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 2012

albums of 2012

This year was a pretty frugal one for me in terms of album buying, but a very prosperous one in terms of free albums acquired on Freecycle. I added only 15 albums and EPs to my collection, and five of those were free (but not free as in pirated!).

Unlike last year’s run-down, this year I’m counting down from 10.

10. How To Kill A Zombie (HTKAZ)—The Uprising EP

2012-09-htkaz-the-uprising-ep

How To Kill A Zombie is a death metal band from right here in Fife, Scotland. The guitarist, Chris Marr, is a friend of mine from St Andrews.

I’d heard a few demos of the band before I bought their EP, and I narrowly missed seeing them live here in Anstruther in 2011, but I sustained a back injury the afternoon before their gig. I need to make a point of seeing them live in 2013.

Musically they remind me of elements of old-school, British thrash band Xentrix, American thrashers Lamb of God, and God Forbid. Their songs are very well written, structured, and played. This is a band that definitely deserves a wider audience.

My current favourite track on the EP is track 2, ‘Revolution’.

9. Steve Lawson—11 Reasons Why 3 is Greater Than Everything (Remastered)

2012-10-steve-lawson-11-reasons-remastered

Strictly speaking this isn’t a 2012 album, it’s a 2011 album that was remastered and re-released as a free download. (I’m sure Steve will correct me if I’m wrong.) I should also declare that Steve is a friend, not that that guarantees that I’ll love everything that he puts out.

Steve Lawson is a critically acclaimed solo bass player. Which somehow seems to do him an injustice. It might be better to say that he’s a critically acclaimed musician who happens to express himself using a bass guitar and a floor-full of technical gadgetry that enables him to accompany himself.

This is an album that I should play more. As with much of Steve’s music, it’s beautiful, gentle and thought provoking. (Unlike the harmonica solo performed by a four year old that I’m listening to in the background while writing this!)

My stand-out tracks on the album are the opening two tracks: ‘A year afloat’ and ‘Travelling north’.

8. Dodgy—Stand Upright in a Cool Place

2012-08-dodgy-stand-upright-in-a-cool-place

Dodgy’s Free Peace Sweet album was pretty much my soundtrack of 1996. I’ve had a soft spot for Dodgy ever since, but had never seen them live until this summer when they rolled into Edinburgh and played a blinding gig in a tiny venue backing onto Waverley railway station.

This is a fabulous return to form for the English three-piece power-pop band; their first album since reforming in 2007. The songs are fun, complex and layered. It’s a rare album that lifts my spirits quite as much as this one does. Brilliant stuff.

My current favourite track is ‘What became of you’.

7. Down—Down IV, Part 1: The Purple EP

Down IV

This is the one and only CD that I got for Christmas, last week. It has done well to sneak in to number seven so soon.

Down hail from New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) and comprise members of Corrosion of ConformityCrowbarEyehategodKingdom of SorrowPantera, and Superjoint Ritual.

This is the first of what is rumoured to be four EPs, supposedly to get the music out to fans quicker than waiting for a full album. And it’s a great start with Down’s signature laid-back, southern, stoner metal groove to each of the tracks with more than a tip of the hat to Black Sabbath on a couple (the opening of ‘The Curse’, anyone?).

My favourite track just now is ‘Misfortune Teller’.

Here’s the video for their first single from the EP, ‘Witchtripper’:

6. Candlemass—Psalms for the Dead

Candlemass

I first got into Candlemass when I heard ‘Bewitched’ from 1987’s Nightfall on Tommy Vance’s Friday Night Rock Show on BBC Radio 1. Candlemass were my first introduction to doom metal, and to my mind/ear they are still one of the best. (Writing this reminds me that I’ve still got five of their studio albums still to buy.)

Psalms for the Dead is supposedly Candlemass’s final studio album, an album about the presence and absence of time, about leaving, goodbyes and farewells. And true to the album’s theme Candlemass parted company with their fifth vocalist, American, Robert Lowe shortly after the album was released, replacing him with Swedish vocalist Mats Levén (At Vance, Therion, etc.).

All in this is a great album… apart from the intro to the final track ‘Black as time’ which is a spoken-word piece and possibly one of the cheesiest intros to a metal song I’ve ever heard; and it reprises halfway through the song. If I can ever be bothered I’ll edit it out! Which is a real shame as ‘Black as time’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album.

5. Prong—Carved into Stone

Prong

If there is a band listed here that deserves to be better known then it’s Prong. Fronted by Tommy Victor (who has also performed with Danzig and Ministry) the list of former band members is like a who’s who of alternative metal: Swans, Danzig, Fear Factory, Godflesh, Jesu, Killing Joke, Murder Inc.

There are a number of bands who can churn out fabulous riff after fabulous riff. Helmet is one, Prong is most definitely another. And this album is packed full of them. If I could be in any metal band on the planet then I’d want to be in Prong. I would never get tired of playing their twisting, heavy, melodic riffs.

My current favourite track is the friendly-sounding ‘Revenge… best served cold’.

4. Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 1

Stone Sour

This is the fourth studio album from Stone Sour, featuring Slipknot front-man Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root (if you don’t include the special edition of Come what(ever) may) and it rocks!

If you like your metal melodic, heavy and thought-provoking with a few dalliances into acoustic ballads then Stone Sour is the band for you.

This album is the first part of a double, concept album. It’s a reflection of how crazy this year has been that I’ve still to read the lyrics and the booklet to figure out what the plot is.

My favourite song currently is ‘Tired’, simply for the opening riff.

3. Jessica Curry—Dear Esther Official Soundtrack

Dear Esther

For the last few years I’ve bought the latest titles into the Call of Duty or Battlefield PC games franchises. This year (until I received LEGO The Lord of the Rings in late November) has been about only one game: Dear Esther.

Set on a remote and abandoned Hebredean island, this is not so much a game as an interactive novel. It is simply the most beautiful game that I’ve ever played, and I suspect will ever play. Each time I’ve experienced it (not just played it but even watching walkthroughs on YouTube) it left me feeling contemplative and… I guess, in awe. It is quite astonishing.

And the soundtrack simply adds to the game’s beauty. It is hauntingly beautiful, and quite spooky in places, particularly if you’re listening to it in the pitch black, in bed, as I have done on more than one occasion this year.

There is a free version of the soundtrack available, taken from when the game was a mod rather than a standalone release. I also bought the full, final soundtrack which is slightly different. I only wish there was also an audio book version that included Nigel Carrington‘s perfect voice-over.

2. Storm Corrosion—Storm Corrosion

Storm Corrosion

This is an album that I had been looking forward to for quite some time: the collaboration between Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson.

The resulting album, the self-titled Storm Corrosion didn’t disappoint.

It’s a thoughtful and ponderous album that in many ways helps make sense of both the last Opeth album Heritage and Steven Wilson’s 2011 solo album Grace for drowning. It’s an album that you have to listen to again and again to get into, to unlock, to appreciate the various layers and subtleties. It could easily be a soundtrack, as demonstrated perfectly in the official video for the opening track ‘Drag ropes’.

1. Testament—Dark Roots of Earth

Testament

There are some who say that the Big Four of thrash (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) should have been the Big Five with Bay Area thrashers Testament filling that final spot. I actually think this album equals, if not betters, anything that the Big Four have put out in the last couple of years. This is a great metal album.

The album kicks off with the adrenaline-fueled ‘Rise Up’, tanks through ‘Native Blood’, before slowing down a little with the melodic but crushingly heavy ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ that reminds me in parts of 1992’s The Ritual, which is not surprising given Alex Skolnick’s return to the band.

The rest of the album is a lesson in how good old school thrash metal sounds with modern production.

One of my favourite aspects of this album is the bonus CD which includes a rather disappointing and incomplete cover of Queen’s ‘Dragon Attack’ from The Game (1980), and a rather better cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’, from the 1984 album of the same name.

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 on my PC, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.

My top-ten most played:

Artists

  1. Metallica (367 tracks)
  2. Lamb of God (324 tracks)
  3. Opeth (321 tracks)
  4. Prong (246 tracks)
  5. Testament (223 tracks)
  6. Stone Sour (188 tracks)
  7. Big Country (184 tracks)
  8. Porcupine Tree (179 tracks)
  9. Paradise Lost (155 tracks)
  10. Iron Maiden (154 tracks)

Albums

  1. Lamb of God—Sacrament (341 tracks)
  2. Porcupine Tree—The Incident (334 tracks)
  3. Opeth—Ghost Reveries (293 tracks)
  4. Anthrax—Worship Music (281 tracks)
  5. A Perfect Circle—Mer De Noms (268 tracks)
  6. Mastodon—The Hunter (268 tracks)
  7. Godflesh—Streetcleaner (266 tracks)
  8. Slipknot—Slipknot (254 tracks)
  9. Opeth—In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall (234 tracks)
  10. Lacuna Coil—Karmacode (233 tracks)

Tracks

  1. Storm Corrosion—Drag Ropes (15 plays)
  2. Paradise Lost—Never For The Damned (14 plays)
  3. Paradise Lost—Ash & Debris (14 plays)
  4. Storm Corrosion—Storm Corrosion (14 plays)
  5. Storm Corrosion—Hag (14 plays)
  6. Paradise Lost—Requiem (13 plays)
  7. Paradise Lost—The Enemy (12 plays)
  8. Paradise Lost—Praise Lamented Shade (12 plays)
  9. Paradise Lost—Beneath Black Skies (12 plays)
  10. Lamb of God—Ghost Walking (12 plays)