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Friday, November 25, 2011

Article: Desert Island Discs - 10 Of The Greatest Albums Ever Made

I don't like to think of myself as a geek, but knowing how often I've made a list of all my favourite things of various sorts, then I'd have to admit to being a little bit of a nerd-bucket. When it comes to music though, I think we all do it. As lovers of the artform, we are all eternally locked in our own private tribal battles over whether something is "the bollocks" or "just plain bollocks". To seal the deal, of course, we keep in our minds (or commit to paper) which few choons we'd take with us when we're journeying out on foot, by public transport or in the car or when we pack up to go on holiday.

Well, your "Desert Island Discs" list is your list of the ones you would take with you to a desert island, your own tropical sandpile, for an indeterminate amount of time. This is the place where modern civilization matters little and having your favourite music with you is the key to maintaining sanity. The whole concept might struggle to work in reality, what with battery issues and the like (I'm imagining some kind of solar powered MP3 player and a pair of headphones), but just go with it. This is your ultimate list - the, and I've expanded the format a little to suit here, ten albums that mean more to you than any others.

The list below are the ones I'd want by my side. I encourage you to consider them (take a chance and spin them, be it for the first or the hundredth time) when making your own minds up.


Nirvana - Nevermind (1992)
Album highlight = Lithium
How could you not take this? It changed the face of rock music. It brought a whole underground scene up and into the mainstream. Some actually attribute the death of hair rock to this very album. It certainly ended badly for it's creator but it doesn't change the impact it had on us, nor the infectious songwriting that lurks within it's baby blue cover. And yet, I still struggled to decide whether I'd take this or Nirvana's reactionary In Utero or their masterfully understated live performance as they went Unplugged In New York.

Metallica - "The Black Album" (1991)
Album highlight = Wherever I May Roam
You can keep your Master Of Puppets and your Ride The Lightning; this is Metallica's masterpiece. It manages to perfectly align anthemic melodies with addictive lyricism and backs it all up with a hefty dose of groove-heavy thrash metal. Every single track is a winner. There are simply no weak tracks. And next year, they're performing the thing in its entirety - Download Festival 2012 can't come soon enough.

Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction (1992)
Album highlight = Architecture Of Aggression
It's beyond me how far removed this album is from anything else Megadeth have created. Not even Rust In Peace comes close. When you consider that most bands struggle to stick two cracking songs side by side, it blows your mind to learn that Countdown's opening salvo manages five. Five of the greatest songs you'll ever hear, one after another. And this thing doesn't even seem to wane with age. It's still as staggering as it was 19 years ago. Yep, come next year, we'd better be lauding this bad boy's 20th anniversary.

The Doors - L. A. Woman (1971)
Album highlight = L.A.Woman
I've been in love with this album for a long time. It's not just "Riders On The Storm" that swings it, it's the whole laconic feel that the album is wrapped in. From the title-track's rickety Hammond organ and rocking vibe to the staccato hep of "Been Down So Long" and the blissed-out sashaying of "Hyacinth House", the album flows through the emotions better than any other I own. It's a complete joy.

Iron Maiden - Powerslave (1984)
Album highlight = Back In The Village
Maiden have played such a major role in my life - they've helped me through times both good and bad. No album of theirs is more deserving a place than Powerslave. I'd take Killers, Number Of The Beast, Live After Death and No Prayer For The Dying too if I had space. Both "Back In The Village", their finest moment, and the instrumental braggadocio of "The Duellists" demand I take this. Add on to that "Aces High", "2 Minutes To Midnight" and the epic "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" and you'd have to agree I made the right choice.

Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)
Album highlight = Searching With My Good Eye Closed
I love the way grunge, as a genre, sucks up the mischievous stoner underworld and the fearsome rock middle ground. It's still alive today but no-one affected me quite like the combination of it with the vocal of Chris Cornell. He doesn't sing so much as he transmits emotion. Add to this, the fact that I experienced the most intense musical experience of my life whilst listening to this album being toured, and you can see why it's lying there in my trunk.

Machine Head - The Blackening (2007)
Album highlight = Aesthetics Of Hate
Machine Head did the impossible with this album; they surpassed one of the greatest metal albums of all time - their own Burn My Eyes. You just have to listen to the majesty of "Halo" and the nail-gargling 10-minute multi-part "Clenching The Fists Of Dissent" to see how they did it. In fact, the album was so good they toured it for four whole years. Jesus wept, that's impressive.

Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)
Album highlight = Even Flow
Pearl Jam's debut has everything. It is an album so perfect in design and delivery that they will never top it. If they do, I'll eat my hat. Every single track has its own voice, its own vibe and its own place. Ten has sold 10 million copies and is pretty much on every list of greatest albums of all time. No surprise then that when it was re-released for its 20th anniversary, it sold 60,000 copies in its first week. It's a masterpiece.


Oh, and here's another ten albums I'd leave my clothes behind to squeeze in:
Faith No More - Angeldust (1992)
The Verve - Urban Hymns (1997)
AC/DC - Highway To Hell (1979)
Lamb Of God - Sacrament (2006)
Gojira - The Way Of All Flesh (2008)
Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Isis - Wavering Radiant (2009)
Biffy Clyro - Infinity Land (2004)
No Made Sense - The Epillanic Choragi (2009)
Funeral For A Friend - Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation (2003)
Mastodon - Crack The Skye (2009)
Chimaira - The Infection (2009)

Truth be told, all these are pretty much in order, but of course it's an ever-changing, ever-evolving list. Some are inked in, some are pencilled in. All are absolute works of art. You think otherwise, you know where I am.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Album Review: Riotgod - Invisible Empire

Listening to , you get the impression that when ’s rhythm section, bassist Jim Baglino and drummer Bob Pantella, first discussed forming a side-project they must have been literally bursting with ideas for ground that they wanted to cover. The surprise here is that they were most definitely looking backwards not forwards. The players have clearly gorged themselves upon rock music’s back catalogue and are now fit-to-burst with a smorgasbord of different tones and textures.

The simple construction and swaggering cadence of the music helps knit the whole project together, but there is still plenty of track-to-track chopping about between styles. The guitars lay down most of the groundwork, but it is Mark Sunshine’s vocal affectations that provide the hammer to bash in the nails here. In doing so, he becomes the focal point that so identifies each change of direction. He’s there with a Stockdale-esque yelp when the band hit upon a cosmic jerkiness so reminiscent of , as they do for “Breed” and “Loosely Bound”, and he’s not averse to developing an affected Coverdale lilt for the surprisingly -a-like “Slow Death”.

At points through the swaggering “Fool”, “Tomorrow’s Today” and the menacing “Crossfade” you’ll hear some interesting grunge elements popping in. The band plunge themselves into recreating a kind of meets vibe with Sunshine finding time to piece together some Cantrell harmonies and they ram home the point with the standout track, “Firebrand”, which recreates the dark verses and soaring chorus that are so reminiscent of . Even the lyrics recall Cornell’s elemental writing style – “Nothing is spared from your wide open mind / Swallow and flower the seed.”

Having been birthed from such a vast stoner beast as , it’s definitely a surprise to find hardly any heavy-lidded plodding and so many classic and alternative rock threads. You’d assume naturally that a band attempting to span both these genres, might struggle and end up producing a messy product but, save for the ostentatious acoustic “Gas Station Roses” and the disconcertingly haphazard psych break in “Hollow Mirror”, they do keep it all flowing along relatively smoothly.

They may have borrowed a couple of striking chord progressions and clichéd riffs here and there and Sunshine is certainly guilty of paying plenty of homage, but you’d balk at suggesting that this sophomore effort isn’t an enjoyable album because of it. Invisible Empire rolls along at a fair lick and is full of little treats along the way (the rock n’ roll punch of “Saving It Up” or the sweeping melodics of “Rebirth”, for instance). If you value invention over devotion then I’d suggest you steer clear of . The rest of you, especially those with a penchant for grunge or rock music with a modish kicker, step right this way.

Also online (with track samples) @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/riotgod-invisible-empire

Friday, November 18, 2011

Album Review: Threat Signal - Threat Signal

When I first caught a whiff of Canada's metal machine Threat Signal back in 2009, the feisty stench of bloody power chords, sweaty drum thunder and tearfully bellowed vocals pretty much knocked me off my feet. The album was 'Vigilance' and the track was "Afterlife". It had everything from that creepy slow-build and sharp snap into focussed aggression to an infectiously sassy swagger. Now, having heard their muscle-bound self-titled follow-up, it's instantly apparent that they've pulled out all the steps to chuck in as much vim and vigour as they can muster. They've brought a new drummer and guitarist to the party and have returned to using their seven-string axes. Dropping to A# has certainly beefed up the bottom-end chug and there is also an added tech metal dynamic. All of this, vocalist Jon Howard claims, "has made everything sound much heavier and darker; it also offered my vocals a different range to sing in."

"Uncensored", for instance, kicks like a mule, screams like a lunatic and double-kicks you until you actually feel bruised by the experience. Brutal enough to rub shoulders with both Mnemic and DevilDriver at the same time, it actually treads the inventive path that a small French band called Darkness Dynamite started so impressively down a few years back. "Comatose" and "New World Order" add hooked choruses which thrashily punch their way through to the dark pieces like "Trust In Noone" and "Fallen Disciples" where Howard revels in the speed, roars himself hoarse in the verses, and sinks his teeth into trying to surpass Jamey Jasta for power.

When Howard digs into the choruses his tremulous singing vocal tends to follow the same pattern of hold and pitch and it does, somewhat disappointingly, mean several of the tracks smear themselves across the album, bleeding into one another all too readily. "Death Before Dishonour", with its dark intro and polyrhythmic punch, stands out as does "Disposition" for its startlingly sudden drop into clean melodics and sweeping solo. In fact, as the album progresses, and they focus less on laying waste and more on delving into their box of tricks, they begin to find some pretty inventive methods of attack.

Having heard the nuts on this, it's no surprise to see Zeuss is on production duty and he's definitely given this one the beans. A little of 'Vigilance's subtlety has been lost somewhere along the line but, on the positive side, with an album like this, Threat Signal are now doing exactly what they say on the tin - fair warning, I believe.Link

Also online @ Metal Team UK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/oct11reviews/cdreviews-threat.htm

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gig Review: Peter Frampton - Corn Exchange, Cambridge 12/11/11

Now into his sixth decade of performing, Peter Frampton is a living legend. Commercially, his success may have been somewhat short-lived but pick at the stitching of rock music and you'll find him interwoven into its very fabric. Released in 1976, 'Frampton Comes Alive!' is still one of the greatest selling live albums ever, going six-times platinum, yet he is mostly remembered for making his guitar speak. He does this by using an effect known as a 'talkbox' and Frampton is certainly the man who popularised its use more than any other artist.

That talkbox is here for tonight's gig at the Corn Exchange. The event, rather grandiosely titled "An Evening With Peter Frampton", is a sold-out, all-seater, three-hour marathon divided into two defined halves. The first half, celebrating the 35th anniversary of that aforementioned album, the one that Frampton jokingly refers to as "Me Comes Alive!", sees the band giving it a full airing. The second half, dedicated to Frampton's more recent work, includes material he's written for others and covers of songs that have inspired him.

Watching the lights dim, the large video screen at the back of the stage flood with simulated smoke and hearing the familiar recorded opening of roaring crowd burst forth from the monitors, is certainly enough to trigger off the nostalgia and a few goose bumps. The band shuffle into position and, finally, Frampton emerges with a mile-wide grin. They launch themselves straight into 'Something's Happening' and we're off. The five men, amongst them Sidney Sheldon, the album's original bassist, make a fine fist of picking their way through the order, track-by-track, note-for-note, beat-for-beat. "Hello Cambridge!", announces Frampton, before popping in the information that he has always supported the city in the Boat Race. The cheered response shows he's hitting the right notes even when he's not bending the strings.

The flowing locks and the slimline figure may be gone, as the awkwardly schmaltzy images flashing across the backdrop seem keen to highlight, but his honeyed vocal remains surprisingly undiminished. It's a soft, rich and faintly nasal Clapton-esque croon that yawns out from the back of his throat. When combined with his inspirational guitar technique, he is able to create a formidable sound. His touch, awareness and control of both tone and variation of string pressure is second to none. Every string bend, tremolo and slide is pinpoint and each finger movement is accompanied by a twist of both torso and face.

Through the funky shimmying of 'Doobie Wah' and the sweeping hit 'Show Me The Way', his pistoning knees propel him around the stage like a wobbling skittle that refuses to fall. The latter song takes him from the right to centre-stage where his talkbox is positioned and we get a full display of how his mouth shape and finger position dictate the robotic sound that emerges. Throughout the set, each guitar change brings with it a sidestep from clean and crisp into warm and tremulous. One particular highlight, 'Baby, I Love Your Way', brings the coy audience fully into play and 'Do You Feel Like We Do?' is a brilliant climax to the first half, inspiring both a guitar-battle with the increasingly-featured second guitarist and a refusal to perform the track's celebrated talkbox ending - "I don't have to do it tonight, do I?" he teases, shouting "Make me!" before, of course, he acquiesces.

Certainly, the monitors do play up momentarily, there's the occasional fluffed line, and there are a few sedentary pauses between songs whilst the band switch instruments and Frampton fires up the fans, but the gentle self-deprecation displayed by the man more than makes up for these misgivings.

After the interval, we get a good dousing of his latest album 'Thankyou Mr. Churchill' with the pacy 'Restraint' and the biographical 'Vaudeville Nanna And The Banjolele'. We're also treated to an appearance from his son, Julian, who is greeted by a coddling audience aah-ing. The hooded Frampton Junior responds by snarling back the loud rocker 'Road To The Sun', before a gaudily distracting backdrop. He cuts a menacing figure with his constantly flicked long-hair but it's mainly his formidable vocal that leaves many folks in shock.

With three barking instrumentals from the Grammy-winning 'Fingerprints' and a surprisingly caustic cover of Soundgarden's 'Black Hole Sun' it clearly defines Frampton Senior's decision to start mining a harder seam of rock. Of course, he pulls it back to something more palatable in the encore by sending us off singing his praises with a sublime rendition of George Harrison's 'Whilst My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Before a packed house, Frampton certainly came alive tonight.

Photograph courtesy of Stuart Hobden @ www.stuarthogbenphotography.co.uk

Also published @ Cambridge-News = http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Whats-on-leisure/Reviews/Peter-Frampton-14112011.htm

Monday, November 14, 2011

Album Review: Smohalla - Resilience

Black metal, to the common man, is a music scene whose followers only consist of ne’er-do-wells. Pariahs who, when destructing, perform dark rituals, burn churches, defile and even kill themselves and their own; outcasts who, when constructing, choose to continually blast their brethren with feedback, thunderous pounding and abhorrent, bellowed lyrics. The truth, of course, is that there is so much more to this fascinating genre than meets the eye. On the very outskirts of this admittedly morbid realm, for instance, you will find the kind of richly progressive, profoundly haunting music that France’s are capable of producing. Music that doesn’t simply resort to blasting your brains out, but instead seems to drift towards you on the air, delicately drapes itself around you, ekes its way into your very soul, secretly extracts your most darkest of thoughts and whittles away at your bones until you’d swear they were hollow.

From the off, submerge and tug at you with the sweeping currents they create. Softly, echoing heartbeat kick-drum, fizzing bubbles and gargled chanting nudge you gently towards the meat of Resilience where heartier beasts like “Au Sol Les Toges Vides” and “L’homme Et La Brume” await with their avalanche of chaotic sound. Delving into the rubble you’ll find drowning synths, a cathedral-sized choir of chanting, scrawling guitar riffs, chugged chords, a demonic roaring and, right at the very bottom, a beauteous tinkle of slowly rising and falling piano. The lyrics drift through such subjects as religious holocaust, disease, famine, fear, paranoia and vanity; subjects that will inevitably eat away at you.

In between such violently melodramatic cataclysms lie moments that distort perceptions. You’ll be swept into straight-forward time signatures that acquiesce to give way to narcissistically jazzy intermissions. You’ll trip over bluesy stringwork, spoken passages, electronic beats, lovingly looped scratching and warming xylophone and you’ll crash into these psychedelic moments where the music is moved from left to right, reversed, and warped. Although excitingly disorientating, it soon becomes increasingly distracting.

Indeed, aren’t the most comfortable of targets for the uninitiated to base their attack on such a decadent genre, but with anomalies like the gently nostalgic “Marche Silencieuse” and the mesmerising magic carpet ride that “Les Repos Du Lezard” takes you on, they show that they do have a wonderfully soft underbelly. In the main, though, Resilience is furiously experimental, is ambitious to the point of naivety, even more so than on their mini-album Nova Persei, and, as a result, could never be accused of being the class dullard. Easily as pungent as the music of their forbears, , and , this is , the “Dreamer”; part-fantasy, part-nightmare.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/smohalla-resilience

Monday, November 7, 2011

Album Review: Megadeth - Th1rt3en

The toys have been thrown out of the pram, Ellefson has emptied his pockets, Mustaine has found God and now they’re back together, playing and recording music, and all is well in the world. Not only this, but the band are producing show-stopping performances once again, joyously bringing out more of their classic material for headline tours and rising to meet the challenge of playing their part on the Big Four circuit. A perfect time to be heading back into the studio you would think. Then, under pressure to deliver, they go and write an album called Th1rt3en (unlucky for some) and commission cover art that sees mascot Vic Rattlehead showing his back to you. Throw in all the furore kicked up by Mustaine’s gleeful comments about getting out of the band’s Roadrunner contract and the rumor mill is back up and churning away nicely.

I’ve always sworn blind that ’s peak was in the early 90s, so I was delighted to find that Th1rt3en recreates the same patterns that inhabit the albums from that era. For a start, Th1rt3en is less frenzied than Endgame. It’s hardly laid back, but it’s certainly less of a speed-fest and prefers to thrash out over a mid-paced rhythm, all the while tossing in strong flavors of power metal and rock n’ roll as it travels. The songs have tighter, catchier riffs that all point us directly towards each chorus, where Mustaine picks up the baton and runs in circles repeating the song-title until it lodges itself, irretrievably, in our brains.

Two songs in and I’m recalling parts of Rust In Peace‘s “Hangar 18″ in the key changes, the sharp tongue of Countdown To Extinction‘s “Architecture Of Aggression” and Youthanasia‘s “Reckoning Day” with its ripped chords. The build into the chaotic and brilliantly complex “Sudden Death” is classic, a spiralling solo and a thrilling, skidding riff that pans around your head. Following, “Public Enemy No. 1″ is all bluster and purpose with Mustaine intent on tattooing the four title words to your forehead. All this promise and yet, after a good few run-throughs, it all begins to sound a bit lacklustre. “Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)” turns out to be a limp-wristed shadow that falls apart when it drops the pounded beat (no word of a lie, it reminds me of ’s solo material), “Guns, Drugs & Money” wallows so long in its own filth that it simply forgets to evolve, and the mind-numbingly repetitious “Wrecker” manages to sound more Mötley Crüe than .

There’s just so very little bite or sense of foreboding in a lot of this happy-go-lucky rock music they’ve created. ’s unbeatable sense of pervasive gloom and urgency of delivery is what defines them but save for a handful of tracks, it’s just not present. Their precious dark minor chords are suddenly thin on the ground and, “Millennium Of The Blind” excluded, even the fire of Mustaine’s famed political angst seems to have been extinguished. Who ever thought we’d hear dishing out lyrics about life in the “Fast Lane” to a rock n roll backdrop, or hear them goading us with pop swill like “Black Swan”. Mustaine repeatedly offers up the most cumbersome of lyrics – “The soil is red now that you’re dead” from “Deadly Nightshade” or “Like a severed arm washed up on the shore, I just don’t think I can give anymore” from the title-track, and don’t get me started on the rhyming words that are shoehorned in during the chorus of “Public Enemy No. 1″. Johnny K, producer and major contributor, I’m looking at you.

Unfortunately, amidst the carnage caused by so much weak material dragging the album down, superb tracks like “Never Dead”, “New World Order”, “Millennium Of The Blind” and “13″ might just get missed. The former couple are driving, lurching, spitting demons with solos to absolutely die for, whilst the latter duo are heartfelt, colourful anthems. Amongst all the hubbub and flim-flam surrounding the band reaching the landmark of a 13th album, let these tracks not be overlooked. At the end of the day though, it does seem, rather than concentrate solely on delivering an album full of decent music, , in some vain attempt to get their tracklisting up to the magic number 13, have gone and produced more filler than killer.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/megadeth-th1rt3en