50. – Dimmu Borgir – Abrahadabra (Nuclear Blast/Riot)
Norway’s premier black metal expositors were back in the groove with Abrahadabra, chock full as it was with classy, crushing riffage and big, big orchestrations. “It’s the intelligent and ambitious arrangements that will help this album to appeal to fields further flung than usual black metal ghetto – which must be a good thing” said I.
49. – Pretty Maids – Pandemonium (Frontiers/Riot)
They’ve been at this lark for nigh-on a quarter of a century now, but it’s debatable whether the ‘Maids have ever come up with anything as sublime as Little Drops of Heaven, the lead-off single from this, their twelfth studio outing. The rest of the album couldn’t quite keep up, but it’s still worth a punt in the eyes of BTTF...
48. I Exist – A Turn for the Worse (Common Bond)
Canberra? Boring? In a Chimp’s cock. Put simply, I Exist succeeded in achieving in half an hour what many more storied ‘extreme’ bands have failed to do in entire careers –pure aural holocaust. Filthy riffs, obscene rhythms, they’re all here in an orgy of punkometal destruction.
47. Hellfueled – Emission of Sins (Black Lodge)
Trad metal and proud of it, Hellfueled go about their leather n’studded business like it’s still 1983 – and we should love them for it. Sure, throatsmith Andy Alkman is a bit too close for comfort to Ozzy at times, but that’s a small price to pay to be allowed to listen to METAL this good.
46. Strangeways – Perfect World (Frontiers/Riot)
A surprise reformation this (although can any eighties band reforming in 2010 really surprise anybody? Probably not), with vocalist Terry Brock and guitarist Ian J. Stewart burying the hatchet long enough to come up with an album of classy – and at times hair-raisingly fine – old-school AOR.
45. Asia – Omega (Frontiers/Riot)
Not as good as previous album Phoenix (which saw the band’s original lineup reunited after approximately 150 years apart), Omega nevertheless managed to weld together enough Asiatic hallmarks to render itself a pleasing listen, with special mentions in dispatches going to the sublimely anthemic Holy War.
44. Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (Frontiers/Riot)
Matthew and Gunnar Nelson set themselves up for a fall when they proclaimed their new album would bring back the band’s halcyon days of the early nineties, and, somewhat predictably – they fell. LST is a fine record in its own right – if a little too interested in tipping it’s hat to AOR titans Boston at times- but it’s no After the Rain
43. Brian Howe – Circus Bar (Frontiers/Riot)
Former Bad Company vocalist Howe got on BTTF’s bad side when Circus Bar first emerged, as your correspondent muttered darkly about silly old men playing music better suited to the likes of Kelly Clarkson, but, like most bars, we’ve decided the Circus Bar is actually not a bad place to be... sorry Bri!
42. Y&T – Facemelter (Frontiers/Riot)
On first listen Facemelter sounded like it should have been called Rehasher, as it sounded like Dave Meniketti – one of BTTF’s favourite musicians, ever- had just thrown together a few outdated leftovers into the pot to see if he could wring one final payday out of his once great band. But, like Circus Bar, Facemelter has proved to have enough moments of genuine fire and inspiration to make it worth a listen – just not all the way through.
41. The Sword – Warp Riders (Kemado)
Back to the Future is always wary of ‘hip’ bands, especially ‘hip’ metal bands that people who don’t usually like metal go on and on about, but we’re pleased to report that for once we needn’t have worried. Warp Riders is a fine, fine piece of wax, and in Night City the boys have come up with a freewheeling, storytelling tale of such high quality you’d have thought a certain Phil Lynott had had a hand in it’s creation. Marvellous.
40. Armored Saint – La Raza (Metal Blade/Riot)
Whilst his former band Anthrax spent 2010 shitting on their legacy and lurching ever further into credibility deficit, John Bush returned to what he does best – bellowing it out, metal stylee with the ‘Saint. La Raza is an uncompromising, pummelling excercise in, well, uncompromising, pummelling metal as it goes. And it’s great.
39. Tarot – Gravity of Light (Nuclear Blast/Riot)
More circumspect than the deleriously emphatic Crows Fly Black, GoL is one of those albums that disappoints on first listen yet, seven or eight months later, is still pounding away on the ol’ portable device. That’s because Tarot are craftsmen, and they know a good song far better than your not-so-humble reviewer. The best song here, I Walk Forever, may well be a shot at best metal song of the year, such is it’s grandeur.
38. City of Fire – City of Fire (Shock)
SUPERGROUP ALERT! It’s always time to sniff the air suspiciously when the S-word starts getting bandied about, but luckily City of Fire is a whole much greater than the sum of it’s admittedly illustrious parts. Not so much a collection of songs as a crushing wall of sound, City of Fire didn’t disappoint – which it so easily could have.
37. The Poor – Round 2 (Riot)
Dirty, ragged, beer-soaked and smelling of petrol fumes they may be, but at the heart of The Poor there’s a songwriting nous that’s pure gold. They promise an album of all-new material in 2011, and BTTF can’t wait to hear it.
36. Coheed and Cambria – Year of the Black Rainbow (Roadrunner)
The C&C music factory’s unstoppable rise to pre-eminence in the world of progressive metal is like a musical version of revenge of the nerds; The loopy Sci-Fi storylines may well be worth the admission fee on their own –BTTF wouldn’t know, we’ve never played D&D (or even seen the last Star Wars movie)- but when the music’s as classy as YotBR, who cares?
35. Wig Wam – Non Stop Rock n’Roll (Frontiers)
In Wig Wam’s world it’s still 1986, which surely makes them BTTF’s perfect band, right? NSRNR is an exhilarating look at the world of rock when Joey Tempest was king, and, whilst the band can’t quite touch the heights they strive for all the time, this is an enjoyable listen nonetheless.
34. Bison BC – Dark Ages (Metal Blade)
Confirming our suspicion that any album opening up with a track named Stressed Elephant must be great, Dark Ages delivered a wall of sludge-drenched noise that was well, elaphantine in proportion. Heavy metal in it’s purest, vilest form.
33. Unruly Child – Worlds Collide (Frontiers)
Unruly Child arrived on the scene in the early nineties just as Kurt and co were washing away their style of Zeppelin-tinged hard rock in a tsunami of grunge tedium; Luckily they got here this time around in time to cash in on the hair metal revival, and WC goes some way to suggesting they could have mixed it in the big time had their timing been better. Classy.
32. Ratt – Infestation (Roadrunner)
Surely the surprise of the year, nobody could have suspected that any record involving Stephen Pearcy in 2010 could have sounded this good. Indeed Ratt haven’t sounded this consistently good since their mid eighties heyday, and that fact alone was a joy to report. Brilliant.
31. Cradle of Filth – Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa (Peaceville)
Like their Norwegian cousins Dimmu Borgir, England’s Cradle of Filth have made big business out of the ghetto institution that is black metal. But unlike DB, Cradle have based their success not only on top drawer musical chops and a fine ear for a maidenesque melody when the chips are down, but also on a mordant sense of mischief and humour which once again shines through on DDVA. Not many bands can claim to be best in show – CoF definitely can.
30. Rhapsody of Fire – Frozen Tears of Angels (Nuclear Blast)
Album opener Sea of Fate tells you all you need to know about FToA; It’s an old school slice of operatic power/speed metal that’ll have the veins in your temples throbbing as you sing along, after a fashion, with consummate throatsmith Fabio Lione, all the while frantically thrashing the strings of your air guitar. When the great architect invented heavy metal, there’s no doubt he had RoF in mind as his house band. Utterly ludicrous, yet stupendously brilliant – just as metal should be.
29. Grand Magus – Hammer of the North (Roadrunner)
Grand Magus in 2010 is a shiny, metallic beast primed and ready for the move to the big time. HotN took the supreme blueprint of previous album, the adamantine Iron Will, and refined it into something that, next time out, will be truly mind blowing. As a step in the right direction this will do – but just wait for the next one...
28. Yoso – Elements (Frontiers)
Yoso – awful name, top band. Fusing members of Yes and Toto (hence the unweildy moniker), Yoso harks back to the glory days of chart-bothering progressive rock when the likes of Asia turned up on top 40 radio and no one batted an eyelid. Wouldn’t happen today of course, but this is thoughtful, polished rock music of the highest quality, and should be welcomed as such.
27. Two Fires – Burning Bright (Frontiers)
Two Fires vocalist Kevin Chalfant replaced Steve Perry in Journey for a little while, so it’s no surprise really to learn that this album could well have been released by that band had they chosen to follow up the stellar Raised on Radio in the late eighties. Sumptuous ballads, spritely rockers – you know what to expect- all performed with panache and skill.
26. Cathedral – The Guessing Game (Nuclear Blast)
English doomsters Cathedral haven’t sounded this vital in over a decade, with The Guessing Game improbably sounding like a suitable follow up to the bands classic triumvirate of mid-nineties elpees. The relentlessly dour heaviness of old has been somewhat tempered by a bucolic prog edge, which adds a welcome bit of light and shade to the unforgiving heaviness, whilst in Death of an Anarchist the band has come up with possibly it’s best stand-alone tune ever.
25. Black Label Society – Order of the Black (Riot)
Heaviness incarnate. There’s not much else to say about an album as deleriously unhinged as Order of the Black. Many bands wither on the vine giving the fans what they want, mired in stagnation and jaded hackery, but the BLS somehow manage to keep moving whilst seemingly staying still. Dependably brilliant.
24. Raven – Walk Through Fire (Metal Blade)
Like Anvil, if you believe what people say Raven were hugely influential in the early eighties whilst never reaping the financial benefits that such stature would appear to demand. Touring buddies of Metalllica and Anthrax, friends of Accept’s Udo Dirkschneider – the eighties credentials were impeccable. Luckily for us, in 2010 the music is too. One of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
23. GBH – Perfume and Piss (Hellcat)
Punk for sure, but in their day GBH were always more metallicaly inflected than many of their more spiky-haired peers, and once again there’s more than a whiff of Motorhead on Perfume and Piss. Breakneck riffing, singalong choruses – this is the good stuff.
22. Winterfylleth – The Mercian Sphere (Candlelight)
Whilst Winterfylleth seem to be a bit confused in their politics, history and worldview, their music is focussed on one thing – the total obliteration of your ears. Sticking to the music in the future will definitely reap benefits for this band, because if the can build on TMS then a bright future awaits.
21. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine (Shock)
The big time beckons for High on Fire, and everything about SFTD points to that; from the Meat Loaf-style Wagnerisms of the cover art right through to the clean crisp production, ‘progress’ is manifesting itself. They haven’t left the oil-caked filth of their formative years behind just yet, and that will be the great dilemma for Matt Pike and company as they move onwards and upwards – will they clean up their act for mainstream acceptance? Watch this space.
20. Treat – Coup de Grace (Frontiers)
Prime melodic hard rock doesn’t come much primer than this, with Sweden’s Treat delivering an album that, whilst never breaking any new ground does operate in and around the top drawer at all times.
19. Therion – Sita Ahra (Nuclear Blast)
Swedes Therion really came of age with their last album, the all-conquering Gothic Kabbalah. Sita Ahra consolidates the progress made by that album without ever extending it – but this is the good stuff, make no mistake, with the likes of the title track and Kings of Edom confirming that GK was no mere flash in the pan.
18. Indica – A Way Away (Nuclear Blast)
“Not metal!” cry the low foreheaded, grim faced dullards. That’s as maybe, but if that’s their sole reason for not listening to this glorious melange of quirkily gothic rock and pop then it’s their loss. A Way Away is a marvellous record, and deserves to be listened to, as that noted full force rock n’roller George Michael might have requested, without prejudice.
17. Avantasia – Angel of Babylon (Nuclear Blast)
Avantasia braniac Tobi Sammet’s decision to release two albums this year meant that Angel... nearly got swamped by the hysterical reaction to it’s more lauded sibling record (of which more later), but the fact remains that most other bands ploughing a similar musical furrow would have donated all non-essential appendages to call something this good their own... the man Sammet is truly a machine.
16. Tank – War Machine (Metal Mind)
Brit metal was shown to be alive and well this year, and none were more alive, or, well... weller than veteran filth hounds Tank. Put simply, if they ain’t already here and walking among us, when aliens finally come to earth and inevitably ask the question ‘what...is...heavy...metal?’ then this is the album you’ll whip out and offer as explanation.
15. Stan Bush – Dream the Dream (Frontiers)
One of AOR’s nearly men, Stan Bush is blessed with one of the great hard rock voices and possesses a bit of an ear for a tune, too. For the first time in years he managed to combine the two to devastating effect on Dream the Dream, in the process reworking his theme tune from the original Transformers flick, The Touch, in grand style.
14. Lostprophets – The Betrayed (Sony)
Against all the odds, Welsh scenesters Lostprophets finally turned in the album they’ve been threatening for years in The Betrayed. Muscular yet melodic, emotional yet never whiny, this surely is what the kids want.If they don’t then, as I’ve long suspected, they’re all idiots.
13. Accept – Blood of the Nations (Nuclear Blast)
German metallers Accept had long been thought to have run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, laid low by vocalist Udo Dirkschneider’s unwillingness to record new product whilst his own UDO imprint continued to flourish; Imagine, then, the surprise when Solingen’s finest erupted back onto the scene in 2010 with a new vocalist (the admirable – and eminently Dirkschneideresque- Mark Tornillo) and, more importantly a new album choc full of bloody brilliant HEAVY FUCKING METAL!! Aller morder, kein fuller as they say in the German-speaking world...
12. White Wizzard – Over the Top (Earache)
Silly cover, ludicrous songs – heavy metal, right? Well, as it goes, yes, but the fact remains that OTT is just that – a relentless assault of Somme-like proportions that will leave your senses battered through the deployment of unremitting heavy metal power. Maidenesque mayhem is the order of the day here, and, as our heroes drift further into the progressive ether someone’s gotta sound like ‘classic’ heavy metal – so why not the ‘Wizzard?
11. Blind Guardian – At the Edge of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Once you’ve got this symphonic power metal thing down pat it can be easy to start sounding a bit ‘samey’ – luckily no-one told Hansi Kursch that. Built around the man’s frankly lunatic wailing, ATEOT see BG heading back towards their thrashier past with top notch results, all the while sounding as fresh as the day they were birthed... And there’s even a John Farnham cover in there, just to break up the sturm and drang.
10. Barn Burner – Bangers (Metal Blade)
Not, as some assumed, an album about the Sausage industry, Bangers was a rampaging slab of sludge/stoner/doom metal that, whilst failing dismally in the originality stakes scored highly in the demented hair flailing/wailing along like a dog with distemper awards this year, especially on the likes of the breakneck Holy Smokes or the raggedly attractive Beer Today Gone Tomorrow.
9. Terry Brock – Diamond Blue (Frontiers)
Terry Brock lent his undeniable vocal talents to three albums this year – almost certainly too many in terms of quality control, songwise- but he had the good sense to save the best ones for this, the only one of the three released as a solo outing. And whilst Giant fell flat, and Strangeways flickered brightly but intermittently, Diamond Blue shines from go to woah. Pure AOR class.
8. First Signal featuring Harry Hess – First Signal (Frontiers)
Harry Hess once sang with hair metal no-hopers Harem Scarem – First Signal deletes all nasty memories of that band in three quarters of an hour of hard rock mayhem that touches all the required bases whilst never coming across as tired or hackneyed. Hess has a great voice, and it’s deployed well on every song here.
7. Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (EMI)
Not the all-conquering return to the mid-eighties many fans had hoped for – but still the best thing they’ve done this century by some way, and in Coming Home they penned the song of the year, in any genre. We don’t want them to, but they could draw the line under a massive career after this album and end on a high note.
6. Issa – Sign of Angels (Frontiers)
Classy, catchy hard rock from a relatively unknown Scandinavian songstress of seemingly limitless talent. Every song is a diamond-studded winner, and every finely honed chorus will have you singing along like a crazed karaoke king or queen– the whole point of a song, surely?
5. Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent (Shock)
Displaying a shocking amount of fire and passion for middle-aged ‘rock stars’ seemingly in their dotage, Jazz Coleman and curmudgeonly company showed all the young punks how it’s done in 2010 on this album. From thunderously heavy agit punk to wobbly West London dub, they covered all the bases and effortlessly licked the opposition into the bargain. Its rare that an album makes BTTF sit up and listen in a state of near-delirious excitement, but Absolute Dissent achieved just such a reaction.
4. Kvelertak – Kvelertak (Indie Recordings)
An utterly, filthily exhilarating record, mashing up punk rock fury, black metal ludicrosity, rock n’roll swing and, most importantly, damn fine tunes in one huge, unholy shitstorm. Hair raising. Brilliant.
3. Avantasia – The Wicked Symphony (Nuclear Blast)
Another cast of thousands brings German genius Tobi Sammet’s widescreen metal ambitions to fruition in his latest – and greatest- metal opera. For pure, unadulterated pomp few can touch Sammet’s Avantasia imprint, and here the likes of Jorn Lande, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, Klaus Meine and Russel Allen are given songs of pure gold to warble over, most notably the spine-tingling single Dying for an Angel, the best song never written by Bon Jovi.
2. Auras – New Generations (Frontiers)
Brazil? AOR? Two words together, as Dave Mustaine might have said, that don’t make sense. But New Generations, with its perfect synthesis of Journey, Toto, REO Speedwagon and Survivor, makes perfect sense. Oh yes sir.
1. Allen-Lande – The Showdown (Frontiers)
The best of a very good bunch for 2010, The Showdown is, as near as dammit, a perfect exposition of melodic, traditional heavy metal. Massive songs, great voices – it quite literally didn’t get better than this as far as Back to the Future was concerned in 2010. Hail.
Well, that's it, for BTTF for this year, we're taking January off to recover from the strain of it all and to prepare for Iron Maiden's arrival on Australian shores, but we'll be back soon - till then... adios amigos!