One of my resolutions last year was to read more, and in March I set out to read all of Douglas Coupland’s novels in chronological order. I seem to remember reading an interview with him where he said he’d love to be able to read his novels afresh in the order they were published, something he can’t do as he’s too close to them. That seemed like a good enough challenge for me.
My annual review of what I’ve most enjoyed listening to during the last 12 months, and my albums of the year.
The RAVPower RP-PC020 is a 30W 3-port USB wall charger that, as the name suggests, allows up to three devices to charge simultaneously.
Each port offers the same output: DC 5V at a maximum of 2.5A, so it should be suitable for charging anything from the most humble feature phone to a smartphone or tablet; I’ve used mine to charge all three without incident. The built-in iSmart technology adjusts the output automatically so that each device charges quickly and safely.
The charger comes packaged in a small, sturdy white box with a simple and attractive design. It already looks and feels like a quality product.
Opening the box I was greeted by the quick start guide (written in six languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese) draped over the charger, and a friendly “Hello” written on the cover. I like it already.
Inside the box, the charger was wrapped in a plastic sleeve and nestled between two cardboard arms within the box, offering excellent protection for transit or an accidental drop. The only other item in the box is a small card with details about a free 12-month extended warranty.
The charger itself seems solid: this feels like a quality product. The model I have is encased in hard, shiny white plastic with RAVPower written on one side and iSmart on the other. On the side closest to the floor when plugged into a wall socket is written model name and number, input and output values plus various other health and safety icons. The remaining sides offer the UK 3-pin plug and opposite it three USB type A ports.
When plugged in and switched on the USB ports light up, a light blue/white colour, which makes plugging USB cables into it in the dark a little easier — even if you always try to plug it in the wrong way first… oh for when USB C becomes the standard).
One niggle I have with many computer-related plugs is that when plugged into a multisocket block many plugs are too long and so obscure the socket opposite, reducing the number of available sockets by one. Happily this is not one of them: the body of the charger does not extend beyond the height of the plug meaning that you can always plug in something else opposite. The whole unit is really neat and portable; I wouldn’t think twice about throwing this in my bag and taking it with me — it takes up hardly any space at all.
All in all, I am delighted with this adapter. As I’ve already said, it feels like a quality product, I love that the sockets light up, and that it can handle three cables at once means that I now use this as my primary adapter for my smartphone and tablet, with a spare socket for guests or my children’s Amazon Fire tablets. I would wholeheartedly recommend this adapter.
In the interests of transparency: I was sent this product by RAVPower for review. I am not connected to the company in any way apart from having been a former customer.
This evening I previewed the forthcoming album Peace In Our Time (2017) by British five-piece metal masters Krysthla.
Like their debut, this album is amazing. And like their debut, I also gave this 100%.
I fully intend to see them live on their UK tour in May. Who’s with me?
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:
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)
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:
- Schizma—Hardcore Enemies (130 tracks played)
- Soulfly—Archangel (124 plays)
- Metallica—Hardwired… to Self Destruct (124 plays)
- Megadeth—Dystopia (114 plays)
- 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
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
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?
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’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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.