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…

The Affs Awards 2015 – Album Of The Year

The votes have been counted and verified. So with no further ado, here are my top albums of 2015.

Turbowolf - Two Hands5) TurbowolfTwo Hands

It’s easy to forget that the second outing from Bristol psychadelio-bruisers Turbowolf is less than a year old as a fair few of the songs have been part of their live show for longer, but here it is in all its glory, 11 slices of pure bonkers for your listening pleasure.

In all honesty, Turbowolf’s recorded output often takes a bit of a back seat to their incendiary live shows, but it’s on disc that the band really create a vivid soundscape and it’s great to hear live favourites plugged in together from the comfort of your own home. Tracks that had been teased out up to a year before like ‘American Mirrors’, ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Rabbits Foot’ sound even better when in the context of the full record which barrels along quicker than Road Runner with Wile E Coyote and a stick of Acme dynamite on his tail.

The band’s first record was so well received it would have been easy for some laurel-resting to have occurred with round two, but when Turbowolf are involved that was never going to be the case. Employing guest vocalists throughout (including the crazily powerful Vodun singer Chantal Brown on the swirling ‘Rich Gift’), Two Hands is heavier than before and weirder than ever with the electronica piping out like a demented Commodore 64. It seems only fair that ‘Rabbits Foot’ in particular got so much airplay in 2015 after it became the summer bounce-along of choice for the discerning gig-goer, and far from being a sign of the band selling out, it’s simply a track that showcases what Turbowolf have always done so well; write catchy as hell groove-rock anthems that anyone with feet can move to.

It’ll be interesting to see where the ‘Wolf go next, but on this kind of form, the sooner they get album number three out, the better.

Eureka Machines - Brain Waves4) Eureka MachinesBrain Waves

Another band noted for their incredible live shows and for touring their backsides off, Eureka Machines also proved in 2015 how to concoct a record that epitomises the very spirit of their group. Already three albums in and armed with an arsenal of pop rock glory, it was going to take something special to top what had come before, but Brain Waves really took the band to the next level.

Many of the songs on this record seem more personal than usual, and the music mirrors the frantic frustration of ‘Paranoia’ and the noisy insanity of ‘Sleep Deprivation’ whilst remaining beautifully structured, allowing the listener to be absorbed into the melody.

Chris Catalyst’s lyrics are still intricately witty, and his guitar hooks even more polished than usual, whilst the rest of the band crash along with creativity and flair, particularly on the punky “Welcome To My Shangri-la” and the blistering ‘Neuro Bolero’.

Brain Waves has already proven itself in the live arena too, sounding just as brilliant on stage, and it’s left the band with the glorious conundrum of how much of their old stuff they should drop from their set to make room for this new bunch.

Baby Chaos - Skulls Skulls Skulls Show Me The Glory3) Baby ChaosSkulls Skulls Skulls Show Me The Glory

If you’d told a 17 year old me in 1996 that Baby Chaos wouldn’t make another record until 2015, but it would be damn well worth the wait, I probably would have laughed in your face and gone and hit another shot of Aftershock. Fast forward to now and I’m feeling proud as punch with the success of a record that I’m sure even the band themselves would admit was looking unlikely up until a couple of years ago.

Always master songwriters, Baby Chaos epitomised everything that was great about music for me when I first heard them supporting Terrorvision in 1994. They were punky and snarly but also full of melody and catchy hooks, leading to my copy of Safe Sex… being transferred onto C-90 cassettes for friends left, right and centre. In 2015 they released another marvellously titled record, Skulls Skulls Skulls Show Me The Glory, and almost wrapped up Album Of The Year there and then. Although not quite as raucous as previous outings, Skulls still shows the mischievous side of Babbers C, especially in the aptly named ‘You Can’t Shut Us Up’ and the stomping ‘Have Faith In Yourself’.

Baby Chaos were always masters of their genre but dear lord has 20 years of experience taught them a thing or two. Skulls has a bit of everything, from Muse-esque stadium rock in ‘The Whispering Of Giants’ through to the snapping bite of ‘P P P Peaches’ and the pureness of ‘Poison Ivy Girls’. In any other year, this record would have topped my list, and even though they’ve just missed out, this is proof if ever it was needed that your favourite band may not be as done and dusted as you once thought. A stunning return.

Therapy? - Disquiet2) Therapy?Disquiet

Regular readers will know that Therapy? are kept somewhere very, very close to my heart, with their albums and live shows featuring regularly amongst my favourites almost every year. Even so, last album A Brief Crack Of Light, despite being brilliant, was heading into dark, dark territory and a small part of me was left wanting that three and a half minute short sharp shock of Therapy? from years past.

For a time Therapy? seemed to go down the same route as Star Trek films where every other album was a crowd-pleasing hit monster and in between we’d get angular, jarring, often harrowing slabs of twisted genius that took time to seep into our souls. Following this formula and having heard first single ‘Still Hurts’ from their latest opus Disquiet early in 2015, I can honestly say that “excited” was one of the understatements of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, Disquiet is still a pretty bleak album both musically and lyrically but cutting through the whole piece is a level of musicianship and skill that you rarely find with other bands these days. ‘Still Hurts’ is a furious three minute blast of buzzsaw riffs, pounding drums and Andy Cairns’ trademark howl, before the band switch down a gear with ‘Tides’ which sees the frontman’s vocals and guitar switch to a more sombre, enveloping sound.

‘Good News Is No News’ has comparisons to ‘Dopamine, Seratonin, Adrenaline’ (from 2006’s One Cure Fits All), but forges its own path into oblivion whilst the funereal dirge of ‘Deathstimate’ is a brontosaurus-sized slab of riffage.

Touted in some quarters as a sequel of sorts to Troublegum, Disquiet isn’t quite that, more the sound of a band taking 25 years of experience and influence to create a beautifully rounded piece of modern rock. And I for one will raise a glass to that.

Ghost - Meliora1) GhostMeliora

To be brutally honest this decision hasn’t been taken lightly. I almost feel bad knocking my boys from Therapy? down a position or two but Ghost‘s Meliora is as stunningly complete a record you were likely to encounter in 2015. Somewhat unfairly criticised for their second record, 2013’s Infestissumam, Ghost, took the ghoulish blueprint they’d created and turned it way up to 11 in 2015, producing something so accessible and instant it was hard to ignore.

Admittedly there is a commercial sheen on Meliora, with the band themselves admitting they veered away from referring directly to Satan in order to gain more airplay, but this hasn’t stopped them producing a set of darkly melodic mantras. On Meliora, Ghost combine the more simplistic 70s fuzz of first record Opus Eponymous with the experimental leanings of their sophomore to bang out a platter chock full of riffs and the hypnotic catchiness we’ve all come to expect.

More importantly, Ghost finally feel like a proper band on Meliora rather than just being a spooky circus led by the enigmatic Papa Emeritus. The sound is bigger than ever and the Nameless Ghouls aren’t there just to make up the numbers, they all pitch in to make the band’s sound more complete than ever. From the 70s weirdy beardy synths of ‘Spirit’ to the rumbling bass of ‘From ‘The Pinnacle To The Pit’, and track of the year candidate ‘Cirice’, Meliora simply goes from peak to peak. The record isn’t afraid to try something a little new either, most notably with the acoustically-charged emotional package of ‘He Is’ or the pop canter of ‘Absolution’, but nothing on Meliora feels out of place, even when sat alongside creepy little sinister belters like ‘Mummy Dust’.

It’s been an amazing year for heavy music, but with Meliora, Ghost really have shown the contenders what it to takes to pull together a total package.

2015 – A Year In Review Part One: Album Of The Year

There’s definitely been something in the musical water in 2015. Not only have we seen astounding comebacks and long awaited débuts, there have been more surprises and leftfield brilliance this year than in any in recent memory.

As the media churns out list after list of 2015 retrospectives and 2016 Mystic Meg predictions, it’s time, dear reader, for your definitive guide to the best the past year has given us, with this, the build up to the Affs Award For Album Of The Year 2015.

God Damn - VulturesFirst up, as tradition dictates, are the honourable mentions and as far as débuts are concerned, 2015 was a hell of a year. God Damn have been touring constantly for the past few years and released a couple of EPs along the way, but their long-awaited first record proper, Vultures, finally materialised in 2015. A monstrously riffy animal, the album summed up everything that God Damn give so well to the live arena, namely incredible, distortion-fuelled filth with drums so loud you’d be forgiven for thinking the cast of Stomp were camped out in your brains.

A surprising success for such a new and young (they made me feel old anyway) band was False Advertising. I’d heard a bit about them on the Manchester scene (which itself is full of top quality up-and-comers who could well make 2016 a bit special) but I wasn’t quite prepared for their record which I was honoured to review for Daily Dischord. Grunge had been having a bit of a renaissance with bands like Kagoule also churning out 90s influenced slabs in 2015, but False Advertising took the basic dynamics of the genre and flipped them around as much as they do their instruments over 11 tracks of ear-wormingly good quality.

Biters were also making waves in 2015, signing with Earache and touring their backsides off to get their fun-time rock and roll out there to the masses. Filled with singalong insta-classics, Electric Blood treated the 21st Century with the contempt it deserves, taking us back to a 70s and 80s vibe full of party tunes and songwriting swagger.

Faith No More - Sol InvictusOf course the older hands in the business wouldn’t let these young upstarts take all the glory and second only to a new Tool record in the “Stuff we thought we’d never see” section of HMV came a new album by alt-rock godfathers Faith No More. Sol Invictus was typically eccentric and full of the staccato Mike Patton bile of yore, but somehow still came packaged with enough in the way of brilliant tunes to warrant its inclusion in many a “Best Of” list. Initially teasing the world with the oddball sounds of ‘Motherfucker’, FNM eventually let us have a listen to ‘Superhero’ and suddenly everything was right with the world once more. No mere nostalgia trip, Sol Invictus is Faith No More bang up to date and on utterly top form.

Eagles Of Death Metal also re-appeared to remind us just how to rock with a hip-wigglingly good batch of songs in the shape of latest opus Zipper Down. Jesse and Josh can write decent tunes with ease but their latest really showed the band at the peak of their powers, tightly structured yet loosely textured and chock full of bluesy dynamism.

More old stagers, Cradle Of Filth, saw a renaissance of sorts with Hammer Of The Witches. Filling out their sound once more after a couple of records of punky speed metal, Hammer… saw dark and light orchestration combining as well as it had on earlier outings such as Cruelty And The Beast, painting in the process a majestic canvas of devilish debauchery and addictive Maiden-esque guitar duels. Glorious modern metal from a band showing no signs of slowing down despite being on album number 11.

Ash - Kablammo!Old hands yet always young at heart, Ash also returned to former glory with their 2015 outing Kablammo! Initially launched as a Pledge Music campaign, it wasn’t long before the album was backed up by some impressive live shows where each pop punk anthem sounded full of sparky attitude. Opening gambit ‘Cocoon’ is a short blast of Tim Wheeler at his best whilst the lilting ‘Free’ is beautifully structured and fragile in a way Richey James used to make his forte. Admittedly Kablammo! is just pure unadulterated Ash but in what way is that ever a bad thing? Easily their best record since 1977 and a welcome addition to a great year for music.

The Scaramanga Six - The Terrifying DreamUnlucky not to make my Top 5 this year were The Scaramanga Six. This gang are consistently brilliant both live and on record and with 2015’s The Terrifying Dream they reached their absolute peak, writing Bond songs that will never be and sinister odes to just about everything under the sun whilst having their tongues firmly implanted in their cheeks. More people need to find out about this wonderful bunch of Machiavellian scamps and as soon as they do, things will take off in a big, big way. Until that time, check out their back catalogue and punch yourself repeatedly in the face for missing out for so long.

Ginger Wildhear - The Year Of The FanclubNo end of year round up is ever complete without him and it’s been a busy year once more for the workaholic Ginger Wildheart. Not only did he conclude his G-A-S-S fan club set, he also launched his Songs & Words book/DVD/tour, trotting round the country telling us all some classic rock and roll tales. Somehow he also found time to give us a Wildhearts PHUQ celebration tour, pull together a new Hey! Hello! record for release in 2016 AND produce tracks for other bands. Oh and then there was the small matter of picking out his preferred G-A-S-S tracks for the Year Of The Fanclub record. This was never going to be an easy task when there were 36 amazing songs to choose from, and the only reason this one didn’t quite make my Top 5 of the year is because a couple of my own favourites are missing. You’ve got to be ruthless doing this lark I’m afraid.

Nevertheless, what’s present  aboard this disc is a great summation of what Ginger is all about. There’s the folky ‘Pendine Incident’, the Courtney Love collaboration ‘Honour’ and the brassy ‘El Mundo (Slow Fatigue)’ not to mention a couple of personal ditties from his attempt to get in touch with Henry Rollins to some emotional thoughts about his relationship with his son. This is heart on sleeve stuff, as is always the case with Ginger, all wrapped up in a basket of absolute songwriting gold.

But there can be only, er, five…and for that, you’ve got to wait a little while longer…

The Affs Awards 2012 – Album Of The Year

Following the difficult job of picking my live highlights of the past 12 months, choosing my top long players of 2012 was even more tricky. Nevertheless, I’ve struggled on like the brave soldier that I am, and here, for your delectation, are the top four (who said three or five were the best way to do these things?) including the winner of The Affs Award 2012 for Album Of The Year.

Therapy? 'A Brief Crack Of Light'4) Therapy? ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’

Therapy? Have been my favourite band for a hell of a long time, going all the way back to ’91/’92’s one-two punch of the seminal Babyteeth and Pleasure Death mini albums. But being someone’s favourite band arguably makes a band’s job harder with each new release. Therapy? have never really been a band to churn out the same old shtick time and time again, refusing to bow to current trends or producing obvious sequels to previous output, so buying a new T? record is always an exciting time.

Returning after a three-year touring spree off the back of the brilliant ‘Crooked Timber’, Therapy? posted a video for the track ‘Living In The Shadow of The Terrible Thing’ online in early 2012. Their trademark sound cut through the song with the underlying groove of bassist Michael McKeegan setting up an urgent, almost mechanical chorus. Definitely a good sign of what was to come, and when ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ was released in full the next month it completely lived up to expectations.

I still remember way back in 1995 when picking up my copy of ‘Infernal Love’ what a shock it was as the band moved into more epic, morose territory after the instant pop-punk hooks of their breakthrough ‘Troublegum’ CD. With ‘A Brief Crack of Light’, Therapy?’s sound is even more rounded and mature, but this isn’t a boring album by any stretch of the imagination. There are some really jarring, challenging tracks among the 10 on offer, with ‘Plague Bell’ and ‘The Buzzing’ offering staccato nails to the back of the neck whilst ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ mixes a bleak soundscape with forward-thinking lyrics about the need to break free from the norm. Something which Therapy? have consistently delivered upon over an impressive two decades.

‘A Brief Crack of Light’ is a hugely diverse album, mixing themes of bleak desolation and mental illness with the positivity of revolution to incredible effect. This isn’t a concept album by any stretch of the imagination, but the angular songs feel like brothers, birthed by a twin-headed mother of creation and death. Brilliant stuff from a band that show no signs of letting up from their trademark fiery spirit.

Fighting With Wire 'Colonel Blood'3) Fighting With Wire ‘Colonel Blood’

The mid-90s saw numerous brilliant bands emerge from nowhere, get decent record deals and then promptly become lost in the shuffle due to the insta-hit nature of the MTV generation’s musical swing-o-meter.

Bands such as Kerbdog and Baby Chaos struggled on for a couple of albums despite the flavour of the month attitudes of the record industry at the time, and luckily they left us with some classic songs and incendiary gigs to remember them by.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and we’re seeing another boom. Fan power has taken over and any band can get such a push through social media that they could see themselves playing to thousands within a few short months as word spreads across the country. Twin Atlantic have done just this, jumping from 500 capacity venues to nigh on 3000 person sell-outs in just over a year. But we’re not here to talk about Twin Atlantic, as good as they are. No, we’re here to talk about the next band who threaten to hit it big, Fighting With Wire.

If you’d asked me who the band were at the start of 2012, I probably would have responded with “who? Writing With Fire?” and laughed in your insistent face. But on one night, as I waited for the headliners at Sound Control in Manchester, I realised what the fuss was about.

Fighting With Wire have been around for ten years now, but despite getting decent slots at Download and Sonisphere and the backing of Zane Lowe, the band had been fighting for two years to get their second album, ‘Colonel Blood’ released. Finally, in 2012 they were ready, and to promote it, they toured the UK with hardcore godfathers Helmet. A decent enough crowd had assembled that night in Manchester by the time FWW took to the stage and as they kicked off with ‘Into The Ground’ I was taken straight back to the days of surprise package support acts.

The three piece are raw, energetic, passionate and catchy as hell, so I had no hesitation in getting my hands on said sophomore album after that one gig.

Tracks such as ‘Waiting On a Way To Believe’ show an instant pop rock hook, comparable to the much-missed Joyrider, whilst the title track pilfers the Kerbdog crown by doing what the Kilkenny three-piece did so well; writing crunchy, melodic hits, full of sing-along live potential.

Fighting With Wire aren’t content with just paying homage to such great acts though, and as ‘Erase You’, ‘Dead Memory’ and ‘Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home’ get your foot tapping with their soaring melodies you soon discover the band’s own sound.

The album contains brilliantly crafted, modern rock anthems throughout, and you can bet that with a few more high-profile live support slots, these guys are going to be huge.

Black Moth 'The Killing Jar'2) Black Moth ‘The Killing Jar’

The beauty of the modern-day musical landscape is that you can stumble upon bands like Fighting With Wire by pure accident and suddenly they become your band of the year. But 2012 didn’t just throw up one surprise package, oh no. Another bunch of young upstarts threw me a bunch of dirty riffs and I was only too happy to respond with a trip to the merch stand to get that music into my ears permanently, and that band were Black Moth.

Before my trip to Nottingham to see Turbowolf, a friend had mentioned the ‘Moth were worth checking out after hearing them on 6 Music, so I made sure I got down there early to see what the fuss was about.

Black Moth are a multi-limbed beast of a groove machine and this is brilliantly personified in live opener ‘Blackbirds Fall’. The opening riff strikes you square in the mouth, embedding itself there like a fuzzy facehugger before Harriet Bevan’s vocals arrive to kiss you better with their seductive tone.

This is a band once again not taking themselves too seriously but playing for the fun of it. Yes, they’re a serious band but they get up on stages of all shapes and sizes to throw down some riffs and make sure everyone has a damn good time, an ethic that is reflected throughout the whole of ‘The Killing Jar’.

The doomy, stoner tone of the album references so many varied influences from QOTSA to Kyuss, mixing in the rock and roll swagger of Black Spiders, the hypnotic sludge of Sabbath, an almost occult 60s/70s tone akin to Blood Ceremony and plenty more all the way through to the modern metal of recent tourmates Turbowolf.

The Leeds five-piece show some serious songwriting chops too, particularly with ‘Land of the Sky”s buzzy, head-thumping groove, ‘Chicken Shit’ throwing its bile all over the carpet and ‘Spit Out Your Teeth”s runaway locomotive crescendo.

What you have here is a band who sound just as good in your bedroom as they do live, and by throwing in five decades worth of inspiration, Black Moth have emerged from their chrysalis with wings full of doomy glory.

Ginger Wildheart '555%'1) Ginger Wildheart ‘555%’

There can be only one.

Over the past couple of years one man has gently been reminding us that he never really went away and that for over 20 years he’s been working his backside off for the love of music with true empathy for the people who make it all happen, the fans. That man is Ginger.

Yes I’ve been a fan of the guy’s various musical output since the early 90s, but these are not the views of a sycophantic fanboy, what Ginger is doing these days is entirely on another level.

Back in August 2011, Ginger announced that he was to make a fan-funded 30 track album based on years of unfinished, unrecorded work. Going via the route of Pledge Music, a fledgling concept in independent music production, the project hit 100% of its target within six hours and it was from there that the album took on a whole new meaning.

With a range of vinyl and CD versions available to pledgers, Ginger eventually announced that once the campaign hit ‘555%’ the physical copies of the album would be withdrawn from sale. Achieving this feat within the next three days, an expectant 5,000 or so pledgers sat with bated breath and when the downloadable versions of the tracks were released, those who had already paid up were awarded the privilege of being able to choose which 12 tracks should make up ‘100%’, the commercially available version of the record.

But what about the music itself? One worry could have been that these off-cuts were unreleased for a reason. Others may have been concerned that without the focus of nailing a lower number of tracks, Ginger’s usually spot-on quality control might waver and that standards may suffer.

All I can say is, don’t be so bloody silly. My beautifully packaged physical copy of ‘555%’ landed on my doormat one Saturday morning in May 2012, and I have not stopped listening to it since.

‘555%’ truly has something for everyone ensconced within its poppy/rocky/punky/trashy/groovy/ballady (note: some of these may not be real words) interior. Kicking off with the trademark, swaggering ‘Forget About It’ which wouldn’t be out-of-place on the greatest of Wildhearts records, the record throws instant classics at you like a particularly angry Donkey Kong. ‘I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L Radio’ is a catchy little oik, fusing together some soaring pop-rock melodies, whilst ‘Incidental Noises’ takes a little more of a psychedelic route into your inner ear.

‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’ has been knocking around in unrecorded form for years, with Ginger previously mentioning he wrote it when he was only 19, and on ‘555%’ the track becomes an absolutely epic slab of modern rock balladry. The similarly monumental ‘Time’ rounds off the first CD with a perfect seven and a half minutes of clock chimes, Beatles-tinged melody and furious riffy idiosyncrasy.

The second disc begins with possibly the finest moment of the whole package, ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’. This megaphone screeching, bleep-a-thon of a funker throws in some truly bonkers noise before veering towards country and western territory. Not to be outdone, following track ‘Westward Ho! (A New Reputation)’ does little to quell the nerves of traditionalists with its calypso metal mash-up.

The challengingly-titled ‘Do The Lonely Suffer More, Or Less, Or Just The Same At The Point Of Death?’ brings an 80s New Order/Depeche Mode feel to begin with, before dropping some Beach Boys crooning and trad-Ginger riffs along a rollercoaster four minutes. ‘The Other Side’ is a beautiful little number showing just why Ginger decided to do a whole album featuring just himself and vocalist Victoria Liedtke (on the upcoming Hey! Hello! Pledge Music album), whilst ‘Lover, It’ll All Work Out’ is a brilliantly catchy love song, possibly even one of Ginger’s all-time best.

‘Taste Aversion’, already a live favourite, is pure, twisted musical genius. No doubt thanks to some Random Jon Poole-influenced eccentricity, the song’s seemingly drug-referencing lyrics spiral into a mellow false sense of security before a furious dive into a death metal blast followed by a calming lift muzak escape.

The third CD is no way the lesser of the whole package as the electronic stomper ‘Confusion’ and the riffy ‘Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled’ attest. Oddball track ‘Very, Very Slow’ proves that all the punk ferocity is still alive and well in Ginger’s merry band of hugely talented musical allies, whilst ‘Just Another Song About Someone’ is a swaying piece of beautiful melody, composed perfectly for some brilliant future acoustic performances.

Campfire singalong “We’ve Been Expecting You My Dear’ coupled with the no-brainer album closer ‘The End’ keep the sky-high levels of quality going right up until the lead-out groove, and despite the whole package being so massive an undertaking, your first urge is to go right back to the start immediately for round two. There’s no question whatsoever that this is an absolutely enthralling, phenomenal, must-buy musical journey that blows pretty much every other release of the past year, possibly the decade, so clean out of the water there’s not even a skidmark remaining.

It isn’t too bold a statement to suggest that what Ginger has done with ‘555%’ is game-changing. It’s a whole new musical model fit just as much for old school values as it is for modern buying habits. He may not have invented the concept, but by packing the album with so much value and incredible music, Ginger has put a marker down for others to either follow or find themselves coming up very short indeed.

The Affs Awards 2011 – Album of the Year

Well, the year has now been and gone and it seems fitting, nay customary, to perform some sort of wrap up on the past 12 months. As one of my resolutions is to write even more this year, what better way to kick off 2012 with the first ever Affs Awards for services to popular culture?

First up is the Album of the Year Award. CD sales may be down year on year, but that hasn’t stopped some absolutely storming epics being committed to shiny disc during 2011. After all, what use is the music without the artwork, liner notes, lyrics, extra cardboard and free goblins? I’m a sucker for all that makes a first edition CD truly limited so here’s to the on-going survival of the format.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the important matter of which long players have been on repeat on the Affs death deck in 2011.

It’s been quite a surprisingly good year for tunes. I’ve heard some great new bands whilst some old favourites have churned out new crackers. Here are a few of the contenders who just missed out on the top places, starting with an intriguing album that came from none other than Mr Hugh Laurie.

I’m not usually a fan of blues, but anything that m’colleague does sparks an interest in me, so I was fascinated to hear his CD, Let Them Talk, and I wasn’t disappointed. Laurie has always been a super-talented, self-taught musician and there is obvious passion that prevails throughout his album. From soulful crooning to more up-tempo stomp-alongs, Laurie manages to get people listening to a genre when they wouldn’t normally give it the time of day and for that he should be commended.

A late entry into the Affs hit parade was the new Nightwish album. They’re a funny old band, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been into them for over a decade so I tend to buy all their output. After Tarja left the group, taking with her the more operatic vocals, I must admit that my interest in their symphonic bombast waned a little, but this year’s Imaginaerum pricked my ears up and got me all kinds of excited all over again. It’s a very textured album, featuring loads of different sounds, from the typical Euro metal of Storytime through to the husky jazz drawl of Slow, Love, Slow. It’s great to see Nightwish realising they can’t keep living on former glories and need to adapt to survive, and they’ve definitely done just that.

Another band that I tend to buy music from but fail to spend the quality time with that I should is Trivium. These young upstarts (still young despite having been around for a good while. Yes I’m jealous), were originally hailed as the new Metallica, and then the emo crowd hooked onto them, but now they’re producing an altogether more mature product. In Waves is full of crowd pleasers (and trust me, the title track and Dusk Dismantled are absolutely epic live), and throughout the pretty lengthy album I was pleasantly surprised with the catchiness and heaviness working so well together.

An honourable mention must also go to another band that I only encountered for the first time in 2011, Gentlemans Pistols. I saw the band supporting Terrorvision and was hugely happy to see Bill Steer, ex-Carcass, up on stage again, knocking out some semi-tongue-in-cheek rawk. Gentlemans Pistols combine a good time feeling with some catchy riffs and decent song writing chops and At Her Majesty’s Pleasure contains tunes that make you feel like you’ve been to bed with them previously on a debauched night involving a bottle of scotch, some dice and a unicorn. Managing to steer away from the obviousness of cheese like Steel Panther, Gentlemans Pistols transport you back to 70s/80s happy, carefree womanising metal and what’s not to like about that, eh girls?

So, we’ve got four treats left at the top of the tree to choose between, and in all honesty it’s tough to pick between the three runners up.

Terrorvision are a band I once adored. They probably even overtook Therapy? at one point in being my favourite band EVER. Their first three albums were pop rock classics but I was turned away from them with their banal crowd pleaser Tequilla. Even so, when they announced a comeback tour, I gave it a go and picked up a copy of their new album Super Delux while I was there. Holy mother of all things that are holy, what a record! The 11 tracks contained within still feature that cheeky Yorkshire wit, but you can tell the band have also grown as songwriters. New drummer Cam Greenwood has somehow replaced the irreplaceable Shutty and with catchy numbers such as Rock Radio and All The Girls Wanna Dance, the band have put Bradford on the map once more.

Rhyming some obscure words, as is standard with any Terrorvision release, the boys came back with one almighty album/tour bang and also worth checking out is the video to Pushover which is delightfully touching and brilliantly funny. I’m already hoping they tour again next year and put out some more musical gems.

Ghost, as their name suggests, were a surprise. In many, many more ways than one. I’d read a bit about them and thought they were going to be gimmicky no-hopers, but thankfully they proved me very wrong indeed with their opus, er, Opus Eponymous. Their shtick, all about being sparkly Satanic bishops and hooded monky-types shouldn’t work, but it does, and it gels brilliantly with their retro, stripped-down early Sabbath-y sound. Elizabeth is mournful but tuneful, whilst Ritual threatens to transport the the Dark Lord right into your ears with its haunting melody. The whole CD simply works in an age when it really shouldn’t and I’m just hoping that the gimmick doesn’t fade before album number two.

Turbowolf are a relatively new band, and still largely unknown, but I’ve been following their progress since last year, after I caught them supporting Dinosaur Pile Up. Their un-categorisable music (PsychedelicSpaceFunkProgMetal?) and energetic live performances saw them garner some well-deserved mainstream music press attention and when their self-titled CD landed at the end of 2011, it really didn’t disappoint one bit.

Older songs such as Seven Severed Heads and Ancient Snake burrow into your brain with their punk attitude and rock and roll swagger, whilst the singles A Rose For The Crows and Read & Write are live classics already with their jagged soundscapes and insane raw intensity.

The Turbowolf CD is very nearly my album of the year simply due to how fresh and new the whole thing feels, but the award goes to someone who I only got to see as they were headlining over the ‘Wolf in Bristol…

And it’s Black Spiders who have won the day. Their album, Sons of the North absolutely blew me away when I first gave it a spin, and it still does the same now, months on. I saw the band live a good few times this year too, and each time they rocked and rolled their way to converting more and more new fans. I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only one in on the Spiders phenomenon, one of my friends was already a fan and came to a show with me along with a few others, and in the majority they looked pretty damn pleased to be there too.

The sign of a classic album is that you’re not scared to recommend, and even buy the thing for people to convince them to listen. I did just that with Black Spiders. I just had to get people to listen to this CD. Sons of the North features all manner of groove-ridden gems such as St Peter and the opening Stay Down will be a show opener for years to come. Kiss Tried To Kill Me never fails to raise a smile and Blood of The Kings is simply sublime in being a track for all seasons and moods.

The band combine all of their great musical talent with a gloriously happy attitude, meeting and greeting fans, working solidly to make sure that the whole Spiders experience is a great one and this band are only going to get bigger and better in 2012.

So there you have it, Affs Album of the Year award done and deservedly won by Black Spiders. They would probably even pop over to pick up the non-existent trophy, they’re that decent a bunch of chaps. Stay tuned for more scribblings, including my Gig of the Year, Videogame of the Year, and maybe even pig by-product of the decade. Yes, it’s been one of those years!