Alter Bridge – AB III: Even before the bonus tracks start piling on, AB III is a good album which runs about twenty minutes longer than any band of Alter Bridge’s sound, style, and mastering preferences should ever permit. Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty of good stuff to go around, but after the U.S. bonus tracks are appended, it’s being drowned out by too many songs mastered too hot and with too little dynamism to stand out from the pack. Blackbird or Fortress are really the best places to start with these guys.
Threshold – Legends of the Shires: Damian Wilson out, Glynn Morgan back in, and a bunch of Legends of the Shires sounds like Threshold accentuating their usual style with some new ornamental sounds — a little Elton John here, some shimmering AOR there. The results find Threshold feeling fresher than Threshold has felt in years, and an album to which I feel an almost immediate sonic kinship. Probably gonna have more to say about this at a later time. Then again, it’ll probably be in rotation for a while, so we’ll have plenty of time to say more about it.
Threshold – Extinct Instinct: I found Extinct Instinct less objectionable this time through than I did the last time I bothered to play it. It still feels like a failed attempt at branching out past the early confines of Threshold’s sound, kinda like Superior’s Younique but with less flair, and some tracks borrow their tricks from Dream Theater’s “6:00” (“Exposed”, dear god, “Exposed”) or Jim Martin-era Faith No More (“The Whispering”) but have the rank indecency to perform them poorly. Bottom line: not one of my favorites in the band’s generally-quite-estimable catalog.
Depending on which path the disc crawl takes this week, there may be a wider retrospective covering the undiscussed Wounded Land (not really a fan) and Psychedelicatessen (big fan) in next week’s grid which is pegged to the Decadent rarities collection… or there may not be. It’ll be two weeks for that ’cause I forgot Decadent came out after Clone.
Baroness – Yellow and Green: My favorite Baroness record.
Ted Leo – The Hanged Man: Early returns are that this is a pretty great comeback for Leo after spending much of the last seven years recharging his batteries and going through some personal shit.
Better Than Ezra – Friction, Baby: Trotting out “Desperately Wanting” again somehow got me to listen to Friction, Baby twice through and change last week. Better Than Ezra, I think, always worked better in singles than they did in albums — but man, some of those singles are killers.
Tori Amos – Native Invader: And now begins a new round of the same old Tori Amos dance: a new album which sounds good at first, and in places even like a throwback to some of her older (better) material. But will Native Invader have any staying power beyond my mandatory “you bought it, you play it a minimum of three times you album-stacking magpie” policy? Abate your breathing and glue your eyes to this space, dear readers. We’ll find out together.
Unearthly Trance – Stalking the Ghost: Another album traversing the rather permeable membrane separating sludge metal from doom metal, which works out great for my many beast-shouting-love-at-the-heart-of-the-world moods in this miserable tinderbox year. Plus, it’s got dat Colin Marston engineering, so it’s wide dynamics all the way down and sounds massive, besides, like a statue rumbling to life and crushing all your enemies beneath its mass-y carved-granite foot.
Radiohead – OK Computer: It’s taken me a long time to properly warm up to OK Computer, but after twenty years, I’m personally comfortable calling it one of the true superstars surfing the ’90s’ big bummer-rock wave. What a bold, radical hot take that one is. What crazy Toddfooleries or shenanigags will I get into next?
This week, Winter was Coming… for the color scheme. Half of them were incidental. Then the other half were, “Hey, how many other blue-white-grey covers do I have in my recent listening bin? Let’s find out! That many, huh?”
Last week, I did not listen to enough music to assemble a grid. That was not a problem this week.
Big Wreck – Grace Street: Overall, Grace Street is probably my favorite Big Wreck album since In Loving Memory Of…
The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic: ELO, Toto, Parsons, and more! They got it all at the NFO Store! That’s not the band’s slogan; I just really feel that way about Amber Galactic.
Mr. Big – Defying Gravity: Raw production values aside, this might be the most consistent Mr. Big album since their reunion. Bright, bluesy hard rock which satisfies like a cooling rain after hot summer air swells up to the bursting point, or maybe like the sun which peeks out from behind the clouds after.
Æther Realm – Tarot: Promising but patchy vaguely folkish melodic death metal with high dynamics and a delightful guest appearance from Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes on “King of Cups”.
Dead Cross – Dead Cross: Schizoid crossover noise from Dave Lombardo and pinch-hitting vocalist Mike Patton. I don’t know for sure it’s the most unhinged performance Patton has fielded since his collaboration with the Dillinger Escape Plan, but I also don’t know for sure that it’s not. Dead Cross just might be the perfectly fucked-up soundtrack to this perfectly fucked-up year of ours.
Sabbath Assembly – Rites of Passage: Satanic doom-rock which comes in bales of tangled, sinewy arrangements tied together by Jamie Myers’ pythic, stentorian delivery.
Accept – The Rise of Chaos: The Rise of Chaos clenches up tight like a prizefighter’s fist and punches you in the metal bone until it’s vibrating at Accept’s frequency.
System of a Down – Toxicity: Randomly sweeping through my music library sometimes sweeps up a random album and spirits it into the grid. So it was with System of a Down.
Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine: Biomech: The older I get, the more I can drill into the reservoirs of loneliness and depression bubbling up under this record’s wall-of-sound surface.
Another week where I don’t feel like writing. Deal with it, suckers.
Not a high-traffic music time again, and writing’s just not something I feel like doing. Better luck next week!
Alter Bridge – One Day Remains: Although One Day Remains is the Creed-est of Alter Bridge’s albums, there’s a muscular heft to the heavy songs which Creed never managed believably and, as a rock vocalist, Myles Kennedy’s a lot more Ian Thornley than Scott Stapp on this one.
Nightingale – White Darkness: The least interesting but most expensively out of print Nightingale album. White Darkness has a share of good songs — “The Fields of Life”, “Trial and Error”, “Wounded Soul” — but it also feels like a puzzle missing the pieces which would bring its picture into focus.
Anathema – The Optimist: Still planning to edit together a new version with the bonus demos and live tracks replacing (most of) the final studio versions. The Optimist is not an album which has stuck with me in any other sense.
Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid: Dipping a toe into Alice Cooper’s pop-metal run. After one trip through every album between Constrictor and this one, I’d say they all bank some highlights, but Hey Stoopid is the best and most consistent of the batch.
Alice Cooper – Trash: Whereas Trash peaks right off the bat with “Poison”, then spends the next nine songs clutching for its brass ring and failing to take hold.
Mutoid Man – War Moans: Week two.
Art of Anarchy – Art of Anarchy: The one with Scott Weiland. A surprisingly nothing record where Weiland sounds indifferent and sings plodding, go-nowhere songs from behind a battery of effects and filters.
Art of Anarchy – The Madness: The one with Scott Stapp, which has his highest average rating at RateYourMusic and in many ways represents a substantial step up for Art of Anarchy. If you’re into radio metal — I have my moments — then you’d actually want to hear about half of this again, although the second side gets bogged down too hard in cloying balladry about Stapp’s latest self-pitying rise from the ashes.
Nightingale – Alive Again: Much better than White Darkness.
Real talk: was not in a musical mood for most of the week, am not in a musical discussion mood tonight.
Mutoid Man – War Moans: Where Cave In and Motörhead converge to get ripped to the tits on wild psychotronics, that’s where you’ll find Mutoid Man’s War Moans snorting rails in the back. You think, by the end of “Melt Your Mind”, that this might be a great record. By the time the ashes of the album-closing sort-of-ballad “Bandages” have finished smoldering, you’re sure that it is.
Unleash the Archers – Apex: Yup. Again.
Ten – Gothica: Sure, the last few albums had bodacious Celtic war-babes or pirate wenches on the covers, and check-out-that-hot-babe-in-stockings horniness has maintained a fairly consistent percentage of Ten’s songwriting down the decades. But there’s something about dropping “In My Dreams” — a rolling name-drop of fictional pop culture babes young Gary Hughes either did have wet dreams about or could have had wet dreams about — between an epic historical song about Henry VIII (“Man for All Seasons”) and one which surprisingly captures some of the melodic mid-80s King Diamond chug (“The Last King of Winter”) which feels like a far-too-revealing cry for help. That’s not the only song on here worth digging into on those terms… nor really even the only one which makes you wince like Gothica is melodic rock’s very own answer to Pinkerton. Gonna be interesting spending more time with this over the weeks to come.
Life of Agony – A Place Where There’s No More Pain: It’s their best album since Soul Searching Sun, at the very least. Considering the long road Life of Agony’s walked over the last twenty years, that’s actually saying quite a lot.
Brother Firetribe – Sunbound: So many iconic rock figures died in 2016, even throwback-AOR guys like Brother Firetribe are writing songs commemorating their lives and legacies.
Night Ranger – Don’t Let Up: Some of this is a really good album… and some of this is an album I’d be quite happy not to hear again. Which side will win out over time? Stay tuned, maybe. Who knows.
One Desire – One Desire: This week it became very clear that if you reworked a couple of lyrics, and had a bunch of plucky, focus-grouped teenagers performing it instead of hairy Finnish dudes, One Desire could be making mad fucking bank as a Radio Disney pop band. Just listen to “Love Injection” and tell me I’m wrong.
Nightingale – I: The third album in the Breathing Shadow story cycle, a prequel to the first two albums, and — oddly enough — the one from the early going about which I have the least opinion. It’s… good. If you like hard rock, if you like prog rock, if you like AOR, or if you like Dan Swanö, you should seek it out. But I heard this thing two times in a row one day and I swear the only thing I really remember about it is the organ groove on “Remorse & Regret”… and that probably ’cause I took time out to mention it on Facebook.
Anathema – The Optimist: An interesting phenomenon: I paid out for the deluxe hardback limited edition version of The Optimist, right? Turns out, I actually like the various demos and live versions of the songs which come on that exclusive bonus more than their full album counterparts. Songs which leave no impression at all on the album seem larger and more resonant in those scaled-back forms. Gonna keep listening to try and figure this out, ’cause this is not my usual listening experience.
I’ve been spending a lot of money on CDs and Bandcamp downloads lately, and that’s a lot of new-to-me music to parse and process. As a result, this week’s grid, next week’s grid, and who knows how many more grids in a row might be more eccentric and irregular when it comes to what’s getting played.
One of the reasons this first part of last year’s favorites list hasn’t been posted yet — writing this introduction. Trying to find a narrative among your musical choices is sort of what you have to do if you’re going to write these up, but this is music we’re talking about here. In broad terms, the medium’s expanding so fast in all directions these days we may eventually see the entire market Big Rip itself to heat death. What narrative?
My best-fit alternative: heavy metal, my fallback musical fix of choice, has so many albums being released across so many styles that there’s no feasible way to gatekeep. Complain about Deafheaven as the death of metal if you must, but there are so many other things to listen to that if you can’t find enough to enjoy, it’s probably more to do with you than with “the scene” being dead.
And as far as obligations to be “objective”, well, hell with that. In 1987, there were about 150 metal LPs released. You could have had an objective education in everything released by the end of the year, at least enough to render a subjective opinion about what’s good and what’s not good. Three to four times that many metal albums came out last month alone. It would take more than eight albums a day, every day, all year — no second spins, no exceptions — to hear even half of what was released in 2016. To be a truly well-schooled authority nowadays is a physiological impossibility.
So, the prescription: don’t worry so much about all the different metal critics and writers having different discussions about different bands entirely. Don’t worry about people declaring a scene this exhaustively alive to be dead. Don’t even worry about your list coming out on time. Just… like what you like. Hold fast to what you love. Don’t be afraid just to treat your list as a necessarily limited record of “stuff what I liked in the preceding year”.
At this point, that’s pretty much all it’s going to be good for, anyway. Continue reading “Favorite Albums of 2016: Part I”