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.

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Alice In Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ Manchester Academy – 11th November 2013

Alice In Chains @ Manchester Academy

The devil put brontosaurus-sized riffs here.

It’s Academy WeatherTM in Manchester tonight, with the long walk down Oxford Road punctuated by the usual splashes right up the trouser from the odd loose paving stone. Despite the increasingly wet nether regions, however, the prospect of yet another killer live bill is preventing spirits from being dampened as we head towards a night with Alice In Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers.

The Academy is moderately busy as roadies ready the stage for Walking Papers, the latest band featuring former Guns N’ Roses four-stringer Duff McKagan. Purveyors of a decent brand of blues-tinged rock and roll, the group are obviously experienced and talented and get some heads nodding, but singer Jeff Angell appears disappointed with both the turnout and the reaction. In reality, he should be grateful, and let’s be honest here, that so many have rocked up at 7pm on a cold Monday evening solely to see what Duff McKagan’s been up to lately.

It’s a shame that Angell is initially a touch downbeat, since Walking Papers play some great stuff, with McKagan himself in outstanding form. Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin is full of stick-twirling showmanship and Benjamin Anderson bangs the holy hell out of his keyboard to raucous effect and eventually Angell joins in by hopping into the crowd to give high fives, his charm offensive receiving some worthy adulation. Overall, Walking Papers’ set is full of hip swaying goodness that will hopefully see some Euro festival slots next year.

Ghost @ Manchester Academy

Preaching to the unconverted.

And so to Ghost. This is the venue I first experienced them in a couple of years previously and since then they’ve released an album of the year candidate, but the band are still greeted with more static than a TV aerial pointing directly into a hippo’s undercarriage. I really don’t know what it is about the Swedish ghouls, whether people are just in awe of the spectacle, if a support slot with Alice In Chains is misjudged or if the typically reserved British public simply don’t know what to do with themselves, but if a pounding ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ and a groove-riddled ‘Stand By Him’ don’t get feet jiggling I don’t know what will.

I just pray to Lucifer that Papa and the gang finally tour these shores on their own headline outing so the brethren can get well and truly involved. Tonight, it’s only after a spine-tingling ‘Year Zero’ that the audience really acknowledges the grandeur of their music and despite a clap-a-long ‘Ritual’ and faux-encore ‘Monstrance Clock’, Ghost remain on the very cusp of awkward UK audience acceptance.

If there is an unsold ticket for tonight then you’re going to struggle to find it as people almost stack on top of each other to witness the return of Alice In Chains. Latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is arguably a career best album from the grunge godfathers and after two records with vocalist William DuVall, the band are playing with an intensity and drive that belies the fact they’re in their 27th year.

Opening up with ‘Again’, the crowd are instantly in awe and as ‘Check My Brain’ and a euphoric ‘Them Bones’ are banged out, the love in the room is almost tangible. ‘Hollow’ and ‘Voices’ from the band’s latest opus are heavier live than on record and the groovy sludge is powerfully accompanied by DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s amazing harmonies. ‘Man In The Box’ will be the standard bearer for many AIC fans and tonight it feels as fresh as it did when doing the rounds on MTV in its heyday, whilst ‘We Die Young’, ‘Grind’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’ are all greeted like the bride at a wedding, with doe-eyed fans worshipping at the feet of such classic songs.

Closing the main set with the grace and elegance of ‘Nutshell’ and a balls-out ‘Would?’, no-one in attendance wants this night to ever end. Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and of course ‘Rooster’, Alice In Chains not only sound good tonight, they look amazing, happy and proud to be playing to such adoration, which includes numerous ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chants throughout the night.

It’s almost as if the ghost of Layne Staley is watching over the band, content that not only does DuVall more than do justice to early AIC classics, but he’s also helped the band carry on to even bigger and better things. Sean Kinney’s drum kit may bear the initials ‘LSMS’ in memory of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr but this is no memorial to the once-great, this is a celebration of what came before just as much as it is the here and now.

A superb bill, an emotional night and a set rammed so full of classics you’re going to struggle to listen to any other band’s records for the rest of the year. Simply stunning stuff.

Ghost + Gojira + The Defiled + Revoker @ Bristol Academy – 20th March 2013

Ghost @ Bristol Academy

Papa does preach

Jägermeister have a lot to answer for. From bad heads and sticky fingers to gaping holes in bank balances, one thing the liquor legends can’t be accused of is not giving us value for money. Following hot on the heels of last year’s incredible Skndred, Therapy?, Black Spiders and Turbowolf show at the Bristol Academy, the shot-bombers have done it again, pulling together another fascinating bill for the measly sum of one solitary fiver. And this time it’s going dark…

Kicking off the four-band show, Revoker have some great riffs, some decent songs and a pleasing to see kick-ass attitude when it comes to giving the crowd a good time. Their debut record, Revenge For The Ruthless has thrashy riffs and huge choruses in abundance and it’s pleasing to see a decent size crowd in attendance for an early start from the South Wales crew.

Next up, The Defiled put on a professional enough show but something is definitely lost in translation with their metalcore electronica. Despite throwing themselves around the stage, the band seem to take an age to chug through overlong songs, many of which you’ll probably hear done far better by other groups. The decent audience reaction implies the band are doing something right for the younger folk in attendance, but The Defiled surely have to break the mould if they’re truly going to stand out.

Gojira on the other hand seem to have destroyed the mould with Semtex before gathering up the pieces and firing them out of a nuclear sub, aiming squarely for Mosh City. The band are brutally tight, and bodies go thrashing around like shallow water sharks as the French mob slay the Academy. Their records, especially the recent L’enfant Sauvage, can leave you battered and bruised so its no surprise that in a live setting they grab you by the throat and toss you around like a rag doll until they’re done.

And then came the Ghouls. Creeping from the woodwork, Ghost‘s musicians take to the stage first, assuming their imposing positions as the ominous rumble of Jocelyn Pook’s Masked Ball reverberated throughout the venue. As the Ghouls struck up into Infestissumam, it was only a matter of time before his Unholy Cardinalship, Papa Emeritus emerged. Robe-clad and crook-wielding, Papa wastes no time in encouraging a roar from his black sheep as the band launch into a hypnotically pounding Per Aspera ad Inferi. Although the two openers are new songs from an as-yet unreleased album, both are still well received by the horde.

Up next, Con Clavi Con Dio from the band’s debut, Opus Eponymous, begins to make things a little more familiar, with the unmistakeable groove thrusting itself out over the throng. Wasting no time, Prime Mover hits next, beginning to stir the crowd into more than just a nod, whilst the already-a-classic Elizabeth gets the congregation singing along like a malevolent choir.

Another new track, albeit the one with the most pre-gig airplay thanks to its brilliant retro-fitted video, Secular Haze brings a carnival air to proceedings, with the Hammond-esque organ drilling thoughts of evil clowns and the darkest of magiks into your skull as Papa puts in a morose and terrifying performance.

The triumvirate of Stand By Him, Death Knell and Satan Prayer all sound incredible live, mixing pulsating riffs and smoky, hazy rhythm with hypnotic stage presence. The band combine brilliantly to provide amazingly accurae translations of the band’s 70s-influenced recorded output.

Closing couplet Year Zero and Ritual are equally enthralling, before a single encore of Monstrance Clock completes the unholy blessing, but you can’t help but think that something is missing…and it appears to be a crowd reaction.

Ghost @ Bristol Academy

The sinister sermon in full flow.

Presumably a combination of Gojira tearing the place apart mere minutes before, as well as the welcomingly cheap ticket price encouraging new, curious fans, the general mood appears to be one of wonder rather than windmilling. On the plus side, the lack of crowd energy does at times lend an additional sense of wonder to the occasion as many simply stand open mouthed at Papa and his Ghouls as they groove through an incredible set, but you can’t help but think the band deserve more.

There are a hell of a lot of people in the Academy, and numerous Ghost tees are dotted about the place, but something just doesn’t seem to click with the majority of fans. Initially encouraged by the sheer spectacle, quite a few in attendance do seem to drift off mid-set in mind if not in body.

Maybe this is the reaction that Ghost expect. After all, what they provide is a show in the purest sense, encouraging people to pay attention and admire the theatrics as well as the musicianship. You may also argue that the tunes they play could adequately be described as the Devil’s Disco; this is dancing music to all extents and purposes, being too groove-laden at times to be balls-out mosh material.

Either way, there seems to be some nervousness from Ghost about playing their own full headline tour on these shores, and that would be understandable if you took tonight in isolation; but this night was a showcase with no real main-eventer. With a decent supporting bill and carefully selected venues, Ghost are more than capable of laying down a papal pulverising to cities across the land, I just hope they realise there are enough of us worshipers out there to justify it.