RockAtlantic’s 2014 – Part Two

Last Monday I posted the first half of my top ten albums of 2014, which you can read here. In this post I finish where I left off: right at the business end of the list and reveal who has claimed this year’s number one spot.

5. Alt-J – This Is All Yours

This Is All Yours is beautifully delicate, musically intrepid and strangely addictive, and whilst it may not be as focused and clinical as its award winning predecessor, tracks like Hunger of the Pines, Nara and Every Other Freckle, show that the indie rockers’ success wasn’t just a freak accident. Unsurprisingly the blueprint for the record is similar to their debut, with only a few minor alterations creeping in, such as an increased desire to experiment and indulge in some of their more left field ideas. If their ever was a new (or ‘nu’) wave of prog rock, then Alt-J are most certainly it.

4. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed

Rarely does a supergroup equal the sum of its parts, but metal’s most talked about collaboration (which took vocalists from Mastodon, Soulfly and Dillinger Escape Plan and chucked them in with an ex-Mars Volta drummer) most certainly does. Killer Be Killed is directed mostly towards thrash by Max Cavalera, but the involvement of Greg Puciato, Troy Sanders and Dave Elitch, who come from a more experimental background, help to deviate the music into some unexpected areas. However this is definitely not a progressive metal record; it is fast, heavy and will kick you when you’re down.

3. Opeth – Pale Communion

It has been hard for many longtime Opeth fans to swallow the drastic musical change that saw all death metal influences dropped for 2011’s Heritage, to favour classic 70s prog rock instead. However, with its successor, Pale Communion, some of the old heaviness has returned and the traditional prog influences have been reigned in and are applied much more subtly. As a result, this, their eleventh studio album, is the most diverse record that they’ve ever made, featuring orchestral movements, uncharacteristic A.O.R., several soft arrangements and a handful of Wayne’s World-worthy head-nodding moments. Pale Communion is Opeth’s most complete record since 2005’s Ghost Reveries and earns its place as the Blackwater Park of their new era.

2. Anathema – Distant Satellites

This year there has been a lot of attention focused upon Pink Floyd, yet it has been Anathema who have been pushing the boundaries of progressive music in 2014, just as they have been doing since their 2010 comeback record We’re Here Because We’re Here. Distant Satellites is another serving of beautiful harmonies and sustained guitar-work, which has been honed to perfection on this release. Towards the end of the record Anathema also flirt with some light electronics and some drone-inspired movements, which are both executed exquisitely; the only way Anathema know how to do things. If you haven’t heard the ‘new’, progressive Anathema yet (We’re Here Because We’re Here, Weather Systems and Distant Satellites), make it your New Year’s resolution to do so; they’re simply breathtaking.

1. Pineapple Thief – Magnolia

Beautiful, deep and poignant; Pineapple Thief have made their best album yet with Magnolia. Elevated by the success of 2011’s more rock-centric record, Someone Here Is Missing, but inspired more by their earlier heart-wrenching records, Magnolia comes across as a perfect blend of both styles, which has resulted in music that is as dynamic as any Steven Wilson record, but with simple songs that only once exceed five minutes in length. This record is about songwriting and emotion, but don’t let that fool you into thinking its contents is as bland as its distinctly mundane title; there is plenty of decent guitar work on show, as well as orchestral flourishes and chirping electronics, which all come together to make this album 2014’s most complete and exciting record.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

 

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RockAtlantic’s 2014 – Part One

So here it is (no not “Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”), the end of 2014 and with it the customary celebration of the best albums that this year has spawned. I find with every year my taste in music expands, which makes these lists ever harder to write. For example, this year my top ten features a wide range of albums from some death metal right the way down to indie rock (taking a lengthy detour through prog too), which naturally means there will be albums deserving of recognition that don’t make the list. However, after a lot of deliberating, I think I finally have my top ten of 2014:

10. Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

They say what goes up has to come down, which makes Machine Head gravity-defying, as they continue to not only ride upon the wave of success stemming from 2007’s The Blackening, but improve upon the formula that brought them their accolades in the first place. The secret formula to their success has been their ability to marry melody with brutality in the way that hasn’t spun them off course towards the mainstream like many of their peers, or resulted in weak attempts at emulating (or sometimes even imitating) the formula of their earlier albums. It’s a testament to their ability that they can continue to expand their styles with tracks like Beneath the Silt and Damage Inside, whilst still producing monolithic metal anthems that both pleases existing fans and courts new ones.

9. Skindred – Kill The Power

Very few bands manage to sustain a career based on a sound that marries multiple genres (look how quickly nu metal died out, or the fleeting success of flamenco metal bands), let alone improve over age, slowly but surely moving up the bill at festivals. However British ragga-metallers Skindred have done just that, culminating their rise to the top with the release of the imposing Kill The Power. This time around they threw more hip-hop and electronic elements into the mix, which instead of saturating their sound, helped boost it new anthemic levels, shown best with Open Eyed, Kill the Power and Ruling Force.

8. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun

Mastodon are enjoying a similar sustained period of success like Skindred and Machine Head both are, however, the record that followed the best prog record of 2009*: Crack the Skye, was nowhere near the level that the Atlanta quartet could achieve. However, with Once More ‘Round The Sun, Mastodon have returned to their strange brand of prog-infused metal; letting solos rip, riffs crunch, drums pound and plenty of beautiful melody shine through. Some fans may not like this change of musical direction, but regardless of whether or not is appeals to your particular tastes, this music is well crafted and, more importantly, great fun.

*An accolade widely thrown around and deservedly so.

7.  Xerath – III

Fusing film scores and the double bass attack of death metal, Xerath sound something similar to symphonic metal minus the cheese and the power metal tendencies. With the modestly and efficiency named III, Xerath have streamlined their style from the two predecessors (entitled I and II – there’s no Chickenfoot tomfoolery here) and have produced an album that sits somewhere between the sinister atmospheres of Opeth and the epic pomposity of Dreamtheater. Xerath remain a fairly obscure force in the world of progressive metal, but if they continue to produce albums like III, then this will change in no time.

6. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

When The White Stripes reached mainstream attention in 2003 after the release of their fourth studio album Elephant, it was hard to imagine another rock duo ever making as big of an impression as they did. However, fast forward just over ten years to a bassist and a drummer from Brighton, performing under the name Royal Blood, and you come close to this feat. Considering their self-titled album is only their debut release and they already have Jimmy Page and the whole music press wrapped around their little finger, the duo have the ability to surpass The White Stripes legacy.

Like The White Stripes, Royal Blood are solely based around the power of the riff. There is no unwanted instrumentation, no overzealous production and no background soundscapes; just powerful drumming and a meaty bassline, topped off with catchy vocals. This is rock stripped back and turned up to eleven. The only doubt hanging over this band is whether such a simple formula has longevity, but if they continue to write tracks like Figure it Out and Out of the Black then there will always be an audience for it.

Thank you for reading. Part two will follow within the next week. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

 

Marilyn Manson – an estranged relative?

With Marilyn Manson’s ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor, on the horizon, I thought I’d take a look at the four albums that followed the critically acclaimed triptych of Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood. The four records that followed varied greatly in style, as he flirted with new ideas, attempting to rekindle the same shock value, and ultimately success, that once saw him remain firmly in the media’s attention in the late nineties.

Despite Manson producing many decent tracks since his musical peak, the albums that followed didn’t always get the credit they deserved, leaving Manson being portrayed as an estranged relative to the music scene, which he once dominated so emphatically. In today’s blog I will briefly review these four efforts and hopefully show that Manson has much more to offer than just the percussive march of The Beautiful People.

The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003)

Coming three years after the hugely successful Holy Wood, The Golden Age of Grotesque featured a vastly different sound that was based more in industrial metal, than the goth-drenched sound of its predecessor. This change is often attributed to the arrival of Tim Sköld from the industrial band KMFDM, whose impact is immediately obvious as the electronic beat-driven intro of This Is The New Shit begins.

Like the previous three albums The Golden Age of Grotesque is a concept album, which helped to focus Manson’s lyrics and once again he delivered on providing an intriguing, if somewhat over-indulging, storyline backed with both historical references and pop culture commentary. The strong lyrical themes are complimented perfectly by the harsh industrial music beneath them, resulting in a sonically abrasive record, realising Manson’s ambition for a Weimar Republic-themed album.

My Score: 8/10

Recommended Listening: mOBSCENE and The Golden Age of Grotesque

Eat Me, Drink Me (2007)

Eat Me, Drink Me is by far the most adventurous record currently in Manson’s discography. The music is bordering on progressive rock, with multiple guitar solos dripped in classic rock tones, combined with a husky voice achieved by recording his vocals laying down. The album focuses on themes of love and vampires, as well as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which as normal, provide the album with some fantastic lyrical imagery. Eat Me, Drink Me stands out like a sore thumb in Manson’s catalogue, yet despite the average media ratings, I believe it stands out for all the right reasons and is a great testament to his experimental nature.

My Score: 9/10

Recommended Listening: They Said That Hell’s Not Hot, Evidence and Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery

The High End of Low (2009)

The High End Of Low is an album of two halves. If this effort was cut down to just Devour, Leave a scar, Four Rusted Horses, Arma-Godd**n-Motherf**kin-Geddon, Blank And White, Running to the Edge of the World, Into the Fire and 15, then following a spot of re-sequencing, Manson would have had a brilliant record on his hands. However, sadly the rest of the tracks are extremely unfocussed lyrically, especially the laughable WOW and the equally shameful We’re from America, which when combined with Manson’s tired voice, completely undo the solid musical foundation beneath them.

However, looking at the content that does work, Manson opted for a much more stripped down sound and remained on the boundary between rock and metal, just as Eat Me, Drink Me had done previously. Many of the tracks that work are actually the quieter ones, such as the poignant Running to the Edge of the World and the bluesy Four Rusted Horses. That being said Manson’s old angst makes several successful appearances, notably in Arma-Godd**n-Motherf**kin-Geddon and Blank and White, showing that the aging shock-rocker still had some bite left.

My Score: 5/10 (8/10 for my newly ordered, but not very official version)

Recommended Listening: See above, especially Four Rusted Horses and Devour

Born Villain (2012)

Sadly the same problem of lacking enough content to fill a whole album applied to Born Villain too, leaving another case of selected listening. However, the tracks that are worth listening to are up with the best from the triptych-era, such as The Gardener, which is a groove-led, semi-spoken word trip into a spiraling metaphor and the aggressive headbanger Pistol Whipped, which would fit right into the dark themes of Holy Wood.

Unfortunately, the later cuts on the album have much less personality and decay into Manson’s gloomy groan as they plod along until their much-awaited conclusion. Fortunately the positives far outweigh the negatives on this album and Born Villain is a rewarding listening experience if it is given the time for its secrets to be revealed.

My Score: 7/10

Recommended Listening: The Gardener, Pistol Whipped and No Reflection

It seems that despite Manson disappearing away from the mainstream eye, his music, although increasingly varied, has been continuing to throw up great tracks that fully deserve the same attention that his earlier records received. It will be interesting to see exactly where he goes with The Pale Emperor, which is due for release on January 19th in the UK.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

My First Record

Only when you look back at the first few albums you bought and owned, do you fully appreciate how much your musical tastes have changed. Most people’s first records probably don’t still get regularly played, but despite that, they definitely hold some significance to us.

The first rock album I owned was Queen’s Greatest Hits on cassette, whose legality may (or may not) be frowned up in today’s society. Soon after, it was accompanied by their Greatest Hits II compilation album, which had me singing Queen songs in my bedroom at the age of eight. In fact, when asked about my future career ambitions as a child, my go-to response was simply “to be the new Freddie Mercury”, despite a severe lack of singing ability and the necessary stage presence required.

My love of Queen survived for many years; not even the virus-like growth of Busted after the turn of the millennia could tempt me away. The next album I would own would come many years later, in the form of Guns N’ Roses’ controversial Greatest Hits collection, which was released in 2004. At this time I had just started to learn guitar and it was Slash’s playing on Welcome to the Jungle that got me excited and made me keen to continue with the guitar.

Then began my pop punk phase – all after it was sounding so promising! I purchased Blink-182’s Greatest Hits on a whim and immediately fell in love with the high tempo tracks that were easy to play on guitar and called for very little singing talent. I began to buy all of their other albums, my favourite being their self-titled, which is the only album that I can stand to listen to today. I also did the same for The Offspring, whose tracks Original Prankster and Hit That drew me in and still stand the test of time. When Tom DeLonge returned post-Blink-182 breakup with his new band Angels & Airwaves, I immediately bought their debut album We Don’t Need To Whisper, and this combined with Feeder’s Comfort In Sound, laid the foundations for my love of modern rock and metal.

My route into metal was more of an accident than anything of design. I had recently bought the new Red Hot Chili Peppers double album Stadium Arcadium after seeing the video for the lead single Dani California several hundred times on TV, only to be disappointed by the quality and style of the rest of the album. At the same time my Dad had bought the Marilyn Manson Lest We Forget: The Best Of compilation album and we agreed to swap records (a swap that became permanent), leaving me to discover the world of metal and in particular the very accessible, although very much dead, nu metal scene.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always leave a like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

 

Pain of Salvation – Falling Home

Released on 10th November, Falling Home is a semi-acoustic re-interpretation album from Swedish progressive rockers Pain of Salvation. The album takes tracks from across their whole career (which is fast approaching two and a half decades!), as well as providing two new covers and one newly written song. This being said Falling Home focuses most of its playtime upon their latest releases Road Salt (parts 1 and 2) and Scarsick.

The album begins well with a completely stripped back version of Stress, which originally appeared on their 1997 debut Entropia. The track opens with a jazzy shuffle, which, to quote vocalist Daniel Gildenlöw’s lyrics, is “very strange”. This groove continues throughout the song and is accompanied by a diverse collection of vocal styles and a delicious mellotron sound that harks back to 1970s classic prog.

The same keys, however, can’t help salvage Linoleum (from Road Salt One) from distinct mediocrity. Although the song begins beautifully, Gildenlöw’s verse vocals are crying out for more musical ballast to support them, as they seem to exist in no man’s land, waiting for the chorus to rescue them. The other two tracks from Road Salt, To The Shoreline and 1979, also miss the mark. They are both well recorded and would certainly please new listeners, but for existing fans not enough has changed to warrant their inclusion on the album, as the originals were both fairly clean to begin with.

The songs from Scarsick (2007) are generally better represented. The once nu metal Spitfall has been brilliantly re-interpreted, allowing Gildenlöw’s powerful rap and his excellent rhythmic execution to take centre stage. Mrs. Modern Mother Mary has also been improved upon; turning the originally unfocussed track into a beautiful arrangement that the emotionally-charged lyrics deserve. The final track taken from Scarsick, Flame To The Moth, isn’t quite as effective, as the choatic feel that works for the distorted original fails to make an impact when the guitars are unplugged.

The same criticism applies to Chain Sling, which originally appeared on 2002’s Remedy Lane. Its hectic, happy-go-lucky approach is completely lost in an acoustic setting and Gildenlöw’s signature wail sounds comedic when removed from its natural habitat.

The two covers, Dio’s Holy Diver and Lou Reed’s Perfect Day are both intriguing efforts. Holy Diver is re-imagined as a half swing, half barbershop quartet style track, with elements of jazz thrown in for good measure, which surprisingly works. Their choice to cover Lou Reed makes a lot of sense, given their inclination towards the bizarre, however they made a very safe choice with Perfect Day, when they could have been much braver. Nevertheless, Perfect Day is a decent and faithful cover, with a hair-raising crescendo.

Perhaps the best effort on the album is the newly written title track. Falling Home is a gorgeous acoustic number that is beautifully arranged and is a perfect way to finish the acoustic record. It is a shame they didn’t choose to write a handful of new tracks to include in this collection, as the one they did record blows most of the re-interpreted tracks out of the water. Regardless this compilation is a solid effort and decent addition to the Pain of Salvation catalogue and provides a new incite into the Swedish band. However, a true followup to Road Salt would be much appreciated.

Overall: 6/10

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always leave a like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. Thank you.

– James