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Undiscovered gems: Top 10 off the radar Hard Rock albums of 2013

Halestorm kicks off the 2013 Top Rock albums list
Halestorm kicks off the 2013 Top Rock albums list
Atlantic Records

Every year there are a number of fantastic albums that seem to slip beneath the radar of the average music fan. 2013 has proven to be no different. There have been some amazing rock releases this year from the new Alter Bridge and Five Finger Death Punch to Black Sabbath and Stone Sour to Motorhead and Queens of the Stone Age. What follows will be a list of some of the lesser known but equally, if not more so impressive rock releases of the year.

Each year when putting this list together, rather than go by critical opinion, reader input, or even album sales, I go by which albums I returned to throughout the year and which songs seemed to become terminally implanted in my gray matter.

Let us begin this list with an Honorable Mention, which goes to Pennsylvania's extraordinary quartet, Halestorm. This year, while soaring high on hit single after hit single from their stunning 2012 sophomore release, "The Strange Case of...", the band found time to record its second EP of cover songs. "ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP". Much like the first EP, 2.0 finds the band tuning up fresh renditions of classic songs spanning the 60s to the present. This time around, Lzzy Hale (vocals, guitar) Arejay Hale (drums), Joe Hottinger (guitars) and Josh Smith (bass) tackle the likes of Marilyn Manson, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and AC/DC. There is a decimating cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor", but it is the band's HALEacious take on Daft Punk's summer techno-pop smash, "Get Lucky" that takes this over the top. Much as Halestorm did with Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance", Lzzy and Co. took a current hit for an energized, revamped rock and roll celebration, kicking out a song more powerful than the original.

If not for the fact that it is an EP of cover tracks, this would be on The List proper.

Click the photos above to see the rest of The List.

Eve to Adam - Locked & Loaded
Eve to Adam - Locked & Loaded 3for5/Megaforce

Eve to Adam - Locked & Loaded

10. Eve to Adam - Locked & Loaded: New York's Eve To Adam dropped its fifth studio effort this year. It marks the first time the band has opted to work with outside writers to add a new dimension to their sound. Vocalist Taki Sassaris and guitarist Guarav Bali wrote the crux of all 11 songs, but they brought in some talented friends to help out on a few tracks. Those co-conspirators also helped produce the record. The “Killer B’s”, as the band calls them helped, Eve to Adam dig deeper and push themselves harder than ever. This includes Shinedown bassist, Eric Bass as well as Dave Bassett (Saliva, Halestorm, Sevendust) and Elvis Baskette (Ratt, Trivium, Alter Bridge, Chevelle).

“Locked & Loaded” is one of 2013′s most promising hard rock records. If you have somehow overlooked this New York outfit, now is the top to jump aboard as the group has hit its stride with this album.

Check out our full review of "Locked & Loaded" here.

Check out our interview with Taki Sassaris here.

Saxon - Unplugged and Strung Up
Saxon - Unplugged and Strung Up UDR

Saxon - Unplugged and Strung Up

9. Saxon - Unplugged and Strung Up: NWOBHM legends, Saxon kicked off 2013 with their stunning new studio effort, "Sacrifice" and they closed it out in high style with "Unplugged and Strung Up". While there is no telling how long Saxon will continue its amazing and influential journey, there is no doubting their passion for rock and roll, or their influence on metal. “Unplugged and Strung Up” is a unique celebration of the band’s amazing 35 year history.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered with the help of the legendary Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Accept, Amon Amarth). The record offers some acoustic renderings, new arrangements and orchestral flourishes. All of these new elements bring out nuances to these songs that fans can now fully appreciate.

Saxon are among metal’s pioneering masters and they have been churning out classic records for more than three decades. “Unplugged and Strung Up” is a wonderful and at times inspired gift to fans. They dust off classic jewels and revisit forgotten gems from their stunning catalog of work. This is a must own for any hard rock and metal fan old or new.

Check out our 2013 interview with Saxon's Biff Byford here.

Check out our full review of "Unplugged and Strung Up" here.

Monster Truck - Furiosity
Monster Truck - Furiosity Dine Alone Records

Monster Truck - Furiosity

8. Monster Truck - Furiosity: Monster Truck could easily be another one of those new bands mining old ground without creating anything lasting or memorable. They could be because they tap into vintage rock and roll and also use elements of 90s grunge, and the millennium stoner sludge revival. They could be, but they are not. Monster Truck‘s success rests in its collective ability to craft genuine no frills rock and roll that resonates with fans across the board. “Furiosity“ finds four gifted musicians playing music with heart, from the heart. Let the rock and roll revival begin. Can I get an Amen?

Check out out interview with Monster Truck's Jon Harvey here.

Check out our full album review of "Furiosity" here.

Pop Evil - Onyx
Pop Evil - Onyx E1 Music

Pop Evil - Onyx

7. Pop Evil - Onyx: “Onyx” finds the Michigan boys back in the studio with producer Johnny K, (Disturbed, Sevendust, Megadeth), but this time around the guys already knew what they wanted to do and had earned the stripes to do it. After two years of non-stop touring, refining their style and solidifying their line-up, they poured their swagger and energy into a dozen powerful new songs. Drummer Josh Marunde makes a propulsive debut, and as always, Leigh Kakaty’s vocals are the band’s defining magic. He can go from soaring melodies to his trademark rock-rap with fluid grace. It’s exciting that Pop Evil is taking a heavier and darker approach. This may not be as instantly accessible as its predecessor, “War of Angels“; but “Onyx” is a dynamic beast of a record that outshines many of the band’s contemporaries. It will surely elevate Pop Evil to the next level.

Check out our interview with Leigh Kakaty here.

Check out our full review of "Onyx" here.

Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose
Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose Nuclear Blast

Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose

6. Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose: One listen to “All Hell Breaks Loose” and it’s clear that Phil Lynott would have been proud. The heart of the Thin Lizzy sound breathes through Black Star Riders, but the guys also set their own identity here. Still, the songwriting is infused with the legacy of seminal Thin Lizzy, and that Irish magic is woven through the sonic tapestry of every track. Guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane) has long been an avid fan of Thin Lizzy, so it’s easy to see/hear where his presence compliments original guitarist Scott Gorham’s style. Johnson wrote much of the music for the record with vocalist Ricky Warwick who handled the lyrical duties with flair and substance. Heady stuff for two guys who idolized Thin Lizzy growing up. Gorham and bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) added their input to the songwriting as well, uniting the band behind a common goal.

“All Hell Breaks Loose” is inspired and inspiring, reverent and reckless, bluesy and bombastic. Gorham and company not only keep the spirit and majesty of Thin Lizzy alive, they breathe fresh life into an era of rock and roll that has been on life support for two decades. Black Star Riders are not a shadow of the past but a present day force. Whether you are a fan of the band that birthed Black Star Riders, or your basic die-hard rock and roll junkie, you’d be wise to invest in this record.

Check out our full review of "All Hell Breaks Loose" here.

Pretty Maids - Motherland
Pretty Maids - Motherland Frontiers Records

Pretty Maids - Motherland

5. Pretty Maids - Motherland: Denmark’s Pretty Maids have been making great hard rock and metal for more than three decades. In 2013 they returned and delivered with “Motherland” one of the year’s most impressive, powerful and melodic hard rock albums. They have managed to pull together the best elements of hard rock, symphonic and power metal, and blend it into a real rock and roll statement that reminds us that true heavy music can still be accessible and memorable. Songs like, "Mother of All Lies", "I See Ghosts", "Sad To See You Suffer", and "Why So Serious?" are simply addictive. “Motherland” is an absorbing and dramatic heavy metal album on many levels: Excellent performances, insightful lyrics, and well-crafted and melodic songs all put together in one dynamic 13-track record.

Check out our full review of "Motherland" here.

A Sound of Thunder - Time's Arrow
A Sound of Thunder - Time's Arrow Mad Neptune Records

A Sound of Thunder - Time's Arrow

4. A Sound of Thunder - Time's Arrow: “Time’s Arrow” is easily A Sound of Thunder‘s best and most inspired album to date. They continue to set their own bar higher, and so far they’ve made the growth from one level to the next a seamless journey.  A Sound of Thunder has been one of those under-the-radar gems that only the fortunate few have discovered. “Time’s Arrow” is the perfect time for the uninitiated to jump on the bandwagon as it is a shining example of what hard rock and metal should aspire to in this era of often uninspired sonic drivel. As powerful and impressive as it is on first listen, this album bears repeated listening to truly grasp the grandeur and depth of the record.

Check out our full review of "Time's Arrow" here, as well as their 2013 "Queen of Hell" EP here.

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes
Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes Merovee Records

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes

3. Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes: Keifer’s debut solo album has been a good decade in the making, and there were times when the Cinderella frontman had reasons to doubt it would ever come to fruition. Fans wondered too. But as the album title says, that is just “The Way Life Goes”—There are ups and downs along the journey, and Keifer has weathered many of them. That balance of dark and light shines on this record with is eclectic, poised, bluesy and beautiful. Keifer worked closely with his wife Savannah while crafting the album’s intriguing mix of 14 tunes. Songs like “Solid Ground”, “The Flower Song” and “A Different Light” are so completely infectious, they alone are worth buying this record.

“The Way Life Goes” is distinctly personal album, and an emotive vibe resonates throughout the album. And why not, Keifer had a decade to sculpt and craft the songs that would make up his highly anticipated solo debut. Keifer’s voice sounds incredible, and his guitar playing shines throughout. It was a long time coming but the final result was certainly worth the wait.

Listen to our interview with Tom Keifer here.

Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche
Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche Century Media

Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche

2. Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche: The last time Queensrÿche released a self-titled effort was 30 years ago, when they unleashed their dynamic four-song EP. From the opening riff of “Queen of the Reich” metal fans around the world were hooked, and their love for the band cemented.  The current line-up is revitalized and more excited than they’ve been in years. That enthusiasm shines through on this record, which clearly marks a rebirth for Queensrÿche. That is why the band chose to self-title this effort. All that is old is new again. Wilton says the band is “firing on all cylinders;” a statement proven out over the 11 tracks represented on this record. As impressive as “Queensrÿche” was upon first listen, it was not until repeated listens later that I realized how substantial and monumental it truly is. There is real depth here, and the subtleties resonate more loudly with each listen. This is not merely an album that recalls the majesty of Queensrÿche’s seminal and iconic works, it stands head and shoulders with its legendary brethren: A top 5 effort. For some the frequency may be unknown, but this Queensrÿche is all dialed in: The real Rÿche hath returned.

Listen to out interview with Michael 'Whip' Wilton here.

Read the full album review here.

The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs
The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs Loud and Proud

The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs

1. The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs: One never knows what the universe has in store. Every subtle change can become a major shift that results in disaster or brilliance. Such is the case with The Winery Dogs. Legendary drummer Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, Dream Theater, Flying Colors) has long wanted to be part of a power trio, and it was with that in mind that he began working with iconic bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Talas, Niacin, David Lee Roth), and the oft underrated but insanely gifted, Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big).

The trio have combined to make a stunning debut effort, and arguably the year's #1 rock record. The first single, "Elevate" will do just that with its perfectly addictive hooks and savvy performances.

“Supergroup” is an idiom that seldom lives up to its weighty and lofty ideal however The Winery Dogs are a clear exception to that rule. Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy have delivered on every level with their stunning debut, and fans can only hope this is not a one-off project that slips into the nether.

You can check out recent interviews with Billy and Mike as they discuss The Winery Dogs.

Read our full album review here.