Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Best Of 2016

The Best Of 2016

Either the years seem to be going quicker, or I’m getting slower! Either way, 2016 brought me a ton of great music to lose myself in, even if I couldn’t lock down much time to write about them.
But despite the disappointing lack of time (And content for the blog), I did manage to listen to plenty of great music, with more than enough to make up a top ten list of my favourites for the year.

So here it is. And as always, the choices here are based on my own personal tastes, and not in any particular order of preference.

Abbath – Abbath (Season Of Mist)

I really didn’t know what to expect from former Immortal frontman Abbath’s debut solo release, but it took but a single listen to know that I liked what I heard. Sure, it’s not all that far removed from what he had produced in the past under the Immortal banner, but when you have tracks such as ‘To War!’, ‘Winter Bane’, ‘Ashes Of The Damned’ and ‘Endless’, the lack of boundary pushing can be overlooked at this point in time for one genuinely solid release.

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast Records)

A rather tense and difficult gestation period, mixed with huge expectations from their legion of fans for a new Testament album had many wondering if the Bay Area thrashers still had it in them to stand tall in the so called ‘Big 4’. Well in short; ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ is an absolute gem in Testament’s crown. Fast paced, aggressive and catchy, this is Testament at their best. Stand out cuts include ‘Seven Seals’, ‘The Pale King’, the shredding title track and ‘The Number Game’. 

The Jelly Jam – Profit (Music Theories Recordings)

Powerhouse trio The Jelly Jam are somewhat of a strange outfit, and their releases are never immediate to me. But over time, this fourth release has certainly grown on me. Mixed equally between the soft and rockier side of things, the band showcase their diverse musical influences, and Ty Tabor’s ability to provide hooks that amaze. Song worthy of singling out include ‘Water’, the rocking ‘Mr. Man’, ‘Stop’, the mellow ‘Heaven’ and the climatic ‘Strong Belief’.

Cheap Trick - Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello (Big Machine Records)

Long running rock legends Cheap Trick are on a bit of a roll, with their latest effort almost rivalling their former effort ‘The Latest’ as some of the best work they’ve produced in years. From the up tempo rock opener ‘Heart On The Line’, the pop genius of ‘No Direction Home’, the Slade/T. Rex groove of ‘Blood Red Lips’, the riff heavy ‘Long Time No See Ya’ and the classic ‘The Sun Never Sets’, ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello’ is everything a Cheap Trick fan could ask for... and then some!

Borknagar – Winter Thrice (Century Media Records)

If you’ve been a fan of Borknagar for some time now, then you will no doubt know what the band have to offer with ‘Winter Thrice’. While it’s a hardly glowing endorsement (The ‘If you’ve heard one album, you’ve heard them all’ scenario), but I believe that while this album is an extension of their last couple of release to some extent, it’s also a perfection of what they’ve attempted to do in the past as well. It’s hard to pick favourites as the album is perfect from start to finish. But at a push, the title track, ‘Cold Runs The River’, ‘Erodent’ and the opener ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’ are immediate favourites.

Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight (Inside Out Music)

Despite being branded a fine return to form, 2013’s ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ wasn’t quite up to the mark for me. It was good, but just not great. But ‘Theories Of Flight’ is the album I have been waiting from Fates Warning for some time. Ray Alder is in excellent form, and Jim Matheos sounds just as inspired on the song writing front. No further proof is needed beyond a listen to ‘From The Rooftops’, ‘Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen’, SOS’ and the lengthy epic ‘The Ghosts Of Home’.

 Voivod – Post Society (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this isn’t officially an album, but I found it’s worthy of its place here, so here it is. Voivod have packed some great tunes on this E.P., and proven beyond any doubt that there’s still life in this veteran act. The title track is a rawer edged up-tempo rocker that works in typically Voivod like fashion, while ‘We Are Connected’ is a driving track that is equal parts old school and modern sounding. Voivod fans who haven’t checked this out should. Voivod lives!

Megadeth – Dystopia (Universal Music)

To be honest, when I first heard this album, I swore it was never going to end up in my top ten for 2016. Yes, it’s miles above the cringe worthy ‘Super Collider’ (2013), but I just couldn’t get over how raw Dave Mustaine’s voice is on this latest effort. But once I got over that stumbling block, there was no denying that the reshuffled line up of the band had produced a winner this time around. ‘The Threat Is Real’ is a perfect opener that announces the band’s return to form’, while ‘Post American World’, ‘Lying In State’ and the band’s cover of Fear’s ‘Foreign Policy’ just further reinforce the notion of Megadeth’s return.

Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis (Warner Bros. Records)

Biffy Clyro have always been a bit hit and miss for me in the past, with their albums a mix of some great tracks and some real fillers. But ‘Ellipsis’ really caught my ear in a big way. It’s still a bit left of centre, and not everything featured on the album is a classic, but when it works, it works. Examples of some of the best the band has to offer comes in the form of ‘Friends And Enemies’, ‘Re-Arrange’, the stunning ‘Medicine’, ‘Flammable’ and the huge anthem like ‘Howl’. Put this one down to a guilty pleasure outside the metal realm.

Redemption – The Art Of Loss (Metal Blade Records)

I felt that Redemption went off the boil with 2011’s ‘This Mortal Coil’, with the album sounding like the band was going through the motions. But lo and behold, the progressive rock outfit have bounced back, and sounding better than ever. There’s not a huge change of sound and direction from what the band have delivered before, but Alder sounds inspired once again, with ‘Hope Dies Last’, ‘Damaged’ and ‘Thirty Silver’ showcasing what the band are truly capable of when inspired.

Top Ten Songs For 2016

I make no secret of the fact that this really is a continuation of my top ten favourites of 2016 listed above. So what makes up this list? Well, it’s really albums that don’t quite have the same consistency all the way through, but still have enough killer tracks to make them worth checking out.

Steven Tyler – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me (From ‘We're All Somebody From Somewhere’)

It’s taken a few years, but Tyler finally unveiled his debut solo effort in 2016, and I’ll be damned if it was better than I was expecting, and a whole lot better than Aerosmith’s last album. Yes, it does have some issues (A little too country flavoured for my liking, and a couple of songs too long), it does have some hidden gems. And one of those gems is ‘Only Heaven’. To put it into simple terms, this is Tyler doing what he does best, and all without the help of his regular sidekicks. And it rocks!

Soto – Time (From ‘Divak’)

If you liked the first Soto album, you’ll no doubt love ‘Divak’. Jeff Scott Soto continues his foray into modern heavy rock for a second effort under his surname, and it’s a winner all round. There’s plenty to pick out as a favourite here, but it’s the slower paced and heavy Black Sabbath influenced ‘Time’ that wins the coveted spot here. Soto’s vocals and hooks are in full force, while the band packs plenty of punch on the musical front to match.

Metal Church – Sky Falls In (From ‘XI’)

The announcement of Mike Howe returning to Metal Church was the best news to emerge from 2015. But as thrilled as I was, ‘XI’ turned out to be a bit disappointing. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. ‘Sky Falls In’ is one of the stronger tracks on the album, and one that showcases how much the band and Howe have grown in their twenty-three years apart. Progressive, heavy and catchy, this track really is one of the stellar efforts. Here’s hoping that when the band return, it’s be a worthy contender to 1991’s ‘The Human Factor’.

Steven Wilson – Happiness III (From ‘4½’)

After being a little letdown with ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ last year, I was hoping for something a little more satisfying with his new release. And sure enough, this stopgap E.P. does boast enough to keep me believing that Wilson can still create magic. While it does bear a slight similarity to ‘Postcard’ from 2001’s ‘Grace For Drowning’, I can help but love ‘Happiness III’ for what it is. Catchy, up-tempo and easy on the ears, this track is typically Wilson like, and the kind of stuff fans like me will praise to no end.

Soilwork – Helsinki (From ‘Death Resonance’)

While technically not a new album as such, this compilation is the kind of release I love from my favourite groups. Aside from boasting a host of hard to find tracks, this collection also features a couple of new tunes from Soilwork, one of which is the opening track ‘Helsinki’. Not too far removed from the recent direction found on their critically acclaim 2015 release 'The Ride Majestic', 'Helsinki' is hook-laden, guitar heavy track that is a worthy addition to the band’s vast and ever growing catalogue.

Black Sabbath – Cry All Night (From ‘The End’)

I wasn’t expecting much from an E.P. that contains leftover tracks from their 2013 album ‘13’ (Especially given the disappointment of shelling out money for the the bonus track 'Naïveté In Black'), but surprisingly enough, the four new tracks offered in ‘The End’ are strong efforts that could have easily been slotted onto their last album. It was hard to single out any one track, but I think on ‘Cry All Night’, Iommi really stands out on the guitar front, and when it’s fused together with Ozzy’s inspired melodies, you have one killer track.

Anthrax – You Gotta Believe (From ‘For All Kings’)

Much like a couple of the album’s featured in this send top ten, Anthrax’s latest was a real mixed bag of killer tracks mixed with a bunch of filler. And it’s a shame too, because I loved 2011’s ‘Worship Music’. One of the true killer cuts is ‘You Gotta Believe’. It’s hardly anything new for Anthrax, but musically this had a bit more to say than most of what was on the album. Belladonna clearly still has the pipes, but musically, ‘For All Kings’ is a bit hit and miss.

Death Angel – The Moth (From ‘The Evil Divide’)

If there’s a track that signals Death Angel’s intentions from the word go, it has to be the album opener ‘The Moth’. Full of tight knit thrash riffing, powerful vocals and some truly searing solos, this track has it all – In spades! Death Angel show no signs of slowing down, still remain a firm favourite of mine. The only reason it’s on this list is because it is a little one dimensional overall. With a little bit of variation in tempos and moods, this would have been a firm favourite of 2016.

Katatonia – Serein (From ‘The Fall Of Hearts’)

I’m a huge fan of Katatonia, and they’ve rarely disappointed. And to be perfectly honest, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is a another flawless album from the Swedes. The only problem is that the band has reached the point where they’re not too hard to mine anything outside their comfort zone. But that’s merely a personal grip, because as I mentioned, this album is damn near perfect. My pick of the album would have to be ‘Serein’. It’s a classy heavy driving rocker, which is the kind of song that Katatonia used to produce in the past with fantastic results.

Diamond Head – Bones (From ‘Diamond Head’)

For the better part of the last quarter century, Diamond Head has been living off old memories. But lo and behold, the band are back with a new album that truly rocks, and one that's every bit worthy of their legendary status. While not everything on the album is a classic, the addition of vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen has an undeniable positive effect on the band, with Diamond Head’s latest the best they’re produced in an age (I'm thinking at least as far back as 1993!). If proof is needed, then check out ‘Bones’. This track rocks in a huge way, without straying too far into nostalgia territory.

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best Of 2015

The Best Of 2015

Well, another year has gone, and while I haven’t managed to dedicate much time to my much neglected computer (Which is a good thing I guess, as I’ve spent a lot more time with the family this year!), I have been keeping up to date with what 2015 has had to offer on the music front.

So without any fanfare, here my personal take on the best ten releases 2015 has produced. Oh, and it goes without saying, they’re in no particular order.

Killing Joke – Pylon (Spinefarm Records)

U.K. industrial punk/rock outfit Killing Joke have only gone from strength to strength since the original line-up reformed some five years ago. Combining the aggressive and dense atmosphere of 2006’s ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ with the melodic overtones of 2012’s ‘MMXII’, ‘Pylon’ is Killing Joke at their best, with tracks such as ‘Dawn Of The Hive’, ‘New Cold War’, ‘War On Freedom’ and ‘Delete’ proving that there’s plenty of life left in the cult outfit some thirty-five years after the release of the debut effort.

Symphony X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast Records)

This New Jersey based progressive/power metal outfit have always delivered consistent and strong albums, and ‘Underworld’ is no exception. And while I’ve enjoyed the band’s last couple of releases, I can’t help but feel that the keen sense of melody and heaviness is back with a force not heard since their 2002 masterpiece ‘The Odyssey’. ‘To Hell And Back’ and ‘Without You’ are my picks.

Chaos Divine – Colliding Skies (Firestarter Music)

Over the last decade, Australia’s progressive rock/metal scene has really started to produce some truly world class acts. And Perth outfit Chaos Divine is one of them. Although I’ve enjoyed moments on their first couple of albums, it’s with their third effort ‘Colliding Skies’ that has really caught my attention. Casting aside the metallic aspect of their sound for something a bit more melodic, the band shine on gems such as ‘Landmines’, ‘Badge Of Honour’ and ‘The Shepherd’.

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast Records)

Given how much I loved 2013’s ‘Circle’ (Along with my son, who ranks the album as one of his favourites!), I was a little apprehensive about the Finn’s latest effort. And after my first run through the album, I can say that I was a little underwhelmed. But over time, it was clear that the album wasn’t a carbon copy of their last release, but an album that showcased the band’s willingness to step outside their comfort zone and try on some new sounds. From the aggression of ‘The Skull’, the Middle Eastern tinged ‘Death Of A King’ to the heavy and melodic title track, ‘Under The Red Cloud’ is a worthy follow-up to their highly acclaimed ‘Circle’.
Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (Metal Blade Records)

Armored Saint has always been a reliable act who delivers rock solid albums. Sure, some are stronger than others, but they’ve never released what you would call a bad album. And in my personal opinion, this album is up there with their best. It’s clear that the veteran band set out to make an album that combines all the best elements of the band’s sound, but with a slant more towards the future than the past. And it worked! ‘Win Hands Down’ is a powerful opener, while ‘Mess’ and the guitar driven ‘With A Full Head Of Steam’ are classic Armored Saint. But in terms of personal favourites, you can’t go past ‘Muscle Memory’ and ‘That Was Then, Way Back When’.
The Night Flight Orchestra - Skyline Whispers (Coroner Records)

The best way to sum up The Night Flight Orchestra’s sound is to combine the muscle of ‘70’s hard rock with equal measure of the slick/cheesiness of the ‘80’s. Although my description probably doesn’t sound all that appealing, ‘Skyline Whispers’ is probably the best album never recorded from that bygone classic era of rock! Almost everything is a winner on this release, but ‘Living For The Nighttime’, ‘Stilletto’ and the amazing ‘I Ain’t Old, I Ain’t Young’ are the cuts worthy of singling out.

Chris Cornell – Higher Truth (Universal Music Enterprises)

Seemingly influenced by the vibe and feel of 2011’s live album ‘Songbook’, ‘Higher Truth’ is a largely stripped back/intimate semi-acoustic affair. And one that draws out the best within Cornell both vocally and in the song writing sense. Anyone who still remains skeptical of Cornell's ability to deliver in solo form after his critically panned 'Scream' album from 2009 need only check out 'Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart', 'Dead Wishes', 'Let Your Eyes Wander' and the title track 'Higher Truth'.

Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media Records)

Grindcore isn’t a genre that’s known for its innovation or reinvention, but then Napalm Death isn’t your average grindcore outfit. With every new release, Napalm Death seems to deliver the goods with every new album, and ‘Apex Predator – Easy Meat’ is another stellar release from the veteran act. There’s a bit of everything on offer here, from the somewhat melodic (‘Smash A Single Digit’), the experimental (‘Dear Slum Landlord...’ and ‘Adversarial / Copulating Snakes’) and the downright crushing (‘Timeless Flogging’ and ‘Stubborn Stains’), with an overall effect that both crushing and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment (Inside Out Records)

As good as Neal Morse’s solo efforts have been, I can’t help but feel a little magic is missing on them over the last few years. So entering into ‘The Grand Experiment’, I wasn’t expecting too much. But damn me if Morse hasn’t delivered one of his best in years. There’s something to be said for capturing that something special on the spur of the moment in the studio, and this album has plenty of energy, spark and creativity to prove it. ‘The Call’ is without a doubt a great opener, but it’s the title track and ‘Waterfall’ that really stand out.

The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak (Three Dog Music)

The Winery Dogs’ debut effort was a solid release, but primary sounded exactly like it did on paper. That is Richie Kotzen’s vocals and guitars blended with Billy Sheehan’s trademark bass drills and Mike Portnoy’s drumming. But on ‘Hot Streak’, the trio has well and truly pushed their sound forward, and delivered an album that boasts a bit more of a unique personality and identity. Top picks include ‘War Machine’, the title track, ‘Oblivion’ and the totally rocking ‘Captain Love’. Fans of the band’s debut have to pick this one up!

Top Ten Songs For 2015

O.K., so this is really a list of my top twenty releases for 2015. But unlike the albums that made up my top ten list, these releases weren’t quite as strong as a whole to make the final cut. But having said that there are some great songs on these albums, which make them more than worthy of a special mention.

Ghost - His Is (From ‘Meliora’)

I’ll freely admit that Ghost’s third full-length release missed the mark with me. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it just hasn’t grabbed me like the two former releases did. But if there’s one track that does stand out it’s ‘He Is’. How could you not love a song dedicated to Statan delivered in what can only be described as pure pop genius? Love the guitar work, the harmonies and the lyrics on this one.

Blackberry Smoke - Let Me Help You (Find The Door) (From ‘Holding All The Roses’)

I’m not a huge fan of country rock, but Blackberry Smoke is one of the few exceptions. The acoustic direction of their latest album suits them well, and this opening track is an absolute blast! I particularly love it when the guitar solos kick in, and the message within the song.

Black Star Riders – Blindsided (From ‘The Killer Instinct’)

This was without a doubt a solid second release from Black Star Riders, but perhaps a little too similar in sound and direction to their debut to really stand out enough. But when the band did step out of their comfort zone, they came up with some great stuff. ‘Blindsided’ is a prime example of this. Ricky Warwick is at his best on tracks like this, and the band is in moody classic rock form throughout.

Moonspell – Extinct (From ‘Extinct’)

Portugal’s Moonspell can be a bit hit and miss at times, but when they get it right, they really do get in right. The title track from their latest release is the perfect balance of gothic metal and melodic death metal, with subtle progressive/symphonic influences seeping into the mix. Harsh guitars, Fernando Ribeiro’s varied vocal approaches and the eclectic mix of musical diversity on this one track is everything you could ask from the band.

Clutch – Firebirds! (From ‘Psychic Warware’)

There’s not a real lot to say here. When Clutch is on fire, they’re on fire! They’re one of the few bands out there that can deliver classic guitar driven hard rock without sounding like it’s been done before (Even if everything has been done under the sun!). Another great album from the band, and ‘Firebirds!’ is a good indication of what’s offered throughout.

Bill Ward – Ashes (From ‘Accountable Beasts’)

Bill Ward has always been somewhat left of centre on the musical scale, and ‘Accountable Beasts’ is no exception. Quite experimental and different from what Black Sabbath fans would expect, I have grown to love all of Ward’s sole releases, including his latest effort. ‘Ashes’ is the most aggressive and metallic anything Ward has ever released, and just one of my favourites on the new album, even if the production and mix are a bit off putting.

Soto – The Fall (From ‘Inside The Vertigo’)

Jeff Scott Soto is quite the chameleon, with his vast resume covering everything from pop/rock, progressive rock, power metal and everything in-between. His latest project (Simply titled Soto) is more along the lines of hard rock with a modern edge, and it’s a rocker. ‘The Fall’ is a good taste of what this outfit has to offer, with plenty of guitar riffs, powerful vocals (Of course) and lots of modern groove.

Tremonti – Arm Yourself (From ‘Cauterize’)

Mark Tremonti has certainly been working around the clock, with barely a moment spared between releases from Alter Bridge and his own solo efforts. Not unlike 2012’s ‘All I Was’, ‘Cauterize’ is an album of tracks that are primarily guitar driven and rock hard. Although there no huge leap of sound from his first album and this new one, tracks such as ‘Arm Yourself’ do stand out enough to overlook any real disappointment.

Queensrÿche – Hellfire (From ‘Condition Hüman’)

I had high hopes for the new Queensrÿche album, but while it’s a good album, it doesn’t quite eclipse their self-titled release from a couple of years ago (Except on the production side of things). But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its great moments. ‘Hellfire’ is an absolute throwback to the band’s glory days (1984 through to 1994), but with a distinct lean towards the future in places. Great vocals from Todd La Torre, some nice lead breaks and a catchy chorus cleverly masking the dark undertones in the verses, all of which sounds like classic Queensrÿche.

Steven Wilson – ‘Happy Returns’ (From ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’)

I love Steven Wilson, but for some reason, I found his latest effort a bit of a struggle to fully enjoy from start to finish. Maybe it’s just me and where my head has been at (Or isn’t?) whenever I go to listen to the album. But either way, I can still find a lot of favourite moments on the album, and its songs like ‘Happy Returns’ where Wilson really shows what he’s capable of. All of Wilson’s trademarks are here - Beautiful melodies, haunting lyrics and some truly outstanding guitar work. In short – Genius!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mark Kelson - Resurgence

Mark Kelson
Audio Cave

Having spent his twenty year career in a various musical groups (Most notably The Eternal, and to a lesser extent Cryptal Darkness, Alternative 4 and InSomnius Dei), vocalist/multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, engineer, producer, mixer Mark Kelson has decided to take a step into the unknown and try his hand as a solo artist.
After The Eternal completed their touring commitment in support of 2013’s ‘When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade’, Kelson locked himself away in his studio (Kelsonic Studios) and started work on his debut solo offering. Almost a year later, Kelson has emerged with ‘Resurgence’. And as expected, it’s another first class effort from the Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based musician.
Upon first listen, it would be fair to say that ‘Resurgence’ doesn’t stray all that far from the sound and direction Kelson took The Eternal. But to describe the album outright as such would be doing the album a disservice, because if the listen truly allows the album to sink in, there’s no mistaking the differences between Kelson’s other band, and Kelson as a solo artist.
The album begins in a stirring fashion with the mostly instrumental piece ‘Samana (Part I)’. The gradual rise in keyboards and piano give a very Pink Floyd feel, while the spoken word piece and the introduction of drums only add to the overall experience.
After the short opener, the album truly gets underway with ‘The Only Way Out Is In’. Clocking in at over ten minutes, this track is somewhat of an epic, but not the kind of track that overstays its welcome. Vocally and lyrically, Kelson digs deep and covers some fairly deep and personal issues, and the music reflects this personal journey perfectly. Initially starting out with Kelson on guitar, the song soon evolves into classic rock with a distinctly ‘70’s vibe (Again, influences from Pink Floyd and David Gilmour are evident), with Kelson really stretching out on the guitar front, and from a song writing sense, almost pushing his sound into progressive rock territory.
‘My Own Degradation’ takes on a heavier and more driven edge, with Kelson exercising his inner guitar demons with harsh riffing, powerful hard hitting drums and some extensive solo passages, all the while ensuring that the choruses literally jump out at the listener. Meanwhile, ‘Ocean Blue’ is an emotive and heartfelt track that maintains an ambience throughout without losing any of its singer/songwriter vibe, while ‘Ācariya’ (Which is preceded by the short sound effect laden piece ‘Wide Awake’) comes from the other end of the spectrum where its perhaps the album’s most straight forward sounding heavy rock track with a slow and relaxed pace.
Although it’s hard to pin down one particular favourite from the album (The album is designed to be listened to as a whole, rather than by their individual track selections), I’d select ‘The Aftermath Of Apathy’ as one of the albums stronger cuts. From its slow building Pink Floyd/Porcupine Tree like keyboard introduction, Kelson introduces a steady drum pattern that’s as addictive as his vocal melodies, before bringing it all home with a stunning chorus that sticks in the mind long after the song has finished. In short, this song ranks as one of Kelson’s best, and a taste of his own unique style.
Finishing up is the short ‘Samana (Part II)’, which follows the same vein as the opener, and closes the album perfectly.
In conclusion, while Kelson has rarely let me down, ‘Resurgence’ is an absolute triumph for him as a songwriter, a performer and a producer. Fans of Kelson’s former efforts should hunt this album down. It’s guaranteed to live up to expectations.

For more information on Mark Kelson, check out - https://www.facebook.com/MarkKelsonAus

© Justin Donnelly

Segression - Painted In Blood

Painted In Blood
Murder Machine Records

I’ll be the first to admit that Wollongong (N.S.W., Australia) based outfit Segression have never really impressed me that much. Sure, there have been moments where I’ve found the odd song enjoyable, but for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that the band have been nothing more than a band that’s struggled to find an identity that they could truly call their own. Instead, they seemed to adopt whatever style happened to be popular at the time, which ultimately makes them look like a second rate copy of something far stronger sounding.
Three years on from their comeback album (2011’s ‘Never Dead’), Segression (Who now comprise of vocalist/bassist Chris Rand, guitarists Mick “MK” Katselos and Sven Sellin and drummer Adam “ADZ” Bunnell) has returned with their sixth full-length effort ‘Painted In Blood’. And it’s the kind of album that’s bound to take many by surprise.
The opening title track ‘Painted In Blood’ (Which is also the first song to be given the promotional video clip treatment) is a crushing effort that clearly sets the tone of the album in both style and direction. Laced with thick Lamb Of God like grooves, and boasting some truly aggressive growls from Rand (The likes of which have never been heard before on any Segression album in the past); ‘Painted In Blood’ is by far the heaviest the band have ever sounded. Thankfully, the rap influences of the bands past work have been ditched, and Rand’s clean vocal harmonies in the choruses sound stronger and work well at giving the song a bit of change from the relentless bludgeoning assault.
The follow-up track ‘Refuse To React’ and the faster paced ‘Killing Kingdom’ follow a similar path laid down by the opener, but with a touch more variation on the guitar riff front, while the catchy/heavily grooved  ‘Grounded’ is as close to anything the band get to in terms of revisiting their past. And yet it’s still head and shoulders stronger in song writing quality than anything they’ve done previously.
A personal favourite on the album is ‘Pale Beneath’ with its tribal infused drum patterns, broader sense of dynamics in the production and impressive solo, while ‘War Cry’, the melodic ‘Scar Me Now’, ‘Higher’ (Which again showcases some great clean vocals from Rand) and the slow building closer ‘Burn This Ending’ are further picks worthy of pointing out.
While ‘Painted In Blood’ is far from a perfect album (The album’s overall Lamb Of God sound is a little too much at times, and the production from Rand and Sellin comes across as a little uneven at times), it is without any doubt the strongest sounding release to emerge from Segression to date.

For more information on Segression, check out - https://www.facebook.com/Segression

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best Of 2014

The Best Of 2014

Despite the best of intentions, I didn’t get to write much this year. The growing demands from work, a move in homes, the ongoing failures of my chosen internet provider - and more recently, a newly discovered fault in the telephone line – have all contributed to my absence from the worldwide web.

But while I’ve been absent from the keyboard, I haven’t forsaken music one bit. I still managed to find the time to listen to new music. And like every year, 2014 produced its fair share of magnificent gems, or disappointments. As so without further ado, he’s what I consider my personal favourite of 2014.

Big Wreck – Ghosts (Anthem Records)

The second post reunion album from the Canadian’s proved to be a bit of a sleeper for me. Initially, I though the album was a little too slow and moody compared to their former efforts. But after giving the album time to grow, it turned out to be an absolute winner. The album’s worth owning for ‘Hey Mama’ alone.

Comeback Kid – Die Knowing (Victory Records)

Canada’s Comeback Kid has always impressed me, but there’s something about this fifth studio album from them that totally blew me away. Maybe it’s the infectious melodies, or the catchiness and brutality of the riffs. Either way, this is without a doubt one of my favourite hardcore/punk album’s for 2014.

Winger - Better Days Comin’ (Frontiers Records)

Hard rockers Winger have always been a bit hit and miss with me – especially since their reformation. But if truth be told, the band’s releases seem to be getting stronger, and ‘Better Days Comin’’ is evidence to support this. Although it does have a couple of less than stellar tracks, ‘Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine’, ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Tin Soldier’ are up there with the best the band has ever offered.

KXM – KXM (Rat Pak Records)

I’m always wary of the so-called supergroup. But lo and behold, here’s one that not just lives up to the hype – but exceeds it. Surprisingly enough, while King's X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick and Lynch Mob/ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch are the big names involved, it’s actually Army Of Anyone/Korn drummer Ray Luzier that steak the show. Part hard rock, part groove and experimental in places, KXM’s debut effort turned out to be beyond my expectations.

Flying Colors – Second Nature (Mascot Label Group)

Although strong in places, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by all-star neo progressive rock outfit Flying Color’s self titled debut effort. But on the second album, the issues that plagued the first album (In particular the album’s inconsistent direction and songwriting) are all issues relegated to the past. The opening trio of ‘Open Up Your Eyes’, the heavier ‘Mask Machine’ and ‘Bombs Away’ showcase the band at their best.

California Breed – California Breed (Frontiers Records)

From the ashes of the critically acclaimed Black Country Communion comes California Breed. Although featuring half of the former group (Bassist/Front Man Glenn Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham), this isn’t a carbon copy of their former act. Heavier, funkier and rooted in 70’s groove, the album is another Glenn Hughes vehicle worthy of his legendary status.

Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition) (Independent Release)

This was a bit of a tricky release for me, because as much as I love Ginger’s output, this isn’t one of his more memorable releases as a whole. But while some of the tracks fall flat on their face, the good tracks are absolutely stellar. And that’s because this is something of a band release rather than a true solo effort, and it’s clearly evident in what the album offers overall. Tracks worthy of genius status include ‘Drive’, ‘The Order Of The Dog’, ‘Burn This City Down’ and the title track ‘Albion’.

Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this new album from the reactivated Sanctuary isn’t all that far from the sadly defunct Nevermore. And yes, this album will never sit stack against the bands past efforts in the eyes of the diehards. But I don’t care. A good album is a good album, and this one is a real surprise winner for me. Yes, Warrel Dane’s vocals can’t hit the high notes of the likes heard the last time Sanctuary were an active band (Some twenty-five years ago!), but Dane is in terrific form, and so is the band. Check out the slamming opener ‘Arise And Purify’, the moody ‘Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)’ and the shredding ‘Frozen’. This is not an album to disappoint Nevermore fans.

Mark Kelson – Resurgence (Audio Cave)

Having been a huge fan of The Eternal throughout the years, I was keen to hear what front man Mark Kelson would come up with on his debut effort as a solo artist. It’s again another one of those albums that takes a little while to sink in, but when it does, it blew me away. The album takes a bit of Pink Floyd, adds in a dash of The Tea Party, spices thinks up with equal parts progressive rock and hard rock, laid on a base of The Eternal and wrapped in plenty of melancholy. Essentially, it’s Kelson through and though. I’d single out a track, but this is the kind of album that truly needs to be listened to from start to finish to really appreciate.

Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Century Media Records)

After writing up a review of this album, a friend of mind stated that there wasn’t really a question of whether the album was a move forward for the band, but more a statement. This release really is a defiant statement of who they are. And I totally agree. I rarely accept more of the same without progression, but in Triptykon’s case, I’ll gladly settle for what’s on offer. This is grim, primate, suffocating and morbid. And really, what else would you want from Thomas Gabriel Fischer.

Top Ten Songs For 2014

This is really an excuse for me to make a top twenty list for the year. These album’s didn’t quite make the top list, but they’re worthy of an honourable mention because they all at least boast a few absolutely awesome tracks. So here it goes...

Wolf – Shark Attack (From ‘Devil Seed’)

As much as I love it when band’s push beyond the realms of expectations, there are times when all I want is a bit of traditional heavy metal. And one of the best at it is Sweden’s Wolf. ‘Devil Seed’ (The band’s seventh effort) is up there with the band’s best, and one of the best tracks on offer certainly has to be the belting ‘Shark Attack’.

Decapitated – Moth Defect (From ‘Blood Mantra’)

I was one of the few who genuinely loved 2011’s ‘Carnival Is Forever’. So it’s would come as no surprise to find I was really hanging out to hear ‘Blood Mantra’. And while I think the band sound better than ever, I still feel that there’s something about the previous album that stands out as my favourite. Despite that, ‘Moth Defect’, the limited edition bonus track from ‘Blood Mantra’, is a definite favourite from the band. The track is brutal, progressive and delivered with perfection. And really, what more could you ask for?

Tantric – Cynical (From ‘Blue Room Archives’)

At this point in their career, I pretty much know what I’m going to get from a Tantric release. But with ‘Blue Room Archives’, Tantric front man Hugo Ferreira has put together a compilation of sorts that brings together a variety of songs under the Tantric banner that didn’t fit any of the band’s former releases in the feel sense. It makes sense, but a shame nonetheless because ‘Cynical’ (Which also features ex-Dark New Day vocalist Brett Hestla) is a great track.

Skindred – Kill The Power (From ‘Kill The Power’)

The follow-up to 2011’s ‘Union Black’ was a bit of a middling affair for me. There were too many slow and atmospheric efforts and not enough rock for my taste. But ‘Kill The Power’ did have its moment, and no more so than with the title track.

IQ – Knucklehead (From ‘The Road Of Bones’ (Special Edition))

As much as I love British neo-progressive rock outfit IQ, sometimes their album don’t quite hit me in the same way as some of their others. ‘The Road Of Bones’ is an O.K. album, but it’s the bonus disc that really won me over. A prime example is ‘Knucklehead’, which is uncharacteristically heavy sounding for the band, and a truly unique track from the band. As you would have already guessed, it’s only available on the bonus disc.

Transatlantic – Black As The Sky (From ‘Kaleidoscope’)

Much like IQ, I actually found the bonus disc on the new Transatlantic album more enticing than the album itself (In particular the band’s take on Yes’ ‘And You And I’ and Procol Harum’s ‘Conquistador’). But after allowing the album to really sink in, I found ‘Kaleidoscope’ was a true return to form for the band, and easily a more satisfying album than 2009’s ‘The Whirlwind’. My personal favourite is without a doubt the truly collaborative ‘Black As The Sky’.

Sevendust – Upbeat Sugar (From ‘Time Travellers & Bonfires’)

This album is somewhat of a filler release from the band until they release a new album. Half the album is acoustic renditions of old classic efforts from the band, and half are newer efforts. So while it sounds cool, it’s not entirely satisfying. But if there’s one track that stands out, it’s ‘Upbeat Sugar’. Don’t be surprised if this gets the electric treatment somewhere down the track given how much it rocks already in acoustic form!

Anathema – You’re Not Alone (From ‘Distant Satellites’)

Anathema has hit a formula, and they’re not willing to let it go just yet. What that means is that while I enjoyed ‘Distant Satellites’, I found that after three album’s of the same thing, it doesn’t have the same impact that it did when I first heard 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re here’. But that’s not to say that the band can throw the odd curveball every now and then. Much like ‘Panic’ from 2001’s ‘A Fine Day To Exit’, ‘You’re Not Alone’ is completely different from anything from anything else on the album, and is a reminder that Anathema can sometimes break free of their self imposed style and song writing cell.

Soundgarden – Kristi (From ‘Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path’)

O.K., so this is lifted from a compilation, but of the previously unreleased material featured on the expansive three disc set, ‘Kristi’ is classic old-school Soundgarden. Downbeat, heavy and dense and impassioned with Chris Cornell’s unique vocals, this track is a must have for true Soundgarden fans.

Pain Of Salvation – Falling Home (From ‘Falling Home’)

Much like the Sevendust release listed above, ‘Falling Home’ is a release which sees Pain Of Salvation reinterpret some of their recent vintage material in acoustic form. While some don’t quite hit the mark, some work like a wonder. But the real stand out cut is the new title track ‘Falling Home’. Daniel Gildenlöw, despite his flaws, is still a genius song writer when he puts his mind to it.

The Best D.V.D. Of 2014

Peter Gabriel – Back To Front (Peter Gabriel Ltd And Real World Productions Ltd/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd)

As a fan of Peter Gabriel, I’ll admit to be a little frustrated with his lack of studio work in recent years. But despite my grumbles about his studio ventures (Or lack thereof), it’s hard to criticise the legend’s efforts on the visual front. ‘Back To Front’, which celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his watershed ‘So’ release from 1986, is another step forward in terms of concert performance. Rather than just deliver the album in its entirety and some greatest hits selection to bolster the set, Gabriel divides the concert in the three thirds, with each set building up in members and momentum to what can only be described as a true fans’ fantasy. The film is filmed with an intensity I’ve never seen before, and the musicianship is absolutely second to none. Sure Gabriel is showing his age in places, but that’s easily overlooked given the stunning results of the performance shown. Does this compensate for a true studio release from Gabriel? No (Even if it does feature one new song – ‘Show Yourself’). But given the likelihood of Gabriel producing a new full-length album, this is a more than worthy filler effort for the meantime.

The Best Book Of 2014

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself (Simon & Schuster)

Billy Idol may have made my 2014 for the biggest disappointment on the album front, but he won me over on the book front. With his self penned autobiography, Idol lays done his story (Which is his version of events I might add) from his early days in England, Chelsea and Generation X, through to his glory days as a pin-up and MTV icon. Idol is quite candid and detailed about his formative years helping establish the growing punk movement, and sheds light on his fast rise to fame within a couple of years after returning to the U.S. in the early ‘80’s. But what really captivated me was Idol’s tale of growing drug dependency in the late ‘80’s, his personal insight into particular songs, his failures (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’, and his relationship with guitarist Steve Stevens and partner Perri Lister), his explanation for his absence from the music scene for twelve years and his ultimate triumph that saw him return to splendour in grandiose form. The book does lack a bit of detail (There’s no mention of ‘Don’t Need A Gun’, his reunion with Stevens in 2002 on VH1 Storytellers, his 2006 Christmas album and his contributions to various other artists), and does feel a little rushed from around 1990 onwards, but is solid enough to answer most of the questions I’ve always had about the legendary rocker since I first seriously invested in his brand of rock/soul/punk rock way back in 1986.

Biggest Surprise Of 2014

2014 saw a lot of surprises, but none more so than the retreat of Jason Newsted from all things related to the public eye. Despite some well received releases in 2013 (The E.P. ‘Metal’ and the full-length follow up ‘Heavy Metal Music’), Newsted laid his band to rest and closed down all his social network sites in September without any real reason. What triggered Newsted’s retreat from the spotlight is anyone’s guess, but the speed at which it was carried out does cause some concern. On a personal note, I think it’s a real shame. Newsted’s band released some great releases, and I was seriously looking forward to hear what the band was going to come up with next.
Best Newcomer Of 2014


O.K., so technically ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ isn’t the band’s first album and the album was officially released at the very tail end of 2013. But let’s overlook the technicalities and focus on what matters here. And that is that Icecocoon’s ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ is without a doubt one of the strongest independent Australian releases I’ve heard in the last year. Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Owen Gillett has put together an album that’s hard to pigeonhole, but could be best described as a unique take on a hybrid post rock/progressive sound. This is an album that needs to be heard from start to finish to fully appreciate. Tracks worthy of a listen include ‘It’s All On The Line’ and ‘About Loving Someone’. Here’s hoping there’s more to come from the band in 2015.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2014

This award really had me torn this year. For the better part of the year, the dubious honour of disappointment of the year was bestowed upon Def Leppard for their so-called deluxe edition of ‘Slang’. But given that I found the time to write up a review of the band’s re-release, and have already found an avenue to vent my opinion on all the things that the definitive re-release lacked (From a huge fan of the said album and from a diehard’s perspective), the decision kind of made itself. As a lifelong follower of Billy Idol, I have to say that ‘Kings & Queens Of The Underground’ is a real letdown after his huge return to form on 2005’s ‘Devil’s Playground’ (Barring the god awful ‘Yellin’ At The Xmas Tree’). Rather than follow his rock/punk strengths and trademark sound, Idol instead tried to reinvent himself for a new generation. And the results are bland at best. The album starts off with some solid tracks (In particular ‘Bitter Pill’, ‘Can’t break Me Down’ and ‘Save Me Now’), but eventually things go from bland to blander with most of the album sounding too middle of the road, modern (Both in terms of production and in musical delivery) and forgettable. And don’t even start on me about the absence of guitarist Steve Stevens throughout the course of the album. Idol has always been a bit patchy on album, and admittedly, some albums (1986’s ‘Whiplash Smile’ and 1990’s ‘Charmed Life’) are stronger than some of his others (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’). I was really looking forward to this album, but after giving it some time, I honestly feel that this is one of Idol’s inconsistent and disappointing releases to date.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2015

There’s a lot of album’s I’m looking forward to in 2014, but the one I’m most looking forward to is the possibility of something new from Travis Meeks/Days Of The New in 2015. Meeks has some serious personal issues over the years, but apparently he’s back to playing, and in more recent times, back to recording. 2001 was the last we heard anything new from Meeks, and while the reunion of the original line-up may have sidetracked things for a little bit (The band has since split once again after completing the tour), I’m hoping Meeks (Who was once again in the news with a brush with the law in October, which put the reunion line-up celebration to an abrupt halt) is ready to face his demons, and finally put something new together and break the fan’s long running drought of anything new from the troubled musical genius.

© Justin Donnelly