Scottish Author Mark Rice's Stream of Consciousness

Posts tagged ‘lists’

Top 20 Albums of 2018

1. Alrakis Echoes from Eta Carinae

Alrakis albums are a long time in the making but they’re worth the wait. To even sum them up as albums seems woefully inadequate. These are soundscapes of infinity, eternity, love, loss, longing, agony. Play Echoes from Eta Carinae on a quality hi-fi, crank up the volume, lie back, close your eyes and see where it takes you. It’s like being propelled into the vastness of space, through incandescent nebulae and aeons of black solitude.  This is more than music.  It’s sonic sorcery of the highest order.  Utterly beautiful.

Alrakis

 

2. The Skids – Burning Cities

When my favourite punk band (whom I first heard as a child of 8, via my big brother’s vinyl) regrouped and released their first new studio album in 36 years, there were only two possible results: disaster or glory. Thankfully, the latter proved true. Burning Cities is vibrant, alive, bouncy and bristling with feral energy. There’s no gradual build-up or slow burn. The opening track comes bursting out of the speakers, a bold declaration of intent: This Is Our World. Jobson sounds like he means every word. Life-affirming stuff.  I saw The Skids live four times in 2018, twice in their home town of Dunfermline, where these tracks were even more visceral, with Jobson punching the air and dancing around like the maddest of lunatics, yet never hitting a wrong note. Other standout tracks are Up on the Moors (originally about murderers Brady and Hindley, but altered on the advice of producer Youth, who advised Jobson to abandon that dark subject matter and make the track a celebration of life and wilderness instead), One Last ChanceWorld on Fire, and the album’s closer the slow, cowboyesque stripped-down anthem Desert Dust. As always, the lyrics are politically and socially aware. Bruce Watson’s guitar work is impeccable, as is his son Jamie’s. The rhythm section is stronger than ever, the seasoned professionals Mike and Bill making it sound easy. It’s fantastic to have them back.

The Skids

 

3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity

Equinoxe Infinity is loaded with musical tips o’ the hat to the original Equinoxe.  Several of its sections would fit on Rendez-Vous without sounding out of place. Unlike certain other electronica artists (most notably Enigma), Jarre has the knack of being influenced by his previous work without ripping it off or copying chunks wholesale (Enigma has repeated the opening section of its astonishing debut album as a leitmotif in almost every successive release). This album sounds current and fresh, yet it’s very much connected to its 1970s roots. The production quality has to be heard on a serious system to be fully appreciated. When it comes to electronica, JMJ is as good as it gets.

JMJ - EI

 

4. Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold

Spearheading the vanguard of Finnish metal (along with Insomnium, Amorphis, Wintersun, Wolfheart, and Swallow the Sun), Omnium Gatherum continues to show the rest of the world how melodic death metal should be done. The most amazing aspect of this band is its ability to craft tunes that are dripping with melody yet heavy enough to crumble castle walls. They’re masterful musicians, tempering their brutality with spine-tingling atmospherics. This is the first OG album not to feature any epic-length tracks. By their standards these are short snappy tunes, all coming in at under 6 minutes. The musical formula is a familiar one to their fans – ferocious riffage, guttural vocals, blast-beat drums and some sublime lighter guitar moments. Eleven tracks and not a filler among them, with Markus Vanhala’s guitar work eye-wateringly good throughout.

Omnium-Gatherum-The-Burning-Cold

 

5. Wolfheart – Constellation of the Black Light

Another ace from Finland. This album blew my Mordaunt-Short speakers, which had soldiered valiantly through years of savage riffs and blast-beat drums, but couldn’t handle opening track Everlasting Fall at maximum volume. Subsequent listens happened on my trusty old Celestion Ditton 44 speakers (which can handle any music at any volume). Wolfheart’s second album Shadow World is one of the pinnacles of metal, so I can’t help comparing subsequent releases to it. Constellation of the Black Light sounds a fraction less inspired than Shadow World but it’s a small fraction. There’s nothing on here as cold and perfect as Veri or as iconic in the riffage department as Abyss, but this is a seriously impressive collection of songs nonetheless. The soundtrack to eternal winter.

Wolfheart

 

6. Zal Cleminson’s Sin’Dogs – Vol. 1

Every time I’ve seen Zal play live (with SAHB and also with Sin’Dogs) his performance has moved me. He has a superhuman ability on guitar. Not just an awe-inspiring heavy riffer, he is also a master of the tasteful refrain. This, the debut album from Sin’Dogs, is a perfect vehicle for those talents. The songwriting is of the highest calibre, with lyrics and attitude to match. Zal’s backing vocals were an important component of the SAHB sound. On Vol. 1 he proves that he’s also a powerful lead vocalist/frontman while once again reminding us exactly what he’s capable of with a guitar in his hands. His backing band is excellent. An amazing debut album. It’s good to have him back.

ZCSD - V1

 

7. Ghost – Prequelle

The next step in the evolution of Ghost. Papa Emeritus I, II and III have all been killed and offered as sacrifices to the dark spirits. Cardinal Copia is now fronting the band. It’s no surprise that he sounds exactly like the Papas Emeritus. I find it strange that so many folk categorise Ghost as black metal. There’s darkness in the lyrics, but the music is way too light to be classified as black metal. Prequelle is loaded with the usual Ghost melodies and harmonics (like Blue Öyster Cult with a hint of Mercyful Fate). Some of the music is extremely delicate but the lyrics are always hard-hitting. Choral backing vocals are present in force, adding melodrama and menace to proceedings.

Ghost

 

8. Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army

This debut album tapped into my psyche and felt familiar even on the first listen, as though the songs had been unearthed rather than created anew. It’s rare for music to make my jaw drop but the opening track Age of Man did.  Jaw actually dropped…way down low. Body hair pricked up in awe. It’s astonishing – a spring clean to the soul. On some tracks Greta Van Fleet couldn’t be more Led Zeppelin if they stuck lemons in their pants and squeezed them while preening, “Ooooh baby, call me Percy – I’m a Golden God.” At other times they sound a lot like Rush, right down to the nasal vocal delivery. They’ve clearly grown up on Led Zeppelin, Rush and Boston. Anthem of the Peaceful Army has that kind of timeless quality and mastery of melody. It’s anthemic, glorious, vast and loaded with energy. I love it.

GVF - AotPA

 

9. UDO – Steelfactory

Classic metal that sounds indistinguishable from the early material by Udo Dirkschneider’s previous band, Accept. His voice is as recognisable as ever, and as strong. Steelfactory doesn’t break new musical ground. It’s the same quintessential Teutonic metal that Herr Dirkschneider defined with Accept, and continues to deliver with his UDO band. When the formula’s this good, he’d be mad to change it. My only disappointment with Steelfactory is a lyrical one. On the track Hungry and Angry I initially thought he was singing, “Read my lips – throw your chips.” This struck me as one of the all-time greatest lines in metal. When I checked the lyric sheet I was horrified to discover that the official words are, “Read my lips – sunken ships.” Nowhere near as good. I’m going to keep singing “throw your chips” because it’s a better line and it definitely sounds like that’s what Udo’s singing, plus it makes more sense. You’re angry so you throw your chips, then you realise you’re not just angry but also hungry…because you threw away your chips. Perfect logic.

UDO - Steelfactory

 

10. The Night Flight Orchestra – Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough

The third studio album from Björn ‘Speed’ Strid’s side project (his main band being Swedish melodeath monsters Soilwork). Musically, the two outfits couldn’t be much further apart. TNFO delivers silky-smooth retro poppy proggy rock with electro layers and massive hooks. Catchy and beautifully produced. The band was originally conceived on a long US Soilwork tour, when Björn got fed up listening to generic rock tunes on the radio and so decided to start a band that would create the soundtrack to epic journeys. Job done.

TNFO - StWAE

 

11. Vreid – Lifehunger

This one took me by surprise. Not because I didn’t know what Vreid was capable of, but because the band had been quiet for so long that I’d almost given up on any new material from them seeing the light of day. Born out of the ashes of one of Norway’s most iconic metal bands (Windir, after the death of frontman Valfar), Vreid refreshes the parts most other music can’t reach. Windir, despite often being categorised as black metal, described their own music as Sognametal (‘dream metal’), a much more accurate term. Vreid continues that legacy, creating soundscapes that take the mind on mythic trips. Also like Windir, Vreid includes folk elements and sweeping instrumental interludes in their music. The result is glorious. Lifehunger was five years coming. Worth the wait.

Vreid - Lifehunger

 

12. Amorphis – Queen of Time

They’ve topped my album-of-the-year lists a few times, most notably with Silent Waters (which I consider one of the greatest albums ever). Queen of Time follows the same formula Amorphis has been using since Tomi Joutsen joined the band in 2006. Same style of songwriting, production, vocals, guitar tone, drum sound. There’s nothing wrong with that. They pioneered the sound and it’s impressive. The musicianship is amazing, as always. I’d have liked to hear them push the envelope as they did on Silent Waters, venturing into new musical ground and creating sounds that have never been heard before. I’m not complaining, though. A new Amorphis album is always welcome and Queen of Time is, like all the band’s material, pure quality.

A - QoT

 

13. Ihsahn – Ámr

I’m a huge fan of Ihsahn’s solo material, preferring it to the output of his former band (Norwegian black-metal pioneers Emperor). Ámr‘s predecessor, Arktis., is a colossal record – quintessential metal that takes its influence more from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal than from black metal. For the most part Ámr is a worthy successor, but in places it’s annoying. Ihsahn’s ventures into experimental sound and avant-garde noise sometimes add to the music, but just as often they detract from it. Case in point: the use of brass instruments on sections of this album. Brass instruments have no place in metal. That’s not me being closed-minded. It’s just fact. Never in the history of metal has some guy parping on a trumpet enhanced a song. Many times it has ruined an otherwise excellent track. Most of Ámr is amazing. Minus the parpy nonsense, it would have been a true classic.

Ihsahn-820x820

 

14. A Perfect Circle Eat the Elephant

A Perfect Circle seemed like a long-abandoned project, so Eat the Elephant was a welcome surprise. It’s a cracking comeback album, as arty and mathematical as you’d expect from Maynard James Keenan. The production quality is something special, so the album benefits from being listened to on a serious hi-fi system at a decent (loud) volume.

APC - EtE

 

15. Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik – Hugsjá

After the monumental success of these two Norse stalwarts’ first full-length collaboration, Skuggsjá (a commissioned concert piece for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution, later recorded/released as an album), a follow-up was almost inevitable. Better known as members of Enslaved and Gorgoroth/Wardruna respectively, Bjørnson and Selvik have a symbiotic relationship when they join forces. Hugsjá is, like its predecessor, a journey into the past, with the bulk of the music performed on traditional ancient instruments from Scandinavia. Hypnotic rhythms that touch the soul.

IB & ES - H

 

16. Sigh – Heir to Despair

Japan’s first black-metal band of renown, still sticking to their guns and producing music that’s uncompromising, ground-breaking, and equal parts beautiful/unnerving. Heir to Despair is, I reckon, their greatest studio album to date.

Sigh-–-Heir-to-Despair-Indy-Metal-Vault

 

17.  Folket Bortafor Nordavinden – Sagnamadr

Although this outfit has been playing live for over two decades, this is the first recorded release. With that much practice under their belts, you’d expect them to sound polished and professional…and you’d be right. This is roots music that can be summed up using the words of The Shamen’s Mr C: shamanic and artistic archaic revival – activate the rhythm that has always been within. If that sounds like your cup o’ tea, give this a whirl.

FBN - S

 

18. Judas Priest – Firepower

Is this a classic Priest album? No. Does it contain some quintessential Priest moments? Yes. Never the Heroes, for example, features a barnstorming riff, an impeccable groove and an impassioned vocal from Halford. If the whole album sounded that inspired, it’d be way closer to the top of my list. There’s nothing bad on the record, but much of it sounds like Priest by numbers – musically faultless but lacking oomph.

JP - F

 

19. Venom – Storm the Gates

Venom coined the term Black Metal on their album of the same name in 1982. In doing so they gave birth to a movement. They had already forged a sound of their own – a mixture of punk anger, metal heaviness, insane speed, lo-fi production and an anti-Christian ethic that would strike a chord in Norway over a decade later, bringing about the Second Wave of Black Metal, which spawned havoc in the form of church-burnings, infighting and murder. Venom still features original frontman Cronos, but his previous partners-in-crime Mantas and Abaddon have left the fold (they now have a band called Venom Inc. – an excellent outfit in its own right). Cronos’s 2018 Venom sounds less black metal and more traditional heavy-duty bastard metal. His vocals are more intelligible than in days of yore, the production is immeasurably better and the songs have more melody. The song titles/lyrical themes/album covers haven’t changed much. They’re still as blasphemous and subversive as ever.

V - StG

 

20. Saxon – Thunderbolt

A workmanlike album by Saxon standards but with enough high points to merit repeated listens. I doubt any of the tracks will remain in the band’s setlist after the Thunderbolt tour. With musical execution, vocal delivery and production values of this calibre, however, the album is enjoyable if uninspired.

S - T

 

That’s it – my top albums of 2018. There’s one more release I want to mention before I fook off to make a pot of tea. It’s the untitled swansong disc by my friends Thunderfuck and The Deadly Romantics – a barnstorming collection of revamped classics, new songs, cover versions and live material. There’s only one reason it’s not listed in my top 20: it’s not commercially available. The band created a small amount of them (double figures) as a thank-you to their closest friends and supporters who’ve stood by them (and occasionally on them) over the years. I’m grateful to be among that number. I hear that they might be allowed out of Canada next year to play some gigs in the UK. If that happens I’ll be along for the ride, offering moral support and verbal abuse.

What’s going to be top of my 2019 list, you wonder? I know but I’m not telling yet. You’ll just have to wait. Speaking of waiting, isn’t there a sequel I’m meant to be finishing? I better get back to that. It’s coming…

My Albums of 2017

While working on a blog post about my top 20 albums of 2018, I realised to my horror that I hadn’t published my previous blog post detailing my top 20 albums of 2017. So, not before time, here it is. Better late than never. My top 20 of 2018 will follow soon.

 

1. Nimbatus – The Invisible Lake

This isn’t the first Nimbatus album to top one of my album-of-the-year lists. The Invisible Lake is in the same vein as previous releases: instrumental metal with complex song structures, gorgeous guitar tone, superbly crafted melodies and emotion in spades. The production quality is astonishing, with each instrument distinguishable in perfect clarity. As with past Nimbatus material, the entire project is the work of one man.  Heavy-metal genius.

Favourite track: Afterglow – aspiring metal guitarists should listen to the solo many times, then file under ‘How It’s Done’.

Nimbatus

 

2. Ghost Bath – Starmourner

They’re still not Chinese. Ghost Bath’s Moonlover was my equal-top album of 2015. Its successor, Starmourner, is even better. The style hasn’t changed. It’s still sublime guitar melodies underpinned by artillery drumming and vocals that sound like wailed laments of the damned. What gives this such emotional impact is the counterpoint between tuneful melodies and feral vocals. Starmourner is a work of supreme confidence musically, lyrically and thematically. There isn’t a weak moment, and the highs are transcendent.

Favourite track: Celestial.

GB

 

3. Wolfheart – Tyhjyys

Epic soundscapes from the frozen north. Wolfheart’s Shadow World was an epiphany in 2015, with the band realising the potential shown on its debut, Winterborn. This third Wolfheart release secures their place among Finland’s melodic-death-metal icons alongside Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, Wintersun, Omnium Gatherum, and Insomnium. It’s rich in atmospherics, with doomy leanings, keyboards and string-section arrangements more prevalent than on previous releases. A dark, heavy and hauntingly beautiful slice of ice-cold melodeath.

Favourite track: Boneyard.

W

 

4. Kreator – Gods of Violence

You know what you’re getting with Kreator: the best thrash band ever, bar none. Mille Petrozza and his cohorts are always on form. Accomplished songwriters, they deliver their unique brand of sound with stunning intensity. Gods of Violence is another slab of molten metal from the German masters. It had a lot to live up to, following 2012’s Phantom Antichrist (not only my favourite Kreator album, but one of my favourite albums, period). GoV is more straight-ahead, uncompromising thrash than Phantom Antichrist, which was experimental in tempo, melody and song structure. This is a return to pure thrash roots, and a powerful one at that. It doesn’t top Phantom Antichrist but it’s still a spring-clean to the soul, refreshing parts other thrash bands can’t quite reach.

Favourite track: for a while it was Army of Storms (which sounds much like the Phantom Antichrist material), but after repeated listens it’d have to be the title track, Gods of Violence, for the sheer intensity of its delivery.

K

 

5. Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns for the Morning Star?

Born as part of the NWoBHM movement in the late ’70s, Cloven Hoof emerged from Wolverhampton, just along the road from the birthplace of metal (Birmingham, England: home of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest). This connection has never been more evident than on Who Mourns for the Morning Star? It sounds a lot like Judas Priest circa Painkiller. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when the songwriting is of this calibre. There’s no pretentiousness here – just no-nonsense metal. I rate Cloven Hoof’s material all the way back to their mysterious early demos. This is their finest release yet.

Favourite track: Song of Orpheus.

CH

 

6. Fen – Winter

Their mission statement says, “…inspired by the windswept, desolate landscape of England’s Fen region, the band set out to fuse the cold rage of Black Metal with more reflective influences, creating a deeply intense and atmospheric sound which speaks of loss and melancholic yearning.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. Job done.

Favourite track: Winter II (Penance).

 

7. Ereb Altor – Ulvfen

Atmospheric black metal that owes a debt to the legendary Bathory. I’m a recent convert to the Ereb Altor cause, having been made aware of them by a friend in Germany who reckoned they’d be just my cup o’ tea. He was right. Ulfven is as Viking as shield maidens and dragon-headed longboats. Glorious.

Favourite track: En Synd Svart Som Sot.

EA

 

8. Anathema – The Optimist

Few bands have undergone such radical musical transformations as Anathema. I remember listening to the I Am the Bloody Earth EP when it came out in the ’90s and realising there was something special about this band. Back then they were playing doom metal in the British vein of the time (My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost), but as the musicians in Anathema grew up their music grew up too. It matured and widened its horizons, leaving behind all notions of genre or scene. For over a decade now the band’s new releases have been called prog rock, but that doesn’t tell the full story. There are prog elements but the overall sound is too big, too expansive and too rich for the prog term to do it justice. The turning point for Anathema, that moment when they left metal behind and transcended into a new realm, was We’re Here Because We’re Here in 2010. That album was a milestone in their musical evolution. It’s no exaggeration to say that each release since then has been another masterpiece in its own right. On this album female vocals have largely taken over from male ones. Piano is there in force too. And like all Anathema albums, The Optimist is dripping with emotion.

Favourite track: The Optimist.

A

 

9. Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Icelandic metal that sounds like a heavied-up version of Danish legends D.A.D. in all but the vocals. Sólstafir has that same metal ‘n’ roll cowboy sound, but the lyrical themes are more profound and the vocal delivery more intense. This works beautifully. I liked their earlier albums but I love this one. The tone of the guitars is sublime – at times Chris Isaakesque – while the bottom-heavy bass gives the soundscapes serious depth.

Favourite track: Silfur-Refur.

S

 

10. Myrkur – Mareridt

Amelie Bruun’s black-metal-meets-Clannad-at-the-edge-of-a-misty-lake-in-the-forest-at-night project Myrkur piqued my interest with their demo a few years ago. This, the band’s second full-length album, continues in much the same musical vein. It’s heavily influenced by Wardruna (a good thing) and less obviously by Bathory (also a good thing). There’s atmosphere in spades, with Bruun’s voice haunting throughout.

Favourite track: Crown.

 

11. Vintersorg – Till Fjälls del II

Till Fjälls is one of my all-time favourite albums and one of the most influential Viking metal albums ever recorded. It’s perfect in every detail. Even the title, Till Fjälls – To the Mountains – fits the music perfectly. I always worry when a sequel to such an album is planned. One can’t improve upon perfection, and more often than not an immaculate legacy is somewhat tainted in the attempt. Examples – Queensrӱche’s Operation: Mindcrime, where Part II wasn’t fit to shine the shoes of the original, and Helloween’s The Keeper of the Seven Keys, where the sequel was quite tasty but lacked the inspiration and beautiful darkness of the first. Some legacies should be left alone. Till Fjälls del II – like Queensrӱche’s Operation: Mindcrime II – came several albums and a couple of decades after the first incarnation. That’s as far as the comparison goes, though.  TFdII‘s songs are loaded with cold northern atmosphere and the track titles/lyrics are as deep and dark as one would expect from these uncompromising Swedes (thank feck for Google translate), yet there are no tracks here that resonate in my soul quite the way Till Fjälls does. A barnstormer of an album nonetheless.

Favourite track: Lavin (which translates as avalanche) – a masterclass in atmospherics. Its delicate intro lulls listeners into relaxation before pummelling them with relentless riffage. The effect is like being hit in the face by a mountain…and enjoying it.

 

12. Peter Bjärgö – Animus Retinentia

He’s been involved in many musical projects across a diverse array of styles, from extreme metal to dark ambient soundscapes. Originally Peter Pettersson, he changed his surname upon marrying Cecilia Bjärgö in 2003. Who said romance was dead? Anyway, to the music. This, Peter’s fourth solo album, is a moving piece of work. The music has an otherworldly dreamlike quality and more than a hint of the minimalism that makes Ludovico Einaudi such a genius. It could be the soundtrack to one of those dreams in which everything’s eerily beautiful yet there’s an ominous atmosphere. This music touches the soul. Haunting, beautiful, captivating, immersive.

Favourite track: You Let the Light Shine Through.

PB

 

13. Thor – Beyond the Pain Barrier

Jon Mikl Thor has been one of my favourite fixtures in the heavy-metal pantheon since I heard Let the Blood Run Red as a kid, after which I ran straight out and bought the 12″ single in blood-red vinyl. That was a good time to discover the Canadian-born Viking Thor, for he was like a real-life cartoon character – metal’s own living He-Man doll. Unlike fellow real-life metal cartoon characters KISS and Manowar, Thor didn’t need makeup, shoulder pads or huge lighting displays to make an impact. He didn’t even need clothes. Having competed in bodybuilding and won many titles, he just added instruments to his posing routine, wandered onstage in his skimpy posing pouch sporting a comic-book-hero physique, then proceeded to dish out well-crafted metal with big hooks and catchy choruses. Instead of a drum solo at his gigs, he would blow into a hot-water bottle until it expanded like a balloon and exploded. That takes serious lung power. But what of Thor in the present day? Well, he’s been through some rough times. He was advised by his doctor to cancel a world tour. The doctor thought Thor’s heart might pack in under that kind of stress (Thor was on heavy medication – the only kind he would ever take). But being metal’s own living He-Man doll, he ignored that advice and set out on the tour, recording footage across the world and releasing it as a documentary. As I sat in my living room watching that film, which was both heartbreaking and life-affirming, I was surprised to hear a voice I know well. Sure enough there was my Greek friend Dimitrios (who translated my novel Metallic Dreams into Greek – a version that will soon be released) backstage with Thor in some remote part of eastern Europe, plastered drunk and shouting like a lunatic. I sent Dimitrios a message saying I’d just seen him in the Thor documentary. He replied, “Where was I?” I answered, “Croatia or Albania or the Czech Republic or somewhere around there. You were blazing drunk.” Dimitrios said, “I don’t even remember that. I was really drunk for a couple of weeks around that time.” That may sound surreal but it’s just another day in the life of my Greek friend, who thinks nothing of flying to the other side of the world to sign a metal act to his label, or just to see a favourite artist playing live. Anyway, back to this latest Thor release. He’s still doing what he does best – crafting anthemic metal in the classic style and delivering it with his trademark machismo. Archetypal stuff. He’s one of the wonders of the world.

Favourite track: Galactic Sun – a glorious mix of Skids’ punk attitude, Saigon Kick’s psychedelic harmonies and AC/DC’s riffage blended with the usual Thor blueprint (Judas Priest meets Manowar meets Black Sabbath in Asgard).

T

 

14. Shade Empire – Poetry of the Ill-Minded

Another impressive outfit from metal’s main breeding ground, Finland. The band is usually categorised as melodic death metal, but Shade Empire is also heavily influenced by the Gothenburg sound popularised by In Flames, Soilwork, and At the Gates.

Favourite track: Anti-Life Saviour – the album’s standout track, an epic with sweeping twists and turns, impressive atmospherics and a sublime melodic interlude à la Queensrӱche.

SE

 

15. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Mirror Reaper deserves to be in the year’s top 10 for its cover art alone. That didn’t bias my opinion of the music, though. The artwork is a welcome bonus in an era when most bands put little effort into covers (a trend that began when CDs emerged). I miss the days when vinyl reigned supreme, because back then most heavy bands, especially those in the metal and prog-rock genres, deemed cover art as important as the music it accompanied. The art was an integral part of the image. This third Bell Witch release is a natural evolution of their epic and eerie doom-metal sound. Mirror Reaper is a double album, yet it contains only one track split into two parts. An ambitious endeavour that works due to the nature of the music, which changes mood and texture as it progresses, forming vast soundscapes that take the listener on a hypnotic journey into Bell Witch’s deep, dark world. Appropriately, the track Mirror Reaper‘s two sections are titled As Above and So Below. Crushingly heavy passages co-exist side by side with delicate, mournful guitar refrains, huge drum sounds and occasional vocals – sometimes choral-style laments, other times low doomy growls. No detail sounds out of place. This isn’t the result of two numbskulls churning out random noise and hoping for the best. It’s the sound of two true artistes weaving sonic tapestries that are magnetically attractive to anyone with metal in their soul.

Favourite track: I’ll give you one guess.

BW

 

16. Paradise Lost – Medusa

One of the most consistently impressive bands on the planet (they’ve topped my album-of-the-year lists twice), Paradise Lost has a relentless work ethic. Like only a few other outfits (most notably the much-missed Type O Negative), PL has a knack for crafting metal that’s stunningly heavy and ultra melodic. Not an easy thing to do, yet they make it sound easy. Medusa is the heaviest album the band has released in over a decade. Its predecessor The Plague Within revisited the heaviness of the band’s doomy roots at points. Medusa is heavier still, yet it retains the melodic sensibilities of their lighter albums such as Symbol of Life.

Favourite track: Blood & Chaos.

M

 

17. Arch Enemy – Will to Power

I feared that the departure of Angela Gossow as Arch Enemy vocalist might spell downfall for the band. I needn’t have worried. Alissa White-Gluz has filled Angela’s slot perfectly (I’m speaking figuratively, ya perverts – get your minds out of the gutter…and the gusset). This, the second post-Gossow Arch Enemy studio album, sees the band on fine form, although following a more generic, less brutal path than on their previous recording, War Eternal. Michael Amott’s guitar work is astonishing, as always. His riffage drives things along, veering off into jaw-dropping fretboard flourishes at regular points along the way.

Favourite track: My Shadow and I – strongest track on the album by a country mile…melodeath done right.

 

18. Samael – Hegemony

Thirty years into Samael’s career the Swiss legends are as strong as ever, their sound instantly recognisable. They are pioneers, not followers. Often classified as industrial metal or black metal or a combination of the two, there’s more to the band than that. For starters, there are symphonic elements – not overblown theatrical symphonics, but tasteful accompaniment that enhances the songs. Secondly, the sound is anything but lo-fi. The sonic quality is spectacular. Having studied ‘Sport as a Tool of Hegemonic Control’ as part of my undergraduate degree, I understand that the album’s subject matter is a reality rather than some flight of fancy brought about by exposure to conspiracy theories. Vorph’s vocals are fantastic throughout. His familiar deep guttural growl has influenced so many fellow Swiss bands – Swamp Terrorists and Eluveitie, most obviously – as well as others across the globe. As I said, pioneers.

Favourite track: Hegemony – quintessential Samael.

 

19. Steve Hackett – The Night Siren

Like all Hackett releases, this is a quality slice of music loaded with tasteful guitar work and distinctive vocals. Of all the ex-Genesis members, Hackett has been the most exploratory in terms of musical styles. He is also a relentless workaholic, recording and touring year upon year, decade after decade. As a result, he is always match fit. The Night Siren is evidence of this. Steve flits between musical styles with ease, from neo-classical flourishes to baroque ‘n’ roll rhythms and heavier interludes, all underpinned by finely tuned proggy sensibilities.

Favourite track: The Gift – one of the most poignant instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Beautiful tone, beautiful execution…just beautiful.

 

20. Accept – The Rise of Chaos

Accept has always been close to my heart, ever since I heard Princess of the Dawn as a 10-year-old and stood in open-mouthed awe as shivers ran down my spine. The combination of skilled songwriting, excellent execution and a touch of exoticism made for an utterly addictive whole. That Accept line-up – Udo Dirkschneider, Wolf Hoffman, Peter Baltes and Stefan Kaufmann – remains my favourite of the band’s incarnations. Wolf and Peter are still present, which allows the band to retain its archetypal sound. Mark Tornillo has been doing a pristine job on vocals for a few years. It can’t be easy replacing a vocalist who at times sounded like he was shouting abuse while at the same time trying with all his might to squeeze out a particularly stubborn shit, but Tornillo has done so with aplomb. The Rise of Chaos doesn’t break new ground. It’s Accept doing what Accept does best – anthems with huge hooks, singalong choruses and riffage that could strip wallpaper.

Favourite track: Koolaid.

Accept

 

 

 

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