No sooner have the Creme Eggs gone from the shelves it seems it’s year end and time for the writer’s favourite, the annual album of the year bonanza. You’ll remember (because of your loyalty to both myself and this very intermittent blog) that 2015 was a very close-run contest indeed, with the inimitable Ghostscooping the gong on countback.
2016 has been a different kind of year in music with a load of new kids on the block all fighting it out to be crowned King Dong of the rock and roll world. And oh there is a winner. But as is tradition, let’s first take a look at some of the records that came close but no cigar, and what a strong year it’s been.
Pledge Music has certainly become the record releasing channel du jour with great new independent outings from Wildhearts bassist Scott Sorry, Blacklist Saints and Role Models while erstwhile Terrorvision vocalist Tony Wright ramped things up with his first solo electric outing, the brilliant Walnut Dash.
Of course there were a few Ginger Wildheart collaborators knocking about and doing their own thing too and The Dowling Poole unleashed the viciously satirical One Hyde Park which sounds even better live than on record, whilst The Empty Page‘s grunge throwback Unfolding helped to produce a gig of the year candidate for its launch show.
Former Wildhearts drummer Stidi also banged out a great debut with new band Drama Club Rejects as did former bassist Danny with The Main Grains. A pair of throwback records, both showed enough punky vigour to warrant repeat listens rather than just being nostalgic novelties and proved that the spirit of The Wildhearts lives on in many shapes and forms.
As an “Event” with a capital E, you can’t get much bigger than a new release from Metallica and 2016 saw just that. As the band have grown older, we’ve seen a bit more of a, shall we say, self-indulgent theme to their music but in 2016, to keep pace with the young ‘uns, Hetfield and co well and truly upped their game.
With Metallica‘s Hardwired…To Self Destruct spreading itself over two discs, it took patience to get to grips with, but the thrashy power of the band’s latest saw a return to form that no-one expected. Not to be outdone, Megadeth snuck out their best record for a decade with Dystopia, proving Dave Mustaine still has bite, but both bands must be glancing over their shoulders at the upstarts in Gojira who produced yet another modern classic in Magma.
A new Volbeat record is always a bit of a big deal too and although Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie didn’t set anything alight, it was still a solid outing as was the sophomore outing from Scot rockers The Amorettes, White Hot Heat.
A few eagerly awaited debuts also landed in 2016 with Love Zombies, Tax The Heat, Black Peaks, Vodun and the workaholic Heck finally all finding time from their mammoth touring schedules to unleash prime cuts of studio-based bliss. Heck in particular did something nobody expected with a 16 minute album-closer that proved the boys have the songs to back up what they do on (and mainly off) stage.
The surprise debut success of 2016 however has to go to Asylums. Nobody expected such a gloriously passion-filled record to hit in 2016 but Killer Brain Waves proved that a 90s alt-rock influenced sound could be modernised to such an extent it would blow much of the more established competition out of the water. Keep an eye on this lot, they’re heading straight for the top.
On 19th March 1995, a certain 16 year old got only his second live experience of one of the thrash scene’s ‘Big Four’. The venue was Newport Centre. The band was Megadeth, and on that night, the band’s lead singer, Dave Mustaine, was a fiery ball of ginger-tousled bile.
Fast forward 18 years (and eight albums) and that same kid is getting a little bit excited about seeing that same band again after all this time. Older, wiser, and maybe a little more drunk, it was time for me to get to Manchester Academy to witness a legend reborn.
Having missed metalcore marauders Bleed From Within when they’d recently played in Manchester, I head down to the Academy around 20 minutes after the 8pm doors opening time to make sure I catch them, but it soon becomes apparent that I haven’t got a hope in hell. I knew the gig had sold out, so that’s nearly 2,500 denim and leather-clad booze hounds to get into the venue, but I’ve been to sold out Academy shows before and I’ve never seen queues that stretch back past The Manchester Museum, especially when the doors were open. Walking down to the Academy itself to check stage times, I notice the key problem; the doors aren’t open at all.
Now, for those of you not in the know, Dave Mustaine can be, shall we say, ‘temperamental’. He’s thrown his musical toys out of his pram a fair few times over the years and this has added a sense of danger (or more recently frustration) to Megadeth‘s live shows during their 30-year career. It’s unfortunately no surprise then that despite the support act being due on stage at 8.25pm, there won’t be anyone in there to see them.
Popping to perennial favourite pre-gig watering hole Big Hands, I strike up conversation with fellow fans who are equally unsurprised that the night is already looking like a bit of shambles. More worrying though, Megadeth are due on stage at 9.15pm, and as the time approaches the queue is still taking an eternity to get into the venue. As I finally shuffle on in, the bars are already heaving, the main hall looks suspiciously over capacity and the heat is stifling. But this doesn’t prevent a raucous welcome when ‘Prince of Darkness’ heralds the band onstage only five minutes late.
The crowd’s enthusiasm is easy to spot when even ‘Trust’ from the much maligned ‘Cryptic Writings’ album is so well-received, but it’s ‘Hanger 18’ which really gets things going. ‘Kingmaker’ from the band’s latest CD, ‘Super Collider’ doesn’t sound completely out of place alongside such a legendary thrash anthem and another ‘…Writings’ track, ‘She-wolf’, also seems familiar to most.
As Dave announces the band are going to celebrate defining album ‘Countdown To Extinction”s recent 20th anniversary by playing material from that record, the crowd roar shakes the venue. The album’s title track and ‘Architecture Of Aggression are still killer, polished mainstream thrash classics, but then, suddenly…silence.
The stage is dark, the band have departed, and only six songs in, the audience are left stunned. After five minutes, guitarist Chris Broderick emerges to tell us that the band are ‘fixing some shit’, but after ten minutes I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to be phoning up for a refund the following morning. Then, after a full 15 minutes of hanging about, the band return, and we’re told by Mustaine that they had to ‘send the guy on the spotlight packing.’ Apparently Dave was concerned that we couldn’t see the band due to the lighting guy being a little ‘off’. Twisted logic there, we can see even less of you when you storm off in a huff over a minor, unapparent to everyone bar yourself issue and then come back out acting like a dick.
Mustaine then proceeds to identify an ‘Eminem wannabe’ in the crowd flipping him off and orders security to escort him out. Ironically if he’d bothered being on stage for the previous 15 minutes he would’ve seen a lot more fans giving him the bird, and you’d think he’d be used to it after all these years anyway.
Anyway, when we do finally get some music again, it’s in the shape of ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘Ashes In Your Mouth’ and ‘Dawn Patrol’, with the triumvirate reminding us once again what a great band this used to be, making it even more sad to see such static performances of incredible songs.
‘A Tout Le Monde’ feels a little rushed tonight, losing some of its majesty in the process and although ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ recovers the set a bit, a rendition of new album title track ‘Super Collider’ manages to somehow sound worse than it does on record. There’s just something nagging away that the songs aren’t played with enough honesty to really get you to connect with them, instead it all feels like a band going through the motions.
The sound is admittedly its usual Academy 1 muffled self with the guitars muted and drums too high in the mix, but even so, Mustaine doesn’t help matters, refusing to name check the city he’s in once, or mention that the show is a sell-out. Two easily achieved and cliched pops admittedly, but fans love that kind of stuff and just saying we’re ‘beautiful’ repeatedly doesn’t really cut it. Instead, you’re left wondering if Mustaine actually knows or cares where he is. The backdrop videos playing throughout smack of paranoia and insecurity as they force the lyrics of the newer tracks down the audience’s throats, whilst the only positivity from the band comes from long-suffering bassist Dave Ellefson who does his best cheerleading act. Unfortunately a few fist pumps can’t hide a largely by-the-numbers, cliched performance.
There’s even a bass solo for crying out loud. A piece of understandable padding at a festival show, but unforgivable when we’ve already lost 15 minutes due to the aforementioned hissy fit.
After a highly insincere apology to the earlier Eminem wannabe who appears to have snuck back in, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and Holy Wars’ are always going to be lapped up despite what goes before. To be fair, they do still sound great and deserve the warm reception they receive, but the set’s close is a little too late in the day to just throw in the big guns and hope everyone goes home happy.
The overall song selection tonight, despite the ‘Cryptic Writings’ tracks seems overly safe, and played with skill rather than true passion. It seems that Mustaine is largely oblivious to the slew of top quality bands around in 2013, and for that matter bands who easily match live what they are doing on record, and the show feels somewhat dated because of this. Someone really needs to sit him down and have a quiet word, telling him that it’s no longer okay to charge £30 a ticket, create an organisational mess and hope the fans will still turn out in their droves; Megadeth are really going to struggle to stay relevant if that type of form is anything to go by.
I hate to say it, but this night smacks of a band that could well be on their countdown to extinction.