This year has been one of remarkable depth. While every year features a few select albums I love dearly, not many have a wealth of others I would feel bad about neglecting. Often, by the time I get to the tenth slot on my list, I'm struggling to find choices that I feel passionately about. I'm not sure if that's an indictment of the quality of most releases, or a statement as to my particular taste. So the fact that this year I did not have to struggle to find albums to mention, but had to carefully consider which ones would make the last few slots, is a bit of a strange turn of events. Really good albums from newcomers like Witherscape and Caligula's Horse narrowly missed out on inclusion, and veterans Fates Warning put out their best album ever, again narrowly missing out on making the list. Leaving them out was a tough call, as was not being able to place Avantasia's latest album somewhere on the list. Avantasia is usually a sure winner in my book, so not finding them on the list is the single biggest surprise of the year.
Before we commence, I want to hand out some awards:
Label Of The Year: Inside Out
In what was another strong year for progressive music, no label did a better job of delivering it than Inside Out, who led the way with three albums in my Top Ten, not to mention the very good Fates Warning album that almost made the cut. It was a banner year for the label, and 2014 looks to once again be strong for them, with a new Transatlantic album leading my most anticipated releases list.
Best Album I Shouldn't Have Enjoyed But Did: Carcass – Surgical Steel
I'm not a death metal guy, which I've said more than once. But every so often there is an album of that kind that I can enjoy and appreciate because it transcends the usual standards. Carcass had done that before with their legendary “Heartwork”, and come close to doing it again with “Surgical Steel”. Clearly, this was the best extreme metal album of the year.
Best Newcomer (not made up of well known musicians): One Second Hotel
Here's a little band I caught wind of through a passing recommendation, and I'm glad I did. Their debut EP is available as a free download from their website, and it's definitely worth checking out. They mix modern heavy metal and progressive tinges with striking melody. I'm very hopeful for what a full-length album from them will sound like. If these songs are any indication, they have a world of potential.