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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The Affs Awards 2014 – Gig of the Year

Black Moth @ The Roadhouse

Black Moth – unflappable.

 

Lists. Everyone likes a list. Whether it’s the top ten chores you’re not very likely to complete this year or a batch of unachievable New Year resolutions, you’ve probably scribbled down a few words on the back of a fag packet as Big Ben struck midnight. And as critics around the world compile their lists to summarise the year that’s just passed, it’s time for the definitive catch up on 2014’s finest in live music from none other than yours truly with the Affs Award 2014 for Gig of the Year.

Sepultura @ The Ritz

Sepultura – Chaos 2014

First off, it’s the honourable mentions section, this year going to 2013’s winners, Manic Street Preachers who belted out a storming rendition of classic LP The Holy Bible in December. Stalwarts Sepultura also proved there’s plenty of life left in them yet with a furiously heavy outing back in February, whilst Volbeat sold out Manchester Academy once again and proved they’re one of the best bands on the planet for creating a party at any size gig. Towards the end of 2014 Mastodon, Machine Head and Behemoth all showed what it takes to be a big modern metal band with sets full of dizzying invention and showmanship, all three of whom should count themselves unlucky to just miss out on the very top of my list.

A few individuals and bands also deserve shout-outs simply for working their arses off in 2014. Turbowolf played two outstanding headline shows in Manchester alongside a triumphant set at Camden Rocks that saw the whole Electric Ballroom jumping. I can guarantee right now that 2015 will be their year. Chris Catalyst also toured his gig trousers off with Eureka Machines shows at Camden as well as their own headline run, with the frontman somehow also finding time to help out Ginger Wildheart and Tony Wright on numerous dates throughout the year and belting out a brilliant acoustic set of his own in a cramped and sweaty Brewdog Camden basement.

Tony Wright @ Gulliver's

Tony Wright – rock and sausage roll

Speaking of the erstwhile Terrorvision frontman, Tony Wright provided us with a few shows of absolute comedy and songwriting gold as he embarked on début solo outings in 2014, whilst dynamic duo The Dowling Poole served up glittering acoustic pop rock ahead of full-on electric shows in 2015. Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns followed up last year’s solo shows with an excellent new set, giving us 20 years worth of classics in a stupidly intimate environment, also taking his band out earlier in the year to celebrate two decades since the release of the seminal Troublegum LP.

God Damn also saw their stock rise with a couple of headline jaunts and a destructive support slot with Turbowolf, whilst Beastmilk brought some beautifully melancholic noise to these shores on a couple of occasions. UK music continued to rule the roost with Black Moth covering us in a shroud of wondrous doom off the back of their brilliant second opus and Tropical Contact fortunately deciding not to call it a day, whilst our US cousins threatened to upset the balance by sending Butcher Babies over to blow us away with crunchy riffs and some insanely catchy yet heavy tunes.

It wasn’t a year solely of metal either, with two gigs in particular standing out for their sheer camp spectacle. I usually avoid arena gigs like the plague but there was no denying Lady Gaga put on a mammoth performance and was note perfect alongside the dancing and costume changes, whilst Erasure rolled back the years with a succession of perfect pop classics.

But now, onto the top five…

Rival Sons @ Gorilla

Rival Sons – unrivalled.

4= Black Stone Cherry @ The Ritz and Rival Sons @ Gorilla

I’m putting these two shows together for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both bands have played far bigger shows in Manchester since, and I feel truly privileged to have snagged tickets to such intimate occasions. Secondly, the first time I saw both of these bands was when Rival Sons supported BSC at the Academy, so for me they’ll always be intertwined. BSC’s gig at The Ritz in 2014 felt like a fan club show where we got to sit in the band’s front room as 20-odd tracks were interspersed with banter and Q&As that you wouldn’t normally get from such a huge group, all inside a cosy 1,500-capacity venue. Not only did we get a one-off experience, BSC were also on fire, blitzing out old and new tracks alike with power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be taken in by.

Fellow Southern rockers Rival Sons played across the road on a different night at the even cosier Gorilla. Essentially a back-room-of-a-pub gig, seeing these guys so up close was an absolute honour and proved why they’ve rocketed in popularity so successfully over the past couple of years. As far as 70s-influenced bluesy riffing goes, Rival Sons are going to be tough to beat for the foreseeable future.

Kerbdog @ The Ritz

Cormac Battle – crushing dummies.

3 Kerbdog @ The Ritz

No write-up of 2014 would be complete without mentioning certain comebacks. Baby Chaos nearly made this list just from the pure euphoria of seeing them get back on stage and bang out half an hour of perfect pop rock, but the most welcome return has to have been Kerbdog. Not content with just playing a couple of club gigs to test the waters, they brought a load of old muckers along for the ride which saw Hawk Eyes, Nine Black Alps and Amplifier get us giddy with anticipation. But it was the Kilkenny four-piece who provided the biggest roar, making it hard to believe we’ve only ever had two albums from them, the latter of which emerged 17 years ago. Treated like returning heroes, Kerbdog had not lost a beat in the intervening years, nailing a high-octane masterclass and leaving a gleeful crowd relishing more new material in 2015.

Frank Turner - reach for the stars.

Frank Turner – reach for the stars.

2 Möngöl Hörde @ Academy 3

In between larger shows, Mr Frank Turner likes to get back to basics with the odd small and sweaty gig, and by taking his hardcore outfit Möngöl Hörde out on the road it was easy to fulfil such ambitions.  A dirty, punky and most importantly, fun show, this was a brilliant showcase of not just Turner‘s songwriting prowess but also an opportunity to pay homage to his influences. Covers of Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Bulls On Parade’, Faith No More‘s ‘Epic’ and Sepultura‘s ‘Refuse/Resist’ all sat comfortably side-by-side with tracks off the Hörde‘s début album, and Turner himself surfed and threw himself all over the place in an energetic display of rock and roll splendour. It’s tough to beat a show that sees everyone in the room let themselves go with sheer enjoyment, but there can be only one winner…

Ginger @ The Roadhouse

Ginger Wildheart – father and son.

1 Ginger Wildheart @ The Roadhouse

I saw Ginger five times in 2014, once with The Wildhearts, once for his Halloween Hootenanny, once for his annual Birthday knees up, and once standing outside the packed Baby Godzilla show at Camden Rocks, but it was his gig at the smallest venue I’d seen him at since an acoustic show at Ashton-under-Lyne’s Witchwood in 2011 that really resonated with me.

After the hangovers had subsided from the aforementioned Halloween shindig, the relentless mainman took his merry band of cohorts as well as The Scaramanga Six and Eureka Machines on a jaunt North, and their first stop was Manchester’s Roadhouse. I was lucky enough to attend a pre-show meet and greet where Ginger seemed on excellent, relaxed form alongside his family and this atmosphere definitely seeped into the gig itself. Ginger smiled away throughout, Random Jon Poole and Kelli Compulsive bounced around like lunatics, and Chris Catalyst enhanced his pitch for Man of the Year with another show of double-duty perfection. The setlist was pitched brilliantly between classics and new songs that were only a few months old and for once the Manchester crowd did themselves proud, belting out each and every line. A family affair in the truest of senses, Ginger’s Roadhouse show was everything you’d want from an intimate gig with music, crowd and artist all simply falling into place, leaving the lucky punters who’d managed to grab a ticket grinning from ear to ear. Live music at its most joyous.