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.

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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

Grassroots Music Venues Are Fighting To Stay Alive – It’s Time To Help Save Them

It’s estimated that 35% of grassroots music venues have closed between 2007 and 2015 and after recent news of yet another live music locale under threat of being shut down, it’s time to take a look at how the UK’s gig scene is being endangered and to explore how new bands can get a break in 2017. Here are the stories of some legendary spots and their struggles to survive.

The Roadhouse

The Roiadhouse

This one still tugs at my heart strings to this day. Another iconic venue, another site of many a legendary gig, including Ginger Wildheart’s stunning show a couple of years back, now sits derelict.

The Roadhouse played host to a number of massive bands over the years and in a “before they were famous” roll-call, Elbow, Coldplay, The White Stripes and Muse have all trodden these particular boards. But in 2015, the 200-capacity basement venue closed its doors, allegedly to make way for a restaurant run by Aumbry’s Mary-Ellen McTague. This never materialised, and despite other bars such as Jimmy’s and Sugar Rays springing up along Newton Street and increasing footfall, the venue remains boarded up and padlocked. The Roadhouse’s closure differs from the others on this list as it’s not necessarily down to development (owner Kate Mountain simply wanted to pursue new ventures), but it’s an absolute travesty that this venue hasn’t been snapped up to help out Manchester’s up and coming talent, although that might have something to do with the £46,000 a year lease that the landlord has placed on it. Hopefully there’s life in this particular old dog yet.

 

Sound Control

Sound Control

Not yet down and out, but on its way, former music shop Sound Control is set to be flattened to make way for yet more student accommodation. The three floor venue feels like it’s been around forever but has only been hosting gigs and club nights for the past eight years. Even so, in this time The 1975, Rita Ora, Helmet, Wu-Tang Clan and Manc sweethearts du jour Blossoms have all played there, showing the variety of talent the place can attract. Located on New Wakefield Street, it’s a great place for a gig venue with plenty of pre- and post-show eating and drinking establishments nearby, and as you’d expect with its moniker, the sound in the place has always been spot on. With three different size rooms it can host all manner of events and all-day festivals and being slap bang next to Oxford Road train station and a short trot from St Peter’s Square tram stop, it’s handy too, especially compared to the Academy whose distance often creates a mad dash for the last public transport home.

Fortunately the owners of Sound Control are vowing to press on with plans to relocate to a bigger and better venue, but you can’t help feel it just won’t be quite the same.

 

The Star And Garter

Star And Garter

One of the more protracted of all of these tales is that of The Star And Garter. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station in Manchester, The S&G is a traditional boozer built in the early 1800s and moved brick by brick down the road to make way for the expansion of the train station a few years after opening. The Grade II listed building has been the venue for the iconic Smiths Disco for a quarter of a century but recent plans to expand the station even further have seen Network Rail bid for the pub in order to knock it down and make room for additional platforms and a new viaduct. The venue’s owner has pretty much described the offer as derisory, especially considering the pub has living quarters and its own parking. Even more importantly, the place is a very convenient venue and one stacked with history that really shouldn’t just be bulldozed.

The area that The Star And Garter sits in isn’t exactly salubrious but recent events have seen the nearby Mayfield Depot re-open and proves the area has potential. If redevelopment could happen around the pub, it’d certainly suit travellers, boozers, foodies and gig goers and make the district a lot more up-market than it is currently, which can only be a good thing for that part of the City Centre.

 

The Fleece

The Fleece

Proving that struggles to keep live music venues open aren’t just isolated to the North West, Bristol has seen similar issues in recent years. The Fleece (formerly The Fleece & Firkin when I was much, much younger) has been in operation for 35 years and has seen bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Ash, Erasure and even Oasis set foot on its stage over the years. It’s another decent-sized venue (capacity is around the 450 mark) that gives young bands a decent shot at playing to a sizable crowd, but in 2014 it was threatened with closure due to the submission of plans to build flats opposite which would no doubt bring noise abatement orders shortly thereafter. After gaining support from Bristol’s mayor, as well as 30,000 signatures through an online petition, a compromise was reached; the flats would still be built but permission was only granted subject to noise insulation being installed on the apartments to ensure any threats to The Fleece are minimised.

An important test case, it’s good to see that sanity can prevail in these situations. After all, what use is a massive surge in accommodation without a decent amount of amenities such as pubs, shops and venues nearby to encourage people to move there?

 

The Thekla

The Thekla

Most recently, HMS Thekla, again in Bristol has come under threat of extinction. As a kid growing up in the South West, there was little more exciting than going to a gig, but what was more exciting was going to a gig on a boat. Yes, that’s right, The Thekla is a floating funhouse originally brought to Bristol in 1983 to showcase music, comedy, plays and poetry.

The former cargo ship helped put Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack on the map and features artwork from Banksy over its bulkheads, but this month it’s seen its future threatened, again by property development with nearby Redcliffe Wharf set to be turned into “affordable housing, offices and leisure space”.

Hopefully Bristol City Council will take the same stance as with The Fleece and save this unique venue from closure, because if it doesn’t it would be a sad, sad day for the West Country’s music scene.

 

So, what can we do about this issue? I’m not naïve enough to think that progress doesn’t need to happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved from wooden clubs to fire to the wheel, to skyscrapers and back down again to Donald Trump. But progress should mean that there is something better for all of us as a result and quite simply that’s not the case with many of these venues that have now gone or are under threat. Instead, we’re left with more students in cities with less to entertain them, bands with nowhere to play and eyesore derelict buildings that encourage graffiti and public urination against their doors.

Night & Day Café in Manchester, no stranger to noise complaints previously could soon be challenged by its next door neighbour Dry Bar being converted to a hotel, and as much as the odd new venue does open to pick up some of the slack, they’re not large enough in number to offer a stage to everyone who needs a creative outlet. Time will tell, especially for The Thekla, but hopefully we won’t be left in a decade’s time with only a slew of faceless sports halls and bland world-renowned acts churning out the same old turgid nonsense.

Don’t Stop Loving The Music.

You can follow The Thekla on Twitter to hear the latest on their case, or search for the hashtag #savethekla

Mutation / The Empty Page @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 29th October 2017

Mutation

It takes a brave soul to venture out on the first Sunday after the clocks go back. Every instinct tells you to stay indoors, safe from the dark, the cold and the explosion of pre-emptive fireworks. Some may say it takes an even braver soul to leave the house to go and get pummelled by a band promising to make your ears bleed with their racket, but when it’s a trio as intriguing as Mutation, it’s one of those journeys that simply has to be made.

The Empty PageThe calm before the storm at Manchester’s appropriately-named Deaf Institute comes tonight from The Empty Page. Recent winners of Indie Week UK, if you went solely off the band’s debut record, you’d maybe think they were a bit of a “lighter” choice to open up for the brutality of Mutation, but in the live arena the band are surprisingly heavy. Drummer Jim, for the first time front and centre, is an absolute beast behind the kit, keeping things tighter than Scrooge McDuck, while Kel and Giz seem even more animated than usual, putting extra effort into teasing out the power and emotion from songs like Deeply Unlovable and Wardrobe Malfunction. Always engaging and entertaining in equal measure, The Empty Page have been going from strength to strength in recent weeks and are hitting top form as their micro-tour of Canada approaches.

As Mutation prepare to unleash their cacophony, the crowd seem wary of getting too close to the stage for a few reasons: a) It’s pretty high b) the drumkit is precariously placed right at the very front of it and c) Mutation make so much noise they’d get a dead elephant bouncing. In three albums, Ginger Wildheart and his merry band of miscreants (live, this means Scott Lee Andrews of Exit_International on bass and longtime Ginger collaborator Denzel pounding the skins) have created a wall of discordance so dense and arrhythmic that it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser to see a tour announced. 

How on Earth would three people recreate such a sonic maelstrom? Almost effortlessly is the answer to that. Openers Authenticity and Toxins from latest album Dark Black marry a Ministry-sized amount of bile with a strangely cathartic dose of euphoria while Friday Night Drugs and Carrion Blue throw that little Endless Nameless hook at you repeatedly until you nibble.

Arguably the star of the show is Vennart/Young Legionnaire drummer Denzel. Acting as ringleader, his position front of stage makes perfect sense, nodding at both Ginger and Scott to ensure they’re ready for the next onslaught before each and every song. As soon as he brings the guitarists in he transforms into a furious animal, pounding his kit so ferociously that cymbals start to escape from him, only to be brought back under control as white noise washes over us in between each song. Closing on an absolutely punishing Deterioration, there is a suitable finality to proceedings – no encore, no banter, we’re left with just the darkness and our ringing ears.

It’s certainly a divisive sound (interestingly there are only single figures of women in tonight; quite unlike your average Wildhearts-related show), but Mutation really gives Ginger an outlet to experiment and try new things even after 30-odd years in the business. For fans new, old, or of something else entirely, this is an absolute beast of a show that really has to be seen to be believed.

This Is Manchester – We Do Things Differently Here

I’ve just walked through Manchester Piccadilly Station and there’s a sombre mood hanging over us all this morning, armed police at each entrance and on every concourse reminding us of the seriousness of what’s happened.

Exactly two weeks ago, I was at Manchester Arena seeing Iron Maiden. After the gig I remember being herded down long concrete corridors for what seemed an age as everyone shuffled along with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life ringing out from the Arena speakers. I can only imagine how different a scene it was last night.

When the news came through last night we all thought, maybe hoped, that it was a false alarm. A blown speaker or some balloons popping alongside other social media reports of stampedes. It’s only upon waking this morning that the full horror is apparent.

After the Bataclan I raised a defiant middle finger in support of live music. I may have been horribly nervous going back into a crowded public event but I did what we all have to do again now, put our faith in those who protect us and in the vast majority of the human race. A lot will be asked again about how these acts can keep happening, how people’s minds work but there’s important things to remember, Live music will win. Manchester will win. Terror won’t.

At this truth we have arrived, God damn it’s great to be alive.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

Chris Cornell 1964 – 2017

You don’t expect your heroes to last forever. In fact you don’t expect them to last very long at all if they’re rock stars playing out their dreams in debauched fashion before your eyes, but Chris Cornell always seemed different.

Back in the days of tape trading, we’d procure copies of Screaming Life and Fopp, swap Ultramega OK like nobody’s business and mourn Andrew Wood’s loss with that solitary Temple Of The Dog album on repeat. It was a glorious, if dangerous period in rock music, a genre created in the blink of an eye by people often unable to cope with the pressures fame brought. Drugs were rampant, suicide was worryingly common, but that didn’t stop the emergence of classic album after classic album.

Soundgarden more than many of their contemporaries crossed so many genres they had a whole different appeal, paying homage to rock and roll originators as much as they did the punk godfathers and the psychedelia of the 70s, all wrapped up in a grungey malevolence. And with a singer like Chris Cornell they had a stunningly powerful weapon with which to destroy those barriers to the mainstream.

I wept as Cornell broke into Hunger Strike during a solo show in 2002. That voice of his sounded more honest with age, giving a personal song so much of a sense of history and importance it was quite simply jaw-dropping. The whole set was so emotional, it still ranks as one of the most captivating I’ve seen to this day.

Seeing Soundgarden live in recent years was an incredible experience too. A band with renewed vigour after so long away, it felt as if they’d finally become the group they’d always wanted to be. 

But here we are; no more Soundgarden. No more Audioslave. No more Temple Of The Dog. Most importantly, no more of that voice. That look. That songwriting ability. Or that beaming smile of a doting father and husband.

Black days indeed.

2016 – A Year In Review Part Two: Album Of The Year Runners Up

I’m making up the rules as I go again. Usually I pick out my Top 5 records to write a bit about, but this year I’ve had a problem; I honestly can’t choose between the ones just outside my Top 3.

So instead, here’s what you should have been listening to in 2016, and if you didn’t, Happy New Year, here’s your soundtrack to 2017!

The Hyena Kill: Atomised 

I’ve lived in Manchester for 15 years now but the last couple of those have seen a new vigour in the live scene and this is in no small part thanks to The Hyena Kill. Finally releasing their debut record in 2016, the two-piece had an unstoppable year, culminating with support slots for the Cavalera brothers and New Model Army.

The album itself is a great example of what The Hyena Kill are capable of, with Steve Dobb’s killer riffing backed brilliantly by Lorna Blundell’s drums to produce an absolute monster of a sound. One part grunge to two parts each of Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age, you’ll want to check out Crosses, Tongue Tied and the haunting if over way too soon The Waiting Room over and over again; this is just the beginning for this duo.

The Virginmarys: Divides 

Staying in the Northwest, 2016 was another great year for Macclesfield troupe The Virginmarys. Divides felt like the culmination of the band’s relentless efforts on the road, and you honestly start to wonder if Ally’s vocal chords are going to explode on tracks like For You My Love.

The rest of the record is emotive, catchy and brilliantly paced, really luring the listener in with great songwriting and a willingness to play hard.

God Damn: Everything Ever 

Speaking of playing hard, God Damn continued where they’d left off on Vultures, quickly releasing second LP, Everything Ever. A far ‘cleaner’ record if you will, the album still has that low-slung scuzz we’ve come to know and love and their live output became even more gut-rattlingly heavy. Another band really upping their game in 2016.

Read my full review of Everything Ever

Hey! Hello!: Hey! Hello! Too! 

A year wouldn’t be complete without at least one new record from Ginger Wildheart and we saw two versions of this troubled sophomore outing in 2016.

The first Hey! Hello! Record was a sickeningly outstanding slab of pop rock and this new LP ramped everything up to 11. With a myriad of guest vocalists onboard, H!H!2 has the kind of songs that will refuse to leave your head for months and This Ain’t Love induces goosebumps every time in a live environment.

Read my full review of Hey! Hello! Too!

Taylor & The Mason: Taylor & The Mason 

I stumbled across this duo by accident and although musically very different to everything else on this list, this debut is a stunning piece of work. The harmonies that play out and the imagery produced by such beautiful lyrics bring tears to the eyes, and I’m not sure I’ve been to many more emotional gigs than the T&M launch show.

Check out Gin In Berlin for T&M‘s playfully dark side or My Darling for possibly the most gorgeous song of 2016. Amazing stuff.

The Affs Awards 2016 – Album Of The Year

3) Massive WagonsWelcome To The World 

This one certainly came out of left field. Suffice to say I’d barely heard of Massive Wagons this time last year, yet now they’ve laid waste to loads of other strong contenders to smash into my Top 3 of 2016, and it’s fully deserved.

As introductions to a band go, the hook-laden Tokyo is a hell of a way to begin, yet MW reeled me in after a few bars. A more stadium rock Black Spiders, Massive Wagons‘ sound is BIG and it feels like they’ve been in your life for an eternity after just one listen of this record. Songs like Ratio and The Day We Fell are instant hits whilst the band also prove they can ramp up the heavy with Nails or ballad the hell out of things on Aeroplane.

A breath of fresh air, Welcome To The World will get stuck on your death deck for ages, and rightly so.

2) ServersEverything Is OK 

I was first put onto Servers by my Daily Dischord editor back in 2014 and was immediately hooked after snaffling a copy of Leave With Us. Fast forward to 2016 and we arrive at the band’s latest cultish offering, Everything Is OK.

Modern heavy music has been crying out for someone to do something interesting for ages and not only did Servers well and truly break out on their second record, the expansive nature of each and every song gives the listener plenty to go back for.

Spells is probably the strongest album opener of 2016 whilst Unconditional contains more powerful orchestration than the Royal Philharmonic on steroids. To Hell With You is full of hypnotic bile and Recklessly Extravagant‘s carnival waltz gets you entwined deeper and deeper in its web.

Telling tales of conspiracy, cults and creepy relationships, Everything Is OK is simply stunning in both scope and ambition.

Read my full review of Everything Is OK

1) Tropical ContactXS 

West Yorkshire mob Tropical Contact first came to my attention a few years back throwing out all manner of hip swaying grooves in support of Eureka Machines. It was a raucous closing cover of The Power Of Love that really drew me in and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the UK’s Most Partiest Band (okay, I just made that up) more times than is safe without protection.

TC‘s Go Getters, Jet Setters, Heavy Petters mini-album showed the band were capable of writing the catchiest of musical bastards so the release of their debut long player was hotly anticipated by all of us who’d had the pleasure previously. And boy did TC not disappoint.

XS, complete with excellent booby artwork by Esme Sharples has barely been out of my ears all year, offering more sonic good times than any record of the past decade. From the opening monastic chant, to the brilliant fist-in-the-air rebellion of Hero Brigade and the 80s swagfest This Is Goodnight, there is absolutely no filler on XS. Even on the extended Pledge edition of the record, TC have casually thrown in a batch of additional songs that must’ve only just ended up on the cutting room floor in the first place. Take the epic Chemistry for example, a massive modern rock song that has absolutely everything; meandering, lilting verses and big, big singalong choruses wrapped up in that TC sense of humour.

An autobiographical record of sorts, XS plays like Son Of Rambow, relatable, funny, yet oddly endearing and chock full of clever lyrical puns the likes of which we haven’t seen since Terrorvision‘s heyday.

XS really is one of those albums you tell everyone about. Christ, everyone in my family nearly got a copy of this and nothing else for Christmas. If there’s any justice in this world, XS is the record that should take the world by storm, it’s that instant and grin-inducing. Okay, so maybe that’s not going to happen, but off the back of such consistent genius, TC certainly deserve the plaudits and of course my Album of the Year award.

2016 – A Year In Review Part One: Album Of The Year

empty-pageNo sooner have the Creme Eggs gone from the shelves it seems it’s year end and time for the writer’s favourite, the annual album of the year bonanza. You’ll remember (because of your loyalty to both myself and this very intermittent blog) that 2015 was a very close-run contest indeed, with the inimitable Ghost scooping the gong on countback.

2016 has been a different kind of year in music with a load of new kids on the block all fighting it out to be crowned King Dong of the rock and roll world. And oh there is a winner. But as is tradition, let’s first take a look at some of the records that came close but no cigar, and what a strong year it’s been.

Pledge Music has certainly become the record releasing channel du jour with great new independent outings from Wildhearts bassist Scott Sorry, Blacklist Saints and Role Models while erstwhile Terrorvision vocalist Tony Wright ramped things up with his first solo electric outing, the brilliant Walnut Dash.

Of course there were a few Ginger Wildheart collaborators knocking about and doing their own thing too and The Dowling Poole unleashed the viciously satirical One Hyde Park which sounds even better live than on record, whilst The Empty Page‘s grunge throwback Unfolding helped to produce a gig of the year candidate for its launch show.

Former Wildhearts drummer Stidi also banged out a great debut with new band Drama Club Rejects as did former bassist Danny with The Main Grains. A pair of throwback records, both showed enough punky vigour to warrant repeat listens rather than just being nostalgic novelties and proved that the spirit of The Wildhearts lives on in many shapes and forms.

metallicaAs an “Event” with a capital E, you can’t get much bigger than a new release from Metallica and 2016 saw just that. As the band have grown older, we’ve seen a bit more of a, shall we say, self-indulgent theme to their music but in 2016, to keep pace with the young ‘uns, Hetfield and co well and truly upped their game.

With Metallica‘s Hardwired…To Self Destruct spreading itself over two discs, it took patience to get to grips with, but the thrashy power of the band’s latest saw a return to form that no-one expected. Not to be outdone, Megadeth snuck out their best record for a decade with Dystopia, proving Dave Mustaine still has bite, but both bands must be glancing over their shoulders at the upstarts in Gojira who produced yet another modern classic in Magma.

A new Volbeat record is always a bit of a big deal too and although Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie didn’t set anything alight, it was still a solid outing as was the sophomore outing from Scot rockers The Amorettes, White Hot Heat.

A few eagerly awaited debuts also landed in 2016 with Love Zombies, Tax The Heat, Black Peaks, Vodun and the workaholic Heck finally all finding time from their mammoth touring schedules to unleash prime cuts of studio-based bliss. Heck in particular did something nobody expected with a 16 minute album-closer that proved the boys have the songs to back up what they do on (and mainly off) stage.

asylumsThe surprise debut success of 2016 however has to go to Asylums. Nobody expected such a gloriously passion-filled record to hit in 2016 but Killer Brain Waves proved that a 90s alt-rock influenced sound could be modernised to such an extent it would blow much of the more established competition out of the water. Keep an eye on this lot, they’re heading straight for the top.

 

Up next – the winners…