Well, the year 2005 is over. Yeah, yeah, it has been a couple of months now, but better late than never! San Chonino and I have been fighting disparate schedules, sketchy internet access, and busy lives to hammer out what we agree is our top ten albums of 2005. So, sit back, grab a cup of your favorite reading beverage, and check out the music that got our motors running this last year.
Top 10 albums of 2005
10. Demons and Wizards: Touched by the Crimson King
BlueDev: This first spot was a tough one. There were three candidates vying for the position, and I narrowly picked Demons and Wizards over Meshuggah's "Catch 33" and Nevermore's "This Godless Endeavor". This is straight forward metal, with lighting fast riffs, over the top lyrics inspired by Stephen King's work, and wailing vocals from Hansi Kursch. However, it also has a nice blend of very fast and slow, expressive ballads, allowing both Jon Schaffer and Hansi to flesh the album out a bit. It has a lot going for it and is a great album.
San Chonino: This is really metallic (is that how I would say it? Maybe . . .) but really good stuff. Once again, I'm not a huge fan of songs that tell silly stories, but the lyrics of this album interested me, being a huge Stephen King fan (and currently wrapping up book six of the Dark Tower series . . . curse that stupid Crimson King!!!). This is good metal, for those intimidated by great prog metal. A nice way to start off the top ten.
9. Ayreon: Actual Fantasy Revisited
BlueDev: This one may seem a bit odd, as it was actually released in 1996. However, the Revisited version surely deserves some recognition, as the drums, bass and guitars were all re-recorded for this release. I love just about everything Arjen Lucassen touches, and this is no exception. While likely my least favorite Ayreon disc, it is still just so powerful and so much better than most of the music out there. And listen to the first chord Arjen hits in "The Abbey of Synn". Priceless.
San Chonino: Also my least favorite Ayreon disc, but the re-release is so superior to the sound of the original in every way. This is great tunes. "Abbey of Synn"? 'Nuff said.
8. dredg: Catch Without Arms
San Chonino: Dredg's latest disc is less progressive in many ways than their first two efforts, but that makes the album all the more accessible. Songs like "Ode to the Sun" and "Planting Seeds" make this disc unreal, and I love to introduce people to the world of Dredg with this album. A strong effort from a great newer band. I have high hopes for whatever it is they do next.
BlueDev: San Chonino introduced me to these guys and I have been enjoying them ever since. I agree that "Catch Without Arms" is their least progressive disc, but it is still fantastic. Even songs that I didn't think I would like at first I love to listen to. This is really a brilliantly crafted disc.
7. Dream Theater: Octavarium
San Chonino: I grew up listening to Dream Theater, thanks to BlueDev. I've always liked their earlier albums, most especially "Awake", but I felt as though "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and "Train of Thought" were lacking in comparison – they didn't feel as full, as rewarding. But that's all behind me now, thanks to "Octavarium". I think this is DT's best disc to date – fully functional as a progressive metal album, but not overly metal, losing the style and musical sense that had defined this band for me growing up. A great effort from a great band.
BlueDev: I have been a Dream Theater fan since the release of their stellar sophomore effort "Images and Words". I followed them through the years and have watched them progress from album to album. While I agree that "SDoIT" and "ToT" are not their strongest albums, I still really love them. But "Octavarium" is a true return to form for the band. I scratch my head in wonder at those who say DT sound like they are running out of ideas. This is the freshest, best sounding album they have released since "Awake", and that is really saying something.
6. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
San Chonino: As many of you know, I'm a Fiona fan. Love her music like nobody's business. And this, I believe is her strongest disc yet. The happy balance between morose lyrics and peppy music is enough to get my toes tapping and my mouth singing along. Simply put, I identify with Fiona's music – and a top-ten list of this year's best albums would be incomplete without a spot for Alternative music's leading lady.
BlueDev: Sadly, I cannot opine here, as I have not yet heard this album. I am simply going to have to defer to my brother's opinion and his musical acumen (which far exceeds my own). If he says it should be #6 on the list, I will trust him.
5. Stream of Passion: Embrace the Storm
San Chonino: This album shows why it's okay to have female vocalists in metal. Too often it comes off feeling campy and clichéd, another Evanescence rip-off. But Evanescence couldn't touch Stream of Passion with a forty-foot pole if they wanted – this is what "chick metal" was meant to be. And the musical skills of Arjen Lucassen are, as always, amazing. More than just another gothic-chick-metal disc, this album fills the ears with musicality, emotion, and grace.
BlueDev: It sends me through the roof when people talk like Evanescence really started the whole female fronted "goth rock" trend. They were derivative followers. Nothing more. And so, any comparisons between Stream of Passion and Evanescence deserve, at best, complete and utter ignoring, and at worst a boot to the head. This album is amazing, with stellar vocals, stunning musicianship, and very tight, focused writing. It will leave you wanting more.
4. Kamelot: The Black Halo
BlueDev: Discovering good, new music is always exciting. I had heard the name of the band mentioned, but until I heard "The Black Halo", Kamelot was nothing more than a name. It didn't take long for that to change. This album is a superb example of just how good power metal can be when it wants to. Progressive thoughts and patterns flow throughout, elevating what could have simply been a melodramatic rock album to the level of rock opera epic. It is hard to find fault with this album, and it easily sits high in the countdown.
San Chonino: One word: wow. I'm not a huge fan of albums with storylines (I will forever maintain that Rush and Ayreon are the only bands that can really tell a cohesive story in song) but this one got me anyway. Its lyrics tell a tale without getting silly, but it's in the music that Kamelot shines. This is great metal – and it's taken me a long time to find great metal bands like this.
3. Porcupine Tree: Deadwing
San Chonino: As I have mentioned on this site before, I am a huge Steven Wilson fan, most especially his work with Porcupine Tree. While Redemption and Opeth claim the top spots this year, I still maintain that "Deadwing" is the most important progressive rock album to be released in 2005. Who else but Steve Wilson can effectively pull off writing in the time signature of seventeen-eight not once but twice on an album and still make it sound decent (and not like over-the-top annoying prog)? This is an amazing album by an amazing band.
BlueDev: This album ties my all up in knots. Porcupine Tree's previous album "In Absentia", is one of my favorite albums. Ever. Period. I couldn't help but feel let down at "Deadwing", but the oddest thing is I couldn't really tell you why! It is just more of my general gestalt. Nevertheless, I recognize what a powerful album it really is, and it has some superb songs. So, I can 100% agree with it being high on the list, but just don't find myself listening to it nearly as much as some of the others found here.
2. Opeth: Ghost Reveries
BlueDev: I couldn't have an annual countdown without Opeth being on it, granted they released an album that year. Heck, there have been some years when Opeth would still have been on my countdown, they are so amazing. "Ghost Reveries" could have claimed the top spot this year, but it had some tough competition. That should tell you just how good the album above it is. "Ghost Reveries" is a great next step on the evolutionary path of Opeth. Some complain they are loosing their death metal edge, others think they are stagnating. I simply feel they are expanding and exploring their own style. "Ghost Reveries" has it all, from disturbingly beautiful acoustic moments, to bone crushing metal riffs. I love this disc.
San Chonino: I have vacillated about where to put this disc ever since BlueDev recommended it for this list. I had tried Opeth before, with the disc "Deliverance" (a bad place to start, it was too metal for me) and I was hesitant to try again. But this album exceeded my expectations in ways I can't describe. If you are in the mood for teeth-rattling metal, Opeth can capture that sense, but many songs are so morose and melancholy that I can't help but love them – especially the tune "Isolation Years". A rock-solid lovely effort.
1. Redemption: The Fullness of Time
BlueDev: This is the progressive metal album I was hungering for all year. Some of the other albums on the list teased me with their potential, but nothing really captured everything I wanted in a progressive metal album. Until Redemption came along and released their second disc. First, it has Ray Alder. I don't think there is any doubt in my mind that he is my favorite vocalist. He is just so versatile and powerful. Second, the music is fabulous. Heavy, melodic, moving, all at the right time. And, well, it has the song Sapphire. This is one of those rare prog epics that gets everything right. It never feels too long, but keeps you interested throughout, while still feeling cohesive, like a single song. Just about everything with this album is perfect, and I have no problem making this my top album of the year.
San Chonino: This album is simply put: amazing. Everything about it is wonderful – it easily earns the top spot. If it were only for the song Sapphire as BlueDev mentioned, it would be more than enough, but the other tunes on the album are stunning as well. This is a well-crafted effort by an amazing group of musicians.
Well, there you have it, our top ten albums from last year. A decent mix of pop, rock and metal. It was tough getting the list finalized, but we both feel this represents our favorites of the year. Check them out!