My albums of 2016

Grid of 16 album covers
Album covers 2016

This year I managed to buy even fewer albums than last year. I appear to be on a downward trend, in part due to me finishing off my 195 metal CDs project, and in part due to my increased workload and a distinct lack of leisure time for music listening.

Going back to 1986, when I first started collecting music (albeit on cassette and 12″ vinyl then) here is a graph showing the music that I own on CD/mp3 by year of release:

Albums per year
Albums I own per year of release

Top 15 artists (Last.fm)

Before launching into my top 10 though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year: at home, at work, and on my Android phone.

Seemingly, I listened to…

  • 423 artists (more than 75% of Last.fm users)
  • 524 albums (more than 73% of Last.fm users)
  • 4,293 tracks (more than 95% of Last.fm users)
Top 15 artists over the last 12 months
Top 15 artists over the last 12 months

There are definitely fewer plays there, compared with last year but that could easily be explained by my drive to complete my 195 metal CDs project: I listened to a lot of new music this year. But it’s interesting to note that only one of those (Schizma) has made it into the top 15, which is otherwise littered with the bands that I would ordinarily say were my favourites and nine of whom have released new music this year.

Another change was that I installed an old-school, hardware CD player next to my bed and I’ve been listening to a lot of music there which doesn’t get recorded on Last.fm, so I’ve missed out a little.

When I lived in Anstruther I was able to stream music from my PC to my mobile phone across the home network. Living in a halls of residence I can’t do that now on Eduroam, the academic network.

My top albums of 2016, in terms of plays were:

  1. Schizma—Hardcore Enemies (130 tracks played)
  2. Soulfly—Archangel (124 plays)
  3. Metallica—Hardwired… to Self Destruct (124 plays)
  4. Megadeth—Dystopia (114 plays)
  5. Anthrax—For All Kings (114 plays)

It took me a few weeks to find the time to review the Schizma album, which is why I ended up playing it over and over again. If my CD player had been able to register its plays then I’m pretty sure Testament—Brotherhood of the Snake and Meshuggah—The Violent Sleep of Reason would have landed in the top five.

Onto the votes for this year…

10. Anthrax—For All Kings

Album cover showing zombies beneath an Anthrax logo pentagram window between stone statues of the band
Anthrax—For All Kings

It’s no secret that I much prefer John Bush’s voice fronting Anthrax compared with Joey Belladonna but you can’t have everything. That said, this is a solid Anthrax album with nods of the head to State of Euphoria (1988) as well as building on 2011’s Worship Music and the last Bush-era album We’ve Come For You All (2003).

The album has some great riffs, some terrific hooks, and I can imagine that they’ll get a lot of crowd singing at gigs with tracks like “For All Kings”, “Breathing Lightning”, and “Defend Avenge”.

9. Testament—Brotherhood of the Snake

Album cover shows a three-headed snake above blind men seated
Testament—Brotherhood of the Snake

It’s only due to the high quality of releases this year that I find Testament’s latest opus sitting in ninth place.

This is a great release with Testament hovering somewhere between the classic era sound and Low (1994), which was the first album to feature Chuck Billy’s growling vocals. The album kicks off at breakneck speed and doesn’t let up for ten tracks.

8. Machine Head — Is There Anybody Out There?

Album cover shows reflection of an American flag in a crying eye
Machine Head — Is There Anybody Out There?

Machine Head put out a non-album single this year, partly in response to Phil Anselmo’s seemingly racist, ‘white power’ incident at the Dimebash in January.

Now I stand as a father, to men with no honour
Ashamed of the racists I used to call brothers
‘Cause no flag can mean bravery when bloodied by slavery
The rebel, a devil, disguised as a savior
And the sickening feeling in the air
Is the fear to speak that no one dares

It was a bold move but a necessary one to address racism, something that the US and the UK have seen too much of in 2016.

7. Lamb of God—The Duke EP

Lamb of God—The Duke
Lamb of God—The Duke

Lamb of God’s last album VII: Strum und Drang was my album of the year 2015. This year they released an EP of two new songs: “The Duke” and “Culling”, and three live tracks: “Still Echoes”, “512”, and “Engage the Fear Machine”.

Rather than being a cynical money-spinner a year on from VII, this release was in part to raise awareness of and money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The title track was dedicated to Lamb of God fan and friend of singer D. Randall Blythe, Wayne Ford who sadly died of leukaemia.

“The Duke” is only the second track from the band featuring clean vocals. “Culling” is a much more familiar, growling Lamb of God track which wouldn’t feel out of place on VII.

6. Steven Wilson — 4½

Album cover shows two girls sitting on a park bench overlaid with four and a half slashes in blue
Steven Wilson — 4½

This mini-album is suitably named following Wilson’s fourth album Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015) which came fifth in last year’s round-up. It largely gathers together songs that were written during Wilson’s last two album sessions for The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (2013) and Hand. Cannot. Erase, closing with “Don’t hate me” which was originally on Porcupine Tree—Stupid Dream (1999), sung as a duet with Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb.

It took me a while to get into, as it doesn’t feel quite as coherent a body of songs as either Raven or Hand, but any new Steven Wilson tracks are welcome in my collection.

5. Prong — X – No Absolutes

Album cover shows a montage of war images, with lots of skulls
Prong — X – No Absolutes

Prong were among the first group of heavy bands that I got into back in the early-90s. I rushed out to buy Beg To Differ (1990) on cassette after hearing them on Noisy Mothers (ITV) or the BBC Friday Night Rock Show. They have rarely let me down, and still remain a band that more people should discover

In X – No Absolutes Tommy Victor has managed to carve out an album that sits somewhere between the early hardcore-infused sound of Beg To Differ and Prove You Wrong (1991) with the more melodic groove-laden riffs of Cleansing (1994) and Rude Awakening (1996).

I have sadly neglected this album for much of this year. I expect it to be played a lot more in 2017.

4. Megadeth—Dystopia

Album cover shows an android Vic Rattlehead standing beneath a destroyed Sydney harbour bridge
Megadeth—Dystopia

Having been somewhat disappointed with Megadeth’s last release Super Collider (2013) my apprehension about their latest album was offset somewhat by the news that Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler would be stepping in to the space left by departing drummer Shawn Drover. Longtime guitarist (certainly in Megadeth terms) Chris Broadrick also departed, with Brazillian Kiko Loureiro taking over.

I wasn’t disappointed. Dystopia turned out to be a fresh and exciting album. Arguably their best since The System Has Failed (2004).

3. Meshuggah—The Violent Sleep of Reason

Album cover shows a man trapped in a strange mechanical creature
Meshuggah—The Violent Sleep of Reason

I first experienced Meshuggah when a friend of mine gave me their EP entitled simply I (2004) for my birthday one year. Their music is heavy and intricate, almost mathematical. They are the showcase band of the whole ‘djent’ sub-genre of metal.

As with most Meshuggah albums, I expect this one will take quite a while to really get into. But for now, I do think it’s is pretty darned special. It’s more of the same from the Swedish five-piece, but they manage somehow to never quite sound like they are repeating themselves.

2. Metallica—Hardwired… to Self-Destruct

Album cover shows four faces melded into one
Metallica—Hardwired… to Self Destruct

Metallica’s tenth studio album was one that I was anticipating all year. It finally landed on Reuben and Joshua’s birthday (18 November) and I wasn’t disappointed.

The band released three songs ahead of the album launch (the title track, “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”, “Moth into Flame”, and “Altas, Rise!”) and they were good… really good.

Hardwired… seems to include something from about every Metallica album. It has a better production than either St Anger or Death Magnetic, and the songs are more accessible and coherent—a consequence perhaps of Hetfield and Ulrich taking back the songwriting reigns? They’re like a metal Lennon and McCartney.

They’ve released the entire album, video by video too. Check it out on the Metallica YouTube channel.

My only criticism, I think, is that the album is probably about 30 minutes too long. It could have been shorter and punchier; as it is it begins to feel like it’s dragging during the last 20 minutes.

1. Opeth—Sorceress

Opeth - Sorceress cover shows a peacock
Opeth-Sorceress

And so to my number one album of 2016… Opeth—Sorceress. Another album that I was greatly anticipating, and wasn’t disappointed.

It was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, where Queen’s A Night at the Opera was recorded back in 1975. And like its predecessor, it has a retro prog feel to it.

I know there has been a lot of controversy in some metal circles about the direction that Opeth has gone. Rewind 10 years and they were very much a progressive death metal band with blast beats and growling vocals. They have now dropped the cookie monster vocals, the songs are heavy in a more doom/prog style rather than relying on heavily overdriven amplifiers and pounding drums.

What I loved about Opeth from the first time that I listened to them was the breadth of musicianship. Their melodies were intricate and beautiful, their songs were a fusion of light and dark, and they very much did their own thing. None of that has changed.

This is a beautiful and rich album. Check it out.

My albums of 2015

Album covers 2015
Album covers 2015

In 2014 I bought 23 new albums, I thought then that was pretty few. This year, however, I appear only to have purchased (or acquired) 15 albums that were released during these last twelve months—see the covers above.

One was a reissue (Opeth—Deliverance and Damnation), one was a free download (Slayer’s “When the Stillness Comes” for Record Store Day), and two were sent to me for free to review (Krysthla—A War of Souls and Desires, and Siderian—Cancel Your Future).

As last year, I suspect a significant factor in my buying so few new albums was my 195 metal CDs project which sees me reviewing a different album every week. Remarkably, after a solid day catching up with about a month-and-a-half of reviews I am currently still on track to finish that project in November 2016.

Top 15 artists (Last.fm)

Before launching into my top 10 though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year: at home, at work, and on my Android phone.

Top 15 artists over the last 12 months
Top 15 artists over the last 12 months

The first thing to note is that the number one artist there, Diabolical Masquerade, accounts for three of my 195 metal CDs that I reviewed this past year. Death’s Design (2007) has definitely been one of my favourite albums of this year but it comprises 61 tracks which explains why it shot to the top: that’s only about ten listen-throughs.

Marillion take #2 simply because I was learning the lyrics to Misplaced Childhood (1985) ahead of Fish’s farewell concert in Glasgow earlier this month.

And then we’re back to the usual contenders. Comparing this with last year’s chart makes for interesting reading. Lamb of God (who released a new album in 2015) rose nine places, while Iron Maiden dropped from #2 to #14 despite a new album; Steven Wilson replaced Porcupine Tree, and Opeth fell from #1 to #6 but curiously with more tracks played.

Overall, it would appear that I have actually listened to significantly more music in 2015 than the year before.

  1. Diabolical Masquerade (604 tracks played)
  2. Marillion (597)
  3. Lamb of God (441)
  4. Fish (435)
  5. Steven Wilson (425)
  6. Opeth (379)
  7. Slayer (298)
  8. Queen (273)
  9. Sepultura (271)
  10. Megadeth (265)
  11. Metallica (259)
  12. Dream Theater (219)
  13. Faith No More (214)
  14. Iron Maiden (213)
  15. Godflesh (205)

Looking at my most played tracks during the past year, 11 of the top 15 are from Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. album. That’s the entire album! And removing the 61 track Diabolical Masquerade — Death’s Design anomaly from the results, Steven Wilson’s latest album was indeed my most played album of 2015, followed by Marillion—Misplaced Childhood, and then Lamb of God—VII: Strum und Drang.

Onto the votes for this year…

10. Iron Maiden—The Book of Souls

Iron Maiden—The Book of Souls

Iron Maiden’s highly anticipated 16th studio album was made all the more dramatic in 2015 as it wasn’t released until after singer Bruce Dickinson had been given the all-clear from throat cancer.

It was received with great enthusiasm. Blabbermouth gave the album 9.5/10, The Guardian gave it 4/5. Metal Injection was a little more reticent asking “whether it is entirely consistent enough to successfully contend against the leaner 80’s albums is debatable, but the fact that the  band is even attempting something of this scope and accomplishment is a wonder to behold.”

The first single “Speed of Light” is a raw, stripped down track that immediately left me feeling quite cold. It felt like a left-over B side from the Somewhere In Time (1986) sessions.

The problem I have with modern Iron Maiden is ironically exactly what I felt most excited about when Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band: there are three guitarists. There was something punchy about two: one rhythm, one lead. With three the song writing seems to be compromised: too many chords, too few riffs.

It is a marvellous album. But I’m with Metal Injection: it doesn’t excite me as much as anything the band put out in the 1980s, or indeed Brave New World (2000) after Dickinson returned. Sorry, Eddie…

9. Metallica—Pier 48, San Francisco

Metallica live at San Francisco, Pier 48

I’m a big fan of Metallica live. Their 40th anniversary concerts are amongst the best live albums I’ve ever heard. I would love them to put them out on DVD.

This live recording from their gig at Pier 48, San Francisco — a private show for Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff — is like a best of from the first six albums. It was also a free download from LiveMetallica.com.

8. Maiden United—Remembrance

Maiden United—Remembrance

Maiden United, who perform acoustic renditions of Iron Maiden songs, came from an idea by Joey Bruers to put on a spectacular and different show for the Dutch Iron Maiden fan club convention. Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris would be in attendance so it had to be good. It’s more than that: it’s great.

This is their third album, and I never tire of listening to these interpretations of classic Maiden songs, particularly “Strange world” and “Remember tomorrow”.

7. David Gilmour—Rattle That Lock

David Gilmour—Rattle That Lock

David Gilmour is by far one of my favourite guitarists in all of this fine world. Apart from James Hetfield’s rhythm playing, Gilmour is probably the one guitarist whose style I have most studied and tried to emulate in my own playing.

This album is one of my most recent purchases this year so I have not had much time to absorb it, but “A boat lies waiting” (track 4), his tribute to long-time friend and musical companion Richard Wright, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard from Mr Gilmour. It reduced me to tears on one listen.

6. Faith No More—Sol Invictus

Faith No More—Sol Invictus

Now things are getting tight: it feels so wrong to place this album at number six.

I was so disappointed when Faith No More split back in 1998. When they reformed and toured in 2009 I bought a ticket to see them live. It was the most expensive concert ticket I’ve ever bought.

This… is a brilliant album. It’s the grown-up big brother of Angel Dust (1992).

5. Steven Wilson—Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson—Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson is a musical genius. I’ve loved pretty much everything he’s touched: Porcupine Tree, collaborations with Fish, Storm Corrosion with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. This solo album is no different.

This concept album is inspired by the story of Joyce Carol Vincent who died alone in her flat in London and whose body wasn’t discovered for almost three years. I’ve watched the documentary about her, it’s so sad. She was young, she was popular, and yet when he died… nobody noticed.

The album is delicate, it’s deep, it’s complex. It is quite simply beautiful.

4. Slayer—Repentless

Slayer—Repentless

If my car was hooked into Last.fm then this album no doubt would have recorded more plays: I played this album almost constantly to and from work for about four weeks.

Following Jeff Hanneman’s sad death in 2013, and drummer Dave Lombardo’s unceremonious dismissal there was much debate as to whether Slayer could return with anything half decent. Oh, and boy did they!

Exodus guitarist Gary Holt has been an excellent successor to Hanneman. His playing certainly complements Kerry King’s.

This is by far the strongest Slayer album, I’d say, since probably 1990s Seasons in the Abyss. Welcome back, boys!

3. Krysthla—A War of Souls and Desires

Krysthla—A War of Souls and Desires

If I could give all my top three albums equal place then I probably would, but I’m forcing myself to make a decision and so this amazing album sadly drops to third place.

Over on my 195 metal CDs blog I gave this album 100%. As I said there:

Their overall sound seems to be somewhere between modern Napalm Death and Meshuggah. And that is a pretty darned interesting and exciting place to be. The playing is precise, in places like math metal, twisting. And turning. Stopping and. Starting. Something that. Gutworm. Did.

I speculated in that review that this album might well make my top three best albums of 2015. And here it is. This is definitely a band to look out for in the future. Brilliant!

2. Martha Bean—When Shadows Return to the Sea

Martha Bean—When Shadows Return to the Sea

I was first turned on to Martha Bean by four cousins of her cousins with whom I sang in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, back in the day. They kept posting little plugs here and there for her music and one day this year I thought that I’d go check her out and see what her music was all about.

“Flippin’ ‘eck! she’s brilliant,” I posted on my friend Steph’s Facebook wall. And sure enough she is.  Go check her out yourself on Bandcamp.

Her style is beautiful and delicate but with an underlying strength. She plays mostly guitar or piano, backed by drums, bass and cello (played, I believe, by her dad).

This so very nearly made it to number one. Held off this year by these guys…

1. Lamb of God—VII: Strum und Drang

Lamb of God—VII: Strum und Drang

The first album since vocalist D. Randall Blythe’s release from Czech prison and subsequent trial and acquittal (if you’ve not read his book Dark Days: A Memoir order it today—it is beautiful and funny and wonderfully, wonderfully written) and it is brilliant.

This is a more mature Lamb of God. They have their usual bite and twistingly heavy riffs. But this time round they’ve shaken things up with guest vocalists who bring melodic singing and even the first ever clean singing on a Lamb of God record from Blythe—and he has a lovely baritone voice.

My favourite track probably has to be 512, the number of the final cell he shared with a couple of Mongolian prisoners in Prague. “Six bars laid across the sky…” he sings, and you’re transported there. “My hands are painted red / My future’s painted black / I can’t recognise myself / I’ve become someone else / My hands are painted red / My hands are painted red”. Such pain, such experience etched into each word.

I’ve only been to three concerts in the last two years: two of those have been to see Lamb of God, including this year on my birthday. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

This album is going to see me through to next year and beyond. Strum und drang indeed: storm and stress.

Lamb of God — “Overlord”

New song from the forthcoming album VII: Sturm und Drang (which means storm and stress, apparently.)

It’s really different from anything they’ve done before. Randy is singing clean vocals for the first time, and Willy has cut his hair.

But do you know what? Unsurprisingly, I really like it. It has a kind of Slipknot/Stone Sour vibe to it. I know there will be those who say that they’ve sold out and gone soft, but I’m glad Lamb of God are mixing things up a little, it makes things interesting.

The new album will be released on Friday 24 July.

Short film by D. Randall Blythe

D. Randall Blythe
D. Randall Blythe

Just over a year ago D. Randall (‘Randy’) Blythe, the singer in American metal band Lamb of God was arrested, charged and remanded in custody in the Czech Republic over an incident that had happened during a Lamb of God concert in Prague in 2010; that incident had resulted in the death of a 19 year old fan Daniel Nosek.

Earlier this year Randy Blythe was acquitted of the responsibility for Mr Nosek’s death, a decision that has subsequently been upheld by the Prague High Court.

Yesterday he released a short film that he had made during his trial. This is what Randy wrote on his blog about the film:

My idea was to show my mind set through film and music during the process of my trial, and have a more ambiguous ending heading into my final day in court. I did not know what was going to happen to me, only that I felt I was doing the right thing by being there. Working in a creative capacity during the trial helped me to remain calm- it is what I know how to do, so I wanted to share it with people.

It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking film. There is a beauty to it, but also a sadness. It ends with the words, “Rest in peace, Daniel”.

I have a lot of respect for D. Randall Blythe, a lot of respect—and I’m looking forward to his book coming out early next year (2014) which documents his time in prison.

Lamb of God vocalist to stand for US President

Lamb of God: Willie Adler, Mark Morton, D. Randall Blythe, Chris Adler, John Campbell
Lamb of God: Willie Adler, Mark Morton, D. Randall Blythe, Chris Adler, John Campbell

WARNING: There are some sweary words in the following post. They are not my sweary words—obviously, I never swear (ahem!). I’m just quoting them.

Without a shadow of a doubt Lamb of God are one of my favourite bands. Their new album Resolution is scheduled to be released in approx. 18 days’ time. I’m very excited.

Well, their vocalist, D. Randall (Randy) Blythe has announced that he is standing for US President in 2012.

“It’s 2012 now, the year some are saying the Mayan calendar predicts a cataclysmic upheaval across the board for our planet, perhaps even the end of the world as we know it. I don’t know if these doomsday predictions have any validity, but I do know one thing: the potential candidates in the race to decide who will be elected President of the United States look like pure shit.

“I’m not particularly stoked on any of the candidates. In a massive blow to our civil rights, Obama quietly signed the NDAA for the fiscal year 2012 into law while Americans drank in their party hats on New Year’s Eve. The GOP is parading around a bunch of ass-clowns in what has got to be the most embarrassing primary season in the history of their party. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Sarah Palin, they bust out that lunatic Michele Bachmann. I have no clue what the Libertarians are up to now that Ron Paul is gunning for the Republican nomination. Probably loading their guns and preparing for the worst.

“Don’t even get me started on our current Congress, THE WORST CONGRESS I HAVE EVER SEEN OR HEARD OF IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. It’s a relentless bipartisan pissing contest in Washington where not only is nothing getting done, nothing is ALLOWED to get done. There’s a bunch of squabbling children in Washington in charge of the business of running our country. These baboons are stopping any useful litigation from occurring by engaging in an endless game of “I know you are, but what am I?”. There is very little compromise happening in DC, and there is very little regard for the welfare of the American people. It’s PATHETIC.

“Something has got to change. America is falling to pieces around us and we are sitting back and letting it happen. We need someone to come in and REALLY take charge, someone who can’t be bought by corporate dollars because he doesn’t need or want ‘em. Someone who is not going to bullshit the country or the rest of the world about what’s going to go down when he steps into office, because he LIKES pissing people off and doesn’t give a shit about hurting anyone’s feelings. We need a man who is not afraid to stick his neck out and risk embarrassing himself while doing the right thing, a man, in fact, INCAPABLE of embarrassment anymore PERIOD because he’s ALREADY done almost every stupid WRONG thing you can think of at one time or the other. We need a hard-boiled, no-nonsense, mean son-of-a-bitch with a bad reputation who ain’t afraid to cock-whip the shit out of some randomly selected pussy-ass billionaire on live tv during his annual State of the Union Address just to make a point and let the mega-rich know that NO ONE is above the law here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In short, we need a man who just DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK.

“America, that man is me.”

Source: Revolver

So, lets just assume that all goes to plan and Uncle Randy gets elected. What would be his first act as the 45th President of the United States of America?

“My first act as President of the United States will [be] to be shot. That’s right, SHOT. With a high-powered assault rifle. Immediately after taking the oath of office, I will be escorted about twenty yards away and be shot publicly in a non-lethal area of my body by a highly trained Navy SEAL sniper. It will hurt like fuck.”

Blythe says he will do this because he doesn’t expect anyone in the armed forces to do anything he wouldn’t.

“Me being shot will be broadcast live world-wide via satellite, with no bleeping out of the incredible string of curse words I will undoubtedly let fly with. I will be required to walk/limp/crawl on my own power a minimum of 50 yards through the mud to an ambulance that will take me away to patch me up. If I can’t make it on my own, I’m not tough enough to be your President.

“After all the nations in the entire world witness America’s new President, an insane looking heavily tattooed freak, getting shot ON HIS OWN ORDER as soon as he takes office, then crawling all bloody to an ambulance, cussing the whole way and screaming pure hate in a monstrous voice tortured by years of touring and Marlboro Reds, they will think twice before fucking with us,” he adds.

“Among his impressive list of promises are to:

  • Take 13 weeks of Marine Corps training.
  • Kill an enemy prisoners in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Kill the first enemy of any war.
  • Change the rules of engagement so troops can shoot before the enemy strikes.
  • Kick some ass.
  • Drink beer.
  • Get laid.
  • Bless America.

Blythe appears to focus on foreign policy rather than discuss economic issues, suggesting he may be better suited for the role of Secretary of State.

His slogan? “Fuck the dumb shit. Let’s get real here.”

Source: Ultimate Guitar

When we have a general election in the United Kingdom we get candidates from the Monster Raving Looney Party. We get candidates dressed as pirates. America gets presidential candidates who want to get shot. That’s metal!

Now do you see why I love Lamb of God?