Archive for January, 2016

Album of the Week 04-2016: Hexx – Under The Spell

Kudos to Metal Blade Records for re-releasing some of the more obscure American Metal releases lately. San Francisco’s Hexx got such a treatment and I’m extremely happy with that, because I’ve been looking for their sophomore record ‘Under The Spell’ for quite a long time now. First of all, it’s just about exactly halfway between the Metal subgenres I enjoy most – Power and Thrash Metal – and as such, intensity and melody are balanced quite well. Also, Dan Bryant’s spirited vocal performance lifts this record above the average of the late eighties Thrash scene. The result is nothing revolutionary, but thoroughly ejoyable.

Many reviews have pointed out that ‘Under The Spell’ was illustrating the transition from the band’s more traditional US Power Metal style on debut album ‘No Escape’ to a more Thrash oriented approach. However, when you listen to both albums, you’ll notice the style change isn’t all that considerable. Sure, the riff work courtesy of Dan Watson and Clint Bower definitely shows an increase of Thrash influences – though I think that difference is rather a result of one album being recorded in 1984 and the other in 1986 – and Bryant has a rawer edge to his voice than his predecessor Dennis Manzo had. But the music itself is obviously written by the same people.

As mentioned before, Bryant is a significant part of why I enjoy ‘Under The Spell’ so much. Here, he sounds like a combination of Dio at his rawest with the higher range bringing to mind Metal Church’s late singer David Wayne. When you hear his performance on the short, but stellar opening track ‘Hell Riders’, you’ll notice that the voice lifts the song from very good to excellent Heavy Metal. Sure, his high shrieks won’t be for everybody, but there’s a quality to the vocal work that only very few Thrash singers had in the day. And an aggression that wasn’t common in USPM.

Guitar-wise, there’s quite a lot to enjoy here as well. This isn’t as lead guitar-oriented as you would expect a band associated with Shrapnel to be, but the riff work is excellent. Take ‘The Victim’, for instance. Usually, when a Metal song is catchy, it’s because of a melodic theme or a chorus, but the main riff is just as catchy. The same goes for the title track, ‘The Hexx’ and ‘Edge Of Death’, which plays with half-time and double-time feel changes very effectively as well. Closing track ‘Midnight Sun’ is a bit slower and more atmospheric and therefore one of the more pleasant surprises on the record and ‘Fever Dream’ has an excellent build-up and a strong guitar solo by Watson.

‘Under The Spell’ should be enjoyable to anyone who enjoys a well-written, though not too complicated Metal song with good vocals. The original album only lasts slightly over half an hour, but that also means that it has no filler whatsoever; every song is worthy of your attention. And if quantity is an issue: the Metal Blade reissue has the entire ‘No Escape’ album and a wealth of bonus audio and video content – including a few live tracks with their suprisingly good new singer Eddie Vega and two fine new songs – so don’t let that keep you from getting this piece of USPM and Thrash history. It might be a footnote, but I’d take this over some of the more popular bands in the genres any day.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hell Riders’, ‘The Victim’, ‘Midnight Sun’

My first cover story in seven years!

Earlier this week, the new issue of Gitarist appeared in stores and it is one that I’m extremely proud of, because it features my first cover story in almost seven years. It features the interview I had with Pablo van de Poel about DeWolff’s amazing new album ‘Roux-Ga-Roux’ – listen to it now if you haven’t yet – and I’m glad the editorial office gave me four pages to fill, because we had quite a lot of interesting subjects to cover. Also, I spoke with De Staat guitarist Vedran Mirčetić about ‘O’, which was album of the week here two weeks ago, and with BloYaTop guitarist Mark Vergoossen.

There’s quite a lot of interviews in this month’s issue anyway, which I always see as a good thing. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any gear reviews included of course. Also, I contributed quite a few reviews to the issue. One in particular I’d like to point out and that is the debut album by the Leif de Leeuw Band. It’s called ‘Leelah’ and although the band has a Blues basis, it’s a fantastic blend of Rock, Blues, Soul and Roots influences in a couple of amazingly written and executed songs.

If you haven’t got it already, please share the honor with me and go out and read it.

Album of the Week 03-2016: Megadeth – Dystopia

So you’re Dave Mustaine and you’ve just released the biggest piece of shit you’ll ever release. Yes, I think ‘Super Collider’ is worse than ‘Risk’. What will be your next step? Record an album that’s easily your best in over a decade of course. One has to admire his resilience; Mustaine has had enough misfortune to make any ordinary musician quit five times, but his determination always forces him to get back up when he’s down. This time, the result is ‘Dystopia’, a sharp, fierce blend of Thrash Metal and traditional Heavy Metal with spectacular guitar work. In deed: the mark of a great Megadeth record.

Maybe it’s the new lineup. The Daves (Mustaine and bassist Ellefson) have enlisted the help of Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler this time. The former is a master of his craft who luckily gets enough room to display his talent and the latter simply sounds better than he ever has. The drum sound helps, but I think his parts are infinitely more interesting than what he does in his main band. Maybe these two guys were just wat Mustaine needed to write another scorching Metal record.

Then again, the songwriting is cranked up a notch as well. Occasionally, you can hear that Mustaine had a little trouble coming up with an ending for a few songs, but after a song and a half, you’ll have heard more good stuff than on all of ‘Super Collider’. The first two songs are among the album’s best anyway: opening track ‘The Threat Is Real’ is nice and Thrashy, while the title track has a passing nod to ‘Hangar 18’ with its highly melodic midtempo main riff – well, midtempo by Megadeth standards – and the sudden tempo change for an amazing guitar solo section near the end.

Standing out for me is ‘Poisonous Shadows’. With its dark, brooding nature, vaguely Arabian-sounding string section and amazing chorus, it shows that Mustaine can write an excellent catchy track if he really puts his effort into it. Furthermore, the high octane instrumental ‘Conquer Or Die!’ is a showcase for Loureiro’s skills on the electric as well as the nylon string acoustic guitar, ‘Fatal Illusion’ and ‘Lying In State’ are delightfully aggressive and the slower tempo makes ‘Post American World’ a perfect vehicle for a darker, more threatening take on the band’s sound.

While ‘Dystopia’ may not be the big return to the ‘Rust In Peace’ brand of Speed Metal some people may have been hoping for, I think it’s excellent at finding the middle ground between Heavy and Thrash Metal, which is exactly what made 2004’s ‘The System Has Failed’ such an awesome record as well. Mustaine’s lyrical views may be a tad far-fetched every now and then, but I’ll take a Mustaine I disagree with politically over the insipid drivel that dominated the previous record any day. At least this Mustaine sounds inspired, vicious and aggressive. And let’s face it: isn’t that how any fan of his work would want him to sound?

Recommended tracks: ‘Poisonous Shadows’, ‘Dystopia’, ‘The Threat Is Real’

Album of the Week 02-2016: De Staat – O

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the late publication of the album of the week. I came back from Eurosonic Noorderslag so sick that I wasn’t able to look at a computer screen. On the upside though: I got to see De Staat live again. They were promoting their new album ‘O’, which focuses on the electronic side of the band a little more. No more walls of guitars, like on the amazing ‘I_Con’, which meant the album took a little longer to get used to. But once I did, ‘O’ revealed itself another great De Staat album.

De Staat’s weird sound is comprised of equal parts of Rock, Electrofunk and Pop. As you may have understood from the previous paragraph, the Electrofunk part is very prominent on ‘O’. There’s an abundance of funky guitar riffs – even though they sound like synthesizers at times – and the songs are highly rhythmic. The vaudeville- and circus melodies are still there, but there’s a little less focus on that this time around. Torre Florim’s sarcastic bite is more than apparent in the lyrics (‘Blues Is Dead’), but also in his vocal delivery. In a way, this is De Staat super-sized.

The album starts out with the first single ‘Peptalk’ and ‘Make The Call, Leave It All’. A relatively weak start, although the latter has a brilliant verse riff. After that, the jewels of the album reveal themselves. The dark ‘Murder Death’ is probably my favorite, but the heavily riff-driven and sarcastic ‘Life Is A Game (Ladadi Ladadada)’, the dirty ‘Systematic Lover’ and the amazing acoustic Blues of closing track ‘She’s With Me’ are just as good. ‘Time Will Get Us Too’ features a long, amazing guitar solo by Vedran Mirčetić and ‘Help Yourself’ has the band once again showing how much you can take from a limited number of notes.

Looking at individual performances, I have to emphasize that Tim van Delft is one of the best drummers active today. I think it’s admirable that he can do the forced stiffness on ‘Blues Is Dead’, because his grooves are generally what the songs are about. I love his dynamic drum sound too; even when the band sounds at its most electronic, the drums sound natural. The electronic bottom is usually taken care of by bassist Jop van Summeren and synth man Rocco Hueting, but even those guys are often using elements not usually associated with electronic music to reach that sound.

Okay, so De Staat isn’t for everyone. And those with a preference for their Rock side will probably have to listen to ‘O’ more than once to get it, but it’s definitely worth the effort. They’re an obstinate band with very little care of how things are “supposed” to sound and it’s just that what makes them such a delight to listen to. It definitely is the main cause of their “love or hate” status, but let’s face it: why would you listen to a band that sounds like something else if you’ve got De Staat to listen to?

Recommended tracks: ‘Murder Death’, ‘She’s With Me’, ‘Systematic Lover’

Album of the Week 01-2016: Enslaved – Ruun

There was a time when I despised Black Metal a priori. Befriending Dystopia’s frontman Dennis Onsia in my early twenties has helped me discover quite a number of good bands affiliated with the genre. That phrase is used quite consciously, because by the time Enslaved released ‘Ruun’, the general dark atmosphere and Grutle Kjellson’s (too) throaty rasp were the only distinctly “Black Metal” aspects that were still featured in their music. And even though the term “extreme progressive Metal” has been a bit overused recently, it’s the perfect way to describe this music: aggressive, but also melodic and sometimes slightly psychedelic.

With the inauguration of their current lineup, the style change was a fact for Enslaved. Installing a fulltime keyboard player was a great move: Herbrand Larsen often expands on the atmosphere of the layered guitar work and contributes greatly to the Pink Floyd-isms of the band’s progressive side. Besides that, he’s got one of the most pleasant clean voices in the business, which is perfect to balance out the irritation Kjellson’s screeches cause me sometimes. But let’s not forget Enslaved’s secret weapon: Cato Bekkevold has one of the most relaxed drumming styles in extreme Metal these days.

‘Ruun’ takes the sound the band has been experimenting with on its predecessor ‘Isa’ and perfects it. Ivar Bjørnson’s dissonant chords provide a perfect basis for Arve Isdal’s dreamy, often Blues-inspired guitar leads and the vocal interaction between Kjellson’s raw vocals and Larsen’s more soothing voice. What makes ‘Ruun’ better than ‘Isa’ is that the songs have a stronger identity this time around. If it’s not the choruses that stick out, the riffs are extremely memorable. This especially goes for the riff-driven nature of the first three tracks: the uptempo aggression of ‘Fusion Of Sense And Earth’, the pleasant midtempo ‘Path To Vanir’ and the brilliant opener ‘Entroper’. Later on, ‘Api-Vat’ adapts the same approach impressively.

If I had to single out one track, it has to be the title track. The build-up in tension and release is just about perfect and the interaction between the esotheric 7/4 feel of the verses and the pulsating nature of the Kjellson-led parts is mindblowing. Also, take note of how the guitars intertwine beautifully in the intro. All of this contributes to what is without any doubt one of the best Metal tracks of the 21st century. It’s not like that’s the only song highlighting the more atmospheric side of the band – ‘Essence’ and the massive closer ‘Heir To Their Cosmic Seed’ do a similarly commendable job – it’s just that ‘Ruun’ is an unbelievable song.

On following records, the band would juggle the balance between progressive and extreme a little until they found the perfect balance on their most recent efforts ‘RIITIIR’ and ‘In Times’, but my favorite album remains ‘Ruun’. It may just be the excitement of trying something new that shines through here, but regardless, it’s a fantastic album that incorporates large amounts of atmospheric layers without ever sacrificing the nature of a good song. Not many bands succeed these days, but Enslaved most certainly does here. It makes ‘Ruun’ a perfect gateway record to the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ruun’, ‘Entroper’, ‘Api-Vat’

Album of the Week 53-2015: Rainbow – Rising

Before I get into the actual musical brilliance of this mid-seventies masterpiece, just look at that album cover. If that isn’t monumental, I don’t know what is. Luckily the music answers to that as well; Rainbow’s sophomore album is where the band really started coming into its own. Ritchie Blackmore’s mighty riffs exceed anything he did with the already brilliant Deep Purple here, while Ronnie James Dio probably delivers his best performance in a career full of powerhouse performances. This is quite likely the best work eve to balance on the edge of Hardrock and Heavy Metal, released in a time when that border was still a little vague.

What may help is tha Blackmore fully embraced the fact that Rainbow was now his fulltime band. The self-titled debut was an elevated side project of Blackmore with members of Dio’s band Elf, but on ‘Rising’, there’s the first proper line-up, including the legendary Cozy Powell on drums. He makes his performance known here, refusing to be a marionette to Blackmore’s direction. That’s how the album got the best of both worlds: the excellence of the musicians on their instruments and the power of a good song. A perfect match, if you ask me.

Another person who contributes greatly, but is often forgotten is keyboard player Tony Carey. His spacey keyboard work takes over the full intro of the amazing opening track ‘Tarot Woman’, but even more important is what he did on the album’s biggest monument: the orchestration to the mighty ‘Stargazer’. This midtempo, ominous epic is obviously Blackmore’s answer to Led Zeppelin’s inimitable ‘Kashmir’ and Carey’s arrangement for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in the finale helps it get to that league. Dio’s overwhelmingly powerful voice and Powell’s big, beefy drums are respectively the icing and the flour to this musical cake.

That’s hardly where the fun ends though. ‘Starstruck’ is a bit lighter and bluesier, but incredibly enjoyable and offers another stellar performance by Dio, the aforementioned ‘Tarot Woman’ is sheer seventies Hardrock euphoria and closer ‘A Light In The Black’ builds upon a repetitive, but incredibly effective riff and has incredible solos by both Blackmore and Carey. ‘Run With The Wolf’ and ‘Do You Close Your Eyes’ seem less interesting by comparison, but are far above the average Hardrock songs of the mid-seventies, while the latter has yet another amazing vocal performance by Dio.

Following the release of ‘Rising’, Blackmore wanted to take Rainbow in an increasingly more commercially viable direction. Most of its direct follow-up ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was still very enjoyable, but after that, nothing he released was even close to the genius of ‘Rising’. Maybe it didn’t help that Dio left the band in 1979 and Powell not much later. While everyone involved would end up in musically interesting ventures later on, nothing ever quite reached the magic of this monumental Hardrock record. If you ever want to look below the surface of what Rock music was about in the mighty seventies, ‘Rising’ is the perfect place to start. One of the best records ever released.

Recommended tracks: ‘Stargazer’, ‘Starstruck’, ‘Tarot Woman’

Best of 2015: The Albums

Halfway through 2015, I suddenly realized the new profit model of record labels is more in effect than ever. Not unlike last year, most of the releases I was looking forward to were either live records or re-releases, while less and less effort is put into giving promising young artists a chance. Of course, there’s still labels that offer opportunities for artists that are potentially less attractive commercially, but that’s more common in genres where independent labels get a little room to manoeuver; progressive Rock and Hip Hop come to mind.

That doesn’t mean there was nothing to enjoy this year, it just means that I’ve had less of a hard time compiling this list than two years ago, when I struggled on the last few titles quite some time. In fact, most of the titles I predicted would be “end of year list material” ended up here, while quite a lot of surprises popped up in previous years. The inclusions are based on their European physical release dates, so that closes the discussion on two of these, including the number one. These albums are definitely obligated listens for fans of the genre. I may request some open-mindedness for a few, but more on that later…

Trivial, but interesting enough to mention: with this album of the year, Asia and Australia are the only continents left to provide an album of the year, though Asia has had a DVD of the year.

1. Angra – Secret Garden

No one knew what to expect from Angra’s first record with Fabio Lione on vocals. I sure as hell didn’t expect anything this good. ‘Secret Garden’ is almost as good as ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Aurora Consurgens’ and the slightly more progressive sound has a pleasantly dark vibe. Also, the surprisingly large number of appearances by guitarist Rafael Bittencourt as a singer – an amazing one to boot! – makes the transition to a different frontman somewhat more fluent. New drummer Bruno Valverde is good enough to forget about his predecessors and I love his big, more natural drum sound. Every fan of both Power- and progressive Metal should own ‘Secret Garden’, it’s very well worth your time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Storm Of Emotions’, ‘Perfect Symmetry’, ‘Newborn Me’

2. Thunder – Wonder Days

Talk about an amazing comeback… Shortly after Thunder called it quits with ‘Bang!’, they were already gigging again. That wasn’t the first time in their career, so a new album was only a matter of time. But that it’s their best since ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was a very pleasant surprise. All the Thunder elements are firmly in place here: Bluesy Hardrock riffs, beefy drums, big and catchy choruses, strong melodies and Danny Bowes’ vocals are still as clean and powerful as they were on ‘Backstreet Symphony’. Luke Morley is one of the best songwriters in Rock history and ‘Wonder Days’ is another chapter in his Great British Songbook. Also, ‘The Thing I Want’ is probably my favorite song of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Thing I Want’, ‘When The Music Played’, ‘Serpentine’

3. Jupiter – The History Of Genesis

Although Jupiter’s second record isn’t as consistent as its brilliant debut ‘Classical Element’, which totally reawakened my love for symphonic Power Metal, it is once again a thoroughly enjoyable record. It does show the band branching out a little more by incorporating more aggressive elements – ‘Darkness’ is technically Melodeath – and Zin streches his voice a little more, but the J-Rock aspect is a little stronger on a few songs as well. Hizaki and Teru deliver some delicious guitar work both in the riff and the solo department. Versailles, the former band of every band member except Zin, recently booked a reunion gig and I hope that will be a one-off thing, because Jupiter is a better band. Much better.

Recommended tracks: ‘Zetsubou Labyrinth’, ‘Red Carnation’, ‘Last Moment’

4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Today’s progressive Rock hero is without any doubt the Brit Steven Wilson and there’s a good reason for that: he’s one of the few contemporary progressive musicians who writes great songs. Having said that, I wasn’t too fond of his solo work, until recently, when he started combining his obvious early Genesis influences with a pop sensibility that Genesis themselves didn’t discover until they weren’t all that Prog anymore. Also, Wilson has gathered a fantastic bunch of musicians around him, with guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Marco Minnemann especially shining here. ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ is a brilliant progressive Rock record that “regular” Rock fans with more patience than average should at least give a chance.

Recommended tracks: ‘Regret #9’, ‘Ancestral’, ‘3 Years Older’

5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Hip Hop seems to be the only genre in popular music that shows any progress these last years. Even with that in mind, Kendrick Lamar is a revelation. Conceptually, Lamar is miles ahead of anyone in any genre, including people much older than his 28 years. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ takes all the rebellion of old school Hip Hop and elevates it to an art form with a background of Jazz and Funk with extensive spoken word sections. The results offer a great deal of variation and although I prefer Lamar at his most angry and militant, his clever observations and productional choices are worthwhile throughout the record. This is a logical progression from what Prince and D’Angelo do, just with a smarter, broader world view than either of them.

Recommended: ‘King Kunta’, ‘The Blacker The Berry’, ‘u’

6. Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman

Sometimes losing a legendary frontman is a blessing. Case in point: Queensrÿche. Geoff Tate was recently replaced by Todd LaTorre, who captures the classic Tate vibe better than the man himself does these days. Musically as well, ‘Condition Hüman’ is the best Queensrÿche record since the criminally underrated ‘Promised Land’. Michael Wilton injects a lot of traditional Heavy Metal into the band’s sound again and the combination of that and contemporary progressive Rock makes the album sound like the most old school record the band has made since the legendary ‘Operation: Mindcrime’. It’s not quite as good, but it’s much, much closer than you’d expect it to be at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘All There Was’, ‘Toxic Remedy’, ‘Hourglass’

7. Stryper – Fallen

Two years ago, I praised ‘No More Hell To Pay’ for toning Stryper’s christian message down a little. ‘Fallen’ is less subtle in that matter, but it is the better album of the two. In fact, I might like this even more than the band’s classic material from the eighties, because there’s just a little more variation at play here and the ballad isn’t quite as syrupy as…let’s say ‘Honestly’. There’s simply not much to not like on this album: the guitars are everywhere, Michael Sweet’s voice is still one of the best in the business and it’s got the best production job on a Stryper album yet. There’s nothing as good as the perfect melodic Rocker ‘Sympathy’ here, but that doesn’t make this record any less of a triumph in Rock and Metal songwriting.

Recommended tracks: ‘Pride’, ‘Till I Get What I Need’, ‘Yahweh’

8. Gary Clark Jr. – The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim

Often portrayed as a Blues musician, Gary Clark Jr. rather combines all his influences into a rich, contemporary blend of Blues, Rock and especially large amounts of R&B. Where I considered predecessor ‘Blak And Blu’ a messy, incoherent affair with – admittedly – some great guitar work, ‘The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim’ is a more consistent effort. In fact, it’s an excellent R&B record with Clark playing most of the instruments, including a lot of fiery, passionate lead guitar work. While I must admit that I prefer his chest voice to his frequently appearing head voice, I grew rapidly and unexpectedly fond of this album and I think it should be heard by anyone who appreciates the likes of Lenny Kravitz,  D’Angelo and Prince.

Recommended tracks: ‘Grinder’, ‘The Healing’, ‘Stay’

9. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

Let’s focus on the negative first: ‘The Book Of Souls’ should have been two songs shorter, so that it could fit on one disc. Having said that, this is a surprisingly fresh and energetic latter day Iron Maiden record. ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ is the band’s best opening track since ‘Moonchild’, Bruce Dickinson’s voice is better than it should be in his late fifties and ironically, the 18-minute ‘Empire Of The Clouds’ sounds nowhere near as overlong and bloated as some of the other recent “epics”. The presence of Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith is felt stronger than before and that is part of what makes ‘The Book Of Souls’ a pleasant surprise. If this turns out to be the band’s last record, it would end their career on a relatively high note.

Recommended tracks: ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, ‘Tears Of A Clown’, ‘Empire Of The Clouds’

10. The Gentle Storm – The Diary

Prog wizard Arjen Lucassen and Holland’s finest singer Anneke van Giersbergen had worked together before, but this full collaboration still caught me by surprise. It’s a very Dutch project too, given the maritime theme of the lyrics. The album offers the same songs twice: one disc of folky, largely acoustic versions (‘Gentle’) and one disc of full blown symphonic Progmetal interpretations of the songs (‘Storm’). I have to admit that I generally play the ‘Storm’ disc, not in the last place due to the supreme orchestration. Van Giersbergen is amazing – as per usual – and though there are plenty of Lucassen-isms in the compositions, it does sound different enough from his other projects to warrant a different name.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shores Of India’, ‘The Storm’, ‘Heart Of Amsterdam’

11. Walter Trout – Battle Scars

If the cliché that suffering brings forth great Blues music is true, ‘Battle Scars’ is the epitome of that statement. Two years ago, Walter Trout was nearly dead, only barely saved by a liver transplant and now, he has channeled all of this misery into his best album yet. It’s not just that his suffering has brought forth great, passionate Blues, it’s that his songwriting is better than it ever was. So is his voice, by the way. ‘Battle Scars’ is a musical diary of a man who has looked death in the eye on a daily basis, but delivered so joyously, that it hardly ever gets too dark. Also, there’s a nice variation of electric Blues, Rock, ballads and an excellent Country Blues finale. This album belongs in any Blues and Bluesrock collection.

Recommended tracks: ‘Omaha’, ‘Haunted By The Night’, ‘Playin’ Hideaway’

12. Leprous – The Congregation

Norway’s Leprous was already one of the more interesting progressive Metal bands these days with 2011’s manic ‘Bilateral’ album, but the more spacious sound on ‘The Congregation’ really puts them into a league of their own. I really can’t think of any other band that quite sounds like their unique and bizarre mixture of twisted, jazzy chords, Electro-influenced synths and Einar Solberg’s hyper-theatrical vocals. ‘The Congregation’ definitely transcends the Metal tag, making way for something that is at times more unsettling than what the average Norwegian Black Metal band does, but it’s truly beautiful. Also, I somehow really, really like Jens Bogren’s production job for this record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slave’, ‘The Flood’, ‘Triumphant’

13. Killing Joke – Pylon

Initially, I approached ‘Pylon’ with caution, because its predecessor ‘MMXII’ was a bit of a letdown. I shouldn’t have: ‘Pylon’ is a fantastic album that offers everything one could be looking for in a Killing Joke record. The major improvement in Geordie Walker’s guitar sound is part of the great first impression, but the song material is really strong as well. Once again, the song that is something of a departure is my favorite (‘European Super State’ on ‘Absolute Dissent’, ‘Euphoria’ this time around), but almost all the songs show Killing Joke what they do best: gradually building upon a simple riff and slowly turning up the rhythmic intensity. ‘Pylon’ is a bleak effort, but that’s exactly how Killing Joke should sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Euphoria’, ‘New Jerusalem’, ‘Into The Unknown’, ‘War On Freedom’

14. Kenn Nardi – Dancing With The Past

Essentially Anacrusis’ fifth studio, because Kenn Nardi was definitely planning to use this material for the band. It sounds a lot like the band’s progressive Metal sound with Thrash Metal and New Wave flourishes, although Nardi’s typical voice has some influence on that as well. He’s not technically a great singer in the sense that he doesn’t have a wide range, but he is able to wring so much emotion out of it, that it’s an absorbing listen. And with 28 good songs, Nardi could have easily spread this out over two, maybe even three albums, but somehow the sequencing and flow makes a lot of sense here. Obligated for anyone who likes Anacrusis, but also for anyone who agrees with me that Thrash Metal is getting a little rusty lately.

Recommended tracks: ‘Submerged’, ‘Creve Coeur’, ‘The Scarlet Letter’

15. Galneryus – Under The Force Of Courage

Allegedly, ‘Under The Force Of Courage’ is Galneryus’ first concept album. It does explain the large doses of theatricality, but I’m not complaining about that at all. It does take Galneryus back to the sound of ‘Angel Of Salvation’, though it falls short of that amazing record. Ironically, the tracks that sound least like that album – the darker sounding ‘Rain Of Tears’ and especially ‘Reward For Betrayal’ – are among the better moments of the album. As for the rest, it’s anything a Galneryus fan can wish for: high tempos, blazing solos by both Syu (guitars) and Yuhki (keyboards), passionate vocals by Masatoshi Ono and highly catchy choruses. Better than most European Power Metal, slightly above average for Galneryus.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Force Of Courage’, ‘Reward For Betrayal’, ‘Soul Of The Field’

16. Enslaved – In Times

Seriously, I would have loved this band so much if it wasn’t for Grutle Kjellson’s guttural rasp. Enslaved have taken their Black Metal roots and mixed them up with an increasing amount of progressive Rock influences since the beginning of this century, which luckily also means that the absolutely beautiful clean voice of keyboard player Herbrand Larsen gets a bigger role with each album. ‘In Times’ contains six songs with a combined running time of 53 minutes and shows the band at their most free and adventurous. This leads to occasional pleasantly surprising musical choices and interestingly constructed songs. Hell, in ‘Building With Fire’, even Kjellson’s growl sounds good. Also, I just realized that both Norwegian bands in this list don’t sound like anyone else.

Recommended tracks: ‘Building With Fire’, ‘In Times’, ‘One Thousand Years Of Rain’

17. Dew-Scented – Intermination

Ever since Dew-Scented became more Dutch than German, things have been looking better for them. In fact, the band now has three amazing songwriters who all contribute something different to the band: guitarist Marvin Vriesde contributes the more in-your-face material, his fellow axeman Rory Hansen brings some modern Death Metal influences to the table and bassist Joost van der Graaf’s takes care of an amazingly dark atmosphere. It all still sounds like Dew-Scented though and Jensen’s trademark Thrash bark isn’t the only factor in that. ‘Intermination’ just shows the band stretching the boundaries of what is possible within the Dew-Scented framework. And the result is a more than admirable job.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ode To Extinction’, ‘Means To An End’, ‘On A Collision Course’

18. Mother’s Finest – Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts

More than a decade after ‘Meta-Funk’n Physical’, there’s finally a new Mother’s Finest album. And it rocks quite hard! Some of the modern production techniques equipped on its predecessor have remained, but ‘Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts’ is heavier and more energetic than you’d expect from a band made up largely of members in their late sixties. It’s always been all about the guitars and the grooves for Mother’s Finest and it’s no different here. In a couple of Funky Hard Rock tracks, the band proves why they’re still relevant and I’m surprised how much power Joyce Kennedy still has in her voice. And they still blow everyone off the stage. Another album like their inimitable debut is off the table, but this is as close as it gets.

Recommended tracks: ‘All Of My Life’, ‘Another Day’, ‘She Ready’

19. Mojo Man – Mojo Man

Sometimes I get something new on my desk for the review section in Gitarist and it completely blows me away. That’s what Mojo Man’s self titled debut did. First of all: how is it possible to resist a band that has “Balls & Horns” as its motto? That means they’re playing nice beefy Bluesrock riffs with the proper brass backing to give it a soulful edge. And if that wasn’t all, the catchy songs are very well written and Theo van Niel Jr. lays down some fantastic lead guitar work. Imagine The Rolling Stones around ‘Exile On Main Street’, Aerosmith in the late seventies and early The Black Crowes and you’ll get close to the sound on the album, although Mojo Man has a slightly more traditional Blues approach. If that’s your thing, you shouldn’t miss out on this.

Recommended tracks: ‘It’s A Crime’, ‘Searching Man’, ‘The Ship Is Sinking’

20. Faith No More – Sol Invictus

As far as reunions go, ‘Sol Invictus’ is just fine. Faith No More once again are their quirky, obstinate selves. Which means that this album contains traces of Pop, Rock, Metal, Funk, Western, faux-Jazz and even Hip Hop. The songs are generally really good, much better even than on their 1997 effort ‘Album Of The Year’, which was recorded with the same lineup. The songs just don’t flow quite as well as they should have, especially during the first half of the album. It’s a risk of Faith No More’s genre-hopping approach. By themselves, most of the songs are awesome though. And while voice artist Mike Patton doesn’t quite reach as high as in the past, his lows are ominous and sometimes downright scary.

Recommended tracks: ‘Separation Anxiety’, ‘Rise Of The Fall’, ‘Superhero’