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The Best of 2003!

Heavy Metal

Compared to the AOR/Hard Rock side of the aisle, metal was fairly lacklustre in 2003. The contenders for "CD of the Year" jumped off the list when compared to the rest of the field. Also, there were really only a few that I felt were worthy of accolades. Granted, I didn't concentrate on heavy metal as much as I had in previous years.

The Field:

Altaria - Invitation. Metal Heaven (Germany)
Amorphis - Chapters. Relapse Records
Anthrax - We've Come for You All. Sanctuary Records
Armored Saint - Symbol of Salvation (Boxed Set). Metal Blade Records
Cage - Darker Than Black. Massacre Records (Germany)
Children of Bodom - Hatecrew Deathroll. Spinefarm Records
Dragonforce - Valley of the Damned. Noise/Sanctuary Records
Edguy - Burning Down the Opera Live. AFM Records (Germany)
Evergrey - Recreation Day (Limited Edition). InsideOut
Falconer - Sceptre of Deception. Metal Blade
Fear Factory - Hatefiles. Roadrunner Records
Firewind - Burning Earth. Leviathan Music
Godsmack - Faceless. Republic/Universal
Grave Digger - Rheingold. Nuclear Blast Records
Helloween - Rabbit Don't Come Easy. Nuclear Blast
Judas Priest - Live in London. Steamhammer/SPV (Germany)
Labyrinth - Labyrinth. Century Media
Opeth - Damnation. Koch Records
Pantera - The Best of Pantera (with bonus DVD). Elektra/Rhino Records
Queensryche - Tribe. Sanctuary Records
Sepultura - Roorback (Limited Edition). Hunter/SPV Records
Sevendust - Seasons + Bonus DVD. TVT Records
Sinner - There Will Be Executions. Nuclear Blast
Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild. Century Media
Static-X - Shadow Zone. Warner Brothers
Stormwind - Rising Symphony. Massacre Records (Germany)
Stratovarius - Elements Part 1. Nuclear Blast
Within Temptation - Mother Earth + 4. Gun Records (Germany)
Zombie, Rob - Past, Present, and Future (with bonus DVD). Geffen Records

The Winners:

Third Place

cover Firewind - Burning Earth. Leviathan Records. Excellent gritty power metal, produced by David Chastain. Lead vocalist Stephen Frederick has a gritty but powerful voice; he's not a screecher, more of a belter. The disc is heavy yet melodic. At times extremely epic - Very enjoyable!

Second Place

cover Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild. Century Media Records. I've been a fan of Sonata Arctica since day one; their harmonies and arrangements have a lushness that other bands have not been able to duplicate. With Winterheart's Guild they up the ante again (althou the artwork looks like screenshots from a DND fantasy computer game). THis is their best effort to date.

2003 Heavy Metal Album of the Year

cover Cage - Darker than Black. Fugitive Records. They say the third time's a charm. They're right! As much as I enjoyed the first two efforts from this San Diego metal band, they pegged it this time around. They have always had a sound that was "classic heavy metal", but they refine it even further on Darker than Black. I would describe their sound as a blend of Iced Earth and vintage Judas Priest, with their own unique spicing. The effective use of occasional death vocals really add another dimension to the album (make no mistake, this is NOT a death metal CD!!!). Fans of classic heavy metal and euro-flavored power metal will really dig this! Congratulations on a phenomenal release!!

AOR/Hard Rock

As easy as it was to pick the top metal discs of the year, I had exactly the opposite problem with the AOR and hard rock category. While there was a core group of contenders at the top of the field, no single effort stood head and shoulders above the rest. I really agonized over the final ordering; in fact the top 5 jumped around so much, if you were to reverse the order of the top 5 I wouldn't object. They were *that* close. All were superb efforts worth of recognition!

The Field:

Autograph - Buzz. Point Music
Circle II Circle - Watching in Silence. AFM Records (Germany)
Crystal Blue - Detour. MTM Records
Danger Danger - Rare Cuts. Low Dice Records
Dare Force - Firepower (1989). Metal Mayhem
Domain - The Sixth Dimension. Humbucker Music (Germany)
Dreamtide - Dreams for the Daring. Frontiers (Italy)
From Zero - My So-Called Life. Arista Records
Hardline - Live at the Gods Festival 2002. Frontiers (Italy)
Harem Scarem - Higher. Frontiers (Italy)
Harem Scarem - The Early Years. Frontiers Records (Italy)
Holland - Little Monsters (1985). Wounded Bird Records
Hughes, Gary - Once and Future King Part I. Frontiers Records (Italy)
Hughes, Gary - Once and Future King Part II. Frontiers Records (Italy)
Ken Tamplin and Friends - Wake the Nations. Now and Then (United Kingdom)
Khymera - Khymera. Frontiers (Italy)
Krokus - Rock the Block. Warner Music (Switzerland)
Lynch Mob - Revolution. Deadline Records
Meat Loaf - Couldn't Have Said it Better. Polydor Records (Germany)
Missa Mercuria - Missa Mercuria. Hellion Records (Brazil)
Nickelback - The Long Road. Roadrunner Records
Nordica - Rebel Heart. Adrenaline Records (Italy)
On the Rise - On the Rise. Frontiers (Italy)
Outland - Different Worlds + 1. Avalon Records (Japan)
Petra - Jekyll and Hyde. Inpop Records
Pink Cream 69 - Electrified + 3 (1998). Moria Records (Brazil)
Pride of Lions - Pride of Lions. Frontiers (Italy)
Pride - Signs of Purity. AOR Heaven/Point Music
Royal Hunt - Eyewitness. Frontiers (Italy)
Rush - The Spirit of Radio + DVD. Mercury/Anthem
Sheela - The Process... LBT Records
Southern Gentlemen - Double Your Pleasure. Leviathan Records
Styx - Cyclorama. CMC International
Talisman - Cats and Dogs. Frontiers Records (Italy)
Taraxacum - Rainmaker. MTM Music
Threshold - Wireless - Acoustic Sessions. NSM Records
Thunder - Shooting at the Sun (Limited Edition). Frontiers Records (Italy)
Toto - Live in Amsterdam. Eagle Records
Tribute - Voltage Overload - A Tribute to AC/DC. Shark Bite Records
Unruly Child - III. Frontiers Records (Italy)
Various Artists - MelodicRock.Com Volume 1. MelodicRock.Com
Victory - Instinct. Steamhammer/SPV
Virginia Wolf - Push (1987). Wounded Bird Records
Virginia Wolf - Virginia Wolf (1986). Wounded Bird Records
Vonray - Vonray. Elektra Records
Wulf Gang - Unleash the Beast. Tbar Elite Publishing
Wycked Synn - The Vision. Chavis Records
Zebra - IV. Frontiers Records (Italy)

Honorable Mentions

Petra - Jekyll and Hyde. Inpop Records. Phenomenal comeback album! Had it been longer than 31 minutes, it would have made the top 5.

Outland - Different Worlds + 1. Avalon Records (Japan). Hey Jeff, ya done good! :) Classic AOR with plenty of hooks. Kinda like Paul Stanley sings Survivor...

The Winners:

Fifth Place

cover Tamplin and Friends - Wake the Nations. Songhaus Music. I've long been a fan of Ken Tamplin's music, from his solo material, to Shout, to Magdallan. I've had the pleasure of seeing him perform live twice. This new album is a star-studded affair with respect to guest musicians, and is an excellent hard rock effort. Trademark "Tamplinesque" vocal harmonies abound (if you're a fan, you'll know what I mean).

Fourth Place

cover Harem Scarem - Higher. Frontiers Records. The boys are back with an excellent melodic rock disc, that while it strays into some modern and somewhat poppy elements ffrom time to time, the choruses are pure vintage HS! This one's a grower...

Third Place

cover On the Rise - On the Rise. Frontiers Records. Norwegian newcomers prove that melodic westcoast AOR is not dead. Comparisons to Nelson (and I hear Tommy Shaw at times) are in order. VERY melodic!

Second Place

cover Vonray - Vonray. Elektra Records. Purists may jump on me about this one, but this is the best slab of "modern hard rock" I've heard to date. Plenty of melody, and some outright monster tunes (I'm Learning). I find myself listening to this over and over.

AOR/Hard Rock CD of 2003!

Gary Hughes - Once and Future King. Frontiers Records. Quite possibly the finest rock opera of the modern age (Jesus Christ Superstar and The Wall are my favorite "classic" rock operas). Gary Hughes has assembled a star-studded cast of performers (Lana Lane, Danny Vaughn, Bob Catley, D.C. Cooper, Doogie White, Irene Jansen, Sabine Edelsbacher, Sean Harris, Harry Hess, and Damian Wilson) and created a beautiful musical saga surrounding the life of King Arthur. Excellent production and good choruses abound. Songs are much more accessible than your average concept album.

Existing comments about Best of 2003

From: Doghouse Reilly Date: February 8, 2014 at 13:10
Black Label Society: The Blessed Hellride; Overkill: Killbox 13; Amon Amarth: Versus The World; Children Of Bodom: Hatecrew Deathroll; Opeth: Damnation; Sevendust: Seasons; The Crown: Possessed 13; Arch Enemy: Anthems Of Rebellion; Fireball Ministry: Second Great Awakening; Cage: Darker Than Black.

Heavy Harmonies Volunteer
From: whiplash1972 Date: January 25, 2017 at 11:06
My top 5 for 2003 was: Y&T - Unearthed Vol. 1, Damn Cheetah - Primal, McQueen St - 2, No More Johnny - Slam!, and Wild Horses - Dead Ahead. Honorable mentions to: The Darkness - Permission to Land, Funny Money - Skin to Skin, Monkeyhead - S/T, Scream Clan - S/T, Seven Ten - Love And War, Skid Row - Thickskin, Snakeryder - D.O.A., XYZ - Letter to God

From: Scandiman Date: February 7, 2018 at 15:53
Here was my top releases of 2003: 7th Heaven - Silver, Gotthard - Human Zoo, Vertical Horizon - Go, Pride of Lions - S/T, Shakra - Rising. Honorable mentions: Radioactive, On the Rise, Urban Tale, Within Temptation, and Harem Scarem.

From: Auslander Date: February 3, 2020 at 4:58
Underrated CD from 2003: Penny Pills by Crash Kelly.

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