Posts Tagged ‘ Navarone ’

Best of 2018: The Albums

In terms of music releases, 2018 was one of the strangest years in recent history. Save for a few notable peaks – in June and September most notably – there have not really been extended periods with lots of great releases. In fact, some of the trusted names have released quite disappointing albums. Record companies seem to slowly shift their focus towards reissues and live releases, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would have been happy if there was some more previously unheard material that blew me away during the year.

Nevertheless, there were two amazing albums this year that make an equal claim to the number one spot, both of them Japanese. In the end, I literally flipped a coin to decide the order of the first two records. Not unlike other recent years, many of the western artists in the lists are either relatively new bands that took me by considerable surprise or long-running bands that suddenly released a career highlight. That should be enough to still remain hopeful about the future of international heavy metal.

1. Onmyo-za – Hado Myoo

Despite all of Onmyo-za’s albums being of excellent quality, nothing could have prepared me for ‘Hado Myoo’. The album was darker and heavier than anyone could have expected – especially after the relatively lightweight single ‘Oka Ninpocho’ – but it still features the trademark melodic elegance that Onmyo-za is known for. During the album’s best moments, the contrast between Matatabi’s forceful sections and Kuroneko’s melancholic introspection really brings out the best of all sides of the band. Onmyo-za is one of the very few contemporary metal bands that scores 10/10 on riffs, melodies, structure, memorability and vocals simultaneously and ‘Hado Myoo’ is one of the brightest examples of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shimobe’, ‘Hao’, ‘Haja No Fuin’

2. Saber Tiger – Obscure Diversity

Since around 2011, Saber Tiger has truly been on a roll. Their current line-up is probably the strongest they have ever had and their song material is nothing short of excellence, combining the powerful melodies and overall feel of eighties heavy metal with the impressive intricacy of contemporary progressive metal. With these elements, Saber Tiger has crafted a sound that is completely unique and ‘Obscure Diversity’ expands on that by being more complex and more accessible at the same time. There’s a perfect balance between aggression, musical craftsmanship and memorability on the album. While many modern metal albums sound clinical and soulless, Saber Tiger retains the passion that is so important to the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Distant Signals’, ‘Beat Of The War Drums’, ‘The Worst Enemy’

3. Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow

Despite being familiar with Jake Dreyer through Iced Earth and White Wizzard, his own band Witherfall really blew me away from out of nowhere. ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ was the most pleasant surprise of the year. Dark, but not self-pitying. Complex, but not impenetrable. Melodic, but not powerless. Witherfall does just about everything right here. Joseph Michael’s vocal performance is the cherry on the cake. He has the subtle rasp of a young Halford, the drama of Bruce Dickinson and a higher register eerily similar to Crimson Glory’s Midnight. There’s so much to this album that I can see myself listening to it for many years to come. In a way, Witherfall fills the void left after the definitive end of Nevermore with their expertly composed, dark progressive metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘We Are Nothing’, ‘Moment Of Silence’, ‘Vintage’

4. The Magpie Salute – High Water I

Although The Black Crowes have always impressed me with their engaging combination of typically American music styles, the country influences got a little too prominent on their last few albums for my taste. Apparently guitarist and main songwriter Rich Robinson also thought so, because while the rootsy sounds are still there on ‘High Water I’, the debut studio album of his new band The Magpie Salute, the songs are mainly rooted in bluesy hardrock, while the acoustic songs are more folky in nature. Singer John Hogg is a revelation. His passionate voice is what really lifts the album above the level of its already impressive songwriting. The melodies and atmospheres are captivating. At this point, I honestly hope the rise of The Magpie Salute will not be stopped by a Crowes reunion.

Recommended tracks: ‘High Water’, ‘Open Up’, ‘For The Wind’

5. Warrel Dane – Shadow Work

Sure, Warrel Dane was in my top three favorite metal singers of all time, so it should not be too surprising that ‘Shadow Work’ is so good. But given the fact that he died during the recordings, it is remarkable how accomplished and well-arranged it sounds. It is essentially an unfinished record, but hardly does it ever sound like one. There’s a few moments where Warrel’s vocal lines are a little rough around the edges, but they give the album character rather than being distracting. The songs sound really good; they mainly display an even darker take on Nevermore’s formula. And one can hear that this has become a true labor of love for Dane’s Brazilian backing band. They play their hearts out below what is unfortunately Dane’s final farewell. It is a powerful one though!

Recommended tracks: ‘Madame Satan’, ‘Shadow Work’, ‘Mother Is The Word For God’

6. Voivod – The Wake

For years, the late Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour was deemed irreplacable. Martyr’s Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain proved that nothing is impossible on the fantastic ‘Target Earth’ (2013) and now, ‘The Wake’ proves that was not just a fluke. The album steers slightly away from the technical thrash of ‘Killing Technology’ (1987) and more towards the futuristic, surprisingly relaxed progressive metal of ‘Nothingface’ (1989). ‘The Wake’ is an adventurous record that is likely to please any fan of mid-period Voivod, but is not simply copying the formula of those years. The songwriting on the album is simply too inventive and spontaneous for that. Many sections on the album even sound like improvised jams, which is highly unusual for a metal band. Then again, highly unusual is Voivod’s bread and butter!

Recommended tracks: ‘Always Moving’, ‘Sonic Mycelium’, ‘Spherical Perspective’

7. Asagi – Madara

While D is easily one of the better bands in the visual kei scene, I was not too sure if a solo album of their frontman Asagi was what I was waiting for. It turns out that he took the elements from what I consider D’s best songs – the ones that are more Asian folk-oriented – and turned that into the style for his full album. On a majority of the album, traditional instruments like the shamisen, the koto and several percussion instruments are enhanced by the distorted guitars rather than the overused other way around, resulting in an album that may be even better than D’s already consistently great discography. In addition, it is admirable how Asagi managed to make ‘Madara’ sound like a uniformous album despite the numerous contributions of high profile guest musicians.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubi No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Komo Sakura’, ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukuyo Ni Hoeyu~’

8. Aria – Proklyatiye Morey

‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ is the single greatest song released last year. The rest of ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is really good as well. In fact, ever since current (and best) singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov joined the band, Aria has been experiencing a bit of a rebirth. ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is the third installment in a series of studio albums that is easily their best since their late eighties and early nineties heyday. In fact, ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ even finds the band branching out by treading their most progressive waters yet. Unlike some of the recent albums of their prime influence Iron Maiden, Aria manages to sound fresh and energetic throughout the album, however. The short, punchy songs are as good as the longer, proggy ones. If highly melodic old school heavy metal is your thing, ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is an album you cannot afford to miss.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’, ‘Zhivoy’, ‘Era Lucifera’

9. Angra – Ømni

Angra continues to release amazing records. And in true Angra fashion, ‘Ømni’ is different than anything they have ever done before. It is probably the album with the most pronounced Afro-Brazilian influences since their classic ‘Holy Land’ album. The best aspect about ‘Ømni’ is its versatility though. It is a progressive metal album with many different shades and faces. In fact, this is one of the few albums where I think “world metal” is a pretty good genre tag for it. Power metal is slightly less prominent than on ‘Secret Garden’ (2015), but that is hardly an issue here. Also, it is admirable how little of a difference the loss of long-time guitarist Kiko Loureiro makes. Marcelo Barbosa is an excellent replacement. I am fairly confident about Angra’s future at this point.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ømni – Silence Inside’, ‘Bottom Of My Soul’, ‘War Horns’

10. Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ (2013) made me fear that Alice In Chains had gotten too comfortable with its own sound, but fortunately, ‘Rainier Fog’ proved me wrong. Sure, the twisted anguish of ‘Dirt’ (1992) has gone, although traces of it can still be heard occasionally. Naturally, the elements that make Alice In Chains the band people know and love are featured prominently on ‘Rainier Fog’. The dual lead vocal harmonies, the crushingly heavy riffs, the haunting minor key melodies and the melancholic ballads are all there. There is just a more spontaneous “let’s throw this against the wall and see if it sticks” vibe than before. Ultimately, what makes ‘Rainier Fog’ an above average Alice In Chains album is that the album contains some of the most memorable songs the Seattleites have written in a long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

11. Myles Kennedy – Year Of The Tiger

Easily the greatest rock singer of his generation, the sound of Myles Kennedy’s solo album was surprising, to say the least. ‘Year Of The Tiger’ is an album rooted in acoustic guitars, but not in the pretentious singer-songwriter way of most rock singers. Instead, a large portion of the album has been written on resonator guitars, adding a sort of a country blues flavor to many of the songs. Of course, there is still the folky stuff such an acoustic approach tends to result in, but there is even some more powerful stuff here that would have been hardrock if the instrumentation had been different. The interaction between acoustic and electric instruments accounts for an album that is much more dynamic than one would expect. One of the surprise winners of 2018.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Great Beyond’, ‘Nothing But A Name’, ‘Blind Faith’

12. Amorphis – Queen Of Time

Without wanting to sound too petty in my clean vocal fundamentalism, ‘Queen Of Time’ may have been higher on my list if it didn’t feature so much grunting from Tomi Joutsen. Musically, ‘Queen Of Time’ is probably the most interesting, layered album Amorphis has released so far. The songs aren’t radically different from what they did before, but the songs are significantly enhanced by the use of several traditional instruments, which gives the songs a depth beyond the quality we have come to expect from the Finns. Some of the choruses just beg for Joutsen’s excellent clean vocals and get his – admittedly good – grunts instead. If that does not bother you, you could do a lot worse than the equally progressive and melodic as heavy and brutal stuff on ‘Queen Of Time’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Daughter Of Hate’, ‘Heart Of The Giant’, ‘The Golden Elk’

13. Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality

‘Awakening From Abyss’ was one of the two albums in last year’s coin toss. ‘Clockwork Immortality’ did not impress me quite as much upon first spin. After some time, the album sunk in though. I still think it lacks something the debut did have, but there are too many good songs on the album to dismiss it easily. Overall, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is slightly more streamlined than the previous Lovebites releases, but there is still an abundance of excellent guitar work by Midori and Miyako and singer Asami is still one of the best female rock singers in Japan. After some spins, my idea is that better sequencing could have improved ‘Clockwork Immortality’, but that doesn’t take away the fact that there are some excellent power metal and hardrock songs on the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Final Collision’, ‘Addicted’, ‘M.D.O.’, ‘Pledge Of The Savior’

14. Navarone – Salvo

After the carefully arranged ‘Oscillation’, ‘Salvo’ finds Navarone aiming for the live energy that made them so good in the first place again. Stylistically, ‘Salvo’ combines some of the best rock music from the seventies and nineties, ending up sounding not too dissimilar to what Slash does with Myles Kennedy. Fresh, punchy songs with catchy choruses that don’t overstay their respective welcomes are all over ‘Salvo’. As always, the album proves that Navarone excels in writing smartly arranged rock songs that don’t sound like they have been labored over and the fantastic voice of Merijn van Haren ties it all together. Anyone who has once said that rock music is not what it used to be should certainly give ‘Salvo’ a spin. Unless you don’t like to be proven wrong of course.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘Søreal’, ‘The Strong Survive’, ‘Another Way’

15. White Wizzard – Infernal Overdrive

Another one of those albums I was not expecting to like so much. To me, White Wizzard was always one of those retro bands that rightfully had to settle for opening act status. Occasionally fun, but ultimately lacking in the songwriting department. ‘Infernal Overdrive’ prove me wrong. Gone are the days of blindly aping influences – though closing track ‘The Illusion’s Tears’ has its moments – and in its place, we have a bunch of excellent contemporary heavy metal songs with some delicious guitar work. Even singer Wyatt Anderson has improved significantly. Most of the longer songs feature a ton of engaging stuff as well. I had hoped for this to be the start of a bright future, but unfortunately, White Wizzard called it quits a few months after the album’s release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Metamorphosis’, ‘Pretty May’, ‘Chasing Dragons’

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Album of the Week 47-2018: Navarone – Salvo


Despite working with pretty much the same team as on its predecessor ‘Oscillation’, Navarone’s fourth album ‘Salvo’ is a completely different beast. Instead of releasing another carefully arranged production full of subtle intricacies that slowly reveal themselves over repeated spins, the quintet opts to focus on their live energy. Understandable, because that has certainly been one of the band’s biggest strengths throughout the last decade. The result is a record that may not have as many surprises as ‘Oscillation’ did, but with the set of powerful rock songs the band came up with this time, that should hardly be a problem.

With ‘Salvo’ being the kind of “live in the studio” record that many seventies hardrock bands excelled at, Navarone is more focused stylistically as well. That does not mean that all the songs sound similar – giving every song its own character is a specialty of the band – but it does mean the majority of what you will hear consists of uncomplicated, riff-driven hardrock with strong choruses that are memorable without exception. There aren’t even any ballads. The dark, minimalistic southern blues of ‘Fire’ – one of the album’s most experimental tracks – is probably the thing that comes closest to one.

Occasionally, ‘Salvo’ is reminiscent of the better work that Slash did with Myles Kennedy in recent years. Not just because Merijn van Haren en Kennedy are among the very few excellent rock singers of this era or because of the massive Gibson sound of Kees Lewiszong and Roman Huijbreghs, but also because of the fact that the songwriting has similar sensibilities. ‘The Strong Survive’ has that typical energetic feelgood vibe that the opener on a powerful rock record should have, while the grinding, moore moody ‘Waste’ is one of those deep cuts that could just develop into a classic over time.

Navarone was never about blindly copying their influences though. ‘Another Way’ has a fairly unique approach in its combination of classic and contemporary rock styles, not to mention an awesome build towards its chorus. It’s the one song that would have made sense on ‘Oscillation’ as well. The fairly accessible ‘SøReal’ sounds like a nineties rock radio hit without directly sounding like any of the songs that actually were, while the crushing riff work of ‘Mind’s Eye’ is borderline metallic in nature. Sure, the Black Sabbath kind of metal and the overtones are more contemporary rock than anything esle, but that only contributes to the unique nature of that excellent track.

Most amazing is the fact that Navarone brings all these elements together in a manner that does not sacrifice any of their catchy, recognizable songwriting. ‘Salvo’ has a very pleasant flow, likely more so than any of their other records. Many of the younger rock bands notably try to appeal either to old schoolers or the modern rock crowd. What Navarone proves once again on ‘Salvo’ is that it’s perfectly possible to have a multi-generational appeal if you just write and play the right songs. Highly recommended to anyone who mopes that all contemporary rock is inferior to the classic stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘SøReal’, ‘The Strong Survive’, ‘Another Way’

Best of 2017: The Albums

After a number of great releases in January, I thought 2017 was going to be an amazing year for rock and metal. In that respect, the year in music had been a little disappointing. There was no consistent stream of good releases, though there were a few clear peaks in the release schedule. Aside from January, March was a small peak release-wise, September a large one, with the last two months of the year having a handful of interesting albums. My top 10 more or less made itself, but I had even more trouble filling the last couple of positions than last year.

Having said that, I was overwhelmed by the number of quality releases from my own country. Being a Dutchman, I am sometimes overly critical of Dutch bands and sometimes unjustly so. Speaking as a music journalist, I would certainly say that 2017 was the year of pleasant surprises from Dutch guitar bands. There were two clear winners for me this year and neither of them is Dutch, but with four Dutch releases in the top ten and seven in the top twenty, I’d say that last year was surprisingly pleasant for a journalist of a couple of Dutch guitar magazines.

1. Firewind – Immortals

Some of the best power metal I have heard in a long, long time. I have always enjoyed Firewind, but the addition of singer extraordinaire Henning Basse to the line-up and Dennis Ward to the production and songwriting team was just the boost that the (largely) Greek power metal band needed. ‘Immortals’ is full off exuberant power metal with anthemic, yet not too cliché-ridden choruses and surprisingly aggressive riffing courtesy of Gus G. The epic feel that the concept about the Battle of Thermopylae requires is prominently present, but never at the expense of the songs, which would not lose any of their power when played “out of context”. Though the Greeks did not win the battle, Firewind did. ‘Immortals’ still makes me grin like an idiot when I play it today.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ode To Leonidas’, ‘Hands Of Time’, ‘Rise From The Ashes’

2. Lovebites – Awakening From Abyss

Lovebites was the only serious competition for Firewind this year. I was ready to dismiss the quintet as another hyped-up girly J-metal band, but both the EP and the album they released this year were jaw-dropping. There’s nothing cutesy about Lovebites: their music has balls. ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is chock-full of high octane riffs, mad lead guitars and excellent heavy metal songwriting. Lovebites combines the best elements of traditional metal and contemporary power metal into a catchy, delicious cocktail with a healthy dash of aggression. Singer Asami, who I had never heard of prior to the EP, is the icing on the cake. Her flexible range and immense power make this an incredible album instead of just a great one.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Hammer Of Wrath’, ‘Shadowmaker’, ‘Liar’

3. Dool – Here Now, There Then

Gloomy, dark, depressive, but always with very distinct melodies. Though ‘Here Now, There Then’ is only Dool’s first album, they already hits all the right buttons. Their immersive sound features equal parts doom metal riffing, psychedelic rock soundscapes and general post-punk nihilism. Listening to Dool is like being surrounded by huge walls of guitars that alternate between weaving intricate patterns and crushing your soul with brutally effective riffs played in unison. Though many bands playing a similar style are marred by subpar vocals, ‘Here Now, There Then’ features some of the best vocal work I have heard Ryanne van Dorst do thus far. She sounds great on her own, but the harmonies are even better. Not for the faint of heart, but an incredible experience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Vantablack’, ‘Oweynagat’, ‘The Alpha’

4. Steve Hackett – The Night Siren

In a way, it is ridiculous that an almost supernaturally talented guitarist like Steve Hackett needs to revisit his Genesis legacy to get the attention he deserves, but if it gives him the means to write and perform a record like ‘The Night Siren’, it has all been worth it. Here, Hackett explores his influences from all over the world and combines them with his own English rock, pop and blues roots. World fusion in the best possible way. The real class of ‘The Night Siren’, however, lies in the fact that Hackett blends these worldwide influences with his own music in a way that does not sound like he is trying to be clever, it just enhances the mood. Again, the atmosphere is immersive and unsurprisingly, Hackett’s playing is nothing short of stellar.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Smoke’, ‘El Niño’, ‘Fifty Miles From The North Pole’

5. Adagio – Life

This was a grower for me. It took some time to do so, but once it did, it was very difficult to stop playing ‘Life’. Adagio really does something new here, which may not be too surprising, since their last album was released more than eight years ago. The tempo is considerably lower and Stéphan Forté’s downtuned rhythm guitars are sometimes reminiscent of the djent-sound, but with Kevin Codfert’s mind-blowing orchestrations and Kelly Sundown Carpenter’s mighty voice, the music has so much more to offer melodically and harmonically. The songwriting is bombastic, complex and melodically strong simultaneously and the record is full of subtleties that reveal themselves over repeated spins. I never was a big Adagio fan, but now I will certainly keep my eye on them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Subrahmanya’, ‘Torn’, ‘Life’

6. Navarone – Oscillation

On the surface, every element that made Navarone’s prior albums so great are in full force on ‘Oscillation’: the great seventies and nineties rock riffs, Merijn van Haren’s massive voice and a rather unpredictable approach to songwriting. Yet, something has changed. The songs are more concise and the band really explores the sonic opportunities of the studio here. And with that comes new possibilities. The surprisingly cinematic ending of ‘Snake’, the contemporary pop sensibilities of ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’ and the progressive splendor of ‘Chrome’ are born from this altered approach. As soon as the initial awkwardness wore off, ‘Oscillation’ turned out to be a very satisfying album by what is arguably Europe’s best rock band at the moment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Yore’, ‘Chrome’, ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’

7. Jeangu Macrooy – High On You

Before I ever even heard a note of his music, Jeangu Macrooy already impressed me with his moving, powerful voice, which has distinct traces of Bill Withers in it. His music is just about as good. ‘High And You’ is a melting pot of styles which really bring out the best in each other. Large doses of soul, of course, but also pop, jazz, folk and hints of rock and Carribean music. And while many artists who attempt something similar get lost in the maze of their own influences, Macrooy’s warm, almost spiritual voice ties the whole thing together convincingly. What truly helps is that Macrooy’s basic compositions are essentially all excellent pop songs. The profound, yet uplifting ‘Step Into The Water’ would be my choice for the single of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Step Into The Water’, ‘Fire Raging’, ‘Head Over Heels’

8. Galneryus – Ultimate Sacrifice

Always highly anticipated: a new Galneryus album. Especially because ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ was announced as a sequel to ‘Under The Force Of Courage’, one of their better records. ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ is a bit more consistent and really finds the band firing on all cylinders. The songwriting leans a tad more towards progressive metal than usual, but not without sacrificing – no pun intended – any of their euphroric, strongly European-tinged power metal sound. One of Galneryus’ best traits has always been their display of virtuosity: it is always there, but not before the song has been clearly outlined. Sure, it is fast and reasonably complex, but ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ is also full of accomplished melodies and it has a remarkable dynamic range for the style.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rising Infuriation’, ‘Heavenly Punishment’, ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’

9. Merry – M-Ology

For years, I have been wanting Merry to make an album like ‘M-Ology’. Not that I did not like their previous albums – ‘Nonsense Market’ is awesome – but the great thing about this one is the fact that the retro feel that made early albums like ‘Modern Garde’ and ‘Peep Show’ so good is finally as prominent as it should be again. Sometimes it feels like a particularly loud jazz band deciding to play a mix of alternative rock, punk, rock ‘n’ roll and traces of metal and blues. I am aware that such description sounds like a mess, but that is where Merry shines: songwriting. All these songs are based around memorable hooks and rhythms that are as energetic as they are danceable. As a result, I did not play anything else for days after ‘M-Ology’ came out.

Recommended tracks: ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’, ‘Kasa To Ame’, ‘M-Ology’, ‘Happy Life’

10. Robin Borneman – Folklore II: The Phantom Wail

Navarone made me aware of this great Dutch singer/songwriter. More than half of that band contributed to ‘Folklore II: The Phantom Wail’, but it is still very much Borneman’s record. One that is kind of hard to define, as it sounds cinematic and rootsy at the same time. This is the kind of stuff that takes you on a journey. Just close your eyes and it will come immediately. Sometimes it’s folky blues, but there are also times when it sounds like a spaghetti western contained in a psychedelic rock song, there are hints of country & western… The only true way to describe this is emotional, atmospheric and unpredictable music. No single instrument outshines the bigger picture and the production job is the best I have heard in a long, long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Woebegone Blues’, ‘O Faithful World’, ‘The Reckoning / Dawn’

11. Galactic Cowboys – Long Way Back To The Moon

If you like heavy metal riffs and vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Beatles simultaneously, King’s X and Galactic Cowboys are basically the only bands you can count on. However, the former’s last studio album is almost a decade old and the latter broke up around the turn of the century. Fortunately, they are back and their new album is their best since their incredible debut. On the surface, Galactic Cowboys may be focusing on their heavy side here, but really, every part of their charm can be heard here. The harmonies, of course, but also their cross-genre approach, their loose jam feel and their ability to let the music breathe when it needs to. To show their fans that they are serious about rekindling their fire, the album even starts with Galactic Cowboys’ oldest song.

Recommended tracks: ‘Amisarewas’, ‘Drama’, ‘In The Clouds’

12. Labÿrinth – Architecture Of A God

When ‘Architecture Of A God’ was just released, I was sure it was going to make my top five. It is, after all, the Italians’ best record since career highlight ‘Return To Heaven Denied’ and almost every song on here is pure gold. Singer Roberto Tiranti is in top shape and as such, he is the perfect fit for the progressive, yet romantic power metal of the sextet. At times, new keyboard player Oleg Smirnoff even pushes the band to different terrain sonically with his unconventional keyboard sounds. And then there are Olaf Thörsen and Andrea Cantarelli, providing all the dreamy melodies and shimmering acoustic guitars you could wish for. It drags a little near the end, but with some of its fat trimmed, ‘Architecture Of A God’ would have definitely made the top five.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Alive’, ‘A New Dream’, ‘Someone Says’, ‘Diamond’

13. Drive Like Maria – Creator Preserver Destroyer

‘Sonny’ alone is enough reason to get ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’. Seriously, that little mix of melancholic melodies and poppy rock sensibilities is one of the best songs on an album released this year. The rest of the album is equally strong though. ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ does sound a little different than Drive Like Maria’s earlier albums, as the beautifully soulful, but not too loud vocals of Bjorn Awouters suddenly get all the room they need to excel. Underneath them, there is enough variation to make this material, which was originally released as three EP’s, interesting for an entire album. Sexy grooves, extended seventies rock jams, monolithic stoner riffs and the occasional ballad… Whatever you need, you will probably find it here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sonny’, ‘Tiny Terror’, ‘Keeps Me Going’

14. For All We Know – Take Me Home

Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie released an incredible solo album under the For All We Know moniker in 2011. That album was full of atmospheric, surprisingly emotional progressive rock and I am very glad that he got the whole band that recorded the debut back together. Especially the partnership between Jolie and singer Wudstik is pure magic. Together, they create complex, richly layered songs that are accessible at the same time. This concept is taken to the extreme on ‘Take Me Home’; the poppy aspects are catchier, the ballads are softer, the heavy riffs are heavier and the complexity is turned up at strategic moments as well. Listening to For All We Know is truly an immersive experience and though it is a pity we had to wait for it for over six years, it is a great thing that Jolie had the time to write, record and release yet another great record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Big Wheel’, ‘They’ll Win’, ‘Fade Away’

15. Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand

Mastodon is quite likely the only modern metal band I am consistently interested in. Their sludgy guitar sound is offset by Brann Dailor’s busy rhythms and the overall progressive songwriting. Those who thought the band took its melodicism too far on recent albums will be in for a treat. Though ‘Emperor Of Sand’ still contains its fair share of highly melodic choruses, the riff work and the lead guitar sections are more complex than they have been for a long time. The record is full of triumphant guitar harmonies and the three lead singers (Dailor, guitarist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders) work together better than ever. On ‘Emperor Of Sand’, Mastodon proves that there is such a thing as a metal band aging gracefully without becoming a caricature of itself.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ancient Kingdom’, ‘Jaguar God’, ‘Steambreather’

16. Sven Hammond – Rapture

Notably less polished than their other recent efforts, but no less enjoyable. ‘Rapture’ finds Sven Hammond returning to the raw, almost garage-y soul sound of their earliest records – if those three instrumentals are no nod to Booker T and the M.G.’s, I don’t know what is – but this time, they combine that with their knack for writing accessible songs, as showcased on their previous records. ‘Rapture’ feels like a groovy late night jam session, during which the presence of Sven Hammond’s amazing singer Ivan Peroti requires some sense of structure. The rhythms are driving, Sven Figee’s Hammond organ is nice and dirty and Tim Eijmaal’s guitar alternates between bouncy riffs and subtle coloring. This sounds way more American than a Dutch band has any right to sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Choosy Lover’, ‘A Right Pickle’, ‘Lazarus’

17. The Magpie Salute – The Magpie Salute

Sad as it is that The Black Crowes are no longer around, The Magpie Salute really is the next best thing. Sure, there is only one original song on this album – I’ve been told an album full of original material is coming in the new year – but what really makes this album is the musical interaction. It is more than obvious that every musician involved has a maximum of respect for the other musicians and the songs they are playing. Jam rock bands have a tendency to stick to the same groove for too long, but every second on The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut album made me hungry for more music. The album is full of exciting musicianship and the lack of a truly charismatic lead singer like Chris Robinson is cleverly compensated for by harmonies.

Recommended tracks: ‘War Drums’, ‘Omission’, ‘Goin’ Down South’

18. Septicflesh – Codex Omega

If there is death metal in my list, it has to be something special. And it is. Septicflesh has always attracted my attention due to their sophisticated orchestrations, but their songs never appealed to me quite as much as on ‘Codex Omega’. This time around, the orchestra does not just add power to the songs, the songs themselves are already powerful, allowing the orchestra to take them to their logical extremes. There is also a lot of toying around with rhythms, which can probably be attributed to the arrival of new drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner, whose rhythms try to find their strength in unconventional accents rather than complexity. Jens Bogren’s immense production job is incredible. Hell, I don’t even mind Seth Siro Anton’s grunts. They enhance the atmosphere.

Recommended tracks: ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’

19. Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns For The Mourning Star?

It would be easy to dismiss Cloven Hoof as a mere shadow of its former self on account of the ridiculous number of lineup changes they have had to endure in recent years. But ‘Who Mourns For The Mourning Star?’ is such a euphoric, energetic slab of traditional heavy metal that it is easy to forget all of that. A mix between US Power Metal and the NWOBHM scene they are often associated with, the album is treat for old schoolers. And as many credits as bassist Lee Payne deserves for writing these incredible songs, it is really singer George Call – also known as “gruff Bruce Dickinson” in my circles – who pushes these songs beyond how good they would have been otherwise. New material from an old band that does not sound like a weak rehash. Refreshing!

Recommended tracks: ‘Star Rider’, ‘Time To Burn’, ‘I Talk To The Dead’

20. Black Country Communion – BCC IV

Glenn Hughes, never a poster child for subtlety, was very bitter about Joe Bonamassa walking out of Black Country Communion. So it was all the more surprising that they recorded a comeback album together. And that it was good. Not as memorable as their first two albums, but with a songwriter as strong as Hughes, there are bound to be some winners. Most of it is pure classic rock gold, but there are some folky, bluesy and surprisingly poppy moments as well. Of course, with four musicians this good – and most of them experienced in session work – the interaction is simply excellent. As a result, the longer songs work best. I am not as big a fan of Bonamassa as most people seem to be, but in this context, his playing just works. And Hughes’ voice defies physics.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Cove’, ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Awake’

Navarone, Drive Like Maria and more in Gitarist


Those of you who want to know more about the most recent Album of the Week, but prefer to get their information from the musicians involved should look no further than this month’s issue of Gitarist. I didn’t just interview Navarone’s guitarists, but the entire band about the creation of ‘Oscillation’. It’s a special album that deserves a lot of attention from everyone. Also, I spoke extensively with Drive Like Maria’s Nitzan Hoffmann about their new album ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’, another great rock album from the Benelux. I can only say that the year has started out great in that respect.

Furthermore, we have interviews with Eric Johnson about his new acoustic record and new blues prodigy Aaron Keylock. There’s a big feature about mini pedals and we have loads of gear and cd reviews. I can’t see a reason not to rush to the store and buy it unless you already have a subscription.

Album of the Week 04-2017: Navarone – Oscillation


When you listen to ‘Oscillation’ for the first time, you’ll immediately notice something has changed. The music is still instantly recognizable as Navarone; the big, beefy hardrock riffs are still there and Merijn van Haren’s magnificent voice hasn’t lost any of its force, but in terms of production, ‘Oscillation’ is a whole different beast than its two predecessors. As a result, the separate songs sound a little more streamlined, but the scope and variation that made Navarone’s previous records so great are also still here. And so, this fresh record proves that a rock band can expand upon its style without sacrificing its excitement and energy.

In a way, ‘Oscillation’ sounds a little more modern than what the quintet has done before. Navarone always found a nice balance between the relative complexity and riffiness of seventies rock and the directness of nineties rock. This time, some more contemporary influences have been brought to the table. The delightfully catchy ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’ has a very modern, poppy rock vibe, while opening track ‘Snake’ brings some of the stoner rock influences that were always beneath the surface front and center. The climax of the latter also sounds like nothing the band has ever done before, but it’s incredibly powerful.

On a more superficial level, ‘Oscillation’ is a typical Navarone record in the way it moves back and forth between powerful rock tracks and strong ballads with remarkable ease. The former category has the awesome ‘Step By Step’, probably the most “typical” Navarone song on the record, and the relentlessly pounding ‘Lonely Nights’, which is likely the heaviest track the band has recorded yet. ‘Free Together’, ‘Unmistakably Everything’ and closing track ‘Don’t Belong’ are all beautiful, delicate ballads with more acoustic work than the band has yet used and a more interesting approach than the well-known calm verse, big chorus contrast, which truly enhances the songs.

But most notable are the songs that don’t fit either category. The atmospheric ‘Chrome’ has an acoustic fundament, but is hardly a ballad. Progressive acoustic rock? Maybe. The song works its way through several distinctive movements that shouldn’t work together, but miraculously do. ‘Shadow’ is a little darker and has a psychedelic middle section somewhat reminiscent of ‘Sage’ from the debut album. However, the real winner here is the mindblowing ‘Days Of Yore’. From its monumental opening riff to Kees Lewiszong’s amazing blues solo, the song is a masterpiece that brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tea For One’. The verses are very minimalistic, but serve as a perfect vehicle for Van Haren’s incredible voice. This is a song that needs to be heard to be believed.

The cliché is that when rock bands mature, their sound becomes calmer and more interesting. ‘Oscillation’ proves that this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, Navarone seems to have been exploring the extremes of their sound here, which makes the record heavier, more progressive, more melodic and more accessible all at the same time. It may need a little more time to sink in than the band’s previous two records, but once it does, you’ll realize that they have made another masterpiece. Their third in a row. And if that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Yore’, ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’, ‘Lonely Nights’

Loads of Kevy Metal photography and articles in Gitarist!

If I told you I wasn’t proud of this month’s issue of Gitarist – in stores today – I would be lying to you. Besides the reviews on the new albums of Hard Rock trio Gingerpig, the heavy Progrock of Deanmoore and the Jazzrock collaboration of Gov’t Mule and John Scofield, I contributed three interviews. Guitar slingers Alfred van Luttikhuizen and Christoffer van Teijlingen of Hardcore ‘n’ Rollers John Coffey talk us through the year between their last live shows and now and the recordings of ‘The Great News’, Tank86‘s guitar duo of Joost Kruiswijk and Harold Aling talk the remarkable equipment that their incredibly heavy new album ‘Obey’ has been recorded with and Arnold Smits gives us all the details of the recording of the long awaited comeback album of Dutch Funk legends Gotcha!.

However, the photography of this issue is what lends just a little extra to this issue for me personally. The photo impression of the Eurosonic Noorderslag festival contains only photos and texts from my hand. I have never had a photo spread of mine published and having it done makes me feel extremely proud. The John Coffey interview has also been decorated with photos I took of Alfred and Christoffer as well. To give you an impression of what you can expect in terms of photographic evidence of my presence at Eurosonic Noorderslag, I’ll share some extra photos that aren’t in Gitarist, but are on the website with you.

The Common Linnets were slightly frowned upon by the section of music experts that take themselves too seriously. In all honesty, I went to check them out because after two days of photographing ugly men, I felt the need to have Ilse DeLange in front of my lens. And really, the show was a pleasant surprise. You can ridicule them any way you want for their Eurovision Song Contest success, but in fact, DeLange and De Dijk guitarist JB Meijers are part of a really strong Americana band. Sure, actually having Americans in the band helps, but new song ‘We Don’t Make The Wind Blow’ sent shivers down my spine. Great vocal interaction. Though I’m not a fan of the genre, it’s all been executed very well. An unexpected highlight that in my opinion has rightfully been rewarded with the Popprijs.

Navarone. What can I say about them that I haven’t said already? They are simply the best Rock band in all of Holland and possibly the entire world at the moment. The only complaint I would have about their fantastic set at Eurosonic 2015 would be its limited length, something they can’t help of course. The huge Zeppelin-esque seventies riffs and the nineties Hardrock unconventionality combined with a Queens Of The Stone Age-like experimentalism and an eclecticism similar to The Black Crowes resulted in the most exciting set of Rock songs in the shape of ‘Vim And Vigor’ last year. And if that doesn’t convince you, Merijn van Haaren’s impossibly amazing with its Robert Plant range and Steven Tyler edge will. On a more boring note, I love this photo of guitarist Roman Huijbreghs.

Jett Rebel is an artist I felt the need to photograph based on his immense popularity rather than my appreciation for his music. Surprisingly, there were some aspects of his Eurosonic Air performance that I actually really liked. His band is fantastic. Especially drummer Rick van Wort amazed me – he even started the show with a short drum solo – but Jett Rebel himself is a more than capable guitarist himself as well. His Prince-like Rock song ‘Do You Love Me At All?’ got stuck in my head for days. On the other hand, at some points he seemed more interested in making contact with the – admittedly beautiful – young ladies in the front row than actually serving them with a great concert. His attempts at audience participation really disrupted the flow of the show. Ironically, his performance at Norderslag reportedly contained virtually no audience participation. I’ll have to admit that his band and especially Jett himself are very photogenic.

Best of 2014: The Albums

Yes, it’s that time of year again. And let me start out by saying that 2014 was a slight disappointment in terms of new releases. Sure, one of the best Dutch Rock albums in ages was released (look for it at number one) and that wasn’t the only impressive release this year, but in all honesty, most of the releases I anticipated were live documents and reissues. Some surprisingly strong comebacks and a few new bands that blew me away did compensate for the initial disappointment though.

Make no mistake though: each and every one of these albums is worthy of your time and attention. This year’s number one is one of the albums I played most throughout the year and restored my faith in the fact that the Rock scene hadn’t drowned in its own self-importance or hit song obsession.

1. Navarone – Vim And Vigor

Oh, how I love this record! Navarone already was one of Holland’s most promising bands, but with ‘Vim And Vigor’, they made one of my favorite records in recent years. While the song durations may hint at a more compact direction, the album is surprisingly adventurous. It shows Navarone exploring all the corners of their versatile Rock sound. There are loads of seventies Hardrock riffs, but also a few songs consisting of a more rhythmical contemporary approach, Southern Rock-style ballads and psychedelic passages, all tied together by concise songwriting, massive choruses and Merijn van Haren’s fantastic, powerful voice. ‘Vim And Vigor’ is obligatory for every Rock fan of any kind. And good luck trying to play it more than I have.

Recommended tracks: ‘Time’, ‘Wander’, ‘Indigo Blue’

2. D’Angelo – Black Messiah

Now where did that album suddenly come from? D’Angelo had been working on ‘Black Messiah’ for over fourteen years and we have been told it was nearly done since 2011. It was worth the wait though; ‘Black Messiah’ is almost as good as ‘Voodoo’. But where ‘Voodoo’ was seductive, ‘Black Messiah’ is militant. Or at least socially conscious. It’s a grower for sure, in the sense that the album slowly reveals its secrets over repeated spins, in all of their grooving, riotous and at times psychedelic glory. This is ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ for the 21st century. Very much so, in fact. Even though D’Angelo sticks to his story that he rushed through the final phase of the album – once again: I chuckled – it’s obvious he worked hard at once again creating a unique work of art. He succeeded.

Recommended tracks: ‘Betray My Heart’, ‘The Charade’, ‘1000 Deaths’

3. Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died

With Nevermore, a band I loved intensely, gone – or, if you will, on hiatus – this reunion of Warrel Dane’s and Jim Sheppard’s former band is the second best thing I can wish for. Then again, because of the modern production and Dane’s current vocal range, it does sound a lot like Nevermore. While the song patterns don’t vary greatly throughout the record, the riffs call for headbanging, the choruses are catchy and recognizable and the soaring guitar leads are just fantastic. This may not be the falsetto screams and old style Power Metal riff festival that ‘Refuge Denied’ was, but this is a clever contemporary Metal record with all the elements that make Heavy Metal so amazing in the first place firmly in tact.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Year The Sun Died’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Question Existence Fading’

4. OverKill – White Devil Armory

It’s not unusual for me to anticipate an OverKill album. They’ve been my favorite band – alongside Led Zeppelin – for ages. But it doesn’t happen very often that my blood gets boiling as quickly as it did upon first listening to ‘White Devil Armory’. This is OverKill’s East Coast Thrash Metal in all its aggressive, violent and full speed glory. It’s interesting that Dave Linsk’s lead guitar work infuses some of the songs with an almost triumphant old school Heavy Metal feel, most particularly in the amazing closing track ‘In The Name’, one of OverKill’s carreer highlights. ‘White Devil Armory’ should send all these young Retro Thrashing kids back to rehearsal in shame. And they’re only allowed when they come back when they have at least half the energy that Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth has today. Incredible.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Name’, ‘Pig’, ‘Where There’s Smoke…’

5. King Of The World – KOTW

Almost exactly a year after their brilliant first album, there was a brilliant second album. As if it takes them no effort whatsoever. ‘KOTW’ confirms King Of The World’s status as the best Blues band in the Netherlands. Possibly in Europe. While the first album was one of the most versatile Blues records I had heard in a while, this one shows the band branching out even outside the borders of what is traditionally considered Blues by combining it with flourishes of Soul, Funk grooves and even some Rock riffs. And all of it with similar conviction and audible enthusiasm. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, let me tell you that King Of The World is one of the very few Blues bands that can translate their live excitement to their records. ‘KOTW’ is proof.

Recommended tracks: ‘Beating Like A Drum’, ‘Living With The Ghost Of The Past’, ‘Hurricane’

6. No Sinner – Boo Hoo Hoo

Not only was No Sinner’s press day one of the most fun I have ever had – singer Colleen Rennison is awesome and their entire entourage is incredibly friendly – but the debut album of the Vancouver based band was one of the first albums I’ve loved this year. Rennison seems to love sixties Rock ‘n’ Soul as much as I do, possibly even more, and as a result, ‘Boo Hoo Hoo’ is a fantastic record that brings back memories of the best Janis Joplin, Big Mama Thornton and Ike & Tina Turner recordings. Eric Campbell’s guitar work does keep the songs firmly within the realms of Rock music though. It does sound like I have to see them in a smokey bar – are there still any of those left anyway? – for the full experience, but this album is as good as it gets if you need your fill on rootsy Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘September Moon’, ‘That’d Be The Day’, ‘Love Is A Madness’

7. Dir En Grey – Arche

It’s good to hear Dir En Grey try their hand at something more melodic after the more brutal approach of the last few records. The contemporary progressive leanings are retained though, resulting in – once again – a truly unique record. For me, the fact that Kyo equips his clean vocals more often is one of the album’s redeeming factors, but the songwriting is top notch once again. Where some passages of ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ were a bit of an aural blur, the songs on ‘Arche’ all have a face of their own and those faces may not be pretty (except for maybe ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’), but they definitely all are worth interacting with. Because of the album’s layered nature, some of the album’s shining moments won’t immediately be at the surface. One of them, though – Shinya’s best drumming so far – is right where you can hear it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Un Deux’, Chain Repulsion’, ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’

8. Joanne Shaw Taylor – The Dirty Truth

Okay, so I’ve never made a secret of my love for what Joanne Shaw Taylor does, but then again: her huge guitar work, her raw and heartfelt voice and her versatile songwriting leave very little to be desired anyway. After the wildly eclectic ‘Almost Always Never’, ‘The Dirty Truth’ is a more concise set of American Roots music. All the more impressive, given that Taylor is British. The Soul influences were always at the surface, but it seems like Taylor increasingly embraces funky grooves. And she’s got Memphis legend Steve Potts on drums here, so why not? The simple fact is that ‘The Dirty Truth’ is full of amazing Blues, Soul, Rock and Americana tunes played passionately by one of the biggest talents in the contemporary Blues scene.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wicked Soul’, ‘Wrecking Ball’, ‘The Dirty Truth’

9. Robert Plant – Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar

Robert Plant could easily just sit back and enjoy the benefits of once being the legendary frontman of the world’s ultimate Rock band, but his hunger to discover Folk music from all over the world is seemingly endless. That much is clear when you put on ‘Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar’; he moves from Americana to the Middle East and even has a Gambian griot in his backing band. Speaking of which: the Sensational Space Shifters brings back several members of Plant’s best backing band the Strange Sensation and even though the music isn’t quite as exuberant as on ‘Mighty Rearranger’ – the lullaby drowns out the ceaseless roar – the influence from African Rock and Blues is more than obvious. The results are often hypnotizing and haunting. It’s not an easy album to get into, but then again: regardless of your taste, Plant hasn’t ever released anything less than impressive.

Recommended tracks: ‘Embrace Another Fall’, ‘Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby)’, ‘A Stolen Kiss’

10. Triggerfinger – By Absence Of The Sun

For a minute, the mainstream Pop success of their cover of ‘I Follow Rivers’ – a decent cover of a terrible song – made me afraid of Triggerfinger’s future. I know I shouldn’t have; the Belgian trio has always done what they wanted and nothing else. As a result, ‘By Absence Of The Sun’ is yet another manifestatation of what makes Triggerfinger so good in the first place. It’s a record of very little subtlety. It’s raw, it’s powerful, it’s primal and has a few warts that make it all the more attractive. Also, it seems like someone finally succeeded in translating the sweaty energy of the band’s intense live performances to a studio record. Predecessor ‘All This Dancin’ Around’ was a collection of good songs, but ‘By Absence Of The Sun’ has been put just that little extra effort into to make it the hard working band’s ultimate mission statement.

Recommended tracks: ‘Halfway There’, ‘There Isn’t Time’, ‘And There She Was Lying In Wait’

11. The Tea Party – The Ocean At The End

Where the live documents from 2012 proved that The Tea Party was perfectly able to capture the spirit of their classic material, ‘The Ocean At The End’ is the proof that they’re still coming up with material that can easily stand the comparison with it. In fact, the band sounds more free and relieved than ever, giving ‘The Ocean At The End’ sort of a jam feel instead of the tightly composed productions that were ‘Transmission’ and ‘Triptych’. The Canadian power trio is obviously not afraid to experiment and although sometimes the Led Zeppelin influences are slightly too obvious – opening track ‘The L.O.C.’ sounds a ridiculous amount like ‘The Song Remains The Same’ at some points – the results are stunning. The title track is Jeff Martin’s crowning achievement as a guitarist; that guitar solo cuts right through your soul.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Ocean At The End’, ‘Cypher’, ‘The Black Sea’

12. The Backcorner Boogie Band – Faico Faico

Hailing from a part of the Netherlands that is litterally translated to “The Backcorner”, this is definitely the most aptly named band in this year’s list. Also, their music is just amazing. The lineup of the band is massive, but they’re all devoted to comibining Blues, Rock, Soul and even hints of Americana and Gospel into an irresistable cocktail. The results sound a little similar to The Black Crowes and The Rolling Stones and fans of those bands should know that this band can absolutely compare itself favorably to them. There’s a swinging rhythm section, a bunch of amazing singers, bombastic horns, killer guitar work and a rumbling Hammond organ and no one is trying to upstage or outshine anyone. This makes ‘Faico Faico’ the ultimate jam record released in the Benelux this past year and should be heard by anyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels’, ‘When The Day Is Done’, ‘Lost My Job To A Chinaman’

13. Anthem – Absolute World

Because of bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata’s illness, Anthem was shortly on hold. When they returned, it wasn’t Eizo Sakamoto, but Yukio Morikawa who fronted the band. And while he hasn’t stood the test of time as good as his two-time predecessor, his spirit and passion are part of what make ‘Absolute World’ such a good Heavy Metal record. The songs courtesy of Shibata and guitarist Akio Shimizu are important as well; ‘Absolute World’ is Anthem’s most riff-driven album in a while and Shimizu seasons the album with a number of mindblowing guitar solos. This is quite obviously a band that is very heartfelt about old school Heavy and Power Metal and they succeed at getting that across even three and a half decades into their carreer. Well worth the import price that may be steep.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Chaos’, ‘Sailing’, ‘Destroy The Boredom’

14. De Dijk – Allemansplein

Predecessor ‘Scherp De Zeis’ already saw De Dijk moving away from the French chanson influences that characterized part of their recent output and ‘Allemansplein’ is once again an almost fully Blues and Soul infused record. Because make no mistake: for a band whose lyrics are entirely in Dutch, De Dijk sounds remarkably American musically. The title track is one of the most sparse tracks in the history of the band and has this wonderful tension hanging in the air, making it reminiscent of their masterpiece ‘Recht In De Ogen’ in terms of atmosphere. As for the rest, there are the swinging riffs and horns that make every De Dijk album good, there’s just more emphasis on them than before. Another work that proves that De Dijk is much better than some Dutch people may think.

Recommended tracks: ‘Allemansplein (Wat Het Nooit Was)’, ‘Steen’, ‘Zelfs De Regen’

15. Umphrey’s McGee – Similar Skin

This one almost went by unnoticed in the stream of new releases I got to review. Am I glad I gave this one a chance anyway, because ‘Similar Skin’ is a sensational record. It’s hard to describe Umphrey’s McGee; they came from the nineties jam band scene, but they have more in common with Progrock in terms of style, despite several recognizable songs, guitar passages reminiscent of The Police’s later work, Funk grooves, Metal riffs and Jazzy instrumental prowess. There aren’t many bands that have a distinct sound and albums on which every song sounds different, but Umphrey’s McGee succeeds there. The only thing that could make the band better is a powerful lead singer; though all four singers in the band do quite well, none of them are lead singers. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying this highly surprising and versatile record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hourglass’, ‘Bridgeless’, ‘Cut The Cable’

16. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Thomas Gabriel Fischer wanted to build upon the pitch black sound of ‘Monotheist’ some more after the demise of Celtic Frost and I’m happy he did; that record was a masterpiece and so was Triptykon’s debut ‘Eparistera Daimones’. And ‘Melana Chasmata’. Enormous monoliths of pitch black riffs and dirge-like tempos paint a bleak atmosphere that is impossible to escape as a humble, helpless listener. While this melancholic sound still rings through most of ‘Melana Chasmata’, it also contains some of the band’s most aggressive and defiant material so far. It’s remarkable how easily the band makes this transition from dreary Doom Metal to angry, Death Metal-like Thrash passages, but one thing is for sure: nobody does it like they do!

Recommended tracks: ‘Breathing’, ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’, ‘Waiting’

17. While Heaven Wept – Suspended At Aphelion

Those who still consider While Heaven Wept as a Doom Metal band will probably be disappointed upon hearing ‘Suspended At Aphelion’. This is definitely not Doom Metal anymore; this is huge, epic Power Metal driven by massive riffs, fantastic vocals courtesy of Rain Irving and a desolate, overwhelming atsmosphere. There are piano interludes and purely classical pieces, ballad segments, instrumental Progmetal violence and epic Metal chapters in a 40 minute journey that is designed to listen to in one go. For me, that was easy, because the album is so expertly written and well performed. Mainman Tom Phillips already deserved all the praise he can get for his ambition and the sheer scope of the record, but the quality of ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ more than justifies it. Interesting sidenote: the session musicians are remarkably significant for some of the pieces here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’, ‘Souls In Permafrost’, ‘Introspectus’

18. VandenBerg’s MoonKings – MoonKings

A couple of years ago, no one would have expected Adrian VandenBerg ever releasing a new album again; he had a wrist injury and spent his entire professional life painting. However, he apparently feels good enough to record another album and tour again. And the album is good! With a strong, young rhythm section, Vandenberg and singer Jan Hoving – who tries to sound like David Coverdale a little too hard at some points, but does fit the music really well – recorded a collection of energetic, Bluesy Rock ‘n’ Roll songs that just scream for the live environment. This isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia; the songs sound fresh and I applaud Vandenberg for not taking the road of least resistance by gathering a bunch of big names here. Let’s just hope that this is the first chapter in the new book of Vandenberg’s musical carreer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Line Of Fire’, ‘Close To You’, ‘Leave This Town’

19. Prince & 3rdEyeGirl – PlectrumElectrum

Since he stubbornly refuses to do anything the way anyone else does – and that’s his strongest feat – Prince released two albums simultaneously. ‘Art Official Age’ was a bit too modern and digital for me, but ‘PlectrumElectrum’ has Prince and his all-female backing band 3rdEyeGirl exploring the two things he’s best at anyway: guitars and grooves. The ladies – in particular bassist Ida Nielsen: holy shit! – do a fantastic job backing Prince on his most consistent set of songs since ‘Musicology’. Of course, the Funk and Soul influences are right there, but the songs rock surprisingly hard at some points as well. Maybe the purple one should consider releasing a live album with these ladies… And this material of course!

Recommended tracks: ‘AnotherLove’, ‘FixUrLifeUp’, ‘PlectrumElectrum’

20. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun

While the psychedelic masterpiece of ‘Crack The Skye’ will be hard to equal for Mastodon, they will always find new ways to challenge themselves and expand upon their existing sound and that alone would be a reason why each album of the Atlanta-based band is enjoyable at the very least. ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’ is a more melodic record than ‘The Hunter’, though the basic sound is similar. As a result, most of the songs have a triumphant and – despite the band’s inaccessible nature – almost catchy vibe to them. If those are words that scare you as a Mastodon fan; don’t worry. Opposite material like the amazingly memorable ‘The Motherload’, there’s still stuff like the dark monster that is closing track ‘Diamond In The Witch House’. All worth your time!

Recommended tracks: ‘The Motherload’, ‘Tread Lightly’, ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’

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