2013’s Best Bits – Music

Lists are for suckers.  They’re subjective, open to challenge by anybody with an opinion and serve mostly to generate content when a blogger doesn’t have anything worth saying.

Ergo, list post? Yup, list post.

My favourite album of the year was “The Arsonist” by Deadlock (Napalm Records, 2013)

The Arsonist, by German melodeath riff-meisters Deadlock
.The Arsonist, by German melodeath riff-meisters Deadlock

Consulting my handy dandy playlist count in Last.FM and cross-referencing it with my Media Monkey music organising software, it seems that “The Arsonist”, the sixth album from German band Deadlock was my most played album of the year.  That seems about right – it was very much the soundtrack to my summer holiday this year.

Here’s a slice of their single “I’m Gone” to give you an idea of what rocked my 2013:

The thing that jumps out at you, particularly if you don’t listen to much contemporary metal, is the interplay between  gutteral screamer John Gahlert and the soaring vocals of Sabine Scherer and it’s this sonic distinction which makes the band so enjoyable to listen to.

Well, that and the ten-tonne, face-melting riffs from Sebastian Reichl and Ferdinand Rewicki.  Love this band’s “Dead City Sleepers”, which careens through your headphones and speakers like an out-of-control juggernaut of eight-stringed, down-tuned Euro fury.

What more recommendation than that could one ask for?  Hang on a minute, don’t answer that one…

I also loved Powerwolf’s lupine, loopy latest slice of full moon-fearing Power Metal, “Preachers of the Night”.

 

If you don’t raise a smile at the insanity and absurdity of this mob, led by the brothers Greywolf (yes, quite) and operatic vocalist Attila Dorn, then I don’t know what to tell you.

This is the band’s fourth full-length release and rewards repeated listens with a selection of the catchiest metal anthems this side of the 1980s.  And that’s a good signifier – if you like your rock punchy, full of humour and thematically fixated on the travails of being a Catholic Werewolf in a world seemingly ill-suited to dealing with such a group.

My third most played album of the year came from stalwart Welsh Metal masters, Bullet for my Valentine, and their divisive release, “Temper Temper”.

 

The band have seemingly consigned the album to history less than a year after it came out, as they work on a new record for release at the end of 2014/first quarter of 2015, which may give you the impression that this album isn’t worth bothering with.

I’m not sure that this is the case – the very worst that you can say about “Temper Temper” is that it’s more of the same.  For me, that isn’t a terribly damning verdict – the songs are catchy and don’t outstay their welcome.  Neither do they seek to be especially innovative and I fear that this is where the backlash has come from this time around.

‘Meat and Potatoes melodic metal’ is how I’d term this release, and I’m happy with that – if that’s your bag, too, I recommend taking a listen to this album.

I also dug the second, self-titled release from Finnish melodic metallurgists, Battle Beast.

 

In an alternate universe, 80’s-style Ninja exploitation actioners are still a thing and what could be better than this band’s brand of fist-raising, traditional, hook-laden rock to soundtrack them?  New singer, same quality tunes.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out Amaranthe’s “The Nexus”, a release so polarising as to make the Bullet album look like a widely beloved insta-classic.

 

 

Yep, I can see why the none more Kvlt crowd would hate this band with a (hell) firey passion, but I’m a sucker for melody, keyboards and tempo and Amaranthe are an outfit who boast these elements and more.  In essence, they’re a noisy pop metal band whose songs could happily be covered by your latest Simon Cowell-backed major label band with minimal retooling.

In a year which I felt wasn’t the best for symphonic metal – I’ve not caught up with Leaves Eyes’ autumn release yet, so bear that in mind – Amaranthe gave me hummable tunes, blistering solos and MVP Elise Ryd’s fantastic vocals and splendidly camp Patrick Ullaeus directed videos to enjoy on the Tubes of You.

I hope your 2013 brought you an equal amount of musical enjoyment.

 

 

 

Back to School

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0CG9uUaIZI

Or, to put it another way, I’ve signed up for an evening class.  Mathematics has never been my strong point and it’s about time that I did something about that.  It’s the first time that I’ve taken an evening class in a subject that I wasn’t already intrigued by in some way.

I don’t like maths, maths doesn’t like me, but darn it – some good will come of this.  Possibly.

I’m imagining that my class is going to look something like this:

I do this all the time...

Totally legit, right?

 

More Than Meets The Eye – Europe!

Thank Cadburys Chocolate Bar –  it’s Friday!

After a week which can best be described as cold-ridden and generally unpleasant, I’m more than happy to unwind with one of the better aspects of the last seven days – fluffy-haired purveyors of peerless 80’s hard rock and gleaming-toothed Swedish troubadours – Europe!

Yes, the dudes from Upplands Vasby, Stockholm who released classic AOR, keyboard-drenched classic, “The Final Countdown”.  I’ve been playing their astonishingly good value “Greatest Hits” record throughout the week – 36 mp3 tracks for £4.99 from Amazon?  Don’t mind if I do! – and it really drives home what a fine band they were and continue to be.

Indeed, the cheese is strong with them from a contemporary perspective but many of those songs are undeniable works of genius.  See the song linked above, or their 1991 single, “I’ll Cry For You”:

Fun Fact – Power Metal fans of a certain stripe may know the Edguy cover of this song, which is equally charming.

And it’s not as if the band have rested on their laurels – they’re still making the rounds of festivals and headlining tours themselves, having been introduced to new audiences at recent bows at  Bloodstock and Download.  Say what you like about the faint whiff of Prästost given off by the band’s image – the hooks and insanely melodic songs more than cut the flatbrod…

Messed Up Metal Midweek Malarkey

Not a Mensa member - Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying
Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying

Today has been a weird one.  Take your pick from these bizarre Metal-related stories:

Wednesday morning began with the news that the frontman of As I Lay Dying and Austrian Death Machine, Tim Lambesis, had been arrested by police in Oceanside, California for allegedly trying to hire somebody to kill his estranged wife.  An already ill-advised gambit made all the more problematic by the fact that Lambesis’ intended hitman was an undercover cop.

Face? Meet palm.

As the day ends, Metal Hammer reports that former Obituary guitarist Allen West has been arrested for his part in running a meth lab.

See what I mean about this being a weird day?  It’s as if the darkest hopes and dreams of the Blabbermouth comment section have run amok and been uncoupled from the ID’s of entitled suburban comment thread trolls.

SMH, as the young people are saying…

 

Sonic Syndicate – the return?

Can it be?  Are Sweden’s Sonic Syndicate – back?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJcS60wFo9I

They’ve been on hiatus for a fair while, but this weekend’s video from their official SOSY YouTube channel indicates that Swedish Melodic Death Metal types Sonic Syndicate are working on new material, recording a new material and returning to give Blabbermouth comment trolls a reason to hone their oh-so-witty commentary anew (seriously, if YouTube’s comments section indicates the basest negativity of humanity, Blabbermouth’s vile repository of scum and villainy makes it looks like Mumsnet or something).

Should we expect new music from the band in 2014, then?  Or is an Autumn 2013 release but a pipe dream?

 

Jeff Hanneman – Slayer’s Shred Lord – 1964 to 2013

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Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, who died on May 2nd 2013 at 49 years old.

Sad news this morning – Slayer’s long-time guitar player and songwriter Jeff Hanneman has passed away at the age of 49.  The cause of death has been listed as liver failure, with many speculating that the guitarist’s brush with necrotizing fasciitis (following a spider bite) and the subsequent medication required to combat it will have played their part in his early passing.  So serious was this injury that it essentially sidelined Hanneman, compelling him to withdraw from Slayer’s regular touring schedule, with Exodus’ Gary Holt substituting for him from 2011 on.

Though the band’s Kerry King has long been the visual lynch pin of the band, Hanneman’s writing and – crucially – face-melting riffs are a large part of what made the band one of the Thrash Metal scene’s Big Four.   If you’re humming the rampaging chords from “Raining Blood” now, I can’t say as I blame you.

As my cable company have currently provided the 2010 Sofia Bulgaria show from the Big Four tour, replete with Slayer, I can think of no better way to remember the great guitarist’s blistering riffs and headbanging tunes.

RIP, Sir, RIP.

\M/ 

Deftones’ Chi Cheng passes away

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Chi Cheng image via Deep Schismic at Flickr

In sad news, Deftones bass player Chi Cheng’s family have announced that the musician passed away on Saturday April 13th.  He was 42 years old.

Cheng had been in a semi-comatose state since a car accident in November 2008, and had shown tentative responsiveness to stimuli in recent years, but never regained the ability to communicate with his family and carers.  His recovery had been adversely affected by losing his medical insurance and by infections which required expensive hospital treatment – fans and band mates alike contributed to his ongoing medical costs via benefit gigs and the One Love For Chi website.

Deftones were a band who emerged with the Nu-Metal scene in the late nineties and early part of the 2000’s, but endured as many of their contemporaries drifted out of fashion in the post-Emo rock scene thanks to a sound which blended the best parts of punk, metal and experimental rock – I’ve always compared them more to Black Sabbath jamming Radiohead songs in Fugazi’s rehearsal space – and by refraining from adopting the loutish posturing which so blighted a lot of their contemporaries.

The band have continued to record and tour with bassist Sergio Vega (formerly of Quicksand), releasing the excellent “Koi No Yokan” album last autumn.

It hardly needs saying, but he will be missed – R.I.P. Chi.

Transhuman Infinity and the Theory of Everything

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Keen followers of this  blog, ardent devotees of the nascent Scandinavian Symphonic Melocore scene and random Elize Ryd pervs duped this way via your custom Google searches – lend me your consciousness and read, won’t you please, an appreciation of the new Amaranthe album, “The Nexus”.

Without wishing to damn the band with the faintest of praise from the outset, their sound might best be described as that most hedged of bets, ‘musically diverse’.  The last time that I heard a band this keen to go off on one and veer between genres from song to song was on New Radicals‘ classic album “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too?” and that was a properly exhausting listening experience.  Amaranthe’s love of dropping in different musical elements is perhaps a bit more confined to metal and its sub-genres, but in its own way this album (and band) is equally capable of banjaxing casual listeners unprepared for the extent to which the group populate songs with everything and the kitchen sink.

Amaranthe start as they mean to go on with opener “Afterlife”, which bounces along on a wave of upfront synths, near blast-beat drums and Amaranthe’s unique selling point, a trio of male and female singers who cover the clean (Jake E.), harsh scream (Andy) and symphonic female (Elize) elements of the sonic spectrum.  Even the most casual music fan couldn’t help but notice the band’s energy and desire to make their tunes leap out of the speakers – and that’s where some metal fans may encounter a problem.

You might want to whisper it quietly around any more sensitive metalheads of your acquaintance, but Amaranthe have a distinct pop sensibility inherent in their music – I don’t know what they put in the water supply in Sweden and Denmark, but it’s resulted in a sophomore album so stuffed to the gills with once heard never forgotten, rock club dance floor-filling  ear-worms that the likes of Halestorm will be casting a nervous glance over their shoulders.

Sure, “The Nexus” is a nominally heavier proposition than the Pennsylvanian quartet’s “The Strange Case Of…” set from 2012, but the pop sensibility and command of state-of-the-art rock dynamics commanded by this European group is just as pronounced.  It’s not difficult to imagine an R & B diva like Rihanna covering soaring mid-tempo ballad “Burn With Me” – even the title sounds like one of her tunes – and having a huge smash with it.  Similarly, “Theory of Everything” has Gaga’s name written all over it – it’s a pop glam stomper just ripe for reinterpretation, but I’d be quite happy to see some enterprising radio station or music channel taking a punt on turning this band into the next crossover act.  Any body who likes a bit of Evanescence wouldn’t have too much difficulty getting into this wholly melodic and refreshingly direct band.

If you like your metal catchy, sonically ludicrously upbeat, lyrically driven by vaguely futuristic sci-fi positivity (it’s like cyberpunk self-help up in this joint!) and camper than an episode of “Strictly Come Dancing” with Justin Hawkins sporting a lilac Lycra catsuit, “The Nexus” is absolutely for you.  My love of Power Metal is well documented on these pages and extended listening to Amaranthe’s second album leads me to conclude that they’ve just CTRL + C’d the dragons and elves out of a classic rock record and royally CTRL + V’d them with songs about love, digital ultra-worlds and stuff.

TL: DR version – essential spring listening for any fan of massive, widescreen metal insanity and choruses which lodge themselves in your head and won’t bugger off afterwards.

 

From our symphonic melo-pop-death metal correspondent …

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Spring?  It has sprung!  Well, it probably has somewhere in the world (the UK is presently shivering through the last snowy vestiges of a Winter which has long-since outstayed its welcome), so why not celebrate sunnier times ahead by enjoying the new, sophomore release from Swedish/Danish musical magpies, Amaranthe?

Pop diva hooks, growling harsh vocals, keyboards duking it out for riff-mungous supremacy, drums galloping along – Amaranthe’s sound is rather akin to a bizarre and distinctly pleasurable backstage mix-up at “A Song For Europe” with lots of genres colliding together and making for a pleasingly orthodox metalhead baiting mix of tunes.

For an example of the bonkers fare which awaits you if you pick up this record, why not try out the title track on the Tubes of You?