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!