Symphonic metal band Damnation Angels released their second album The Valiant Fire back in March, and showed that small-time bands can produce albums that sound as good as their major-label counterparts. Masterminded by guitarist and songwriter Will Graney, the album is a sprawling opus of orchestral metal with lush orchestral arrangements and stellar vocals from PelleK. The album was a long time coming, and seemed to fall under the radar slightly after it's release, but the band are slowly gaining a following via word of mouth in the community. There is a lot to take in when listening to The Valiant Fire, and it takes quite a few sittings to fully appreciate all the effort that has gone into making it. PelleK's departure after the album's release scuppered any plans to promote the album live, but the band now have a new line-up in place and are going out on tour with Threshold in the new year. I look forward to seeing them on stage soon!
From a small fledgling band to a legendary genre-pioneering artist! Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour returned this year with this fourth solo album Rattle That Lock - his first since 2006's On an Island. The emotional progressive epics from Gilmour's past are replaced here with a more laid back vibe, focusing on strong songwriting rather than technical performance. Washings of keyboards and plenty of bursts of that trademark Gilmour guitar sound fill the album, making it unmistakable who you are listening to. It is a slow-burning album, so anyone who is expecting an up-tempo rock album will be disappointed, but this is clearly where Gilmour is most comfortable these days. This is not going to rival his 1970s output, but the songwriting here is very strong, and Gilmour's voice has held out very well.
Moving on to another legend now, and we reach the Eagles' Don Henley, who's fifth solo album Cass County was released back in September. Moving away from the polished West Coast sound the Eagles helped the pioneer in the 1970s, this album sees Henley returning to his country music roots with a delicate album that will not shake the world, but is very enjoyable to listen to. The album is mostly acoustic based, although Eagles sideman Steuart Smith managed to throw in a few bursts of tasteful lead guitar here and there as appropriate. Henley's knack for strong lyrics is as apparent here as it ever has been, writing another batch of observational portrayals on human life and society - something he does so well. He is joined on various songs by guests including Mick Jagger and Dolly Parton, which helps to add some extra class to the proceedings.
Back to metal now and we have German power metal rising stars Orden Ogan with their fifth album Ravenhead. Orden Ogan are often compared to fellow Germans Blind Guardian, but I feel that Orden Ogan are a much more accessible band, with less epic compositions and more overt melodies. This is a strong release that displays that Sebastian Levermann knows how to write and sing a great metal anthem. Anthems are what many of the songs here are, with big pompous choruses with walls of backing vocals and a great keyboard halo to add extra melody. While there have been better power metal albums released this year, Ravenhead is a solid addition to the genre, and shows that power metal does not always have to be ridiculously upbeat.
My final mini-review is breaking the rules slightly. I usually do not review albums that do not contain wholly (or at least mostly, some great albums contain covers!) original material. This is why I did not review Whitesnake's The Purple Album back in May, but I feel I cannot ignore this release from one of my favourite bands. David Coverdale's decision to record new versions of some of the old Mk. III and Mk. IV era Deep Purple songs he co-wrote was controversial but, while I do not think he has won everyone over, I really enjoyed the album and new takes on those classic songs. The current Whitesnake line-up is so good, that they have brought these songs into the modern age with class and taste. New guitarist Joel Hoekstra makes his presence felt with some fluid solos, and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge uses his double bass drums to give the songs a more metal edge than previously. This album will not be for everyone, but I love it!
I also like to pick out a live release that has impressed me a lot over the course of the year, and this time I think I will go for Uriah Heep's latest DVD Live at Koko. This DVD catches the current line-up of the veteran rock band at the height of their powers, storming through a setlist that contains plenty of classic material and a good helping of newer songs also. The band are heavier now than they have ever been, as Russell Gilbrook's powerful drums drive the band to rockier places than they have ever reached before. Uriah Heep deserve to get mentioned in the same breath as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin; but unfortunately always seem to be a little underrated. This DVD would be a good starting point for new fans, as the performance is excellent and the sound is very clear while still sounding live and spontaneous.
That completes my run down of 2015 bonus reviews, and tomorrow I shall post my Top 10 Albums of the Year, plus my Top 3 Gigs. I shall just round this off by saying a few albums that I am already looking forward to that are coming out during the early part of 2016. I already have Megadeth's Dystopia and Dream Theater's upcoming double concept album The Astonishing pre-ordered, plus am excited to hear the new epic from Italian symphonic metal masters Rhapsody of Fire. 2016 is already shaping up to be another great year for rock and metal, and I hope you will join me for the ride! Thanks for reading and sharing throughout 2015!