been churning out melodic Progressive Rock for 38 years and I have been keeping up with the band on and off since 1982. One of the things that helped define the overall Saga sound through the years was the superb vocals from founding member Michael Sadler…..but he left the band in 2007 after a 36 year tenure. Enter ex-Final Frontier vocalist Rob Morrati and he puts on a performance that makes you forget that Sadler just vacated the mic. This was one of the greatest comebacks of the year!

#30

Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009): When Dream Theater releases an album I always know that it’s going to be a good one, then band just releases good albums every single time. Six songs spanning 75+ minutes and that’s just Disc 1! I always have to listen closely to Dream theater records because there are so many layers of sound and this one was no exception, what really stood out was that there was a song that clocked in just under 6 minutes (‘Wither’)! Add the 2 bonus discs and this turned out to be a great package to listen to.

#29

Queensryche – American Soldier (2009): My review is long and it may not reflect the fact that I really enjoyed AMERICAN SOLDIER, the first Queensryche album I’ve enjoyed since 1997. The first thing I needed to do was accept the fact that old ’80s Queensryche is gone and that the band has gone into more Progressive and Epic musical directions. The overall sound is full and layered but it’s the subject matter that really made the album, what is more relevant in today’s society than how soldiers cope with war? Some of the record was repetitive lyrically but the album just flowed every time I listened to it. I bought this when it first came out and I waited until late October to finally unwrap it, I think I would appreciate it more if I had listened to it all along. ‘At 30,00 Ft.’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.

#28

Megadeth – Endgame (2009): Like I said in my review, I haven’t fully recovered from 1999′s RISK debacle. UNITED ABOMINATIONS (2007) started me back on the Megadeth bandwagon and ENDGAME follows closely to cement the band back into my good graces. ENDGAME isn’t a pure Thrash record but it’s heavy, I think it’s more traditional Heavy Metal with some Thrash moments. It’s clear that Dave Mustaine and company have a solid direction and a desire to re-conquer the Metal world.

#27

Hammerfall – No Sacrifice, No Victory (2009): If it wasn’t for me discovering Hammerfall in 1997 then I wouldn’t be the big Power Metal fan I am today. They basically single-handedly revived the Power Metal scene with it’s traditional style and soaring vocals. The problem with the last few albums is that they all just sounded the same and Hammerfall started to become a footnote in the now overly crowded Power Metal world. This album reminds me of the first three Hammerfall albums and it’s the first one since 2000 that I’ve really enjoyed. I had this ranked higher but, as 2009 progressed, there were better albums in the same genre. That said, this is still a solid album full of great powerful songs and Joacim Cans sound better than ever but I’m still not sure what the band was thinking with a cover of The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’!

#26

Stratovarius – Polaris (2009): Remember what I said about better Power Metal albums? POLARIS is one of the big reasons why both Grave Digger and Hammerfall fell a little in this year’s best of list. I really didn’t expect much from Startovarius…..I had actually forgotten all about the band because it has been four years since the bands last album. Add a lot of new members, especially replacing guitarist Timo Tolkki, and this was a recipe for disaster. I got this album when it came out and left it in the pile, I just started listening to it a couple months ago and I missed out on some serious music. Had I started listening to this record when I got it, I probably would rank it higher because it hasn’t left my daily playlist. Another great comeback this year!

——————————————————————————————

Please check out The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#1-#10) and The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#11-#25) for the rest of this year’s countdown.

Alestorm – Black Sails At Midnight (2009)

Alestorm - Black Sails At Midnight (2009 limited edition)Alestorm - Black Sails At Midnight (2009 original)

Alestorm – Black Sails At Midnight (2009, Napalm Records)

  1. The Quest
  2. Leviathan
  3. That Famous Ol’ Spiced
  4. Keelhauled
  5. To The End Of Our Days
  6. Black Sails At Midnight
  7. No Quarter
  8. Pirate Song
  9. Chronicles Of Vengeance
  10. Wolves Of The Sea

(The limited edition includes a bonus DVD – Live At Wacken Open Air 2008)

Band Lineup:
Christopher Bowes – Vocals, Keyboards, Tin Whistle
Dani Evans – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Ian Wilson – Drums, Percussion, Vibraslap, Backing Vocals
Gareth Murdock – Bass
Migo Wagner – Session Drums
Lasse Lambert – Session Guitars, Backing Vocals

Producer: Lasse Lammert

Country: United Kingdom (Scotland)

Total Time = 46:17

Alestorm
Alestorm MySpace page
Napalm Records

Alestorm have set sail on their new voyage across the Metal seas to bring us their new album, BLACK SAILS AT MIDNIGHT, the follow-up to last year’s adventurous debut CAPTAIN MORGAN’S REVENGE. Alestorm is a band of Scotsman who really enjoy their fantasy realm of pirates, pillage and plunder and they use their Power/Folk Metal sound to create what they call “Pirate Metal”. Their music has elements of Thrash, Folk, and Power Metal mixed with orchestration and symphonics to give it a high seas sound. I have to admit I like the pirate gimmick because it’s something different, usually it’s all dungeons & dragons, but the fact that Alestorm are really good musicians makes the gimmick work.

‘The Quest’ opens the album with furious riffage and double bass drumming mixed with folk, it’s a seriously fast and heavy song that starts this pirate tale, a solid straight forward opener. The band immeadiately shows off it’s epic side with the equally heavy ‘Leviathan’ with it’s rolling riffs and symphonic orchestration to narrate the story of hunting one of the high seas’ legendary beasts. Christopher Bowes sings pretty much clean throughout the entire record but there are some aggressive growls on the bridge and chorus, especially the backing vocals, and adds to the diverse sound.

A pirate likes his rum and Alestorm likes it too, ‘That Famous Ol’ Spiced’ is their power tribute to the drink. It’s another speed riff song with the hook filled chorus and orchestration to bolster the sound. I like the tin whistle that mirrors the lyrics on the chorus, if you listen to the album closely you can hear that whistle on almost every song. So what do you do after you drink all that rum? You make a traitor walk the plank! ‘Keelhauled’ is a more traditional pirate sounding song with all the bells, whistles, bagpipes and violins thrown into the Power Metal mix as the band sends their tied traitor overboard to be drowned along their ships’ keel. Sounds like a brutal way to die but the pirates in Alestorm make it sound more of a celebration with a lot of “yo-ho-hos” in for good measure!

The voyage slows down for a ballad…..yes, a ballad! ‘To The End Of Our Days’ is slow and epic and uses the orchestration and some sounds of the sea to create the musical landscape. The song sounds like something Manowar would do but with subpar vocals. Bowes is no Eric Adams and his aggressive snarl doesn’t really fit a ballad but I guess pirates get sentimental at times too! The title track bursts in to keep the album going strong with another power riff feast mixed with complimentary keyboards and heavy drums while ‘No Quarter’ is the same type of song but with more prominent keyboards and no vocals except for a couple of “heys”. I’m not always a big fan of instrumentals because I always feel like it’s an unfinished song…..the band couldn’t come up with any words? The key is to keep the listener interested and ‘No Quarter’ has enough musical layers to keep my attention and it’s pretty good. Now you know there is no way that Alestorm was going to go a whole record without having a song with “pirate” in the title did you? ‘Pirate Song’ is a little to pirate for me and it suffers from the weakest guitar performance of the album until the duelling guitar/keyboard solo. I think the pace has more to do with it because it’s more mid-paced and the pirate theme really works well when the band moves at breakneck speed.

Alestorm moves into epic territory again with ‘Chronicles Of Vengeance’, a tale of battle on the high seas full of powerful guitar and symphonic composition. I have to pair this up with ‘Leviathan’ as two of the top tracks on the record, not just because they are both epics but because both songs are examples of how Alestorm uses a variety of sound to give their songs such an adventurous feel. The closing song, ‘Wolves Of The Sea’, is actually a cover song of the Latvian musical project Pirates Of The Sea, who performed at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. There are a lot of “hi hi ho’s” and “hi hi hey’s” in this song that set the pirate feel right away but the song is another Power Metal feast…..the gang vocals are really catchy and it’s pretty much straightforward Metal until a quick middle solo that has a Caribbean flavor. If there was ever an anthem for Alestorm, this would be it! I can just see this being a concert favorite complete with audience participation on the chorus. I know it’s a cover song, and I can’t stand that, but it’s a really catchy tune…..the hook in the chorus is what gets you.

Bottom Line:
I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and Alestorm have sucked me in with their lyrical imagery of all things pirates! The concept is still pretty fresh when you consider how much swords & sorcery there is in Metal today, there really are only a few bands out their flying their jolly roger high for Pirate Metal. Alestorm has stormed back with a sophomore album that really doesn’t stray too far from the debut’s direction but I guess that’s the whole point. When you’re do something well then you keep doing it until it’s not successful. There’s enough different styles of Metal to please a wide range of fans but the core focus is probably on the Power, Epic and Viking Metal fans. There are some diverse songs with different sounds and tempos but there are also couple that sound like they’ve been done before. I really like the album and I haven’t stopped playing it since I bought it…..I guess you could say I’m “hooked”! Definitely a really good solid fun record, one of my favorites of the year so far.

Favorite Songs:
‘The Quest’, ‘Leviathan’, ‘That Famous Ol’ Spiced’, ‘Keelhauled’, ‘No Quarter’, ‘Chronicles Of Vengeance’, ‘Wolves Of The Sea’

Alestorm – Leviathan E.P. (2009)

alestorm - leviathan

Alestorm – Leviathan E.P. (2009, Napalm Records)

  1. Leviathan
  2. Wolves Of the Sea
  3. Weiber und Wein
  4. Heavy Metal Pirates

(Track 2 is a cover of a song that represented Latvia at the Eurovision Song
Contest. Track 3 is a German version of ‘Wenches and Mead’. Track 4 is another re-recording of the Battleheart-era song that was initially
redone as a single in 2008. Both Tracks 1 & 2 were released on BLACK SAILS AT MIDNIGHT.)

Band Lineup:
Christopher Bowes – Vocals, Keyboards
Dani Evans – Bass
Lasse Lammert – Guitar on tracks 1 and 2.
Gavin Harper – Guitar on tracks 3 and 4.
Migo Wagner – Session Drums

Additional Musicians:
Brendan Casey – Bass
Ian Wilson – Drums

Producer: Lasse Lammert

Country: United Kingdom (Scotland)

Total Time = 17:43

Alestorm
Alestorm MySpace page
Napalm Records

Pirate Metal seems to be a genre that is gaining a lot of ground lately with old school metallers Running Wild still kicking and bands like Swashbuckle, Verbal Deception and, of course, Alestorm ushering in a new breed of Metal set on the high seas. LEVIATHAN is an E.P. Alestorm released to get the fans excited for the new album, BLACK SAILS AT MIDNIGHT (2009), and give a couple of bonuses a wider release. The first two songs ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Wolves Of The Sea’ are tracks that are on the proper full-length record and they are both very different. ‘Leviathan’ is a Power Metal tale of the mythical sea creature, the Leviathan, and it’s battle with the pirates…..it’s a very heavy song with some cool orchestrations. ‘Wolves Of The Sea’ is actually a cover song of the Latvian musical project Pirates Of The Sea, who performed on the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. There are a lot of “hi hi ho’s” and “hi hi hey’s” in this song that set the pirate feel right away but the song is another Power Metal feast…..the gang vocals are really catchy and it’s pretty much straightforward Metal until a quick middle solo that has a Caribbean flavor. ‘Weiber und Wein’ is the German version of the song ‘Wenches And Mead’ from Alestorm’s debut album, CAPTAIN MORGAN’S REVENGE (2008). There really isn’t anything different here as the song is pretty much the same except for the vocals, it’s more of a bonus to the fans in Germany who have really given Alestorm some serious support. The last song is another Alestorm track that has been released before, ‘Heavy Metal Pirates’ is actually a song that came from the band’s formative days as Battleheart and was re-recorded in 2008 as an online single sold through Napster and iTunes.

Bottom Line:
Basically LEVIATHAN is a teaser for the new album with the first two songs being tracks that will be featured on BLACK SAILS AT MIGNIGHT. The two bonuses, ‘Weiber und Wein’ and ‘Heavy Metal Pirates’, are the reason to buy this E.P. because you aren’t going to get these tracks anywhere else on CD. This E.P. has some excellent music and some catchy songs so if you’re new to Alestorm then this might be something to grab to give them a preview.

Favorite Songs:
There’s only four songs and I liked all of them! The best one is ‘Leviathan’.

Swashbuckle – Crewed By The Damned (2006)

Swashbuckle – Crewed By the Damned (2006, Bald Freak Music)

  1. Under The Black Flag
  2. Welcome Aboard
  3. Drink Up
  4. Set Sail
  5. Walk The Plank
  6. What A Ship Is
  7. Dead Men Tell No Lies
  8. The Wooden World
  9. “X” Marks The Spot
  10. Rum Runners
  11. Upon The Spanish Main
  12. The Bazaar
  13.  Jolly Roger
  14. Paradise Defined
  15. Crewed By The Damned
  16. A Fool’s Errand
  17. (untitled track – 2:05)*
  18. (untitled track – 0:26)**

* Some websites have this song listed as ‘Pirate Jargon’.
** Some websites have this song listed as ‘Nautical Nonsense’.

Band Lineup:
Admiral Nobeard – Vocals & Bass
Commodore Redrum – Guitar & Keyboards
Captain Crashride – Drums
Rowin’ Joe Po – Guitars (no longer in the band)

Produced by: Swashbuckle

Total Time = 42:33

Swashbuckle official website
Swashbuckle MySpace page
Bald Freak Music

New Jersey Thrash metallers Swashbuckle bill themselves as “Pirate Metal”. An interesting concept, take one look at the album cover and band pictures and you see that the band have taken to using the pirate concept to the extreme in their indentities, costumes, language, and attitude. Heavy Metal using pirates as subject matter has been around for a long time with the German Power Metal band Running Wild…..they started things off in 1987 with UNDER GOLLY ROGER. So when I put CREWED BY THE DAMNED on the stereo and heard the opening intro ‘Under The Black Flag’, a cool Spanish style acoustic sea shanty, I figured I’d get a faster version of Running Wild. I had no idea that Swashbuckle would use a Death Metal growl!

Normally, bands that use a gimmick come off as a joke. Well, the joke is on us because ‘Welcome Aboard’ is a brutal Thrash feast with the unexpected Death vocals of Admiral Nobeard and the searing guitars of Commodore Rerum & Rowin’ Joe Po. A pirate and his ale are never parted and Swashbuckle’s ‘Drink Up’ is a celebration of just that and has become the band’s signature song with the slogan emblazoned on some of the band’s merchandise. ‘Drink Up’ is another really good old school Thrash song with big time riffs, something that Swashbuckle has all over the album.

‘Set Sail’ is another acoustic sea shanty that starts a pattern for the album. From now on, each thrash beating will be separated by this type of musical interlude using acoustic guitars, keyboards, and percussion. The instrumentals are quiet, almost soothing, and set the listener up by sailing them on calm seas and then turning them over to the dangerous waves of each Thrash storm. I like the calm sense of melody on these shanties and each one sets a mood for the overall concept. There are six other shanties after ‘Set Sail’ — ‘What A Ship Is’, ‘The Wooden World’, ‘Rum Runners’, ‘The Bazaar’, ‘Paradise Defined’, & ‘A Fool’s Errand’. Honestly, these instrumentals remind me of Rennaisance music, especially ‘The Wooden World’, and I bet these guys could also carve a career out of that type of music just like Blackmore’s Night.

Back to the Thrash, ‘Walk The Plank’, ‘Dead Men Tell No Lies’ and ‘X Marks The Spot’ continue the fast pace and it’s only now I realize that the songs are sequenced to take us on a pirate journey. We’ve boarded the ship, drank up, hit the open seas, made a traitor walk the plank, and no we have the map to the treasure. The adventure continues with more Thrash and Death vocals on ‘Upon The Spanish Main’, ‘Jolly Roger’ and the title track. Each one of these fast heavy bursts is full of speedy riffs and solid drumming that drive each song. The musicianship is pretty damn good when compared to other bands out there and the vocals, even though I expected a clean sound, suit the music’s style. Nobeard uses his growl, scream, and guttural voice to really lend an unexpected punch.

There are two untitled songs tacked on the end of the official 16 song album: ‘Pirate Jargon’ & ‘Nautical Nonsense’. I looked all over the band’s offical website for titles to these two unlisted songs but I found them at another website. Either way, it’s a nice quick double bonus! ‘Pirate Jargon’ is one of the musical interludes and ‘Nautical Nonsense’ is a quick speed burst clocking in under 30 seconds.

Bottom Line:
I didn’t expect Swashbuckle to surprise me. Not knowing anything about the band, I expected Power Metal like Running Wild and I got well done Thrash with Death-laden vocals. I like the pirate concept, it’s an idea that not many bands use today and I’m surprised because of the popularity of all the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies has really carved a new niche of entertainment. Aside from Swashbuckle and Running Wild, I could only think of Alestorm and Verbal Deception sailing the same high seas looking for plunder. Swashbuckle has raised the flag high on their mast and they are sailing along a true course and I’m looking forward to another solid record from this crew soon.

Favorite songs: ‘Drink Up’, ‘Walk the Plank’, ‘Crewed by the Damned’, ‘X Marks The Spot’…..and I like all the shanties!