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My Top Ten of 2015 – Albums

As mentioned in my last couple of posts, not sure why I decided to do this, but throughout the year I’ve been keeping top ten lists of games, films and albums. Here’s the albums one to complete the set. 

 

1. Slayer – Repentless

You know exactly what you’re getting in the first few seconds of this album. It’s unmistakably Slayer, and there can be little more that any fan could demand of a new Slayer album in 2015. The first few tracks hint at the speed rush of Hell Awaits, then interludes emerge nodding more to the more oppressive tone of South of Heaven. Yes, that means more of the same, but that also means more of Slayer, and this year there’s been nothing else that can touch that.

 

2. Satyricon – Live at the Opera

Whether live or on record, no other progressive black metal band offers polish, accessibility or innovation like Satyricon. And all three are present by the bucket load when they team up with the Norwegian Choir here. On the surface an odd mash-up but just imagine the soundtrack to The Omen then you’re not that far away from the peerless intensity and devastation summoned up in Satyricon’s recent past. If you’re going to lie in the dark with a decent pair of headphones on with anything, do it with this. 

 

3. Swervedriver- I Wasn’t Born to Lose You

Swervedriver were a huge part of the soundtrack to my young adult years, and after all these years they returned to where they left off, somewhere between shoegaze, garage rock and early grunge. Maybe not enough for some, but I couldn’t ask for more. 

 

4. Violet Cold – Desperate Dreams

Post-black metal with synths by a one-man outfit from Azerbaijan doesn’t really do this justice. It is the earliest example of why I quickly converted to Apple Music though – served it up on a beautiful, expressive plate to me when I first started using it for music discovery. From the opening piano track to the immersive, bleak wall of shimmering guitar, keyboards and black metal vocals it develops into, this is a wonderful piece of work. 

 

5. Killing Joke – Pylon

A relentless, pounding industrial war cry from the outset. While the youth seem content with whining, lacklustre, easy listening that you used to hope you’d never grow into, the Youth and his cohort continue to do anger like it never went out of fashion 35 years ago. Middle aged is the new punk. 

 

6. The Black Ryder – The Door Behind the Door

Great piece of late 60’s / early 70’s inspired psychedelic progressive shoegaze… Did I just coin a new genre? This is ambitious and arrogant, just like rock bands used to be.

 

7. Froth – Bleak

A bit like the aforementioned Swervedriver, this is driving music for those with a mindo of their own – a bit of that Sub Pop style lo-fi, a bit Mary Chain, a bit garage. Very melodic, very West Coast US. Very good. 

 

8. Venom – From the Very Depths

Thankfully some things never change. If you are the type that’s going to buy a new Venom album, you want a Venom album, and that’s what this is. It was never going to capture the energy of the early releases that revolutionised metal all those years ago, but the passion is still there. 

 

9. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts

This is Depeche Mode with guitars instead of synths, which makes it a completely different prospect but a very appealing one. What a solo project should sound like. There’s a couple of really outstanding tracks on there too. 

 

10. Cradle of Filth – Hammer of the Witches

Vintage Filth – hugely produced, extremely polished orchestral black metal. From eerie soundscapes to pompous thrash, it’s all present and very correct. 

My Top Ten of 2015 – Films

As mentioned in my last post, not sure why I decided to do this, but throughout the year I’ve been keeping top ten lists of games, films and albums. Here’s the films one, which is slightly influenced by the lack of new films I’ve seen this year. But I still love my films, even if 2015 was dominated by re-watching favourites on Blu-ray, so wanted to record them for posterity. Games you will find posted elsewhere already, albums to follow.
 
1. Star Wars – The Force Awakens
 
This was going to have to be a real shocker not to top this  list, but from the first trailer I never thought there was much chance of that. The prequels didn’t really offend me as much as they did others, but they never really felt like Star Wars. This one does, and from the very start anyone of a certain age is going to feel something they didn’t realise they hadn’t for over thirty years. Every piece of fan service is meticulously crafted to slot into a new – albeit familiar – story with new characters that I took to far more than I expected to. Yes, there’s a hundred plot holes, and you may have seem some of it before (even if the First Order clearly haven’t), but it’s space fantasy and it’s Star Wars so who cares. 
 
 
2. Deathgasm
 
By metal nerds for metal nerds! And a wonderful gorefest to boot, reminiscent of the old Peter Jackson films before he went mainstream. Completely undemanding and utterly entertaining! It’s got everything – from vandalising a lawn with “Hail Satin” written in napalm, to the homemade video for Deathgasm’s “Intestinal Bungie Jump” which pretty much pulls apart every black metal video cliche in the space of thirty hilarious seconds. And not forgetting the variety of creative ways black metal demons get killed with a box of sex toys!
 
 
3. Mad Max – Fury Road
 
I love that this film has no pretensions of a plot – exactly how a great action film should be! Just a huge post-apocalyptic car chase full of stunts and explosions and general chaos. This is my favourite Mad Max film (all of which I watched in the week before watching this) and one of the best mindless action movies in years.
 
 
4. Mission: Impossible  – Rogue Nation 
 
Some incredible action scenes that never take themselves too serious – in the midst of all the mayhem there are some really intentionally bonkers moments! The pace is unrelenting, the story provides plenty of intrigue, and Cruise rides a motorbike without a helmet faster than ever before. 
 
 
5. Spectre
 
It’s a proper Bond film! Ludicrous opening sequence, bonkers car chases and a scrap on a luxury train. There’s still the emotional grit that’s been part and parcel of the Daniel Craig era, but Spectre brings back a bit of that classic Moore panache. Goes on a bit but you only really notice how much time has passed when the credits roll. 
 
 
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
 
Nearly two and a half hours of eye-popping action scenes – mostly over-powered fighting – interspersed by a few nice moments of character-based humour, without much dwelling on unnecessary character development, and dream sequences that are thankfully short enough not to get dull before they turn into another fight scene. I hope the brain lady (as explained next…) gets her own movie too. 
 
 
7. Ant-Man
 
I remember when this was first announced, and I announced it to my family (in Byron, in Cambridge). They thought I was making it up. I’m not a big Marvel nerd, but unlike them I had heard of Ant-Man, though I did share their scepticism about a miniature superhero with super strength working in a movie. It turned out to be a lot of fun and great platform for the character to develop further though. The size thing was well worked as part of the story and worked convincingly on screen too. If only more of the audience had appreciated the helicopter scene with The Cure in as much as I did then the world would be a better place. 
 
 
8. Jurassic World 
 
Big, stupid, mega-budget monster movie, which all adds up to AAA fun. Maybe doesn’t have the suspense factor or the impact of the original, but there’s some imaginative touches, great set pieces and a real Spielberg feel, with more than a nod to Jaws. 
 
 
9.It Follows
 
Could have been a bit creepier, but an original concept, well polished, and unusually a horror film that clearly had a reasonable budget that was not designed for 12-year olds or people that don’t like horror films! Similar vibe to Nightmare on Elm Street, and a refreshing change. 
 
 
10. Ex Machina
 
Easy to watch sci-fi exploring humanity through artificial intelligence via a simple plot mechanic, complemented by an equally simple but high production visual style and some really nice robot effects.

My Top Ten of 2015 – Games

Not sure why I decided to do this, but throughout the year I’ve been keeping top ten lists of games, films and albums. Here’s the games one. Possible use for it is nostalgia in the future. Others to follow, with other potential uses. 
 
1. Journey (PS4)
 
Wow. In 35+ years gaming, nothing has ever gently drawn me in then completely sucked me dry like that did. Unbelievable experience. Simply stunning in all respects. Nothing more to add, except the PS4 version came out this year and I’d never played it before, so it counts!
 
2. Rocket League
 
Online gaming came too late for me; my reactions still feel okay at 43, but I’ve never had the time to pour hours into the likes of Call of Duty or Destiny and become truly competitive. I think I’ve second-placed in a couple of deathmatches but generally I’m happy not to be last! Then along came July PS+ game Rocket League to change all that. It takes a while to get the controls and the slightly off-kilter physics (which you can’t really complain about in a game involving jumping cars playing football with a giant futuristic baseball), but once you have, the game plays to a level of maturity, understanding it’s nuances, reading what’s happening and biding your time. With this in mind, my trepidation about heading online turned out to be completely unfounded. Whilst others generally seem to be frantically chasing the ball – very much like an under-8’s football team might – I’ve found myself not only contributing to my team (for once) but also being the match winner! Also enjoying season mode and local multiplayer with my 8-year old son (who’s recently moved on from the moths to a flame approach to football). The game runs great, looks good, and is as much fun as you think a cross between Speedball and the original Twisted Metal might be (complete with Sweet Tooth if you stick with it). And last but not least, I got my first ever Platinum Trophy on this – all it took was playing it to death!
 
3. Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)
 
If you’re a Star Wars fan carrying all the gaming implications of being a 43-year old dad, this could be one of the greatest games ever! Yes, as bemoaned in all the reviews by twenty-something veterans, it’s shallow, there’s not many maps, loadouts are simple and anyone can pick up a perk. But if you’ve got an hour or so every couple of days to do your gaming thing, these “inadequacies” are a right old bonus, especially when the visuals and audio simply scream Star Wars! And if you have a kid, give the split screen co-op survival missions a whirl. It’s great fun, and the most immersive Star Wars experience since some of us sat down in a certain arcade cabinet over thirty years ago. 
 
4. Pac-Man 256 (iOS)
 
When I heard another version of Pac-Man was coming in 2015, this turned out to be the game I wanted it to be. Endless high score chasing with some great opportunities for strategy with power-ups, multipliers and learning the behaviour of each ghost. Controlling just like Crossy Road, with the hours I’ve spent on that, was a bonus too! Having a fairly unintrusive free to play model also helped.
 
5. Alto’s Adventure (iOS)
 
This has been my go-to game on the dozens of flights I’ve made this year; I might start with something else but always end up coming back here. Gameplay wise, it’s an endless runner on a snowboard with a nice scoring mechanic and a progression system based on unlocking new characters with different skills to help you progress through objectives, which can take hours to complete at the later levels. The trick system is simple but requires skill and the physics system demands risk calculation and timing. The real draw are the visuals though – it looks stunning, with dynamic weather effects, the passage of time through day and night, and incredible attention to detail in the terrains and backgrounds. And when you combine this with the easy-on-the-ears soundtrack and effects that sound like a board on snow, it’s very easy to get completely lost in.
 
6. Batman Arkham Knight (PS4)
 
Didn’t grab me like the two previous games I’ve played – at no point did I see an air-con vent in real life and prepare to get inside it like in Asylum! But it’s a hell of a game. Looks stunning, the story doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the combat and the gliding feel as good as ever. Lots of people seem to have disliked the Batmobile; I had no problem with the Batmobile, but absolutely detested the later drone / tank missions involving it! Don’t often turn down to easy, but there’s only so many times you can restart something before you ditch it (which very nearly happened even on easy) or put a controller through the TV. In retrospect it didn’t really detract from a great experience though.
 
7. OlliOllii  2: Welcome to Olliwood (PS4)
 
This was a free monthly PSN game early in the year. I never got around to the first one, always believing it would end up as a PS+ freebie, then lo and behold the sequel appears on there first. It’s one of those games where there’s a good chance you’ll delete it after ten minutes, especially when it’s free, but persevere and the controls start to click, and after a while you start to master them, then as unnatural as they probably are, they become second nature. That said, it never stops treading a very fine line between frustrating – mainly due to forgetting to press a button at the right time – and utterly addictive, and getting five stars on every level can easily become an obsession. 
 
8. The Order: 1886 (PS4)
 
A couple of massively frustrating stealth and enemy spawn-a-thon circle-strafe sections aside, where I’d die too many times for it to still be enjoyable then repeat over and over again from a far too distant checkpoint, I very much enjoyed the story, setting, atmosphere and steampunk environment… Despite the continuous references to Jack the Ripper, who didn’t actually appear until 2 years after the game is set. Not sure why they didn’t call it 1888 – much better marketing angle too!
 
9 . Shooty Skies (iOS)
 
This is to Galaga what Crossy Road is to Frogger. Absolutely fantastic arcade shooter coupled with a load of chunky pixel characters to unlock if that’s your bag. The single finger touch controls work perfectly, especially the risk-reward long press explosions. Game Center leaderboards combined with the accessibility mean that there’s a good chance you’ll have some scores to chase against people you know too. Great free to play model too, especially if unlocking stuff isn’t your bag!
 
10. WWE Immortals (iOS)
 
When I started playing this, I’d have never believed I’d spend the hours and hours I did spend getting to the end of it, without paying a penny, much like I did last year with Trials Extreme on iOS too. There’s very little strategy to the simple combat, other than knowing when is best to tag in and out to make best use of special moves. The real strategy is in playing the free to play model, knowing what class of characters to spend your in game currency on and when, then which moves to unlock and when… This was the real joy in the game that kept me hooked. That said, the identikit Mortal Kombat version that came later really did nothing for me.
 
 
Other notable games that I’ve enjoyed this year, but are not strictly 2015 releases, include Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor, which clocked in at around 50 hours, such was my enjoyment. Wolfenstein The New Order, which almost never got completed thanks to a really frustrating lack of checkpoints in a boss battle at half way. Crossy Road, which I dread to think how many hours I’ve put in! Monument Valley, care of a free code from Starbucks; not generally one for puzzle games, but it wasn’t that taxing (i.e. it was logical), looked beautiful and was ultra-intuitive. A bit like Limbo, care of PS+.