Archive for January, 2014

Eelco Gelling is back! Read about it in Gitarist!

Recently, I had the enormous pleasure of talking to Dutch Blues Legend Eelco Gelling – formerly of Cuby + Blizzards and Golden Earring, on whose brilliant ‘Live’ he played – about his return to the stage and possibly the recording front. It seems to be quite a serious task this time; Gelling has recently had his first gigs with Jan Akkerman with his 1960 Les Paul Standard completely cleaned up and restored by Theo Nijssen. This month’s issue of Gitarist, which should be in stores by tomorrow, features Gelling explaining his absence and his return as well as Nijssen explaining the restauration of Gelling’s beloved Les Paul. I consider this one of the most interesting stories I have done so far and I can recommend everyone with more than a passing interest in Dutch music to check this out.

Furthermore, my contributions include an interview with singer/guitarist Gaelian Corluy and bassist Pieter Jan Janssen of Belgian Hardcore/Rock/Industial band Psycho 44. Also from Belgium is D&C Steel Body Guitars, whose Dennis Louis I recently interviewed about his metal guitars (litterally!) instead of wooden ones. My reviews this month are those on ‘Faico Faico’ of the Backcorner Boogie Band (fantastic Dutch Bluesrock!), Dudettes’ debut album ‘Subconscious’ (extremely well written Poprock which is ready for the arenas), Within Temptation’s brand new ‘Hydra’, the new releases by Epica and Mayan, Lone Project’s debut album and the entertaining concept album ‘The Story Of Bloody S. Cash’ by The Covenant.

Need more reasons to buy this issue? Well, if you like Eelco Gelling, you’re certainly going to like Buddy Guy as well (I know I do!) and he’s in the mag as well. Furthermore, there’s an interview with Edison winner Reinier Baas, a visit to the Gibson factory in Memphis and loads of product tests. I know what I’m going to read on my long journey to my interview this Saturday!

Album of the Week 04-2014: Navarone – A Darker Shade Of White

Earlier this week, I already professed my love for Navarone. In fact, while today is a fantastic time to keep an eye out for good Dutch Rock bands, I still think Navarone towers above many of them. Hailing from a town that has spawned many amazing Dutch bands in recent years – Nijmegen, to be exact – Navarone plays a fantastic brand of Led Zeppelin-inspired Hardrock with a distinct contemporary twist that makes them just a tad more interesting than the average retro Rock band these days. Still, it contains every element that made many of the classic Rock records; huge riffs, hooky songwriting and fantastic, soaring vocals.

My interest in Navarone was awakened by a piece of Dutch music journalist Jan Vollaard. The man is a huge fan of The Black Crowes – as any music fan should be – who compared the band to the Crowes, claiming ‘A Darker Shade Of White’ to be the best Dutch Rock album he had heard in a long time. I’ve heard that before, but these guys really live up to that label. Merijn van Haaren has the best throat I had heard in a long time and his high voice with a slight rough edge is an important part of what makes this album fantastic instead of just good.

Then there’s the guitar work. Kees Lewiszong and Roman Huijbreghs have perfectly mastered the monolithic riffing of a Led Zeppelin, but their leads are nothing short of impressive either. In the instrumental track that has a quarter rest symbol as a title and the extended psychedelic jamming of ‘Sage’, they have proven themselves more than proficient in soundscaping as well and Robin Assen has the best drum sound I have heard in a long time. Also, the band really knows how to work the dynamics in their songs, giving every section exactly the right amount of power.

Given the material at hand, ‘The Red Queen Effect’ is the perfect opener for this album. With its swinging rhythms and amazing chorus, it gives out a good impression for the album. The horns give the song a subtle soul edge not unlike the first two albums of The Black Crowes. ‘On My Knees’ is a similar kind of Rock song with a fantastic chorus. But this album’s true diamond in the rough is the perfect build-up of the moving power ballad ‘December’. That song provided one of the two goosebumps moments at Eurosonic Noorderslag last week. How this song builds from small and insecure to the heartfelt, passionate cry it become in the end is nearly unbelievable.

As I’ve said before: today is a great time to pay attention to Dutch Rock bands, but Navarone is without a doubt one of the best of them. Currently, the band is in the studio recording their second album and judging from the material heard so far, it’s going to be of similar class as ‘A Darker Shade Of White’. Until then, help yourself through this album. It’s a promising debut from a band hopefully capable of much, much more.

Recommended tracks: ‘December’, ‘The Red Queen Effect’, ‘On My Knees’

Eurosonic Noorderslag 2014

This picture of Birth Of Joy guitarist Kevin Stunnenberg may very well be the best picture I have taken at Eurosonic Noorderslag of this year. Their show at the Jack Daniels Barn of Eurosonic was pretty impressive as well. Very loud and in your face. Just the way a Rock show is supposed to be. There is a full report in Dutch of everything that my chief editor Mark van Schaick, my colleague Ernst-Jan Jonkman and yours truly have seen right here on the Gitarist website, but through this way, I’d like to share a few extra words about the festival with you. I have, after all, seen some very interesting things. Here’s my findings on some of the things of which my photos have been published on the Gitarist website. Before any of you who know me ask: yes, I thoroughly enjoyed De Staat – more on that later – but the photo included is not mine.

Some time ago, I interviewed Dudettes drummer Ingrid Lodewegen for Slagwerkkrant. She’s a cool lady and their music is something special within the Dutch Rock landscape as well, with Cynthia Weiss’ huge, The Edge inspired guitar sound definitely being something else than the sixties and seventies revival heard with most Dutch bands at the moment. Eurosonic finally provided me with an opportunity (quite a few actually) to see them live and that was the first of two goosebumps moments at the festival. The chorus to their song ‘Please’ had been stuck in my head for many days after the festival and they’re just a joy to see live. Singer Zjoly Onrust has an honesty and sincerity in her presentation that I can’t help but love. They played to quite a full house of people even at dinner time on Thursday and that’s only a testament to their impressive music. Debut album ‘Subconscious’ is recommended to all fans of catchy Rock music.

More goosebumps were caused by Navarone. They opened the second night of Eurosonic Air quite surprisingly with the atmospheric Rock ballad ‘December’, which is just so moving that only a robot can remain completely untouched by it. The rest of the show consisted of mighty Led Zeppelin inspired riffs and soulful grooves reminiscent of The Black Crowes. Merijn van Haren has a high, powerful wail that fits this kind of music perfectly. Navarone knows how to use sparse psychedelia, but that never distracts from the actual songs. The week following the festival – now, basically – the band would return to the studio to record the follow-up to their brilliant debut ‘A Darker Shade Of White’ and two songs are played from that album. Both sounded really good and very trusted. Like a groovier version of the debut.  Navarone is simply one of the best Rock bands we have around in the Netherlands and they have proven themselves more than worthy live. ‘The Wander’ and ‘The Red Queen Effect’ have irresistable choruses.

The CBK hall at the Oosterpoort wasn’t exactly the best place to take photos because of the relative lack of lights, but that did add to the atmosphere of the My Baby show. For me, this band was the most pleasant surprise for me. Prior to the show, I had only heard a fragment of a song and they were announced on the festival website as a Soul group. Their brand of Voodoo music, however, seemed to come right out of the swamps of the southern United States and did remind me of Dr. John’s ‘Gris-Gris’ a little. My Baby isn’t quite as New Orleans though, opting instead for a subdued sound of Delta Blues riffs and dark, shimmering grooves with Cato van Dyck’s powerful voice soaring above that. Definitely a band to check out more often. They have embarked on a world tour, so if you are an international visitor interested in this awesome band, be sure to have a look if they play around your area. They’re well worth your time.

I have professed my love for Black Bottle Riot on this weblog before. These guys are probably the best Southern Rock band we have in Holland – quite possibly in all of Europe – and both their riffs and songs just kick ass. Okay, so they’re not completely a Lynyrd Skynyrd, there’s a little too much Thin Lizzy inspired, muscular Hard Rock around, but it has the blue collar attitude and power to at least thoroughly satisfy the average Blackfoot fan. And the awesome twin solos! These guys know how to create a party atmosphere as well. Playing right after De Staat, Black Bottle Riot’s performance was sort of a Nijmegen Rock afterparty and they did that with flair and conviction. A pretty cool warm up for the actual afterparty they will do at the ZZ Top show in Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall in June. At least this show caused me to leave the Oosterpoort satisfied. And if you’re anything like me, it’s impossible to not like songs like ‘Trying Too Hard’, ‘Rocky Road’ or ‘Bright Light City’.

More on Eurosonic Noorderslag in the March issues of Gitarist and Slagwerkkrant. If something else pops up online, I’ll keep you informed!

Album of the Week 03-2014: Vision Divine – Stream Of Consciousness

Lineup changes are an indispensible part of the history of bands that last longer than a few years. These are generally frowned upon, but sometimes they can mean something of a new beginning as well. Case in point: my discovery of the incredible Michele Luppi on Vision Divine’s ‘Stream Of Consciousness’. Fabio Lione’s forced departure – Rhapsody’s contract with Magic Circle Music at the time basically prohibited any side activities for its members – let to Luppi’s hiring, while Olaf Thörsen breaking ties with all the Labÿrinth members in Vision Divine gave way to Oleg Smirnoff’s unconventional keyboard work, providing all the ingredients for the band’s most impressive album so far.

‘Stream Of Consciousness’ is a concept record and as such lends a little more of a progressive touch to the songwriting. The musicians involved may have had some effect to this as well; drummer Matteo Amoroso played with progressive Power Metallers Athena and Smirnoff’s keyboard work extends beyond his predecessor’s Andrea de Paoli’s more familiar Power Metal territory. Band leader Thörsen has never been scared of a few progressive tendencies either, it just seems that his time, the circumstances have proven a little more fitting to take this direction. And it works; all the songs are well crafted, full of great melodies and somewhat surprising.

What makes this record even better than Vision Divine’s generally great output then? First of all, and I know I mentioned this before, Michele Luppi is a revelation. To this day, I have yet to find a better singer within the more melodic side of the Metal genre. The man has an enormous range through which he races with great ease, but also knows how to wring the right amount of emotion out of every note. There’s some fantastic harmonies as well. And those are all backed by powerful riffs, songs with surprising little twists and a crisp, clean production to boot. It seems like Thörsen really had something to prove here.

Despite the conceptual nature of the album – there’s recurring themes and short instrumental pieces – there’s actually a bunch of very strong songs on here. ‘Out Of The Maze’, ‘Colours Of My World’ and ‘La Vitta Fugge’ are fantastic progressive Power Metal tracks with powerful choruses (especially the former!), ‘The Fallen Feather’ and ‘Identities’ are beautiful ballads and ‘We Are, We Are Not’ contains possibly the heaviest riff Vision Divine had done up to that point. But the true diamond here is ‘Versions Of The Same’, with its beautiful vocal lines and perfect chorus. It’s a tad poppy, but that’s also part of its irresistable charm.

For those of you into the strongly melodic side of Heavy Metal should hear this album. Period. It’s probably the best album released in the last decade in that particular segment of the genre. Also, it showed the world the incredible talents of Michele Luppi, who’s gone out to do many, many more great things in the melodic Metal and AOR genres. ‘Stream Of Consciousness’ is where Vision Divine finally prove itself as a band; it’s the evidence that Olaf Thörsen could do this without his Labÿrinth bandmates and not only that: he did it even better than with them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Versions Of The Same’, ‘Out Of The Maze’, ‘Colours Of My World’

Album of the Week 02-2014: Murat İlkan – Fanus

Over a year and a half after Turkey’s Pentagram prove that they could make a fantastic record (‘MMXII’) without the incredible Murat İlkan fronting the band, it’s İlkan’s turn. And like his former band before him, İlkan pleasantly surprises with an outstanding Metal release. Okay, with seven songs and a playing time of slightly over half an hour, it’s a little short, but at least all of the songs are good. Style-wise, ‘Fanus’ is on the more streamlined and catchy side of the progressive Metal spectrum, providing a refreshing take on İlkan’s mighty, powerful voice.

With İlkan playing many acoustic shows following his departure from Pentagram, a Progmetal album wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Although he’s proven through the years to be impressively capable of singing acoustic material – check out Pentagram’s ‘ (Sonsuz)’ for a breathtaking example – the direction taken on ‘Fanus’ does acount for a greater deal of room for İlkan to display the immense power his voice has. For those of you unfamiliar with it: try to imagine a Turkish take on Bruce Dickinson, with whom he shares the wide range and the force in the higher regions.

It’s the songs, however, that make a release like this and luckily, they are all incredibly well-written by İlkan with guitarist Erdem Karaman and keyboard player Mesut Uçar. And despite the songs being fairly serviceable to the vocals, some awesome riffs can be heard throughout the record. Both Karaman and Uçar do some short, but impressive leads as well. Most of the songs are built upon violent riffing, memorable choruses (the one to ‘Yaramaz Çocuk’ refuses to leave my head) and rather interesting rhythms. The two exceptions to this are epic title track – which features İlkan singing lower than I have ever heard him – and the beautiful tranquil closer ‘Sen Ve Ben’.

Highlighting the Progmetal section of the album is the amazing ‘Dil’. Karaman’s riff, the atmospherics of Uçar’s keyboards and the intense drumming of İlkan’s brother Aykan – who also plays drums for Turkish Rock diva Şebnem Ferah – already kicks in your teeth in the intro and the song remains exciting through all the changes in atmosphere between the different sections. This is probably my favorite vocal performance of İlkan as well. However, the a capella bit that opens ‘Merhaba’ (and the album) is impressive as well, before it grows into a fantastic Progmetal song. ‘Mirror Mirror’, the only English song, is the darkest and heaviest track on the album and ‘Yalan’ is a bit more straightforward.

‘Fanus’ is a flying start to Murat İlkan’s solo carreer and it leaves me wishing there will be much, much more to come. His voice is in typical amazing shape, but he’s also gathered an impressive band around him and the level of songwriting is simply astonishing. Much better than most of the big names in Progmetal even, because İlkan and his band seem to have a much better understanding of how to use musical proficiency within hooky, melodic songs. Strongly reccomended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dil’, ‘Yaramaz Çocuk’, ‘Merhaba’

Album of the Week 01-2014: Angra – Aurora Consurgens

When Power Metal bands explore their darker side, the results tend to be stunning. Angra’s ‘Aurora Consurgens’ is one of the most Obvious examples. Their brand of progressive Power Metal has been nothing short of impressive for quite some years, especially since singer Edu Falaschi joined the band – I never really liked André Matos’ voice – but this is Angra at arguably their heaviest and best. The compositions contain more surprises than any other Angra album and the less upbeat nature of the material give the album an exciting atmosphere.

‘Aurora Consurgens’ has the best opening salvo of any Angra album. Opener ‘The Course Of Nature’ already gives away that things might end up to be sounding as positive as Power Metal fans may have come accustomed to with its riffing closer to Progmetal and its subdued, brooding verses, and its two follow-ups are possibly even better. ‘The Voice Commanding You’ is a blazing progressive Power Metal track with loads of interesting guitar lines, unexpected twists in the composition (a madrigal, seriously!) and – as expected – a fantastic chorus, all of those factors combined make it my all time favorite Angra song, and the somber midtempo Prog of ‘Ego Painted Grey’ paints an impeccible atmosphere.

Despite those tracks being my immediate favorites, ‘Aurora Consurgens’ has plenty more to offer. ‘So Near So Far’ is something I would almost call a multi-regional work of art, with its Middle-Eastern sounding intro, British Prog verses, European Power Metal chorus and – I would almost say naturally – a brilliant Latin American section in the solo. ‘Passing By’ is a fantastic, stomping Progmetal song with powerful rhythms, ‘Salvation : Suicide’ and ‘Scream Your Heart Out’ are more Power Metal-oriented affairs and closing ballad ‘Abandoned Fate’ is pure acoustic mastery.

Every musician on this album does the best possible job to make this a strong and memorable album. In the two decades that have passed since debut album ‘Angels Cry’, Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt have proven time and time again that they are a fantastic guitar duo. In fact, they’re one of the few that can do these dizzyingly fast melodies (like in ‘Salvation : Suicide’) without actually making my ears tired. Aquiles Priester is a fantastic drummer with an explosive sound to boot, Felipe Andreoli proves himself once again as a virtuoso bassist and surprisingly great songwriter and Edu Falaschi’s voice is fantastic. I love the slight raw edge to his voice.

It’s not like Angra never did anything good before ‘Aurora Consurgens’. It’s just that this is the album where Angra rises above itself, being even more than what they normally are. It’s another proof of why Angra is leading the Brazilian (or possibly even the South American) Power Metal scene and quite frankly, I like this a lot more than the somewhat simpler and highly predictable Power Metal that usually comes out of Europe. Let this be a lesson for all of those bands. ‘Aurora Consurgens’ shows you what Power Metal can be all about if you only slightly stray from the trusted formula.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Voice Commanding You’, ‘Ego Painted Grey’, ‘The Course Of Nature’, ‘So Near So Far’

Best of 2013: The Albums

Well, that was it. We’ve been through a weird year musically. Especially in the Metal scene, the household names released subpar or even downright terrible albums – Megadeth’s ‘Super Collider’ is one disappointment I never got over – while the less familiar names sometimes came forward with surprisingly good albums. Examples will follow. Luckily, the Benelux Rock scene surprised us with an explosion of interesting releases, many of which following in my Best of 2013 list, but Ayreon and Arrow-Haze also deserve honorable mentions.

For those of you who wonder: the two titles leading this list have never been listed as a Kevy Metal Album of the Week. There’s a reason for that. First of all, I don’t want to publish any reviews here that might end up in Gitarist for the simple reason that they pay me, so they deserve the premiere. Also, both of these albums had reached me as promos long before the release date and received many a spin before their release. By the time they got released – and therefore the time justified for their reviews – I had other albums were regularly featured in that week. Both albums returned to my cd player amazingly often though!

And one more request to all bands: now that 2013 is over, can we please stop calling our albums anything including the number 13 now? Thank you!

1. Tamikrest – Chatma

Despite Mali being consistently tortured by conflict last year, their musicians released fantastic music. Vieux Farka Touré’s ‘Mon Pays’ was good, but ‘Chatma’ is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. Like their Tuareg brothers of Tinariwen, Tamikrest creates hypnotizing Desert Blues. However, Tamikrest is younger and more energetic. Desert Rock may be a more fitting term. The swinging rhythms – with actual drums and not just percussion – and spectacularly interwoven guitar lines stand out on this album, but so do the compositions. The band takes a more experimental approach this time, successfully mixing their core sound with influences of Dub and psychedelia, creating a work of art that really should be heard by anyone. Regardless of what genre you like. It seems like Tamikrest has found their niche on this mindblowing album and since it’s only their third, let’s hope they will continue this brilliance for a long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Achaka Achail Aynaian Daghchilan’, ‘Imanin Bas Zihoun’

2. Guild Of Stags – Ode To The Emperor

Sheer seventies Rock euphoria. Even though these musicians are – despite their relatively young age – veterans of the Dutch music scene, ‘Ode To The Emperor’ took me completely by surprise. First of all: I had never heard of British singer Michael Devlin, but he’s fantastic, sounding like a mixture of Robert Plant and Bon Scott, though slightly more melodic than you might expect from such a description, and his spirited, enthusiastic delivery is part of what makes the album so great. The other part is that it just sounds great. These songs are expertly written and the amount of variation is just stunning, with the band moving from AC/DC-esque stompers to Southern Rock inspired semi-ballads through massive epics with great ease. Also – and I can’t emphasize this enough – Bram van den Berg is the best drummer in the Benelux. Bassist Joost van Haaren and chameleon-like guitarist JP Hoekstra – it’s amazing how easily adapts to every song – are no amateurs either though. This is a must for fans of seventies Hardrock. The singing and moving will follow automatically.

Recommended tracks: ‘Too Long’, ‘Hit n’ Miss’, ‘The Burning Of Scarlet Liege’

3. Orphaned Land – All Is One

Both their message of peace and harmony in the Middle-East as well as Orphaned Land’s music has never been as direct as on ‘All Is One’. This is a pleasant development though. It makes ‘All Is One’ sound powerful and fresh, yet familiar. It’s still the irresistable mix of progressive Metal and traditional Middle-Eastern music in multiple languages, yet with a slightly different take on it. The guitars of Yossi Sassi and newcomer Chen Balbus sound just a little crunchier than before and Kobi Fahri focuses almost entirely on his fantastic clean vocals rather than on grunts. As for the message: listen to ‘Let The Truce Be Known’ while reading along with the lyrics. A truly mesmerizing experience. The bombast is still here, with the fantastic Turkish orchestra and choir, and every song is moving and goosebumps inducing. It really seems like Orphaned Land keeps on getting better and words cannot express how much I continue to love this band.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let The Truce Be Known’, ‘The Simple Man’, ‘Brother’, ‘All Is One’

4. Voivod – Target Earth

Long live the return of Voivod. This is easily the best comeback record of the year. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect them to return this powerfully after the death of the unique guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour, but Martyr’s Dan Mongrain took the challenge and passed with flying colors. The twisted, jazzy chords of D’Amour are all over this record, as is the compositional brilliance of Voivod’s best albums ‘Nothingface’ and ‘Dimension Hatröss’. So this is progressive Thrash Metal with distinct Sci-Fi elements. Complex, but menacing. As if Pink Floyd is playing Metal, with the psychedelic space lyrics being replaced by a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. Every member is in optima forma here. Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault’s bass sound blows everything out of the water and Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s surprisingly relaxed drumming keeps everything together. Combine that with the fact that this is easily the best material the band has written since at least ‘The Outer Limits’ and the Thrashiest since ‘Killing Technology’ and we’ve got ourselves a winner.

Recommended tracks: ‘Corps Étranger’, ‘Mechanical Mind’, ‘Kluskap O’Kom’

5. De Staat – I_Con

For those unfamiliar with the band: De Staat is a crazy band whose sound is nearly impossible to describe. Imagine a mixture of Nick Cave’s early work with the wild eclecticism and craziness of mid-period Faith No More, Vaudeville melodies and electronic overtones. Sounds impossible? It probably is if you’re not this band. ‘I_Con’ is notably more guitar oriented than its direct predecessor ‘Machinery’, but it’s no less strange. The album ranges from almost unbearably loud (the awesome ‘Witch Doctor’) to surprisingly delicate (‘I’ll Take You’, which features the fantastic Janne Schra as guest vocalist) and everything in between. This time, the band does a better job than ever fusing electronics with guitars and the results are fantastic. You have never heard anything like this in your life and the next time you will is probably De Staat’s next album. Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Witch Doctor’, ‘Down Town’, ‘Make Way For The Passenger’

6. King Of The World – Can’t Go Home

Those who think that Blues is somewhat monotonous by nature should really give ‘Can’t Go Home’ a listen. This Dutch Blues supergroup featuring former Cuby + Blizzards guitarist Erwin Java and fantastic singer/bassist Ruud Weber, who worked with Snowy White, takes you on a journey through five decades of electic Blues and treats every take on it with equal class, enthusiasm and energy. ‘Can’t Go Home’ swings, cries and sweats through multiple dance halls and smokey cafés before closing with the breathtaking, goosebumps inducing tribute to the late Harry ‘Cuby’ Muskee which is the title track of the album. And then you put it on again, because every song leading to that one is of equal brilliance. I don’t know if it’s Weber’s amazing sandpaper throat, Java’s loose and wild guitar playing, Fokke de Jong’s swinging rhythms or Govert van der Kolm’s awesome Hammond, but the combination is something that you should hear, no matter what kind of Blues you like.

Recommended tracks: ‘Can’t Go Home (For “Q”)’, ‘Bluesified’, ‘Better Leave While You Can’

7. Gov’t Mule – Shout!

Finally! Gov’t Mule consistently releases fantastic spontaneous Bluesrock ‘n’ Soul records, but ‘Shout!’ is easily their best album since the death of original bassist Allen Woody. The band jams with great passion through a collection of fantastically written songs. Even though Gov’t Mule’s records remain jam-heavy, the songs are recognizable, hooky and well sung by singer/guitarist Warren Haynes. Even the Reggae song ‘Scared To Live’ is fantastic this time – I don’t like the genre – and closer ‘Bring On The Music’ is just a piece of art. ‘Shout!’ contains an entire bonus cd with different singers interpreting all the songs on the record. Some of the songs sound like they’re written for the singer in question; ‘Funny Little Tragedy’ with Elvis Costello’s vocals sounds like it could have been the B-side to ‘Oliver’s Army’ and Dr. John really turns ‘Stoop So Low’ into a dirty barroom boogie. Be sure to revel in the festive atmosphere of ‘Shout!’; it’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll party!

Recommended tracks: ‘Bring On The Music’, ‘Funny Little Tragedy’, ‘Stoop So Low’

8. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Changing drummers mid-recording and a great arsenal of guest musicians haven’t stopped ‘…Like Clockwork’ from being Queens Of The Stone Age’s best and most focused album yet. Naturally, Josh Homme’s vision is strong enough to keep it all together, although the result has never been as strong as on this record. ‘…Like Clockwork’ is a dark, gloomy, eclectic and powerful masterpiece of an album with uptempo Rockers contrasting the desperate ballads and the surprisingly sunny sound of ‘Smooth Sailing’. This isn’t by any means the band’s most accessible album, but ‘Songs For The Deaf’ – which had some downright brilliant moments, but was wildly unfocused as an album – also granted the band an enormous audience. The consistenly high quality of the song material on ‘…Like Clockwork’ should bring them at least similarly sized crowds.

Recommended tracks: ‘I Appear Missing’, ‘If I Had A Tail’, ‘My God Is The Sun’

9. Stryper – No More Hell To Pay

First things first: ‘Sympathy’ is easily the best single released this year. Such a fantastic melodic Hardrock track! And the rest of ‘No More Hell To Pay’ is surprisingly good as well. This might even be Stryper’s best album yet. Michael Sweet has written a bunch of fantastic songs with strong melodies and infectious choruses. His voice is nothing short of fantastic either, even today at age 50. In short: exactly what one would want from Stryper. Secular fans may be happy to know that their religious message is a bit more subtle this time, but it’s really the music that counts and it’s truly worth hearing. With a greater variation in tempos, the album may have been even better – there’s quite a lot of midtempo work on the album – but I’d definitely take this over ‘In God We Trust’ any day. Even the ballad – there’s only one – is very well worth hearing this time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sympathy’, ‘Marching Into Battle’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Saved By Love’

10. Black Bottle Riot – Soul In Exile

Believe it or not, but we have excellent Southern Rock in Holland. Black Bottle Riot’s self-titled debut album was already a revelation of fantastic seventies inspired Hardrock. That is still the case on ‘Soul In Exile’, but the Southern Rock factor has increased and the songwriting has clearly evolved. Simon Snel and Mike Sedee can compete with the best of the Southern all stars, the rhythms are simultaneously swinging and stomping and all the melodies are incredibly catchy. ‘Soul In Exile’ sounds spontaneous and powerful and the band audibly has a lot of fun doing this. Any Rock album should have this amount of inspiration, enthusiasm and energy. And we – as Dutchies – should be happy we have a band like Black Bottle Riot walking around on our soil.

Recommended tracks: ‘Trying Too Hard’, ‘The Rocky Road’, ‘Soul In Exile’

11. Amorphis – Circle

Although Amorphis’ current lineup consistently makes amazing records, they’ve really struck gold this time. Maybe it’s the choice for producer Peter Tägtgren, but the band finds itself in slightly less familiar waters – this is still instantly recognizable as Amorphis though – pushing themselves to great heights. The guitars of Tomi Koisuvaari and Esa Holopainen – one of my favorite lead guitarists – have something of an extra punch here and the album contains some of the Finns’ most brutal moments in a long time. However, when the band gets more melodic, their true brilliance shines through. Singer Tomi Joutsen covers both sides with equal power. This Amorphis lineup can hardly do anything wrong, but ‘Circle’ and 2007 masterpiece ‘Silent Waters’ stand as modern day Metal classics.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mission’, ‘Hopeless Days’, ‘Nightbird’s Song’, ‘Dead Man’s Dream’

12. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Blixa Bargeld gone, Mick Harvey gone… Would Nick Cave still have something to offer without his two sound defining guitarist? Why did I even doubt that? ‘Push The Sky Away’ is another great record. Okay, there’s hardly any guitars here, but mad professor Warren Ellis’ wide array of instruments does the trick. Naturally, the songwriting does as well. ‘Push The Sky Away’ is a lot more moody than the exuberant ‘Dig Lazarus Dig’, but it’s not a piano ballad album like ‘The Boatman’s Call’ was. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is one of the best tracks Cave has ever been involved with, but every song here is worth hearing. There aren’t many albums this subtle in my collection, but Ellis and Cave are a hellishly brilliant songwriting duo and I hope they will be here to stay for a long, long time to come.

Recommended tracks: ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, ‘Push The Sky Away’, ‘Jubilee Street’

13. Dark Tranquillity – Construct

Dark Tranquillity must have realized that ‘We Are The Void’ showed them on the verge of stagnation, because the direction has been radically altered and the result is nothing short of fantastic. ‘Construct’ is influenced by Depeche Mode rather than At The Gates and as such, sounds like something of a logical follow-up to the band’s 1999 masterpiece ‘Projector’. The album is very atmospheric, the Swedes obviously haven’t lost sight of their songwriting. All the songs on here have a strong build-up and a face of their own. ‘Uniformity’ was an early favorite because of its resemblance to the classic ‘ThereIn’, but every song is worth hearing. Dark Tranquillity’s members have the unusual realization – for Metal musicians at least – that you can excel without being flashy. Not one band member outshines the actual song material: therein lies the beauty.

Recommended tracks: ‘Endtime Hearts’, ‘Uniformity’, ‘The Silence In Between’, ‘Apathetic’

14. Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues

Now this was a pleasant surprise! With Michael Amott’s main band Arch Enemy growing increasingly stale and ‘Return To Zero’ being something of a subpar album, I wasn’t expecting ‘Earth Blues’ to be so good. Spiritual Beggars have truly reinvented themselves on this album. Especially Amott’s riffing has improved. Most of the Metal edge has been shed, really turning this thing into an organic retro record. Former Firewind singer Apollo Papathinasio sings better than ever and fits this record better than anything else he has ever done. His passionate Coverdale howl is really the piece that completes this puzzle. I have always loved Per Wiberg’s retro keyboard wizardry and the Ludwig Witt’s rhythms just swing. ‘Earth Blues’ has taken some time to grow on me, but once it did, it prove to be Spiritual Beggars’ crowning achievement. Fantastic retro Rock!

Recommended tracks: ‘Legends Collapse’, ‘One Man’s Curse’, ‘Freedom Song’, ‘Dead End Town’

15. Vista Chino – Peace

Kyuss…I mean, Vista Chino does what people would expect them to do: revive the days of Kyuss’ first two records. Okay, Josh Homme isn’t involved, but drummer Brant Bjork was always a key songwriter in those early days. ‘Peace’ is immediately recognizable as Kyuss, albeit the more straightforward Kyuss work à la ‘Green Machine’. Even the massive epic ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’ that closes the album is relatively simple in structure. And John Garcia simply never disappoints. If you love his voice like I do, there’s hardly any way to not enjoy ‘Peace’. The enjoyably familiar Desert Rock sound will do the rest. And for those who wonder: Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery does a stellar job taking Josh Homme’s place. His looser approach to the band’s sound even brings in something refreshing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Planets 1&2’, ‘Dragona Dargona’, ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’, ‘Adara’

16. In Solitude – Sister

Another reinvention for the better. Sweden’s In Solitude always was a decent Heavy Metalband, but darkened their sound considerably for this third album with spectacular results. The Mercyful Fate influence is still there, but the Doom factor has increased quite heavily, giving the album a pitch black, almost old school Goth atmosphere. While it doesn’t necessarily sound like The Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim or Christian Death, the vibe is definitely there, creating an almost frightening Horror sound close to what Black Sabbath was aiming for in their formative years. Even though there’s nothing truly original going on here, ‘Sister’ is a unique album. Combined with its simple, yet brutally effective artwork creating a little dark masterpiece that deserves to be heard by anyone except for maybe the faint of heart.

Recommended tracks: ‘Horses In The Ground’, ‘Sister’, ‘Pallid Hands’, ‘A Buried Sun’

17. Gingerpig – Hidden From View

Those of you who only know Boudewijn Bonebakker from his past with Gorefest may be surprised how well he fits the classic Rock fold. Or even moreso: what a fantastic singer he is. ‘Hidden From View’ is the second installment of his fantastic late sixties, early seventies Rock band Gingerpig and as a whole is a bit more streamlined than debut album ‘The Ways Of The Gingerpig’. That took some getting used to, but the songs ultimately reveal themselves as concise and well written. Bonebakker and rhythm section Sytse Roelevink and Maarten Poirters show themselves just as capable of more tranquil moments – such as ‘A Touch’ and ‘Oceans’ – as the harder rocking stuff. Sonically, this is a fantastic album as well. Recorded on tape, ‘Hidden From View’ has genuine sound that feels warm and trusted with a perfect place for every instrument.

Recommended tracks: ‘A Touch’, ‘Ugly Heart’, ‘Oceans’, ‘Pride’

18. Gorguts – Colored Sands

As surprising as it was that Gorguts was about to release a new album, but the true surprise is the quality of said album. ‘Colored Sands’ is the album the band should have released after ‘Obscura’. Although this album is slightly less insane than ‘Obscura’, but the complexity and atmosphere are there. The music on ‘Colored Sands’ is really dark, avantgardistic Metal with lyrics inspired by Tibetan culture and philosophy with Luc Lemay’s anguished bark and the occasional blastbeat by John Longstreth pushing this into Death Metal territory. The twisted dissonance of the chords draws vague comparisons with fellow countrymen Voivod, but ‘Colored Sands’ really displays a unique sound by an equally unique band. It’s good to have Luc Lemay and Gorguts back where they belong: in the outer orbits of Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Colored Sands’, ‘An Ocean Of Wisdom’, ‘Enemies Of Compassion’

19. Şebnem Ferah – Od

Despite being well-written, ‘Benim Adım Orman’ was an album I didn’t play too often. Şebnem Ferah’s voice was in fine shape as always, but I just like to hear her rock out a little more. ‘Od’ is another proof of why Ferah is Turkey’s prime Rock diva, along former Volvox mate Özlem Tekin, whose 2013 release ‘Kargalar’ was also her best release in quite some time. ‘Od’ is the better of the two though, with Ferah’s band – including Pentagram lead guitarist Metin Türkcan – being on fire (no pun intended; “od” means fire) and Ferah soaring on top of that. ‘Od’ rocks hard and even its ballads are extemely powerful. Just listen to Ferah’s spirited performance of the title track and you’ll know what I mean. It’s good to hear her voice on the riffy melodic Hardrock, borderline Metal tunes again though; that’s how I like her best. If you haven’t heard Şebnem Ferah, you don’t know what girl power is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Savaş Boyası’, ‘Ya Hep Ya Hiç’, ‘Kalbim Mezar’, ‘Girdap’

20. Bettie Serveert – Oh, Mayhem!

Bettie Serveert will Always remain legendary for their debut release ‘Palomine’, but if I’m perfectly honest, I like their later releases a lot more. ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ is another fantastic Indierock release – and I hardly ever use that adjective with that genre – with fantastic rhythms. Drummer Joppe Molenaar is a revelation, but the guitars of Peter Visser and Carol van Dijk are powerful and rock remarkably hard. Speaking of Van Dijk, her voice is every bit as awesome as it was when in the band’s early days. Those who have been with Bettie Serveert from day one may end up surprised by the lack of introspective moments – the amazingly atmospheric ‘Monogamous’ would be one of the few moments that can be categorized as such – but those with an open mind will respect ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ for what it truly is: a fantastic Rock record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sad Dog’, ‘Receiver’, ‘Shake-Her’