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


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