I’ve been waiting until Christmas eve to post this list because I wanted to give the full scope of 2015 time to play out. I also wanted to rush through some reviews that I’d been sitting on for the past few months. I must apologies to all the artists who have sent me stuff in 2015 – I have been listening and enjoying a fuckload of what you have all sent me but the stuff I’ve reviewed and featured in this list is stuff that’s stuck with me beyond just the review stage. These are artists and songs that haunt me and have left me feeling changed and renewed.
So without further ado let me present to you the HEAVY AND WEIRD END OF YEAR LISTS:
Artist Of The Year
I don’t mean to blush but I’ve been a fan of Sophie Lowe’s acting ever since I saw her in “The Slap” which lead me to her other films including “Beautiful Kate,” “After The Dark” and “Adore” – all of them are vital pieces of cinema and it is quite evident that Sophie is destined to make the big jump to Hollywood stardom. When I recently discovered that she was transitioning to music I was fucking ecstatic. As an actress Sophie is world class, a true artist and her skill for tackling highly complicated and emotional characters spills over into her music.
In 2015 Sophie released EP1 and EP 2 and when combined they weave together 12 delicious tracks that showcase pop music built on smart songwriting skills and deep emotional drama. With EP 1 and EP 2 we find Lowe venturing into sparse instrumental landscapes with her vocals delivering context to all that haunts her. It is real and incredibly raw commanding your attention. It is no doubt part of Lowe’s creative DNA that both EP 1 and EP 2 are cinematic in their presentation with the music allowing you to paint your own visuals when you shut your eyes and ease into the sound of her voice.
The music of both EP’s have a steady electronica vibe throughout and aesthetically is in debt to the swoon and slide of 1990’s trip hop pioneers Portishead. The sonics are stark and bare with Lowe utilising the space to really stretch out her vocals covering every inch of these tracks with her disciplined ache. Lyrically there are varying degrees of hurt, loss and despair circling the authors need and desire to be understood by those who share planet earth with her. On the surface it sounds like break-up songs but the plea for a mutual sharing of respect spreads itself to so many other possible scenarios where the dread of being misunderstood occurs. This is music for the late night descent into heartbreak nostalgia and it does a fantastic job of framing all that is painful and all that is joyful about love.
As a singer, Lowe sounds uniquely beautiful and is able to balance the hushed dynamics of a crooner with the sweet shine of a pop singer. Combine this with her ability to experiment with different textures and moods and slowly you start to hear the rumblings of a true visionary who knows the perfect way to mix above and below ground rule books in order to communicate vital pieces of art. That is what makes both EP 1 and EP 2 so great and I just love every inch of it.
It’s no secret that there was a girl who stole my heart long ago and whose shape remains inside the soul of every yearning filled encounter I have with other female humans. Sometimes the fantasy is more pure than the reality and it is because of this that my mind remains her hostage with no real ransom available to dull the ache and set me free. It may be ridiculous to the non-believers but a muse can be murder especially when you search for the face of your yearning and some kind of remedy for sleepless Sundays. When love disappears, every brand new day is yours to fear with a grief so strong your eyes can’t hide it and as a result you build many walls around you to shield yourself from it all. Regardless of how much life I live in the meantime, she’ll hang in my heart forever. This yearning has a language that is heard only by the spirits with total belief that all this pity frames a scar and that in the end it will always remain as faith for the man and a kiss for the friend.
When I listen to Sophie Lowe as the vocalist I tend to slip into that place where that memory of love lost comes rushing back to me. The moment EP 1 and EP 2 on the stereo and plugged in my headphones I felt the sweet embrace of the chaotic emotional journey that is the sting of distant heartache memories. The music of Sophie Lowe provides the perfect soundtrack to this ache soaked journey.
This music is purely nocturnal and will always communicate more clearly between the hours of 9pm and 4am. Like the shadowy pulse of ex-lovers whispering into your ear there are memories of yearning (past, present and future) hiding inside the songs on EP 1 and EP 2. The darkness of it all allows you to trade your fetish for fiction and replace it with new kinds of motion and sequence. You’ll find yourself musing on the lifelong debate of flesh versus the spirit and as you try ever so hard to attach yourself to some innocence. No matter how hard you try that funeral march will continue to trickle down your belly.
The mystery present on songs like “Dreaming” and “Please” from EP 1 and “Pink Flowers” and “Breathe” from EP 2 pushing you to explore that shiver and all of that spooked out bliss she uses to suffocate your mind. You simply have to listen to the lyrics to see that Lowe is once again using very specific metaphors to illustrate her feelings and to allow your imagination to swoon and swing between joy and heartache. In the heat of the summer night Sophie Lowe uses her unique sonic language to penetrate all your angst as you hang spacious from the clutter of your hurt and safely drift away.
One of the real treats of this record is “Like I Do You” from EP 2 which presents a scene of catastrophe with a mood that balances what a monumental picture of hurt existence can be. Although peppered with a dense dark mood, “Like I Do You” still has a bright spark weaving in and out of it. The joy that is the satellite in your heart is what connects to this song, especially the “Like I Do You” refrains – that line gives meaning to the constant quest to transmit to all of those secret faces.
When you’re looking at life through innocent eyes it seems love and desire are quite simple, but sometimes it wounds and it’s so very smooth. That is when music like Sophie Lowe’s sounds best, when you are wounded yet optimistic. This is the kind of music that fires up your romantic imagination making you feel like that somewhere out there he or she waits and that 84 will be worth living for.
Band Of The Year
Full Flower Moon Band
I understand that on the surface people will only hear the sounds of a dusty lo-fi psychedelic pop band, but dig deeper and you’ll hear that Full Flower Moon Band managed to make the first real modern classic with their debut EP “CHINATOWN EP.” I was not present when bands like Slint and My Bloody Valentine released their landmark records (“Spiderland” and “Loveless”) and I came to Slayer long after they released “Reign In Blood” but I have no doubt that “CHINATOWN EP” will not only be as influential as those records but that people will come to see that Full Flower Moon Band destroyed, erased and improved (to steal a Meshuggah line) music as an art form.
The reason why these above bands are important to me illustrating the importance of “CHINATOWN” is because the albums these bands released allowed for music to be presented in a different light. A record like “Spiderland” by Slint for instance is a truly mysterious record and over time has become incredibly influential to evolving how humans hear and perform rock music. The same can be said about “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine and “Reign In Blood” by Slayer. These albums presented new ideas on how to make the simple amalgamation of guitar, bass, drums and vocals work and in the process birthed such genre titles as post-rock, math-rock, shoegaze and thrash metal. I don’t think I’d be too foolish for saying that Slint, My Bloody Valentine and Slayer changed the game totally and offered new sounds and dynamics to the rock n roll text book.
In 2015, Full Flower Moon Band became the first band in 20 years to release an EP as life changing and important to the evolution of music as the above mentioned artists (and countless others of course). What “CHINATOWN EP” represents is how music, at least rock n roll, should have evolved. There is nothing retro or throwback about the music played by Full Flower Moon Band and over the course of 5 songs they manage to showcase a brilliant understanding of emotionally fueled psychedelic guitar rock.
Album Of The Year
“Sword” by Angharad Drake
The third record from Angharad Drake is called “Sword” and is the kind of movement of music that I’d define as perfection. It is very simple in its execution but again comes down to the mood and how Drake approaches the melodic structure of each song. Drake saturates each song with darkness and a spooky whisper and it becomes hard not to be pulled into her psyche. This is real journeyperson material and you can hear that Drake has lived every inch of pain contained within the lyrics. There are also pinches of resolve and hope swirling in and out of the songs but it is more attached to an acceptance of ones weirdness as opposed to anything found in positive thinking handbooks.
As is the case with all good pop music, the intensity is front and centre and Drake doesn’t waste time grabbing your soul and taking you on a journey through the dark and light regions of our existence and the other dimensions she is channelling. Drake makes both very intellectual but also very spiritual music and when you mix the science with the soul you get a beating heart that is well balanced and rooted in purity.
The album kicks off with a trio of songs (Intro, Sword and You) that are a simple gallop of smiles and bummer sunshine. They move around with the confusion of the early stages of a new romance. It has a beautiful innocence and weaves stories that are equally a plea for connection and a yearning for a new bliss blackout and the complication of first kisses and late Sunday night wishes. It shimmers and shines with pop skills and drags you into the elegant world of Angharad Drake.
This initial introduction moves beautifully into my favourite moment “Water.” This is one of those rare songs that comes around every few years and totally changes the genre for which it belongs. A simple pop song at its core, “Water” takes us on a journey giving a full spotlight on the complicated emotions that influenced the song. It takes you away to blissed out landscapes and you find yourself investing in the journey. A great blend of teen angst and early twenties hope and the song stands as both a roar towards past heartbreak and a whisper to the future lover.
The remaining stretch of songs on this album follow a similar trend and I found myself listening to tracks like “Majesty,” “Down” and “Lone” a few times trying to work out if the songs were autobiographical or an observation on the destructive pattern associated with watching best friends descending into relationship drama. Regardless of whether they are fact or fiction these would be the perfect songs for any coming of age drama movie with that garden state pinch of comedy.
The final track “Nobody Believes” is the perfect closer to this way too short album. It brings everything together quite nicely and is the triumphant final breath to this emotional journey. It makes me feel like I’m travelling in slow motion from the steam of old friendships, old lovers and heading straight for a new kind of sunshine. It’s a “satisfied mind” ending to the adventure and thrill of being a teenager in love. It resolves itself with a youthful optimism and a commitment to a new journey, a new self and a new landscape of shivers.
Angharad Drake is a bright light in an often predictable and redundant landscape of singer songwriters. Her music is dark and moody and is clearly influenced by the many different faces of music. It has a progressive heartbeat in the way that Sarah Blasko did but to my ears it also has something special attached to it the way that artists like Joanna Newsom and Tori Amos do. I’m quite a big fan of this album and I can’t wait to see how Angharad Drake evolves this sophisticated sound on her future releases. I only hope it grows darker in its delivery and we get to experience an even deeper and more intense journey than the one being hinted at on “Sword.”
Music review wankerisms aside, what does Angharad Drake’s “Sword” album mean to me?
When I listen to “Sword” I get tangled in the memory of all of the human beings I’ve have either loved romantically or had an extreme crush on. There is a simple frame of yearning and desire around every inch of these songs but also a hungry desperation that flirts with the notion of being jealous. It isn’t the kind of envy that is cruel or funded on insecurity it is more the kind of jealous nature that exists inside the empathetic and passionate souls who love without of any thought of reward and who need the rush of love, with all of its joy and pain, to feel alive and in touch with their artistic muse.
Love is the kind of emotion that has the capacity to fuel every positive and negative emotion inside of you but that is also the challenge of love, to have the darkness and the light of it infect you to the point where you end up having to accept all of it.
If you listen to “Sword” and you are in love with someone who is also in love with you then the album will sound like a defensive narrative or plea to the outside world to not pollute the dynamic you share with that other human being because there is nothing more frightening than an external world acting in a destructive manner to disrupt the rhythm of your relationship.
If you listen to this album from the perspective of simply being in a “crush” like situation then once again from a narrative point of view “Sword” highlights that you are simply watching that person you have extreme feelings for being taken away from you by weaker human beings who won’t love them in the way you know you’re capable of doing. This album acts as a battle cry for when you will one day find the courage to strike and make that connection with that human and to give your love an entry point.
Regardless of which category you fall into when you listen to “Sword” there is a loneliness that hangs in both situations. Both of the above life situations provide any human being with a loneliness that is at times suffocating, dripping with all kinds of confused longing and swooned aggression giving you suspended periods of time in the darkness of your own mind. It is in these moments of reflection that you either arrive at an explosive moment of clarity or a cluttered yet hopeless stained generation of silent sadness.
That is the power of what “Sword” communicates as an album in its slacked out bliss and swirls of seductive rage. “Sword” is another flawless example of why Angharad Drake is shaping up to be not just a popular musician but an important artist and trust me we need more artists among the indie pop stars. I am just so glad that finally someone modern took the time to scatter all of this depth and yearning into their music; it makes the world a better place knowing that Angharad Drake’s music exists.
EP Of The Year
“Dynamics Of Disobedience” by Michelle Xen
Michelle Xen makes beautifully violent music about the absolute destruction that occurs when someone you love breaks your heart, it is pure ache. If you listen to any of her songs you can hear the blood all over the tracks. She is bleeding every inch of herself into the music and as a listener it is an exhausting and overwhelming process listening to it. The music itself is so incredibly confronting that if you’re not prepared for it, it can take your breath away and leave you confused. Michelle is a powerful communicator and you have to erase all distractions when you sit down to listen to her music.
So with this in mind, when I sat down to listen to Michelle’s latest EP “Dynamics Of Disobedience” earlier this month. I took some time off work and locked myself away with this beautiful piece of art for a few days in order to get immersed in every inch of it.
The results were positive from the get go. I fell in love with it on impact and connected to the loneliness nestled at the centre of each new song. These weren’t break up songs; this was a roar and a plea for someone to please understand just who you are. The rawness of it all can really cut deep and when you start musing on the lyrics you find yourself drifting deeper into your memories to remember every person who has ever broken your heart.
Musically, the minimalism approach of this EP is spot on and the focus on rhythm almost gives it a hip hop quality. The drums and percussion along with the synths add to the violence of Michelle’s emotional delivery. It makes for a wonderful journey.
After spending a good part of November addicted to this album, I had to disconnect because it started to haunt me just how intense these songs could be. This EP became an obsession and it started to influence every aspect of how I myself wanted to create. I already put Michelle Xen on a pedestal but with this EP, I escalated to full fan boy and honestly felt that unless I made music like the songs found on “Dynamics Of Disobedience” then I wasn’t making pure emotional music.
Luckily I pulled the plug and realised that I was under the spell of Michelle Xen – she gets me every time – and that of course you can make emotional music any which way you want. That all being said I still think that Michelle Xen makes the purest and rawest sounds ever and this EP is the perfect horror movie for anyone still suffering the spook of past lovers.
Michelle Xen is 100 per cent perfection and I love her music more than I can put into words.
Single Of The Year
“Matter” by Amanda Merdzan
In 2013 I had the pleasure of reviewing an EP by the incredibly talented Amanda Merdzan. In my final paragraph of that review I wrote the following:
“Sometimes you love to have your world challenged by music and other times you just want the music to help give purpose to your own pain. Amanda’s music falls in to the latter category for sure and while it may not be dynamically weird or envelope pushing music stylistically, the music itself is carried and ignited by Amanda’s deep emotional world and that is what is put on full display with “The Map Has Been Redrawn.” This EP is a perfect glimpse of an artist who has just uttered her first musical communication and I feel after both personal and musical growth we’ll see Amanda combine her world class songwriting with some intense experimentation to birth a sound that is unique to her muse.
I can’t wait to see what comes next from Amanda Merdzan and I’ve got a feeling that she’ll do some very interesting things making beautiful future music that goes deeper and weirder.”
After following her career with a feverish desire to know “what will come next” I was absolutely blown away when she sent me her new single “Matter” which was released digitally earlier this year. Instantly I was blown away by the creative leaps taken and although we can talk about the aesthetic changes made, the real joy of this new song is the emotional performance that comes through in Merdzan’s vocals and melodic delivery. We finally hear Amanda finding her own voice and although her debut EP provided the significant vehicle for her stories to be told, on “Matter” she truly sounds comfortable and like she has settled on a sound that better communicates all that haunts her.
The simple lyric refrains of “Matter” explode with a sullen sigh that wrap around your own sadness and amplify’s that desperate need for human connection. This is a song about the true sting of loneliness and that simple plea we all carry inside of us to be understood and loved unconditionally by another human being. To issue a degree of sacrifice and surrender in order to truly commit to love.
The music of “Matter” slithers with a spooky degree of late night malaise almost sounding claustrophobic in its attempt to be spacious. The minimal electronic pulses wonderfully give a modern context to an old world pain. It all collides together to create a timeless piece of escapism that gives the listener the opportunity to apply their own meaning to the song. I just fucking drift away to so many places when I hear “Matter” and my life has been enriched beyond belief because of this song.
It’s quite obvious that Amanda is on a new journey of self-discovery. Her music has taken on more meaning as a result and taking genre laws out of the equation the real victory of “Matter” is that she is finding a way to be more direct with the complicated emotions that she is drawing from for inspiration. I’m honestly so excited about this song and what the future holds for Amanda Merdzan.
Top Eleven Bands / Artists Of 2015
- Sophie Lowe
- Michelle Xen
- Amanda Merdzan
- Full Flower Moon Band
- Angharad Drake
- Alanna Eileen
- Major Leagues
- Eves The Behavior
Top Eleven Albums / Singles / EP’s of 2015
1. “Sword” by Angharad Drake
2. “EP 1” and “EP 2” by Sophie Lowe
3. “Dynamics Of Disobedience” by Michelle Xen
4. “Chinatown EP” by Full Flower Moon Band
5. “The Haze” by We All Want To
6. “Electrical” by Eves The Behavior
7. “Someone Sometime” by Major Leagues
8. “Stallin” by Airling
9. “Vice” by Grrl Pal
10. “Demonstration” by FOREVR
11. “I Don’t Feel So Alive” by Gabriella Cohen
This was the music that dominated the Heavy and Weird stereo and the music that made that most impact.
In terms of my own personal top eleven albums of 2015 well here they are:
Number One – “Sol Invictus” by FAITH NO MORE
This was probably the easiest decision of my whole list – I think this album was always destined to take out my number one spot. I’ve been a life long fan of FAITH NO MORE and I’ve waited every inch of that 18 years for the moment when they may re-enter the world with a new album. The reunion that began back in 2009 was exciting enough but I was less curious in the nostalgia of a live show and more interested in what the band might be able to offer creatively. In that 18 years we got a whole new generation of Mike Patton related projects that helped enrich the lives of people, like myself, who adored his creative genius. As fulfilling as those projects were, it always made me wonder how he’d attack a new FAITH NO MORE record if given the opportunity.
On Friday the 15th May 2015 I got to have those questions answered and the results exceeded my expectations. It took me two listens before I truly locked in with the genius of “Sol Invictus” and once I let it in there has been no record released since that can match it. The band managed to make a modern rock masterpiece that showcases just what seasoned creative professionals they are. All of the familiar aesthetics are lent on but we now get 18 years of new creative dialogues seeping into the mix helping elevate the music to new territory.
Despite having one of the most influential discographies in the history of rock music, FAITH NO MORE’S previous albums weren’t without their flaws. As a fan I adore each and every one of them but I can understand the complaint that on occasion their albums may have lacked cohesion with the creative schizophrenia of each record causing some lag in proceedings. I always put this down to a band striving to figure itself out and always being in a transitional state, searching for the ultimate sound that best expresses the talents of each individual within the band. With maturity FAITH NO MORE have conquered that youthful defect and manged to deliver 10 flawless tracks and scientifically and spiritually the best FAITH NO MORE album to date.
All in All, my personal resonance with this band is so extremely over the top that it could have been an experimental album full of nothing and I still would have rated it above everything else. I just think and believe that whether this album allows for the band to continue making music or not doesn’t really matter because with “Sol Invictus” we finally got to glimpse once again what a special band FAITH NO MORE are and how despite their widespread influence on the rock music aesthetic that they never really got the respect for it. While other artists are content at attempting musical re-invention through nostalgic building blocks other artists are actually trying to avoid that and are trying to find something unique to say. FAITH NO MORE are the band you can rely on to at least try and make future music.
FAITH NO MORE were never allowed or invited to the party so that is why when you let them in they are free to shit all over your carpet and when they shit on your carpet there is nothing you can do about it because only true artists get the privilege of dipping their assholes onto your floor and ruining your understanding of the universe.
May they live for a million years
Number Two – “Purple” by BARONESS
This album is an incredible collection of rock music – I thought the band had made their masterpiece with 2012’s “Yellow and Green” but I was wrong, “Purple” is that album. An extreme collision of all the aesthetics that make BARONESS one of the most important rock bands of our modern era. Those who have heard it know just how powerful this album is. I sincerely hope that this record allows for BARONESS to be elevated to some higher levels in terms of mainstream success because this album deserves to be soaked up and celebrated by stadiums of human beings.
Let me say again, I don’t know why or how the whole “rock is dead” mantra is allowed to be paraded around because there are such a strong group of modern rock bands like BARONESS who are taking the genre to some extremely “right on” new places.
“Purple” is a flawless masterpiece
Number Three – “Higher Truth” by CHRIS CORNELL
This is the solo album longtime fans of CHRIS CORNELL have been waiting for since “Euphoria Morning.” Although CORNELL has attempted re-invention with his solo career (as heard on 2007’s “Carry On” and 2009’s “Scream”) it has never made so much sense as it did with the 2011 release of his live acoustic record “Songbook” which showed that CORNELL is at his best when its just his voice and his acoustic guitar. I’d even argue that my own personal desire for a more acoustic driven CORNELL release stems back to the song “Seasons” from the soundtrack to 1992’s premiere Grunge era couples film “Singles.” On “Higher Truth” CHRIS CORNELL delivers 12 tracks of acoustic driven rock music that beautifully showcases what a master songwriter he is. The inclusion of Brendan O’Brien as producer helps give the record the direction it needed although I was interested to hear that prior to settling on O’Brien CORNELL was working with Alain Johannes. Perhaps that material will surface at some point but for now we have a brilliant record from one of my personal heroes.
This album provided comfort to me during an incredibly dark time of 2015 when my own mortality was challenged. In those moments, only great voices and human beings like CHRIS CORNELL will suffice and for that reason alone “Higher Truth” will be a life long musical companion.
Number Four – “New Bermuda” by DEAFHEAVEN
This band makes the kind of music that I dreamed about back when I was a teenager in the late 1990’s – in short, believe the hype. This is the band who showed the world that they are not trying hard enough when it comes to the composistion of meaningful future music. I know the purists hate it but the purists are flawed by their own limitations. This album is something you need to experience on your own with a good pair of headphones. I suspect that the best is still yet to come from DEAFHEAVEN and in 20 years time they will also be the band your children will wish you were cool enough to be a fan of.
Number Five – “No Cities To Love” by SLEATER-KINNEY
One of the true joys of 2015 was to know that SLEATER-KINNEY had released a new album. The bands previous album “The Woods” was a life changer for me and stands as my favourite record from their very flawless discography. In a lot of ways “No Cities To Love” goes further and deeper than “The Woods” in terms of re-invention. In 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds SLEATER-KINNEY remind the world why they are one of the greatest rock bands to ever exist. In true “reign in blood” fashion the real key to “No Cities To Love” is the way in which it covers so much territory but does it in a very economical way. Yet another reminder of how important the guitar is to the communication of complex human emotions and further proof that SLEATER-KINNEY are rightfully poised to establish their position in not just underground culture but also mainstream culture as the band that can help restore peace to the galaxy.
Number Six – “Luminiferous” by HIGH ON FIRE
There are no words to describe the love I have for HIGH ON FIRE and the sound they make. The best I can do is to say that the band manages to mix the fierce thrash sounds of SLAYER with the harsh sludge experimentation’s of THE MELVINS but even that seems like I’m selling them short. The main creative vehicle for riff magician Matt Pike since 1998 and a band long associated with quality album releases. Those who have experienced the might and power of HIGH ON FIRE’S discography (2000’s “The Art of Self Defense,” 2002’s “Surrounded by Thieves,” 2005’s “Blessed Black Wings,” 2007’s “Death Is This Communion,” 2010’s “Snakes for the Divine” and 2012’s “De Vermis Mysteriis”) understand the extreme rush provided and with “Luminiferous” HIGH ON FIRE deliver another masterpiece. This is heavy metal at its finest from a true master of the genre and as I’ve mentioned further down the page, it angers me that so many shallow minded modern music media website dickcuntstiffyfuckstains are bold enough to announce that rock is dead. How can you fucking say that when a band like HIGH ON FIRE continues to exist and churn out quality record after quality record. I look forward to 2035 when I’m 52 years old and I get to say to all the new school hip brigade “I WAS FUCKING THERE YOU YOUNG USELESS CUNTS” when they all pretend to be HIGH ON FIRE aficionados. This is the band that people will talking about in 20 years from now and this album is a modern classic.
Number Seven – “VII: Sturm und Drang” by LAMB OF GOD
“VII: Sturm und Drang” is Lamb Of God’s seventh studio album and could quite possibly be their best. I know this is a bold claim considering that Lamb Of God are responsible for some of the new millenniums greatest metal albums but on this record the band manages to finally rise to the occasion and become the superstar Metal group they have always been hinting at. The band finally embraces melodic vocals and I think this is a dynamic that could be explored on a deeper level on future releases from here. I think my love of Pantera is what fuels my love of Lamb Of God and because sometimes metal needs a mainstream voice and with “VII: Sturm und Drang” Lamb of God remind us why they have been that voice for the past 20 or so years. This record is just so enjoyable and such a re-birth.
Number Eight “Repentless” – by SLAYER
This is the first time I’ve enjoyed listening to a new SLAYER album since 2001’s “God Hates Us All” and even though 2006’s “Christ Illusion” and 2009’s “World Painted Red” were solid records they didn’t have the special ingredients needed to make a SLAYER album a true classic. In a lot of ways both “Christ Illusion” and “World Painted Red” had a lot in common with the bands 1990’s output (1994’s “Divine Intervention,” 1996’s “Undisputed Attitude” and 1998’s “Diabolus In Musica”) in the sense that it was just a band sticking to the formula with 1996’s cover album “Undisputed Attitude” being the most diverse sounding record of the aforementioned trilogy. In a lot of ways “Repentless” sticks to the formula but this time round it seems to work and sound more energetic and more SLAYER than ever. The band has been able to move swiftly into the future despite the horrific passing of the bands leading creative force Jeff Hanneman. I adore SLAYER and at this point of my life, I’m just happy to hear the band release new music. Perhaps Hanneman’s passing gave the remaining members reason to go deeper and perhaps that is why “Repentless” is such a special record. Either way, listening to this album has been a daily ritual since its release and whether or not this is the full stop to the SLAYER story or a bold new chapter doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day this band has no more reasons to reinvent a genre they helped create. Just having them still be here all these years later is a blessing and any year that SLAYER releases a new album is set to be a good year.
Number Nine – “High Country” by THE SWORD
After four flawless albums of heavy metal THE SWORD continue their quest for world domination and deliver us their most diverse record to date, the unbelievalby good “High Country.” This album marks a change in musical style with the band experimenting with their doom / sludge roots shifting their sound to a more classic hard rock sound. This will no doubt alienate long time fans of the band, but I personally love the new direction and realistiaclly they have been hinting at this sound ever since 2010’s new modern classic “Warp Riders.” A lot of the new tunes have a melodic southern rock vibe similar to to that of seminal hard rock bands Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top. Ultimately the album has everything from folk to pop to boogie to straight-up rock and it never leans on the nostalgia, if anything these older styles help boost the bands sound to more dynamic places and gives them room to grow from here. Considering every dickbagstaincunt writing for websites like FasterLouder and all those other clickbait modern music media sites across the world are quick to write such think pieces like “rock is dead” it makes you wonder why or how they miss albums by bands like THE SWORD who are clearly making vital rock music for the 21st Century. In short, although rock music may not be as popular in the mainstream sense there is still a lot of interesting guitar music being made – with “High Country,” THE SWORD go back to basics and help give their second decade as a band an interesting new twist.
All words and music experienced by Dan Newton