Friday, 16 December 2011

Muggin's Top 20 Of 2011- No's 3, 2 and 1

No.3-Skindred- Union Black

    With a breath-taking and legendary live show in their arsenal, Skindred should be big news. Thankfully, 2011 appeared to be their year; rapturously received festival appearances, booked for Hammerfest head-liner next year and a Golden God Award for best live act being just a couple of accolades they have gained this year. On top of all that, they just happened to release the best album of their career thus far by some huge margin in Union Black.

    Union Black is Skindred’s most experimental and diverse album to date; incorporating such a wide range of genres in to the mix. The first time the bands have recorded an album in the UK and it really shows; Union Black is such a great musical representation of the UK’s vibrant music scene across several genres. Of course the expected mix of Reggae, Metal and Punk are in there, but Skindred have really flexed their creative muscle and incorporated elements of dub-step, drum and bass and other forms of electronic in to the mix to an astounding result. This is a real evolution for the band and they have never sounded better.

    Musically the band is as impressive as ever, the hooks are the most memorable they have been before for them and these are the best songs the band has ever written. Benji Webb as well shows why he is quite possibly the greatest front man on the planet right now; with such a unique sounding range of growls and great clean singing. Every time I listen to this album I have a new favourite song, and each and every one of them would wreck rock and metal clubs like no one’s business. A perfect summary of the great music scene in the UK today.

Listen To: Warning, Cut Dem, Doom Riff

No.2- Times Of Grace- The Hymn Of A Broken Man

    To be perfectly honest any band masterminded by Killswitch Engage guitarist, visionary and nutcase Adam Dutkiewicz¸ and fronted by ex KsE vocalist Jesse Leach was always going to be a highlight of mine in the year, so my KsE love affair does make me a little bit biased. This is not to take away from the fact that Times Of Grace have put out an amazing album in The Hymn Of A Broken Man.

    This project had been on the cards since Adam’s emergency back surgery, where through fear and unknowing to whether he would be able to play guitar or even walk again, wrote all the music for this project. Written in such a turbid and dark time, the music is in places expectedly sombre, but also crushing and uplifting. Ultimately (like most of KsE’s output) THOABM is a positive record, encouraging one to fight on through the difficult hardships faced day to day; and it portrays this so beautifully.

    On a musical level this is familiar enough to KsE fans, it is melodic and has roar along choruses throughout; within one listen you should have them all memorised. But it is different enough to offer fans something new as well; there is an acoustic ballad for example, album highlight ‘The Forgotten One’, thrashier riffs in places such as album opener ‘Strength In Numbers’ and even a touching, sombre, funeral like instrumental track called ‘In The Arms Of Mercy’, a seriously gorgeous piece of music which cannot fail to tug at the heart strings.

    Jesse Leach as well gives an incredible vocal performance, being able to portray such a wide range of emotions perfectly, from furious rage, to melancholy, to hopefulness; this is without doubt one of my favourite vocal performances of the year. Adam also shows his skills as a vocalist on here as well, taking lead on a number of occasions to great effect, showing the feeling of sheer desperation but ultimate air of  uplifting oneself the whole album centres around. A touching and stunning piece of work, THOABM is fitting album to accompany through the hard times we face, and should offer the power to pick oneself up and fight on.

Listen To: Willing, In The Arms Of Mercy, The Forgotten One

And finally, the big one...

No.1- Mastodon- The Hunter

    First of all I would like to point out that 2011 has been an impressive year for music; this countdown of my top 20 was very difficult to narrow down, with several other albums quite easily being able to stake a claim for a spot, and of course there are some notable albums I have not got round to checking out which I know would be of my taste and probably real contenders. That being said picking my number 1 was relatively easy, one album that I have returned to on so many occasions since I first heard it and each time I have been staggered by its sheer quality. That album is Mastodon's The Hunter.

    The Hunter has received such critical acclaim, great reviews from so many publications and even gained them a performance slot on Later...With Jools Holland; a real event for fans of the heavy and the avant garde. It is easy to see as well why they have got this acclaim, The Hunter isn't just a great album, there is a genuine special feeling around it, it feels like it will become a landmark in metal music history, it sounds like it will become regarded as a timeless work in the future.

    Definitely the bands most accessible album, on first listen it does not appear to be as complex and challenging as their previous album the spellbinding Crack The Skye; songs such as 'Curl Of The Burl' and 'Black Tongue' are instantly anthemic and are quite simply some of the bands strongest to date. Dig a little deeper and there is so much to discover. Originally thought to not contain a concept like all previous albums, this has an earthy, nature theme and is also a tribute to guitarist Brent Hinds' brother who died hunting (the album and title track are named in his honour). There are also many, at first, subtle stories and tales within with such topics as goat murder and hunting, as well as some great expressions of the bands humour peering through (check out the first line of 'Curl Of The Burl'). Also songs like 'Blasteroid' are some of the heaviest the band has penned.

    At around the half way mark the tempo shifts and the bands proggier influences come to play once again, yet this transition does not feel disjointed in the slightest. Without question, everything here works. The Hunter is a collection of some of Mastodon's best and most catchy songs, tied with a non overpowering but yet important and brilliant concept. The Hunter manages to be simple, hooky and alluring, yet deep and complicated at the same time. A mesmerising display by one of the worlds strongest bands, and an album that will stand the test of time as one of the decades true greats. Mastodon are on their way to the elite of not just metal, but hard rock in general.

Listen To: Black Tongue, Curl Of The Burl, Stargasm


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Muggin's Top 20 Of 2011- No's 5-4

No.5-The Answer- Revival

    In the last couple of years classic rock has had a real resurgence in popularity, all of a sudden classic bands are being fully embraced by younger fans, and newer bands are showing their love for those of yore with an influx of classic sounding bands. Northern Ireland’s The Answer are at least very near the top of that pile (if not right up at the top). Both the bands previous albums, Rise and Everyday Demons were received very well; both had excellent, catchy, hooky songs which had you tapping and drinking away with glee. Revival stylistically is much of the same, it just seems to have targeted the word Classic, because that is what Revival is very close to being, a true vintage sounding rock gem.

    The time spent with previous touring buddies AC/DC seems to have taught these guys a few tricks because the jump in quality from the already impressive Everyday Demons to this is staggering. Other than a hint of AC/DC influence popping up here and there and a more obvious blues rock sound,  there is very little different about this album; it is simply just done at a much greater quality. The song writing has improved massively, each song has a unique identity and stands on its own out right as a possible highlight.

    Paul Mahon especially puts in a tremendous performance on guitar, jumping between the subtle and the showy but not OTT with ease and style, and front man Cormac Neeson once again shows his skill as a story-teller in the ilk of Phil Lynott, and equally as great a voice. Even with several months to go until the sun does come out once again, Revival will definitely be being played by me during the BBQ months with a cold pint or two in hand. If you don’t find yourself with a massive grin on your mug and singing at the top of your voice to this I would seriously get checked up. The one remotely unmemorable track ‘Destroy Me’ prevents this from being perfect, but Revival is still a joyous, simple but brilliant rock album. Can it be summer yet please?

Listen To: Nowhere Freeway, Vida (I Want You), Caught On The Riverbed

No.4- Machine Head- Unto The Locust

    Following the undeniable modern classic The Blackening was always going to take a staggering effort against the odds, and whatever came next was going to have THAT album hanging over it and Machine Head gave it the very best shot, sadly Unto The Locust does not top The Blackening. It comes very, VERY close to matching it however, and that is no small feat either.

    Unto The Locust is an album that you can instantly tell that the band have poured their heart and soul in to in order to make the best album they can. They could have easily just attempted to make The Blackening Mark II, but instead Machine Head have decided to try some new things out, and make Unto The Locust its own beast. There is such a lot going on in places, with new tricks that were maybe not expected from Machine Head, the use of child vocal chants and acoustic guitar licks being a couple of examples, yet these new experimentations seem entirely natural. There is a definite progressive element to this album, along with the long track running times of all the 5 minute mark, this is the most challenging of Machine Head releases and does take several listens to fully grasp, but once you have you will not be disappointed.

    Robb Flynn especially excels himself with some of his strongest, most reflective and relatable lyrics to date. Prime example of this is the half acoustic number ‘The Darkness Within’, which is a very reflective song about music and his relation to his art which is very touching (although the song itself for me is dependent on my mood). The typical Machine Head style anthems are plentiful here too, from ‘I Am Hell [Sonata in C#]’ through ‘Be Still And Know’ to ‘Pearls Before The Swine’, there is plenty here for the typical fan, but with enough extras to fully explore. Unto The Locust is a tremendous effort and one of the major releases of the year period.

Listen To: I Am Hell [Sonata in C#], Be Still And Know, Locust

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Muggin's Top 20 Of 2011- No's 7-6

Sorry I haven't updated this in a little while, apparently assignments really pick up in the third year of university! Who knew?? Anyway I hope you haven't been going mental with anticipation as to what this tit's favourite albums of the year are. You have? Oooh, well best continue then.

No.7- Anthrax- Worship Music

    Sometimes it is very easy to get swept away with the hype surrounding a major new release from a band with a legendary status. A prime example for me was back in 2008 with the arrival of the brand new Metallica album Death Magnetic. At the time of its release you could not move for positive reviews and excitement for the album, and when it finally arrived on my doorstep and into my CD player I loved it, but over time I began to realise it was not as great as expected. There was a worry that Anthrax would do something similar here; it has been nearly a decade since their last studio release, and after an apparent trap door policy on vocalists which EVENTUALLY resulted in original singer Joey Belladonna taking the helm, expectations were very high. But would Worship Music live up to the weight of expectation? Thankfully, Worship Music is a stormer.

    Admittedly the album sounds like it was intended for iconic front-man John Bush to be at the helm, with songs having a more commanding feel than the partly humorous and cartoon like (but undoubtedly classic) Spreading The Disease/Among The Living era; but Joey does an admirable job and gives perhaps his most furious performances. 'Earth On Hell' is a prime example of Joey showing his own character and yet filling the void left by Bush.

    Of course Joey is the biggest talking point of the album, but that's not to take away from the rest of the band, who have written some of their best songs in a long time. The likes of 'Fight 'Em Til You Can't', 'Earth On Hell' and 'The Devil You Know' should become staples for the band if there is any justice. Sounding less like a thrash album and showing more signs of a classic rock sound (perhaps a result of Ian and Caggiano's The Damned Things project?), this is still undeniably Anthrax and thankfully they sound stable once again. May it continue that way.

Listen To: Earth On Hell, Fight 'Em Til You Can't, In The End

No.6- Vintage Trouble- The Bomb Shelter Sessions

    First of all I do not claim to be an expert by any means in Soul and Blues music; as much as I enjoy artists of these genres, my critical knowledge of such acts is minuscule. That being said, since I first heard  Vintage Trouble and The Bomb Shelter Sessions I have barely stopped listening to it. It is such a fun, danceable and believable album and deserves any recognition it gets.

    Vintage Trouble are an LA based old school style Blues, Soul and Rock band, and despite this being their d├ębut they have gained quite a lot of new fans along the way, with appearances on Later...With Jools Holland and The Late Show With JoAnne Good, before some touring in the UK with the little known Brian May and Bon Jovi... not bad really.

    One listen to this album will tell you why these guys have got such attention. Each and every song on here will put a smile on your face and have you dancing away like a loon before you know it. A sound firmly rooted in the very early and vibrant Soul sound, The Bomb Shelter Sessions sounds vintage yet fresh simultaneously. Each song is almost instantly memorable throughout. Frontman Ty Taylor is an absolute star as well, the perfect package of a beautiful voice and instant, natural charisma; find any live video as proof and see how much of a pleasure this guy is simply to watch on stage. A rather unexpected highlight for me admittedly, but Vintage Trouble have put out one of the catchiest and straight up fun and danceable albums of the year. Check this out. Now!

Listen To: Nancy Lee, You Better Believe It, Total Strangers

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Muggin's Top 20 Of 2011- No's- 9-8

No.9- All Shall Perish- This Is Where It Ends

    Since their previous 2008 release, Awaken The Dreamers, death/deathcore metallers All Shall Perish have had a couple of stumbling blocks to deal with. The departure of both a guitarist and a drummer is always a major blow, so the exits of guitarist Chris Storey and drummer Matt Kuykendall could have left these still young scamps in lumber. Instead the band brought in Francesco Artusato and Adam Pierce and deliver a tremendous effort, and easily their best. Easy really.

     Often tagged as a deathcore act, there is little here to warrant that categorization here; This Is Where It Ends is modern death metal at some of its most dangerous: it is heavy as a truck load of anvils, it is brutal, at times it shows signs of the melodic, and it is also mature and shows coming of age for All Shall Perish. There is masses of technicality on display here but there are even subtle signs of prog thought inside, as well as some quite obvious groove metal nuances thrown in. There are some signs of experimentation but not to the point of distraction.

    Not to mention the vocals! Hernan Hermida gives a monstrous display, almost literally, I am not 100% sure if he isn't a monster. A wide range of ferocious growls on display that make him more than a match for any of the great harsh vocalists out there right now. With good fortune, this album should see All Shall Perish become very big names in the death metal circles; This Is Where It Ends is one of the most crushing, neck snapping albums of the year.

Listen To: There Is Nothing Left, A Pure Evil, Royalty Into Exile

No.8- Ancient VVisdom- A Godlike Inferno

    Probably one of the most underrated releases of the year, but one that should not be missed, Ancient VVisdom (yes, it is spelt with two capital V's, because they can) deliver an unusual, challenging release to some, but a deeply rewarding one. Certainly the 'Sore thumb' of this countdown, but one of the finest releases of the year.

    Ancient VVisdom are a mostly acoustic band, with some folk sounding influences in their artillery, with subject matter based on the occult, the satanic and the pure evil, very similarly to the infamous Black Widow. Despite the purely acoustic guitar work, this still manages to have a unique heaviness than to what we may be accustomed to, using the power of mystery and eeriness rather than being ear splittingly loud.

    A Godlike Inferno is also incredibly memorable; you will be able to hum along to each and every song on here after one listen. Lyrically it also uses repetition to embed into your head almost becoming ritual like chanting, further adding to the albums air of mystery. These elements combine together to form a very strong collection of curious, chilling and mesmerising evil. Challenging, unique and yet strangely comforting and familiar, A Godlike Inferno is a true reward to anyone willing to delve in to the unknown.

Listen To: Alter Reality, The Opposition, Lost Civilization