The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#26-#40)

2009 was another great year for new Hard Rock and Heavy Metal albums and I was lucky to have heard a great many of them. There were hundreds of new albums released by hundreds of bands over a wide range of Metal genres, it was very hard to keep up especially when I’m spending my hard-earned cash! Unfortunately, I can’t buy every new album so there are more than a few that I have missed. I am still very lucky to have many labels, PR firms, and bands sending in their CDs for review, to all of them I would like to extend a very grateful THANK YOU! Without these promotions I would have never heard some great releases and discovered some new bands. I have totalled up the CDs and there were 125 albums up for this year’s honors!

The only criteria I followed for my Top 40 was that the album had to be a studio album, not a live record, best of, or covers collection AND the album had to be released in 2009. In the beginning of the year I decided that an album that was released in 2008, but was released in 2009 for the U.S., qualified as a 2009 album…..basically I went by the date on the back of the CD! There are plenty of albums that got late U.S. releases and there may be a few in this countdown. 

The ranking of the Top 40 is based solely on my enjoyment of the album and not some scientific formula. Bottom Line: I had to like it! There were so many releases this year that I more than doubled the list this year so I will be splitting it into three posts. Be sure to check out the links to the album reviews. So here it is, my Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#26 – #40):


Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (2009): I have been waiting five years for a new TSO album and they announced the release of NIGHT CASTLE back in December 2008! Nothing like waiting a full year but the wait was worth it. A double album full of TSO expert Rock orchestra with enough guest vocalists (Jeff Scott Soto sings) to make it interesting. I prefer TSO’s holiday albums but NIGHT CASTLE fits in great.


Immortal – All Shall Fall (2009): I’ve always read a ton of great reviews and articles about Immortal but Black Metal has never really been my genre of choice. I picked up ALL SHALL FALL to try the band out and I ended up really getting into it! What impressed me most was that it wasn’t stereotypical Black Metal but there were melodic layers to the overall sound using orchestration and some great guitarwork. I’ve started to backtrack and explore the rest of the Immortal back catalog as a result.


Grave Digger – Ballads Of A Hangman (2009): Old school Power Metal at it’s best, Grave Digger has been doing it longer than most and they always seem to put out a solid album. I got this early in the year and it turned out to be a standout album for most of the year…..being a Grave Digger fan for a long time, I enjoyed it. Unfortunately there were better Power Metal albums that came out this year and I kept moving this one lower, a result of good competition.


Nashville Pussy – From Hell To Texas (2009): Nashville Pussy is one of those bands I started to follow with their debut album and forgot about, subsequently missing out on a few records. I love this Southern-fried, hard drinking, sex crazed Hard Rock, it’s a cross between Motorhead, Ted Nugent and AC/DC mixed with Black Oak Arkansas & Lynyrd Skynyrd. I didn’t really expect much from this album and it turned out to be a great one, especially for the car! ‘Drunk Driving Man’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.


Great White – Rising (2009): Despite my living in Rhode Island and the whole Station Nightclub Fire, Great White is still one of my favorite bands. In 2007 they released one of the biggest surprises with BACK TO THE RHYTHM so I expected another Hard Rock classic. RISING is acoustic based and slower than it’s predecessor but it’s still a solid record that reminded me of the acoustic SAIL AWAY (1994). This album grew on me over the course of 2009 but I’m still a little disappointed that it didn’t have more of the Blues Hard Rock the band is known for.


Tragik – Outlaw (2009): Good to have a local Rhode Island band in this year’s countdown! Led by local AOR/Melodic Rock artist Phil Vincent, Tragik’s second album was a solid Hard Rock record with plenty of guitar and a great overall tone. Tragik follows the footsteps of ’80s AOR/Melodic Hard Rock bands like Journey, Bon Jovi and Night Ranger but there was a more modern sound. Good solid melodies and plenty of hooks to go along with the great guitar sound made this an album I enjoyed all year.


Alestorm – Black Sails At Midnight (2009): I know a lot of people don’t get into the whole Pirate Metal concept but I’m definitely a sucker for a good gimmick and I really got into Alestorm this year. This album has some good songs but the one thing that pushed this album above a lot of others was that it was fun. I bought into all the whole concept and imagery of and the Pirate Power Metal is definitely different…..I really like all those traditional pirate styled instruments mixed in. Added bonus was the DVD from Wacken 2008 included inthe limited edition.


Behemoth – Evangelion (2009): Kind of like Immortal, I knew nothing about Behemoth except for what I had read online. After I saw the ‘Ov Fire And The Void’ video, I had the obsession with checking out the band. Just like Immortal, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed EVANGELION because Black Metal isn’t usually my thing but what struck me was just how brutal the music sounds. The guitars, bass and drums are just so fast and heavy that you have to take notice. EVANGELION helped me start to open my Black Metal horizons and I went from trying to understand Behemoth to enjoying Behemoth.


Edguy – Tinnitus Sanctis (2009): This latest album from Edguy was originally released in late 2008 but it didn’t receive a proper U.S. release until January from Nuclear Blast so I’m going with what the back of the CD says and it’s a 2009 album. I’ve been an Edguy fan since basically the beginning so their Power Metal style is what i like best but the band has gone for more of a Hard Rock style here. I had a hard time getting into this album at first because I kept comparing it to the old Edguy sound, once I got past that I started to enjoy the album a lot more. Turns out I played TINNITUS SANCTUS more as the year progressed and I kept coming back to it.


Saga – The Human Condition (2009): Saga has been churning out melodic Progressive Rock for 38 years and I have been keeping up with the band on and off since 1982. One of the things that helped define the overall Saga sound through the years was the superb vocals from founding member Michael Sadler…..but he left the band in 2007 after a 36 year tenure. Enter ex-Final Frontier vocalist Rob Morrati and he puts on a performance that makes you forget that Sadler just vacated the mic. This was one of the greatest comebacks of the year!


Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009): When Dream Theater releases an album I always know that it’s going to be a good one, then band just releases good albums every single time. Six songs spanning 75+ minutes and that’s just Disc 1! I always have to listen closely to Dream theater records because there are so many layers of sound and this one was no exception, what really stood out was that there was a song that clocked in just under 6 minutes (‘Wither’)! Add the 2 bonus discs and this turned out to be a great package to listen to.


Queensryche – American Soldier (2009): My review is long and it may not reflect the fact that I really enjoyed AMERICAN SOLDIER, the first Queensryche album I’ve enjoyed since 1997. The first thing I needed to do was accept the fact that old ’80s Queensryche is gone and that the band has gone into more Progressive and Epic musical directions. The overall sound is full and layered but it’s the subject matter that really made the album, what is more relevant in today’s society than how soldiers cope with war? Some of the record was repetitive lyrically but the album just flowed every time I listened to it. I bought this when it first came out and I waited until late October to finally unwrap it, I think I would appreciate it more if I had listened to it all along. ‘At 30,00 Ft.’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.


Megadeth – Endgame (2009): Like I said in my review, I haven’t fully recovered from 1999’s RISK debacle. UNITED ABOMINATIONS (2007) started me back on the Megadeth bandwagon and ENDGAME follows closely to cement the band back into my good graces. ENDGAME isn’t a pure Thrash record but it’s heavy, I think it’s more traditional Heavy Metal with some Thrash moments. It’s clear that Dave Mustaine and company have a solid direction and a desire to re-conquer the Metal world.


Hammerfall – No Sacrifice, No Victory (2009): If it wasn’t for me discovering Hammerfall in 1997 then I wouldn’t be the big Power Metal fan I am today. They basically single-handedly revived the Power Metal scene with it’s traditional style and soaring vocals. The problem with the last few albums is that they all just sounded the same and Hammerfall started to become a footnote in the now overly crowded Power Metal world. This album reminds me of the first three Hammerfall albums and it’s the first one since 2000 that I’ve really enjoyed. I had this ranked higher but, as 2009 progressed, there were better albums in the same genre. That said, this is still a solid album full of great powerful songs and Joacim Cans sound better than ever but I’m still not sure what the band was thinking with a cover of The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’!


Stratovarius – Polaris (2009): Remember what I said about better Power Metal albums? POLARIS is one of the big reasons why both Grave Digger and Hammerfall fell a little in this year’s best of list. I really didn’t expect much from Startovarius…..I had actually forgotten all about the band because it has been four years since the bands last album. Add a lot of new members, especially replacing guitarist Timo Tolkki, and this was a recipe for disaster. I got this album when it came out and left it in the pile, I just started listening to it a couple months ago and I missed out on some serious music. Had I started listening to this record when I got it, I probably would rank it higher because it hasn’t left my daily playlist. Another great comeback this year!


Please check out The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#1-#10) and The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#11-#25) for the rest of this year’s countdown.

Saga – The Human Condition (2009)

Saga - The Human Condition (2009)

Saga – The Human Condition (2009, SPV/Inside Out)

  1. The Human Condition
  2. Step Inside
  3. Hands Of Time
  4. Avalon
  5. A Number With A Name
  6. Now Is Now
  7. Let It Go
  8. Crown Of Thorns
  9. You Look Good To Me

Band Lineup:
Rob Moratti – Vocals
Jim Crichton – Bass
Ian Crichton – Guitars
Jim Gilmour – Keyboards & Vocals
Brian Doerner – Drums

Produced by: Saga

Country: Canada

Total Time = 47:16

Saga MySpace page
Inside Out

Canadian prog-rockers Saga have been churning out their special blend of AOR/Melodic Rock infused Progressive Rock for over 38 years. In January 2007 the band was dealt a major blow when founding member/lead singer Michael Sadler announced that he would leave Saga at the end of 2007 so he could explore other interests and focus on family. Sadler was one of the founding members since 1971 and replacing him would not be an easy task so, after Saga’s 36th anniversary tour (also Sadler’s farewell tour), the band got down to searching for a new lead singer. Enter ex-Final Frontier frontman Rob Morrati, who joined the band in 2008.

THE HUMAN CONDITION is pretty much the kind of record you would expect to hear from a veteran band: top quality musicianship, intelligent songwriting and excellent vocals. The music is still based solely around the guitars and keyboards that together give Saga that balance between AOR and Prog Rock. The bass and drums are just as solid as they always are…..the only question mark being the switch from the identifiable Sadler to Moratti. The answer is that Moratti has done a superb job in filling Sadler’s shoes and he fits right in. The vocals do sound different but Moratti still provides plenty of range and power when needed but his strength is his sense of melody.

The opening title track is pure Prog Rock instrumental with only one repeated vocal line from Moratti, both guitarist Ian Crichton and keyboardist Jim Gilmour weaving their instruments through each other’s sound to offer a spectacular wall of sound. ‘Step Inside’ is a lot heavier and almost into the Progressive Metal category following today’s contemporaries Dream Theater, Tiles or Shadow Gallery. While the song is heavier with more prominent guitars and drums, the song is still very melodic. Moratti provides a real classic vocal and the piano doesn’t overpower the rest of the band, it compliments it. The pace slows to a spacey kind of ballad on ‘Hands Of Time’ that sounds like something straight out of the Ayreon catalog with it’s swirling keyboards and mellow guitar. It’s definitely a change of pace but it fits weel in the context of the entire album. Things pick up again quickly with the more uptempo and majestic ‘Avalon’ and it’s about this time that the band has shown all it’s cards from pure Prog to Metal to Space Rock and now Melodic Rock. It’s a very diverse sound and there is really no way to know what to expect as there can be elements of all styles in a song. ‘Avalon’ starts more Melodic Rock but by the time the solos kick in both the guitars and keyboards take on a more Prog texture.

More pure Prog comes wrapped in the quirky ‘A Number With A Name’ that is complete with power guitar and complex keyboards setting the tone and the vocal harmonies building the sound. The arrangement goes from this quirky melodic pop vibe to straight prog with all kinds of little guitar and keyboard parts sprinkled throughout…..a very interesting and complex tune. ‘Now Is Now’ sounds almost like danceable Pop music with an ’80s appeal. This one isn’t one of my favorites on the album mainly because it’s so dated and predictable, it sounds like any band from the early ’80s with a keyboard and a good singer. The only redeeming quality is the mid-song solo. “Let It Go’ get things back on track with a more classic Saga sound complete with heavier guitars and a more focused direction. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ dives back into the Prog Metal area with some really crunchy riffs from Ian Crichton and double bass pedalling from former Helix drummer Brian Doerner. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ reminds me of early Saga where the band easily blended their Prog with a specific heaviness… of my favorites off the record. Last song ‘You Look Good To Me’ is very interesting…’s explicitly ’80s Pop Rock oriented and is a possible twin track of ‘Now Is Now’ but there is something about it that has caught me. The chorus is definitely catchy and the beat is infectious but there are a couple of quirky breaks in the middle that detract from the song. The only way I can describe it is to take classic Saga and mix it with ’80s New Wave…’s good but not great, Saga but not classic prog Saga.

Bottom Line:
There were a lot of questions going into THE HUMAN CONDITION but Saga has answered the critics and fans with a solid new album that explores different styles rather than the usual Prog Rock stylings everyone is used to. I think this is the album Saga had to make to separate themselves from the Michael Sadler exit and move forward with Rob Morrati. Really nothing has changed as the band itself has remained the same, the question mark was at the mic and Moratti has shown that he is more than up to the task. His performance over the course of the album is superb and he shows definite flexibility in his voice. He sounds smooth and effortless and that is kind of the way I view THE HUMAN CONDITION, maybe a little experimental also. There are a couple of songs that are more Pop oriented and seem a little out of place but when you listen to the entire album they actually flow well. Personally, I would prefer more contemporary Prog Rock/Metal than the Pop stuff. Overall I would call this a solid comeback for a band that has never gone away!

Favorite Songs:
‘ The Human Condition’, ‘Step Inside’, ‘Hands Of Time’, ‘Avalon’, ‘Crown Of Thorns’