Monday, January 1, 2018

The Best Of 2017

The Best Of 2017

2017 will go down as a challenging year. Sure, every year has its difficulties, but 2017 seemed just that much tougher to get through.

But despite the struggles of day to day life, at least there’s music.

But having said that, I’d have to admit that 2017 won’t go down as one of the strongest in terms of classic musical offerings either. There was no shortage of albums to listen to, but it fell well short of mark of previous years for memorable albums.

But all was not lost, because there were enough gems to emerge from the coal, and earn themselves high rotation throughout the year.

So here it is this year’s list. As always, the choices here are based on my own personal tastes, and are not in any particular order of preference.


The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast Records)

After the high mark of excellence left with 2015’s ‘Skyline Whispers’, I expected big things from The Night Flight Orchestra on their third album. And to be honest, on the first couple of listens, I was disappointed. But you can never judge a book by its cover, and as time wore on, so did my love of this album. Just about all the album tracks can be listed as a favourite (Apart from the Mick Jagger cover of course!), but favourites include ‘Midnight Flyer’, ‘Gemini’, the Kiss tinged ‘Sad State Of Affairs’, ‘Jennie’, ‘Josephine’ and ‘Space Whisperer’. The album is a must have!

Big Wreck – Grace Street (Zoë Records)

There are plenty of classic rock outfits that emerge from the woodwork every year, but few that try live up to their lofty claims of sounding like the real deal. But Canadian outfit Big Wreck really is the exception. After a series of critically acclaimed releases, the band is back with their latest effort, and it’s again something new from them, and yet true to the bands past sound. ‘One Good Piece Of Me’, the vintage ‘Digging In’, ‘Tomorrow Down’ and the progressive laced instrumental ‘Skybunk Marché’ is exactly the brand of rock you’d expect from the band, while keyboard driven and measured ‘Motionless’, ‘All My Fears On You’, and the marriage of all sounds on ‘Floodgates’ is new terrain from the group. Big Wreck isn’t the next big thing, because they were always the real deal right from the start.

Ginger Wildheart – Ghost In The Tanglewood (Round Records)

When Ginger announced that his new album would be in a more acoustic/county vein, I was optimistic about the results. But once again, I wasn’t sold on the finished product. But as always, time has changed by mind, and for the most part, it’s another stellar effort from the genius. The opener ‘The Daylight Hotel’ is an absolute cracker, while the beautifully simple ‘Pay It Forward’, the heartache of ‘Miss You’ and ‘Remains’, ‘The Words Are Gonna Have To Wait’ and the rocking ‘The Reaper’ showcase Ginger’s song writing stripped back, at seemingly at his best.

Hell Or Highwater – Vista (Spinefarm Records)

It’s a while between releases for Hell Or Highwater, but well worth it. Although sounding a little more polished on the production front, the band retains the style that worked so well on their former releases for the most part, with a couple of surprises to shake things up a bit. Tracks such as ‘Don’t Hate Me’, ‘Dame’, ‘Colors’, ‘Washed Away’ and the single ‘I Want It All’ will keep existing satisfied to no end, while cuts such as the dramatic ‘Another Good Time’, ‘Lighter Than Air’, the thumping modernised rock edge in ‘Don’t Stop. Get Up.’ and ‘Pieces’ keep things from getting stale. ‘Vista’ is a truly well return for Brandon Saller and company after a long period of inactivity.

Comeback Kid – Outsider (Nuclear Blast Records)

Comeback Kid were always going to have a challenge topping 2014’s ‘Die Knowing’ in my eyes, and while their new album doesn’t quite topple the previous album off its place on the top shelf, the band certainly gave it a bloody good go. ‘Outsider’ is probably best described as an album that combines everything the band has delivered over the last three studio albums. There’s plenty of aggressive hardcore/punk (‘Outsider’, ‘I’ll Be That’, ‘Outrage (Fresh Face, Stale Cause)’ and ‘Livid, I’m Prime’) mixed masterfully with tracks that drive home Andrew Neufeld’s irresistible melodic  presence (‘Somewhere, Somehow’, ‘Surrender Control’, ‘Absolute’ and the heavy ‘Throw That Stone’). Overall, this is another top effort from the Canadian’s.

KXM – Scatterbrain (Rat Pak Records)

What I love about KXM is how much it brings out in the three musicians involved. Bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick (King’s X) provides some amazing melodies and bottom end, guitarist George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob) truly stretches out and delivers a while array of riffs and sounds that extend beyond his safety zone, and Ray Luzier (Korn) is all over every song with his rhythmic thumping. Although they don’t stray too far from the blueprint laid out three years ago, the songs are so good you can overlook the fact. Stand outs include the groove based ‘Calypso’, the catchy ‘Not A Single Word’, the darkened overtones of ‘It's Never Enough’ and ‘Stand’ and the melodic trio of ‘Noises In The Sky’, ‘Scatterbrain’ and ‘Breakout’. If you enjoyed their debut, then this is a must have.

Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright! (Big Machine Records)

Despite being around for more than forty years, I believe some of Cheap Trick’s strongest output outside of their first decade together has been anything the band has released in the last ten years. And that high standard is maintained on their latest effort ‘We’re All Alright!’. Sounding a whole lot less polished and guitar heavy than anything the band has released in years, ‘We’re All Alright!’ is Cheap trick in full ‘rock on’ mode, and sounding as good as ever. Classic Cheap Trick on full display with stellar cuts such as ‘You Got It Going On’, ‘Long Time Coming’, ‘Lolita’, ‘Like A Fly’ and ‘Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo’, while ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Radio Lover’ see the band add a punk edge to their classic rock sound. After a patchy stretch through the ‘80’s and 90’s, Cheap Trick have bounced back with enthusiasm and energy that belies their age. As far as I’m concerned, that’s alright by me.

 Black Country Communion – BCCIV (J&R Adventures/Mascot Records)

After the disappointment of 2012’s ‘Afterglow’, I didn’t expect the band to make a return, let alone emerge with a fourth full length effort. But while my expectations were quite low, this album really does herald a comeback for the band, and a welcome return to the collaborative styled of song writing that was missing the last time around. Practically everything is a winner here, but ‘Over My Head’, Bonamassa’s ‘The Last Song For My Resting Place’, the riff heavy ‘Sway’ and ‘When The Morning Comes’ are possibly some of the best tunes Page and Plant never got around to writing and recording.

Decapitated – Anticult (Nuclear Blast Records)

Fusing together elements of thrash and death metal, and adding some melodic atmospherics has been working like a charm for Decapitated in recent years to these ears. And on their latest album, the Polish outfit have damn near perfected the mix on ‘Anticult’. From the groove based thrash of ‘Deathvaluation’, to the infection catchiness of ‘Kill The Cult’ and ‘Earth Scar’ and the throwback to days of old (Albeit with a modern twist) of the punishing ‘Never’, Decapitated have come up with a diverse, yet cohesive sounding album that is worthy follow up to 2014’s rather impressive ‘Blood Mantra’.

Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Nuclear Blast Records)

Sepultura have always been a bit hit and miss to me. For every big leap forward with a new album the band seem to make, they falter with the follow up effort. Fortunately, ‘Machine Messiah’ is one of those steps onward for the Brazilian outfit. Sepultura find a great balance between doom heavy efforts (The title track), thrash blasting tunes (‘I Am The Enemy’, ‘Silent Violence’ and the fantastic ‘Vandals Nest’), experimental orchestral fare (‘Phantom Self’ and ‘Sworn Oath’) and the rhythmic groove based songs the band are primarily known for (‘Alethea’, ‘Cyber God’ and ‘Resistant Parasites’) to produce a well rounded and interestingly diverse album.

Top Ten Songs For 2017

Why stop at a top ten? That’s a good question. And the answer is I haven’t. These albums aren’t quite as consistent all the way through, but still have enough killer tracks to make them worth checking out.

Pain Of Salvation – Silent Gold (From ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’)

After the brilliance of the double barrelled ‘Road Salt’ efforts, ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ is a chore to sit through if I’m not in the right frame of mind. But one true gem to shine from the album’s punishing progressive push from start to finish is the stunning ballad ‘Silent Gold’. Stripped back, and full of Daniel Gildenlöw’s emotive vocals, ‘Silent Gold’ is an absolute stunner that proves that a song doesn’t have to be complex and challenging to captivate the listener.

Richie Kotzen – I’ve Got You (From ‘Salting Earth’)

Kotzen is another artist who despite being immensely talented, can be real hit and miss on the album front. His latest album is evidence of this, but it does have some absolute dazzlers in there, including ‘I’ve Got You’. What it lacks in guitar wizardry, it more than makes up with its infectious chorus and energetic vibe. And the fact that the song sounded just as great live is a testament of how great the song stands up on all fronts.

Warbringer – Shellfire (From ‘Woe To The Vanquished’)

I love Warbringer, but to be honest, ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ fell well short of my expectations. I believe the band may have been trying too hard to stretch their sound, and delivered an album that sounds underdeveloped. But that doesn’t mean it’s a total failure, with ‘Shellfire’ a sure-fire thrashing blast that remind me of the very reason I got into the band all those years ago. Fast paced, catchy and sounding better than ever on the production front, ‘Shellfire’ is a sign that the band haven’t lost their mojo, but merely misplaced it this time around.

Alice Cooper - Fireball (From ‘Paranormal’)

Now this one was a challenge! Not the strongest album from the Coop, but far from his worst. So O.K., which track is your favourite? And there’s the problem. I liked quite a few from the album, but one that gets me every time is ‘Fireball’. Sounding unlike anything else on the album, this bass driven (Dennis Dunaway no less!)/organ heavy effort (Courtesy of Bob Ezrin) is a marvel of strangeness and catchiness, and suits Alice to a T. It’s in a style of its own, and it’s when Alice produces his best work.

Galactic Cowboys – Infernal Masquerade (From ‘Long Way Back To The Moon’)

After seventeen years away, Galactic Cowboys finally reunited with their original line up and put together a new album! And man, was I excited. While I have yet to fully absorb in the entire album, I can safely say that it’s not quite up to top ten material. But it does have some great tunes, such as ‘Infernal Masquerade’. Packed with killer harmonies, chunky riffs and a chorus that sticks in the mind once the song has well and truly finished, the album may be far from perfect, but this is a killer track.

Akercocke - Familiar Ghosts (From ‘Renaissance In Extremis’)

Akercocke is another act that emerged from out of a self imposed exile to return with a new album this year, and despite some clear changes in sound, ‘Renaissance In Extremis’ is a very solid album. If I were to choose one song that is a favourite, and one that best sums up all of the band’s multi-faceted sound, it would have to be ‘Familiar Ghosts’. Effortlessly combining the more extreme, melodic and progressive elements of Akercocke’s sound, ‘Familiar Ghosts’ is a good example of what the band has to offer in the one song.

Black Star Riders - Thinking About You Could Get Me (From ‘Heavy Fire’)

Three albums in, and Black Star Riders are still producing the goods. There’s a lot of great tracks on the album, but ‘Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed’ is a firm favourite with its heavier sound (Courtesy of guitar duo Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson), and Ricky Warwick channelling a bit more grit on the vocal front to give the song a bit more of that sound that made The Almighty so great in the first place.

The Haunted – Preachers Of Death (From ‘Strength In Numbers’)

After launching a bit of a comeback on 2014’s ‘Exit Wounds’, I was really hoping for a knockout blow with ‘Strength In Numbers’. Unfortunately, something is a bit amiss on the new album, and The Haunted ended up with a solid, but unremarkable release. But when they hit the mark, they hit hard. ‘Preachers Of Death’ is definitely a hard hitter with its chugging groove and menacing tone, this track is what’s expected of the band both in terms of heaviness and density, and delivered in spades.

Roger Waters - Déjà Vu’ (From ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’)

It took him twenty-five years, but Waters finally released a new album in ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’. It’s by far his most accessible and Pink Floyd sounding effort, and perhaps that’s what stopped it from getting in my top list. Is it too easy to enjoy? Regardless of this, ‘Déjà Vu’ is classic Waters with lyrics pondering the age old question of ‘What if...’, while musically speaking it’s as melodic as ever.

Contrive – Below The Line’ (From ‘Slow Dissolve‘)

Saying that any band seems to get stronger and better at what they do with every new album is somewhat of a cliché. But with long running Melbourne outfit Contrive that really is the case. On their third full length release, the Haug twins have sharpened their song writing, their riffs and thrown caution to the wind in regards to expectations and return with a truly solid album. In terms of streamlined sounding efforts, ‘Below the Line’ well and truly fits the bit. The riffs and fairly straight forward, and Andrews drumming keeps the backbeat ticking long. But what really carries the song over the finish line is Paul’s great clean vocals. If you need to sample one track, I’d recommend this one.

The Best Book Of 2017

David E. Gehlke - Damn The Machine: The Story Of Noise Records (Deliberation Press)

There’s a tonne of autobiographies out on the market at the moment, but there’s few, if any, written solely around the story of a record label. Enter Gehlke, who came up with the idea of detailing the history of hugely influential German heavy metal label Noise Records, and the result is one truly unique book, and an absolute triumph for Gehlke’s debut effort in novel form. Boasting exclusive interviews with many of the band’s signed on with the label before, during and after its heyday, and spliced together with label founder Karl-Ulrich Walterbach’s tales of dealing with the band, and the label’s numerous employees spread through different territories, what emerges is story of a label that managed to achieve as many successes as it did failures. But during their time, German heavy metal label Noise Records was nothing short of innovative, and long after their fall from grace, considered a legend amongst fans for their foresight to sign on band’s that would help spread the European metal scene throughout the world. This book is an absolute labour of love, and a truly captivating read for anyone who followed the label’s releases back in the day.

Biggest Surprise Of 2017

The return of Vinnie Vincent is hands down the biggest surprise of the year. And the fact that the return to the public domain was through Kiss Expo, and not through a mugshot and an attached police report is an even bigger shock. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s emerged after more than fifteen years after dropping off the face of the earth is something of a miracle for diehard fans. One can only hope that during 2018, Vincent can not only right the wrongs of the past, but release some music to fans who have waited patiently for the his return for close to two decades.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2017

A lot of big name rock stars passed away in 2017, but the one artist who did pass away that actually meant anything to me was Chris Cornell. Given I was a fan (In particular Temple of The Dog), it was a sad loss. I have no doubt there was plenty of songs left in him, but when a life is cut short, so too is the possibility of any more music.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2018

In short, The Wildhearts. Despite claiming that the band had been laid to rest (At least on the studio front after the release of 2009's '¡Chutzpah!' and its sister E.P. '¡Chutzpah! Jnr.'), Ginger is once again writing songs for a new album from The Wildhearts due next year. I’m holding back the excitement to avoid disappointment should it all fall through. But once it’s given the green light and we have definitive details, there’s no holding me back!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Best Of 2016

The Best Of 2016

Either the years seem to be going quicker, or I’m getting slower! Either way, 2016 brought me a ton of great music to lose myself in, even if I couldn’t lock down much time to write about them.
But despite the disappointing lack of time (And content for the blog), I did manage to listen to plenty of great music, with more than enough to make up a top ten list of my favourites for the year.

So here it is. And as always, the choices here are based on my own personal tastes, and not in any particular order of preference.

Abbath – Abbath (Season Of Mist)

I really didn’t know what to expect from former Immortal frontman Abbath’s debut solo release, but it took but a single listen to know that I liked what I heard. Sure, it’s not all that far removed from what he had produced in the past under the Immortal banner, but when you have tracks such as ‘To War!’, ‘Winter Bane’, ‘Ashes Of The Damned’ and ‘Endless’, the lack of boundary pushing can be overlooked at this point in time for one genuinely solid release.

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast Records)

A rather tense and difficult gestation period, mixed with huge expectations from their legion of fans for a new Testament album had many wondering if the Bay Area thrashers still had it in them to stand tall in the so called ‘Big 4’. Well in short; ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ is an absolute gem in Testament’s crown. Fast paced, aggressive and catchy, this is Testament at their best. Stand out cuts include ‘Seven Seals’, ‘The Pale King’, the shredding title track and ‘The Number Game’. 

The Jelly Jam – Profit (Music Theories Recordings)

Powerhouse trio The Jelly Jam are somewhat of a strange outfit, and their releases are never immediate to me. But over time, this fourth release has certainly grown on me. Mixed equally between the soft and rockier side of things, the band showcase their diverse musical influences, and Ty Tabor’s ability to provide hooks that amaze. Song worthy of singling out include ‘Water’, the rocking ‘Mr. Man’, ‘Stop’, the mellow ‘Heaven’ and the climatic ‘Strong Belief’.

Cheap Trick - Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello (Big Machine Records)

Long running rock legends Cheap Trick are on a bit of a roll, with their latest effort almost rivalling their former effort ‘The Latest’ as some of the best work they’ve produced in years. From the up tempo rock opener ‘Heart On The Line’, the pop genius of ‘No Direction Home’, the Slade/T. Rex groove of ‘Blood Red Lips’, the riff heavy ‘Long Time No See Ya’ and the classic ‘The Sun Never Sets’, ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello’ is everything a Cheap Trick fan could ask for... and then some!

Borknagar – Winter Thrice (Century Media Records)

If you’ve been a fan of Borknagar for some time now, then you will no doubt know what the band have to offer with ‘Winter Thrice’. While it’s a hardly glowing endorsement (The ‘If you’ve heard one album, you’ve heard them all’ scenario), but I believe that while this album is an extension of their last couple of release to some extent, it’s also a perfection of what they’ve attempted to do in the past as well. It’s hard to pick favourites as the album is perfect from start to finish. But at a push, the title track, ‘Cold Runs The River’, ‘Erodent’ and the opener ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’ are immediate favourites.

Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight (Inside Out Music)

Despite being branded a fine return to form, 2013’s ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ wasn’t quite up to the mark for me. It was good, but just not great. But ‘Theories Of Flight’ is the album I have been waiting from Fates Warning for some time. Ray Alder is in excellent form, and Jim Matheos sounds just as inspired on the song writing front. No further proof is needed beyond a listen to ‘From The Rooftops’, ‘Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen’, SOS’ and the lengthy epic ‘The Ghosts Of Home’.

 Voivod – Post Society (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this isn’t officially an album, but I found it’s worthy of its place here, so here it is. Voivod have packed some great tunes on this E.P., and proven beyond any doubt that there’s still life in this veteran act. The title track is a rawer edged up-tempo rocker that works in typically Voivod like fashion, while ‘We Are Connected’ is a driving track that is equal parts old school and modern sounding. Voivod fans who haven’t checked this out should. Voivod lives!

Megadeth – Dystopia (Universal Music)

To be honest, when I first heard this album, I swore it was never going to end up in my top ten for 2016. Yes, it’s miles above the cringe worthy ‘Super Collider’ (2013), but I just couldn’t get over how raw Dave Mustaine’s voice is on this latest effort. But once I got over that stumbling block, there was no denying that the reshuffled line up of the band had produced a winner this time around. ‘The Threat Is Real’ is a perfect opener that announces the band’s return to form’, while ‘Post American World’, ‘Lying In State’ and the band’s cover of Fear’s ‘Foreign Policy’ just further reinforce the notion of Megadeth’s return.

Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis (Warner Bros. Records)

Biffy Clyro have always been a bit hit and miss for me in the past, with their albums a mix of some great tracks and some real fillers. But ‘Ellipsis’ really caught my ear in a big way. It’s still a bit left of centre, and not everything featured on the album is a classic, but when it works, it works. Examples of some of the best the band has to offer comes in the form of ‘Friends And Enemies’, ‘Re-Arrange’, the stunning ‘Medicine’, ‘Flammable’ and the huge anthem like ‘Howl’. Put this one down to a guilty pleasure outside the metal realm.

Redemption – The Art Of Loss (Metal Blade Records)

I felt that Redemption went off the boil with 2011’s ‘This Mortal Coil’, with the album sounding like the band was going through the motions. But lo and behold, the progressive rock outfit have bounced back, and sounding better than ever. There’s not a huge change of sound and direction from what the band have delivered before, but Alder sounds inspired once again, with ‘Hope Dies Last’, ‘Damaged’ and ‘Thirty Silver’ showcasing what the band are truly capable of when inspired.

Top Ten Songs For 2016

I make no secret of the fact that this really is a continuation of my top ten favourites of 2016 listed above. So what makes up this list? Well, it’s really albums that don’t quite have the same consistency all the way through, but still have enough killer tracks to make them worth checking out.

Steven Tyler – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me (From ‘We're All Somebody From Somewhere’)

It’s taken a few years, but Tyler finally unveiled his debut solo effort in 2016, and I’ll be damned if it was better than I was expecting, and a whole lot better than Aerosmith’s last album. Yes, it does have some issues (A little too country flavoured for my liking, and a couple of songs too long), it does have some hidden gems. And one of those gems is ‘Only Heaven’. To put it into simple terms, this is Tyler doing what he does best, and all without the help of his regular sidekicks. And it rocks!

Soto – Time (From ‘Divak’)

If you liked the first Soto album, you’ll no doubt love ‘Divak’. Jeff Scott Soto continues his foray into modern heavy rock for a second effort under his surname, and it’s a winner all round. There’s plenty to pick out as a favourite here, but it’s the slower paced and heavy Black Sabbath influenced ‘Time’ that wins the coveted spot here. Soto’s vocals and hooks are in full force, while the band packs plenty of punch on the musical front to match.

Metal Church – Sky Falls In (From ‘XI’)

The announcement of Mike Howe returning to Metal Church was the best news to emerge from 2015. But as thrilled as I was, ‘XI’ turned out to be a bit disappointing. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. ‘Sky Falls In’ is one of the stronger tracks on the album, and one that showcases how much the band and Howe have grown in their twenty-three years apart. Progressive, heavy and catchy, this track really is one of the stellar efforts. Here’s hoping that when the band return, it’s be a worthy contender to 1991’s ‘The Human Factor’.

Steven Wilson – Happiness III (From ‘4½’)

After being a little letdown with ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ last year, I was hoping for something a little more satisfying with his new release. And sure enough, this stopgap E.P. does boast enough to keep me believing that Wilson can still create magic. While it does bear a slight similarity to ‘Postcard’ from 2001’s ‘Grace For Drowning’, I can help but love ‘Happiness III’ for what it is. Catchy, up-tempo and easy on the ears, this track is typically Wilson like, and the kind of stuff fans like me will praise to no end.

Soilwork – Helsinki (From ‘Death Resonance’)

While technically not a new album as such, this compilation is the kind of release I love from my favourite groups. Aside from boasting a host of hard to find tracks, this collection also features a couple of new tunes from Soilwork, one of which is the opening track ‘Helsinki’. Not too far removed from the recent direction found on their critically acclaim 2015 release 'The Ride Majestic', 'Helsinki' is hook-laden, guitar heavy track that is a worthy addition to the band’s vast and ever growing catalogue.

Black Sabbath – Cry All Night (From ‘The End’)

I wasn’t expecting much from an E.P. that contains leftover tracks from their 2013 album ‘13’ (Especially given the disappointment of shelling out money for the the bonus track 'Naïveté In Black'), but surprisingly enough, the four new tracks offered in ‘The End’ are strong efforts that could have easily been slotted onto their last album. It was hard to single out any one track, but I think on ‘Cry All Night’, Iommi really stands out on the guitar front, and when it’s fused together with Ozzy’s inspired melodies, you have one killer track.

Anthrax – You Gotta Believe (From ‘For All Kings’)

Much like a couple of the album’s featured in this send top ten, Anthrax’s latest was a real mixed bag of killer tracks mixed with a bunch of filler. And it’s a shame too, because I loved 2011’s ‘Worship Music’. One of the true killer cuts is ‘You Gotta Believe’. It’s hardly anything new for Anthrax, but musically this had a bit more to say than most of what was on the album. Belladonna clearly still has the pipes, but musically, ‘For All Kings’ is a bit hit and miss.

Death Angel – The Moth (From ‘The Evil Divide’)

If there’s a track that signals Death Angel’s intentions from the word go, it has to be the album opener ‘The Moth’. Full of tight knit thrash riffing, powerful vocals and some truly searing solos, this track has it all – In spades! Death Angel show no signs of slowing down, still remain a firm favourite of mine. The only reason it’s on this list is because it is a little one dimensional overall. With a little bit of variation in tempos and moods, this would have been a firm favourite of 2016.

Katatonia – Serein (From ‘The Fall Of Hearts’)

I’m a huge fan of Katatonia, and they’ve rarely disappointed. And to be perfectly honest, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is a another flawless album from the Swedes. The only problem is that the band has reached the point where they’re not too hard to mine anything outside their comfort zone. But that’s merely a personal grip, because as I mentioned, this album is damn near perfect. My pick of the album would have to be ‘Serein’. It’s a classy heavy driving rocker, which is the kind of song that Katatonia used to produce in the past with fantastic results.

Diamond Head – Bones (From ‘Diamond Head’)

For the better part of the last quarter century, Diamond Head has been living off old memories. But lo and behold, the band are back with a new album that truly rocks, and one that's every bit worthy of their legendary status. While not everything on the album is a classic, the addition of vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen has an undeniable positive effect on the band, with Diamond Head’s latest the best they’re produced in an age (I'm thinking at least as far back as 1993!). If proof is needed, then check out ‘Bones’. This track rocks in a huge way, without straying too far into nostalgia territory.

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best Of 2015

The Best Of 2015

Well, another year has gone, and while I haven’t managed to dedicate much time to my much neglected computer (Which is a good thing I guess, as I’ve spent a lot more time with the family this year!), I have been keeping up to date with what 2015 has had to offer on the music front.

So without any fanfare, here my personal take on the best ten releases 2015 has produced. Oh, and it goes without saying, they’re in no particular order.

Killing Joke – Pylon (Spinefarm Records)

U.K. industrial punk/rock outfit Killing Joke have only gone from strength to strength since the original line-up reformed some five years ago. Combining the aggressive and dense atmosphere of 2006’s ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ with the melodic overtones of 2012’s ‘MMXII’, ‘Pylon’ is Killing Joke at their best, with tracks such as ‘Dawn Of The Hive’, ‘New Cold War’, ‘War On Freedom’ and ‘Delete’ proving that there’s plenty of life left in the cult outfit some thirty-five years after the release of the debut effort.

Symphony X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast Records)

This New Jersey based progressive/power metal outfit have always delivered consistent and strong albums, and ‘Underworld’ is no exception. And while I’ve enjoyed the band’s last couple of releases, I can’t help but feel that the keen sense of melody and heaviness is back with a force not heard since their 2002 masterpiece ‘The Odyssey’. ‘To Hell And Back’ and ‘Without You’ are my picks.

Chaos Divine – Colliding Skies (Firestarter Music)

Over the last decade, Australia’s progressive rock/metal scene has really started to produce some truly world class acts. And Perth outfit Chaos Divine is one of them. Although I’ve enjoyed moments on their first couple of albums, it’s with their third effort ‘Colliding Skies’ that has really caught my attention. Casting aside the metallic aspect of their sound for something a bit more melodic, the band shine on gems such as ‘Landmines’, ‘Badge Of Honour’ and ‘The Shepherd’.

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast Records)

Given how much I loved 2013’s ‘Circle’ (Along with my son, who ranks the album as one of his favourites!), I was a little apprehensive about the Finn’s latest effort. And after my first run through the album, I can say that I was a little underwhelmed. But over time, it was clear that the album wasn’t a carbon copy of their last release, but an album that showcased the band’s willingness to step outside their comfort zone and try on some new sounds. From the aggression of ‘The Skull’, the Middle Eastern tinged ‘Death Of A King’ to the heavy and melodic title track, ‘Under The Red Cloud’ is a worthy follow-up to their highly acclaimed ‘Circle’.
Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (Metal Blade Records)

Armored Saint has always been a reliable act who delivers rock solid albums. Sure, some are stronger than others, but they’ve never released what you would call a bad album. And in my personal opinion, this album is up there with their best. It’s clear that the veteran band set out to make an album that combines all the best elements of the band’s sound, but with a slant more towards the future than the past. And it worked! ‘Win Hands Down’ is a powerful opener, while ‘Mess’ and the guitar driven ‘With A Full Head Of Steam’ are classic Armored Saint. But in terms of personal favourites, you can’t go past ‘Muscle Memory’ and ‘That Was Then, Way Back When’.
The Night Flight Orchestra - Skyline Whispers (Coroner Records)

The best way to sum up The Night Flight Orchestra’s sound is to combine the muscle of ‘70’s hard rock with equal measure of the slick/cheesiness of the ‘80’s. Although my description probably doesn’t sound all that appealing, ‘Skyline Whispers’ is probably the best album never recorded from that bygone classic era of rock! Almost everything is a winner on this release, but ‘Living For The Nighttime’, ‘Stilletto’ and the amazing ‘I Ain’t Old, I Ain’t Young’ are the cuts worthy of singling out.

Chris Cornell – Higher Truth (Universal Music Enterprises)

Seemingly influenced by the vibe and feel of 2011’s live album ‘Songbook’, ‘Higher Truth’ is a largely stripped back/intimate semi-acoustic affair. And one that draws out the best within Cornell both vocally and in the song writing sense. Anyone who still remains skeptical of Cornell's ability to deliver in solo form after his critically panned 'Scream' album from 2009 need only check out 'Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart', 'Dead Wishes', 'Let Your Eyes Wander' and the title track 'Higher Truth'.

Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media Records)

Grindcore isn’t a genre that’s known for its innovation or reinvention, but then Napalm Death isn’t your average grindcore outfit. With every new release, Napalm Death seems to deliver the goods with every new album, and ‘Apex Predator – Easy Meat’ is another stellar release from the veteran act. There’s a bit of everything on offer here, from the somewhat melodic (‘Smash A Single Digit’), the experimental (‘Dear Slum Landlord...’ and ‘Adversarial / Copulating Snakes’) and the downright crushing (‘Timeless Flogging’ and ‘Stubborn Stains’), with an overall effect that both crushing and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment (Inside Out Records)

As good as Neal Morse’s solo efforts have been, I can’t help but feel a little magic is missing on them over the last few years. So entering into ‘The Grand Experiment’, I wasn’t expecting too much. But damn me if Morse hasn’t delivered one of his best in years. There’s something to be said for capturing that something special on the spur of the moment in the studio, and this album has plenty of energy, spark and creativity to prove it. ‘The Call’ is without a doubt a great opener, but it’s the title track and ‘Waterfall’ that really stand out.

The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak (Three Dog Music)

The Winery Dogs’ debut effort was a solid release, but primary sounded exactly like it did on paper. That is Richie Kotzen’s vocals and guitars blended with Billy Sheehan’s trademark bass drills and Mike Portnoy’s drumming. But on ‘Hot Streak’, the trio has well and truly pushed their sound forward, and delivered an album that boasts a bit more of a unique personality and identity. Top picks include ‘War Machine’, the title track, ‘Oblivion’ and the totally rocking ‘Captain Love’. Fans of the band’s debut have to pick this one up!

Top Ten Songs For 2015

O.K., so this is really a list of my top twenty releases for 2015. But unlike the albums that made up my top ten list, these releases weren’t quite as strong as a whole to make the final cut. But having said that there are some great songs on these albums, which make them more than worthy of a special mention.

Ghost - His Is (From ‘Meliora’)

I’ll freely admit that Ghost’s third full-length release missed the mark with me. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it just hasn’t grabbed me like the two former releases did. But if there’s one track that does stand out it’s ‘He Is’. How could you not love a song dedicated to Statan delivered in what can only be described as pure pop genius? Love the guitar work, the harmonies and the lyrics on this one.

Blackberry Smoke - Let Me Help You (Find The Door) (From ‘Holding All The Roses’)

I’m not a huge fan of country rock, but Blackberry Smoke is one of the few exceptions. The acoustic direction of their latest album suits them well, and this opening track is an absolute blast! I particularly love it when the guitar solos kick in, and the message within the song.

Black Star Riders – Blindsided (From ‘The Killer Instinct’)

This was without a doubt a solid second release from Black Star Riders, but perhaps a little too similar in sound and direction to their debut to really stand out enough. But when the band did step out of their comfort zone, they came up with some great stuff. ‘Blindsided’ is a prime example of this. Ricky Warwick is at his best on tracks like this, and the band is in moody classic rock form throughout.

Moonspell – Extinct (From ‘Extinct’)

Portugal’s Moonspell can be a bit hit and miss at times, but when they get it right, they really do get in right. The title track from their latest release is the perfect balance of gothic metal and melodic death metal, with subtle progressive/symphonic influences seeping into the mix. Harsh guitars, Fernando Ribeiro’s varied vocal approaches and the eclectic mix of musical diversity on this one track is everything you could ask from the band.

Clutch – Firebirds! (From ‘Psychic Warware’)

There’s not a real lot to say here. When Clutch is on fire, they’re on fire! They’re one of the few bands out there that can deliver classic guitar driven hard rock without sounding like it’s been done before (Even if everything has been done under the sun!). Another great album from the band, and ‘Firebirds!’ is a good indication of what’s offered throughout.

Bill Ward – Ashes (From ‘Accountable Beasts’)

Bill Ward has always been somewhat left of centre on the musical scale, and ‘Accountable Beasts’ is no exception. Quite experimental and different from what Black Sabbath fans would expect, I have grown to love all of Ward’s sole releases, including his latest effort. ‘Ashes’ is the most aggressive and metallic anything Ward has ever released, and just one of my favourites on the new album, even if the production and mix are a bit off putting.

Soto – The Fall (From ‘Inside The Vertigo’)

Jeff Scott Soto is quite the chameleon, with his vast resume covering everything from pop/rock, progressive rock, power metal and everything in-between. His latest project (Simply titled Soto) is more along the lines of hard rock with a modern edge, and it’s a rocker. ‘The Fall’ is a good taste of what this outfit has to offer, with plenty of guitar riffs, powerful vocals (Of course) and lots of modern groove.

Tremonti – Arm Yourself (From ‘Cauterize’)

Mark Tremonti has certainly been working around the clock, with barely a moment spared between releases from Alter Bridge and his own solo efforts. Not unlike 2012’s ‘All I Was’, ‘Cauterize’ is an album of tracks that are primarily guitar driven and rock hard. Although there no huge leap of sound from his first album and this new one, tracks such as ‘Arm Yourself’ do stand out enough to overlook any real disappointment.

Queensrÿche – Hellfire (From ‘Condition Hüman’)

I had high hopes for the new Queensrÿche album, but while it’s a good album, it doesn’t quite eclipse their self-titled release from a couple of years ago (Except on the production side of things). But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its great moments. ‘Hellfire’ is an absolute throwback to the band’s glory days (1984 through to 1994), but with a distinct lean towards the future in places. Great vocals from Todd La Torre, some nice lead breaks and a catchy chorus cleverly masking the dark undertones in the verses, all of which sounds like classic Queensrÿche.

Steven Wilson – ‘Happy Returns’ (From ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’)

I love Steven Wilson, but for some reason, I found his latest effort a bit of a struggle to fully enjoy from start to finish. Maybe it’s just me and where my head has been at (Or isn’t?) whenever I go to listen to the album. But either way, I can still find a lot of favourite moments on the album, and its songs like ‘Happy Returns’ where Wilson really shows what he’s capable of. All of Wilson’s trademarks are here - Beautiful melodies, haunting lyrics and some truly outstanding guitar work. In short – Genius!