Anathema are a band that are growing on me all the time, and their tenth studio album Distant Satellites has only really hit me recently. Despite it being released in June, I initially did not think much to this album, but over the past couple of months I have been listening to a lot - especially with headphones on my travels. These listens have made me realise what an excellent piece of work this is, and it follows on nicely from 2012's beautiful Weather Systems. The first half of the album is very similar to it's predecessor with simple yet emotionally powerful songs that build around repeating musical patterns; but the second half starts to experiment more with some electronic sounds that work well within the band's established sound. All three parts of The Lost Song are stunning, but the shimmering title track takes the main plaudits here as the Cavanagh brothers work their magic.
Moving away from prog towards AOR and we find Finland's Brother Firetribe with their third album Diamond in the Firepit. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen is better known for his work with symphonic metal giants Nightwish, but during their downtime he harks back to the 1980s melodic rock heyday with Leverage singer Pekka Heino. Diamond in the Firepit is not as immediate as the band's other albums, but repeated listens reveal what a well-crafted piece of work it is. Sound wise though, it is very similar. Keyboard-led pomp rock numbers are mixed well with soaring ballads, and all the appropriate clichés are ticked off the list as the album progresses. Highlights include the hard rocking single For Better or for Worse and the semi-ballad Tired of Dreaming that has a monster chorus!
Eluveitie are one of the biggest bands out there in the world of folk metal and their sixth album Origins was well received in the community. This is an album I enjoy a lot, but rarely listen to as it is the sort of thing I have to really be in the mood for. When it comes to pure folk metal, no-one really does it better than Eluveitie, and their mixture of metal instruments with bona fide folk - how many other metal albums have bagpipes, hurdy gurdys, whistles, and fiddles? Not many! Frontman Chrigel Glanzmann's roar is as strong as ever, and his band of fellow Swiss musicians all come together to create something epic. However, the fact that the album's sound is so close to 2012's Helvetios; even down to actor Alexander Morton's voice overs; means the Origins fails to really create it's own identity. That said however, this is still a great slab of folk metal that sounds amazing and fully realised.
One of the biggest musical events of the year was the release of the new Pink Floyd album, their first since 1994's The Division Bell and something that very few people would have realistically expected to happen. The Endless River is a mostly instrumental work that features music written by the band for the sessions of The Division Bell and since, and showcases lots of work by the late keyboardist Richard Wright. This is not an album that I can see myself returning to very often, as instrumental albums are not my favourite things to listen to, but all the hallmarks of the classic Pink Floyd sound are here in spades. Fans of David Gilmour's trademark guitar playing will find lots to enjoy here, and the final song Louder than Words (the only song with lyrics - written by Polly Samson) is worth the price of admission alone. If Pink Floyd's career was a film, this would be the music playing over the credits.
Finally, we have American melodic death metal band Starkill with their second album Virus of the Mind. This is a big improved on their debut album Fires of Life, as it is much more focused and melodic. Their tour with Amorphis has rubbed off on them too, as the clean vocal sections added to some of the songs here really have an Amorphis vibe to them. Parker Jameson is the star of the show here and his versatile vocal performance is only eclipsed by his fantastic lead guitar playing. This is an album that is full of huge promise from a band that could be massive. They have been busy too, with plenty of support slots - including the big US tour from Kreator and Arch Enemy, which shows the band has the ability to step up into the big leagues!
And now, as I did last year, I shall talk about my favourite live release of the year. There have been so many good ones, but I think this award has to go to Toto's Live in Poland Blu Ray/DVD/CD that was released to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. The setlist takes in the best moments from throughout their long and successful career, and showcases why they brought frontman Joseph Williams back into the band as his performance here is awe-inspiring. It is great seeing Steve Porcaro back behind the keyboards too, and this is a great way to say farewell to long-time drummer Simon Phillips who sadly left the band earlier this year. This DVD shows why they are one of the greatest AOR/melodic rock bands around, and I really hope to get the see them when they come over the UK next May!
There is also talk of Toto releasing their first studio album since 2006 next year, and if that is the case then it is sure to be excellent! There are lots of albums that I am looking forward to hearing next year, with many of my favourites putting out discs. Nightwish are back with the strangely titled Endless Forms Most Beautiful in March, and Karnataka release their long-awaited fifth album Secrets of Angels in February - which something I have been waiting patiently for since the band embarked on those two fantastic tours in 2012. Other albums I already have pre-ordered include Sylosis' fourth album Dormant Heart and Blind Guardian's new opus Beyond the Red Mirror, all of which promise to be excellent! If 2015 is half as good for new music as 2014, then we are sure to still be spoilt for choice! I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and please come back tomorrow to find what which albums made my Top 10!