Side projects are always a bit hit-or-miss, especially when people start throwing the dreaded 'supergroup' tag around, but it's incredible how much side project gold we've seen so far this year.
As it stands, four of my top five albums so far this year** could be labelled 'side projects', and there's still more to come.
First up was Adrenaline Mob's Omerta. From a group comprising Russel Allen (vocalist for Symphony X), Mike Portnoy (former Dream Theater drummer) and guitarist Mike Orlando, I probably would have expected some hard-edged progressive metal. What they actually produced was an album of surprisingly direct, kick-ass hard rock / groove metal. Admittedly there was one wildcard in there - a really good cover of Duran Duran's Come Undone. But mostly the Mob just rocks, and rocks hard.
Next was the second solo album from former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis, Plains of Oblivion. I was pretty late to the party with Nevermore (blog on that pending), but they've rapidly became one of my most loved groups. Anyway, all was not well in the Nevermore camp in 2011 with Loomis and drummer Van Williams leaving, and things have been in limbo since, although recently there have been some suggestions of a thawing of relationships between Loomis and singer Warrel Dane. That aside, Loomis' second album is a good listen, with a bit more structure to it than the first, as well as some great guest spots from Ihsahn, Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth), Marty Friedman (also ex-Megadeth), and others. I'm not quite as wild about the tracks with Christine Rhoads, but there's certainly a lot to enjoy here, particularly for Nevermore fans.
I've already written a review of Call Me No One's Last Parade, which still stands as my favourite album of the year to date, and comes courtesy of Clint Lowery and Morgan Rose of Sevendust heading in a slightly different direction. It's a great collection of well-written, cleverly-detailed hard rock songs and a real showcase of the musicianship of Lowery and Rose.
More recently, some friends introduced me to All I Was by Alter Bridge and Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti. I've seen Alter Bridge live a couple of times and it's readily apparent that Tremonti has some insane guitar skills, as well as a fantastic ear for a good riff. Well, All I Was comprises a bunch of great material Tremonti put together that didn't really fit either the Creed or Alter Bridge canon. Best described as hard rock, bordering on metal, it's a very strong album which has moments of total brilliance. My personal favourite is the album opener, Leave It Alone - there's something about the chord progression in the main chorus that just hits me every single time. Turns out Tremonti is a pretty solid singer and a very accomplished songwriter too - yes there are predictably some (enjoyable) moments of guitar showboating here, but they never overpower the songs.
And in the 'still to come' category, is the debut album Human from Projected, featuring John Connolly (Sevendust guitarist), Vinnie Hornsby (Sevendust bassist), Scott Phillips (Creed / Alter Bridge drummer) and Eric Friedman (current Creed touring guitarist). I have pretty high hopes for this one because anyone who has seen Sevendust live will be aware of the energy that Connolly and Hornsby bring to the party, not to mention their ear for a good hard rock groove. And some of the early reviews are promising indeed. It's out pretty soon, but here's a little taste:
** Incidentally, the fifth is El-P's Cancer for Cure. Can't really pass that off as a side project, although Jaime Meline does have many fingers in many pies.