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…

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Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes

Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.