Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’ – Misogyny Or Hero Worship?

This has vexed me somewhat and you know what happens when I’m vexed, the blog cogs start turning!

The NME (yes, they are apparently still a thing) have published a bit of a hatchet job on a record, Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’, that has yet to be released (bar one song), jumping on the story created by Milk Teeth’s Becky Blomfield over on Twitter who stated in a multi-tweet post that Frank Turner shouldn’t release an album about female historical figures as it’s just him profiteering over women and people of various races when he’s never been a woman or anything other than a white man himself. For context, Turner’s press release for the new record and accompanying podcast series states: “13 episodes and tracks about real historical women… including one about my mum! Exploring and celebrating their fascinating stories.” Is that really such a wrong thing to do?

Seemingly no stranger to controversy, Turner has also recently been held to account by fellow artist Koji who queried the name of Frank’s hardcore side-project Möngöl Hörde deeming it to have racist connotations. Frank replied that the name was taken from a Van Pelt song from two decades ago and that it wasn’t decided upon with any offence considered; and let’s face it, aren’t there other band names through the ages that could be deemed offensive due to their connotations (Joy Division and indeed New Order to name but two). Does that mean we should ignore or even worse re-write history, or is it a good thing that such terminology exists to act as a reminder of what has happened throughout human history whether good or bad?

I’ve never met Frank Turner, but whenever I’ve gone to see him at a gig or a spoken word-style occasion, he’s always been articulate, respectful and intelligent. He’s been a big supporter of the Safe Gigs For Women initiative and performs at a lot of charitable occasions. He has sometimes been a target for the far left-leaning crew who don’t think he’s ‘punk enough’ to pitch himself as a folk/punk artist, but I’ve never considered him to be one to try and latch on to a scene, he’d rather just produce good music and tour endlessly so that as many people as possible can experience his live shows. Again, is this such a bad thing?

I’m not saying that Turner’s music is to everyone’s tastes by any means, but the current criticism around how he shouldn’t write about things he hasn’t personally experienced is at best naïve and at worst massively hypocritical. With some critics citing Turner’s race, gender and class as reasons why he shouldn’t be partaking in this particular endeavour, the nay-sayers appear to be pigeonholing as much as those they so vehemently protest against. It’s 2019 guys, an age where gender is supposedly fluid and no-one should be picked out negatively due to their skin colour. Mental health is also massively stigmatised yet some of the comments directed at Turner are vile and hate-filled and in other circles would be considered bullying. Hmm…

So, what are the dos and don’ts for artists when considering album subject matter, and are we really the ones who should judge? If songs should only be written about experiences that have been personally lived, does this mean that no song should ever be about dragons or the war, or a different country, race or religion to that of the author? How do people think history has generally been passed down over the centuries? Spoiler alert, it’s through song, and the written word.

Having listened to Frank’s first podcast (about Sister Rosetta Tharpe), it’s fascinating to hear him go and explore her origins, her performances and her music in her homeland. He does it by bringing in local (and female) historian Nwaka Onwusa to discuss Sister Rosetta’s tale and his studio discussion is with singer-songwriter Emily Barker who has also written a song about the same subject. Funnily enough, Turner has also brought in a completely female group of musicians (and producer) for this record but people still assumed he had made it with usual backing band the (all male) Sleeping Souls and criticised him for it before looking up the facts. And again, does this really matter anyway? Surely we should always just employ the best people for any given job?

I certainly learned a thing or two from Turner’s initial podcast but the doubters continue. “He’s just cashing in” – what, by writing songs about women that people quite possibly haven’t heard of? Surely that’s not a profitable scheme? “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman” – that’s fair enough, but should that really stop him from writing and performing songs about women’s lives? He’s not writing from the point of view of the women from what I’ve heard, so is it really that big a deal? To me, it smacks of people going out of their way to be offended, without figuring out what they’re actually offended about. I’ve attempted to engage in debate with some of the critics who are so keen to tag Turner in on their comments, yet none have responded.

The only saving grace about this NME piece is that the comments are nearly 100% in support of Frank. And of course I did point out to them that it’s rather hypocritical linking up with paid ad providers who post clickbait stories at the foot of your articles that state if you’re a woman over 50 you should cut your hair short. Ah well, only another 12 tracks of supposed controversy to go…

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The Affs Awards 2018 – Album Of The Year

2018 has certainly been an odd year for music. We’ve seen the usual bunch of album anniversary tours, a raft of comebacks and a lot of big bands going even more stratospheric playing bigger and more bombastic shows, but there have also been a few let-downs with groups struggling to produce original work that really captures the imagination. Fortunately, your erstwhile blogger is here to lead you away from the chaff into the glorious wheat, as I countdown to my coveted Album Of The Year Award for 2018.

5 – TurbowolfThe Free Life

One of the finest moments of 2018 was discovering that Turbowolf are still as hard to pin down as ever with third record The Free Life being their most psychedelic and heaviest outing yet. Hitting festival season hard, the Bristol rockers had plenty of new material to batter audiences with, such as the riffy Domino (featuring Mike Kerr from Royal Blood), or the low-slung groove of Capital X (guest starring Joe Talbot from fellow West Country outfit IDLES).

Throughout the record, Chris Georgiadis nails his most impressive Turbowolf performance to date, veering between his recognisable rapid-fire delivery up to an insane squeal on the epic title track, while drummer Blake Davies thumps away at his kit with what sounds like a pair of granite slegehammers.

Live, songs from The Free Life have already come across like old friends, and even the sudden temporary departure of bassist Lianna Lee Davies to give birth in late 2018 hasn’t slowed the ‘Wolf down, running riot with support slots to Killing Joke across the UK. The Free Life is certainly an evolution of the band’s sound and you can see how it will garner more crossover appeal, but at the same time this is very much a record that only this four-piece could make. You can see the passion of Turbowolf fans at every show as they hurtle themselves into the pit and the band have delivered another set of oddly-danceable rock and roll tunes in return.

 

Eureka Machines - Victories4 – Eureka MachinesVictories

I keep banging on about being a recent convert to Eureka Machines but I should probably stop, having now been schlepping around the country to watch them for the best part of six years. The four piece produce some of the most joyous live shows out there but it’s with 2018’s Victories that they’ve knocked out their most rounded recorded work to date. Helped by frontman Chris Catalyst opening himself up a lot more with his 2017 solo album Life Is Often Brilliant, Victories has some of the most tender lyrics on any of the band’s albums yet. But fear not, the ingenious wordplay is still present and correct, in fact this record arguably features Catalyst’s finest wordsmithery, and coupled with some absolutely belting musicianship from the four piece, Victories is a record that’s impossible to tire of.

From the traditional EM bounce-a-thon of Misery to the Manics-inspired My Rock And Roll Is Dead to the epic, delicately 60s-tinged House Of Butterflies, there’s something for all era of fan here. It sounds wrong to call it a more mature performance all round; EM may always have had an impish nature but it would be ignorant to claim the band only made simple, juvenile music. The band have long made intelligent, intricate songs but with Victories there’s definitely a little extra crunch and intensity, making each track sound that little bit more fresh, and eager to jump out of the speakers at the listener. A truly genre-defying British rock record.

 

Pete Spiby - Failed Magician3 – Pete Spiby Failed Magician

The first time I saw Black Spiders, in a sweaty club in Bristol, I was instantly blown away. Part good time rock ‘n’ roll machine, part absolute riff lords, the Spiders were always infectiously inventive in pedaling hard rock anthems across their two albums and various EPs. When they called it a day a couple of years ago I was genuinely sad and felt like the live music scene was a poorer place because of it. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the guys started popping up in other outfits and lead singer/guitarist Pete Spiby revealed his next escapade; Failed Magician.

Re-invigorating the Pledge Music platform by offering not only an original album but also a reworked acoustic version and a covers record to boot, Spiby’s debut solo outing was pretty high up my wanted list and it hasn’t disappointed one bit. Offering a more bluesy take on modern rock than Black Spiders, Failed Magician is introspective, emotive, yet still all kinds of memorable. Take Friday Night Just Died (In Saturday Morning’s Arms) for example, a love song of sorts, it offers a taste of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern drawl but with the hooks of a Guns N’ Roses ballad, just with fewer hissy fits. And for a seven minute song, it doesn’t overstay its welcome one bit.

Elsewhere on the record, Bible Studies is a beautifully layered outing, whilst Guiding Light and Why Not Let Them Come are perhaps more akin to Spiby’s past, offering more up-tempo, classically riffy tracks which nestle nicely alongside the album’s starker songs. The acoustic version of the record is no less fascinating, frequently dropping Spiby’s vocals down to a husky bluegrass drawl over the top of some wailing guitar work especially on the stomping Lightning Bolt Blues that owes a debt or two to Black SpidersSt Peter.

As for the covers album, there are many very apparent influences here, with Soundgarden’s Hunted Down and a haunting take on L7’s Pretend We’re Dead, but it’s the surprise inclusions that really win, namely Alexander O’Neal’s Criticize and The CardigansMy Favourite Game both turned into creepy, downbeat little monsters. It’s a superb package by Spiby and one that really shows his passion for the business and refusal to walk away from it all following the Spiders’ split. We should all be grateful that the guy’s got more music in him.

 

Therapy? - Cleave2 – Therapy?Cleave

It’s not always easy to stick with a band through all they’ve ever released, as musicians have that tendency to wander into an impenetrable ego-driven diversity that doesn’t always translate well to even the most diehard of fan. With Therapy? though, they’ve always struggled to put a foot wrong; admittedly they’re not a band to everyone’s taste, and they’ve certainly changed their style on numerous occasions, but their brief dabble with the mainstream in the mid-90s has ensured they’ll always drag a few old school fans back into the fold with each record, and on album number 15 they’ve done just that.

Cleave may be a relatively short record but the 10 songs on offer are some of the most biting the band have ever released. From mental health to the environment and homelessness, no issue is too big for Andy Cairns to lyricise about, spitting venom at the UK government as much as he does at the rest of the world’s supposed ‘leaders’ who are dragging us further and further into oblivion.

The album’s first single, Callow, harks back to the band’s most successful period but does so with older, wiser eyes. It’s here where the returning Chris Sheldon’s production really shines through, encouraging the band to strip things back so they sound like a proper three-piece; no rhythm guitars taking the listener off on a tangent, just a supremely focused lead, bass and drum-driven assault on our senses that helps to get the message across perfectly.

Cairns’ familiar snarl lends itself more effectively than ever to tracks like Expelled and Success? Success Is Survival as his guitar screeches around Neil Cooper’s furious drumming and Michael McKeegan’s rumbling bass with the whole record becoming a strangely uplifting experience despite its content. No Sunshine brings things to an anti-euphoric close in a way that has to be heard to be fully understood and the first thing you’ll want to do is start all over again from track one. An oddly addictive experience, Cleave ekes its way into your psyche like no Therapy? record has done before and gives pretenders to their throne a severe kick up the backside too.

 

Ghost - Prequelle1- GhostPrequelle

It’s getting tricky to find superlatives for the phenomenon that Ghost have become. Not content with reinventing a dead 1970s genre, they’ve consistently upped their game with each release and capped off 2018 with a stunning show at the Royal Albert Hall. Next year’s support slots with Metallica aside, it’s tricky to figure out quite where Cardinal Copia and his Ghouls can go next but it was this year’s fourth full-lengther, Prequelle, that truly helped them cross into the mainstream.

Becoming more and more polished since their retro and stripped-bare debut, Prequelle is the culmination of Tobias Forge’s vision for the band. Equal parts grandiose, intricate, melodic, comedic, and dripping with Hammer Horror kitsch, Prequlle is divisively overblown and all the better for it. Lead single Rats split existing fans right down the middle, some erring on the side of “genius” versus the predictable cries of those who felt Forge had sold out with something so melodramatic (especially with the high-camp video). In reality, Rats set the stall out well; it’s supremely tongue-in-cheek, owes as much to Meatloaf as it does Blue Oyster Cult, and offers a hugely accessible route into a band whose image alone could still put people off taking a listen.

Elsewhere on Prequelle, the crunchy Faith gives Ghost another live headbanger, See The Light offers an Infestissumam-style storytelling vibe and if you’re yet to witness the majesty of Miasma’s closing sax solo, then you’re missing out on one of the most surprisingly offbeat, yet brilliantly executed musical moments of the year.

Disco-stomper Dance Macabre wins 2018’s award for ‘Song Most Likely To Get Stuck In Your Head For Months” whilst Pro Memoria ups the creepiness levels before the medieval boogie of Witch Image and the epic emotion of Life Eternal. There really isn’t any filler on Prequelle and it veers successfully from rock opera to 80s cop movie soundtrack to Satanic ode to desolation brilliantly. A regular on the death deck in 2018, and containing some of the greatest ear worms of this or indeed any year, Prequelle will see Ghost hit stratospheric heights over the next couple of years, and quite rightly so.

 

The Best Albums In The World – EVER

The Facebook Top 10 albums of all time challenge that’s been doing the rounds recently got me thinking and made me realise how hard it is to pick out your favourite music from all genres, over four decades of listening to the stuff. In fact, it surprised me how many records that are over 20 years old still resonate with me today and that’s even when I’m avoiding a rose-tinted view of childhood. I’ve fallen in and out of love with bands over the years, discovered some records years after they were first unleashed and picked out new meaning from songs that I’d heard 100 times before. First and foremost though I’ve always been a supporter of British music, especially bands who deserve to be far bigger than they are, and I’m pleased that this list has ended up being reflective of that.

To give an idea of how hard a task this was, these are the album names that missed out, and I’ll think you’ll agree there are some bona-fide classics amongst them: Sixteen Stone, Demanufacture, Appetite For Destruction, Antichrist Superstar, Korn, In Utero, Metallica, Dookie, How To Make Friends And Influence People, Cruelty And The Beast, And Out Come The Wolves, Angel Dust, Chaos AD. Sorry all, but the competition was tough; you’re all still in my heart.

Anyway, onwards!

10) Tropical Contact: XS (2016)

There are a few modern classics that could easily have made this list, and it shouldn’t feel wrong to praise a record that has yet to pass the test of time. Ghost, Servers, Turbowolf and Creeper all very nearly hit this Top 10, but if I have to pick out one record from the most recent decade that can go toe-to-toe with the rest it has to be Tropical Contact‘s debut full-lengther. Talk about fulfilling potential, every single song on this one is a cracker, auto-biographical, funny and always catchy. XS was even better than we all expected and I challenge anyone who hears it not to be taken in by Hero Brigade‘s charm or to not shimmy a shoulder to the earworm that is 8/10.

 

9) Ginger Wildheart: 555% (2012)

So much of my life today is based around The Wildhearts and the extended family of associated bands but the group themselves never trumped Terrorvision, Therapy? and the Manics when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Earth Vs and Phuq but I lost a bit of interest with the impenetrable Endless Nameless. Years later, this triple slab hit and reminded me what a great songwriter our Ginger was and it was only after this that I really got into Chutzpah! too. Forget About It is one of the best album openers ever, providing an insta-grin every single time, whilst songs like Lover, It’ll All Work Out and Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus add real emotional depth.

 

8) Iron Maiden: Brave New World (2000)

Perhaps a surprise that this is my favourite Maiden album rather than something from their 80s pomp, but (whisper it) I wasn’t that down with them when their classics were first released. I did however stick with them through the Blaze era, but Brave New World was what we all really wanted and it delivered in spades. The Wicker Man is a perfect statement of intent and the lighters-aloft call to arms of Blood Brothers sends a shiver down the spine to this day. This record also helped build a musical bond between my step-brother and me that made last year’s Maiden gig with him even better than it already was.

 

7) Offspring: Smash (1994)

This was the hardest pick of the list. Punk’s resurgence in the mid-90s saw a plethora of classic records, but there were also iconic grunge albums, quirky alt-rock efforts and some late 90s black and death metal to consider. I also feel really guilty about leaving Terrorvision out of my Top 10 but it’s the consistency of Smash that won through. With the band leading the charge when it came to mainstream modern punk Smash is packed full of classic tunes, from the furious Nitro to the shouty ire of Bad Habit and the iconic Self Esteem. Interestingly, I’m not really a fan of anything the band did before or since, but this record is brilliantly constructed and a singalong classic.

 

6) Ash: 1977 (1996)

I feel like I grew up with Ash, listening to Trailer on repeat, seeing them live for a fiver when they were essentially kids like I was and their first full record, 1977, is probably still their finest hour. There are actually some far from perfect songs on here, but that just adds to the charm; 1977 is full of Undertones punk ethos and teen angst. Kung Fu and Girl From Mars remain rock club staples whilst Lose Control is a hurricane blast of an opener. Even better was the ridiculous concept of having two bonus songs BEFORE the start of the album; an iTunes nightmare!

 

5) Pantera: Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

A lot of stuff on this list is British and pretty light compared to some of the other music I was listening to at the time, and none more so than the absolutely brutal Vulgar Display Of Power. From Walk‘s swagger,  A New Level‘s crushing hammer blows through to This Love‘s balladeering, each song fits brilliantly alongside the next and the combination of Anselmo’s snarl and Dime’s fretwork has arguably never been bettered in heavy metal. Far Beyond Driven was possibly more fully-formed but this for me is Pantera at their raucous peak.

 

4) Type O Negative: October Rust (1996)

When you’re an emo-teen, what better record to get you through life than Type O‘s paean to gothic romance? Already MTV darlings by this point, Pete Steele and co banged out an epic collection of blacker than black, tongue-in-cheek hits like My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, Love You To Death and a great cover of Neil Young‘s Cinnamon Girl. Ingenious wordplay, big riffs and atmospheric keyboard work make October Rust a pleasure on each return visit two decades on.

 

3) Baby Chaos: Safe Sex Designer Drugs & The Death Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1994)

When a support band is as good as Baby Chaos are you know you just have to get involved which is exactly what I did after I saw the band playing back-up to Terrorvision in 1994. The era was full of melodic and poppy bands all upping their game against each other but Baby Chaos managed to throw down an effortlessly brilliant record on their first attempt. Go To Hell‘s light and dark moments can still catch you out today and the lyrics to the beautiful Breathe are hanging on my bedroom wall for a reason. True story; Safe Sex… only just claimed its place in this list over most recent effort Skulls Skulls Skulls, the band are THAT consistently good at writing emotive pop rock.

 

2) Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible (1994)

They were my first gig, my first obsession as far as music goes and the self-destructive The Holy Bible was everything a Manics fan could ask for in 1994. Heavy in its use of dialogue samples, THB is a bruising, caustic effort, made all the more raw by Richey James’ cataclysmic state of mind. Die In The Summertime and 4st 7lb are given added gravitas by James Dean Bradfield’s never-to-be-bettered vocal performance yet the Manics still proved they could write chart-bothering classics with instant numbers like Faster and Revol.

 

1) Therapy?: Infernal Love (1995)

Troublegum is probably a perfect 10 album but the 9/10 Infernal Love has to be my top Therapy? record due to its middle finger waving place in the band’s career and in parts its drug-addled ridiculousness. There’s the Nick Cave-esque Bowels Of Love, the epic A Moment Of Clarity and Me Vs You, the catchy as hell Stories and Loose and the can’t-begin-to-count-the-times-I’ve-played-it heartbreakingly bleak cover of Hüsker Dü‘s Diane. Maybe not a starting point for a would-be T? fan, this is still a glorious summary of mid-90s excess and pop rock majesty.

Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve
The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

The Affs Awards 2017 – Album Of The Year

Breaking with tradition and shitting all over your OCD (and because it was such a close run thing), this year you get a treat in the shape of my Top 8 (yes, 8) records of 2017! Enjoy.

8) The Idol DeadTension & Release

The Idol DeadIt’s been an emotional year for the The Idol Dead with plenty of tragedy and triumph but Tension & Release really is a cracker. It took me a while to get into it, with Happy Now? being a catchy if meandering opener, but when you hit the immediacy of tracks like Blackout Girl, Heart On Sleeve and Samsara, it’s clear that the band have nailed it, and to top it all off, these songs sound even better live. Polly is a naturally charismatic frontman and coupled with KC Duggan’s writing, the record gets plenty of that live energy onto wax. If you’re after some modern punky rock and roll, you can’t go any better than this.

7) MutationDark Black

MutationA cast of thousands have contributed to Ginger Wildheart‘s cathartic side project over the years but on latest offering Dark Black, there’s a more focused core, especially on the band’s first live outings which featured just Ginger, Scott Lee Andrews and Denzel alongside all manner of samples and effects. Yes, this is noise, but well-structured, vitriolic noise put together into a torrent of bile that really does work. Taking the catchiness (if you can call it that) of previous Mutation tracks like Carrion Blue, Dark Black pulls no punches as it unleashes the thrash howl of Authenticity, the distorted fury of Toxins and the industrial stomp of Devolution. Well produced, yet angry, Dark Black is concise, single-minded noise pollution, which to me can only be a good thing. It’s the sort of record you can put on during your Monday morning commute and it’ll set you up perfectly for the week or an album to play before a Friday night out that’ll help get you fully fired up and ready for action. Either way it’s a brutally beautiful set of songs, and the soundtrack to a shitty 2017.

6) BarrabusBarrabus

BarrabusAnd if ever you needed a companion piece to Mutation, Barrabus’ self titled release could be just that. A tour-de-force of unrelenting heaviosity, Paul Catten’s megaphone howl is brutal throughout as guitars and drums cascade around him. The singer still has the vocal gymnastics of Mike Patton, going from shriek to growl as he toys with former Medulla Nocte/Murder One bandmate Mark Seddon’s riffs. What really stands out on this record though is the variety. Yes it’s pretty heavy but there’s some thrashy stuff in there right next to doomier sludge; hell, there’s even an underlying Mastodon-style heavy prog in the mix if you listen closely enough to songs like Porn. If you took a chance on this one in 2017, you did yourself as well as underground music a massive favour.

5) Grave PleasuresMotherblood

Grave PleasuresIt’s taken a while but they got there in the end – after changing their name (and to some extent, outlook and most band members), Beastmilk were reborn as Grave Pleasures a few years back and released Dreamcrash. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite have the same apocalyptic hooks as the original band’s Climax opus and it slipped off the highly competitive death deck pretty quickly.

Fast forward to 2017 and singer Kvohst (Mat McNerney) has bedded in his latest Scandinavian cohorts and unleashed what could be seen as the true successor to Climax in the form of Motherblood. With all previous influences present and correct (think Danzig and Bauhaus having it off with The Sisters Of Mercy in a field of skulls, as Robert Smith from The Cure watches on), Motherblood is a scarily accurate realisation of how 2017 could have ended with twitchy fingers hovering over annihilation buttons. Doomsday Rainbows is suitably nihilistic in its imagery as it talks of toasting the apocalypse by getting high on mushroom clouds, whilst the surprisingly punky Infatuation Overkill is instant, yet still full of the futility of existence that permeated Beastmilk‘s songs. Other tracks such as Be My Hiroshima are strangely upbeat despite their lyrical content, but when delivered with such sexual swagger, they prove irresistibly cultish. As comebacks go, Grave Pleasures absolutely killed it by going back to their ‘party at the end of the world’ dark romanticism of times past.

4) AnathemaThe Optimist

AnathemaAnathema are often an easy choice in end of year polls, such is their ability to write consistently incredible material, so I toyed as to whether including their 11th studio outing was too easy an option; in actual fact it would have been churlish to leave it out. As soon as you put The Optimist back into your ears after a short break away from the record, it grabs you and pulls you under its waves of hypnotic prog like nothing else this year. A sequel of sorts to 2001’s A Fine Day To Exit and musically a thematic follow-up to 2014’s Distant Satellites, orchestration and Lee Douglas’ vocals are brought even more to the fore this time round, producing beautiful if melancholy melody on songs such as Endless Ways and Springfield.

Hauntingly stripped back (as was vocalist/guitarist Daniel Cavanagh’s debut solo album, Monochrome, also released in 2017), The Optimist is as emotionally affecting a record as any released these past 12 months.

3) The Scaramanga SixChronica

The Scaramanga SixI love the Scaras. They’re bloody nice people and put on hugely entertaining live shows. On their most recent Pledge Music campaign I even invested in their entire back catalogue as I had a lot of gaps in my collection. Despite all of this, I don’t think they’ve ever previously bothered my Top 3 records of the year. Until now.

You see, Chronica is the album that The Six have been threatening to make for years, and finally given the confidence to deliver a full double album of their insanity, they’ve put out not only a great modern prog concept bonanza, but a typically bonkers Scaras one at that. Song about a filthy motor vehicle? Check, see Dirty Subaru. Evil piano-led ditty about domestic bliss leading to horrific violence? Stabby Fork is present and correct. Faith No More-style lounge crooner required? Go and have A Cold One At The Wits’ End. There are so many influences at play across both discs of Chronica that you’re unsure it can all hold together, but like a tightly wound spring, it stays taut, dipping into all manner of avenues before returning to its overarching musical themes like any decent concept album should.

The beauty here is that Chronica is fundamentally British; humourous, bizarre, yet heartwarmingly eccentric, and also chock full of bloody good tunes to boot and I for one can’t wait for the Terry Gilliam movie adaptation…

2) Chris CatalystLife Is Often Brilliant

Chris CatalystI don’t profess to have jumped on the Eureka Machines funbus that early in the band’s career, but when I did it was impossible not to be swept along by the joyous white-tied antics of Chris Catalyst and co. Reinventing pop rock for the whatever-the-hell-the-first-two-decades-of-this-millennium-are-called, EM twisted pun-filled lyrics and DIY pop-punk ethos into a sharp suited batch of irresistibly lovable numbers.

Somehow Catalyst found a little downtime inbetween his various musical endeavours and pulled together a set of solo songs that materialised in 2017 in the form of the awesomely titled Life Is Often Brilliant. The first video released from LIOB, Sticks And Stones, was a bit of a grower for me, maybe because it didn’t quite hit the heights of the Eureka’s strongest material but also because I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Catalyst solo record. Let’s not forget, this is the guy who brought us the randomness of Robochrist not that long ago, so it took a bit of time for me to figure it all out. Fortunately, Same Old Sun soon followed and gave us an injection of summer-drenched likability and from there on in, there was no looking back. A combination of ELO, Floyd and Eureka Machines, Life Is Often Brilliant is the most life-affirming break up album you’re likely to hear and it sees Catalyst in typically irresistible form, switching from harmonies you’ll be humming for weeks on Yeah – Oh No to epic balladeering on Able Seamen and I Hope We Always Stay The Same.

There isn’t a duff track on this album and if the next Eureka Machines record is anywhere near half as good as this, we’re in for a very brilliant 2018 indeed.

1) CreeperEternity, In Your Arms

CreeperI remember listening to Type O Negative’s October Rust on repeat when it first came out back in 1996. Its darkness enveloped me, its ethereal gothic romance taking me far away from a Bristolian bedroom and into a crazily atmospheric world of vampiric blood and lust. Seeing the band tour said record was a once in a lifetime experience; or so I thought. Two decades later, seeing Creeper produce something equally jaw-dropping is testament to the strength of the Southampton crew’s debut album, Eternity, In Your Arms.

I keep thinking I really should be too old for it but Creeper’s first full-lengther seriously got me. From Black Rain all the way through to I Choose To Live, it’s a fantastic album full of angst, witticisms, intrigue and downright good storytelling, traits which you simply don’t get that often in today’s music scene. But don’t for one minute assume Creeper are style over substance; there’s ambition alongside the image and excellent musicianship in every pore of this record.

For those not in the know, since their formation in 2014, Creeper released a string of EPs and videos that created intrigue and a cultish following. Following the band’s staged disappearance, clues pointing towards the work of fictional paranormal investigator James Scythe and numerous other Internet-based rabbit holes, the band finally announced their debut full-lengther to rabid anticipation. And boy did they not disappoint. The band may owe a lot to AFI and Alkaline Trio but they’ve very much created their own brand too and quite rightly they attract hordes of fans because of their creativity. I saw the band recently at the Albert Hall in Manchester where I was probably one of the oldest people there (that wasn’t accompanying their child at least). Similarly to their gig at Academy 2 earlier in the year it took me a few moments to acclimatise and appreciate what was happening; the level of fervour and passion being displayed was staggering as were the merch queues that snaked out of the door. One thing’s for sure, Creeper aren’t just a band, they’re already a way of life and that’s only after a single album, so you can only imagine what they’re capable of in the future.

They’re also not resting on their laurels; their latest tour was more theatric than before and saw each member of the band grow in stature – in fact Eternity… has already grown legs and moved on, with Hannah Greenwood’s increased presence in its songs a particular live highlight. Take Crickets for example. Already an album hightlight, live it’s now so emotionally raw it’s capable of bringing a grown man of any size to tears, and if you can show me someone capable of resisting a fist pump or two when the full band kick in on Misery, I’ll give you a shiny 20p piece AND a chocolate biscuit.

In creating their cult and a whirlwind of melody, Creeper have managed to resonate with music fans of all age and genre, giving the UK scene the shot in the arm it needed. The Blair Witch of 2017, this record might not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t doubt they’ve taken some old-school mysticism and coupled it with modern goth punk to create something very very special indeed.

2017 – A Year In Review: Album Of The Year Part One

Album Of The Year2017 was a bit of an odd year for me and music. There were the usual bands sticking to their standard release cycles, a couple of uninspiring efforts by established artists and some surprisingly excellent records by new kids on the block, but it’s taken the full 365 days (plus a couple more) for me to figure out which were my favourites, with no real runaway winners like last year.

All Them Witches
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War

Old stagers Marilyn Manson and Sepultura produced their finest efforts of the past decade in Heaven Upside Down and Machine Messiah respectively, both proving they’ve not lost the fury so prevalent in their earlier careers. Someone who seems to have never stopped meanwhile, Mr Mike Patton produced another raucous cacophony with new band Dead Cross, whilst the softer side of Americana saw Mark Lanegan produce another effortlessly amazing record in Gargoyle and All Them Witches fuzz us all up with the delirious Sleeping Through The War. Queens Of The Stone Age, Trivium and Mastodon all struggled a little this year with each of their new releases just failing to capture what went before; victims of their own success perhaps?

Blood Command
Blood Command – Cult Drugs

Cranking up the heaviness, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary both gave the new death metal generation a run for their money with a pair of crushing albums, whilst Behemoth frontman Nergal took a slightly different route, exploring country music alongside John Porter on the fascinating Me And That Man. Another new take on extreme music saw Blood Command turn many heads, their third album of deathpop, Cult Drugs, finally pushing them into the mainstream, something that Vukovi will be hoping to replicate as they grow their alt-rock sound off the back of their excellent self-titled debut.

Back over in Blighty, the UK scene continued to go from strength to strength with a reborn Pulled Apart By Horses leading the charge on the excellent The Haze. Frank Carter banged out his second, slightly tamer solo effort whilst much-touted Bristol punks Idles turned numerous heads with their vitriolic debut, Brutalism. There was still room for a few old hands to get in on the act though with Cradle Of Filth launching another grandiose platter in Cryptoriana, and Black Star Riders taking their sound another step further on Heavy Fire.

Iron Monkey
Iron Monkey – 9-13

If you’d told me five years ago that we’d see new records from Akercocke and Iron Monkey in 2017, I’d not only have looked at you like you were a mentalist but also been as giddy as the proverbial kipper. Although the Monkey were never likely to hit Johnny Morrow-era levels of brutality, 9-13 was still a solid outing and Akercocke proved they’ve still got that wicked Satanic glint on Renaissance In Extremis.

Paradise Lost also went back to their darker routes on modern doom classic Medusa with guitarist Gregor Mackintosh pulling double duty by banging out another crushing Vallenfyre opus, Fear Those Who Fear Him. In fact doom started to rediscover some real form with bands like Spaceslug, Pallbearer and Elder bringing the genre bang up to date with a trio of modern classics.

Of course there’s always a section on here for Ginger Wildheart-related releases and 2017 was no different with friends and former collaborators releasing a ton of new material this past 12 months. Chris McCormack and Tom Spencer helped bring a modern punk ethos to the latest outing from stalwarts The Professionals, 20 years after their last record. Role Models showed no signs of slowing down with the high-energy rock and roll explosion Dance Moves, whilst Hellbound Hearts pulled out all the stops on a modern metal classic in Film Noir. Ginger himself explored a more country vibe with Ghost In The Tanglewood, inspired perhaps by recent collaborations with Ryan Hamilton who himself launched his catchy-as-anything The Devil’s In The Detail. CJ Wildheart meanwhile went the other way, blasting out the heavy Blood with a new-found fervor after a difficult 12 months.

But none of these records quite managed to make my top picks of 2017. To find out what did, stay tuned pop pickers…

Patch Madripoor RIP

PatchI don’t like having to do this but sometimes words are the only way, and if they can offer just a crumb of comfort to others then it’s worth it.

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t known Patch for a great deal of time, just a few years, but as a central part of the gig family, and due to his proximity to Manchester over those years, we’d often catch up at shows here or in Huddersfield, Leeds, London… anywhere that our shared love of live music would take us. The last time I saw Patch was in the notorious Wetherspoon in Wolverhampton on a quiet Sunday morning less than a month ago. I gave him a hug after another raucous gig, knowing full well I’d see him right down the front at the next one. Now I know that won’t happen, which seems brutally unfair, and wrong in so, so many ways.

Patch was a fixture. Just like Eddie at an Iron Maiden show, you’d struggle to get a gig featuring Patch’s favourite bands without him front and centre. Constantly singing the praises of bands like The Idol Dead and Dirt Box Disco long before many of the rest of us cottoned on, Patch was passionate to the point of buying the ticket and t-shirt for you to make sure you went along too. It was his passion for rock and roll that helped persuade me and many others to head that little bit further afield to gigs that normally would’ve been 50-50, always buying tickets first and asking questions later.

With Belinda perpetually waiting for doors to open, you’d normally find Patch in The Parish bar or in a boozer nearby with that sly grin on his face; we’d joke to Belinda that we’d babysit him for her, knowing full well he was more than capable of looking after himself whether we liked it or not. Okay, so maybe we had to bundle him into a taxi under protestation in between Marsden and Huddersfield or hurry him along down the road with the lad complaining his legs wouldn’t take him any faster, but he’d always be there, through hell or high water, if nothing else to select the 14 items of merch he had to get at each show.

In fact, Patch often was THE show, no more so than at his surprise secret Birthday gig at The Parish this year. So many people travelled from all over the country for it, honouring a true driving spirit of our little family in the only way we knew how – music, laughter and enough beer to see us through into the wee small hours. We even called ourselves the Parish Patch Kids in his honour and wondered how on Earth a couple of weeks before, he hadn’t seen his name in proverbial lights on the posters dotted around the venue advertising upcoming shows. It’s hard to imagine the place without him now, in fact many venues won’t be the same without him in the queue an hour before doors, getting his merch stash safely stowed by the unlucky vendor of the night or exchanging war stories with bands and fans alike, tales that you could timeline simply by his shall we say ‘extensive’ t-shirt collection.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There will never be a satisfactory justification for why something like this could happen, and I wish Belinda and his family all the love and support in the world. Sometimes though all we can do, as hard as it may seem, especially so soon after someone’s passing is to celebrate all that they believed in so that a person’s existence is never truly gone. When my brother passed away, it was pretty clear we could all “Be More Paul”, living life with more humour and to take things less seriously than before. To honour Patch it feels right that we should all be just as passionate for the underdog, keep on putting that extra effort in, and if we’re able to, spend our time and money travelling to support those who add that additional bit of pleasure to our lives. It won’t bring him back, but he’ll sure as hell be living on with all of us in spirit.

Rest in peace mate. You’ll get another hug off me one day.

Patch