For the first time in a year that Dream Theater released an album since probably Scenes, a Dream Theater album is NOT my album of the year. Not that I don't love The Astonishing. I do. But it is one of those albums that is really difficult for me to rank. There are songs I adore. There are others I do not. And, as with many concept albums, it is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. But that said, it is so different and so outside the norm even for them that I have a tough time really ranking it. And there were some other really strong contenders this year. So here is my best shot at ranking:
1. Fates Warning - I am late to the Fates party. There have been a few songs here and there throughout their career that I liked, but they have been few and far in between. And I can't say that I really gravitated toward any of their albums as a whole. X was the first exception to that. A good friend made me a copy of that album, and it really drew me in. Darkness in a Different Light, IMO, was a major step up from that. And Theories of Flight is, IMO, far and away the best thing they have ever done. I consider it the album of their careers by a large margin.
2. Neal Morse - The Similitude of a Dream: This album is SO huge and dense. I still have not nearly processed it all in the short time it has been out. So it is quite possible that it will slide down the rankings a bit once the "new car smell" has worn off. But for right now, I am really enjoying it. I am not sure yet whether I agree with Mike Portnoy that it is the "album of his career," or even the best Neal Morse album (it would take a LOT for me to rank it ahead of One, Sola Scriptura, and Testimony), but it is REALLY good.
3. Dream Theater - The Astonishing: What can I say? Yeah, I'm a die hard fan who has liked every album they have released (although not every song). This is no different. It just doesn't rise to my #1 or even #2 spot. Given that it is a concept album, and that it is a LONG one at that, I probably will eventually find that I do not make the time to listen to it every often, and the knowledge that that will happen sooner than perhaps it should for music of this quality kind of makes me sad.
4. Redemption - The Art of Loss: It took me awhile to warm up to this album. Not sure why, but there was just something about it that wasn't clicking. But it is a slow grower that I have learned to appreciate. While not a fan of John Bush in general, his work on their cover of Love Reign O'er Me is one of the sickest things I have ever heard.
5. Epica - The Holographic Principle: Not nearly as strong as their last three releases, but not bad. The bonus disk is REALLY cool. Usually, bonus disks containing mostly acoustic or alternate mixes of songs are just novelties that don't get very many spins after the initial listen or two. But both Fates and Epica are exceptions to the rule in that regard this year.
6. Megadeth - Dystopia: Solid release. I was not expecting much, but this is a fun listen.
7. Flotsam and Jetsam (self titled): Just a fun modern thrash album that is great for a little adrenaline rush now and then. True to form, they sprinkle in bits of social and political commentary, comedy, and nods to their influences throughout.
8. Lacuna Coil - Delirium: I was pretty high on this album when it came out, but it kind of faded for me. There are definitely some cool moments on it. But for whatever reason, it just doesn't hold my interest long-term.
9. Avantasia - Ghostlights: Of the 9 new albums I bought this year, this was the biggest disappointment. Not that it's bad. But it doesn't come anywhere near The Mystery of Time and just doesn't hold my interest.
10. Trivium - Silence in the Snow: I kind of feel bad ranking this album since I didn't even buy it. But who does a top 9 and stops there without going to 10? What I heard of it didn't do it for me. I got into them on the In Waves album cycle when they opened for DT. I really liked In Waves. Vengeance Falls was pretty good as well, although not quite as strong as In Waves. Went back and picked up Shogun. There were some cool moments. But overall, that album didn't do it for me, and I didn't listen to it more than a few times. Silence really reminded me of Shogun. And once I learned that a lot of the material came from the Shogun sessions, it became apparent why, so I never bothered to pick it up.