My albums of 2013

Montage of album covers

This review is a few days late, due to a nasty chest infection that’s been plaguing me from before Christmas.

If I thought that 2012 was a frugal one in terms of album-buying, 2013 was even more so with only 12 albums or EPs added to my collection (and of those 3 were gifted to me).

Much of my music listening during 2013 was focused on my 195 metal CDs project: I acquired 195 CDs via Freecycle and I’ve been trying to review a CD each week.

10. Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose)

Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose) (2013)

Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose) (2013)

www.stevelawson.net

This is an album that I have been guilty of not listening to enough this past year. I suspect it’s because this is music that deserves space and time. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric album that immediately makes me feel as though I have been transported to an enormous enclosed space, somewhere peaceful like a cathedral or the Tate Modern.

This has been a year of increasingly feeling pressured and busier. What might be interesting would be to see if playing this more over the next few months might give me the sense of space that it offers me each time I do listen to it.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

9. JJ Hrubovocak—Death Metal Christmas

JJ Hrubovcak—Death Metal Christmas (2013)

JJ Hrubovcak—Death Metal Christmas (2013)

http://deathmetalchristmas.bandcamp.com/album/death-metal-christmas

I reviewed this album on my 195 metal CDs blog. This was my conclusion:

This is clearly a death metal album first and foremost, and a Christmas-themed one second. It is beautifully played, produced, and mixed. If you like death metal then you will love this and will have something to put on over the Christmas break to counter the endless repeats of Slade, Jona Lewie and Cliff Richard.

I gave the album a solid 98%.

8. Metallica—Dehaan at Orion Music, Detriot, MI

Dehaan (Metallica)—Orion Music, Detriot, MI (2013)

Dehaan (Metallica)—Orion Music, Detriot, MI (2013)

livemetallica.com

On 8 June 2013 played a surprise gig at their own Orion Music + More festival in Detroit, MI under the name Dehaan. (Dane DeHaan played the lead character in Metallica’s 2012 film Through The Never.)

2013 marked thirty years of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All (1983) album. This live recording (available to buy and download from livemetallica.com) is said album played live from start to finish. It’s solid, it’s tight, it’s just as exciting as the original.

You can watch the full gig in HD on YouTube:

7. Amplifier—Echo Street

Amplifier—Echo Street (2013)

Amplifier—Echo Street (2013)

www.amplifiertheband.com

As I’ve no doubt mentioned on this blog before, I first stumbled on Amplifier when they supported Melissa auf der Maur back in 2004, I think. Having decided to avoid the support band we wandered in on the final two or three songs of their set and I loved them, and I’ve bought everything they’ve brought out since.

Echo Street is a gentle, melodic album in the prog genre, but not in a clichéd, ‘muso’ way. I actually think that I prefer this to their critically acclaimed 2010 album The Octopus. It still doesn’t have the excitement and energy of their debut album, though, which for me remains my favourite in their back catalogue.

An honourable mention should also be given to their Sunriders EP, also released in 2013.

6. Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike

Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike (2013)

Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike (2013)

http://ancient-vvisdom.bandcamp.com/

While the lyrics and song themes are a bit too satanic for my liking, I do love the music which might best be described as gothic doom acoustic black-metal.

Having learned to play the guitar on a cheap nylon acoustic guitar—learning mostly rock and metal songs—this album really appeals to me. I love the interplay of electric and acoustic guitars.

This is quite a gentle, melodic album but with quite a dark, melancholic feel to it.

Definitely a band to keep an eye out for.

5. Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2

Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2 (2013)

Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2 (2013)

www.stonesour.com

I’m sure when I review House of Gold & Bones, Part 1 last year I said that I still needed to read through the lyrics to figure out the story behind the album. Unfortunately, that is still the case… and so I’ve now also got this album to read through too. One day… maybe…

What can I say? I love Stone Sour: heavy, melodic, delicate, powerful. What’s not to like, and Splitknot buddies Corey Taylor’s voice and Jim Root’s guitar playing are exquisite.

I’ve not listened to this album enough. It certainly deserves it.

4. Newsted—Metal EP

Newsted—Metal  EP (2013)

Newsted—Metal EP (2013)

http://newstedheavymetal.com

When I saw that Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam & Jetsam, Metallica, Echobrain, and Voivod) had a new EP out I was keen but a little apprehensive. I have owned a few of Newsted’s Chophouse Records offerings in the past (IR8 vs Sexoturica and the two Papa Wheelie albums) and I found them quite… rough and unstructured.

But this EP is brilliant. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, the production is fabulous, and Jason’s vocals have never sounded so good.

The only problem is that this EP is just too short. Which leads me nicely on to…

3. Newsted—Heavy Metal

Newsted—Heavy Metal (2013)

Newsted—Heavy Metal (2013)

http://newstedheavymetal.com

When I saw that Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam & Jetsam, Metallica, Echobrain, and Voivod) had a new full-length album out I was really excited. His previous EP Metal was fabulous!

Eleven tracks of full-on metal. Newsted is clearly going for a modern take on old school metal with elements of the early days of thrash circa 1983/84. A few of the tracks have leanings towards Metallica’s debut Kill ‘Em All.

I’d love to see Newsted playing this live, and I look forward to hearing more.

Review

2. Fish—A Feast of Consequences

Fish—A Feast of Consequences (2013)

Fish—A Feast of Consequences (2013)

http://fishheadsclub.com

It’s been six years since Fish’s last solo album 13th Star (2007) and he’s certainly returned with a really strong collection of songs, his tenth solo album since leaving Marillion in 1988.

Nestled in the middle of the album is his “High Wood Suite”, which is a sensitive, dare I say beautiful, collection of five songs about the first world war, a war in which both his grandfathers fought.

I bought the deluxe edition which includes a 100-page book, 24-bit FLAC digital download and a ‘making of…’ DVD, which has some touching footage of Fish visiting the locations in France where his grandfathers fought nearly 100 years ago.

A beautiful album. Welcome back Fish!

1. Steven Wilson—The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

Steven Wilson—The Raven Refused To Sing (2013)

Steven Wilson—The Raven Refused To Sing (2013)

http://stevenwilsonhq.com

I’ve been a fan of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree for quite a few years now, and I was keenly awaiting the release of this album, particularly having heard how strong his collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt had been in 2012 with Storm Corrosion.

I wasn’t disappointed.

This album has quite a retro 60s/70s feel to it. It’s rock, it’s prog, it’s beautiful and melodic and in places captivating. No more so, I think, than his song “The Watchmaker” which I found myself playing over and over again. It’s a song which is heart-breaking in its beauty and fragility.

An obvious next step, having loved everything I’ve heard of his so far, would be to complete my collection of his music. But… have you seen how much he’s put out?! If I do this review next year will need to be called “My favourite Steve Wilson albums that I listened to in 2014″…

Metallica celebrates 30 years

Last month Metallica celebrated their 30th anniversary with a series of four shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Monday 05, Wednesday 07, Friday 09 and Saturday 10 December. (These links are to the official ‘recap’ videos on Metallica’s YouTube channel—over two and a quarter hours of Metallica and friends.)

Metallica took up a residency at The Fillmore and essentially became the house band for the week, to which they invited friends and former Metallica band mates to come join them and play both their own music and covers.

It was really great to see Dave Mustaine (Megadeth/ex-Metallica) on stage playing with them, and Jason Newsted too. Wonderful to hear John Bush (Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax) singing with the band, whom apparently Metallica wanted to join them as their vocalist in the early days. As well as all their other guests, including King Diamond (Mercyful Fate), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Sean Harris and Tatler (Diamond Head), Animal (The Anti-Nowhere League), Lou Reed, Glenn Danzig (Misfits and Danzig), Marianne Faithfull, John Marshall (Metal Church), Biff Byford,  Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Bob Rock and more and more.

I’ve been listening to Metallica since 1986, when their third album Master of Puppets came out (I first listened to it at a Scripture Union camp!), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Metallica play so well live as they did during those four shows. James Hetfield’s voice especially. Wow! And how heartening to see James Hetfield so well, and confident in himself.

I’d love there to be a DVD released of these shows.

You can buy digital versions of the four concerts on the Live Metallica website for US$9.95 (MP3) or US$12.95 (FLAC and Apple Lossless formats). Having listened to them all, they are well worth it: full of great music, great chat, and great humour.

There’s also a great review of the gigs on the Metallica news page, and of course following the 30th anniversay shows they released the Beyond Magnetic EP which contains the four ‘new’ songs (recorded during the Death Magnetic sessions) they played during the four nights in San Francisco: one each night.

Beyond Magnetic EP will be released on CD worldwide on 30 January, and in North America (who apparently aren’t part of the world!) on 31 January.

My albums of 2011

I didn’t think that I’d acquired many new albums in 2011, but I’ve just checked and my collection grew by 21 items (singles, EPs and albums), which was more than last year.

Here are my highlights, and unlike last year I’m starting with my favourite and working backwards.

1. Machine Head — Unto The Locust

01-mh-locust

There have been some great metal albums released in 2011, by some major bands. But for me this has been the best: solid, tight, melodic, dynamic, perfect.

I thought their last album, The Blackening, was great—it was awarded Roadrunner Records’ “Album of the Century” after all. They seem to have either equalled or even excelled with this one. It’s a cracker of an album.

During the intro and outro of “Who We Are” on the recently finished Eighth Plague tour, Machine Head displayed fan testimonials on their projection screens that had been captured at that nights’ show.

The shots featured die hard fans that had stood in line for up to 10 hours before the doors opened, who, for their their dedication and passion, had their faces and messages shown on the three on-stage screens.

They became known as The Faces of The Eighth Plague.

Stand-out track: Who We Are

2. Mastodon — The Hunter

02-mastodon

My cousin Alan claims that Mastodon albums never release all their secrets on the first couple of listens. I like that quotation. There is an implication that there is a depth to Mastodon’s songs.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about this album, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that even if the song Blasteroid is in the wrong place on the album this is one very solid, beautiful album.

Stand-out track: Curl of the Burl

3. Anthrax — Worship Music

03-anthrax

I’m going to be honest: I was sceptical about former, ‘classic’ Anthrax-frontman Joey Belladonna returning to the fold; I always preferred John Bush’s voice. But WOW! they delivered one killer album, and Belladonna’s vocals are the best they have ever been on record.

Stand-out track: In The End

4. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic EP

04-metallica

The cynic might argue that Metallica only put out the Beyond Magnetic EP in light of the poor reviews and sales of their Lulu collaboration with former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The official reason was that it was to coincide with Metallica’s 30 anniversary celebrations in San Francisco.

Whatever the reason: four great songs, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Metallica HQ.

Stand-out song: Hell and Back

5. Voivod — To The Death 84

05-voivod

This is a demo tape that got lucky and it makes Voivod sound as new and exciting as when I first heard the opening chords of Killing Technology some time in 1987.

What makes it for me is vocalist Piggy’s spoken parts between songs: it’s up-close and personal, listening in to the Voivod rehearsal space. Great stuff!

Stand-out song: Hell Driver

6. Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu

06-lulu

Let’s make no bones about it: this is not a comfortable album to listen to. But I can’t help liking it. In many ways it reminds me of some of the twentieth century composers whose works I used to sing in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Those were pieces that you hated on first sing-through but became a part of you the more you got inside them.

The critics have slammed this album. The fans have decried it and despaired about what Metallica will come out with next. But they miss the point: this is not a Metallica album. It’s a collaboration. It’s a Lou Reed album with the four members of Metallica as backing band. If anything it is art.

It’s bold. It’s different. And I really like it.

Stand-out track: Dragon

7. Opeth — Heritage

07-opeth

This album took a good few listens to, and a good few weeks of not listening to it in between, before I finally ‘got’ it. It’s a good album, not a great album, but I will continue to listen to it… even if I do really miss that Opeth fusion of heavy and quietly melodic.

Stand-out track: Häxprocess

8. Megadeth — Th1rt3en

08-megadeth

If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with Megadeth’s thirteen studio album. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great metal record. But for Megadeth it just feels… lazy. It doesn’t have the hunger of 2007’s United Abominations or the punch of 2009’s Endgame.

Guitarist Chris Broderick said that he could hear elements of the different eras of Megadeth in the various songs. I’m not surprised: some of these are ‘left-over’ songs from previous albums, and one (‘Millennium of the Blind’) is a re-recording.

Stand-out track: Never Dead

9. Radiohead — The King of Limbs

09-radiohead

This was an unexpected album for me this year but it’s a great album for listening to in a darkened room late at night. It’s like 2011’s answer to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Stand-out track: Lotus Flower

10. Cavalera Conspiracy — Blunt Force Trauma

10-cc

For their second album guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Max Cavalera promised a shorter, more intense, in-your-face album than their debut Inflikted, which was one of my favourite albums of 2008.

This is another album that disappointed me on first listen—perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I just wasn’t in the right head-space to listen to it. The album has certainly grown on me during the year.

Stand-out track: Warlord

Last fm charts

Of course, this year I’ve listened to more than just the music that has come out this year. Whenever I listen to music, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.

My top-ten most played:

Artists

  1. Opeth (579 tracks)
  2. Anthrax (518 tracks)
  3. Slayer (462 tracks)
  4. Mastodon (328 tracks)
  5. Queen (301 tracks)
  6. Lamb of God (301 tracks)
  7. Metallica (236 tracks)
  8. Machine Head (220 tracks)
  9. Testament (216 tracks)
  10. Big Country (201 tracks)

Albums

  1. Lamb of God — Sacrament
  2. Porcupine Tree — The Incident
  3. Opeth — Ghost Reveries
  4. Godflesh — Streetcleaner
  5. Slipknot — Slipknot
  6. A Perfect Circle — Mer De Noms
  7. Mastodon — The Hunter
  8. Anthrax — Worship Music
  9. Anthrax — We’ve Come For You All
  10. Opeth — Watershed

Tracks

  1. Pantera — Mouth For War (60 plays)
  2. Opeth — Ghost of Perdition (55 plays)
  3. Opeth — The Lotus Eater (47 plays)
  4. Opeth — The Drapery Falls (46 plays)
  5. Opeth — Blackwater Park (44 plays)
  6. A Perfect Circle — Magdalena (43 plays)
  7. Opeth — Bleak (43 plays)
  8. Metallica — Nothing Else Matters (42 plays)
  9. Opeth — Dirge For November (41 plays)
  10. Porcupine Tree — Lazarus (41 plays)

What about you?

Have you blogged about your favourite music of 2011, then add a link to the comments below. If not, what have you really enjoyed?

Terrorizer gives Death Magnetic 8/10

The latest edition of Terrorizer magazine dropped through my letterbox this morning.

I flicked through to the album reviews (Selected and Dissected) in search of their words of wisdom on the recent Metallica release Death Magnetic.  I wasn’t hopeful.

I found the review on page 77, and was pleasantly surprised.  It didn’t get the slating that I suspected that it might from a magazine that brims over month in, month out with fine examples of extreme music.  A few snippets from Stavros Pamballis’s review, in which he gave it a mighty 8/10:

… when it comes to Metallica, everyone has an opinion. You come to their work loaded with subjective expectations and a hack’s judgement can’t, and shouldn’t, change them.

Well said!

One of the great misconceptions about ‘Death Magnetic’ is that it constitutes a regression to the ‘Old Sound’, a capitulation to the wishes of the band’s hardcore fans. In fact, the album is a work of consolidation; a fusion of Metallica’s many faces; the speed brats, the thrash monsters, the radio megastars, even the groovy rockers of the ‘Load’ era. And that’s a good thing. To go back and remake ‘Kill ‘Em All’ at 45 would have been disingenuous.

I quite agree.  Enough of folks saying that this is the album that sits naturally between 1988’s ‘… And Justice For All’ and 1991’s ‘Metallica’ (aka ‘The Black Album’), this is definitely — to my ears, at least — an album that is post-Justice, post-Metallica, post-(Re)Load, post-St Anger.

Stavros ends his review with:

… bottom line, to anyone who refused to stop believing, ‘Death Magnetic’ will feel like having a beloved brother awaken from a twenty year coma — he’ll never be quite the same, but just hearing the sound of his voice fills your heart with pure joy.