As I found myself giddily prancing around corridors and wishing a happy new year to anyone I saw in the small hours of the 1st of January in the hotel that I and several other people from my school were staying at in Valloire, one of the first things I heard was a teacher who had gone from being someone who scared me to someone who was now a fairly nice person, who promised me that 2012 would be the year in which "the rest of my life begins."
She really wasn't lying, more than I realised at the time. This year has definitely been a year of change in almost everything, and I'm sure anyone else who finished their school lives that has lasted the past thirteen years will agree with me. There was the slow realization that school was actually coming to an end, the extreme studying needed for final exams, beginning to work in a full time job and of course, the step into the unknown that is the first four months of university. As I was told that the rest of my life was to begin within the next twelve months, I never really considered the full nature of what that meant. I was just looking forward to a week of skiing. That's a sport I can actually do. Sort of.
As I lived out my final six months of school in Dundee, I like to think I did a pretty good job of making the most of it, constantly chilling out, generally pissing around with the people I had known and loved for years and really getting to establish friendships with people that I would have been scared to even approach as a twelve-year-old first year loser. Whether it was on school trips to Valloire or the somewhat bleaker Ypres, days of skipping classes and sitting around during Scotland's rare occasions of having sun or even taking people to gigs and showing them what it means to be a rock music snob, I had an awesome time doing it. But whether we wanted it or not, the time to end it all finally came after having an all-too emotional Leavers Day, featuring everyone dressed up in suits and dresses gathering messages from all those we got to know and love over the year and an overwhelmingly powerful school-Prize Giving ceremony, the first time the ceremony ever felt important and the final ever time I had to wear school uniform. And as I walked onstage, shook hands with my headmaster and collected a certificate that may as well have said "Congratulations! You survived school!" the purpose of the past thirteen years had reached it's conclusion.
This really was a sign of me leaving so many people behind. The people I spent time with in my year are still some of the coolest and funniest and most inspirational people I know. But I was also leaving the people I knew from my wonderful...ly bleak hometown of Blairgowrie, known for kicking ass on BMX's and surviving their full time of living in a town fueled by underage smoking and stabbing. There's those that still need to endure their sixth year of school in Dundee who I will forever know as the fifth years, who are some of the biggest metalheads I've ever met and have made me eternally jealous ever since they managed to go to Download Festival this year, and even the people I met purely by playing curling, the one other sport I'm reasonably good at, who are all the most upbeat people... ever. But as my regular meetings with these people stopped, meetings with all new people began.
Straight from school, came the less-than-smooth transition into the workplace, which was like nothing I've ever experienced before. I spent that summer working at Blairgowrie's local butcher H.W. Irvine (You should probably go there more often.) where I spent my time at the back of the shop dealing with raw meat, largely through packing steaks, bacon and sausages before eventually getting to cut up food and having banter with the other workers. Nicest of all, working in the backroom was more sophisticated and advanced than what I had been expecting through my constant viewing of the music video of Slipknot's Left Behind for preparation. So if you're reading this Sir Paul McCartney, Morrisey or all members of Cattle Decapitation, I'm sorry, but for three months, I touched more raw meat than I have cooked meat throughout my entire life I mainly got to know the other staff there as joking bastards, but they're all cool and I may have written more about them in a proper essay I was demanded to write.
Of course, in between all this. I managed to find time for a reunion with some guys from school when we went to this year's T in the Park, but I can't really write much about it because... like I remember what happened. My last memory of that Friday was trying to look after my friend that had passed out on the grass while also trying to enjoy The Darkness, the first band on the main stage at 4pm. Horrific alcoholics much? I also remember accidentally punching another friend really hard in the face during Enter Shikari's set. I told him I was sorry before informing him that in this situation he did not come out as a winner. Those really were the main highlights of the festival and probably sums it up fairly well.
So my summer was essentially spent somewhere between watching beautiful alternative music and cutting up dead pigs. After that it really was the step into the new world of Robert Gordon's University, leaving Blairgowrie and no longer spending full time living in my big house with my parents so that I could instead live in a single room in an apartment in Aberdeen, with a lounge/kitchen area for me and my flatmates to congregate. And so far, it's been a blast. Of course I will give you some golden advice on how to make the first four months of university in a big city worthwhile: Be 18. At this sweet age of seventeen, I've basically spent the past four months learning how to get rejected at the door from each club the city has on offer. It's still been cool and it means that only I have the horrendous recklessness to get properly drunk in my own flat so a night can be made worthwhile, y'know. It sounds really lame. Yup.
And of course, all kinds of new people have been met since university. My flatmates are cool and have brought around all kinds of new people to chill with. And it turns out that lots of people on my course in Journalism are proving that love for rock music really does live in full force. I hope that me blogging still shows off my love for big riffs and distortion. The blogging I do here is completely contradictory to everything I've learnt in my journalism course so far but if people from Rolling Stone, NME, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Rock Sound, Alternative Press, Revolver, Terrorizer, MOJO, Decibel, Q... um, Record Collector is reading this, I want to work for you.
But my love of music has still been a powerful unit in all that I've done and throughout everything this year, from school, to work, to university, it's been there. And from the world of rock and metal, I've been happy to document various releases with constant album reviews of albums that I just hear about through other magazines really. And I've had a great time doing it discovering much great music from bands I would never have considered looking at this time a year ago. Apart from rock and metal music proving itself to be as immense as ever, as we'll soon see, I would say my music taste definitely expanded. I did the thing that everyone says they do and I never thought I would, and got more into GOOD hip hop and electronic music. Note the big difference between GOOD music of this type and BAD music of this type and know that the vast majority of music of the BAD variation is the type that's become popular in the charts while the GOOD stuff remains underground. And that's not me choosing to like something because it's underground. That just happens to be the way it turned out. As scary as it sounds, I also confidently believe that my music taste while becoming more extreme in places managed to mellow down as well, and that is thanks to BBC Radio 2 constantly being played while working at the butchers. Yes, nothing brightened up my day there like a round of Popmaster. But yeah, hearing the same set of vanilla flavoured pop songs being played everyday messes up your brain a bit.
But in terms of music taste, new experiences of life and sharing them with some wicked people along the way, that's how the year has gone for me. I hope you've had a good time as well and had lots of experiences that you'll remember fondly as well. I know I'm looking forward to doing it all over again next year, only that time I'll be allowed to buy alcohol and get into clubs. The taste of freedom is reaching the very tip of my tongue. But what has been going on in the world of rock and metal this year? There's been some massive stories, some good some bad. Here's a report on some of my favourites:
I first planned on talking about the major news stories to hit the world of rock and metal music in some sort of chronological order but some things have been too important to stay away from. So let's not beat around the bush here and state in all good knowledge that Sabbath owned 2012.
But most of us expect a modern Guns N' Roses show to be terrible. At the start of the year when two of the most influential names in post hardcore At the Drive-In and Refused announced their reunions everyone had high hopes for what could be delivered. It partly happened when Refused came to The Forum in London to put on what has been hailed as one of the best UK shows of the year but the high hopes that came with ATD-I's reunion show at that year's Coachella Festival were just shot straight down with their shows at Reading & Leeds Festival and at Brixton Academy, where they effectively presented themselves as a band that couldn't care less about anything going on around them. While some members made a real effort, Cedric Bixler-Zavala giving a trailblazing vocal performance, other members seemed to forget that they were in one of the most reputable and wild bands of this generation, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez stumbled around the stage not even looking at the audience. Seems like a sad time for post hardcore.
On 20th August a single word formed a status update on good old Facebook. It simply said "Recording." and it was the greatest announcements of the day by some distance. That's because that status appeared on the Facebook page of Queens of the Stone Age and you might know them to be my very favourite band of all time. And if your very favourite album of all time is their stellar 2002 effort Songs for the Deaf, you were probably as ecstatic to see the news I saw in November, shortly after coming down from the ecstasy of seeing them being put on the Download 2013 lineup. A single photo showed the members of the band that were recording on this new album. And when everyone saw the sticker that said: "Dave/ Drums" we knew exactly what it meant. Grohl rejoined QOTSA as he had done for Songs for the Deaf. We're still to hear the album but, I haven't been this excited to hear a new album since... ever. Dave Grohl and Josh Homme really are my two favourite musicians and I get so excited whenever they do something together.
Before we do anything else, I'd like to take this time to look at some of the members of the rock and metal community that we've lost this year, whether they be musicians of long established bands, up and coming bands or people who weren't in any bands but had a strong role in the influence of the music we love today and if you're unaware of some of these individuals I'd recommend taking time to check out some of their work.
Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt, 63, Iron Butterfly/Captain Beyond, guitar
Robbie France, 52, Diamond Head/UFO/Skunk Anansie, drums
Mark Reale, 57, Riot, guitar
Tonmi "Otus" Lillman, 38, Lordi, drums
Michael Davis, 58, MC5, bass
Davy Jones, 66, The Monkees
Jim Marshall, 88, Founder of Marshall Amps
Graham Simpson, 68, Roxy Music, bass
Tommy Marth, 33, The Killers, saxophone (session/live)
Adam "MCA" Yauch, 47, Beastie Boys, vocals, bass
Donald "Duck" Dunn, 70, Booker T & the MG's, session bassist
Robin Gibb, 62, Bee Gees, vocals
Mark "Bam Bam" McConnell, Sebastian Bach/Blackfoot, drums
Doc Watson, 89, folk singer
Bobby Durango, 43, Rock City Angels, vocals
John Harrison, 69, Hawkwind, bass
Dennis Flemion, 57, The Frogs, vocals, guitar
Jon Lord, 71, Deep Purple, keyboards
Tony Sly, 41, No Use For a Name, vocals, guitar
Bob Birch, 56, Elton John, bass
Scott McKenzie, 73, pivotal singer/songwriter of 1960's hippie run-America
Eric Cook, 52, Lethal, guitar
Vance Bockis, 50, The Obsessed, 9353, Pentagram, vocals
Andy Williams, 84, crooner
Michael Marra, 60, folk singer, the voice of Dundee
Mitch Lucker, 28, Suicide Silence, vocals
RIP. May your voices last an eternity.
It's now time that we move on to the main issue about reporting the music of 2012 and focus on what was the best music of the year. Now everyone has their own opinions and many will have a list filled with albums that I hadn't even thought to have mentioned, come from a musical field that I unwillingly neglected or will have some large connection and affection for an album that I didn't find good enough to go on the list. When I think about that, there are probably a lot of albums I looked at this year that doesn't click for me but others can easily appreciate it.
The diversity in opinions with certain is a good thing and I'll welcome anyone who likes an album that I didn't like. They just might be disappointing to see that there album isn't on the list. Of course, the exception to this rule is if your favourite album of the year was by Vampires Everywhere!, The Bunny The Bear or Dot Dot Curve, in which case I demand that you leave this blog immediately. Cheers.
Like I say, it's matter of opinion so if you disagree with the albums I have in this list and the order the albums of the list are ranked in... sorry. This is just how it is. I've tried to keep my music taste as varied as possible, but you'll see straight away that I haven't really and rock and metal is the dominating force in my taste as ever.
With that, let's begin the list starting from 350 to 1.
Here's a band from Birmingham who make the claim that the main reason they exist is to play music and rock hard. Sounds like a good place to start. With their second full length release Revolutions, A Poetic Yesterday make a lovely job out of constructing the perfect rock single and make an album filled with songs you could put on the radio and have that station become the most listened to for three and a half minutes. In honesty, it's title couldn't be less accurate. There isn't anything revolutionary on this album, but playing with lots of energy and having massive guitar work isn't a new thing either, but it works for this album.
So, the story goes that a few years ago, we saw punk icon John Lydon on television on numerous occasions trying to sell the public butter in a series of adverts. We all laughed and noted about how much he'd fallen from grace. Then we learnt that he did the adverts so that he could reform and record a new album with his lesser known post-punk outfit Public Image Ltd. And so they return after twenty years with ninth album This is PiL at a time when we only know Lydon as the main Sex Pistol and prove just how substantial a group this really is. Vibrant textures build up an electric freshness through twitching synthesizers and works of icy psychedelic soundscaping. It is rewarded by having new experiences and discoveries with every new listen until you melt into the album, like Country Life Butter into a frying pan. What?
(Black Ditto Recordings)
There's a lot of charming hooks and decent songwriting to be found on Rock Riot Soul, the debut offering from Little Doses, but the chances are that one of the main things that will catch listeners attention is the fact that it's the new band from Mark McClelland who used to play bass in a little band called Snow Patrol. But this band is worth checking out in their own right, the strong vocal performance of Kirsten Ross that portrays a high sense of emotion even at her softest moments that really draws you in to her storytelling lyrics. But this charming mix of indie, country and folk music is the setup for a solid alt rock album.
This is another sign of me finally giving in and deciding I like a band that I had smugly told everyone that I hated all this time. Yeah, I would scoff at suggestions that The Temper Trap were a good band during the time when no one would stop chanting along to Sweet Disposition. However, upon listening to their sophomore self-titled album, it's now apparent that this is a band worth your time after all. There's change to be found as soon as you hear the difference in Dougy Mandagi's vocals and the band's overall shift in songwriting that really sounds like it's looking for more than a place on the radio. The close minded music listener I was before now will never forgive me.
Over the past 12 months, a lot of buzz has been stirred about with the mention of Yashin and it's testament to how far they've come since forming in Greenock and having the unexpected proposition of two lead singers, one from East-Kilbride and another from Florida. On their sophomore effort We Created a Monster, the classic post-hardcore screamed verse, clean chorus is stuck to. It's hardly groundbreaking, but it definitely keeps the ground solid and sparkling fresh with instantly memorable melodies and scream along hooks. It's short sweet and a little bit of devastating all at the same time. Nicely done.
When Black Sabbath first got the ball rolling for heavy metal with their doom drowned debut album, you must wonder if they intended metal to pick up and become faster and filled with more aggression, or did they want it to remain a haunting style of music that would become more distressingly slow and more distressingly doom-laden as time went by. If it had been the second option, then Misery Wizard, the debut album from Rhode Island doom creatures, Pilgrim would be the answer to Sabbath's dreams almost as much as Sabbath have served as Gods to them. With six songs to make up an album that last over sixty minutes, the band play as slow as evolution itself, the time is used to haunt listeners with the theatrical Gregorian-like harmonies of mysterious frontman "The Wizard" accompanying hypnotic riffs that you can follow like a death march. If you enjoy your doom, this should be as thrilling s prospect as the apocalypse itself.
Epica by name, Epic...a by nature. Yes the Dutch sextet have boasted the immense levels of grandeur over the years that has allowed them to become no more than one of the leading names in symphonic metal. While many of their peers like to be more instant and put massive hooks to get their songs through to the point, Epica work at a slower pace and allow the music of their fifth album Requiem for the Indifferent to delve into more progressive territory with a greater amount of complexity that only absolute devotion will allow you to get into. But that devotion totally pays off, as multiple musical arrangement of choirs, orchestration and the serene vocals of Simone Simons gives the album a fullness that justifies Epica's high ranking in symphonic circles.
You'll see soon enough that Jack White has had a massive 2012 in his choice to finally go solo, but you must ask, what does that leave for bandmates that he's left behind? No, Meg White doesn't have a solo album, but former Racounters bandmate Brendan Benson has continued with his releasing of highly successful solo albums as he was doing long before crossing paths with White. Fifth album What Kind of World is a highly personal affair, that let's you become absorbed within Benson's own personal sense of freedom and his more melancholy fueled moments. It's smooth singer/songwriter gold.
Something of a constantly underground force in the realms of American indie rock that never got big here or in their homeland, The Walkmen have forever been able to craft strong rock songs. Having reached seventh Heaven you get the idea that now might finally be the time they could try and reach a more mainstream audience. And thus, a valiant effort is put into the writing of powerful hooks, scuzzy indie riffs and open hearted lyrics and vocals. The overall effect sees the band put on the sound of the '50's rock and roll band The Strokes tried to be, there's grit, romance and an overall effect of something made of crystals to be found here.
(Tooth & Nail Records)
It's easy to admit that hard rock bands like Write This Down are formulaic in their nature and with the selection of gut-wrenching hooks and the obvious balance between scream and clean vocals. And on their second album Lost Weekend this is in plentiful offer. But man, you will have a great great time no matter how much cynicism can be put on their style. Taking the best elements of classic rock, punk and metalcore and putting it on it's head with a poppier twist, the stunningly produced selection of songs effortlessly shine through with the power to get everyone's head banging and everyone's voice screaming out. And with such tightness and their playing and songwriting, formula's don't get in the way of great music.
This album really is what it means to be as subtle as a brick. It is to throw any grace or sensitivity straight out of the window in favour of drinking and dancing with the devil. Swedish death n' rollers Helltrain have brought along the thrills, fun and brutality on their third album Death is Coming that packs Pierre Törnkvist's bludgeoning death growls together with gut busting grooves that ooze out in a blackened state of pure heaviness. And there's always the extra interesting feature, including the occasional organ backing to keep the good times rolling. It's that simple really. Just immensely heavy metal for partying your ass off. Sophisticated much?
I guess Sheffield indie poppers Reverend and the Makers are the first rock band that have publicly come out as Twitter addicts if they're devoted enough to name their third album after their account on the website. And that attachment makes sense on @Reverend_Makers when you consider that it has more of an influence from electronic pop music than any previous releases. And with booming synthesizers, bleeping basslines and ability to mix big riffs with flashing disco rhythms, this is a rock album for flashy clubbing generation, that would do nothing less than writing drunk tweets and posting pictures of their collapsed buddies on the network. God, Twitter is unsophisticated but Reverend and the Makers make it a lot more fun.
Throughout three of recording, Tindersticks have been a number one band to hear music weaved with soaring human emotion to prove beauty can come from the most beautiful things. And they prove it once more on ninth album The Something Rain that features everything from nine minute spoken tracks to works of giant bass and lush vocal backdrops. With a return of the band's sense of urgency and heightened passion, it's the sound of electronic indie rock that has gained maturity that doesn't attempt to do anything complex and nor does it need to. It has the emotional urgency and sense of love that proves beauty comes from only the most vital songwriting.
Whether you love them or hate them, it really seems like we'll look back in 50+ years and agree that The Killers are a band that have inspired a generation. So naturally, rejoicing was to be had when they came out of a four year exile to unleash fourth album Battle Born a lush show of songwriting that fully embraces American culture immersed within the landscapes of their native Nevada. The band's reputation for making stadium fillers isn't let up here at all as we get belter after belter that oozes Brandon Flower's neon tinted soul. With that, everyone's favourite household indie band re-emerge born in a new shade of clarity, ready to inspire more generations.
It's been ten years since we last heard anything from The Cranberries and when they went on hiatus and everyone only really knew one or two songs by them. Yet, there's something effortlessly refreshing and wonderful about them making a comeback album all this time later. And fair enough, Roses warmly glows with the dreamy pop melodies that allowed them to grab the limelight in the '90's. The Gaelic tinged vocals of frontwoman Dolores O' Riordan still allows them to uphold their bombastic uniqueness as it boasts over the band's chiming guitars, delicate strings and commanding-to-dance melodies. Though it's not the comeback everyone will be raving for, it's charming enough to satisfy the needs for a good comeback.
Where would we be without the more sophisticated members of modern pop music that actually care about music? We'd probably have a world with less hipster types but we'd be missing out on some great new songs as well. And having been around the scene for some time with garage rock groups Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, Brooklyn's Frankie Rose returns with her second outing stellar with it's head stuck more in the clouds of 1980's shoegaze pop awash with swirling synthesizers and post punk melodies. A hipster album? Probably. A brilliant album? Definitely.
Anaïs Mitchell - Young Man in America (Wilderland Records)
When thinking about how I would usually describe certain bands known for presenting their intelligent lyrics through folk music, I really should have a lot of dislike for an artist cited for crafting "folk operas". But Vermont songwriter Anaïs Mitchell has constructed some truly gripping things, particularly the stunning Hadestown of two years ago. However, her follow up Young Man in America is of a far more breathtaking quality. It snaps and sparkles with energy and is far more daring to spread it's own sense of danger and provoke thoughts in the course of it's lyrics. Her ability to weave themes of loss and tragedy through sunny folk patterns makes it a record calling for lots of thought. It's a folk record that is underlying in it's inner darkness that proves itself an album that puts a stop for the radio friendly stuff.
Texan multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Bryce Avery seems like someone who should have taken off by now. Under his solo power pop guise of The Rocket Summer, the man's played the kind of music that should have allowed him to sell out stadiums at least five years ago. And that level of stadium filler ambition can be heard on fifth album Life Will Write the Words, even if the reality of playing Wembley isn't going to come around. Shining pop rock melodies are cut out on fresh garage riffs with a sugary sweet vocal performance and set of lyrics about finding oneself. It's a charmingly refreshing listen from someone five albums in, and well, there are others that would ave given up by now.
As a the second part of his Antisleep collection of songs, Bret Autrey, under his guise of Blue Stahli puts his musical craftwork to the limit, taking chunky metal riffs and throbbing industrial synthesizers and putting them into a melting pot of hard rave music. And he does it with some extremity on Antisleep Vol. 02. Each song has a varying result and often the hard dance beats play the bigger role but there's still a very full-flowing amount of substance throughout the entire course of the album. It provides good fun and play at clubs, the crowd will be on their feet, no doubt.
To continue with my horrendous tradition of talking about bands based on what country they're from, The Tide find themselves in a unique position as being part of what must be a fairly small wave of alternative rock bands to emerge from Slovenia. But like any other self respecting band in the trade, a lot of thought, time and emotion has gone into the recording of their debut album Kings of the Hill. Between beautiful harmonies and melodies pattered out on graceful guitar lines and layered out backdrops with s thick airy production, there's always a smirking sense of spontaneous unpredictability laying about the music that really separates them from other pop rock acts. So, victory for Slovenia I guess.
In constant denial of people moaning about the way I hate all pop music I always have the response that I don't it just so happens that much of what we hear on the radio is so boring that it doesn't lure me forward. I like my pop music a little more off-the-wall. The kind of way that you might hear it on King Con, the debut full length from Michigan's Alex Winston, an individual who may also be fairly off-the-wall. Everything about the album is just so refreshing and opposing from any radio fodder. Lyrics focus on the outer world, telling stories and ideas of other people, as opposed to your basic self-centered feelings song. Against it's dreamily orchestrated musical backdrops, this album sores with quirky ecstasy. Weird, wonderful, making me like pop music.
Metal supergroup Barren Earth served as a pleasant surprise for death metal fans when they released their debut album Curse of the Red River. Now the group featuring members of bands like Kreator, Moonsorrow and Swallow the Sun return for second offering The Devil's Resolve, an album that sees the traditional death metal sound sharpen up on it's progressive elements, and a tightness in the chemistry between the six members. It's a refreshing take on modern death metal to see it's union with 70's prog rock with the use of keyboards without any notion of death-metal-goes-art cheesiness. Original and incomparable to the other bands the members come from, this is a supergroup that should be closely monitored before it becomes better than the bands the members came from.
New Zealand hard rockers I Am Giant make a powerful sound on their debut full length The Horrifying Truth. They're trading in powerful hooks and gigantic sing-along melodies that already burst out with dreams of arenas in mind. And what better way to deliver these melodies than the very pure and passionate voice of frontman Ed Martin. I don't normally go over how great a singer's voice is when looking over album but it's one that really makes you realise it's something worth considering more often. Crunchy, crystal clear and unafraid to veer into more progressive territory, this is an album with confidence, ambition and a desire to win the minds of everyone in sight.
In 2009, the metal community was introduced to Vorunah the first album from Norwegian solo project Sarke, that delivered a rawness and ferociousness that hadn't been heard since, oh I don't know, Celtic Frost. But this project arranged by Thomas Bergli, drummer of acts like Tulus and Valhall is far more than just a CF copy as they proves in greater detail on second album Oldarhian. This time, he's joined on vocals by none other than Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto and together, hypnotic riffs, cold enthralling vocals and crafting of weird choruses makes this a big step on black metal's boundaries while showing the best of what it's been influenced by. It doesn't copy Celtic Frost, but it's everything that band stood for.
One of the most influential bands of all time, The Beach Boys made a return with their first material since 1992 to coincide with their 50th anniversary. I genuinely think the fact that The Beach Boys still have it in them to record new music and craft songs at this stage of their lives is inspiring enough to get them on this list. But that would be me immediately patronizing people out of their age so thankfully the music on their twenty-ninth album That's Why God Made the Radio is really good. Packed with life-affirming summertime pop melodies delivered with a warm spirited grace and timeless innocence, delivered through trademark lush harmonies. It will allow new fans to realise how much the band is capable of beyond surfing songs. It's the Pet Sounds effect all over again.
Basically, we won't be seeing ¡Uno! in this list - it's terrible. But a good analogy to make from this is that if Billie Joe Armstrong's face appeared on ¡Uno! at a time when he was messed up on substances and having onstage breakdowns then it clearly means that Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt is on top form of health because ¡Dos!, the album on which his face graces the cover is killer. It's a thirty five minute manic midnight blast through serious feet-lifting pop punk belters, where every song leaves you feeling some kind of positive refreshment as Armstrong rattles on guitar. This effort is more fearless, scrappier and brings a load of sweet energy at every corner. Now how would people from Blairgowrie describe an album like that?
I thought the ability to carry a sense of pride of where you're from would be difficult if you were from Morecambe. I visited this year to swiftly leave again. However, on their debut full-length Funtimes, local quartet The Heartbreaks are convinced that it's the 1960's again and everyone's on the seaside having a blast in the sun. Their energy and optimism gleams from the vocals and guitar work from Matthew Whitehouse and Ryan Whitehouse while becoming intertwined within perfect shots of cheeky sarcasm, awareness of coming from a tragic seaside resort town and subsequent British pride that invites everyone. Catchy, intelligent, articulate, the album does Morecambe pride like... nothing else in the town.
Hope you're fucking happy now Ste... It's no real secret that my love for symphonic and gothic metal in such vein as Floridian quintet Kamelot isn't really all that existent, but I will have to give props to them for the effort they've made on their tenth album Silverthorn. It's the first album to see former Seventh Wonder (Did anyone else first read that as Stevie Wonder and get really confused? I did.) frontman Tommy Karevik step in for vocals following the departure of longtime vocalist Roy Khan and makes some task out of introducing himself within the band belting out the dramatically crafted concepts of the album. However, it's Thomas Youngblood's pouncing riffs that make the album soaring beyond any melodramatic backing. Maybe that's why I enjoy it. It is a symphonic album, but it still believes in stirring up pits rather than make you feel sophisticated.
It's been four years since we last heard from ragga punk upstarts The Skints, but the comeback they've made for second album Part and Parcel is a cool surprising effort that no one really had coming. It's a far more old-school-reggae based affair filled with the tones of a more dressed up side of East London youth, which takes it's roots from traditional Gregory Issacs reggae, as opposed to the modern hip hop approach to the genre today, which allows the seductive yet unease-rendering vocals of Marcia Richards take a fronting role. With it's dynamic lyricism, deep and heavy bass and unprecedented coolness, it's such a brilliant listening experience that you'll want to be walking through East London smoking pot all day. Or not.
At the start of their career, things couldn't have been better for Denmark quintet Mnemic. They were getting bigged up by Metallica and getting on tours with the likes of Machine Head, Meshuggah and Deftones. Poorly timed lineup changes can be a cruel mistress though, and following releases never lived up to the standards that made them such a formidable act previously. However, now comes fifth album Mnemesis and it's definitely the sound of a band that are back with a vengeance. The band's love for outpouring technical grooves is very much intact and it takes them on a journey through soothing melodies and full on deathly scorchers. We can only hope this records lets the band continue their journey to the top.
Though hardly a household name, there's no denying that Ben Kweller has spent the past 10+ years developing himself into an established purveyor of pristine power pop music. Yet at the age of 30, he reaches his fifth album Go Fly a Kite and the youth that sparked debut full length Sha Sha still feels very much intact throughout this album. It means that amongst signs of maturity there's still rushes of early Ramones and Weezer to be found all over the place. But it's the balance of the mayhem and subtlety that shows Kweller has made it as a songwriter with versatility.
Alex Erian may have made his name from his days in fronting deathcore giants Despised Icon, but his mid-ranged barking never quite fitted the full brutality that that band wanted to achieve. Now with new band Obey the Brave, Erian has found a new more welcoming home for his passionate, streetwise vocals as the band boast a more conventional and melodic hardcore approach on their debut album Young Blood. Of course when it's really intense, the metal plated riffing and gargantuan breakdowns have the same Despised Icon intensity. Mostly it's the ability to take something simple and make it so exciting that really makes this band one to watch stand out on the US baseball-cap wearing hardcore scene.
I think I would be filled with pride if I had a child that told me they wanted to be Lemmy Kilmister when they grew up. And while even thinking that anyone could replace Lemmy verges on blasphemy, the sheer extent to which German hard rock collective Nitrogods have managed to replicate Motörhead on their self titled debut is staggering. Frontman Oimel Larcher is joined by a backing band that are more used to playing power metal to deliver down to earth rock and roll without the bullshit, only the crushing riffs with a delivery that could only come from a lifetime of Motörhead, AC/DC and old-school Status Quo and there's some suggestion that this is better than anything these bands have released in the past twenty years in the same way that Airbourne's Running Wild was. This then, has the sound of the greatest Motörhead record that Motörhead never made.
In their past ten years together Brooklyn sextet Dirty Projectors have made albums that have required scientific research to understand, whether they've been "glitch operas" or attempts to cover an album that hadn't been heard in fifteen years. Sixth album Swing Lo Mallegan isn't quite as mentally conceptual as that, however it still boasts some seriously creative mindsets and challenging songwriting. While irregular in many places there's something of a simplicity in tracks as well, with Dave Longstreth admitting feeling tired of being seen as a "deep" musician and sometimes acoustic guitars and gentle melodies are all that's needed. Overall, it's a flashing selection of rock on the brainier side of the indie table.
When Pennsylvanian (Not Texan? This must be another one of those Manchester Orchestra coming from Atlanta situations) metalcore quintet Texas in July released their debut album I Am in 2008, it made them a band with "potential" and two years later, that potential was snatched up by Equal Vision records and resulted in a disappointing step back in the form of One Reality. Now, the band seem to have gone in a complete 180 turn for their self-titled third album, filled with songs of a blistering pace with demented breakdowns shows a step up has been taken. More than that, a sophisticated crafting of post metal numbers can be heard on the album makes it a more fulfilling album that overall sees them gain enough respectability to be at a level where they move from July to August. Burns Red.
Furious, confusing. Essentially black hearted hardcore punk. Liberteer, the new solo project from Matt Widener, one of the underground heroes of US grindcore make a massive unexplainable sound on their debut release Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live on Your Knees. And so, a ferocious blast of minute and a half songs bursts through the album, unafraid to be more experimental and unleashing segments of banjo, horns and other orchestral percussion. It's an album that leaves your head in a spin, this is a grind album that leaves you feeling something more than deaf.
British punk rock has always been and will always be in a great state of health if the fresh new talent is always as scorching hot and face-shredding as the kind of performance you can hear on Deadweight Revival, the debut offering from Southsea quartet Attack! Vipers!. There's punishing hardcore trailblazers delivered with a punk ferocity and a sarcastic smile on it's face while an addition of beautiful instrumental sections shows the care put into structuring songs and playing with different styles without the songs ending up a mess. A fine example of an album that just... gives you hope.
With their fun loving ska punk beats and desire to craft nothing but a fun times filled with catchy raucous sing-along tunes, there's something about Belfast nine-piece Pocket Billiards that makes them Ireland's answer to Madness. But influences on their second full length album Last Chance to Dance fall way beyond that, with hints of Rancid's harder delivery emerging through along with sturdy rock melodies. However, the way that each song carries a friendly faced sense of community in them, makes this a restlessly uplifting set of songs that leave you feeling good about the world. Perhaps they're a greater source of Madness from Ireland than Guinness.
Sometimes, you'll feel like you should be more discreet when describing an acoustic led album and not just describe songs as instantly dark and haunting due to the many other ongoing intricacies. Then there are other albums where you just have no choice but to step in with it. Thus, Sacramento songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has crafted some of her most genuinely dark works to date on her third album Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. It's a reveling of cliche free gothic songwriting that doesn't shy away from being creepy in it's approach. Swoops of discomforting strings and self harmonizing vocals dart back and forth, as Wolfe's sparsity reveals a cold vulnerability. This is a musician that wants to haunt and sometimes in her most quiet she does just that.
Soon to be the new king of UK ravers, London's Infadels have made the perfect rave rock offering on third album The Future of the Gravity Boy. Considerable influence has been taken from the 80's synthpop scene as Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode melodies from producer Alex Metric, the new go to guy of dance rock, pulse into action alongside solid indie riffs. Such digital mastery perfectly captivates the band's urgent lyricism about survival in a technological age and when listened to with total sincerity there's a real darkness underlying. Fueled by raves and sci-fi, this album should set the dance-rock scene alight.
With most recent frontman Dan Chandler settling fully into the band, Toronto hard rockers Evans Blue return with their fourth album Graveyard of Empires, undoubtedly their most personal and hardest hitting album to date. Every track is a solid display of pumped up riffs chugging out in utter delirium and soaring hard rock hooks. Chandler's vocals well up lots of emotion whether it's in his defiant clean vocals are constant buildup to guttural outbursts that reminds the listener that the album is a compelling expression of personal struggles and issues, plus the lyrics he actually yells out resemble a big step up as well. This is effectively Chandler proving this is his band and he will steer it to greater things.
I never really had any knowledge on who Chris Jericho was because I've never been cool enough to take an extensive interest in wrestling, so I never really understood why everyone was talking about his band Fozzy as soon as they started out. But for all I know, they easily could have gotten big on musical ability alone, as they seem to have proved so well on fifth album Sin and Bones. It's lit up by massive chugging riffs that sound genuinely beefed up and heavy, massive sing along hooks and choruses. And many point out that albums of that nature have a tendency to get repetitive, so the band's constant ability to give each new song a new spring of life makes it fully exhilarating. I guess Jericho's delivered a real knockout with this album. Geddit? You know... knockout... like... wrestling... yeah.
(Le Taxi Prod)
A lot of musicians like to talk it up, but there are far less that have achieved so much using the grace of subtlety alone. French instrumental stars Limousine have been viewed in France by many as a simple stylish group of guy, with the same kind of love that you'd see for a boyband here, even though they don't even have any lyrics that people could post on their Bebo page. Their album II isn't even anything like a Joe Satriani instrumental album. They achieve the kind of effect that many musicians would have to write pages on in a few notes and embrace the ability to emit so much emotion into the music without saying a word taking much influence from Brian Eno's craftwork. Maybe there is something to be said for cutting things with some subtlety.
(Hell & Back)
That's right, those Final Countdown guys still make music and it's pretty decent. Crazy huh? Obviously Swedish hair metallers Europe will never be able to pen down another unifying anthem like The Final Countdown but after 30 years, they can still deliver the goods as you can hear on their ninth album Bag of Bones. Singer Joey Tempest returns with his signature lung-busting high notes and the distinctive synthesizer styles of Mic Michaeli that will surely serve as a sweet call back to the '80's. The band has returned in classic form releasing a further cohesive album to prove they're more than one hit wonders even if many won't choose to recognise it.
Last year's Dirty Work saw Baltimore's pop punk sweet hearts All Time Low taking a big step in the world of pop rock and falling short of expectation. With their return to Hopeless Records for their fifth album Don't Panic, the band return to doing what they know best: Making absolute bangers of tunes. Yes it's fairly formulaic and you'll find nothing new but few bands possess the sense of enthusiasm and energy in their work to make this fact go unnoticed. And because that unnoticed, this album is clearly the most accomplished work for the pop rock band no one likes to take seriously.
(Seasons of Mist)
Some may view the way in which a large number of Gothenburg based melodic death metal bands began embracing more alternative and electronic elements to fuel their assault as an utter atrocity. But if you embraced it, then you'll know that these bands have been the best to prove that some acceptable union between heavy riffs and heavy synthesizers can exist. And such finery of doing so can be heard on Blood of Saints the third album from Engel. As tightly constructed grooves fit side by side with a frenetic blasting of techno synthesizers and breakdowns on guitars and dubstep arranged beats balance of the force of each other, a lesson is shown to naysayers that the synthesizer is just as unrelenting as the guitar.
304. Plan B - ill Manors (Atlantic)
Ben Drew allowed everyone in the public to know who Plan B was in 2010 with second album The Defamation of Strickland Banks, a smooth catchy soul album based around a rape allegation that lands the album's protagonist in court. Following his outrageous debut Who Needs Actions When You've Got Words, it was a drastic change that you could only admire him for. Now that we all know his name, he's returned to his 2006 self on third album ill Manors, a cold harsh retrospective of the grim reality of British life, with Drew's intelligent storytelling rapping of shocking situations, a stunning production and an ability to make fellow chart-friendly acts embrace the darkness makes the album as gripping and meaningful as some of the best classic punk albums. And in that sense, he might be this generation's Joe Strummer.
As far as band names go, the warmth and delicate grace that comes with the name of Hospitality makes the band name one that matches their music quality. The Brooklyn trio's self titled debut is inviting and fun as frontwoman Amber Papini makes the less joyful subject of looking back on glory days as she turns 30 as upbeat a set of songs as she can. And the band capture this upbeat nature perfectly, with jangly guitars and similarly natured melodies that cannot help but spread a smile across your face and while Papini's lyrics carry some sense of distraught, the music transports you elsewhere. The spread charm is all over the record and leaves you really feeling for the artists that made it. And now because I can, I will end this review by quoting George Hardy in Troll 2 and say "You can't piss on Hospitality. I won't allow it!"
One time, you could have described the efforts made by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe to be those of "The weird bastard sons of the '80's synthpop movement" but as time has gone on, The Pet Shop Boys have only gone on to inspire a generation of electronic bands and producers. The past few years have seen them become more mature and acting as the fatherly figures to the electronic movement they've birthed by keeping things smooth and graceful and it's worked well for them. You can hear it on their eleventh album Elysium which is packed with absorbing spacey melodies underpinned by the group's own growing wistfulness and desire to only make others feel good, while being unafraid to lampoon current pop trends in their lyrics as well. But in their hands pop music is in a safe place as it always was.
As metalcore moves in the direction where every band is relying on auto-tuned vocals and obvious bass drops to get there point across, it's good to see the band that seemed like a leader amongst this uprising of bands turning their back on it and deciding that As I Lay Dying and All That Remains were the last kinds of bands that had it right. And there perfect homage to that generation of metalcore band be heard on At Heart, the third album from Ohio quintet Miss May I. Everything about this album calls for a step up into something bigger. Huger songwriting and dual guitar assaults in both solos and pulsing breakdowns, encompass the vocal charges of Levi Benton, a frontman in the making. This is surely the buildup for a massive future in the heavy metal frontline.
Clock Opera's debut album has been a long time in the making, since the band made it's first footsteps in 2009 and have been relatively quiet since. In that time the band have sharpened up their epilepsy inducing indie pop sound that can be heard being fully shot out on Ways to Forget. Their ability of weaving melodies, tone and colours is played out with surprising accessibility that fans of everyone from Gary Numan and Everything Everything will be able to cling onto. It's a lush and welcoming addition to anyone's record collection, guaranteed to leave you smiling.
With all Norwegian black metal duos, there's always going to be an Immortal influence to be found somewhere even if the bands don't all choose to crab walk. (I think they truly are on their own there, Attack Attack! aren't even unleashing their crabcore moves anymore.) To some extent, the influence of Abbath has rubbed off to great detail on The Sun I Carried Alone, the third album from fellow Norwegian duo Iskald, but the group have also made the time to bring their own styles and old school heavy metal melodies into the mix while highlighting the weakness of the dark with the spreading of acoustic led atmospheres. You can say what you want about Immortal but if they influence albums like this, you have to give them props somewhere.
It took me absolutely ages to get behind the Lower Than Atlantis hype. With so much talk from magazines, TV and radio about how they were the next big thing in British rock, the press about a band that at first didn't really seem that great was very frustrating. However, it's since then that the band's music has done the talking and third album Changing Tune suggests LTA might not be the next big thing in British rock but are a great member of the current scene nonetheless. The album is a restless sign of development, with bold storytelling atmospherics and breathtaking pop rock belters. Mike Duce carries a wide array of tone in his vocals. Some songs are sensitive, others mischievous but all fully engaging. But with giant choruses born for festival stages, this band have proved their hype to some great extent here.
With a God Forbid album, you know you're always in for a visceral charge of energetic hardcore beatdowns mixed with performances and songwriting showing a real intelligence and spread of ideas. Sounds like songwriting at it's most professional right? Sixth album Equilibrium boasts similar credentials but sharpened up into a form far more positive and meaningful as Bryon Davis viciously screams straight in your face about finding faith, love and being true to oneself. The full band effort is so passionate and genuine, it's one of the few albums that brings a dose of brutality and leaves you feeling warm at the end. Were you expecting that?
In a world where it's cooler to make gothic doom metal when you come from a forest in the middle of nowhere in Europe than from the USA, Daylight Dies never managed to get the same kind of exposure as But Aus Nord or Ulver. Fourth album A Frail Becoming Should Change that because it is as triumphant an effort as you'll ever hear from anyone lurking around Norway. It's a monstrous megalith of death and doom metal riffage with enough melody to prevent it from stagnating and to even make them appeal more to the Opeth crowd. The mixture of dark heaviness with brooding melodies slays any way you look at it. Anyway, the USA's a pretty bleak country. It's no wonder it inspires so much doom metal.
The biggest influence for Oxford quintet Fixers, as stated in interviews in Brian Wilson in the late 1960's and on their debut full length We'll Be the Moon, they act out their influence in a way better than many artists that state a similar influence by realising his greatness goes beyond lush harmonies but is also in accompanying experimental avant-garde tendencies with the streamlined melodies of modern pop music. The result is a series of psychedelic outbursts with a modern sounding gleam overriding the insanity. It's a quality that would make Wilson admire his influence, or maybe get a bit stunned. Either way there's a lot of fun to be had with this album.
This is the sound of someone turning from an occasional backing vocalist into a fully fledged independent artist. Last year, Jessie Ware was doing little more than providing backing vocals, gaining a name for herself when recording with house musician SBTRKT. Having now released her own solo album, Devotion, she proves herself to be a stunning addition to the British female soul pop singer collection, that stands above her contemporaries. The best of the past and present is combined as Ware's soulful passionate vocals spawn a smooth class over immersive electronic backdrops. It's one of the best album that alongside various other records this year proves that female led pop music still has a future following last year's tragic passing of Amy Winehouse. It has hope after all.
You can't help but fear for bands like Dog is Dead. Alternative rock bands that make the best out of spacey synthesizers and pleasant pop melodies. There's always a fear that the only place they'll get their music is on DFS adverts. Their debut album All Our Favourite Stories is filled with massive pop hooks that always lead up to an irresistibly sweet chorus. You may look at that cynically yes, but when you hear it, you'll be smiling to much to even care about notions as radio-play and half price off sofas. Such delicacy, emotional warmth in songwriting and tender song deliveries is deserving of so much more than cynicism.
292. Pånnivågn - Mellom Alt og Ingenting (Self Release)
Mellom Alt og Ingenting, meaning "Between Everything and Nothing" in Norwegian suggests something of a content and confident solidity in where your music stands. And in the second full length album from native quintet Pånnivågn, you can identify the same kind of themes. Described as "the new Tronder rock" due to their strong accents tot he region, the band stamp out their overall authority through hard rock grooves and crushing riffs with a jagged spike of punk adrenaline that in vocal cackling shows much attention paid to the local black metal residence. And it takes that influence and turns it into something fun with sing along melodies, making it a very refreshing surprise. Maybe we can't be sure where it stands, but it definitely stands up with assurance.
291. Broadway - Gentleman's Brawl (Uprising Records)
You know when something is so frequent and unwilling to move away that you're left with choice but to bear with it until it actually becomes something you enjoy? You'll get that kind of effect on Gentleman's Brawl the second album from Florida pop punk-stars Broadway. The delivery of irresistibly sweet and catchy pop punk melodies played out on heavy riffs and verging on death metal hard drumming is so frequent that by the end of it, you'll undoubtedly feel a little upset that it's all had to go away. It's not by any means revolutionary but it's so effortlessly fun that you'll have to have your headbanging in some way. It's delightful pop punk that literally invades your brain.
With an onstage persona that involves dressing, well, straight like he's walked out of the Stuart reign, London indie rocker Charles Costa, aka King Charles has become his genre's own Adam Ant. However, Costa's influences on debut full-length LoveBlood base themselves on an older time with songwriting based around the early synthpop of the 1970's delivered through Vampire Weekend-esque indie pop melodies. And such a theatrical appearance asks for a theatrical album outing with grand backdrops constructed out of gleaming synthesizers and orchestral backdrops, which are also contrasted by more stripped down oddities with a 1950's influence. And since the world of quirky, ambitious indie pop needs a king to rule it, I think someone has the potential to take the throne.
Um... leave your brains at the door, come on in and join the cowboy party! It's the best advice I can give for if you're going to listen to Peacemaker, the second album from Texas Hippie Coalition, a group of mean guys actually from Texas, unlike those guys who were just there in July. It's a powerhouse groove-show of crushing hard rock made by a group of Texan outlaws who were brought up only on the outlaws that rode before them. Frontman Big Dad Ritch has the exact same voice as when comedian Stephen Hill pulls out his legendary Phil Anselmo impression which perfectly carries the unforgiving swaggering punishment of the songs he's written. It's a collection of brutal Southern friend songs from the most Southern sounding men in the history of music. All you have to do is turn it up.
288. Busdriver - Beaus$Eros (Fake Four Inc.)
My first experience of Regan Farquhar was probably one of the vital things that made me realise that modern hip hop was worth holding onto. Under his better known guise of Busdriver he returns with his eleventh album Beaus$Eros (Bows and Arrows, yeah?) that proves that maybe he really does deserve that reputation of being the craziest and most creative names in hip hop after all. It's a highly emotive lyrical affair that captures Farquhar's recent personal issues of failure, breakups and clinical depression. Most of all the, musical influence has gone way beyond that combines modern hip hop with avant garde pop beats, reggae and dance rock rhythms. Melancholy has never flashed with so much colour and hip hop has never seemed so vital.
Perhaps the world of deathcore will never be truly recognised for how talented it will actually be while we instead spending complaining about how it all sounds the same. Indeed while Baptized in Filth isn't anything resembling a groundbreaking album by any but the fourth album third album from Riverside quartet Impending Doom is a massive improvement on previous efforts, with a noticeable increase of more varied technical riffs and a heaviness that strikes with an constant intensity that still makes jaws drop even when you know it's coming. And if that brings out complaints from people, guess they're missing out.
286. Swallow the Sun - Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (Spinefarm)
It's always a bold move when one of the most influential bands in a new emerged sub-genre then moves away from it to do something new. But Swallow the Sun have no fear, after inspiring a whole range of bands in their natural fusion of European melodeath and doom metal, they've reached out for a wider range of influences on their fifth album Emerald Forest and the Blackbird and honestly, it captures the overall tone they've captured throughout their releases, better than previous efforts. While their doom and death influences have their place, there's time for softer atmospheric passages, balladry and development on gothic soundscapes. It's wonderfully bleak and wonderfully brave and wonderfully done.
The album title is probably defeating me of a need to do this, but heavy metal lives! 3 Inches of Blood haven't had it easy in attempting to obtain a solid reputation throughout the career ever since most critics assumed them to be a parody band in the same vein of Steel Panther. But if the full fronted effort put into fifth album Long Live Heavy Metal is the stuff of real belief and thought, then they might just be the most passionate and bursting-with-metal band in the world. Cam Pipes' demonically high... pipes are delivered with full force amongst the band's fierce shredding an mile a minute solos adding up to a triumphant display of heavy metal that will transport you back to 1982 with a massive grin (not from laughing) on your face.
When an album is faced with a combination of conceptual crafting a genius musician as a frontman and a tone fueled by total bleakness and despair, chances are you have a release of high quality on your hands. And so we have a double album with different sections split into chapters that finds influence within the most respected of blues rock musicians and making the pace desperately low. It's (Mankind) The Crafty Ape, the sixth release from the Justin Greaves fronted Crippled Black Phoenix, a band that Greaves is really the only official member of now. But his songwriting is at it's finest hear, with a complex and intense body of work that must be listened to in it's entirety each time. Such enthrallment with such stunning credentials should be enjoyed at it's fullest.
When Julian Cope first emerged in the wake of the early 1980's psychedelia revival, his first efforts had a certain sincerity that allowed him to stand out in the crowd. As the decade went on and the 90's and 2000's had their time, he faded back into a face in the crowd, more a major cult figure. So it's clear that double album Psychedelic Revolution isn't going to start any kind of major uprising as it lingeringly promises to but you are certainly in for a helping of imagination tickling, provocative and constantly interestingly crafted music. It's the most direct Cope has ever been in his recordings, which ropes some of that revolution-starting sincerity back.
Sometimes dance music can be so different from what we've come to expect of the norm that it actually sounds good. And so comes the eclectic mix of the groove of funk and disco from yesteryear and minimalist pop rhythms that forms the backbone of World, You Need a Change of Mind, the debut offering from producer Adam Bainbridge under the alias of Kindness. The real excitement comes in the vast mixture of tone as drops of funk beats and the likes of saxophone solos and sampled vocals sound like dramatic splashes of colour clashing against a haunting grey canvas. And that gives us the sound of dance music that carries a wide spectrum of emotion and is just as mysterious as the character making it.
(Photo Finish Records)
After releasing a number of brilliant works in his careers of fronting Saosin and Circa Survive, Anthony Green is a musician that's earned his right to record a poppier solo album that ropes in guest appearances in gentle hooks alike. And so he does it for a second time on Beautiful Things, a collection of tearfully written songs have a satisfying catchiness, that explores a more bluegrass-tendered influence of songwriting. It's a poignant affair with songs about fatherhood and other gripping subjects which you can't escape thanks to Green's unique passionate vocals. And such passion and belief in the music is undoubtedly what has made Green worthy of having a solo career.
As a fan of all the kind of music you've seen splashed across here so far, you'd imagine that a winner of the BBC's Sound of 2012 award should contradict anything that I'm looking for in an album. And yet on his debut release Home Again, North London soul man Michael Kiwanuka channels the charm, grace and dignity of a generation of soul singers ahead of him through warm folk melodies, psychedelic guitars and nifty jazz passages that leaves listeners in a trance like state of utter bliss. And if the BBC have a habit for just choosing peaceful musicians to carry the sounds of the year, at least they're making the right choices in some field of their company.
Even though death metal is one of the loudest types of music out there, Australia's Psycroptic were fairly quiet in the grand scale of things before getting signed to Nuclear Blast for the release of 2008's Ob(servant). They've come crushing back now with fifth album The Inherited Repression and now the loudness and intensity is available for everyone to hear. And what's on offer is a range of fantastically constructed technical death metal that chooses to take the genre seriously again and presents various members as future leading examples in extreme metal. And at a time when deathcore seems to be taking over as everyone's preferred take on death metal we can only be grateful for such mastery in real death metal.
There aren't a lot of bands that truly live up to what their name implies but with the sheer devotion that a hardly massive amount of people have shown towards The Cult since 1983 and throughout more lineup changes than a badly aged biker gang, they really do live up to proper cult band reputation. And with their ninth album Choice of Weapon it's that cult following they're looking to astonish with a raw hot of the press display of rock and roll with an impacting sprinkle of gothic mysticism. And with this tight use of distortion, the band prove that their cult inducing rock and roll magic has made a refreshed comeback. Sorry Jaz Coleman.
Having recently decided that Job for a Cowboy's debut EP Doom is the best comedy metal EP of all time and my favourite song on the EP is Bree Bree Breeeeeeee it's obvious just how much the Arizona quintet have stepped up and improved with each release. It means that their third full length Demonocracy is the group's first essential album, with all the skills they've been building up to so for finally honed out with perfection. There's a step up lyrically as well as Jonny Davy's political musings are launched over bludgeoning breakdowns and lead guitars that scream like phantoms. It's been a long time coming but the perfect JFAC album has finally emerged. It's a lot better than hearing Jonny Davy constantly talking about his favourite French cheese.
Not many serious solo musicians have gone on to be outshone by their side project contributions but when you're Newbury Park's indie folk troubadour M. Ward and your side project work includes working with actress Zooey Deschanel in She & Him and members of Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket in Monsters of Folk... then it happens. But Ward's solo albums have always been credible masterpieces in their own right and eighth album A Wasteland Companion shows just that. It's sense of mystique and affectionate songwriting makes it a continuously gorgeous listening experience that anyone can instantly fall in love with. Maybe an individual's solo work really is where you can find the best stuff.
(Big Scary Monsters, Inc.)
It was near September when this album was released, which is a bit of a shame really, because throughout their releases, Seattle's Minus the Bear have always been blessed with the ability to write the perfect summer song. It means that fifth album Infinity Overhead would have been better if released in March in Scotland. The album feels like a well rounded retrospective of all the styles the band have tried so far filled with twinkling guitar loops, sweet lyrics and a consistent uplifting vibe. It means that if you like your pop rock to be as sweet as possible, this can be your soundtrack for... next summer.
274. Goatwhore - Blood for the Master (Metal Blade)
Ah, Goatwhore, the band that shows that maybe Mick Jagger's denials that Sympathy for the Devil brought an edge of satanism into the recording of rock music weren't so true after all. Everything the New Orleans trio has been done with the idea of offering something to old Lucifer in mind and it's made them a force in the underground American metal community. Fourth album Blood for the Master is strong enough to drag them out of the underground to bring Hell onto earth through roughed up punk riffage delivered with flourishing black metal intensity. It undoubtedly features some of their strongest tunes to date, maybe with the power of Hell behind them.
You will never leave a Dying Fetus album with a new set of songs you can whistle along to as you walk down some sunny streets to buy sweets. You will never leave a Dying Fetus album with an inspiring set of lyrics that you can get tattooed on your chest. But for that single moment when you listen to albums like the Maryland trio's seventh album Reign Supreme you will be treated to an intense session of headbanging, mosh-pit worthy riffage and brutal death growling like no other. With a big step up in sound quality, the band's collected brutality has never sounded clearer as each beatdown and solo from John Gallagher and Trey Williams blast beat reaches heights unheard before. You won't go to bed remembering these songs but for on the edge, live for the moment brutality, few albums can beat this.
Don't know if you were looking for an album that would break your bones to the very ground but you can easily find it whenever you approach a release Belgian masterminds Aborted. It's one of the simplest arrangements of brutalizing death metal that has no need for fancy studio trickery or alterations in productions. Bludgeoning technical riffage is spawned out against monstrous blastbeats all with a great amount of ease. It leaps far beyond the average death metal expectations to make something truly introspective into a more dramatic foray of metallic terror.
After Tim Kasher's questionable foray into solo artist territory, it's refreshing to see Cursive make a strong return to top form with their heavy concept weaving eighth album I Am Gemini that brings in the ingenious and surreal band of old. Kasher has written an entire album brimming with abstract unpredictably as the album's tale of twin brothers separated at birth to follow opposing paths is delivered in a tone that pours out emotion through mass buildup of steel coated punk riffs and brooding vocal lines that gleams with the ferocity and casual delusion of the lyrics themselves. It's the source of all good concept punk albums, which is for sure a rare thing.
(Tee Pee Records)
I think lots of critics have been relying on San Francisco trip rockers Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound to return with something colourful, uplifting but also keep things good for the more hipster-minded of us since 2009's When Sweet Sleep Returned. And they've definitely come back swinging on their most second album Mazanita. It hits hard with chugging guitars and thundering drumbeats. And this display of punchy hooks can be constantly heard on the album, wrapped in coats of pure acid, resulting in a delicious trip to the late 1960's with a distinct modern pop delight. It's jolly, uplifting and carries an appreciation for art all at once.
Well, you can't deny Anthony Green has been on a more productive form this year, making the time for Beautiful Things and getting his head in band frontman mode back in Circa Survive. On fourth album Violent Waves, the band's total DIY approach gives the album a more ambitious edge already and highlights how effective the band are as producers as delicate spacey backdrops and ambient atmospherics are executed with the perfect tone for it to full absorb your senses and to hear Green's near androgynous voice over much bigger guitar work again is always awe-inspiring and bristling with emotion. Green has been delivering the good's this year and this brooding work of art is the icing on the cake.
The world of old school death metal was turned on it's head four years ago with the release of Cryptopsy released their fated The Unspoken King and one of the originators of technical death metal became associated with deathcore, and using clean vocals and keyboards. Now, their seventh self-titled album is a devastating return to top form and how perfect it is to see this being a self titled album because nothing has embodied what this band stands for like this. It's immensely technical but carries an engaging flare in the structuring of songs through schizophrenic guitars, old school death metal vocals and crystal clear drilling drums. This album doesn't just make up for the deathcore venture, it's one that old school death metal enthusiasts can honorably add to their collection.
What can be said about Bob Dylan in 2012? In his post 2000 career, one can never be sure if he's going to unleash a masterclass set of modern day poetry, or if he's going to set a weird set of Christmas songs. Thankfully in 2012, he's at a stage of constructing brilliant lyrics again and has come out with Tempest, which also stands as one of his best albums yet. He begins to once again touch the poetic heights of the sixties and seventies that felt missing for so long, writing simple bluesy rhyming couplets that feel so genius when spat out of his brilliant terrible voice. His narration shifts across such a wide range of subjects, it proves he can still release an album of surprise and thrills. After 50 years, Dylan is still the king of lyrics.
Well, I never thought we'd see the band that changed everything in the world of hardcore make another again. However, Bad Brains, one of the original US hardcore bands that proved just how much more could be done than just standard blasting riffs. It's hasn't been since 1989 that they released an album they could consider a classic and true to form, their latest effort Into the Future, despite being an album that sees the band that first lit up the '80's hardcore scene fully reunited, chooses not to just rehash their first albums. While some punk blasters do exist, alongside reggae jams and odd-jazz rock stampers, there's a crispness and tone surrounding it unlike anything the band has ever delivered. Either way, to have Bad Brains back is a hell of a thing worth shouting about.
While their story is no Mayhem by any means, there's a lot that says that being in Swedish black metallers Shining has had it's fair share of controversial moments, particularly after frontman Niklas Kvarforth's whole fake suicide trick in 2006. it's thankful that the music has been extremely good because there is a hint of scumbaggage within it's members. Recent albums have suggesting ongoing progression within the band's evolution but eighth album Redefining Darkness, the first album with an English title suggests an entirely new era of progression has been entered. There's plenty of chunky riffage but the amount of time immersed in dazzling alt rock and progressive territory makes it as interesting as it does extreme. It shows life still exists in, well a musician that everyone thought was dead.
Proving themselves to be something of a staple within the underground American melodic punk scene, The Bouncing Souls made a blissful return this year with their ninth album Comet, proving them to be nine albums young and able to produce punk songs as energetic, emotional, thought provoking and unspeakably fun as any of their contemporaries while staying characteristically true to what they know. It's a punk album through and through with sharpened hooks and bigger choruses. It's nothing new but a reminder of why traditional punk rock still rocks our socks.
Always a band with a rightful influence on many big pop punk bands and punk bands that actually like to make decent melodies and never fully recognised for it, The Offspring like to take things into their own hands and make an album of solid sing along punk songs. It made them a vital part of American popular culture in the 90's and you can still hear it even now on their ninth release Days Go By. Packed with fresh melodies and Dexter Holland's passionate songs about relationships, the government and society, even in a way that shows he's still willing to do it in a mocking way it shows a band getting on a bit but still sounding fresh as ever. Their time in the limelight may have passed but their time onstage is far from over.
When Guided by Voices made their original final bows in 2004, it had been at a stage where the lo-fidelity indie recordings fueled by hard drinking and smoking had ended and the band had made confused steps in trying to find a more commercial sound. Having finally returned for expansive new recording sessions, they return with Let's Go Eat the Factory an album that sets them up as the fuzzy indie nutjobs that we've always loved them for and couldn't ever mistake when hearing them as Robert Pollard crafts short but sweet blasts of distorted upbeat rock belters. It's certainly good but with the average length of each song, I can't help but think that it would be better if the band had maybe some more work to show us this year. Keep that in mind...
Under her guise of Cold Specks, Canadian-based-in-London songwriter Al Spx has spent the past couple of years drawing up buttoned up acclaim with her shadowy take on Southern blues music. She returns one more in a higher stated of self-composed poise with her debut full length that has a title which sounds like opposite day in Kaiser Chiefs bandcamp. I Predict a Graceful Expulsion manages to make bold statements and leave lasting impressions without the need to even do that much. Spx's ambiguous vocals, backed by a phantasmal backdrop of acoustic guitar, muted pianos and dry strings build up a dark shadow to cast over American music that could challenge the shadow of Nick Cave. A constant sense of mystery makes this an album that soothes you in some places and turns your skin cold in others.
If every album had to pass a safety test of some sort that meant that listener's eardrums had to come out unharmed, then this would come out as a massive failure. On their debut full length BLKLSTRS, Leeds quartet Blacklisters manage to strike with a knockout at least every couple of minutes with their assault of riffage encrusted in pits of complete filth and nihilistic vocal bludgeoning. Their influence from The Jesus Lizard is apparent across the album, with elements of Fugazi thrown in to put some emotional sensitivity over what is complete inhumanity. This doesn't feel like an album to enjoy oneself to, more an album that allows you to vent out all your rage perfectly, with some violent sense of class. It's an album that proves why the least safe albums are always the most alluring.
What we can gather from the release of this album is that Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover are so obsessed and enthusiastic to release new music, they're even willing to do it without, well the rest of their band. And so comes Freak Puke, the first release to come under the name of Melvins Lite, a band that gives you the full sound of the Melvins with less members. This allows for some experimentation and the introduction of Trevor Dunn to play bass on the album allows for forays into jazz operated songwriting and the addition of haunting double bass into the middle of songs to make them that more horrific. Overall, we have an album that's as uncompromising as the Melvins, just less fattening.
If you've become acquainted with the world of Rise Records, then there's a good chance you will know what you're in for when you give To Create a Cure, the debut full length from Ohio quintet My Ticket Home a spin. There's massively heavy breakdowns and there's a switch between scream vocals and melodic vocals for when the chorus comes. However, the amount of skill and talent the band put into this that boasts a higher range than many other metalcore bands from that record label. With a rawer production, a much more in depth heaviness and an ability to control it, the band put on a much more diverse, meaningful and gripping effort than much of their label mates.
This seems like the beginning of the album that Coheed and Cambria always wanted to make. No matter what style they've worked into their music, the underlying purpose of their work has always been to create storytelling concept albums with separate themes linked through albums that I am probably to silly to understand. The Afterman sees the opening of a new chapter in the band's story known as "The Amory Wars" and sees the band staying it's most truthful to it's prog roots to date. So far Ascension focuses on the life of character Sirius Amory and his horrific explorations, which is really brought to life by the band's convincing performance. I certainly has you gripped for what comes next when Descension drops.
In many ways, Californian punks have done something amazing, in taking the two opposing aesthetics of punk rock and putting it into one delightful combination. By taking the minute and a half structure that has funded some of the most furious hardcore songs and sweetening it up with melodies and lyrics that would immediately make you fall in love with some of the other bands on this list, they make up the main basis of their second album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired and become beloved in the eyes of everyone so easily. It makes the teen angst and adolescence romance of the album come delivered with a harder shell. The spread of emotion through solid punk rock makes this the kind of album that comes like a whirlwind to take your breath away.
Britain's own Satyricon return with one of their finest albums to date so far. On evidence of ninth album Vanitas, it's clear that Irrumator and V.I.T.R.I.O.L still have lots of creativity and challenging thoughts within them whenever they record an Anaal Nathrakh album that means they can't permit any other musicians to record with them. And so they return with an album that upholds their blackened combination of extreme metal through grindcore riffs and blastbeats, harsh industrial noise and a love for all things ominous and satanic. It's a thrill-ride of horrors that makes a perfect balance between pure Lightning Bolt weirdness and chugging death metal. And it proves we can do black metal in Britain.
(The All Blacks)
A collaboration between the two main faces of progressive music today was inevitable, so when Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson announced they were working on an album together under the name of Storm Corrosion, we must have been expecting something featuring the greatest lead guitar work of all time. Instead we got something vary different to what we were bargaining for, as the duo's self titled album served as the perfect conclusion for Opeth's death metal abandoning Heritage and Wilson's Grace for Drowning solo album as the duo craft desolate works of musical mastery with simple backdrops made up of sweeping symphonies and intense keyboards. The sense of ambiance does most of the talking and keeps you fully gripped within the entire proceedings. It makes you truly realise how little is required to strike fear into your listeners. It keeps you terrified to the extent that you can't keep away.
(Twist and Shout)
Maybe it's in my own ignorance but it's not until 2012 that I've come to realise just how good a track record France has with it's hard rock and metal bands. Yet here we have the pure solidity given to us through Dynamite Drug Diamond, the fourth album from French quintet Tang. It's an album just filled with solid songwriting with a knack for making rampaging post hardcore tunes awash with unstoppable melodies, dynamic compositions and bursting positivity. It's nothing new but it's definitely performed with the young faced freshness of a band that thought it was.
I love a lot of indie pop bands as you've already noted, but there's an apparent lack of proper risk taking in favour of charm and subtlety. Some folks are willing to give it shot, and you can hear it on all bombastic glory on Horseplay the debut album of Lazarus and the Plane Crash, a collaboration between Guillotines singer Joe Coles and Stephen Coates, the dark force behind The Real Tuesday Weld. The album's filled with crunching rock and roll belters that features jazz samples, squeezebox guitars and Coles' snarling croaks akin to those of Tom Waits. It's a real bad boy performance, with a danger that many names in indie rock could do with picking up on.
Even the demons below will feel the rumblings that emerge from Serpent Sermon, the twelfth album from Sweden's black metal kings Marduk, arguably their most diabolical and finest work to date. Whether it's riffs race to skyrocketing speeds or dig deep into atmospheric grooves, this is a force from the band that stays true to black metal in it's strongest principles while also revealing their unique melodic signatures that make you savour every chord. This gathering of cursed power on this album will make it a crucial album to find a place in the collection of only the most sinister metalheads.
Sometimes when you hear news of a band splitting up, you just have to look back on how good the music was and how entirely needless and futile the nature of breaking up really feels. When Long Island quintet Daytrader called it a day in November, it was at a time when you realised how breathtaking a rock band they really were. Their debut full length Twelve Years easily reflected their brilliance delivering sweeping emotional rushes of charming punk rock that brings back sweet memories of a time when "emo" was a legit term for music and not a corporate label to stick on people with skinny jeans and black make up. Massive choruses and a spread of emotion makes it a perfectly fulfilling modern punk album that leaves you needing nothing more. And that's the kind of band we need right now.
(Arctic Rodeo Recordings)
Everyone's favourite constantly-under-the-radar-since-the-nineties band Skeleton Key made a fine and long awaited return to form this year with their fifth full length Gravity is the Enemy following a number of rather dead years that saw many fear for the band's future. Thankfully, this latest releases sees them sounding rawer, raspier and more brittle than ever, as though they never went away. And sure enough the sound of the weird part of nineties alt rock a la Primus and The Jesus Lizard gleams upon their work with the group's own noisy print giving an extra touch, it's the sound of a classic and making a return. A classic band that knows what they're doing.
Since the release of thefakesoundofprogress to mark the turn of the century, Pontypridd sextet Lostprophets have essentially become a household name throughout the nation, even through recent times that have seen the likes of Biffy, BMTH and YMAS overtaking them in terms of overall popularity. Perhaps this is what's brought out the fighting spirit on their fifth album Weapons. It's an album of bulked up crafting of massive hooks that sees the full band triumphantly riding out with all guns blazing, that proves there is some kind of predictability to the songwriting but it still keeps you with a banging head whooping in joy. As far as massive pop rock albums go, this is flawless.
Exilia are by no means newcomers to the game, but the fact that they haven't gotten as big as the bands they've toured with like Rammstein and HIM yet probably speaks volumes about the quality of their music. However, if any album will turn that perception round, it's the trailblazing heaviness they bring on fifth album Decode. Frontwoman Masha's distinctive voice fits well within the massive nu metal grooves, meaning that the choruses are blasted out in total victory throughout catchy numbers in stylistic production to make gigantic pit-stirring heavy metal. Try and tell me you don't want that when it's right in your face.
When Christian Mistress released their debut album Agony & Opium in 2010, the dabbling in traditional heavy metal suggested something unique was to come of them. And they've pulled it off effortlessly with second album Possession fully immersed in battered up old school riffage. It's use of shredding that hasn't seen it's heyday since the 1970's that proves that metal can still exist without the need for fancy studios or cut-and-paste jobs. It marks the sign of a perfect sophomore release by providing a big step up of bang for your buck wether it's higher hitting old school solos or greater cauldron brimming doom riffs cased in grit. It's a blast to the kickass blast.
(Join or Die)
If you really can't get behind any hard rock band out there that delivers it's songs through simple structures and big hooks, then there's nothing I can do to recommend an album like this to you but if you like that style of music enough to be able to recognise which bands are the boring ones and which bands are the ones that leave you feeling something then you'll find A Different Light, the third album from Under the Flood to be something approaching divine. Catchy choruses slam into action with fiery riffs delivering fist pumping melodies, which have the sound of some of the band's best created work to date, which when put along triumphant mission statement like lyrics makes this album a restless force of power. It's not a place where you'll find broadened horizons but hopefully your head will be banging too much for that to be a concern.
(Big Teeth Music)
Ah Feeder, what an uncool band to love. The music isn't clever, they only rely on hooks and big choruses and they're only known for one song. And I know I'm not the only one who doesn't let this kind of thing get in the way. The Newport (now) duo have always been slaughtered by critics making them the ultimate underdog band that put absolutely everything into their work. Eighth release Generation Freakshow will keep their devoted fans as they keep things true to themselves exchanging in powerful hooks and rousing life-affirming choruses through crunching riffs and the sing-along melodies blasted out by Grant Nichols. As uncool as they seem, Feeder undoubtedly carry a golden back catalogue and this album will serve some fine additions.
After feeling disappointed by the new Beach House album, it's satisfying to hear a male/female electronic duo who focus on crafting with similar songwriting styles, only with an ability to reach higher with emotion and meaning without their efforts getting lost within the mundane. And that's what you'll get when you listen to Exitmusic's debut full length Passage. It's easy to assume that a Radiohead influence came into the band's name when you hear the albums tone of melancholy built up of slow, striking progression into roaring culminations. And this is the beginning of the duo's journey to joining Beach House as the critic's champions.
(Season of Mist)
I've found it as of this far impossible to find more than one person in my lifetime that can appreciate noise as a musical medium, but for as much as No Matter Where it Ends, the second album from Black Sheep Wall would like to stand as a metal album, it's nothing short of glorious noise based insanity and it is perhaps the coolest thing. It takes less from Darkthrone for heaviness and more from the megalithic paces of Sunn O)))'s downtuned madness, mixed with the sound of the world's most hateful grindcore band turning their sound down to an eighth. In the nicest possible of ways, this album is disgusting. So disgusting it's amazing of course.
Pessimism has never been delivered with so much heart. On their fourth album, On the Impossible Past, Pennsylvania quartet The Menzingers have finally found their own voice, having established themselves as a proper punk rock band with lots of heart and emotion to boast, balancing thick post hardcore with blissful pop melodies boasting an outer-body euphoria. Matching this sense of wonder is the duel vocals of Tom May and Greg Barnett both showing a homegrown affluence and charisma in their tone and lyrics. The songs are about regrets, memories, lost friends and loves and feeling torn and the amount of hearts it will yearning-ly grab is laudable.
The unsung heroes of the British post-hardcore explosion of the early 2000's return sharper than ever boasting a sound in all their performance that matches their album title. Yes, on fifth album The Pride, InMe charge along in jubilant form, driven by melodic guitar leads, vocal hooks and percussive basslines, this is a proud affair by a band that still celebrate the fact that they still play in a band. After all, how easy it would it be for Dave McPherson to kickstart a solo career. It's packed with instant classics, songwriting ideas that verge from the norm and pulsating rhythms soaking up a technical metal influence. Commendable songwriting efforts, and solid instrumentation, every moment screams of pride to be a solid institution.
One of the most consistently good classic heavy metal bands over the past 29 years, Rage unleash the full extent of their supreme underground talents on their tentatively titles 21st album... 21. The band are at their most dangerous as a three piece, as the sound heavier and tighter than ever, unleashing destructive groove, thrashed out with rapid fire adrenaline, both as thickly melodic as it is a punishing boneshaker. And in a decade spawning three decades, one of the guardian bands in the German metal scene still have a thick consistency.
As news of We Are the Ocean's continued ascent from the release of last year's okay second album Go Now and Live came out, involving appearances at Download and the release of a new album, everyone prepared for more of the same thing. Nice post hardcore, where the rough angry vocals of frontman Dan Brown would be contrasted by the soft wimpier vocals of singer/guitarist Liam Cromby. Then out of nowhere, Brown left the band and things had to change. The result is a big step up for third album Maybe Today, Maybe Tomorrow which sees Cromby assume a more three dimensional frontman role and the band have become a more mature stadium filling rock band, effectively moving them in the same direction as the wonderful Deaf Havana. It's the opening of a new chapter for the band, seeing them become the quartet that will deliver raw riffs to everyone's attention.
Having my first proper experiences of clubbing this year taught me this year that against all the joyful feel good dancey vibes there's always a dark undercurrent to be found beneath it all. It's something that Ontario electronic duo Crystal Castles understand and have projected amongst many other things on their third album (III), that reveals in the slow revelation of how dark poppy dance music can be transformed with the revelation of fresh indie pop vocals from Alice Glass that becomes more and more distressing as harsh industrial soundscapes surround her tone of sincere innocence. This album just feels wrong every time you try and listen to it. And that makes it restlessly compelling.
There's something that always manages to amaze about the craftiness that Papa Roach have displayed over ten years of releasing albums. While all their commercial period nu-metal peers have now virtually lost all relevance, they've managed to keep staying strong virtually by hopping onto different trends and actually making killer albums out of it. And they've achieved it once again on eighth album The Connection. A further step up in their escape from nu metal in fusing their massive hook-laden hard rock with spacey synthesizers and immersive backdrops that really show a strong passion for creating something with a more alternative backing that boasts some of their strongest songs they've ever penned. Once again the knockout blow is avoided.
In a love of all things independent Ginger Wildheart, frontman of Britain's most beloved underrated rock band The Wildhearts set up a Pledge Music campaign. After being immediately followed by over 62,000 pledges that saw various records on the site being broken, Newcastle's actual finest musician has really boasted the power of the pledge and has released music to match the achievement of the way it's been sold. Packed with shining rock n' roll riffs delivered in compact poppy punches, sounding noisy and brash through shimmering production. It's 100% and more.
Arguably the veterans of melodic hardcore punk rock as we know it today Hot Water Music made a triumphant return this year with Exister, their eighth album and first album in eight years and it's clear that that sparkle of greatness within them has gone absolutely nowhere. Jagged punk riffage cause for a rise up of awesome melodies that will cause as many mosh pits as they will arms swaying in the air. The effortless charisma of Chuck Ragan emits lots of homegrown sincerity and passion within his lyrics that you just want to immediately fall in love with. Truly, punk is power and even the older names in the trade have enough to prove it.
When Memphis May Fire were signed to Rise Records last year to release The Sinner, it was a serious sign that the band had stepped up to become true contenders to become the big names in the big movement of American melodic metalcore bands. Who knows if this year's effort Challenger will do the same? Whether it does or not, it's a solid effort filled with big chugging breakdowns and stadium filling choruses and hooks delivered in the ever confident tones of frontman Matty Mullins, it's a sign of a further step up on previous efforts. And if the time has ever come for them to move up with their fellow 'core peers, it's now.
If you're one of the many people that first heard this band after getting mixed up with Californian metalcore stars Of Mice & Men, there's an obvious irony in the fact that the nature of both bands would make a lot of sense if the creature in each band name switched bands. That's because Of Monsters and Men's debut effort My Head is an Animal has on display some of the most beautifully crafted works of delicate songwriting, warm hearted lyrics and rousing sing-alongs to emerge from Iceland. And in the mass indie-folk rising, it's great to see there's actually a... good band doing the job. And there's nothing monstrous about that.
(Tooth & Nail Records)
Minnesota trio Children 18:3 have by now become veterans of the actually existing Christian punk rock scene and since for me, no religion has gotten in the way of being able to identify a solid riff yet, there's lots of thrilling hooks that take you on a bouncy journey through their fifth album On the Run. Frontman David Hostetter shreds on guitar taking you on a solid rollercoaster ride of hooks as his easily identifiable vocals shows his journeys from '90's fun-loving pop punk to the angsty melodic hardcore emergence. There's some surprises on the way, but mostly you're in for a massive riff-fest which serves as a good place to start with these guys.
If endless determination and perseverance in the world of music really was the key to making it through, then Straight Lines would be a household name in homes across the nation. Instead, the Pontypridd quartet are making a name for themselves with some class and knowledge of how to get riff heavy rock fans on their feet with their debut album Freaks Like Us. It's filled with trailblazing riffs and an ability to uphold a convincing hardcore ferocity but also strikes out with massive poppy hooks and sing along choruses without just becoming... Weapons. It's keeps a rare ability of being a pop rock dream come true without the need of any glossy sheen. All the biggest bands in the world should be like that.
(Solid State Records)
You may have noticed the large amount of specifically Christian rock and metal bands in this list and it has very little to do with faith. It just happens that when some bands put effort into expressing your faith, they put some massive effort. And what a wonderful example of this Captors, the debut full-length from Wolves at the Gate is. One listen results in pure satisfaction, as clean vocalist/guitarist Steve Cobucci's power in all he does penetrates listeners senses that perfectly captures the spirit of a post-hardcore generation that came before them, particularly when considering the soon-to-be late great Underoath. It's a stunning song collection that tells the people who say that Christianity and metal don't mix to shut up.
Since 2010's comeback, people have expected a lot from London alt rockers Skunk Anansie after blowing up the '90's with dynamic songwriting that mixed brutal punk energy with sophisticated balladry and warm tones. Sixth album Black Traffic is undoubtedly a more sophisticated affair, but still has a touch of class about it all. The band still pack hard rock belters with scathing political outbursts that easily excites listeners, while an introduction of more atmospheric tracks and massive balladry fronted by the strong vocals of frontwoman Skin when not in typically feisty mode. It's not an accessible record by any means but by now the band are a celebrated enough cause to have a devoted fanbase that mean the most to them rather than bothering charts. And that's a move that shows the comeback was always for the love of music.
Since their 2004 breakthrough, Brooklyn indie quartet Grizzly Bear have kept the critics smiling with a continuously stunning output, that challenges listeners to think outside the box when listening and manage to appreciate the inner details of the album, and identify the real beauty of what you can hear flowing through the musical backdrops. And with fourth album Shields, the band have challenged us perhaps further than on previous efforts. It's a more challenging work of compositionally introspective songs that feels no need for anything resembling a lead single, as the fanbase has by now been those who can connect with the album's complexity and drift through dynamic textures and delicate transcendence. This is the band that has always asked for your full attention in class presenting you with the final exam. In the best sounding way possible.
Sacramento quartet Trash Talk have now spent their seventh year as a forceful hurricane of torrential hardcore downpours and have released a single, EP or album every year since to prove their worth. On their third album 119, the band keep up their face-busting hardcore racket sounding as authentic as all further releases while also resembling a step up into something far more advanced. No song moves beyond three minutes and are delivered with such a brutal sludgy sense of aggression, the frenetic chaos that shapes the band's sound speaks enough before even considering Lee Spielman's deranged lyricism. They're not reinventing hardcore on this album, but they're proudly carrying the torch onward.
As A Church That Fits Our Needs, the second album from North Carolina chamber pop collective Lost int he Trees opens with a far-off piano playing in a chilling minor chord, it's a good indication of the uncertain, chilling songwriting that follows across the album. Frontman Ari Picker delves into deep lyrical territory, delicately looking to make sense of his mother's suicide backed against rich orchestral backdrops. It's a delving into delicate territory treated with utmost sincerity backed by swirling strings and folk backings played with total simplicity stating a strong tone within them. It certainly remains a chilling affair, the kind you couldn't imagine performed on a stage, more like at a confessional.
The 2005 reunion of noise rock masters and the band that laid out foundations for grunge Dinosaur Jr. pleased many fans, although at the time it felt more out of reasons that it evoked a certain nostalgia within them. It's been seven years since then and the sense of nostalgic wonder has long since faded away meaning the band actually need to release properly good albums again. Thankfully, you're not going to get let down by a band like this and tenth album I Bet on Sky is awash with classic Dinosaur-isms. Lou Barlow's distinctive bassline rumbles with J Mascis' blistering guitar and lazy drawl that can be slow at times and chugging at others. With some hints of progression along the way, the album proves that no matter what their name suggests, they're still maturing away from the Junior age.
(In At the Deep End)
There aren't many bands around no that would so freely describe themselves and a rock and roll band, but to see Kent quintet Feed the Rhino giving it a shot makes so much sense. Second full length The Burning Sons is a rough album, one that doesn't believe in concepts like redemption or forgiveness. it's an album that uses violence as an answer, delivering it through punching guitars that blast out distortion at an ungodly sound and pace, and using it to craft their own bleak faced nihilistic hardcore. Lee Tobin proves himself a formidable working class frontman reveling in the fact that lots of people might hate him making it all the more furious a listen. It's an album that believes in violence as an answer, delivered through the pure essence of rock and roll.
"Why can't indie rock be brutal?" a group of four individuals from Leeds probably asked before recording a song called I Punched a Lion in the Throat. Yes the most unlikely alt rock heroes of the city Pulled Apart By Horses make a storming comeback with their second album Tough Love with a storming assault of visceral hardcore energy and rapid-fire indie melodies lit up by the violent screams of Tom Hudson. Nothing new is brought to indie rock or hardcore anywhere here, but when it's made rougher, gnarlier and more brutally fun than other names in the business we can still keep rolling with what we've got.
You may have listened to Deceiver, the 2010 debut from Escape-the-Fate-side-project-come-real-band-with-no-ETF-association The Word Alive and noticed it to be something of a mess, but a mess you could get into. Sophomore effort Life Cycles is a bold step up in crafting songs as listeners can only be charmed by the life-affirming lyricism of Tyler "Telle" Smith and can only get hooked within the band's pulsing works of breakdowns wrapped around various synthesized backdrops and samples. And with this album, the band escape their partners in the American metalcore league and land themselves in a league of their own. And that's a great surprise for a band that started as a mess.
Sometimes the most haunting thing about an alternative music duo is their devotion to creating chilling soundscapes that take no break from being haunting for any kind of radio play single. And Brooklyn duo Chairlift are a textbook example of this kind of group, whose 2008 debut Does You Inspire You constantly kept listeners guessing what was coming next. Follow up effort Something follows in a similar manner but with a more assured confidence of taking their influences from eighties synthpop and the best soulful harmonies of the decade. Caroline Polacheck and Patrick Wimberly tackle this style with the assurance and grace to turn it into their very own jangly array of ambient chills. Is that haunting enough?
California psych-rocker Tim Presley has lived a life immersed within the crafting of fuzzy stoner jams and now he's taken the time to bring back his White Fence moniker show off what he's worth with this year's double album Family Perfume. It's filled from head to toe with Presley's uplifting songwriting to make jangly pop rock belters with an extra hint of static making the songs those with an extra trippy vibe and it isn't afraid to throw listeners off course and throw listeners into weird territory dominated by blackened backdrops and unrelenting sound effects. Being uplifting and being surreal at the same time that never gets old. Lovely.
When Britain's darkest production team Soulsavers last had an outing on 2009's Broken, they essentially recorded a superbly crafted set confessionals via film-score-dirges by Mark Lanegan, who I will talk about in greater detail later. This time around on The Light the Dead See, their lush strokes of gothic-ly arranged masterstrokes are set to the velveteen croons of infamously troubled Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan. His sense of personal toils drip seamlessly out from every end of the album, as his distressing and devastated balladeer voice reaches new highs over the group's sonic backdrop to the end of the world, complete with sorrowful strings and concealing strings. It's an album for listening to alone late at night, it's the recording of human tragedy. And nothing's more gripping than that, right?
(School Boy Error)
When the entire indie genre seemed to find itself slackening down into quirky pop twee two years ago, it was good to be able to hang on to Dublin's The Cast of Cheers at the time of their debut effort Chariot that was unafraid to pick up on the pace and complexity that their contemporaries were failing to grasp. Second album Family holds on to those former qualities but having becoming part of a label and getting more time to record has clearly done them a lot of favours. There's an all around brasher beat meaning that hooks hit harder and you can sense an internal heaviness within the band even though they don't play that heavy at all. Bit these qualities allow the band's well crafted melodies and harmonies to come out in a greater tone and makes it an indie album worth holding onto for other reasons than it being a lovely piece of pop music. But then, the toughest names in indie pop is hardly a cool title.
In a time when even thrash, the most straight to the point musical genres has been riddled with sub-genres determining whether you're old school, modern, revivalist or many other needless words, German masters Kreator have always been able to be the real deal in thrash's time of need putting out consistently great releases throughout all the twists and turns. And they've cracked it again with the nihilism-fueled performance on thirteenth album Phantom Antichrist. It's all about the aggression and Millie Petrozza always delivers the good in vocals and guitar through rapid-fire riffs and intense vocals. And when such a sub-genre diversity exists in thrash metal, some band has to show everyone what it's really about.
Nothing really beats the idea of a group of quirky pessimistic making an album together does it? The echoes of Radiohead in such a description are endless. This collective happens to be the Laurel Collective who play an eclectic sound of indie tinged pop melodies all across the debut full length Heartbeat Underground. It's a sprawling fantasy land of gloriously inventive musicianship that never spends a moment thinking inside the box while still having enough pleasing melodies to inspire anyone who chooses to pay attention. It's a massively engaging effort from a band that aren't particularly out to bother anyone. One for all the self-proclaimed quirky pessimists.
214. Maxïmo Park - The National Health (V2)
It can't be easy being a British indie rock band that formed in the mid naughties. They missed the revolution of new guitar led bands and got put to the back of the shelves as rave took over the alternative music scene. But of the rock bands that made it big in this scene no one ever really gave Maxïmo Park the same kind of attention as the Kaiser Chiefs or The Cribs, meaning some genuinely solid rock songs have been overlooked. And this passion for crafting dramatic songs boasting a potent emotion is present on their convention defying fourth album The National Health, which sees the most mature and intelligent and well-structured work of music to come from a series of bands that would rather be seen as quirky and fun-loving. It's a solid effort for a band whose time to make it big in the mainstream has passed but the care for making music is still there.
213. Cripper - Antagonist (Self Release)
While the usual logic to thrash metal generally works that you listen to some smashing riffs and headbang, there's something about Hanover Cripper that makes them a little less accessible and more of a challenging band than the rest. Third album Antagonist is loaded with engaging ideas that other bands probably wouldn't approach while the efforts of making a thrash album are still extremely valiant and genuine. Packed with rapid fire riffage and catchy choruses, they manage to leave you experiencing a different rush of emotion with each new song and even manage to work elements of stoner rock and black metal into their outbursts. As far as modern thrash albums go, this could get a big reputation if nu thrash actually becomes a legit genre.
It's unlikely but perhaps those who were left with a sour taste following At the Drive-In's lackluster performances at Reading & Leeds festival and Brixton Academy were able to find some comfort in just how brilliant a release Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez pulled off in their equally established progressive rock band The Mars Volta with their sixth release Noctourniquet. It's an album that shows no slacking, filled with bizarre concepts, whirlwind guitar melodies and the occasional outburst of gripping lyrical nonsense all thoughtfully meshed together to deliver their messages in bombastic aggravated form. Maybe an album of this quality made Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez decide they couldn't be post-hardcore heroes. Art rockers they must be!
(Howling Mad Records)
If you're one of those few people who cared about who Blaze Bayley was before he joined Iron Maiden for a brief run as frontman, then this album has probably been a long time coming for you. With first album of new material since 1994's self titled effort, Wolfsbane return on top form with fourth album Wolfsbane Saves the World. Bayley may have been the wrong singer for Maiden, but his captured performance of seething bellows and howls, he is a commending presence here, while Jason Edwards is a trailblazing riff machine showing us the real nature of rollicking British hard rock. Bayley may have left the Premier League when he left Maiden, but he proves that within smaller divisions of touring clubs and attracting cult fanbases, he is the master.
4Arm are by no means a new name within the Australian metal scene, but ever since their 2005, debut 13 Scars they've sound their buildup getting bigger and bigger until this stage where it's lead them into international recognition with fourth effort Submission for Liberty. It's effectively a thrash lovers dream come true. Danny Tomb and and Johnny Glovasa's guitar combinations were made to but people's guts at their most aggressive while serving as unexpectedly charming at their most melodic, while Tomb at the helm of vocals delivers a menacing spiteful performance reminiscent of an early-80's James Hetfield. This is the sound of a band growing up into something massive, while keeping true to their roots. They're strong when they deliver thrash's ultimate rebellion sentiment.
We always try so hard at the start of every year to try and turn a full on guitar slinging rock band into a household name and the band always falls short of expectation because life's not fair. And so it's happened again with Camden's Tribes who make a big sound on their hook-filled debut offering Baby. They're one of the indie bands that have arrived with generations of bands to take influence from and slammings of gritty Pixies hooks flow perfectly with a Libertines streetwise swagger while obtaining a quaint subtlety all in the process of shaping up blasting indie tunes with sparkling production. And if they can't be a name, fear for the modern household.
Since 2002, LA alt rockers Silversun Pickups have showed that it is possible to uphold the vast expansive atmospheres of shoegaze music even when you're overall production is glossier and more pristine than the greatest names in the genre. But it wasn't until 2009's Swoon that they won a place int he hearts of all alt rock fans, which has set the bar high for them for their third album Neck of the Woods. This album sees them pick up the polish and head in a more streamlined alternative rock direction but it also means that guitar work and their rhythm section has been sharpened up upon as well, though the haunting vocal duo of Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger is the winning feature of the album. It may not have Swoon's creativity but it delivers some fine songwriting with great skill and refreshed energy.
It's always when metal is at it's most sci-fi obsessed when it pushes boundaries on what can be possible. Swiss quintet Sybreed prove just that with the challenging mixture of a variety of industrial and non-metal soundscaping with blazing grooves and deathly aggression on their fourth album God is an Automation. The amount of electronic effects have caused many to label this as a "pop metal" album, but since I've always considered the likes of Falling in Reverse to have that title, this is still a chugging beast of extremity at heart that unleashes it's full heaviness in death metal riffage brutal breakdowns that still has a sound outwith the metal norm. And if Fear Factory started the mixture of groove and industrial metal off then the new band to finish it must be... actually scrap that. However, the cogs of groove and industrial fit perfectly together here.
As said earlier, the reunion of the classic Guided By Voices lineup was only going to be monumental if two albums were released. And June's Class Clown Spots a UFO is the superior offering from the two comeback albums. Recorded in the same sessions as Let's Go Eat the Factory, UFO shows off the sharpest of Robert Pollard's songwriting abilities and sharpest indie hooks with a far greater influence from four decades of music past. There's a chance that this release may be overlooked compared to the previous effort, but it's this album that will keep us hoping the GBV reunion lasts.
(Season of Mist)
On their ninth full length effort, the kings of "Slavonic heathen metal" Drudkh make a maniac return to their blackened roots to the joys of everyone. Eternal Turn of the Wheel is a thankful return to what they know best after their attempts of progressive metal on Handful of Stars failed to satisfy anyone, including themselves. Waves of repetitive riffs build up a jagged framework of stripped back tremolo picking, which when drowned it's unrelentingly bleak aura sounds positively wretched, again, int he best sounding way possible. Any fan of black metal and it's constant veering into nerve-racking atmospheric territory should be impressed with this. It's raw, delirious and fairly disgusting.
A force to be reckoned with in underground hip hop, Sole made a slamming comeback with his first album in seven years A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing. It's a powerfully versed album about revolution, resistance, power and philosophy. Avant garde hip hop atmospheres are delivered with an absorbing ferocity upon concrete plated beats and basslines, that pushes the genre in ambitious developing directions. With guest vocals from some of the best names right now, collaborations with genius producers and a prominent intelligence all around, this album fulfills the real force of hip hop.
There never really was a leader in the jokey little union of bands knows as "The Wave", made up of Make Do and Mend, Defeater, Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute and Touche Amore, but this year MDaM may just have gone on to prove themselves to be one of the standout bands in the group of band's that don't sound like each other at all. The effort on their second album may vary greatly from 2010's End Measured Mile, but what we find ourselves with in return are a selection of honestly written punk belters intended to move listeners musically and lyrically. And with energetic hooks mixed with lyrics of severe introspection this album shows off the bands heartstrings, their delicacies and their vulnerabilities, while still playing hard. And that's an example more bands should follow, whether they're part of a Wave or not.
Many critics have been hailing Brooklyn sextet White Rabbits rather modestly as one of the best Spoon tribute bands of our time and on their bold third release Milk Famous they continue to show it off, with their delicate art rock influence sharpened up and drenched in distorted ooze pounding power pop melodies and effortlessly bouncy singles that boast a range of delicacy but bounce beyond advert jingle territory. And while many other bands would just like to play their playful tunes and maybe get to the top of the alternative charts, White Rabbits have their ambitions crafted far clearer to go beyond the Spoon and become a proper rock band while keeping the art collection.
As the entire United Kingdom are becoming gladly immersed within dreamy atmospheric indie rock, Irish's main export has arrived proving themselves to be one of the best in the packs. over the past year, Dublin quartet Funeral Suits have been developing from a shy pack of guys with guitars into a band that obtains it's modesty. On their debut full length Lily of the Valley, the band vent out their colourful creativity through dreamy soundscapes, hazy strokes of lead guitar and touches of industrial ambiance. And through doing this, they reach through varying emotions and tones while keeping a cohesive effort. It's a dazzling effort that shows that this lot have a lot to give to be frontrunners in the shoegaze indie revolution.
It's London based punk rock but it's weirdly not fueled by pure bleakness and anti-establishment sentiment. Lemigton Spa quartet Sharks have kept everyone waiting hungrily for some time after the release of 2008's debut EP Shallow Waters and with No Gods they fail to disappoint. The band pack blissful guitar melodies into a soundscape that isn't afraid to be scraped along the grit. Spreading their fun loving take on The Clash's assaults aided by frontman James Mattock baring such a resemblance Strummer, the band show what it is to make light with punchy guitars and melodic positivity.
If Job for a Cowboy were of the knowledge that they would need to evolve from the pig squealing deathcore sound to stay standing in the world of metal, then in the recording of their self-titled fourth album, the members of Whitechapel were clearly reading Darwinian essays on the matter. Through constant progression, we have come to what is easily the band's finest work to date, that features onslaughts of barbaric spells weaved within a startling increase of melody that even allows songs to feature choruses. And as Phil Bozemen manages to learn how to actually say words, this is an album that even provides quality lyricism. If this is still a deathcore release, it's one of a golden standard.
Having been the cream of the crop in the mid 90's during the massive post grunge explosion that occurred on both sides of the pond, Therapy? are a band that clearly understand what it means to have their moment in the spotlight taken away from them. And still they sound like an enthusiastic enough band for such an effect to have had little impact on them. Just look at the continued charisma, energy and passion displayed on thirteenth effort A Brief Crack of Light, where pounding metallic riffage thread through massive slabs of power pop hooks. And with a fully integral unit provided by all members to bring out aggression, melodies and the odd sprinkling of funk, this album really has the sound of a well established band having the time of their lives.
Whether he was jamming onstage to support Barack Obama or delivering a emotional show in his home state of New Jersey days after it was torn apart by Superstorm Sandy, Bruce Springsteen has done so much to dust off his legendary status in soulful rock music with lots of heart. And the same can be heard on 17th album Wrecking Ball. While having the same homegrown roots rock spirit that has made Springsteen a king in penning anthemic rock tunes, there's also evidence of The Boss updating his sound and paying attention to the current alternative rock scene. And so, traditional stadium fillers are in balance with an Arcade Fire sophistication and Black Keys coolness. But loaded with big melodies and lots of heart, this is fine evidence that Springsteen won't be shutting up any time soon.
Well, this was the first album of 2012 I listened to everyone, and it gave me a lot of hope of what was to come over the next few months. On their first two releases, I always thought the best that The Maccabees had managed to achieve was sounding like a poor man's Futureheads and that really emphasizes just how much of a massive step-up the South London quintet have made on their third album Given to the Wild. This album is more on par with the recent efforts of The Horrors in it's ability to push the band beyond their previous recording boundaries and embrace a sound more spacey and lushly atmospheric and sounding immediately like they control the atmosphere rather than getting lost in it. This step up launches them into the sound of stadium rock without any hints of overindulgence. It meant this year could only be sweet.
Here goes nothing. Basically, I was the only person in the world who enjoyed LIVING THINGS, the suggestively angry fifth album from the world's most critically slaughtered band Linkin Park. After the release of 2010's A Thousand Suns, everyone seemed to decide that the angry band they grew up with was dead. Taking that in the note they decided they could do something that proved them wrong while continuing to show how wonderfully immersed within mainman Mike Shinoda's newfound craft of crystalline indietronic soundscapes. The result is this album, filled with powerful melodies massive hooks and very real moments of real anger, delivered with a greater finesse and class than anything they've delivered before, resulting in their finest album to date. And nobody else thought so. Only I enjoyed it. Does anyone still respect me?
At 21 years of age, Home Counties' own Hannah Clark has made a name for herself in the form of Foe who may have a big future of putting nice weirdness into music ahead of her. For now, we can find it in her debut effort, Bad Dream Hotline, an album that truly lives up to it's name, as nightmarish lyrics of lost children, isolation and a haunting obsession with the darkness (Not like the band you'll be reading about soon if you're patient.) are at a constant prominence. Constantly gripping, this is an album that reminds you of why the best music always excites.
Becoming a professional jazz musician is just asking to be only known in underground circles. And if that's the case, then Otis Taylor has gained some very round respect. Lots of talent has been put into his fourteen year expanding discography and on twelfth album Contraband Taylor and his well orchestrated backing band weave together a rich collection of howling Mississippi blues melodies that sees the man laughing in the face of Satan and telling that the devil's only gonna lie, which is only made more triumphant by cheering gospel choirs, organs and horns, even some cool funky basslines. It's an album that dynamically shifts through contrasts but there's always a mischievous tone of fun to be had somewhere. Jazz may be an underground world but there's lots of fun to be had as well.
If you were to approach Periphery from their Facebook page alone, I wouldn't blame you for coming away assuming them to be some kind of comedy band. Their music on the other hand couldn't be more different. As leaders of the new wave of progressive metal, they have to be the most serious in their musical craft, and they do so on Periphery II: This Time It's Personal, as modern day guitar virtuoso Misha Mansoor creates a gripping emotion laden atmospheres, palm muting brutality and many other guitar effects I won't pretend to understand. But with further expansion on progressive territories, melodic structures and a more organic vocal performance, Periphery take songwriting traditions, intense guitar technicalities and take heavy metal a step closer towards the future.
If you are very much an elitist that strongly believes in the concept of bands selling out, the I can only imagine you haven't had that many positive things to say about Italian goth rockers Lacuna Coil in recent years. If not you may recognise sixth album Dark Adrenaline as being a blinding culmination of every quality they've perfected on their illustrious back-catalogue so far. Gleaming pop melodies and massive guitar beatdowns take up half the album's proceedings, while the other half is absorbed within a cold breeze of floating ethereal grace. It's the sound of a band at their tightest and most forward thinking while still being able to write songs with choruses to get arms waving in the air. It puts the sell-out concepts to shame.
It was at last year's Great Escape festival that Sydney quartet The Jezabels made a name for themselves and left all that continuously gathered to watch them waiting with baited breath to hear their debut effort. So it finally comes in the form of Prisoner and it does a stellar job in satisfying those craving for so much of them since last summer. The album reveals the band firing on all cylinders, executing their indie aesthetic with grated aplomb. The range of frontwoman Hayley Mary plays the starring role though, as she becomes one with he greats in contemporary female singers, even if no one realises yet. And the combination of this gives us nothing short of pop music weaved in gold.
In 1992, Ministry gave the metal guitar a new purpose when introducing it on Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, which became their most successful album and showed that their future was as a metal band instead of the constant forays of synthpop they had done before. Since then, only only one album has been of the ferocity to match that of Psalm 69 and it's their twelfth album Relapse. It only made sense that Ministry ringmaster Al Jourgensen would re-recruit Mike Scaccia on guitars as he launches up a hellish storm of demented riffage. And the mixture of guitar with brutal synthesizers loopy sampling and deranged vocals of Al talking of personal near-death experiences, this might be one of the most violent and varied offerings this abnd have given us in a very long time.
Here's a band with every reason to be smug. They're young enough to make me realise how much of a loser I am to them and they're already signed up to a major label simply by recording fun songs that they wrote as a result of having... well... Nothing to Do. On their debut full length album, Australian duo Bleeding Knees Club show off their talents of crafting making killer jams that are short, simple and slaying. It's all done capped off with an easily lovable slacker pop charisma that makes you realise there's nothing better than hitting the town with your pals and, piss about basically. They should be smug, but with their ability to remind you only of cool times, you should only be grateful.
187. The Raveonettes - Observator (Self Release)
From the release of 2003's stomping That Great Love Sound Danish duo The Raveonettes have built themselves up into a more distorted higher sounding act. With sixth effort Observator, the band return to a more subtle act that still wears an incredibly wide amount of influences on their sleeves. From the duo's harmonies packed with Beach Boys-isms to the shoegazy atmospherics of My Bloody Valentine, there's signs of lots of time spent by the band looking through some odd record collections as always, but with influences from some lighter names in alt rock coming through, this release is a sign of the band's pertaining relevance and darkness.
You'd be hard pressed to find someone that didn't revolve around the nineties without picking up on a bit of Garbage. The guy best known for being Nirvana's main producer has a band fronted by a glamorous Scottish woman? It's a sweet idea. Yet you'd also be hard pressed to find anyone demanding a comeback album from them. That's a reason why it's great to hear a sense of determination from Butch Vig, Shirley Manson and co. to stun people all over again with comeback effort Not Your Kind of People. While the ultimate act o the album is to stun listeners back to the nineties, the sense of nostalgia for those who were there and opening sense of understanding when pop music was more stable for those that weren't is impenetrable.
(4 Worlds Media)
With a constantly revolving lineup and a switch in ideas throughout a career spanning over forty years, Hawkwind somehow manage to never make the same album twice. As you can see on their twenty-fifth album Onward. I have no idea what kind of era of the lineup we are in by now, but it certainly means that a lot of new ideas and fresh-faced creativity has been spread around to crafting songs with attention paid to the current state of rock and electronic music. The concept-heavy double album is executed with slamming riffs, performances bold and dramatic when required and a sweeping production that upholds the traditional values of the space rock that they created. And if new faces mean new ideas then it's obvious that replacements don't always lead to disrepair.
I'll admit now, I stepped into this album believing this might be a new album from the Glasgow based post punk band of the same name, so the Italian album title didn't exactly prevent my head from spinning around in a state of constant unease and worry. But on the Italian group's debut effort Fiori di Porpora, translating into "Purple Flowers", you have a collection of stunningly crafted works of pop music laid out in front of you that soothes, uplifts and takes you to a state of atmospheric bliss. The band's ideas are lightly produced but reflect moments of outer-body ecstasy. And that is not something you'll feel when you listen to Bearsdens favourite sons.
It's been a long time coming and we're at the stage where Tommy Victor, the only one that people recognise is the only original member left, but Prong have a fiery return on their ninth album Carved Into Stone. After all this time, Victor still upholds his tick tone of indignation delivered through kicking melodies that we love this band for but with an introspective look into modern metal also having an examination, meaning more hard hitting brutality and riffs more crooked than ever, but that crust punk underbelly remains something that never goes flat. This is the classic sound of a sensational cult metal band making a comeback that their fans will go wild for.
Sources from previous songs would tell you that this band might be dudes that carry the news. While we can't be too sure, we know from debut album Welcome Home that Stoke quartet are able to carry powerful melodies and stunning penmanship of indie rock songs that are a dramatic outpouring of overwhelming emotion. Guitar lines are upbeat, simple to follow and more reminiscent to the likes of Oasis and Goo Goo Dolls which uphold a beautiful sense of positivity brought out by the very native vocals of frontman Ryan Dooley, possibly Stoke's Guy Garvey. They form the foundation for beautiful songs, perhaps some of the final new songs that will get lighters waving in the air through an entire show crowd.
The glorious style of power metal. It's always bold, valiant, and always to be taken completely seriously. Is it fuck? One of the things that actually makes Land of the Crimson Dawn, the seventh album from Nuremberg quartet Freedom Call simply comes from just how firmly the band's tongue is stuck in it's own cheek throughout the entirety of this album and to hear not really feeling the need to make massive concepts or construct headache inducing symphonic backdrops in favour of just making gigantic riffs and solos. And at the end of the day you'll have so much fun and feel so energized after listening to it the last thing you'll want is a full on symphonic proceedings. If the other bands in this vain are overly serious then this is the power metal album you get wasted with your mates to.
They have a band name that sounds like a choice we might have to make in a few days time and have been one of the best recent bands for crafting the melodic metalcore style we know today as any of their other high selling peers. On their latest effort Dead Years, Philadelphia quintet This Or the Apocalypse make room for hefty melodies and choruses to sit alongside devastating pummelings of stone plated metalcore and since their first album, the band has taken the time to develop and the vocals of Ricky Armellino really shows this best with wide ranges of styles delving into lyrics of a personal and political nature. If so much substance can be generated into metalcore still, I suppose my vote will have to for this over an apocalypse any day.
When you've been away from making music for nine years, things might be a little different when you return. You might look a bit different as well, maybe you'll have grown some facial hair. However ZZ Top have no need to fear when returning after such a long time out of the game. They definitely already have the beards and they've made a spectacular return to a changing world of music with the hard hitting garage punk licks of yesteryear on their fifteenth album La Futura. Their rough unrelenting playing of great classic rock is treated respectfully by Rick Rubin, as their combination results in differing influences coming together, executed with much quality. It's been nine years but it looks like Billy, Dusty and Frank have another hit already.
At a younger age, Patti Smith recorded some of the most influential albums of the history of punk music as we know it. Simply, it broke all the rules. Is anything more punk than that? Well, it's been four years since her last album Twelve and in that time, she's basically proven that age doesn't stop you from learning new things, having appeared in films, written books and receiving new college degrees. Eleventh album Banga is as diverse and ever-changing as Smith's own personal life. It reaches in on ideas of life, exploration and philosophy with astonishing show of graceful intelligence. It's not a high point or a low point in her career, but it serves as another charming release with that golden Smith standard.
Ah yes, the charming display of ambient melodies to come from Zombiekrig was very graceful on their second full length release Den Vanstra Stigens Ljus. No, not really. The Swedish maniacs once more battled it out with mind crushing thrash riffage, taking their old school Metallica and Slayer influences and covering them in corpse paint. And with a broad mixture of mindless aggression, well thought out guitar signatures and the occasional song with an actual chorus, there's proof that subtlety isn't always a necessary quality. And with most people looking at the return of old school thrash bands, it's nice to see that some newer names can give their elders a run for their money.
Well Gus G say it himself. In his ventures of learning guitar and making a career out of it, he must be doing things right when he's wanted to play guitar on Ozzy Osbourne's albums. It's certainly gained more notoriety for him as a player and the kind of stuff he does when he's taking a break from the man. And that includes fronting his own army of trad heavy metal warriors Firewind, who finally have a massive audience to impress on their seventh album Few Against Many. Here the band let the best of old school European power metal with some extra American muscle awash with Gus' mighty shredding that we've come to love made that bit more professional and tighter. It's a stunning effort showing the best from a metal guitarist officially becoming an icon of his own.
If there's any proof that I miss the time I spent in Dundee before leaving school, it's probably the fact that this album has made it so far in my list of best albums. I never believed that a good band could come out of the City of Discovery never mind a good metal band, so the gritty poundings of steely breakdowns and punk induced melodies delivered by local quintet Excellent Cadaver on their debut full length Faith Destroyed has re-installed my faith in what that gritty steel-plated city is capable of. And with a lack of fear from frontman Andrew Downie to let the Dundonian accent burst out, this is a metalcore band with definite identity who know and love where they come from. And so do I.
When you think about it, there is some fairly questionable logic to a band choosing to re-do their debut album only this time scrapping the vocals. But when you're a band as heavy, melodic and relentlessly crushing as stoner heroes Karma to Burn, then you really do just need to let the guitars speak for themselves. So on Karma to Burn - Slight Reprise, the bands uncompromising delivery of blasting riffs piled upon each other are heavy enough to sound like boulders being thrown against amps. You can identify a greater sense of enthusiasm and passion being delivered through the work without vocals as enough of a tone is carried in the music anyway. With that they make something that easily triumphs over the original version. Singer-less is how this album always should have been.
Maybe the best things in life don't come for free but when they try they make a valiant fucking effort. Just look at scouse metal quartet Carcer City, who made a giant sound on their debut full-length The Road Journals. Filled with thudding basslines that fall down like piles of bricks, ferocious breakdowns and the behemoth growls of kinetic frontman Patrick Pinion. And fitting beautifully woven melodies and natural choruses amongst the sprawling technicalities, a great balance between charming melodies and intense technicalities exists. And you though quality came at a price.
I think we all know the story of The Darkness. Rose to stardom in 2004 with a coked-up frontman in the form of Justin Hawkins and one of the best rock and roll albums of this age Permission to Land immediately lost their relevance when their follow up failed to meet the hysteria of the first and became nothing more than a trend band for the moment for everyone to laugh at. But the band's recent comeback is something that will shut all the trend-setters up. They prove themselves to be as entertaining, charming, banter-laden and able to craft some slamming riffs as they've always been on third album Hot Cakes. It is an unashamed statement of the fun of good old rock and roll that defies any cynicysm or jeering from the indie kids. Rock and roll is alive and grinning.
Playing hard hitting rock doesn't need to be about having technical skills, being some kind of virtuoso or writing songs that will change the world and sometimes begin able to craft a collection of absolute belters is all that's needed. And you will get that in full force from London bloke collective Don Broco, whose debut full length Priorities is filled from top to bottom with intoxicating hooks, choruses as catchy as the common cold and songwriting that doesn't necessarily follow the pop rock formula but strikes when it means to. And with the ship run by the effortless charisma of frontman Rob Damiani and his unique vocal styles, this album gleams against it's competitors. Basically a slap in the face for anyone that believes in technicalities.
At a time when black metal is constantly evolving and adopting new styles and approaches, one would have expected Nachtmystium, one of America's biggest names in the genre to have done something fully off the wall, particularly when considering the industrial weirdness of 2010's Addicts album. But instead, the Chicago quintet have made the choice to strip down their sound to it's most... Darkthronian for sixth album Silencing Machine. It's raw but there's a prominent intelligence within songwriting all about as well, with accessible breakdowns and the occasional wave of industrial mesh that is unafraid to fuck with black metal. And this is a perfect example of everything this band stands for coming together.
To give a comparison of how much better underground hip hop is than much of what the mainstream has to offer, someone from the underground world could make an instrumental album and it would be more creative and gain a bigger reaction from those listening than most recent mainstream albums filled with lyrics could. Oh wait, someone has made that album and it's The Most Beautiful Ugly, the seventh offering from LA rapper and superproducer Thavius Beck. A lot of intricacy and complexity has been put into the crafting of this album and the quality of the pulsing breakbeats and massive basslines and ability for the music to turn darker than many bands that wear makeup. It's this boldness and ambition that means underground hip hop is always the better option.
Turkey's main export to the metal table rose again once more to lay down their bleakest and most enthralling album so far. Pentagram have always been a source for theatrical and gripping doom metal that doesn't just sound like heavy jams to do drugs to. Sixth album MMXII takes things to a further level of respectability and impressiveness for the band as they make a spell of grey plated agnostic despair out of intricate melodies, solid riffs and mellow vocals that highlights the lack of joy the band find in this ending world. And in making an album filled with sadness, I guess the band have reached a new low on this one.
30 years and 12 albums into a career of not having anyone know who they are, the band that serves as the main reason the term "alternative" exists in music today sound as fresh and dynamic as ever on their second post reunion album The Seer. If you're looking for punchy three and a half minute songs that leave you feeling energized, you've come to the wrong dirge because Swans are still doing an incredible job of challenging and opening the minds of listeners into what it is to truly be free when making music. And with this album filled songs sounding like witchcraft chants, half hour works of heavy metal but not as we know it and the unpredictable tones of Micheal Gira, this album uplifts, depresses and continuously opens listeners eyes to what is possible as a musical artist.
Somehow, Grand Magus don't seem like the kind of band that you'd see someone wearing a T-Shirt for in a club. The bearded heavy metal trio from Sweden that mainly act as practitioners of doom, traditional heavy metal and viking mythology isn't the trendiest thing in the world but lay down and get your head into the world crated in their sixth album The Hunt and you'll be sledgehammered into a world of drilling riffage, wholehearted lyrical craftings of ancient Norse beliefs and enough headbanging moments for you to stop feeling your neck, which will probably also come as a result of the amount of foreign beers you're drinking while the album plays. And that is cool enough.
You always hear stories about how people usually end up breaking down in tears, growing the ability to fly and being able to connect with God whenever they listen to Iceland's finest Sigur Ros. I'm not so sure if I could ever say the exact same thing for when I listen to them, but they are beautiful enough in their completely unique way of writing songs to leave your jaw wide open and skin tingling. Sixth album Valtari has that kind of effect where the lethargic pace of dreamy pop soundscapes causes the entire world to slow down with it and bring you closer to the skies above within sparse soundscaping and show-stopping simplicity. It may not make you any more spiritual but it definitely leave you in greater spirits.
You're dealing with a band with brains when you deal with Zulu Winter. I don't know if the phrase "rich kid indie rock" would carry any meaning but when you listen to the London quintet's debut full length Language, it all makes sense. Tracks on the album see a thick canvas laid out for it to be splashed on by swooping dynamic songwriting as delicate guitars and grey-scale synthesizers form an atmosphere that is helplessly absorbing and makes you think that if Coldplay's X&Y wasn't dull, this is what the result would be instead. It's one of the more sophisticated albums that evokes memories of the britpop of the late '90's and early 2000's and that description always serves as what may be an all-out ladfest. These guys go for britpop you can drink sherry to instead.
(Fat Wreck Chords)
You always know that you're in for something great with a NOFX record. Twelve albums into their career, they need no introduction. They're the world's least subtle punk band fronted by a dude called Fat Mike who tells sex jokes onstage before performing a song that will mist likely involve an in depth examination on The Republican party. On twelfth album Self Entitled, while the band's sense of humour isn't lost, a greater maturity based on personal experience can be found with Mike singing on themes like the death of his parents and his own divorce. Onwards, the album blasts out the adrenaline packed punk goodies. Very typically, it's a NOFX album with the humour and controversial outbursts that this world would probably be a little worse without.
This album is a very good place to start in your journey to getting into the geekier side of metal. Swedish metal-nerds Machinae Supremacy have gained their name for their electrifying fusion of power metal with electronic backdrops implemented of an SID chip-basically giving the songs the sound of 8-bit crafted chip-tune. And fifth album Rise of a Digital Nation would be the one to make them massive in a perfect world. Amongst massive metallic riffs and basslines, sweeping choruses and a prominent flashing of synthesizers taken straight out the world of Nintendo 64, there's always a new surprise around each corner of the album. And it always cause you to have your own little geek freakout.
(A Wolf at Your Door)
In this post-Gallows age, hardcore music has really bees something that come snarling up to the main focus of British metal's attention and after storming the scene last year, POLAR. have spent the past 12 months climbing to new heights with a new storm of spite and aggression, spluttered throughout debut full length Iron Lungs. Filled with distorted and hellish punk belters, this is an album capable of kicking all your teeth in and wiping mud in your face all in the space of one track, but allows for some melodic emo melodies to also mess with your head. Now, isn't that caring of them?
With modern regards to the position of rock bands, the ability to sell thousands of records and play to thousands of people doesn't really make you "The average rock band" anymore. However, through ten years of constant touring and packing albums with massive melodies played on big riffs, Shinedown have made some career out of it. The idea of having big sing-along songs that sound good on the radio might sound dangerous to the ears of some music enthusiasts but I defy you to find it done in a classier way than it is on the band's fourth album Amaryllis. From the adrenaline packed hooks to Brent Smith's bold performances owing so much to the blues, Shinedown prove their worth of a band that can shift the units.
In many ways, a solo album for the founding and most vital member member of Iron Maiden was an unexpected surprise and was a long time coming at the same time. But as the story goes, Steve Harris reformed the member of hard rockers British Lion, a band that went to him with their demo in the '80's and finally recorded the songs properly, putting himself as the frontman to increase their recognition tenfold. As a result, we get some banging old school heavy metal tunes that carry some Maiden-isms but also give Harris to venture away from galloping basslines and take more influence from Alice in Chains. But with a band around him that have gone through as many toils as Maiden, there's definite chemistry on this album, a shared knowledge of what they're doing. And that's the undying golden standard of good old 'arry.
Where do we even begin? Could you imagine how much higher this album would be if this chart was based on how much moshpit devastation each song caused? While, challenging works of genre defying metal will always have it's place, sometimes we need a band to deliver something that is so devastatingly heavy, bleak and free of bullshit. And that's just what you get when you put on Mourning After, the debut full length from London metalcore hopefuls Last Witness. You are getting forty minutes of breakdowns coated in sludge, which essentially sounds like doom metal riffs being broken apart to ignite with a heavier pulse. Whenever you talk about getting killed in a moshpit, you never mean it. I would fear for my life at a show from this band. Is brutality like this even legal?
157. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
Listening to any album by Brooklyn's Sharon Van Etten will prove her to be the understated queen of female singer/songwriters whose CD's you buy to feel charmed, which I don't honestly do as much as I should. Her third album Tramp boosts her reputation higher than ever, the result of fourteen months working in the studio with Aaron Dresser of The National, examining a failed relationship. The album is fueled by Etten's uncompromising boldness that reveals an unnerving truth and opens a door to her inner thoughts, while a sense of maturity throughout the entire album production stops this as coming out as mindless anger and spite. It's a colossal achievement from an artist that already established herself a queen.
After 2009 debut album A Brief History of Love set the tone with soaring stadium filler anthems, The Big Pink decided it was time for something a little different with their sophomore release. And so comes Future This, a more ambitious effort with more beats, grooves and hip hop influences than the previous effort. And even with less guitars and more efforts on making a solid pop album, it hits you with an instant sense of emotional pouring and wonder, in the form of swirling synthesizers and a further elevation of massive hooks. And this is what the ecstatic combination of breezy synthesizers and indie rock was meant to make this entire time.
After spending a career of giving their fans a wide ranging difference in styles and becoming progressively more majestic with every new release, Pennsylvania sextet Dr. Dog make a blistering return to their early days as a lo fi source of indie pop power on their seventh album Be the Void. While obtaining the band's trademark absorbing rays of psychedelia, there's a greater spontaneity, looseness and energy that sounds made for a drunken house party, the king of places where what music playing matters. No one would expect an American indie band that got big at the boom of the genre would manage to keep their life going for eleven years. And no one would expect a return to roots to be this exciting.
Jack Black can do all he wants with his Hollywood career, but it's when he rocks out with Kyle Gass in Tenacious D that makes him as widely celebrated as he is. So it's only natural that there was some rejoicing to be had when the pair released the highly anticipated Rize of the Fenix the follow up to the self professed "bomb" that was The Pick of Destiny. And even without the amazingly bold and often purely shocking comedy of their lyrics, the musical performance with Dave Grohl laying down drums is some of the most genuine heavy rock and roll to come from a comedy group. And with this their big third release is as good an album as some more real releases.
In worlds where the quality of your music is entirely dependent on how much distortion you use, a certain Vermont individual Kyle Thomas ought to be a name that means something to you. He's been around various realms of music where feedback rules, including stoner metal outfit Witch alongside J Mascis, but his biggest accomplishment has been lightning flashes of insanity that have made up his solo career under the guise of King Tuff. On his self-titled sophomore album, Thomas unleashes brash lo-fi indie anthems, filled with freewheeling riffs soaked in liquor, fun boogie rhythms and a care-free attitude spiking each song with a shot of total independence. The overall effect makes the album sound like a good sound track to a rough road trip to Nowheresville and try and tell me that wouldn't me cool.
Following their headlining set at Download 2011, many fans seemed perplexed by the idea that a new System of a Down album wasn't in the making and saw frustration of Serj Tankian going back to creating a solo record. And that's just silly because Tankian's work is in a league of it's own in it's awesome delirium, just look at third album Harakiri. From juddering punk belters to massive hard rock hooks to some genuine hip hop beats, Tankian runs his scathing messages on politics and society through a truly eclectic range of music that comes out through a shining tunnel of enlightenment. Who knows if SOAD could do something similar right now?
151. Eths - III (Season of Mist)
Once again evidence that France has a thing with keeping it's best names in metal to themselves. Eths have been a massive name in the genre over here but seem to have had little exposure elsewhere, and a sound like theirs is not easy to hide. Some of the best combinations of modern metal guitar work can be found on their latest release III with poly-rhythms, breakdowns and the good nu metal grooves all sounding sledgehammer heavy. But it's the dynamic vocal performance of Candice Clot that serves as a main attraction, who switches between harsh barking and very sweet clean vocals. Infectious and aggressive at the same time, it's one of the few technical metal albums that will leave you with a tune to hum along to.
If the genre name "space rock" took it's name from the idea of how unnerving and unpredictable outer space is, then White Hills have always had it sorted. They deliver another blast of swirling, fuzzed out sonic space trips on their latest effort Frying on This Rock that proves them to be kings and queens in the world of crafting ten-fifteen minute psychedelic rock jams. It's very noise friendly, packing distortion in it's full ranks and evoking more krautrock inspired songwriting. There are few moments of the album that stand still, as fluid song structures makes the album a fully absorbing burning jam session. And you have no choice but to turn that stuff up.
When Alter Bridge played to a sold out Wembley Arena last night, it was a sign that maybe they had become everyone's favourite unbeatable hard rock band and things would be this triumphant for them forever. And now all the members are apart from each other once again. If you don't know who Myles Kennedy spent his year with yet, you'll find out soon. Meanwhile guitarist Mark Tremonti took to recording a solo album All I Was and we learnt things about him and his way of playing music we wouldn't have learnt from his time in Alter Bridge or Creed. He is a massive metalhead and will gladly let Metallica and Anthrax influences into his playing, he is pretty much of virtuoso quality and it turns out the songs he writes for himself are better than those he's done for Alter Bridge. A wonderful surprise, Mark Tremonti is immensely heavy, soulful and godly when the spotlight is on him.
(Solid State Records)
One of the less subtle faces of modern Christian metalcore, the musical offering from MyChildren MyBride this year was more than enough to prove that that picture I once saw of a guy holding up a sign reading "God hates heavy metal" can't be right. Their self-titled third album as a big step up from their previous releases becoming much darker in places, as breakdowns slam into action against a unnerving foggy atmosphere giving the impression of being hunted down in a dark forest of some sort. The metalcore performance has much more substance an maturity than previous offerings as you can really feel the intensity shoot through you and leave you punished. But it's the overall sense of tension that makes this album like any other metalcore release this year.
Normally, complaints can spark when a band goes from being really weird in general to giving that up to write normal songs, however, the skill that Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray have displayed in writing solid songs since their band Earlimart became a two piece party in 2007 has been of an immaculate quality. And the midtempo pop crafting sounds warm as ever on their seventh full length System Preferences. It's a superbly arranged duel between sunny acoustic melodies, gurgling synthesizers and prominently lush electronic backdrops, all of which is topped off by the strength of Espinoza and Murray's back-to-back vocal performances. It's not a weird affair, it's very charming. It's not worth your time complaining.
After the release of last year's Hope St., Glaswegian quartet Kassidy got viewed by the punters only as another fine contribution for the uncontrollable British folk rock trend. (Bloody Mumford!) Even though it's only been a year, it becomes instantly obvious from the opening of second album One Man Army that something has changed and what we have instead are a bunch of guys that have embraced the grit and ethics of rock and roll. While the folk tendencies can still be found, this is clearly the sound of a band aiming to unite everyone with riff-led choruses that make for a grander affair than generic folk out-pours. The spirit of folk isn't fully vanished but this is the sound of a group of musicians forming closer into a band.
It seems like a controversial choice to enjoy London quintet Spector, as many "judge-musical-ability-by-frontman-personality" geniuses seem to have decided that frontman Fred Macpherson is indie rock's poser twat. But Macpherson's over-the-top pristine onstage personality is far from the only quality to judge their debut full length Enjoy it While it Lasts on although his soulful crooning does make it all the more enticing. But this album is packed head to toe with anthemic indie bangers, filled with catchy riffs that know just when to strike to get the biggest amount of headbanging out of their audience. With the addition of lush electronic backdrops, the album spells out a refreshing trip to 2002 to British indie rock's heyday. And no frontman personality will get in the way of such quality.
For a long time, you could probably make the suggestion that the music of Stockholm quintet Katatonia have managed to uphold such a pale sound to their music due to constantly living in the shadow of Opeth, but with ninth album Dead End Kings the band's time has finally come to let everyone know their name and it's been a long time overdue. While also having embraced their prog rock throughout their evolution like that their more successful Swedish peers have done, the band move no closer to the sunlight instead dwelling in crafting of gothic ambiance and thin melodies, displaying an intentional weakness that brings out the empathy within the songwriting, though when riffs do come in, the sheer density of it is nigh paralyzing. It's heavy enough to make up for where Opeth have departed while also boasting a large Pink Floyd influence. Perhaps their time to hit the top has finally arrived.
If you don't enjoy hard rock bands that manage to sell thousands of records by relying on hooks, I can only recommend you run a while when you hear about Dark New Day, because it's a hard rock supergroup that features members of Evanescence, Sevendust, Stereomud and many more. Many hard rockers would use a supergroup title to make for an obvious cash in, but in this group, there's a definite chemistry between members and a consistent flow of confident songwriting throughout their second album New Tradition. The group are lashing out playing to their fullest aggression with gritted teeth. You often hear about groups like this that have "cash cow" written all over them, but here's a "super"group that have real meaning behind it all.
Already we've talked about how fairly grand a year it's been for Van Halen, with the third reunion with the all-too iconic David Lee Roth, a man that all true fans want to hear an album and an album finally coming into fruition. Yes, Roth is back in his spandex pants and is jamming with Eddie Van Halen, along with his brother Alex and son Wolfgang and the band make a thrilling return for the first time in over a decade with 12th album A Different Kind of Truth. The entire band easily summon up an array of fizzing exuberance and glamourous hard rock majesty through DLR's absorbing charisma and Eddie Van Halen's blistering lead guitar work, proving his virtuoso reputation while also sounding like there's much fun to be had all around. There's always a chance that many long-established rock bands will come back with a limp attempt at keeping up with younger bands. One group of legends will blow those perceptions aside.
Sometimes the main key isn't to reinvent the wheel but sharpen it up so it blitzes with higher aggression and adrenaline before magnificently bursting into flames. And in this new wave of electronic infused metalcore, a sense of following a formula does now exist and the complaints of all bands sounding the same is now unsurprising. But within this sense of formula, few albums stand as high in their heaviness and quality than Chapters, the debut offering from San Diego sextet Adestria. Breakdowns are huge in their scale, guitar work immensely razor edged and jolted electronic backdrops that share room with some nice splashes of pianos and orchestras. This scene of metalcore might be wearing itself to to the ground but there's still time to find some diamonds in the rough.
Um... riffs. Lots and lots of riffs, and each one of them sounding amazing. None of the original guitarists of New Jersey thrash masters Overkill are even in the band anymore, but it's always the pair of six stringers that each album will be dominated by. Of course Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer have been in the band long enough to be fully accomplished members to bring out the heat on sixteenth album The Electric Age. The album's crisp production brings out the riffs sounding stronger than ever while allowing for a deeper tone on D.D. Verni's bass and extra piercing ability to come from Bobby Blitz. It's an album of all around strength, that explains why everyone always raves whenever long established thrash bands that seem like they should have lost their mojo release something new. They're consistently brilliant.
When considering the amount of old school thrash and death metal bands that have been on this list so far, it really seems like they year where the elderly where coming out on top in the realms of extreme metal. Swedish death metallers Unleashed, now in their 23rd year of touring are another fine addition to this list with the relentless aggression and viking inspired pulverization that came across on eleventh album Odalheim. The entire album follows war-torn paths through lyrical maps of Norse battleground where blistering guitar lines are your main weapons that range from carrying a barbed wire sharpness to being grindingly slow, while Johnny Hedlund's grim cackles reminds you this is an album of pure evil. And when getting to a stage of their careers when most warriors would hang up their helmets and swords, isn't it great to see some of them venture back into battle?
Previous releases from Oslo's Aura Noir have easily come as a result in slapping some corpse paint over Kreator and Sodom riffs, and if that doesn't sound awesome then there will be nothing I can do to convince you to listen to this album. While that nature of songwriting exists on their fifth full length Out to Die, the more surprising element is the greater size of influence to come from Venom and Motörhead. This of course makes the album a black metal album with a spikier production and as much as a will to be a Satanic rock and roll band than just being all kreig. Many may find it to be too simplistic for their record collection but if you're looking for a new band patch for your denim sleeveless jacket, here's a great band to look to.
If the music of New York heroes Unsane were to soundtrack any kind of bodily action, it would work most suitably with scraping your knees along a poorly laid out concrete pavement. While wearing shorts. Their music has never been for the faint of heart and they prove it further than ever on their long awaited seventh album Wreck. Walls of creeping distortion are built out of blazing guitar licks and rugged hardcore screams from Chris Spencer, as the entire band turns the entire process into a grim street funeral of droning rhythms and bluesy melodies. It's a brutal affair and not a album that is going to treat you well in any way, shape or form, but it's a pure thrill ride of real brutality. Best to keep plasters for your knees nearby while listening.
The announcement of the lineup had been coming for ages and the Iron Maiden six stringer has become well known for his out-of-the-box side projects, but I was still stunned by the idea of Adrian Smith and former SikTh frontman Mikee Goodman working together since their respective original bands just work on polar ends of each other. But when the two came together to make Primal Rock Rebellion, their debut (and possibly only) album Awoken Broken is an album that sees the minds of two different spectrums of metal come together and step out of their comfort zones for something a little different that brings influences from progressive and industrial metal which also brings together a sound of SikTh at their most ferocious and Maiden at their heaviest that serves as one of the few albums I know that actually provide a sense of adventure.
And the Modfather becomes the Madfather. Having established himself as a British music icon, making punk rock in the Jam and moving on to jazz pop in The Style Council, Paul Weller could easily go down the Rod Stewart line of making dodgy covers every year and being loved for it. Instead, he goes to push at new wave boundaries on his 11th effort Sonik Kicks. The result is a vibrant and edgy flare of immersive song crafting, with classic 80's synthesizers, backwards guitars and songwriting inspired by folk, psychedelic rock, jazz and reggae features. There's always a new surprise around each corner with a new layer of emotion constantly added. It's fresh faced creativity from a man that's been around for a very long time.
You know, the world was definitely lacking in albums that talk about life in Canada, and I'm sure I'm probably extremely wrong when I say that. Assuming I'm not, Toronto quintet Stars have finally sorted out this massive gap in our record collections with their sixth album The North. The result sees the band produce rich indie pop melodies filled with stirring backdrops, which carries a consistent packing of sweet 80's synthpop influences that lull you into the wise storytelling vocals of Torquill Campbell and Amy Millan. With such sweetness crafted without any need for obvious radio singles, the devotion to having uninterrupted sessions of pure indie pop bliss is the stuff of dreams for indie pop lovers and those devoted to their Canadian pop operas.
Through constant online scrounging looking for new bands, it's rare that you set your expectations at a high level. It's what makes the discovery of Illinois quartet Cloud Gavin so refreshing. They're a band you could only find on the internet right now but their debut album Posture has the level of class and expert musicianship to belong in the shelves of CD collections the world over. As massive hooks set up the adrenaline packed melodies, they are intertwined with intense progressive backdrops, a memorable intersection of vibrant sound that reveal the band's ability to move through heavy post hardcore walls of distortion and spacious post-rock grandeur. It's a sign of raw talent that can already play like professionals. I don't think I'll ever see it in my local record store.
As the world's rediscovered love for progressive metal continues, one band destined to blow everyone away with their take on it is Milton Keynes quintet Heart of a Coward, whose grooves are delivered with such ferocity and such a unique tone for hardcore associated guitar work that it makes you feel like you maybe can use the word "djent" in conversation due to just how much sense it suddenly makes. The balance between these pouncing grooves and breakdowns, the immense textures and Deftones White Pony melodies to find on this album makes it all the more of a listen that grips you by the throat. It's like the main elements of modern metal have been gathered together and actually combined into something immense. Expect to hear these guys names more next year.
(Meet Your Adversary)
When you see Diane Foglizzo and Katy Otto playing at a Trophy Wife show, you can always identify their strong sense of communication and reliance on each other's inspiration in their intense performance of complex stomping rock songs covered in grit and charcoal and ability to perfect their cues and timings with perfection. They return with their latest effort Sing What Scares You, which stands as a powerhouse performance of hard plated punk rock with a wide emotional spectrum. Grainy riffs are battered out adamantly by Foglizzo against backdrops of a foggy commodity that emphases the band's little need for any lightness in their work while Otto's apocalyptic drumming summons airs of chaos that takes the messages straight through to the grave. And if strong connection and communication between members are required to make albums like this, they set an example for fellow rising bands everywhere.
When you're nine albums into your career and your lead singer suddenly leaves your band, you can start to worry that your devoted fanbase might not take to kindly to you now recording an album with a new singer.When LA punk legends Pennywise announced that longtime Jim Lindberg had left the band and had brought in Ignite frontman Zoli Téglás to record vocals for their tenth album All or Nothing, you could picture there being some reactions. But when the performance on the album really does see the entire band give their all with perfection draining out of their power chord blasting and rapid fire drumwork put with Téglás'deadly serious but immensely uplifting performance it becomes clear that this band can in fact do no wrong. And in either case, Lindberg's back int he band now, so you can hear these songs done live in a way that people who hate change can also enjoy!
The continued evolution of Liverpool sextet Anathema from one of the originators of gothic doom metal into a progressive outfit who have allowed the light to shine and take them to much more sparse areas of using their heaviness and songwriting intelligence has always been a beautiful thing to witness. And that second stage of the gracefully emerges once again on ninth album Weather Systems. It's a more vocally driven album than previous efforts due to female vocalist Lee Douglas taking a greater role throughout the album while instruments provide some of the most pure and pristine-textured backdrops one could ever experience. From the music to the lyrics about life and living it to the fullest through all hardships, everything on the album is just so moving, that it does make you want to stand up and say you'll become a better person in life. Surely, there has been no better band to discover the light than these guys.
Say hello to this generation's Sex Pistols. Now Bay Arena quintet Ceremony are hardly a new band and have certainly made their way from days of basement dwelling desolation with a string of of bruising EP's and albums along the way, but fourth full-length Zoo is undoubtedly the one that's going to start turning heads for this band. It's a more polished cohesive effort from what many would like to be a dirty punk band, but those who noted that would be oblivious to the band's evolution into the sound of a more focused band. And as the blast through songs questioning what it means to be a human being in a world filled with everything, the testament of the UK punk scene of the 70's and a legacy of Bay Arena hardcore acts is championed. And in sound, energy and unrelenting attitude, the torch of the Pistols charges forward.
Whenever you see any major music company unleash a list of new bands who you should definitely check out for that year, it's easy to look at it cynically and assume that the list consists about similar trendy bands that sound the same need the care of no one. And then sometimes in that lists there's powerful exception like Minneapolis quintet Howler, whose powerhouse blitz of 60's infused surf rock on their debut full length America Give Up is blasted out with a sense of grit and vigor that The Beach Boys never dreamed of. And with their extensive Strokes influence bringing the chilled indie vibes into their work, the band are unsurprisingly a group all the NME critics love. But they're a band you can love too!
(Mom + Pop)
Were you looking for a collection of songs which were the musical sound of the phrase "super-hyper-fun-awesome?" Former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller may not be making pure metal any more, but when teaming up with former teen pop star Alexis Krauss, a much more dynamic solution was offered. As a result, the duo became Sleigh Bells and the music you can hear on second album Reign of Terror is the sound of what would happen if metal and (good) pop music had a baby together on a much more acidic twist. Sonic guitar riffs form a perfect accompaniment with trippy noise pop synthesizers and the luringly cute vocals of Krauss. And the ultimate result is a rare breed of pop songs you can headbang to.
I don't think anyone's been looking at Rival Sons' Jay Buchanan as a future rock and roll star, a frontman awash with natural charisma that wins the hearts and souls of all that gaze upon him. And that's a shame because he displays his ability to be just that effortlessly on the band's third release Head Down. With his engaging lyrics, shimmering guitar picking and overall reminiscence to Robert Plant, Buchanan comes off as a working class hero character with no time for anything but drinking and playing guitar and with a powerful band to back up his words, he resurrects the blues well enough to convince you it never went away.
(Tooth & Nail Records)
There's been a lot of albums from lesser-known American hard rock bands that play their tunes with massive hooks, choruses and baited passion in the hope that they might make it as big as the enormo-selling bands of similar songwriting natures on this list. But you will find no album with such a description more substantial, gripping and in some places, just a tonne of fun as you will with Mean What You Say. On their second album, South Carolina's Sent By Raven's deliver crushing riffs into compact melodies and tight grooves that leaves mouths hanging and heads banging, which is carried to higher textures in Zach Riner's vocals, reminiscent to 30 Seconds to Mars without the ego. It's furious pace, intoxicating melodies and consistent stunning performance makes this the one truly vital hard rock album of the year.
123. Young Guns - Bones (PIAS)
Making a follow up to 2010's best debut album All Our Kings Are Dead was never going to be an easy task. But with a reputation as the UK's best new rock band, High Wycombe's Young Guns come back blazing with their breathtaking second album Bones. The craftsmanship of songs that fuse the energy and oomph of post-hardcore with the sing-along choruses and arm-swaying rhythms of stadium rock are nailed to a tee, as the wisely toned vocals of icon-in-the-making Gustav Wood sees high emotion poured directly onto his sleeve that all listeners can be absorbed within, if they're not too busy headbanging to those gutsy riffs. This is the beautiful continuation of the rise of something very great in British rock.
As we know, most band reunions have been a cash in the bag sort of thing. However, the original reign of Mission of Burma in the post punk heyday only lasted fro 1979-1983. However, their second run as a band has now lasted over ten years and they're living out the best stages of their career now, despite being viewed as a classic band. It's a pretty sweet deal if we're being honest. Sixth album Unsound serves as an outlet of the band's prominent band diversity, part sophisticated crafters of alternative music and blasting out riffs that prove why they're legends in the punk scene. The contrast between aged blues atmospheres and young punk shredding, the band play a convincing retrospective of what they represent.
Ariettes Oubliées (ProMedia GmbH)
"French post black metal" probably sounds like one of those exaggerated terms made up as a joke about the overrunning amount of sub genres metal has, but when you actually begin to put two and two together and make a sound out of those terms, it's actually very beautiful. Just look at Ariettes Oubliées, the second effort from Les Discrets the brain child of Fursy Teyssier and now an active three-piece. Filled with stony black metal riffs, it has the seriousness to make a metal album that can stop them from being a majority hipster loved metal band but has the extensive flow of dreamy shoegazy rhythms to stop the album being grounded in any way. It makes it one of the most trve sounding black metal albums that also happens to have it's own goals and wings.
When most thrash bands have decided to become increasingly harsher and more hardcore immersed, sometimes it's nice and have a step back to something more melodic but just as gripping and packed with shredding. And Savage Messiah are the perfect band for this, who have returned with their latest release Plague of Conscience, a blend of styles that will excite the ears of proper heavy metal fans. It's has thrashy shredding, the powerful vocals and melodies of US power metal reminiscent to the kick-ass adventurous heavy metal of the 1980's while still upholding a youthful energy and modern virtuoso guitar leads. It's a great place for a thrash metal album that actually soars, rather than being trudged into bleakness.
You might have been skeptical about Corrosion of Conformity making the choice to record an album as a trio while lead vocalist Pepper Keenan continued to tour with Down. But many have embraced the bands choice to record this year with the same lineup that made up 1985's cult classic Animosity and I am one of these people. The group's self-titled album has perfect reason to be self-titled, as it's very much definitive of their amalgamation of thrash metal, hardcore punk and stoner rock mixed into one, which is an even more exciting prospect when tracks on the album mix the styles together. Woody Weatherman's crooked howling sounds like it's had the blues scarred on it's skin while the blasting distortion he and Mike dean produce drips with a woeful despair that perfectly fuels their songwriting. It's wild. It's rough. It's Corrosion of Conformity.
Sometimes metal is just weird. Sometimes it takes several listens for an album to even begin to make sense in any way to you. And sometimes, it takes that many listens for you too see that album as nothing short of amazing. And that brings me to In Somniphobia the ninth album from Japanese quintet Sigh, an album that really does question what the point of categorizing even is. With hints of black and prog metal slipping in by sluggish twisting riffage and cackling black metal vocals twist their way amongst nightmarish layerings of synthesizers and saxophones, Sigh have made something indescribable. Because the best kinds of nightmares are always the weird indescribable ones.
Sweden's latest contribution to the avant-garde metal scene has been hiding away for some time now, but with their third full album Pandora's
While it's easy to look at Coventry trio The Enemy's continued success in their constant ability to get in the charts and play in massive arenas, you have to feel for them in 2008 when Music for the People diagnosed them with difficult "second album syndrome." Four years on and the chart relevancy of indie rock bands riding on waves of positivity has vanished. And is the band upset by this? If they are, they've hidden it very well from third album Streets in the Sky. The band have recaptured the energy and bombastic glory of their early work and deliver it in stunning form. It's a torrent of guitars, crashing drums and as expected of frontman Tom Clarke, some daft lyrics but there isn't a moment of the album that will leave you unsatisfied in any way. It's a band having loud amounts of fun and being hugely successful at the same time.
I hate to say it, but sometimes, the ability to obtain an interest in death metal overall can be really difficult. I can't think of anything worse than a new album of very average works of the genre, it would be a horrendous drag. It's probably why the bands that like to show off their technical abilities and write something resembling a melody are the most celebrated. It's why I think one of the finest releases in the genre this year is A Perfect Absolution, the third album from France's Gorod. The band unleash pummeling riffs and grooves for listeners to ferociously lose themselves in without literally getting lost in a messy clump of distortion and the moments that boast jazzy and funk-induced influences make it as fun as it is brutal. Perhaps there still is something to be said for having your face ripped off.
It's brilliant to see that all black metal bands seem to have this competition to see who can outdo each other in overall weirdness, even those whose names are already highly established. Norwegian quintet Enslaved may have achieved it once more in their valiant efforts to craft a successful follow up to 2010's Axioma Ethica Odini and the result is twelfth album RIITIIR which manages to hit the spot in which black metal delirium hits the powerful melodies that haven't sounded so fresh since 1983. It shouldn't be a surprise that a band as constantly groundbreaking as Enslaved can deliver another knockout that serves as a dizzying experience and they definitely do it here, with standout insanity.
(XIII Bis Records)
At album number four, it's clearly been a long time coming for French hellraisers Headcharger to finally take off. But with this album Slow Motion disease, their tattered wings are finally being attached as the band ready themselves for a leap into rock and roll's forefront. Though much press has built this album up as a French metalcore album, there's more on par with AC/DC, Airbourne and even Clutch on this record, as catchy hooks drenched in distorted riffs are the main course for the album. With a lot of fun and a lot of worship of rock and roll, Headcharger proves that they need no metalcore tag to get big.
Enthroned manage to be hit and miss with their releases. Sometimes they can truly gain their reputations as Belgium's finest source of black metal, other times, it's difficult to stay trve. Thankfully ninth album Obsidium is definitely a work that lies in the former quality. It's a darkened atrocity with a tone that is all too menacing and threatening, and definitely a wholly intense experience with some of the most detailed musicianship you'll be able to hear in a black metal album for some time. And with a phenomenal work like this, this band might well become... enthroned in high black metal rankings.
A full band is a needlessly great image of musical power, but sometimes one man is all it needs. And it's proven effortlessly through the efforts of Gianluca Divergillo's solo project Arctic Plateau and his second full length album The Enemy Inside. The songwriting comes at a mellow pace allowing for dreamy soundscapes to whisk listeners into otherworldly atmospheres where strangeness and melancholy does happen to linger. But with such creativity and talent to come from the soul of one man, amongst all the unnerving frequencies, there's always a time to be amazed.
Indie pop is power. Now a lot of bands that we've heard this year and have already been on the list would have you think otherwise with soft jingly songs that will help sell food, cars and furniture, but when other bands go outside the box and think of things from a fully creative mode and with a desire to capture the correct tone and right emotion, the result is ravishing. And that's where Las Vegas quartet Imagine Dragons step in with their debut album Night Visions, the superior choice of indie pop releases. This is one hell of a first impression displayed in the instant stadium filling anthems crafted in magnetic hooks, bouncing electronics and lush atmospherics with stirring lead guitars and keyboards. It keeps you standing on your toes throughout as dynamic versatility. Singles will get a lot of airplay but this is so convincing as an album on it's own.
I was introduced to this abnd by a friend who told me that they were "To underground punk rock what Eminem is stadium rock." That carries a lot of significance in it's context, especially when considering how fucking terrifying some of the most underground names in hardcore punk is. Last year, lots of challenging hip hop groups began rising up, but amongst contemporaries in Odd Future, A$AP Rocky and many others, Death Grips stood out the highest and finally unleashed their hip hop brutality on their debut full length The Money Store. The album serves as a terrifying combination of extreme electronica, industrial grinding and metallic riffage that surely serves up the sound of the soundtrack of a dystopian future. Terror has a new face, and it's that of MC Ride.
I'm still reasonably convinced that placing this album so high in my list has been done with some bias because at a younger age, the music of Marilyn Manson saved my life, so I kind of owe him. But after a rather dead period of his career as one of the most infamous names in rock music, Manson began something resembling his return to the proper strength of a ferocious songwriter with eighth album Born Villain, a dynamic work that sees a decent mixture of Manson's earlier days as a fierce controversial rockstar and self-professed self-indulgent art rock work. And it thankfully works really well, as powerful hooks give us many scream-along moments while still managing to marvel at Manson's creativity. And I really mean that and I have to lie through my teeth to convince people that The High End of Low is good. Manson has returned madder than ever but still with the gift of great songwriting.
When modern guitar legend Slash released his debut solo album featuring a ton of high profile guest singers two years ago, it seemed to be a sign that resembled he may be able to get any singer he wants to jam with him but after his experience with Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, he would never find someone, he would never find an actual band he could form that would... last. But now, the man with the big hair and top hat has proven us wrong, returning with Alter bridge mainman Myles Kennedy and backing band The Conspirators to unleash Apocalyptic Love, one of his finest works since Appetite for Destruction. Still fully capable of making godly and memorable guitar solos and officially aided by one of rock's finest voices today, this album re-affirms Slash as a saviour of rock and roll and makes the guy from that former Creed band that bit more badass. A perfect union if you ever saw one.
This is the sound of a band getting it's mojo back. Many a Shadows Fall fan will confidently tell you the band haven't been at their best since 2004's The War Within, with the lead guitar work decreasing and the sound of simple metalcore songwriting becoming the band's main focus. But straight as the album opens with a blistering solo from Jonathan Donais, it's obvious that eighth album Fire From the Sky is a remarkable step up to the band at their best once again. There's ferocious shredding, pummeling beatdowns and a real captivation of the band's apocalyptic concerns. It's a crushing reminder that there's sometimes still life in the old horse.
With their somehow unexpected placements on main stage spots at both Download and Reading & Leeds festival this year, it was brilliant to see Canadian punk quartet Billy Talent gain the attention they've deserved over the past nine years. Better still, they matched their rise in prominence with a release that smashed through people's expectations of of what they were capable of with fourth album Dead Silence. Returning with and increased aggression they plow through songs of rebellion against society that brings out the angst and aggression of Ben Kowalewicz in dazzling for. Perhaps we've gotten ourselves a set of future festival headliners on the strength of this album. Watch this space.
I had always deemed Encino quintet The Faceless to be just another tech-metal band that make up for their inability to execute any kind of real tone and emotion by playing complex riffs and making albums that are essentially showing off. However, listening to third album, the superbly arranged Autotheism left me a changed man. It's a mastermind of an album that lets the full musical ideals and creative juices of them members flow effervescently onto the one pallet. There are moments that feel very delicate backed by jazzy influences, there are accessible melodies, progressive textures aided by heavy orchestral backings and then there's Michael Keene's many chances to take a guitar into town and annihilate. This is so much more than show-offy tech riffing. This is a band with that skill choosing to make real music.
After their official Olympics song, the announcements that inspiration for songwriting had been taken from dubstep superstar Skrillex and hearing that they had submitted to crafting all their songs with a radio-friendly perspective in mind, you probably had every right to feel cynical about the release of their sixth album The 2nd Law. And yet somehow, from the very opening of that album every doubt is just blown away skyward. I don't know the last time I experienced such grandeur, bombasticity and sublime unions of musical styles on one album. The symphonic elements, the genuinely well executed dubstep elements and the hard rocking that finally makes bassist Chris Wolstenholme the real driving force of the band beyond Matt Bellamy's mass Queen-fueled shred fests. And no one could have possibly foreseen this during their time being silly for the Olympics.
Atlanta trio ill talk very seriously about having a diverse music taste and letting into flow into their music stating they believe "the lines of classification between Ray Charles and Black Sabbath are very blurry." And in a world immersed in sub-genres like my own world of ideas, their latest album Gotten Gains proves that a diverse taste can do things to your songwriting. There's high octane hard rockers with a taste of Queens of the Stone Age at one moment while other moments are so catchy that they can only point to and influence from Ray Charles. This is an album that stalks with a darkened backbone while also showing the band while displaying gratifying songwriting at the same time. Another one of the memory victories of having an open-minded music taste.
Before going onto discover many lesser known names, I would think that San Diego quintet As I Lay Dying were the most consistently brilliant names in metalcore. I still think that. Now on their sixth full length album Awakened, the band prove that they are still that band that all melodic heavy metal fans fell in love with over a decade ago while still being able to expand their musical horizons. Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso once more re-instate their reputation as a blazing guitar duo throwing down blistering riffs, solos and beatdowns while sounding at their heaviest when smashing out blocks of melodies. And with the entire album serving lyrically as an outlet for Tim Lambesis' inner philosophy, it's as brainy as it is banging. One of the most consistently brilliant names in metalcore? No doubt.
Court cases, prison sentences, manslaughter and the death of a 19-year old gig attendee from the Czech Republic. This is not what Lamb of God should have been remembered for this year. What their biggest story of the year should have been the release of their sixth album Resolution, packed with some of the finest angriest and most aggressive songs the band have written in their career. And with the unstoppable brutality packed in the ferocious roars of Randy Blythe and pummeling guitars of Mark Morton, they lead the band into work that goes beyond the metal community's belief that they could become future heroes of metal. Sadly, stories of blaming metal shows and musicians for the death of young people will always be a more interesting story than that of a brilliant brilliant heavy metal album.
There's that thing that metal fans always complain about when their favourite bands always say their next album will be their heaviest and it never is. But when you hear Meshuggah give that promises, things get a little different because... fuck do they mean it. You can hear it perfectly on the tech metal overlords' seventh album Koloss in which Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström basically go out to paint the town red armed with eight strings and an array of intense, claustrophobic polyrhythmic riffs. Their metallic pillaging leaves us with a nice combination of guitar parts sounding like Slayer-meets-pneumatic drills. It sounds inventive, fairly punchy in places and in a world of metal where the band's influence is being thrown around the rise of djent bands, it's good to see Meshuggah are still on top of it all.
When I consider how long it actually took for me to get into Napalm Death, I do realise that I might be a fucking idiot after all. But there can be no better album for you to get into than rather surprisingly their most recent offering Utilitarian. It would be so easy for the Birmingham quintet to just go back to make another Scum but the band have always wanted to challenge the expectations of fans and themselves. The intense rushes of frenetic grindcore blasting have never sounded so charged up or ferocious while Barney Greenway's vocals are as always, similar to witnessing the gates of hell opening up in front of your face. It's as crazy as everything the band has given us over the past 30 years and if this list was rated on heaviness alone, it would probably assume a higher place.
"So this is an exciting time to be alive/ Our generation's gotta fight, to survive/ It's in your hand's now there's no time." A Flash Flood of Colour, the third album from St. Albans hardcore outfit Enter Shikari is a big step up in the bands lyrical political and social assault and the uniquely intense mixture of hardcore, trance and dubstep. Lyrically, the album has the power to fill listeners to the brim with powerful emotion in it's sense of anger, bile and occasional uplifting beauty. What's more the protesting lyrics against society, the government, wars and the environment have the power to start an underground uprising and goddamn revolution and potentially save the world.
If anyone discovered this year that there are a lot of people that get annoyed if you don't deliver an album that's br00t4l, it's London punks Your Demise. Having proven themselves capable of delivering the goods on 2010's The Kids We Used to Be, the quintet have looked beyond the world of hardcore for their influence and embraced use of more melodies and influences from their childhood love of pop punk. The result is massive as poppy hooks and hardcore beatdowns merge together in typically slamming form. And even with it's poppier turns that also includes guest appearances from vocalists from poppier bands, the band still keep things heavy. Many hardcore kids will view it as betrayal. I just like a good hook though and this has it covered undoubtedly.
They've been overlooked during the past few years but Foxy Shazam will still make as big a noise as ever. And they haven't proven that as much as they have now on third outing The Church of Rock and Roll, a religious idea that everyone should try and get behind. The madcap Eric Nally proves his songwriting to be on powerful form in his ability to pen gleefully outrageous rock songs that sound like Jim Steinman reborn and sensitive songs filled with the tone of the blues shimmering through. Sounding like the best of the 1970's and 80's pumped up to full bombasticity, Foxy Shazam take the best of the past into a new boldness.
This album is surely evidence that the blues never dies. Dr. John has on occasion after occasion proved himself to be a legendary crafter of blues and old time rock and roll songs, chirpily playing the piano and guitar with glamourous singers and massive backing bands behind him. I'd be lying if I told you I knew how many albums he's made, however most recent effort Locked Down is one that shines out. With one of today's biggest crafters of blues music Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys producing, the album sees a very classy exchange between songwriting ideas of old school blues music and what it means in this modern context. And Dr. John is still a proper showman, uplifting when he mans to be and unnerving when he means to be. Always entertaining and always a legend.
Now, this album truly is the step up no one expected but we're all truly grateful for. When Pennsylvania quartet Halestorm released their self titled debut in 2009, it very much came out to the interest of... not a whole lot of people. Follow up release The Strange Case Of... has seen the group sharpen up on their songwriting and crafting of thick metallic riffage, heart-racing hooks and the triggering of proper emotional responses or serious cases of headbang-induced whiplash. With the obvious reference to Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the album's title, frontwoman Lzzy Hale dominates the album contrasting between feisty works of fiery hard rock and absorbing works of delicate balladry. And it's fully genuine, fully passionate and makes the band fully deserving of that step up into the big league.
You're unlikely to hear any other band make a better combination of blast beats and hurdy gurdy than Swiss folk metallers Eluveitie, since the 2008 collection of brilliantly crafted Celtic/Melodeath songs on Slania. They now return on even more triumphant and epic form on fifth album Helvetios. The amount of effort put on crafting the actual metal is commendable and gives the rather cool imagery of In Flames crashing a traditional folk concert just with more meaning and conceptual intelligence put to the songs. And the fact that I really don't like a lot of bands like this is surely testament in how it manages to drag anyone in to the world of this album.
Taking well structured indie rock songs and polishing them up in production may be seen as one of the main things that stopped it from being seen as proper rock and roll, however, where that is lost, it can be made up for in undisputed grandeur. It's what Liverpool quintet Sound of Guns clearly had in mind when they wrote the stunning songs for sophomore album Angels and Enemies. Straight shooting bursts of energetic melodies are wrapped in soaring string and synthesizer backdrops delivered within a newfound stability and maturity within the band. This album doesn't need the ethics of rock and roll, it still comes out shining.
I think I know what we were all thinking when we first heard of Canadian trad-metallers Kobra and the Lotus. Oh, Gene Simmons, a guy who had a sex addition has made the first band on his ressurected record label a band fronted by an attractive woman that will sell loads of records and gain lots of video views because she's eye candy. Thankfully, all misogynistic bastards like me were shut up when we heard the full band effort on their self-titled debut and found that it happened to be awesome. Songwriting is formed around riffs and grooves that take as much influence from Lamb of God as they do from Iced Earth. Fantastically crafted and very genuine, this is an album that delivers metallic equality that bit closer.
There really aren't that many young musicians that have been overly successful in taking their influence from classic blues music and using it to make something that sounds brilliant for new listeners and those who have taken their lifetime to appreciate it. Yet whenever Joe Bonamassa releases an album, it's got the kind of quality that where the quality just seams through. He's been surrounded by legendary musicians of the blues and classic rock age and it's given him more then enough ideas for tenth studio release Driving Towards the Daylight, a return to traditional raw blues without sounding overly simple and corporate in any way. With magnificent guitar strokes, time for some experimentation and a stunning singing voice, the man has it cracked. The blues are in his soul.
Some people have waited eight years for the release of this record. In 2004 when the emo uprising was becoming more and more apparent, Floridian quintet Further Seems Forever released their third album Hide Nothing, only to follow it up with a breakup that saw frontman Chris Carrabba become the frontman of the much more massive and much lamer Dashboard Confessional. For now FSF are back and facing up tot he anticipation of their fans with much class on fourth album Penny Black. There's upbeat summer jams and laments, and much more dramatic alt rock outpourings all performed with such a high quality and enthusiasm This is the sound of a band ready to take on the world once more.
After listening to last year's EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, there was something about me that felt complete, educated more more indestructible for that day. So when it became known that Between the Buried and Me were to follow up that masterpiece with an entire album was relentlessly fantastic news. And so, the band shine on The Parallax II: Future Sequence, a progressive concept album with the class, spreading of ideas and morals of Pink Floyd and Dream Theater and the sci-fi panic spreading of Fear Factory. When they mean to be heavy, the deliver with much vitality reaching Mastodon level with guitar solos and frantic drumming, while the overall grandeur and theatricality sums up what making a classic prog album is all about. It is perhaps the main mission statement from one of the most unique bands in metal.
The cases of Refused and At the Drive In have taught us that some reunions of bands from the 1990's and early 2000's have been highly successful and others less so. Here's on of the major successes. When Vision of Disorder first came roaring up in 1996 in a world preoccupied with nu metal with heir vicious hardcore assaults they reminded everyone what it meant to make real heavy music. And in a world preoccupied with hit and miss metalcore bands they've done it again with fifth album The Cursed Remain Cursed an album that is true to the VoD sound and meaning with an entire modern relevance. And that makes it a textbook comeback album.
To many the idea of being gothic for over twenty years will sound unpleasant and will bring up imagery of middle aged people still wearing black make up. But if you think right about it, you straight away get the message of Paradise Lost, the most consistent gothic metal band in Britain and probably the world. And on thirteenth effort Tragic Idol, Nick Holmes and crew prove there's still enough despair up their sleeves to craft a highly captivating work of relentlessly heavy slabs of riffage with absorbing backdrops that takes you back to the proper gothic times of yesteryear. And that's where you must dwell because there is no tomorrow.
Since the delivery of their 2008 folk rock debut Ode to Sunshine, San Diego quartet Delta spirit have enjoyed a faithful fanbase and becoming a big name in the alt rock circles. They return with their self titled album, which while evoking elements of folk rock is much more relevant to a world of riff wielding rock music. There's greater expansion through experimentation to be found sprawling along the album, filled with high energy kicking songs and lushly arranged balladry that genuinely reveals a vulnerability within these musicians. With stirring songwriting, effort in guitar work and less overt focus on making a folk album (That makes me happy, anyway) the band prove the benefits of expansion easily.
For some people, the desire to recapture one's youth results in dodgy days out, dressing badly and feeling a distinct lack of satisfaction. But if you're name is Keith Buckley and you spent your youth making some of the most respected hardcore punk albums by recording in one take and being heavy as possible, the result of recapturing youth is immense. It's resulted in Every Time I Die's sixth album Ex Lives, the restless outpouring of bottled up fury and energy of a band that has experienced the highs and lows of touring, stirring mosh pits and worshiping riffs. Buckley's twisted lyricism is an affair of dark wit that focuses on his personal demons, that is brought to life by his brother Jordan's demonic rock and roll guitar work. The spirit of youth in the band has been recaptured in devastating form.
This year none of The Big 4 were around and the job of making a new album fell to the band that everyone has looked at decided that The Big 5 should exist. When Bay Arena thrash icons Testament released 2008's The Formation of Damnation, it was the best comeback album in all of thrash metal. To hear them outdo their previous efforts now on ninth album Dark Roots of Earth is one of the most extreme upwards movement seen in thrash. To hear the rapid fire guitar work of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson hitting full force is definitely one of the year's highlights in metal. This album is living proof that longevity in the metal scene, going through constant lineup changes and every unlucky situation you can think of should never be an obstacle to making great music. And it means we have an American thrash band better than anyone else in the Big 4.
I'm sure all electronic music fans would be horrified at the idea of a song existing without bass, and that two piece indie bands must be the natural enemy. In some bands of this aesthetic, you can hear those albums and feel a distinct lack of something in overall sound. And then you have bands like Blood Red Shoes, who see recording an album with just a guitar, set of drums and two beaming sets of vocals as a challenge. Their third album In Time to Voices boasts a know-how for building up texturally complex soundscapes built out of Sonic Youth-esque riffs and rapid fire drumwork. Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell's imaginations both run riot and mellow down into cool haunting states of nimbleness. It makes a big sound despite being an album built up of so little. This album literally "drops the bass!" Hahahaha, geddit? like.. there's no bass... so..
This may be the sixth outing from the heaviest thing to come out of Corby this side of Raging Speedhorn but Cursed By the Sword is the album that has really seen Viking Skull make a small for themselves. Their sense of bleakness mixed with old school punk, heavy metal and beloved stoner rock riffage may feel like a step back to the steelworks of the early 1970's in a more sterile form, but there really isn't a better way to enjoy homegrown British heavy metal is there? And with the English darkness, a load of tongue-in-cheek humour. AC/DC swagger and a unending loudness on their side, the band just step up higher to a respectability in metal that was deserved long ago.
Mark Lanegan has the best voice in rock music. Effectively hosting the sound of cigarettes being dripped in whiskey, the man has the kind of voice that summons up the spirit of over a hundred years of the blues. He's released it throughout his time in Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age and his own highly unique solo band. Seventh solo outing Blues Funeral marks the first solo run from Lanegan in eight years and it shows that all his woes of recovering from drug addiction and depression are still intact. His songwriting writhes with a death's-head sense of frustration and intolerance. With a bold musical pallet that ranges from fuzzbox guitar melodies to a swaying of Joy Division electronic post punk Lanegan is at his most accomplished here. The gravel-pit of a voice makes a withering return. And you wouldn't want it any other way.
Riled up on fresh sugary treats and youthful innocence, Nottingham's band of brothers Swound! made a big noise this year with their debut full length Into the Sea. The mix of breezy pop punk rhythms with big grungy bass-lines has never had such a fun loving childish fizz about it and never have the influence of the Pixies and Weezer come all together at once to make something so consistently fresh, joyful and insanely catchy. And I defy you to say that you'd want to hear your grunge influences done any other way. Maybe youth really is the key to happiness after all.
You always hear people talking about an album being too good for words to describe and it's almost never true. However, French post rock duo Alcest has left me with quite a challenge after listening to third album Les Voyages de l'Âme, because it has the kind of beauty, hypnotic entrancing charm, and overwhelming emotional impact that cannot be described properly with the use of words alone. Taking the towering heaviness and rapid riff-arrays of black metal and melting it together with the dreamy flowing soundscapes of shoegaze music the duo convey a wide emotional spectrum that will cause listeners to cry, either with joy or with sadness as the artistic credibility of frontman Neige is unleashed to it's full extent. A stroke of mastery that words can't do justice.
So many bands get picked up at the beginning of each year billed as the next big thing am I right? Every band has the sound to back that claim up right? Of course I'm not but when the band do have the sound to back things up, it comes out very powerfully and oftentimes beautifully. And so come in the eclectic sounds of 2:54, the brainchild of darkly dressed sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow, naming their band after the time of a drumroll in a Melvins song and playing with strong shoegazy desert rock influences. And as their self titled debut creates immersive atmospheres through delicately weaved guitars and pretty backdrops, it's the perfect album to get lost in through the dead of night.
The violent and untimely death of Woods of Ypres frontman and core member David Gold on 22nd December 2011 was a tragedy in the eyes of doom metal enthusiasts everywhere. At the time, I was less familiar with the bands blackened doom metal sound at the time, but having now discovered the band and their final album Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light, I realise that the loss of Gold, as unreported and overlooked as it was was a major loss. As he unleashes his grim messages of despair and telling of his own demise, the circumstances surrounding the album makes his messages all the more potent and hard hitting. Featuring a doom metal sound executed all to a tee of perfection, it's almost a distressing listen to hear it and know that such epic gloom will never be able to resurface under the name of Woods of Ypres again.
Though experiencing his golden age at the start of this century, Jack White, one of the saviours of rock and roll in this modern age proves himself to remain unstoppable, unquestionable and uncompromising on his first solo outing on Blunderbuss. It's been a long time coming to hear the main thoughts of a man that's played in so many bands and gained such a high reputation that we can step into his inner musical thoughts and hear his unleashing of golden-weaved Rolling Stones-isms and vast range of musical influences from gritty punk rock to dusty folk music. And with all songs delivered with a quality that can only be electrifying, this album is one man's sign of independence, thoughtfulness and rock and roll freedom.
For their first and last album Electric Picture Palace, Norfolk quartet Holy State put together songs that in their own words were made up of three years of songwriting in order to summon up a perfect tone of honesty. And maybe in that time, they couldn't stand to be beside each other or their creativity dried up because the decision to split up came days before the album's release. However, they leave behind something radiant in the form of these 12 songs. There's an unapologetic punk urgency fueled by frantic drumrolls, chugging guitars and vocals mimicking the widespread doom of Kurt Cobain. At times they're also unafraid to turn the noise down and sound like a more intelligent Arctic Monkeys, but on the most part this is just a great British punk album, which gives the band a legacy already.
There aren't a lot of bands that could use stirring folk music outside of Neil Young to transport listeners into a state of psychedelic bliss, so when the chance comes along it ought to be taken in with all senses. And that's what you can do with The Soft Hills, who bring rousting melodies and intricate inventiveness from Seattle straight to your head on their second album The Bird is Coming Down to Earth. Instrumentals are well woven together through warm toned guitars, while the band's harmonies bring on the effect of a more hallucinogenic Eagles. It's an album of rainy day tunes with a beauty that can transport you through all weathers.
This album slaughters posers. It's one of the few albums that calls itself hardcore and stands by every word of it. And in 29 minutes, Nothing Beyond, Everything After, the first full length album from London quintet Pariso serves as one of the most memorable experiences of throat scorching underground hardcore we'll hear from the British scene all year. Everything verges on how impressive and walking beyond the line it goes. Riffs are so sharp on heavy they verge on sounding straight from a Watain record, while going into effects like screaming to an acoustic setting makes it as terrifying as it is extreme. It's so intelligent and so brutal at the same time, it is everything that hardcore was destined to be.
(Season of Mist)
With a more theatrical approach to crafting songs, you can add a whole new level of textures, tones and sense of darkness. Especially when we're dealing with razor sharp black metal. Dutch masters Carach Angren take this idea on board with their third album Where the Corpses Sink Forever making grim backdrops out of rough orchestral backdrops that integrate well with trailblazing riffs and mile-a-minute drumming to fuel the storytelling songwriting, without being overdone to Nightwish proportions and a subtlety that sets them apart from their symphonic black metal peers. With this combination, they stand out as being something special in black metal and even though it's no game-changer, it's a band you should keep your eyes on.
With an new album with a title that sounds like a list of all that is needed to successfully live as a redneck, there is an element of all things past to be found in Beard Wives Denim, the fourth outing from Australian psychedelic rockers Pond. To aid the psychedelia, the band uphold a strong garage aesthetic, as riffs are fuzzy and squealing with feedback which mixes well with lively keyboard mixes that gives the songs that extra set of wings. With extra surf and indietronic influences surrounding the group's songwriting, the mixed bag of ideas leaves you warm and satisfied, knowing this is an album with fun in it's backbone. It'll make great listening for your trailer park.
(Small Town Records)
Perhaps one of the biggest cult sensations in metalcore over the past four years, Shadows Chasing Ghosts finally built up a big name for themselves with their second full length Lessons. Within the cult, it's been a highly anticipated release and it definitely meets up to the golden hardcore standard that pits them in the deserving spotlight position. Trey Tremain's scorching hardcore vocals bleed with real emotion as brutal emotional outpourings are blurted out over meaty hardcore breakdowns achieving the effect of a British A Day to Remember. It's emotional, beautiful and brutal enough to make the pit explode. May they explode from cult status.
When last year's off the wall debut album Shed was unleashed, Pennsylvania punks Title Fight showed off the lifestyle of a coming of age band, putting on the sound of a youthful rampage despite being at this for almost ten years. This year's Floral Green is a further step up into more mature territory a lesser sense of emotional stability and assure-ness resulting in performances that kick off the wall more than usual as Jamie Rhoden frantically questions morals and values of life and growing up. And with a selection of riffs that revel in the wave of 90's melodic hardcore bands and songwriting reminiscent of Sonic Youth at their wildest, this is an album where chaos exists. But it's a restlessly beautiful chaos.
Call me crazy, but I fully believe that the full extent of modern heavy metal can be very nicely taken in with a listening to one of the three albums from Reading's Sylosis. There's the '80's Metallica-echoing thrash licks, Josh Middleton's new-virtuoso guitar solos that brings out their progressive textures as well as echoing Maiden in their unending prime and the unleashing of trigger-finger beatdowns that often puts them in comparisons with less dimensional metalcore acts. It puts them in a world of their own and that world expands massively on third album Monolith a beast that honourably celebrates the six stringed instrument at it's finest.The extreme aggression of the band is not to be denied here, but as always it's the use of melodically creative guitar, well-placed tempo changes and eerie atmospheres makes this album as unnervingly creative as it is fully brutal. That was always the thesis of heavy metal, right?
Last year's massive influx of Twin Atlantic meant that playing indie rocks with massive distorted riffs became the coolest thing in the world again. And it's quite clearly given lots of bands their own chance to show what they're made of. And one of the finest in this new breed are Northern-Irish quartet General Fiasco, who return with strength beyond strength on their second album Unfaithfully Yours. With sharp beats, tight lead guitar lines and distorted power chords coming together with a swaggering youthful sense of energy the band go between strutting and joyfully leaping along the thin line between garage and indie rock. With such a dazzling array of rocking and conviction of their lyrics, few albums have sourced so much delight in such an instant like this one.
No one must be more used to people chanting "Play your old stuff" than Billy Corgan. Anyone that thinks right will know that the Smashing Pumpkins made some of the best music of the '90's, yet a lot of people choose to turn a blind eye to what the band are capable of these days. But now that some permanent band has been found in there, the band prove themselves to be as thoughtful and passionate musicians as we've always known them to be. Eighth release Oceania won't satisfy the "old stuff" fans but the artistic growth and venting of the fantasies of Corgan's visions is fascinating. It's progressive, filled with with emotion and proof that people who were big in one decade still have so much to give.
Epithète Dominion Epitaphe (AT(h)OME)
Epithète Dominion Epitaphe is an unexpected swan song for AqME frontman Thomas Thirrion who left after over a decade and six albums of touring recording with the French nu metal titans. If this is to be his last stand, then he gives his all with nihilistic screams and growls being an outlet for dark sided lyricism that works all too convincingly. His spread of a hard characteristic in his is only backed up by the harsh performance of steel plated riffs and rhythms the band backing him launch towards you. You can hear the band's troo metal step up on this album with a personal backbone to it. And that makes it a shame that Thirrion has left the band.
There hasn't really been many musical messages regarding the state of indie rock where it became a state of fashion and being indie meant wearing a checkered shirt made by a corporate label. But this is a band that knows what has happened there and that it's the best way to pick up girls, and Indie Boys Are for Hot Girls are a band that are against such notions in favour of making real indie music. The result is their debut offering Into Unconsciousness a whirlwind display of gloomy strokes of modern post punk unafraid to dive into more brutal territory and fit heavy grooves into breezy melodies. it makes it one of the dirtiest indie records of the year, and I'm fairly certain that dirty indie rock isn't going to score you any hot girls.
61. Mondo Generator - Hell Comes to Your Heart (Mondo Media)
Ever since his mental domestic abuse charges, I don't think I've looked at Nick Oliveri very positively as a person because I thought he was just a coked-up party animal which I would have been fine with. However, as a musician, I continue to look up to him with nigh-on religious respect and with the strength of the latest Mondo Generator album Hell Comes to Your Heart, can you blame me? Oliveri's purely natural screaming is such a powerful force that it clenches you by the neck and forces restlessly itself upon you, which definitely doesn't sound like a description of domestic abuse. More excitingly, many guests put their vocals above the the band's tight stoner grooves, including members of CJ Ramone and Blag Dahlia of Oliveri's first abnd Dwarves. And most excitingly, you can hear Oliveri, Josh Homme and John Garcia together on one song and I don't need to explain how massive that is.
Ever since coming out from behind the wall of Sleep, Matt Pike has been constantly crafting works that challenge, confuse and excite at least the sober half of his audience. And among his year's activities playing reunion shows with his old band, he's created another hulking work of art and devastation with High on Fire. Sixth album De Vermis Mysteriis tells a conceptual tale of a second Jesus with the ability to travel through time that I can't even begin to pretend to describe that musically rumbles the eardrums of listeners before giving them a good sludgy pounding into oblivion. It is a clear victory for the existence of solid gold to come from the minds of those who have never thought straight.
Some albums were just made to get you through points of unrelenting bitterness. On their debut album Amalgamation and Capital, Chris Devotion and The Expectations play songs for bitter periods of life, which clearly comes from people who have experienced a few themselves. Much of the album's influence packs sterile pop melodies that haven't sounded so intoxicating since the 1980's and the rise of new wave, but keyboards are scrapped in favour of mass lashings of spiked up punk riffs that writhe with the frenecity and intensity of a band that only could have come out of Glasgow. The result is an album that punches at every chance it gets and gets fully brutal while still carrying a high pop sensibility. So you can vent your rage into it or get lost in it's spread of fun. It defeats bitterness.
(Seasons of Mist)
It's not often that fans have to wait seventeen years for a new album from their favourite band. Not even Guns n' Roses could keep it up that long. But it feels even rarer for a band to release an album after that time that makes the wait fully worth it. Since the disbanding of Saint Vitus in 1996, they've grown to legendary status in doom metal circus and the quality of eighth album Lille F-65 is beyond compare. As Dave Chandler summons up mean Sabbath grooves with catchiness and detailed conception to evoke the feeling of being on drugs, the music is proven to have real thought behind it, and that doesn't even cover the vocals of Wino, always vocals that make you want to sit and have an introspection. And all this gives the band a comeback of pure majesty.
(Electric Blues Recordings)
Modern blues rock is a genuinely wonderful thing to hear. It's a style that has one a place in the hearts of many listeners of more mainstream music, while also being cool in the eyes of genuine rock fans. It's one of the few styles of music that manages to sound simultaneously fresh while revealing a classic influence as well. And it was demonstrated brilliantly by Southampton's Band of Skulls who came thundering back in February with their second album Sweet Sour. The group's talent of hard hitting impact of classic hard rock with the subtleties and intricacies of modern alt rock is found throughout as rough rustic guitar riffs shining through delicate indie backdrops which are entrancing enough in their ethereal serenity and even when one aspect of each of these music styles is focused on, the underlying result is always indestructible.
It's the devotion to creating only the most ferocious and unforgiving performances with a real fighting and vengeful spirit that has made Max Cavalera one of the central names and most relentless force in metal today. And it's with Soulfly's eighth offering Enslaved that this attitude is revealed to a much greater extent than possibly ever heard before. The announcement that the famed nu metal act was leaning towards a greater death metal influence was even surprising since we never could have foreseen Soulfly going out and making actual death metal songs with enough of a realness to make Morbid Angel quake in their boots. And amongst the brutality, the heartfelt tone of pure honesty can still be heard in Cavalera's commanding tones. And to hear actual emotion in death metal music makes this album unlike any of the band's new contemporaries.
It's been some time since the art of bleakness has been executed so perfectly than it has on the offering of five tracks from Arkansas doomsters Pallbearer. Their debut album Sorrow And Extinction shows that they've managed to take the very traditional style of doom metal into their own hands and make it their very own using a wide variation of shades of black, whether it's based in atmospheric ethereal sludge or more rhythmic psychedelic stoner metal. However, it's the emotional impact that Pallbearer unleash that makes it such a special listening experience because musically and lyrically it sees the group doing so much more than lurking around in doom and gloom. Even when managing to create an atmosphere of absolute bleakness and despair, the band still manage to sail through with a sense of triumph; this is an album that laughs in the face of death.
While many hardcore bands would be perfectly content with stepping onto the stage of the dingy sweaty apartment, tearing it a new one then walking away, other bands would rather do the same while adding a little more up tempo swagger and an overall characteristic that will make people ask if the performers think they're Elvis or someone. Such a band would be Toronto quintet Burning Love who punish the masses with their second album Rotten Thing to Say while putting on their rock and roller boots at the same time. Frontman Chris Colhans unleashes a further arsenal of pissed off disgust to the aggressive riff-fests and beatdowns which also carries some kind of charisma. And with that we can get into the bleak moshpits with our blue suede shoes on.
Having gained a big following with their first two albums of psychedelic instrumental jams, Brooklyn trio The Big Sleep take a step up in the world for their third album Nature Experiments and take on a more head-on stance to making vocals and lyrics count more in their songs. Guitarist Danny Barria and bassist Sonya Balchadandani trade turns at the mic and inject a cool soulful performance into their mellow works of indie passivity. Musically, the band keep things dynamic as we shift from slow burning Sabbath grooves to gentler keyboard driven works of tranquility. And if this an album where they're referring to the nature of the band, then it's definitely being experimented with.
After the release of 2010's Creatures, Scranton quintet Motionless in White took the breakdown-fueled metalcore scene by storm becoming new leading figures. But it's obvious that they no longer have time to be a core band take the matters of bringing their biggest non-core influences into their recording and make something that no metalcore band could bring themselves to make. And do they triumphantly return with their second album The Golden Age of Grotesque v2... I mean Infamous. With frantic extreme metal shredding, adrenaline packed melodies and fantastic gothic choruses, elements of Marilyn Manson Slipknot, Rob Zombie, Cradle of Filth, HIM and all those other alt metal acts you used to think were godly are beefed up to make those bands sound like the greatest thing you've ever heard all over again. This is the true sign of a band stamping out their name.
Fear Factory had a lot to live up to after 2010's Mechanize, the most unprecedentedly awesome comeback in metal that year, that saw the classic lineup of one of the most influential bands on metal of the past fifteen years reunited and recharged. So eighth album The Industrialist proves that in it's current state, the band have to repeat their act of rising from the ashes as they did for the last album to show the worthiness of the second era of Dino Cazares. You can hear it in the stellar combination of Burton C. Bell's bleak harmonies, tightness of the rhythm section (even if the drummer is programmed machine) and of course, Cazares' thundering grooves, a constant force to be reckoned with that smashes your senses everytime he puts his finger on that guitar. With cold machines and scorching guitar, it is Fear Factory that finishes off the mixture of groove and industrial metal. Just like they also started it.
Hey look, it's everyone's favourite family-friendly rockers! Having already established themselves as worldwide legends in the fun-nihilistic punk rock corner, Norway's Turbonegro found themselves with a new challenge following the departure of longtime vocalist Hank Von Helvete, the face of the band. But with British vocalist Tony Sylvester, aka The Duke of Nothing, the band have soldiered on victoriously with ninth album Sexual Harassment. It makes a whirlwind travel to their old days of in-your-face sexuality with overtly camp overtones amongst the lyrics that can be brutal but also be the source of massive rock and roll party anthems. And this is the pure sound of a Turbonegro record that every fan and family will go wild for.
I was so gutted to hear that after the release of second album Behind the Bright Lights, Essex quintet Fei Comodo would be splitting up after a decade of releasing EP's and never getting to the heights that they deserved so much compared to several metalcore acts that have become massive. In a sense the album is the band's warm emotional way of saying goodbye as Marc Halls' soaring vocals grips you through the band's course of velvet clothed metalcore. This musical richness and heaviness as large as the band's clear passion means that this is a band that say goodbye with a bang, making it clear that beauty and brutality really can coexist. Fei Comodo are dead. Long live Fei Comodo.
Imagine how much pressure you'd suddenly feel under and how much of a wider audience you would suddenly find yourselves having to appease to after journalists started randomly saying that you were your home nation's equivalent of Sepultura? That's what Hungarian quartet Ektomorf got after they finally got big with the release of 2004's Destroy. With their ninth album Black Flag, the band keep up their ruthless efforts of being their own version of Sepultura, unleashing their potentially fatal grooves battered out without any sense of remorse or sympathy flowing through the bands veins. Among this, more experimentation and short moments of other influences that leave monumental impacts allows for more fairly interesting results to become vented into the group's performance. And with that, maybe this album is a place where metal can begin to grow it's Hungarian roots. Bloody roots.
Mixing honest-hearted punk rock with the hook filled textures of modern indie rock with lyrics that essentially bare your thoughts and feelings on life to the world is a method that is guaranteed to win you all kinds of hearts and souls with your music. It's something that Above Them learnt a couple of years back when they put out their debut Blueprint for a Better Time. Second album Are We a Danger to Ourselves allows you to note how fresh this basically formula-based songwriting style can be as the band return as a four-piece and provide a much crisper sound to match the hopeful, determined lyrics that pour from Oliver Wood's rough Bristol-accented mouth. It's a triumph of an album that reminds you how beautiful the simple mix of punk riffs and big choruses can be.
Norrøn Livskunst (Indie Recordings)
With music, I generally find that I won't enjoy a song or album based alone on it's overall sense of weirdness, but in the case of Norrøn Livskunst, the seventh album from Avant-garde black metal duo Solefald, I'm going to need to make a powerful exception. At least five shots of pure vodka will be required before we can go into this album and once that's done, Cornelius Jakhelln and the man with the surname that sums up my hometown, Lazare Nedland take us on a musical journey into the unknown world where freaks run in control and the concern for sounding accessible is a laughable concept. The guitar and vocal work of the album is fully frenetic and un-resting and is so densely mixed into the production that all instruments really come out as one psychedelic haze of burning noise. This album sees every idea this band has ever dreamed up and shoots it out onto the one canvas in the goriest way possible. Truly, a victory for weirdness.
(New Heavy Sounds)
With the psychedelic rock melodies of Kyuss and early Queens of the Stone Age turned up to a dragging crunch of viscous monstrous doom metal, Black Moth are exactly the kind of band that if you don't like the sound of, then we can't be friends. On their debut full length The Killing Jar the band's performance is done with such a high and established stoner rock standard that the fact that it comes from a new band is still difficult to comprehend. The vocals of frontwoman Harriet Bevan are purely hypnotic and guitarist Jim Swainstain lays down Sabbath-friendly grooves with the heaviness of Fu Manchu even. And with constant picking on rock music at it's most psychotic, this album is a dragging trip to the sludge scene a trip back to '70's progressive rock and a band that celebrate good time heavy metal that isn't afraid to bite.
Describing a band as "This generation's Nirvana" can be a dangerous one. You need to be raw, uncompromising and unafraid to smash through the barriers of any kind of musical authority to deliver unashamed rock and roll as a medium to deliver exactly what you feel and really mean it. And I doubt that an album as haunting, sincere and as genuine to that concept as Attack on Memory has come out this year. On their debut offering, Cleveland trio Cloud Nothings conjure a selection of garage punk songs that serve as an assault on your heart and mind that gets drone-y in some places to being fully-fledged angsty crust punk. And with Steve Albini, the man who gave Nirvana the true rock and roll sound producing, this might be one of the albums that is most true to the memory of that Seattle grunge trio.
Undoubtedly, it's been established that Bur had a massive and positive year with Olympic performances and becoming maybe one of Britain's most loved band of the past twenty years. And yet, guitarist Graham Coxon still seems to have a lot to feel grim about. As least that's what it sounds like when you consider the scathing darkness upheld throughout his eight solo album A+E. The abrasive thrills of the albums brings him back to making a dynamic range of electronic fused pop songs filled with frenetic riffs and a angry pessimistic tone which picks up greatly from 2009's folk induced the Spinning Top. But a thrilling new influence from industrial and krautrock makes basslines and synthesizers in the mix of the album a far more thrilling proposition and results in one of Coxon's finest solo albums so far. Another victory in the Blur bag.
London really is one of the most restless and unpredictable places in the world when you think about it. This year, the entire world was celebrating it and it's classy hosting of the Olympics, last year it was getting torched and smashed up by packs of wild kids. Either way, the city's restlessness and constant shift in tone and emotion is pretty much captured perfectly the album with it's namesake, being the debut full length album from local boys Apologies, I Have None. The wait for an album has been a long one for listeners and the bands and there's been trials and tribulations along the way, but they come out sounding like a band of utmost confidence as they smash through tooth and nail riffs and melodies like a cockney Against Me!. And with an inner beauty to be found in what seems like very rough textures, this album really does reflect London in more ways than one.
The return of Orange Goblin has been a long time coming since 2007's Healing Through Fire. Since then, the band have become victims of the music industry, having crafted fourteen years worth of solid metal and having to find other jobs to make ends meet. But no one was expecting a comeback as magnificent as the one documented on seventh album A Eulogy For the Damned, an album that breathes riffs, vomits out pulsating grooves and is awash with powerful songwriting displaying the best of their influences from Sabbath and Motörhead. And with the perfect levels of gravel, grit and unleashing of full emotion, this is stoner rock and roll that manages to sound beautiful without even trying.
Normally, I could happily pass on a solo release from a previously world-respected guitarist. Generally albums like that are little more than a soulless collection of riffs and solos that might show the artists brain for playing guitar, but not for writing real songs. However, in his solo career, Steve Vai has spent twenty years proving how much more worthwhile he is. On eighth solo album The Story of Light, Vai proves he might be the most immense instrumental artists in the world and like many before him shatters all perceptions that lyrics are the most important feature to convey emotion in music. Every moment of the album feels like moving through a dream, with the buildup of vibrant textures and shifting tone in emotion that reveals a dramatic understanding of music beneath fast salvos of notes and double whammy bar triumph. And you won't hear a solo guitarist make an album this spellbinding again.
In recent years, a desperate resurrection of pop punk has finally began to emerge from purists that reject the polish and re-install the grit and emotion that the 1990's gave birth to. And no band has done it better than Southampton's Our Time Down Here, whose second full length album Midnight Mass dwells within the darker regions of the genre capturing Alkaline Trio's golden age with frontman Will Gould's grim vocal tones put into killer hooks and massive sing-along choruses. And the juxtaposition between bouncy riffs and haunting moments of organs and choral sing-alongs really does make this an unusual experience in the pop punk circles. And in a genre that should be all about doing whatever you want, this is something very special indeed.
Architects have had a pretty tough deal throughout their careers. The past few years of touring have given them the reputation of being "the band that always opens for Bring Me the Horizon" when their music is definitely constantly on par with each other if not championed by the Brighton quintet every now and then, and when they tried doing something more melodic with last year's The Here and Now, they were met with responses like "This band's dead to me" and all that trash. It means that even on their fifth album Daybreaker, they're a still a band that has something to prove, and man, do they fucking smash it here. The band's songwriting is at it's most ambitious with beautiful backing arrangements that makes complimentary use of extra symphonic elements, and then, the band's heaviness makes a digging return to new heights, which when topped by the dynamic vocals and lyrics of Sam Carter resembles the beginning of metalcore gaining a new face of respectability.
It's little wonder that Seattle quintet Black Breath have been recognised as one of the best new metal bands by critics that don't listen to much of the stuff. In a world where we have so many labels and genre titles, this is one of the bands that smash through barriers and just scream out "We are a metal band." This will make their second album Sentenced to Life one that will be remembered well in years to come, as the band trade ferociously in death-faced hardcore song structures that sees them rope in influences from thrash and death metal, effectively giving the idea of how Slayer may have turned out if they had started on the punk circuit. The overall result is an album that worships the riff and believes in nothing else. It's an album that proves hating life can make you cool sometimes!
36. Greenleaf - Nest of Vipers (Small Stone Records)
In over a decade of touring, Swedish Stoner rock temple Greenleaf has experienced such a rotation within it's lineup that it looks more like a supergroup these days. But what a supergroup it is. With three former members of Dozer in their ranks and frontman duties carried out by Oskar Cedarmaln of Truckfighters fame (or "of Godly status") the band unleash their fifth album Nest of Vipers a departure from more recent venturing into blues territory and far more concerned about delivering the goods submerged in grit, face-smashing punches and a bolder more bombastic sense of energy. With the balance between heavy hooked belters and slow burning psychedelic jams, the album is a stoner rock fantasy with a lineup that epitomizes the dreams of Swedish rock.
They've been around for 44 years and the average person on the street would have no chance of singing any of their songs. Rush, the world's biggest cult band have risen again in graceful form with their 19th album Clockwork Angels. In a world where prog rock musicians should be losing their sense of creativity and ambition to make a killer album, the desire, creativeness and concept scripting of Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson has only grown. With textured crafting, a return of virtuoso like musical performances and no fear in still making pummeling passages of music they make an album that is true to what Rush stands for. They've made an album that is intelligent, hard hitting, age defying prog rock for geeks.
We've talked about the entire Killing Joke situation already. Some people might view it as mental and a middle finger stuck up to the fans, most fans probably see it as just another day at the office. No matter what comes of that situation the key thing will always be how they've actually spent their entire 34 year career being one of the best alternative and widely influential bands to rock, alternative and metal music ever. Their fifteenth album MMXII nods to the potentially upcoming apocalypse and matches that feeling by making one of the stormiest and murky works of music this year. Jaz Coleman's vocals witch from lulling drones to deathly screaming whenever he wants it to that unnervingly tops a full backing of spine-chilling guitars, gothic synth pop melodies and occasional thrusts of anthemic power. Killing Joke will always be a few screws loose and if the world does end this year, they'll have left it on one of their most accomplished works.
When highly respected black metal bands fall, the only solution is for one to move on by themselves and do their own more respectable project. And after a trilogy of highly respectable solo albums, you could never expect former Emperor frontman Ihsahn to follow something that could top them and top the work of one of the heaviest Norwegian black metal bands. But with fourth solo effort Eremita, he may have managed it, crafting some of his most dynamic, creative and constantly refreshing and surprising works to date. With sets of riffs built of stone, constant saxophone work from Shining's Jørgen Munkeby and as many intense melodies and wondering soundscapes as intense guitar work and blast beats, this is definitely one of Ihsahn's most accomplished works. And as the title suggests, it celebrates the power of solitude.
(Goo Grrrl Records)
I should really not have any love for London's Antlered Man. They're so wonderfully weird that they just make the task of writing about them unbelievably difficult. Bust with their expansive collection of post rock and metal songs that make up their debut full length Giftes 1&2. Throughout the weirdness on offer, the band prove themselves distinguished songwriters able to craft creations so twisted and effortlessly climactic and dramatic that they could only belong to them. Better still they can carry this spine chilling emotional impact no matter what they do. You can find it in the spiralling doom laden offerings and the bouncy punk offerings. And with a weird of weird rock bands like Mr. Bungle and System of a Down before them, they've done their own thing just to become as serious a proposition as their weird influences.
Northern Irish trio The Minutes don't believe in holding back. They don't believe in letting up in places where sleazy riffs can be thrown in and they don't believe in having any leftover flab either. I suppose this understanding of getting the mixture just right makes their debut full length album Marcata one of those albums that proves rock and roll lives and breathes. You do that and realise actually there are a tonne of albums where you can find something similar, but it still feels special. Producer Kevin McMahon effortlessly captures the band at their most energetically full-blooded and the kind of excitement you'd experience at a live show, and the band keep delivering the goods, coming off as a more viscous Black Keys with teeth. And if the abnd's goal is to obliterate everything with fat riffs, they got it covered here. Holding back is not an option.
Since 2008's Hail Destroyer, many of us knew that Cancer Bats were destined to become hardcore's "Next Big Thing", the band that would have a thick consistency of perfectly dense riffage and the kind of aggression that real hardcore asks for. And with fourth effort Dead Set On Living, the band may finally have the full set of songs that makes them heroic in hardcore and metal circles behind them. With more Sabbath grooves influences alongside the mile a minute hardcore pummeling, this is surely a sign of a band that have proved so much already to be at their chunkiest, heaviest, most eccentric and most accomplished as songwriters. And it's for the best that Liam Cormier stay with his Canadian buddies and keep clear of Axewound for now.
Imagine a party where you leave with a nosebleed recorded into musical form. Without thinking of Andrew W.K.'s I Get Wet. The next album in line is undoubtedly Bloodstreams the debut offering from Brisbane duo DZ Deathrays, a band who make you remember how much of an arsehole you are if you tell someone to grow up. With their youthful party hard spirit and ability to smash your face in with distorted guitars, drums and some simple electronics alone and no requirement for any deep bass, it's a sign that a simple selection of simply played instruments that stick to no formula really can come together to arrange some massive songs that can be fun, emotional and make you feel indestructible. Well, except for that nosebleed.
A very real force to be reckoned with, Converge are perhaps the most consistent band in the history of hardcore with one critically acclaimed release after another and an existing credential of making one of the heaviest albums ever in the form of one Jane Doe. And eighth album All We Love We Leave Behind is a further addition to the Massachusetts bruisers card of gold stars. Every song is packed with Jacob Bannon's guttural screaming of black hearted lyrics and Kurt Ballou's blaring riffs that go from a throat scorching intensity to doom laden tolling. With an addition of more piercing melodies and atmospheric sections that you can easily be lost in, this album succeeds in being an emotionally challenging work as well as just energetic hardcore. The most respected band in all of hardcore strikes again.
The victory story of The Nomads is one that's only too inspiring as a testament to just how far rock and roll can get you in the world. The band have been at this for thirty years with virtually no radio or television airplay to help them get by and the loyalty of fans alone helping them survive their journey from garages in Sweden to stages in rock and roll halls all over the world. But 30 years of ups and downs is covered beautifully on 18th album Solna, an album so crafted by love and passion for the band that it bounces with a freshness that marks the aesthetic of garage punk rock in it's truest form and proves their own agelessness perfectly. You can get lost in haunting melodies, or choose to put yourself in the centre of the action with pure punk rock. I don't think we'll ever see a band as victorious as The Nomads again, or an album reflecting such celebration.
It's sad but I really don't think Gallows are ever going to be able to avoid those that have a go at them for choosing to continue without modern punk icon Frank Carter and replacing them with a Canadian frontman. But with the group's self-titled album, first release from what many consider Gallows 2.0 with former Alexisonfire guitarist Wade MacNeil is just as consistent, ferocious and filthy a punk album, certainly as much as Orchestra of Wolves and if you're choosing to boycott this band due to the change in frontman you are missing out on so much. The band sound completely refreshed with a new sense of urgency, blackened heaviness and intensity that proves that they can still be as passionate a punk band as ever, even if they're not the tight lineup everyone wants them to be. They're ready to take on the world, all over again.
In a world where some of the most heaviest bands can feature six members and have members carrying seven stringed guitars, there's something mental when you hear something so heavy and discover that it was down to the work of two people. That's the feeling you're going to get after you listen to Open & Die and realise it was only the result of two people called Octave Zangs and Julien Jourdan who play together in a band called Cherry Bloom. Throughout the album, only a guitar, set of drums and swaggering vocal performances are the tools to make rock and roll induced bangers that perfect the QOTSA touch of bringing the heaviness to the sing along melodies. In this case, there's time for rhythms to put on their dancing shoes and embrace the funk while greater simplicity brings out scorching works of rock and roll. And these two people can make results that other bands need five members for. Your move other bands.
When Leeds rockers Chickenhawk changed their funny-sounding name to the more serious Hawk Eyes last year, it brought with them a greater passion, seriousness and drive to the music they made. And on their debut full-length release Ideas, this drive reflects perfectly. While 2010's Chickenhawk release Modern Bodies was a delirious exercise of how heavy a band can get, this idea sees more experimentation and the band's shot of being a metal, punk and rock and roll band all at once. It means the range of technical riffs is also lit up by the scorching vocals of Paul Astick to create something purely carved by razors in it's sound. And if Queens of the Stone Age were the modern day saviors of rock and roll, The Dillinger Escape Plan were saviours of hardcore and Mastodon were saviours of just being heavy, this album is evidence that Hawk Eyes might be saviours of all that's good in music.
By now, I think we've seen enough releases to prove that 2012 has been the year for punk to rise from the ashes. Maybe it doesn't have the political immensity as the hardcore acts of the '70's or '80's or even Pussy Riot, but jaggy riffs and melodies with lyrics and heart are making a firm comeback to be as jaw-droppingly sweet hearted and filled with real emotion as possible. And what a fine job The Men have done of that with their third album Open Your Heart. As the band boast some of the sweetest lyrics of the year with giddy lyrics of teenage anxiety and romance used as an empathetic force. No guitar goes wasted on the album either, each hook becoming a joyous rock explosion that discovers spacey ambiance and power pop melodies all in one go. And if punk is rising from the dead, this album is one of the healthiest warriors that easily honours those names in punk who fell before them.
The Gaslight Anthem are just a band that believes in music as a way to unite people. They believe that even in the face of darkness when hope seems lot the power of music and having a song you can sing along to in any way will make everything that bit easier. And it's with these beliefs they give their songwriting to their fourth album Handwritten, a stunning array of beautifully crafted songs made for people to sing along to with all their heart. The kinds of songs that would get you through driving late at night with nowhere to go, the songs that would unite everyone to wave their lighters in the air during a live show. And with the confident lyricism of Brian Fallon effectively shattering any barriers between you and the music, you are a part of the album's message as well. Well done to everyone involved.
About a week before the release of Four, the comeback album from London indie big-leagues Bloc Party, a band that I only really knew previously for that annoying dance rock anthem Flux, frontman Kele Okereke stated that he'd been listening to a lot of Nirvana, causing me to think "Well, that's natural. About time." I did not realise he meant he had been listening to Bleach. On this album, the band shatter all expectations from anyone that was waiting by actually ditching hopes of radio play and being heavy. Okereke and Russell Lissack between them make riffs guaranteed to shred people's faces off in the same kind of aim that Gallows would have with their guitar work. This is an album resembling so much of what is possible for a band, they can beef up their sound to impress fans of hardcore music and prove that the mid-'00's indie rock rise was more than just a way for bands to play simple riffs and get lots of money. With enough effort, indie rock becomes brutal and terrifying. Thanks Bloc Party.
A band can go into a studio aimed with the idea of doing something that involves blending styles together. They can do that with high aims and ultimately fall flat. But then there are bands with enough of a knowledge and craft in songwriting to take their heroes influences and do something with them to make everyone proud while offering plenty surprises along the way. Ribozyme, a group of three guys from Bergen, Norway have spent their career doing this and once again, their fifth album Presenting the Problem sees their influences from the likes of Alice in Chains and those from the likes of Nine Inch Nails fuse together in stunning form to craft dark melodies with cold synthetic backdrops where you can also find the texture of stunning rock songs. And you won't hear an industrial grunge fusion as good as this anywhere else.
(Medals for Everyone)
They might just be Scotland's best band right now. And you might just find that all the other bands that you thought were Scotland's best bands will agree with that statement. Ayrshire trio Sucioperro have been in a position where they could move into the mainstream eye for sometime now, with frontman JP "Dragon" Reid working with Biffy Clyro's Simon Neil on various occasions and high critical praise for last year's The Heart String and How to Pull It. But if you go mainstream, you can't go completely mental, and fourth album Fused seems to ask "where's the fun in that?" And so, the band's performance is gutsier, darker and so much heavier than before. When Biffy return next year, they will undoubtedly be known as Scotland's finest band again, but they'll always be that wee group of musical geniuses that can secretly hold the crown. And everyone will approve.
It takes a high reputation to become seen as a force to be reckoned with in the world of underground rock. You certainly need a quality of music that matches the job title. And there aren't as many proper rock bands in the underground putting on a show as unrelentingly brutal and fearful as Belgium based band Kaptain Korsakov, who call themselves KKK for short and might be a few screws loose. This madness might just characterize the songwriting tendencies on their second full-length stuff&such which are as experimental as they are dominated by fat sludgy riffing. A wide palette of influences allows the band to be as sensitive as they are all out mean. And an album this intense and powered by thought really is the stuff of underground rock dreams.
If you are a metalcore fan, then a new Parkway Drive release is always worth getting excited about, but even that buildup couldn't prepare you for the kind of mastery displayed on their fourth album Atlas. And the more you think about how detailed, differing in structures outlooks and designs and encompassing of all different kinds of discoveries and atlas is, the more you begin to realise just how apt an album title this really is. This album surprises you at every corner, whether you're hearing delicate acoustic numbers or soothing female vocals or massive "WOAH" chants. But you're never far from the ever sharpened heaviness of the band's performance verging on genuine death metal territory and the effortless band fronting of Winston McCall. And if anyone is still lambasting metalcore for being stuck in a rut, they should listen to this: One of the most forward thinking metal albums of the year.
For years, it's always been fairly simple for me to say that Corey Taylor is one of my musical idols and only envisage a figure in a jumpsuit and leather mask. But finally, as Stone Sour release the first part of their highly ambitious House of Gold & Bones... collections, set to include two albums, a comic book series and in time films, you realise that this band means every bit as much to Taylor and guitarist Jim Root as Slipknot does. This album sees the band become so much more than Taylor's radio-friendly side projects they become much heavier, write far more gripping atmospheric darker songs that link together to create something really exciting leaving you longing for Part 2. But for now, the fact that Stone Sour have now made a work that is on par with at least the latter Slipknot releases is something very serious and very astonishing.
The future of British metal starts here. When Hampshire quintet Bury Tomorrow released their debut album Portraits in 2009, it was at a time when the rise of deathcore began and many began losing faith in melodies. But the step up made on second album The Union of Crowns is beyond outstanding. With lavish themes and songwriting with a royalty based theme on mind, the band write a metalcore album with breakdowns as heavy on record as they are at their unforgiving live shows, fitting the brutality formula into properly structured songs dominated by the balance of screams and pristine clean vocals from Daniel Winter-Bates and Jason Cameron. Hearing a band making metal songs with proper sing-along choruses that are so much harder than bands built of death growls and breakdowns is by far the greatest victory for songwriting I've seen all year.
It's difficult to think of anyone who would have believed that this metal band from Bayonne in France would go on to become one of the most consistently brilliant and heavy names in metal, but finally with their fifth release L'Enfant Sauvage, Gojira have finally unleashed their release that has won everyone in metal over. With grooves as choppy, unpredictable and overwhelmingly heavy, this album rips through with a high emotion and riffs made up of iron thunder, the beauty and immense heaviness shines through every second of Joe Duplantier's awe-inspiring outbursts. It's the sound of a band putting their heart and souls into what sounds like an accomplishment that they've deserved for so long.
13. Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud (HevyDevy Records)
When an album from one of the most respected names and collectively agreed heaviest crafter of modern metal opens with a gospel choir, it tells you how unpredictable proceeding will be. But then then entire proceedings of the Devin Townsend Project have always surpassed expectations and taken all kinds of crazy and massive sized turns. Fifth installment Epicloud feels like an overwhelming catch up of all the styles Mr. Townsend has crafted on his victorious sets of albums so far, as steel-plated grooves fuse into dreamy progressive soundscapes to form songs boasting a fantasy like beauty that go from massive technical power chanting to delicate bluesy balladry. It's Hevy Devy's biggest album yet that will leave you asking what you just listened to,. Because it made you cry with joy.
With Norway's main metal export being of the corpse wearing variety, it seems almost incorrect that this year's second best album to emerge from that country is a band with it's roots in hardcore, but with the dynamic influence, awe-inspiring textures and frightening brutality with which Purified in Blood execute their songs on third album Flight of a Dying Sun, I really don't have any other choice but to choose this as one of the best export from the land of Mayhem. To relent is not an option for this album as riffs speed forward to break your face to smithereens like they were bricks and even the more more toned down hallucinogenic moments are strong enough in their mind-altering vividness to make your state of mind that bit more panic stricken. This album doesn't slow down for anyone and that has always been the way metal rolled in Norway.
(Season of Mist)
The last time the world celebrated an album that was about little else than being as loud and heavy as possible that went straight in and out again in the space of half an hour, it was called Reign in Blood. For the recording of their fifth album One Wing, Georgia's The Chariot, must have entered the studio with the exact same inner rage, frustration and primal chaos that gripped Slayer in 1986. This is the ultimate reflection you get after you let this album into your life and essentially let the music abuse you with dense rolling grooves and sludge-thick riffs organised into... actually organised isn't really the word I'm looking here, it's literally chaos recorded. But it's a beautiful chaos that throws you into a melting pot of unpredictably. And maybe you should re-visit the way you felt when you first heard Reign in Blood, and see where this takes you.
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)
There are two guys from Vancouver that love listening to rock and roll, dreaming rock and roll and making rock and roll. It's rock and roll that follows a certain pattern, rock and roll that doesn't keep you guessing and it's rock and roll that comes from the heart and expresses every single uplifting feeling and expression they have which should then go on to match your own feelings. You can find it on an album called Celebration Rock and it's the second album from Brian King and David Prowse, two guys from Vancouver known as the Japandroids. It undoubtedly rocks hard with powerhouse drumming absorbing riffs that fills the ears of listeners satisfyingly, while the band's relateable, emotion-laden lyrics are impossible not to fall in love with. It's rock and roll at it's most real and most beautiful. It's rock and roll that will bring everyone together, arms-swaying.
When a band releases the album that they promise to be their last, you know it needs to be an album that makes their fans, their genre and themselves proud. And my fucking god, do Candlemass nail it on theirs. Their supposed swan song Psalms for the Dead sounds like a fitting retrospective of the life of this band, drawing elements from their past releases that have gone on to define generations of metal acts, whether they be doom metal bands or beyond that combines with a modern production that sees the bands create that would bring Tony Iommi to his knees. And these molten slabs of restless doom from the band are often aided by macabre organ melodies and the often theatrical and forever captivating vocals of Robert Lowe. By the end of it, Candlemass demand their legacy be recognised. A life of stoner metal, filled with death, doom and gothic despair, formed into something immeasurably heavy and beautiful. It's the end of one of the only bands I could happily use the word "epic" to describe.
A real sense of punk rock adrenaline has become hard to find in a lot of releases. As nice as it is to hear charming emotional songwriting, there's recently been little to find that neatly fits in between the feeling of immense refreshment and joy towards the world that you'd hear from a modern punk album and the feeling of being blasted away by the rough intensity of any good hardcore album. Here to change that are the actual best Norwegian rock and rollers Blood Command, who have come to turn modern rock on it's head with their latest effort Funeral Beach. The band blast out their tightly constructed songs with a venomous attitude that carries enormous tones of frenzied rage that sounds as crisp and real as you'd get on a Refused album. And with a crystalline production that brings out the roughness of the instrumentals, there's the kind of thrills to be found that bring up the explosive imagery of of thriller spy films that evokes a 10-year-old boy sense of awe as much as it does emerge enough awe to mentally headbang. Punk rock with bite is back.
(A Wolf at Your Door)
Next year might just be the year of Hildamay. It might be the time when all the major press releases begin picking up on major press, the might have major headline tour and there might be some room for their name in album collections across the country. And how very deserved of them it would be with the sublime and dynamic quality of their songwriting on their debut full-length Miles Away. It a beautiful array of emotion-rendering punk songs that have as much as a grim sludgy outlook as they do a uplifting pop-punk outlook, as pounding riffage immerses you within an overhanging sense of doom while creating pulsing hooks with the influence a generation of punk bands behind them. And every last second is an outlet of unrelenting emotion delivered with more agony and doom-laden despair than any other post-hardcore contemporaries.
With every listen, it's like being transported further on a trailblazing dash through the living desert having been intoxicated, riled up on substances and having the time of your life. The second album from Belgian trio Wallace Vanborn Lions, Liars, Guns and God smokes up excitement, adrenaline and the filth-infested ethics of true rock and roll and breathes it out into your face. It's filthy and it's fully aware of it but you'd still drop everything at once for it. Rattling stoner rock songs are blasted out on choppy guitars, all of which is underpinned by weird yet luring singing style, brutal drumming and an unending sense of perfection within songwriting, the way that the band know exactly when to strike with a solo and keep your jaw constantly open. And you need to think, if the original purpose of rock and roll was to use highly distorted guitars to keep shock people and make them feel good at the same time, this is an album that rock and roll lives on.
If you haven't yet taken the time to experience the work of Neurosis, I'm not angry with you by any means, just a little disappointed. Over the past 20 years, the band have consistently constructed some of the finest albums of the world, and have achieved monumental praise and had a mass influence on any modern progressive band and even ten albums in, they're making albums that means single albums can't be seen as classics on their own. Latest effort Honour Found in Decay delivers absorbing works of post metal that drags you against your will into apocalyptic soundscaping through grim sludgy guitar work, textured atmospheres painted grey and brown and the unmistakable voice of Scott Kelly, which either soothes people or makes them uncomfortable. It's less aggressive than previous efforts but where it lacks in that it makes up for in restless maturity and sense of introspection. This state of mind puts more cohesion and focus on songwriting and tones of glory, darkness and despair manages to roll into one immense form. If you haven't heard any Neurosis yet, you can start on any album, because they're all classics.
Earlier this year, the four members of Georgia quartet Baroness were involved in a bus crash while in the UK that put them in hospital and put them out of touring for several weeks. It's so relieving that nothing more happened to them after that. Because losing Baroness would mean losing one of the most vital names in rock music today as they managed to prove with Yellow & Green, their ambitious step up into recording a double album that seriously boosted their credentials as performers and songwriters. On these albums, the band prove that there's no such thing or at least there needn't be such a thing as a target audience as the step up from being a riff-after-riff band to being a band with more brains and a more progressive dept, as they songs of a quality and diversity that everyone could find a place in their heart for at least one kind of song on there. With such a wide range of influence and emotional spectrum that breathes across the album, the abnd have given us a lesson in how to make a masterpiece. And I get the same feeling as when I listened to Mastodon's The Hunter that this is the music of a band the world has been waiting for.
By now, we probably should have gotten to the stage where we're so aware that one of the most consistently amazing bands in the world will bring out a great album that we should try and stop ourselves from being shocked by them whenever you release something new. But the Deftones just won't let that happen and instead to continue to thrill, tantalize and transport listeners into a new world of dreamscapes that boldly re-affirms the bands reputation of being the most innovative heavy bands ever with their seventh album Koi No Yokan. A devastating doubling of guitar and bass from Stephen Carpenter and Sergio Vega will leave jaws wide open while moments of nuanced tenderness will have listeners in a state of bliss reaching their inner peace. And it's all balanced out by the ever unpredictable and varying fronting by modern icon Chino Moreno. It's head-renderingly heavy when it needs to be and utterly ethereal when it's not. And as a whole it breathes as an album with he most human spirit and emotion poured into the music. It is wonder and may the Deftones never stop creating it.
It's been ten years since the combined powers of Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God kick-started a revolution in bringing heavy metal the masses when their albums were met with great commercial interest while being genuinely heavy and displaying a very genuine skill in songwriting. Since then, metal has entered a Darwinian process of natural evolution in which only the strongest bands survive in this man made world that we call metalcore. And there are so many bands that just piss around, believing that the odd breakdown will make them really heavy and essentially giving a performance that proves nothing has advanced from the days of nu metal. And these bands are the ones getting left behind, while the bands that truly do give it their all and put their heart and soul into every piece of music they create and every lyric they scream out loud are the ones that every notices and everyone realises are the most deserving of making it to the top. At the beginning of the year, While She Sleeps were just another metal band from Sheffield living in a Bring Me the Horizon shaped shadow until they got a chance to make their debut album and be that album to champion the natural selection. Every second of This is the Six is MONOLITHIC. There are moments on this album that sound heavier than the works of Lamb of God and Machine Head combined, in an obviously physical and highly emotional sense with real meaning and heartfelt significance in each song. The real gift is the band's piercing melodies that allows for beautifully ghostly lead guitars and rhythmic sections that everyone sings along to (Believe me, I've had the pleasure of seeing it happen live.) and they way verses choruses and bridges can be fit into the kind of album that other bands would just fill with breakdowns. There will be so many that will look down on this album and deny it for being metalcore and associating it with all the bands in the genre that pissed around and I genuinely feel sorry for people with that mindset, because this is the album that Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God set the path for ten years ago finally here immersed in grit and human emotion that is more real than any other album this year. While She Sleeps are the new kings of metal. And they demand their crown now.
This list was always going to have to conclude in a way that meant something to me much more than it did to anyone else. Even now, when I consider it, Miami quartet Torche haven't made what could be considered album of the year musically with their third album Harmonicraft in the same way that I could so easily say that While She Sleeps have. And that's not to say it's not a good album because it's just wondrous. Torche have never been predictable with any of their previous releases, having formed from a variety of different bands who were all different in their approach, the band retain their gift for making stoner rock jams that break all the rules and become one of the first bands to take stoner rock out of the dark rooms filled with smoke and into a new light ever since Queens of the Stone Age found a worldwide audience with Rated R and Songs for the Deaf.
With influences from of the most sophisticated names in progressive and sludge metal, like Neurosis, ISIS, Tool and of course Mastodon, the band flow through riffs that pound into immense depths to create highly textured and adventurous backdrops that always leaves your eyes open in a glow of wonder and sense of total hypnosis which is only highlighted by the commanding tones in the vocals of Steve Brooks and Andrew Elstner. It's a dazzling body of progressive work that just opens doors.for new worlds that you could comfortably live your lives in.
But the real thing that makes Torche break the rules is that they play this style of music... wait for it... with a smile on their faces! That's groundbreaking in this form of music. Scott Kelly would never be seen smiling. Yes, Torche make sludge metal songs that are upbeat, and I really mean in the realm of being Foo Fighters upbeat and everytime you hear the album, all you can do is smile with it and it's beautiful sounds and personality that just takes you to moments where you stop and realise where you are in the album and not be able to identify any sort of hatred, pain or suffering in this world. This is an album built out of love.
And when I think of that overriding love contained on this album, it just makes me think a bit about life, friendships, having to grow up and meet new people and all the good times and memories it's brought along. It's the same kind of sentiment I would get whenever I listen to Everlong, my favourite song ever.
And when I think about all of that and they amount of times I've listened to Harmonicraft this year in order to revel in the good times or escape the bad times, this album has effectively given me the soundtrack to my life this year. And I don't think I can honour it in any better way than putting it in this position. This is the best album of 2012. It's the one album that has given me everything.
And that effectively concludes what was another stunning year for music and at a time when so many talk about all today's music being awful, it's clear that maybe they should stop looking at whatever's big in the mainstream as their source of information for what qualifies as modern music. And if a statement like that does make me sound like an underground dwelling hipster I will gladly take the title.
I hope that looking at this post has been enjoyable, I did have it in my mind that I should try and construct the world's longest blog post and if you actually read it in it's entirety, please give me your name so that I can get it engraved on the medal that you deserve. This really has been a chance for me to unleash my long winded and repetitive words that completely contradicts the idea of being a newspaper journalist.
More than that, this has been a good chance for me to have a reflection on life, especially one that has seen such a massive change take place over the past twelve months with too many new experiences and new friends made and old friendships grown tighter to begin to count. And through all those changes, the one prominent force has been the undying power of music, even if a lot of that music is screaming music for weird people with lots of filthy guitars. And the love of writing about that music and trying to tell those around me or anyone else that stumbles onto Ramblings of a Rock Fan that bands like Torche might just change the way you live for the better. And if this 2012 has only been the beginning of the rest of my life, I cannot wait for what comes next.
With that, I must love you and leave you once again until 2013 begins brimming with big new releases from the world of rock and metal. Maybe next year, I'll be able to gather my thoughts together a little better, but then I'll finally be an eighteen year old university student, so don't keep your hopes up. If you ever feel like chatting about bands, or complaining about the order that I've put the albums for this list up in, feel free to get in touch with me on my Facebook page or write to me on Twitter at @AndyrfDavidson and I'll try to come up with as slick a response as possible.
Until next year, (provided the world doesn't end) keep rocking.