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Steve Norman’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

I’m regularly lambasted for being old and out of touch, but I’m quite proud to prove that at least one of those accusations wrong with at least 90% of this list! Not a Metallica or Rolling Stones in sight, though I’m still fond of this year’s output. And I still don’t like Bowie. 
  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. Dinosaur Jr. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
  9. 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.  
  10. 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. 

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.