2003 in retrospect!

Kimmo: If 2002 was a bit of a disappointment for me when it came to music, 2003 certainly wasn't! It started out well with great releases from Ignition, Jim Jidhed and The Rasmus, and those good releases just kept on coming. Many new bands came out of the blue and impressed me greatly, and some veterans came up with good albums. As for the mainstream, the success of The Rasmus, Backyard Babies and locally Kilpi has been really nice to witness...

The Finnish scene is these days quite lively, and I'm proud to be a some kind of a part in it. Bands like Stratovarius, Nightwish, HIM and The Rasmus are major stars, and there's a next generation following in their footsteps: Kilpi, Lullacry, Glitz, Machine Men, Charon and Urban Tale released good albums, and in 2004 you can expect smashing debut albums from Human Temple and House Of Mirrors.

What about 2004 otherwise? Well, I'm hoping for more success for the smaller labels, and good, successful albums from the "veterans"...how about a new, real ROCK album from Bon Jovi? A great new Van Halen album with Sammy? Chart success for Def Leppard? Journey? Heart? Toto?

Martien: All in all, 2003 was a great rock year with lots of excellent releases, especially in the prog metal/prog rock scene. I also went to a lot of amazing live gigs, my favourites were: Porcupine Tree (013, Tilburg) and Yes (Ahoy, Rotterdam). Greatest disappointment of the year: the new Metallica album; what a cr....

Urban: The year of the darkness? Well, not literaly of course... but wow! did they stir the s**t or what? The world needed a good old kick to the nuts and EVERYBODY! had an opinion about that singer in the end. And that's what's rock'n'roll is all about! To shock yer brains out and any publicity is good publicity (unless you're Michael Jackson). They may not have recorded the album of the year (just outside my personal list and ended up as my bonus CD), but at least it's good, fun, entertainment. Who needs another Steve Perry or Rob Halford clone anyway??? The funniest/weirdest vocalist since Dennis Surkamp and Pavlov's Dog.

It was otherwise the year of disappointment for metal (again), as old heroes like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Stratovarius, etc. recorded very substandard, or much worse albums. Deep Purple came up with some wacko bananas and Queensryche pretty much stinks nowadays, and even Dream Theater are miles away from their heydays material (even if the latter ended up on my list).

The biggest suprise of the year was perhaps Styx as I never expected them to record such a fine album in 2003. Nope... it's not the "old" Styx and Dennis DeYoung is long gone. Still, "Cyclorama" is a fine rock album and I was never 'that' much into their 70's stuff after all (I'm a child of the 80's). Lots of Swedes at the top of my album list this year and kudos to Backyard Babies for sticking to their guns. Credit must also go out to all minor/indie labels out there, with their endless struggle against everybody and beyond. My hat off for all the fine melodic hardrock you've been bringing us the last 8-9 years or so.

Hopes for 2004? Well... Judas Priest will have to start writing some good songs and record a real metal album again. Otherwise, I'm afraid the Rob Halford re-union will be another major disappointment.

Endre "Bandi" HŁbner:

At first when putting my best of 2003 list together I thought what a great year it was because there were so many albums to choose from. Then as I was spending more and more time browsing through my record collection, refreshing memories of albums that were released in the beginning of the year or when I was going carefully through all the albums to choose the best songs and other highlights I had to recognize that though the harvest of the year was big, its quality wasnít as great as I first thought.

Taking a look at my final list itís easy to spot signs of the mediocrity of the year in general. Many of the bands that held top positions over the last couple of years donít even exist or donít even record anything anymore (Dreamhunter, Kharma, TíBell, The Sign, The V.U., just to mention a few) and the cult AOR heroes behind some of those bands didnít perform to live up to their reputation; take Al Fritsch and Mark Mangold for example who couldnít even get into the top 20 with the new Drive She Said album, delivering the disappointment of the year. I guess ďthe big old bandsĒ failed in general, Firehouse also ended up quite low. Some ďnewcomersĒ broke through again, however if we take a look at the names behind those bands, itís easy to recognize that those guys have been around, kept watching and waiting for their time to arrive, that was 2003.

In the end the year was saved by Characters [with capital C], musicians/songwriters with extraordinary talent that never(?) fails to shine through their music [well, at least it didnít fail to shine this time]. Paul Gilbertís acoustic album topping my list, two live records in the top 10, and two albums featuring the ever-booming Jeff Scott Soto is of course a praise to these guys but itís also a critic to the competition. Some of the artists in the top 20 have been around for quite some time which is a good thing. Gotthard may be repetitive to some but I just canít help to enjoy their releases year by year, Jim Peterik made it again, this time under the moniker Pride of Lions, the Wilson sisters are as great as ever, Iím really glad to see that the last couple of years saw Jim Jidhed returning gloriously to the business with two great albums in two years, so did Joseph Williams (ex-Toto) with Vertigo. [None of them did really leave for good but they were far from where they are now, I guess those who gave them a new chance - labels, songwriters - are to be thanked]. Speaking of labels in the last couple of years it almost goes without saying that itís Frontiers dominating the top 10. These guys release quality stuff year after year, itís just the big breakthrough that is missing to lift them (or anybody else) from the underground status. Iím afraid itís not likely to happen in this decade either but as long as they are here and donít give up, itís okay for us fans; letís all hope they will keep on doing what they have done so far.

I would like to draw your attention to the second part of my top list and the best of songs list because that is where the really big things are going on. The melodic rock scene is coming to life in Spain, more and more bands go on minor tours there and the local bands are beginning to show their claws. Nexx gained quite a reputation and the best instrumental album of the year title is also taken by a young Spanish man, Jorge Salan who wiped the floor with all the big guys of the business. Taking a look at the song lists there were new names to learn in 2003: Coastland Ride, Ignition, Crystal Blue, On The Rise. The list is clearly dominated by Scandinavian bands proving again what we already know for long, for whatever reason those blistering cold countries are the ideal place to breed the new generations of melodic rockers.

ROCKUNITED.COM Top 25 Albums of 2003:

1. Pride Of Lions: Pride of Lions (Frontiers)
This album made it to the lists of almost all members of the RockUnited Team, and usually scored a top ten position. A strong classic AOR album with excellent songs by Jim Peterik of Survivor fame, and fine vocals from the "young talent of the year", Toby Hitchcock.


2. Ignition: Ignition (Atenzia/MTM)
3. Meyer, Jamie: It's All About Me (Sony/Columbia)
4. Masterplan: Masterplan (AFM)
5. Crystal Blue: Detour (MTM)
6. Dream Theater: Train Of Thought (Elektra)
7. Backyard Babies: Stockholm Syndrome (BMG)
8. Erlandsson, Mikael: The Gift (MTM)
9. 40ft Ringo: Funny Thing (Atenzia)
10. Vertigo: Vertigo (Frontiers)
11. Jidhed, Jim: Full Circle (Atenzia)
12. On The Rise: On The Rise (Frontiers)
13. Evanescence: Fallen (Epic)
14. The Rasmus: Dead Letters (Playground)
15. The Gathering: Souvenirs
16. Gotthard: Human Zoo
17. Lima, Johnny: Made in California (Now & Then/Frontiers)
18. Circle II Circle: Watching In Silence (AFM)
19. Firehouse: Prime Time (Pony Canyon)
20. Catley, Bob: When Empires Burn (Frontiers)
21. Waltham: Permission To Build
22. Stratovarius: Elements Pt. 1 (Nuclear Blast)
23. Nexx: Colours (Now & Then/Frontiers)
24. Dragonforce: Valley Of The Damned (Sanctuary/Noise)
25. Sonata Arctica: Winterheart's Guild (Spinefarm)
The personal album charts of the team!


1. Ignition: 1. (MTM/Atenzia)
This one is pure class from start to finish: great vocals, top notch players, carefully selected songs from great songwriters, top quality production!
2. Meyer, Jamie: It's All About Me (Sony)
Good things do come out of "Idols"-type of shows...runner-up from the Swedish version released an outstanding pop/rock album full of irresitable hooks!
3. Brian McDonald Project: Voyage (Atenzia)
Brian's experimental and ambitious project was a critical success. He moved more towards "pomp rock" and did it with style.
4. Catley, Bob: When Empires Burn (Now & Then/Frontiers)
A change of the producer and the songwriter was a great move, and the result was a magnificent album!
5. The Rasmus: Dead Letters (Playground)
Admittedly my ten points were a bit too much for this album, and I might prefer the more upbeat "Into" these days, but there's no denying that this is an excellent release. The finnish radio stations have done their best to make everyone fed up with the singles though...
6. On The Rise: 1. (Frontiers)
Fine AOR in the vein of much-missed Timotei Twins Nelson!
7. Erlandsson, Mikael: The Gift (MTM)
Mike tried his hand at nu-breed pop rock! Immense crossover potential!
8. Jidhed, Jim: Full Circle (Atenzia)
Alien Resurrection? Something like that...a fine collection of pure AOR songs.
9. Pride Of Lions: 1 (Frontiers)
Young gun Toby Hitchcock united with ex-Survivor/super songsmith Jim Peterik = an album that shook the AOR community.
10. Lima, Johnny: Made In California (Now & Then/Frontiers)
Good ol' Johnny keeps on delivering great melodic rock...now with some Nu-Breed flavours too!

11. Perfect World: 1 (Frontiers)
12. Vertigo: Vertigo (Frontiers)
13. Last Tribe: The Uncrowned (Frontiers)
14. Harem Scarem: Higher (Frontiers)
15. Masterplan: 1. (AFM)
16. Waltham: Permission To Build
17. 40ft Ringo: Funny Thing (Atenzia)
18. Coastline: 1 (Vinny Records)
19. Nexx: Colours (Now & Then/Frontiers)
20. Attraction 65: 1 (Atenzia)
21. Kilpi: SšhkŲnsinistš Sinfoniaa (MTG)
22. Backyard Babies: Stockholm Syndrome (BMG)
23. Crystal Blue: Detour (MTM)
24. Styx: Cyclorama (Sanctuary)
25. Meat Loaf: Couldn't Have Said It Better

Jeff Scott Soto: Live At The Gods

Malloy: 88
Harem Scarem: The Early Years

Martin Stenmarck: The One
This would have been a strong contender for the number one spot, and "Frozen In My Heart" would have been very high on the songs-chart of mine.







1. Backyard Babies - Stockholm Syndrome (BMG)
Simple, raw, sleazy, kick-azz, rock'n'roll, with lots of attitude and fun melodies. Makes BB's the winners of 2003. Simpicity rules and all you need is four chords and a hook. The best sleaze act P.G.E. (post grunge era).
2. Crystal Blue - Detour (MTM)
Back into the future with some marvelous tunes of the 80's. This is the Scandinavian/ Swedish sound, which Dalton, Bad Habit, Europe, etc. did back then and Crystal Blue does now.
3. Charon - The Dying Daylights (Spinefarm)
Marvelous, melodic, Goth-Metal, from Finland with haunting vocals and lyrics that goes straight to the heart. To quote my own review: "Global domination is just a shot away as every teenager needs her daily dose of melancholia, right? What could be easier than selling music with catchy melodies and gothic "depression" to youths on dope?".
4. Jamie Meyer - It's All About Me (Columbia/Sony)
Catchy Power-Pop/Rock/AOR with major influences of Def Lep and Bryan Adams. The latter actually co-wrote two of the songs on this CD. The future of modern rock? Beats me... but this Swede sure knows how the crossover the mellow genres.
5. Mikael Erlandsson - The Gift (MTM)
Another Swede with a superb cross-over release. His best album for sure and it's filled with catchy, pop/rock/AOR.
6. Styx - Cyclorama (Sanctuary)
The biggest suprise of the year as I've never been 'that' much of a Styx fan. They've done a really great 'classic rock' album here and Dennis DeYoung is nowhere to be seen.
7. KISS - Symphony Alive IV (Sanctuary/Metal-Is)
I hate all these lame compilations and other stuff they've done lately. Not to mention the bozo dressed up as Ace Frehley (grow some guts and demand your own outfit/make-up, while ya'?). Symphony is however a marvelous 2-CD set and a trilogy which not even Tolkien, could have done much better.
8. Evanescence - Fallen (Epic)
The Voice! Angelic, strong, and yet so fragile at the same time. With the best 'Hello' ballad, since a certain Lionel in the 80's.
9. Sun Caged - Sun Caged (LionMusic)
The band that play prog-metal, better than Dream Theater? Indeed, this is how prog-metal should be performed and even the old masters of the genre, will have to stop, look, and listen, for a while.
10. Pride Of Lions - Pride Of Lions (Frontiers)
Supreme AOR with Jim Peterik (ex-Survivor) and you can actually compare this with some of Survivor's stuff.

11. Jani Lane - Back Down To One (Z Records)
12. Dragonforce - Valley Of The Damned (Sanctuary/Noise)
13. On The Rise - On The Rise (Frontiers)
14. Newman - Sign Of The Modern Times (Escape)
15. Bob Catley - When Empires Burn (Frontiers)
16. Masterplan - Masterplan (AFM)
17. Vertigo - Vertigo (Frontiers)
18. Helloween - Rabbit Don't Come Easy (Nuclear Blast)
19. Dream Theater - Train Of Thought (Elektra)
20. Ignition - Ignition (Atenzia/MTM)
21. Saga - Marathon (SPV)
22. Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild (Spinefarm)
23. Harem Scarem - Higher (Frontiers)
24. MilesAbove - Further (Escape)
25. Brian McDonald Project - Voyage (Atenzia)

Bonus CD for rainy days: The Darkness - Permission To Land


1. Evanescence: Fallen
2. The Gathering: Souvenirs
3. Epica: The Phantom Agony
4. 40ft Ringo: Funny Thing
5. The Rasmus: Dead Letters
6. Radioactive: Yeah
7. Crystal Blue: Detour
8. Anathema: A Natural Disaster
9. Avalanch: Los Poetas Han Muerto
10. Brokenheart: Ojo x Ojo
11. Jim Jihed: Full Circle
12. Nexx: Colours
13. Ignition: s/t
14. Pride Of Lions: s/t
15. Cuatro Gatos: La Caja De Mķsica
16. Masterplan: s/t
17. Vertigo: s/t
18. Soilwork: Figure Number Five
19. Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
20. Hira: Oztopoak Gaindituz


1. Sonata Arctica: Winterheart's Guild (Spinefarm)
Once again Sonata Arctica did it, without a doubt each of their song is a winner that leaves a print into the heart and soul. Their lyrics make half the song, being as emotional as Nightwish's. There aren't many people who have such a writers gift, both musically and lyrically.
2. Lost Horizon: A Flame To The Ground Beneath (Music For Nations)
Horizon's ideology carries far and the whole package is a masterpiece. "Some minds like diamonds survive" they sing in "Again Will The Fire Burn" and its pure passion for life that often suffocates so many or make you choose the wrong way. This passion brings strength to many and if you're not into lyrics the bands powerful outcome in music will probably do the trick for you.
3. Masterplan: Masterplan (AFM)
Jorn Lande does a lot for me, he's got the classical rockers voice I love. Add Roland Grapow on guitar and the other great musicians playing here and you can't go wrong. Masterplan combines todays powermetal features to eighties metal and still manages to have a sound of their own. "Masterplan" definately belongs to the classic albums category.
4. Kamelot: Epica (Noise)
Follow Ariel's journey to the ultimate truth, the meaning of life, etc. Another band I've listened to almost from the beginning, one reason being I always love a good story. The band ages like wine, you're always waiting for the next album, it will surely be better than the previous one. And as our finnish Idols-judge has kept saying on tv for the past weeks, "you touched me", Kamelot always does that to me and "Epica" has so many elements that it never gets boring. And in my darkest hour "Wander" gave me energy too keep on fighting, after all the grieving was done; "From ashes we were born, in silence we unite". Thank you Kamelot. Music has the healing touch.
5. Tarot: Suffer Our Pleasures (Spinefarm)
Like Tarot puts it "I Rule", yes you do. These fellows from the eighties are back after a few years have passed and for me this is their best album ever, it's as tight as your... erhm... (add your favourite word here----) and I can't help wondering how guys in their age can still make such powerful and catchy music that so many other musicians in their age often fail in doing. Well, not that they're THAT old, but you get my point. This album rocks from beginning to end and the sound is as heavy as it has to be for this kind of music.
6. Within Temptation: Mother Earth (DSFA)
7. Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville)
8. Dream Theater: Train Of Thought (Elektra)
9. Dragonforce: Valley Of The Damned (Noise)
10. Stratovarius: Elements Pt. 1 (Nuclear Blast)
11. Stratovarius: Elements Pt. 2 (Nuclear Blast)
12. Evergrey: Recreation Day (InsideOut Music)
13. Circle II Circle: Watching In Silence (AFM)
14. Dreamtale: Ocean's Heart (Spinefarm)
15. Lullacry: Crucify My Heart (Spinefarm)
16. TOC: Loss Angeles (Spinefarm)
17. Machine Men: Scars & Wounds (Dynamic Arts)
18. For My Pain: Fallen (Spinefarm)
19. Barilari: Barilari (Drakkar)
20. At Vance: The Evil In You (AFM)

Albums that surprised me in 2003:

1. Peaceville's Katatonia. I'm hardly a fan of Peaceville bands, at least not anymore. And seing Katatonia live years ago and never being too impressed with their music, "Viva Emptiness" was a total surprise, it still has a dark atmosphere, but it's got a huge emotional charge in it that gets a grip on you and kind of enchants you from beginning to end.

2. TOC's new facelift compared to their older material.

3. Barilari. I included them on the album list eventhough the vocals by Barilari himself aren't the best part of the album. But the music is very influenced by the great 70'ies-80'ies bands, for instance Rainbow and the mood on the album is quite brilliant. If only the whole package would've been excellent it would've gone to classics.

4. Bands such as Last Tribe, Dreamtide, Insania, Charon, Praying Mantis, Labyrinth, Royal Hunt and Iron Maiden made a small flop in my books which I'm sad of course. They're all great bands, but now some of the albums hardly had anything to get a hold of.

5. Secret Sphere. A great Italian band that can go far with Dream Theater influenced powerful symphonic metal. The weakest link is the vocals here, so we'll see where they're heading, but I'm impressed from the material.

6. Imperanon from Finland, Nightwish/Children Of Bodom-mixture of metal I loved from the first notes. I told you they'll get the deal, so check them out. Congrats guys ! And on the same path is Black Majesty from Australia, having released their debut album already. Another band worth checking out if you're into amazing melodic metal/prog.


1. Paul Gilbert: Gilbert Hotel
2. Gotthard: Human Zoo
3. Jeff Scott Soto: Live At The Gods 2002
4. Pride Of Lions: Pride Of Lions
5. Jamie Meyer: It's All About Me
6. Talisman: Cats & Dogs
7. Ignition: Ignition
8. Vertigo: Vertigo
9. Heart: Alive In Seattle I - II
10. Jidhed, Jim: Full Circle
11. Coastland Ride: Coastland Ride
12. Salan, Jorge: The Utopian Sea of Clouds
13. Crystal Blue: Detour
14. Mikael Erlandsson: The Gift
15. On The Rise: On The Rise
16. Nexx: Colours
17. Wild Horses: Dead Ahead
18. Firehouse: Prime Time
19. Demon Drive: ...Four Play!
20. MilesAbove: Further
21. Jesse Damon: The Hand That Rocks
22. G-Fire: G-Fire
23. Newman: Sign of the Modern Times
24. Faithfull: Light This City
25. Coastline: Coastline


1. Firehouse: Prime Time
2. Shugaazer: Shift
3. Skid Row: Thickskin
4. Waltham: Permission To Build
5. Urban Tale: Sign Of Times
6. 40ft Ringo: Funny Thing
7. Mars Electric: Fame Among The Vulgar
8. Wild Horses: Dead Ahead
9. Mike Tramp: More To Life Than This
10. Ricky Warwick: Tattoos and Alibis
11. Gotthard: Human Zoo
12. Bret Michaels: Songs Of Life
13. ZZ Top: Mescalero
14. Thunder: Shooting At The Sun
15. Anthrax: We've Come For You All
16. Y & T: Unearthed
17. Alice Cooper: The Eyes Of Alice Cooper
18. Ignition: Ignition
19. Per Gessle: Mazarin
20. Scott Sudbury: Get The Picture


1. Michael Monroe: Whatcha Want (SPV)
2. Backyard Babies: Stockholm Syndrome (BMG)
3. Heavy Metal Kids: Hit the Right Button (Heavy Metal Records)
4. Johnny Lima: Made in California (Now & Then/Frontiers)
5. The Darkness: Permission to Land (Atlantic)
6. Negative: War of Love (GBFam)



1. Dream Theater: Train of thought
2. Porcupine Tree: In absentia
3. Neal Morse: Testimony
4. Circle2Circle: Watching in silence
5. Queensryche: Tribe
6. Enchant: Tug of war
7. Soilwork: Figure number five
8. Led Zeppelin: How the West was won
9. Pride Of Lions: Pride of lions
10.The Gathering: Souvenirs
11. Stratovarius: Elements prt 1
12. Adagio: Underworld
13. Narnia: The great fall
14. Masterplan: Masterplan
15. Alice Cooper: The eyes of Alice Cooper
16. Harem Scarem: Higher
17. Racer-X: Gettin' heavier
18. ZZ Top: Mascalero
19. Spock's Beard: Feel euphoria
20. Wolverine: Cold light of Monday
21.Anathema: A natural disaster
22. Sun Caged: Sun caged
23. Chrome Shift: Ripples in time
24. Poverty's No Crime: The chemical chaos
25. Silent Edge: The eyes of the shadow