Now that the holidays and another year are behind us, it's time to take a quick look back. We listened to so much music and attended so many shows, that it makes no sense to do a "year in review" article or something. Instead, we'll just post a few year-end lists for your reading (and hopefully listening) enjoyment. We've made it a point throughout our existence, and especially this past year, that it is indeed OK to like both hard rock and metal. In other words, there's nothing wrong in liking THREE DAYS GRACE and BEHEMOTH, BUCKCHERRY and MACHINE HEAD, and so on.

In 2012, Live Metal once again attended and provided coverage of big hard rock shows like Rock on the Range, the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, the first Rock Allegiance Festival and more. So with that said, let's first take a look at the Top Hard Rock Albums of 2012.

Go to Playlist on Live Metal YouTube

1. HALESTORM – ‘The Strange Case of …’
Halestorm’s self-titled debut, released in 2009, was an impressive effort, introducing a band that, at the time, I said had all the goods to become one of the biggest rock acts in the world. Their sophomore effort, The Strange Case of …, puts that first record to shame. The band pushes its boundaries on both ends, with heavy rockers “Love Bites (So Do I),” “Mz. Hyde,” “Freak Like Me” and “Daughters of Darkness” sitting alongside soft, sensitive selections such as “In Your Room” and “Break In.” With this newfound dynamism, the album takes the listener on a real journey and realizes the potential I saw in this band years ago. Standout tracks: "Love Bites (So Do I)," "I Miss the Misery," "Daughters of Darkness"
2. CHERRI BOMB – ‘This is the End of Control’
I never would have thought a band made up of four teenage girls would make an album that placed so high on my list. This is the End of Control is packed with big riffs, bigger drums and indelible melodies, the band’s youthful energy and enthusiasm bursting from each song. This is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. Standout tracks: "Shake the Ground," "Sacrificial Lamb," "Drawing a Blank"
3. DEAD SARA – ‘Dead Sara’
My vote for the best song of 2012 goes to Dead Sara’s blistering “Weatherman,” a blast of pure rock passion and fire. But this is no one-hit wonder. Frontwoman Emily Armstrong and guitarist Siouxsie Medley are one of the best, most dynamic one-two punches to emerge in a long time. Standout tracks: "Weatherman," "I Said You Were Lucky," "Lemon Scent"
4. KISS – ‘Monster’
The most unexpectedly great album of the year came from KISS. Band members claimed their 2009 release, Sonic Boom, their first with the lineup including guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, was a return to the band’s hard-rocking, no-frills ‘70s roots. It took two tries to get it right, though. Monster is the best KISS album in 30 years. Standout tracks: "Wall of Sound," "Freak," "Outta This World"
5. MARILYN MANSON – ‘Born Villain’
While not a return to the glory days of Antichrist Superstar-Mechanical Animals-Holy Wood, Born Villain offers a lean and mean Manson sound (especially compared to 2009’s forgettable The High End of Low). Songs such as “Hey, Cruel World” and “Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day” display an edge and aggression we haven’t heard from him in years. Manson sounds energized and truly interested in what he’s saying for the first time in nearly a decade. Standout tracks: "Hey, Cruel World," "Children of Cain," "Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day"
6. STONE SOUR – ‘House of Gold & Bones – Part 1’
Concept albums usually provide a platform for a band to become self-indulgent and pretentious. It was exactly the opposite for Stone Sour. Expanding its ambition helped focus the band’s sound, resulting in its heaviest and most satisfying release since its debut. Standout tracks: "Gone Sovereign," "Absolute Zero," "RU486"
7. LACUNA COIL – ‘Dark Adrenaline’
Lacuna Coil beefs up its sound from the more pop-oriented Shallow Life (2009) without losing any of its melodic sensibilities. Singer Cristina Scabbia remains the star, but this is a full band that’s bigger than any individual. A cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion” is disappointing only because the Lacuna Coil originals are so strong. This is easily the band’s best since Comalies (2002). Standout tracks: "Give Me Something More," "Upsidedown," Intoxicated"
8. CALL ME NO ONE – ‘Last Parade’
When Sevendust finally took some time off in early 2012, drummer Morgan Rose and guitarist Clint Morgan took advantage of it by launching a long-discussed side project that allows them to show off more of their influences (Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails) than their day jobs allow. Rose lays down the steady rhythms for which he’s known, while Lowery, who handles the lead vocals, shows he’s one of the best-kept secrets in hard rock and metal. Standout tracks: "The World is Dead," "Hillbilly," "Biggest Fan"
9. SHINEDOWN – ‘Amaryllis’
On the follow-up to its mega-hit album The Sound of Madness, Shinedown embraces its arena-rock status, giving us a disc full of fist-pumping, sing-along anthems custom-made for big houses and even bigger crowds. Songs like “Bully,” “Enemies,” “Adrenaline” and “Unity” are destined to be concert staples for a long time to come. Amaryllis further cements Shinedown’s status as one of the leading commercial rock bands in the world. Standout tracks: "Adrenaline," "Enemies," "Nowhere Kids"
We have to give it up for our Maryland brothers. On its sophomore effort, the Baltimore-based band delivered another solid set of working-class, blues-based hard rock—a little darker and heavier than the debut but still full of that great rock ‘n’ roll swagger. Standout tracks: "Spite," "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Devil is a Woman"


See also THE TOP 10 METAL ALBUMS OF 2012