The Affs Awards 2019 – Album Of The Year

It’s been a funny old time for music in 2019. Similarly to the country’s political landscape, music in this final year of the decade has often been baffling, sometimes vilified, or worse, met with a bit of a “meh” from many quarters (I’m looking at you, Tool).

A stop-gap year in many ways, it’s been tricky to find the true stand-outs, but fear not, your erstwhile purveyor of opinion is here to sort through the chaff and deliver the top five records of the year for your delectation.

 

Puppy - The Goat5 – Puppy: The Goat

London trio Puppy had been gaining momentum with a couple of highly-rated EPs since their formation back in 2014 and with their debut album the band got 2019 off to a cracking start.

Ripping up the rule-book by taking their influences from a massive variety of bands (there are nods to Deftones and Helmet in here as much as there are Ghost and Judas Priest), The Goat defies categorisation and is all the better for it. Tracks like Vengeance combine the urgent pummel of Metallica with a Wildhearts breakdown, whilst Black Hole segues from a riffy verse into a chorus that Weezer might’ve come up with whilst sat out on the Californian coast.

The sound of a band who have always threatened to make a record this good, The Goat was everything you get from a Puppy live show ramped up to 11.

 

Frank Turner - No Man's Land4 – Frank Turner: No Man’s Land

Well, this one got a bit awkward. Before No Man’s Land was even released, Frank Turner received an unwarranted backlash for daring to write an album about historical female figures. Enough of that though, what we should focus on here is Turner‘s undoubted strength as a a storyteller, a trait that shows true passion and intelligence to boot.

Taking the time to research and study each of the women in question, the stories that make up the 13 songs on No Man’s Land as well as the record’s accompanying podcast series, are hugely informative and with The Lioness especially, Turner has another live favourite on his hands already.

Far from a gimmick, this is a fascinating trip into a slightly different subject that enlightens as much as it entertains.

 

Dinosaur Pile-Up - Celebrity Mansions3 – Dinosaur Pile-Up: Celebrity Mansions

It’s good to have a guilty pleasure and Dinosaur Pile-Up delivered one right to our front doors this year with their third full-lengther, Celebrity Mansions. Full of clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and catchy riffs, the band’s latest outing saw them really hone their sound into a short, sharp, pop-rock classic. A self-deprecating tale about the trials and tribulations of their own career, it’s an eminently likeable outing that celebrates your inner geek whilst proving that hard work truly can pay off.

Combining some mid-90s US punk influences with a couple of grunge-y bangers along the way, the record takes you on a whirlwind tour of Americana, from the furious Thrash Metal Cassette all the way to the godzilla-stomp of Back Foot via a few Dwayne Johnson references for good measure.

A quirky, foot-tapping, grin-inducing record, Celebrity Mansions could take DP-U to the next level.

 

Servers - Ad Nauseam2 – Servers: Ad Nauseam

It’s tough to survive as an independent band, fiercely passionate about your music, yet constantly up against venue closures, the sheer volume of groups jockeying for position and the ‘power’ of streaming where you’re earning nothing from your music as a result.

Fortunately, bands such as Servers can channel this energy into a sound totally unique in today’s heavy scene and with their third record, Ad Nauseam, the band truly came of age. A well-rounded, sweepingly dark effort full of hypnotic riffs and razor-sharp vocals from frontman Lee Storrar, the record grabs the listener right into its dark heart and spits you out on its own terms.

Themes of lust, longing and control once again prevail throughout, yet this time, there’s an even greater urgency, with the goth-y Blind Faith hitting hard and the brooding doom of The Cellar drawing you in then smashing a soaring chorus right into your face.

A powerful and emotive record, Ad Nauseam is a modern metal masterpiece.

 

Ginger Wildheart - Headzapoppin1 – Ginger Wildheart: Headzapoppin

For an album that wasn’t even on the radar 12 months ago, Ginger Wildheart’s Headzapoppin certainly took many people by surprise; mainly because it’s downright brilliant.

In recent years, the erstwhile Wildhearts frontman has been focusing on battling demons and outing them in country-folk records such as Ghost In The Tanglewood and The Pessimist’s Companion. Both records were often heart-breaking with chinks of light shining through now and again, outlining the changes the singer/songwriter was going through in his life as well as his reflections on a cruel and dark society. As with The Wildhearts’ triumphant 2019 return Renaissance Men, Headzapoppin still features some thoughts on mental illness and isolation, but here Ginger has reverted to 555%-era pop-rock and the record is 40 minutes of catchy-as-hell hits as a result.

From the retro 80s waves of Saturday Matinee through to the classic rock riffs of Meet My Killer and Catch That Stranger, via the pounding As Theodos Spoke and the emotionally uplifting The Answer Is Yes, Ginger’s 10th solo studio outing is an utter triumph. Honest, accessible and quirky, Headzapoppin is a big-hearted and infectiously optimistic record that demands to be heard.

Even better, with a physical release to follow in 2020, this might just be album of the year next year too!

1994 – The Albums That REALLY Changed Music 25 Years Ago

With all this talk of certain albums allegedly changing music forever in 1994, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what a 15 year old Affs had on the old deathdeck 25 years ago. And oh boy was I impressed. In fact, I’m not sure how I managed to find time to get through the huge amount of classic records released in this year as well as knuckling down ahead of GCSEs, taking my bike out for a spin AND hitting my first ever live shows. The vitality of youth, eh?

Amongst the stone cold classics, arguably never to bettered by the rest of the band’s output since (see Dookie, Smash, and Sixteen Stone) there are also some cult smashers (Helmet’s Betty, Cannibal Corpse’s The Bleeding, KyussWelcome To Sky Valley) some chilled out classics (MTV Unplugged, Jar Of Flies, Dummy) and some that are still in my all-time favourites list to this day (Troublegum, The Holy Bible, How To Make Friends And Influence People).

It’s also interesting to see the debut efforts from Korn and Machine Head as well as Cradle Of Filth and Marilyn Manson who kick-started a whole new era of theatrics in rock and metal, as well as decent long-players from L7 and Sonic Youth, keeping the grunge flame alive after Kurt Cobain’s death. And let’s not forget Superunknown and Far Beyond Driven; following Badmotorfinger and Vulgar Display Of Power is no mean feat but Soundgarden and Pantera absolutely nailed it with both records. You might also ask whether some of the bands in this list were struggling to live up to previous records with their 1994 releases, but give Divine Intervention and Youthanasia a re-listen and you’ll find a few tracks on each that hold their own 25 years on.

Anyway here’s the full list of albums released in 1994 that were on my bedroom’s stereo system. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the great and the good:

Mark Lanegan – Whiskey For The Holy Ghost

Alice In Chains – Jar Of Flies

Prong – Cleansing

Green Day – Dookie

Therapy? – Troublegum

Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse

Cradle of Filth – The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Nailbomb – Pont Blank

Soundgarden – Superunknown

Pantera – Far Beyond Driven

The Offspring – Smash

Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding

Hole – Live Through This

Terrorvision – How To Make Friends And Influence People

Live – Throwing Copper

Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Weezer – Weezer

Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso

Helmet – Betty

Kyuss – Welcome To Sky Valley

L7 – Hungry For Stink

Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes

At The Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease

Marilyn Manson – Portrait Of An American Family

Machine Head – Burn My Eyes

Portishead – Dummy

Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

Body Count – Born Dead

Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening

Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction

Various Artists – The Crow Soundtrack

Slayer – Divine Intervention

Testament – Low

The Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot

Korn – Korn

Nirvana – MTV Unplugged

Megadeth – Youthanasia

Cryptopsy – Blasphemy Made Flesh

Dimmu Borgir – For All Tid

Pearl Jam – Vitalogy

Bush – Sixteen Stone

Napalm Death – Fear, Emptiness, Despair

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.

 

Hats Off To The Insane – Therapy? Are Back In The Charts

Last week, Therapy?‘s new record Cleave entered the UK Album Chart at number 43. This might not seem impressive at first, especially when the charts in 2018 are such a confusing amalgam of on and offline sales, streams and other black magic. Nevertheless, this is a band with their 15th album, on the cusp of 30 years into their career remaining relevant enough to compete against the vast swathes of nonsense you hear across various aural media.

Throughout my life I’ve banged Therapy?’s proverbial drum, telling everyone about their passion, honesty and downright integrity, and for three decades now, they’ve delivered. Not everything has been a 10/10 to these ears but that’s the beauty of the band and of music in general. They’re caustic and aggressive. They’re confrontational and catchy as hell. They pull no punches, yet they’re also some of the nicest guys you could meet, grateful and proud. If, after 30 years of doing what I do, I’m that content with my body of work, I’ll be very surprised yet overjoyed.

The success of Cleave is certainly a reminder of what makes Therapy?‘s music great; the band have gone from media darlings to relative obscurity and back again and have retained a loyal fanbase throughout it all. They’ve toured the anniversaries of classic records, supported too many bands to mention and headlined their own fair share of shows pulling together intriguing setlists of old and new material, each of which have been blisteringly honest from start to finish.

To me, Therapy?’s commitment and perseverance is a testament to the human spirit; speak your mind, spread your message, but always keep that glint in your eye and that smile on your face.

Here’s to another 30 years!

Read my review of Cleave over at Pure Rawk!

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.

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…