Category Archives: Music Reviews
Once Swervedriver drove over the horizon again, nothing else was going to top it, but after so many black metal big hitters last year, I was properly surprised by the strength of what emerged again this year. Special mention to some incredible deluxe rereleases by The Doors and Prince’s 1999 too – that transition from the title track into Little Red Corvette is still one of the most thrilling musical moments ever!
1. Swervedriver: Future Ruins
Close your eyes and it’s 1991 again. One of my favourite bands ever, still creating the best adrenaline-injected grungy shoegaze rock of any decade. Never buy your dad one of those cringeworthy driving anthem CD’s for Father’s Day – get him this instead. On vinyl and not CD of course – it ain’t really ‘91.
2. Gaahls Wyrd: GastiR – Ghosts Invited
Hugely innovative, experimental black metal from one of its masters that oozes evil and manages to invoke a mental and physical feeling of darkness and foreboding from start to finish. It really is deeply affecting! And Carving the Voices is one of the most mesmerising, haunting tracks you will hear this year. Incredible.
3. King Diamond: Songs for the Dead
Fantastic set of two live albums comprising two shows, Live at the Fillmore in Philadelphia and Live at Graspop Metal Meeting. And both feature one of my top ten albums of all time, Abigail, in full, as well as a bunch of other King and Mercyful Fate classics that never sounded better than they do live here. Awesome and essential.
4. Mayhem: Daemon
Punishing and hypnotic in equal measure, this is essential listening for any fan of black metal – even those that thought Mayhem might have been the original, but haven’t been the best for a long time. Composition, performance and production are all as good as it gets through the entire unrelentingly intense experience. This is proper, evil, nasty black metal, and proper Mayhem!
5. Slayer: The Repentless Killogy
Career-spanning live farewell from the greatest metal band of them all. And one of the most powerful live bands in history, which is why it’s not further up this list. Let me explain! Watching Slayer live is (was) like being pummelled by a wall of energy from the stage. There’s no experience like it, including trying to capture it on record, so as good as this sounds and as wonderful as Slayer’s greatest hits live might be, it’s not the full story. However, stick on some noise-cancelling headphones and whack up the volume on Raining Blood, and when the drums properly kick in you’ll feel like you’re getting a pretty good hint at what you’re missing.
6. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
Whether in Husker Du, Sugar or solo, Bob Mould has always been an unbelievable but often overlooked songwriting talent, and this reaffirms that’s never likely to change. Soaring guitars, huge melodies and great production make for one of the best alternative rock albums since his last one.
7. Enthroned: Cold Black Suns
Everyone was happier when it was alright to be offensive. Enthroned are a beacon of light in this regard, without a care for wrapping this assault on the senses and sensibilities in cotton wool. This is a masterpiece of contemporary satanic black metal, with layer upon layer of sonic brilliance demanding your full attention and more. Oh yeah, closing track Son of Man is one of the most epic black metal songs ever written too!
8. Darkthrone: Old Star
Another Darkthrone album that (predictably, now) takes us in all kinds of new directions that all still have that distinct, sinister Darkthrone sound at their heart. This time there’s an aggressive doom-like quality, nods to old school thrash, and a generally epic feel to proceedings. Everything sounds really great too. And some of those riffs…
9. Dawn of Ashes: The Crypt Injection II (Non Serviam)
Heretical blackened industrial metal, full of signature electro bombast and massive blast-beats over some very competent melodic black metal guitars and horror-laced vocals. Its more of the same from Dawn of Ashes, and it’s exactly why I’m such a big fan!
10. Abbath: Outstrider
This man knows what he’s good at, and he’s better at it than almost everyone else. And I’m not just talking about corpse paint and wearing suits of armour! Fantastic collection of very, very good Norwegian black metal with the odd frill, but mostly it’s just the great songwriting that made him so influential, harkening back to his later work with Immortal, the odd hint of Slayer around Hell Awaits, and the kind of epic pacing Bathory would have been proud of.
- Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu & Sun Kil Moon. When you’ve got a name that catchy, I think it makes sense to use it on your album too! Amazing how adding one element can make everything so different. It’s never been such a stretch to associate previous Jesu stuff to Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh past, but Kozelek’s ultra-slacker vocals unexpectedly shift this right into Red House Painters territory (more so than his Sun Kil Moon incarnation), rather than the post-rock shoegaze you’d expect, even though it’s often still there in the background textures. I love Jesu, I love Red House Painters, this is a very unlikely dream come true!
- Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow. More shoegaze, but this time I’d call it post-hardcore shoegaze! There’s some really incredible soaring and shimmering guitar at play here, but with an occasional hint of heaviness to it that sets it apart from the likes of my other favourites Klimt1918, Swervedriver or My Vitriol, veering towards early Smashing Pumpkins. That heaviness applies even more to the lyrics though, nodding to the band members’ hardcore past and echoing Ian Curtis with a bit of disease and decay sprinkled on top.
- Desert Mountain Tribe – Either That or the Moon. Driving, melodic psychedelic rock that can really suck you in and mesmerise you for it’s full length. Multi-layered and complex, great vocals and some really captivating instrumentals. One of my new finds of the year!
- Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter. I know I wasn’t actually there, but this takes me right back to my beloved early seventies Texarkana swampland; look up The Legend of Boggy Creek on YouTube! Feral, gothic, sparce Americana about murder and addiction and stuff, just like I plan to make one day!
- Dawn of Ashes – Theophany. I listened to this more than any other [new] album this year. Intense but accessible modern industrial black metal, only let down by an unnecessary Nine Inch Nails cover at the ends, but that’s very easy to avoid.
- FEWS – Means. My annual breakthrough psychedelic post-punk act, and these Swedish-Americans definitely outshone anything else in this admittedly specialist genre in 2016! Literally 20 seconds of Apple Music preview was all it took me to know I’d found one of my albums of the year. Emotive guitar lines, a driving, almost hypnotic bass and a lovely air of playful gloom. Great album.
- The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum. I think this was the first album I picked up this year and one I had high expectations for. I’ve been a fan since their first album, and always seen them as a bit of a throwback to something, but it’s hard to pin down what – the late 60’s and The Beach Boys; some proggy thing from the 70’s that I’d probably claim I’m not familiar with even if I was; early 90’s shoegaze… For anyone else that’s followed the band, it is a bit by numbers, albeit feeling slightly more “dense” than the more dreamy last couple of albums. That said, they live in their own grandiose, atmospheric world, and I was more than happy to visit it repeatedly through 2016 with this album.
- Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
- Ihsahn – Arktis. Intensely atmospheric latest release by the man from Emperor. Moments of dark ambience, prog and electronica perfectly complement an emotional black metal masterclass.
- Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree. Beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure. Just put it on through some decent headphones and listen to every word. He deserves nothing less.
Robert Hallward – “9” reviewed by Steve Norman
A wanderer above the mist, momentarily hesitating to contemplate, one more time, the nature of himself as absolute; being of himself and the world before him, and not yet before him, but about to be decided by his own hand…
Or maybe the cover of “9” is simply telling us that when the photographer pressed the button on her camera, Robert happened to be standing between some trees holding an egg.
Either is likely, or equally likely is another (although I’ll bet I’m not far off with my Nietzsche thinking!), and this is the undoubtedly intentional essence of the enigma presented to us in “9” and, as ever, in the artist himself.
Exploring further into the inlay, it immediately reveals that this album, the ninth in a series of nine, was “recorded roughly, but with love.” To my untrained ear, it doesn’t sound especially rough, but has clearly been recorded with love.
The glam-pomp and complexity of “Written on the Edge of the Moon” have evolved into something that is sometimes equally complex but always less tightly wound, both in terms of the artist as he comes across, clearly at ease with whatever conclusion it is hat “9” brings, and in terms of a much ‘looser’ listening experience, perhaps in preparation to be heard live this time around? We can but hope
From a slow-burn opening, hinting at the memory of what came before it, first track “Great Lone Figures” emerges into vintage Hallward; a soft-spoken, piano-led exploration into the dismantling of our need for belief in a higher purpose.
The disease of genius follows in “Chapter 25,” with piano gradually taking a backseat to a rich tambourine, building the tempo towards a Roxy-esque guitar introducing the concept of love over religion in “Whatever We Believe,” where Rob’s wonderful grip of using theatrics as an entity in its own right within a song come to the fore. Theatre established, the journey continues through themes of gnosticism, isolation, global politics, genius, love, genius, madness and love; I’ve skipped a few (simply to avoid this turning from review into War and Peace), but to this point “9” seems to be a summary of where Robert is today, sometimes via what brought him here.
As the album, and the closing chapters of something bigger that we’re never really party to, progress towards conclusion, “Share” tones down the ongoing theatrics, a sole piano accompanying a more understated vocal, telling us that “there’s enough for all the world” but still with a hint of self-doubt, until “Sweet, Sweet Revolution” picks up the pace once more as the void filled by the need for a god is filled by love instead.
And then we close with the title track, “9.” And where to begin? The wanderer above the mist? The world before him? A being absolute? “One” emerging (as love?), but part of everything else as it changes for better or worse? One things for sure, in under four minutes this track cohesively throws us from one end of Robert’s eclectic – and occasionally eccentric – musical repetoire to the other, virtually serving as a recap of everything that’s come before. “One” fading into nine as “9” fades into nature. The rebirth of man? Or the rebirth of Man? There’s certainly more to it than it simply being the ninth album in a series – the number of heaven; the number of wisdom; the number of the hermit in a tarot deck; the fact that when multiplied, nine always reproduces itself (try it – 2 x 9 = 18 and 1 + 8 = 9, 4 x 9 = 36 and 3 + 6 = 9… try it!); that Jesus died in the ninth hour; that Beethoven wrote nine symphonies; that Robert was born on the ninth day of the month – I still don’t know, but it being a mystery as much as an album made it a thrilling final ride all the same!
Mysteries aside, and lazy as it may be, there’s little to be gained in denying the influence of a certain Mr Jones’ to both the vocal style and the overall feel of “9” – if you like Bowie, you’ll probably like this! In terms of arrangement, there’s also something of Brian Wilson lurking, from the use simple yet often surprising effects, through to the use of diverse instrumentation to enhance the melody.
However, fleeting comparisons simply to provide pop references to the potential listener are to deny the effervescent uniqueness that Robert has always delivered in his work, whether as a solo artist or going all the way back to the first time I experienced it (and in turn, dare I say, was influenced by it) in Uncle Strange.
And it’s that uniqueness – blending theatre into song, almost as a separate instrument – being given centre stage once again that stands out above all on this album. Except maybe the aforementioned love that went into it, which makes a welcome return.
I’m no expert in the German gothic romantic painter that the cover makes an apology to, but as a self-proclaimed embodiment of gothic romance (in my 90’s heyday, if less so now), I certainly feel qualified to say that with “9” there is little to apologise for!
Last Saturday, The Psychedelic Monks and the Electric Church of Doom were supporting my good friends Pearl Handled Revolver at Bedford Esquires.
The name sums up the sound exactly, but all was overshadowed by their wonderful stage look! Check out the pic below, and a short video I took at http://www.youtube.com/stvnorman.
Posted at www.bedfordesquires.co.uk on 14th July 2010.
As many regular viewers will know, I’m not the biggest fan of the singer-songwriter genre – something about the lack of booze, pyros, swearing, spandex and so on that doesn’t really do it for me as a live music proposition.
So I was intrigued to be asked to review Amy Leeder’s debut solo EP, Solitary Girl, by someone who knew this perfectly well, wondering what they knew they had up their sleeve that was going to stop me from quickly entering into the inevitable scathing rant.
Well, one thing that seeing these songs played live can’t reasonably provide, unless Amy would care to provide a private session, is absolute intimacy, and above all else that’s what this EP cries out; the live recording really generates an immediacy, and also a fragility, that shoved my preconceptions to one side within seconds.
Something else I’d never really picked up from Amy’s live performances before, probably because I didn’t really want to, and was busy moaning about people being on stage with just an acoustic guitar anyway, was the quality of her song writing. There’s a real maturity to these three tracks, especially in terms of how the vocals weave around the unfussy guitar lines and vice versa, almost as though neither came first; I’m making the assumption that one did!
Amy’s vocal style on this EP, particularly on closer and possibly strongest track, ‘Apprehensive’, does remind me of The Cranberries quieter moments, with notes being thrown around with equally natural abandon, but without the vilely exaggerated Irish accent, and maybe even a bit more depth at times. There were moments when I was afraid that she was about to go all “cockney street girl” at any second, as is bizarrely the vogue at the moment, but thankfully that never really went beyond a threat, and on second listen (yes, you heard right!), I could enjoy the whole thing without fear!
And enjoy it I genuinely did! Whilst until the day that Amy is spitting into her audience off the stage I’ll probably never be considered a fan, but I can recognise what is an outstanding talent today that can only develop into one more outstanding over the next few years, and ÔSolitary Girl’ is the ideal showcase. Check it out!