Digital Noise Alliance is the 16th full-length studio album by the Seattle Prog-Metal pioneers, Queensryche. It is their fourth album with Todd La Torre on vocals, and second without founding drummer Scott Rockenfeild in the band, last time (on 2019’s The Verdict) singer Todd La Torre also played drums, but this time Kamelot’s Casey Grillo is behind the drum kit. There has been much media drama about the band in the last decade, with various spats between current and ex-members, which can distract people from the music at times, but for my money the current four-album Todd-era run is the best continuous run of four albums the band has had since 1994. If you ignore all the distractions and concentrate on the music, you’ll discover some seriously good records.
Queensryche made their name by experimenting, changing constantly and never making the same album twice in the early days, and while this has resulted in a discography where not every album is to everyone’s tastes, the one thing you could also say is that each album sounded different to the last. However, since original singer Geoff Tate left the band, the run of three albums that followed do all sit in a fairly similar direction, and as good as that style is, sitting in one comfort zone isn’t something the band had ever done before.
With Digital Noise Alliance, Queensryche appear to be trying to test the edges of this comfort zone, broaden their horizons a little bit, expand the formula more and generally try a few new things. There’s a Promised Land style semi-acoustic ballad, (the kind they hadn’t been writing for the last few records), there’s a Billy Idol cover song, there’s some occasional new vocal styles Todd hasn’t used on record yet, there’s a different feel to the drumming, there’s a few riffs or chords or melodies you wouldn’t have heard on the last few albums and the guitar solos often take a different direcition to what listeners have been hearing for the last decade. Just enough variety to keep it fresh and not feel like they’ve fallen into a rut. However, the core of the album is the same core formula of the Todd era Queensryche albums, so it isn’t so different that it would scare away anyone who loved the previous ones, or a big enough departure that it would reach a totally new or different fanbase and win over anyone new. It’s the same sound; but broader, more diverse, ever so slightly more progressive, and most importantly fresh. A nice little grower of a record too, there’s an extra layer of depth and complexity here compared to the last few.
Highlights include: “Behind The Walls” “Tormentum” and “Hold On.”
If you like melodic guitar leads, gorgeous clean singing, clear bouncy bass lines and a slight prog edge without being ponderous or pretentious, then you’ll have a good time here. There’s always going to be a segment of the audience who just want the ‘80s sound or line-up, and I’m not even going to bother trying to convince you to try this if that is you, but for anyone who is still into the band nowadays but was just worrying if they might be over-relying on a formula or running out of ideas, I can reassure you this album is just as good as the last few, but not afraid to try new things and cover a bit more creative ground.
Clutch are one of the most consistent and hard working bands in rock and roll. The Maryland Stoner Rock outfit released their thirteenth full-length studio album, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach, in 2022. It was produced by Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Royal Blood, Pixies) and released on the band’s own Weathermaker Music.
I think its fair to say Clutch have never made a bad album, and although some albums are more popular than others, if you like Clutch you are probably in for the long haul, enjoying something off of each of their varied but always distinctly Clutch-sounding albums. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is a great album. I mean, of course it is, it’s a Clutch album, that almost goes without saying, you know you are going to get a couple of songs you’ll remember for the rest of your life, a load of clever quirky memorable lyrics, some cool guitar/bass lines that get stuck in your head for weeks and exceptional drumming beyond all of their peers… but even for a Clutch album, and the inherent high standards that implies, this is a strong outing.
The first two singles from the record, “Red Alert (Boss Metal Zone)” and “We Strive For Excellence” were so ridiculously strong, so profoundly catchy, so superbly satisfying and intensely memorable that I was convinced this would be in the top their of their discography before it was even released. For weeks (or is it months, my memory is failing) I’ve been listening to those songs multiple times daily, and got into a ritual of not getting out of bed until I’d heard them. With songs this strong, I was guaranteed to love the album, and sort of envisioned another Earth Rocker / Psychic Warfare style all killer, no filler, heads down, hyper focused hard rocking affair.
Their previous album, The Book Of Bad Decisions, was also excellent, but if there was one criticism to be laid at it, this would be that it was perhaps a bit too long and one or two songs could be cut to make it more streamlined. ‘Slaughter Beach seems aware of this, and clocks in at barely half an hour long, with songs that are concise, succinct and have not an ounce of fat on them. Contrary to my initial expectations however, it isn’t the heads don’t pedal to the metal rager I thought it would be, but rather is arguably their most diverse and exploratory album in a decade and a half, although crucially, having learned the lessons from their focused period, this is not bloated, self indulgent or superfluous experimentation the way some critics of the second halves of their longer records might previously have accused them of, the album is a best of both worlds, allowing the band to stretch their wings and broaden their horizons without sacrificing the flow of the album, the efficiency of the song writing or the patience of the more sober listeners. There are some really cool touches, such as soul singer backing vocals, theremin, vibraphone. However, its still just half an hour of the utmost, cleverly crafted, high-quality bangers, rather than the loosey-goosey jamming of say, Jam Room.
There are only nine songs, so its hard to sit here and pick out highlights, as there isn’t a single one I wouldn’t want to hear live or have in a compilation (in fact, on a recent livestream at time of writing, they played every single song from it live, amongst classics from various eras of the band’s history, and it all fit so well), but if forced to pick some stand-out tracks to recommend to new commers, the first three singles are all utterly essential for all new Clutch fans forevermore. A clever blade-runner and pandemic-conspiracy inspired utter fist pumping banger, a truly triumphant tale of young kids building a bike ramp that sounds like the very best moments of the first three QOTSA albums filtered through Fu Manchu’s most catchy moments and Pure Rock Fury’s personality (the bass groove when the cowbell kicks in makes me grin like a schoolboy every time), and a groovey as hell Sabbathy stoner anthem title-track that educated me about horse-shoe crabs having blue blood overused by the pharmaceutical industry to the point of threatening extinction on the species.
Tales of D&D twelve-sided die and chaotic evil, or being accosted in space by an unknown menace to rumbling drums and expansive sounds almost match this for quality, as do ghost and witchcraft stories that are more moody and diverse, but the other real highlight for me is the enormously catchy “Three Golden Horns” with its almost Thin-Lizzy-esque lyrical story telling and super catchy “Jazz Music Corrupts The Youth” chorus. The album ends on a more sombre note, about previous heroes/legends being cast aside as criminals/tyrants by future generations that seems to subtly reference recent turning in political tides towards previously lauded forefathers who are now viewed less favourably due to their problematic deeds, with an almost folky slow drum beat and ghostly guitar lines that sound like the emotional climax of a movie.
This is an album I’ve been listening to on repeat, listening to every day since its release at time of writing, and which I will absolutely rinse for the next few years, if not forever. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Just put it on, get into the vibe, and repeat until in love with it. More highly recommended than water or oxygen!
Swedish Rock/Metal band Ghost return in 2022 with their fifth full-length studio album, Impera, an empire themed three-quarters-of-an-hour journey through various musical twists and turns. There are three brief intros/interludes and nine “real songs” including epic stadium-destined power balladry, weird creative diversions, and some big bouncy anthems.
No two Ghost albums are alike, and this album doesn’t sound much like their previous album Prequelle, nor indeed any of the albums that came before that either. They have evolved markedly over the course of their career, and you could make a solid argument for any one of their albums being their best one.
If you are expecting a St. Vitus or Pentagram album, because someone once mentioned the word “doom” or “occult” to you in reference to Ghost several years ago, then this album might be a bit of a shock. This album is perhaps their brightest, shiniest, most “stadium” sounding record to date. The media has been quick to throw out Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Van Halen comparisons, and in all honesty, those do seem fairly close to the mark. They don’t sound specifically like any one of those bands, but there are tinges of the feeling they evoke – just mixed with dozens of other influences. Ghost are such a melting pot and no two listeners will describe it exactly the same way. You’ll be picking up hints of all sorts of different reference points, from ‘60s and ‘70s Psychedelic and Prog music, to that ‘80s MTV sound, to classic Hard Rock, and maybe even bits of Ozzy and Dio, and all sorts of other things. In addition to all the rock and metal, Tobias has also always had a big ear for pop music, and the 70s/80s pop stylings are dialled notably up. The producer, Klas Åhlund, has worked in various capacities for people like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, the Sugababes, Paloma Faith and numerous others. I’ve heard it described in all sorts of different ways, from Dr. Feelgood by way of “Mama Mia,” to Mercyful Fate covering “Panama,” to the alternate reality where Rabin-era Yes wrote The Black Album.
The mixture of pop, rock and metal has always been a cornerstone of the Ghost schtick, and the ratio and specifics change slightly each time, but it always sounds like Ghost. I would be hard pressed to say you would ever dislike this if you liked any of their previous work, even if it is sonically quite a far cry from Opus Anonymous.
It is hard to pick highlights, because there are only 9 real songs, all of them serve a specific purpose in the journey, three of them were singles anyway already (at time of writing) and none of them are skippable. Its quite a tight, succinct, well-paced, fat-free affair. Definitely the kind of album you listen to in one whole sitting from start to finish. That being said, I’ve always loved the obvious “hits” like “Square Hammer,” “Kiss The Go-Goat” and “Rats” from other releases, so “Hunter’s Moon” is very noteworthy for me. The opener, “Kaisareon” doesn’t fit that previous “hit single” mould, but its supercharged hook after hook after hook approach (its almost like it has 4-5 different album defining choruses in one single song) is a standout in a whole new way. From the reaction it is getting in the media, I can foresee “Darkness At The Heart Of My Love” being a massive concert favourite, and every time I listen to it, it feels important somehow, like some sort of milestone moment.
As usual, Ghost deliver a great new album that gives more of what we want, in quirky and unexpected ways, and sounds exactly and uniquely like themselves while both never repeating themselves and also sounding like a Jukebox of dozens of other disparate things you like or at least recognise from elsewhere. As usual, Ghost deliver a top notch set of songs that will stick with you for years to come, that you are desperate to hear in the live setting, that you couldn’t imagine a playlist without. As usual, within the first few listens, you’ll be convinced its an album of the year contender.
This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.
Today, I’ll be discussing the studio albums from the one of a kind, eccentric and diverse Maryland Rock band, Clutch.
1. Clutch – Earth Rocker (2013) – This is one of those albums like Dr. Feelgood or Permanent Vacation where it seems like someone sat the band down, sobered them up, got them into a laser-beam focus, and said “ok, you have to make the biggest album of your career now.” Its one of those career defining albums like Back In Black, or British Steel or The Black Album where it feels like the band were making a concerted effort to “step up.” Its one of those albums like “Paranoid” where the album plays more like a greatest hits compilation than a single album and almost every song could have been a hit. Its one of those albums like Formation Of Damnation or Hordes Of Chaos that come later in the band’s career and somehow set a new standard for excellence and start a new golden age for the band.
Its all of those things and more. It’s the biggest, boldest, liveliest, punchiest record of the band’s career; with a level of quality control, focus and singular-vision that makes this something truly rare, truly special….a perfect record! It’s the band’s supercharged, hyper-focused, ultra-consistent, perfect-all-the-way-through, “THIS.IS.CLUTCH.” defining statement.
The album just explodes out of the speakers, crackling with life, bursting with colour, oozing personality, throwing gem after gem after gem at you and never letting up. “Coming at you in all 3-Ds.” Its larger than life, its almost too good to be true. Its Earth Rocker, motherfucker! Blurgh-haw-hah-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Best songs: “Earth Rocker,” “Cyborg Bete,” “Crucial Velocity” & “Unto The Breach.”
2. Clutch – Blast Tyrant (2004) – This thing could be described as “Personality, the album.” This record is the refinement, crystallisation and then expansion of everything the band had been building up to until this point. This album forever set Clutch aside from the pack. All the way up until Earth Rocker (almost a decade) this must have been their Ace Of Spades type “cannot escape the shadow” album.
This album is like a colourful alternate reality dreamworld. Lots of little Funk, Soul, Gospel, Gogo, Southern Rock and Blues tinges mix with a bombastic foundation of high energy Hard Rock, filtered through boundless creativity in an effortless air of cool. The band clearly tapped into an embarrassment-of-riches vein from the mine of earworm choruses, toe-tapping beats and make-you-smile riffs n’ basslines. Every musician is like the best musician in any other band.
Add to that an outrageously good opening run of six classics, some diversity with a smoky ballad, an instrumental and some virtuosic jamming. Its packaged up in bizarre memorable artwork and a gorgeous clear vibrant production job… mix it all up and you’ve got a straight up classic album on your hands.
Frontman Neil Fallon also seemed to take this moment to ascend from cool singer with quirky lyrics into a God-tier contender for best rock frontman in history. If this guy had been around in the ’60s or ’70s when the history books were still unwritten he would no doubt be up there in the top-10 with the likes of any icon you dare to name. Its like he did some soul searching, figured out what his “best qualities” were, then just made his whole being the best bits, and then upped his game tenfold again! Remember the idea of how Dimebag decided to make every riff “the money riff”? Here its like Neil decided to make every verse, chorus and bridge the vocal equivalent of “the money riff.”
As if all that if that wasn’t enough…. they then also managed to write “The Mob Goes Wild” …which for my money is unarguably one of the best songs in human history. If you don’t love that song, you are no friend of mine! The fact that it isn’t talked about daily in the same breath as “Smoke On The Water,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is nothing short of a crying shame.
Best songs: “The Mob Goes Wild,” “Subtle Hustle” “The Profits Of Doom” & “The Regulator.”
3. Clutch – Clutch (1995) – The band’s “real” debut in the eyes of many, and for many their crowning achievement. Self-titled for a reason. This is one superb set of songs let me tell you and a real genre-classic for the Stoner Rock scene. (I mean Clutch are a weird, unique outlier for the scene and more than just Stoner Rock, but its definitely a part of the sound, particularly on this record).
It was great enough for them to play it in its entirety for a live album, and they have always played a hell of a lot of it live over the years.
This is such a humongous step up from Speedway’ and the early EPs. The same DNA is there, but the results are very different. For example, the bounce of ‘Marcus can be heard updated on “Animal Farm,’ the groove of “El Jefe” can be heard evolved on “Tight Like That.” The clever lyrics and badass attitude of “12 Oz Epilogue” and ‘Monster Trucks can be heard evolved on, well… all over this album. This album takes the best most charasmatic and memorable moments of the last a builds a whole album out of the cream of the crop.
If you have this as your own number-one in your own rankings, I’d totally get it. The only reasons I can think of to knock it down lower are personal preference issues, and just because they’ve released better stuff since. If I was to try and justify it not being first like so many online Clutch rankings would have it, all I can come up with is that the production is a bit rough, the vocals are a bit unrefined, the last few songs could have been cut for a tighter experience… but all that is just nitpicking and I love this record. At the end of the day, it does have some of the band’s finest tracks, is a fan-favourite and really helped define who and what Clutch are, and it is chocked to the brim with charm.
Best songs: “Texan Book Of The Dead,” “Escape From The Prison Planet” & “Animal Farm.”
4. Clutch – The Book Of Bad Decisions (2018) – The band’s newest album at time of writing, and the one that has grown on me the most over time. Every single time I listen to this I like it more and more, and I liked it plenty when it was released. If you deleted tracks 2 and 3, I think you could even bump this album up another place, as it would then be close to perfect.
It almost goes without saying, since we are talking about Clutch, but this album is so big, fun, memorable, and full of personality, with such unique lyrics and charismatic vocals, immense drumming, and stick-in-your-head-for-weeks basslines & riffs.
How many bands twelve albums deep (and numerous EPs and compilations more) into their career are still putting out one of their best albums and seeming more relevant and exciting now than when they broke through? It’s a pretty exclusive club.
Imagine being decades into your career and still being able to knock out a song as memorable, powerful and immensely fun as “How To Shake Hands” …that’s almost unfair, leave some quality for the rest of the bands in the world! I never get tired of imagining President Fallon flying around in a UFO.
5. Clutch – Robot Hive/Exodus (2005) – Blast Tyrant was like their equivalent of coming out with The Blackening years after Burn My Eyes. It can’t have been easy following that up. No matter what you do it won’t have quite the same impact for most fans.
Despite gigantic shoes to fill, Robot Hive’ is a superb follow-up and near as good. Its more diverse, more eclectic and tries more things, and sacrifices a little bit of focus for variety, but it is certainly worth it and much more hit than miss. Bazumph.
I always think of this and Blast Tyrant as a set, and often don’t listen to one without the other, so it is purely academic ranking them or having one higher or lower than the other. You need to buy both, it’s as simple as that.
Best songs: “Burning Beard,” “Circus Maximus” & “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery.”
6. Clutch – Psychic Warfare (2015) – Like Robot Hive’ is the follow-up companion to Blast Tyrant’s excellence, so too is Psychic Warfare the worthy follow-up companion to Earth Rocker’s perfection. This album is pure class, the only reason it isn’t higher being it had to follow up a surprise world-beater. If this had have came out first and Earth Rocker never existed, then this would be talked about in much the same way as Earth Rocker is.
Certainly they were on a fine run on form, and you can take the albums from Earth Rocker onwards as a set, and it would be an absolutely fantastic set, a golden era. This is what the phrase “its like someone lit a fire under their ass” was made for. Few bands ever have (or ever will) released three such strong albums in succession. It goes against my catholic upbringing, I admit it, but I’m a sucker for this album!
Best songs: “Sucker For The Witch,” “A Quick Death In Texas” & “Your Love Is Incarceration.”
7. Clutch – Strange Cousins From The West (2009) – Most fans might have this one a bit lower in the rankings, but its one of my favourites, and I have an emotional attachment to it as it was the first “new” Clutch album in my time as a serious fan. ‘90s fans would probably want to slap me for having it above Elephant Riders, but hey, this is my list, make your own list if you want this lower. This album is the band’s blues-iest, roots-iest album to date, perhaps leaning hard in on the success of “Electric Worry” and doubling down on it.
It’s a far cry from the days of “Impetus” and “Pitchfork” style face-smashing, and instead sits in a “the world’s greatest bar band” territory. Its like John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix and a coked-up gospel preacher decided to play at your local blues bar and knock out some of the most good-time music they could. It also has fabulous, Monster-Magnet-quality, memorable, unique, quirky lyrics. Lyrics have always been a selling point for Clutch and I feel like this album has some of their absolute best.
This album is all about the feel. Its all about being in the pocket, in the groove, in the vibe. It’s the idea of Jam Room for the new millennium, but the execution is a thousand times better. If you dislike this, I have a hard time taking you seriously.
8. Clutch – The Elephant Riders (1998) – “Uneven” is a very harsh, pedantic and easily counterargued criticism for the album, but short of just having all albums be “joint first” and calling it a day, there has to be some way of differentiating the albums and ranking them…even if having this one lower than some of the other ones might be blasphemy to many fans.
It is painful to have this album so low, but we are into the ultimate “they’re always brilliant, how do I choose?” splitting hairs territory now. This album is an absolute classic of the subgenre, one of the best albums of the 1990s and contains some of my personal all-time favourite songs ever written by anyone.
In fact, if the whole album was as good as the highlights, this could have a shout for being one of the best albums of all time. Yes, I do like other records better, but I still consider this still “must-have,” and still recommend it to all fans no matter how casual.
Best songs: “The Elephant Riders,” “The Soap Makers” & “The Yeti.”
9. Clutch – From Beale Street To Oblivion (2007) – If any other similar band put this out, it would be the greatest achievement of their whole career. Sixty Watt Shaman, Five Horse Johnson and Monster Truck will never, ever release anything even close to this good, so the fact that it is so low down on this list makes me feel very conflicted.
An album with an opening three song run as good as this, or a moment as joyous and infectiously mood-lifting as “Electric Worry” can’t honestly be ever considered one of a band’s “lesser” albums can it? Well that’s just testament to how ridiculously good Clutch are.
Sometimes I will hear people talk negatively about this album and it just seems offensive to me. If this was a one-off album by a band that broke up afterwards, it would be such a beloved cult classic. Ok, its their ninth best album, but its better than 90% of the albums in whole subgenre.
Best songs: “You Can’t Stop Progress,” “Power Player” & “The Devil & Me.”
10. Clutch – Pure Rock Fury (2001) – This album was a bit of a hit, due in no small part to the rap-rock satire of its most famous track. It also contains the title track that became the does-what-it-say-on-the-tin badge that all fans and journalists use to describe the band with when they go a bit harder and faster. It is very well liked by fans of a certain vintage. It is however, just a bit “different.”
A lot of this comes down to the fact that it has a very different production for the band, seemingly going for the opposite of their loose, groovey Stoner Rock stylings of their previous three albums and attempting something more fitting in with modern Metal productions of the era. The results are a tighter, stiffer sound than any other Clutch record before or since.
Musically, this is also a transitional album that doesn’t fit neatly into any era of the band’s varied discography. It is heavy in places and dark at times, but it isn’t the punishing bruising hardcore dirge of the early days, it isn’t the funky stoner mashup of the preceding albums or the unique career defining new direction of the albums that follow it. It is an island. Its still 100% Clutch; the musicianship, the exploration, the blue-collar vibes, the wit and humour of the lyrics, the variety and eccentricity of the vocals… and yet it is also kind of nothing like they’ve done before or since at the same time. Unique.
If you check out the Live At The Googolplex live album, these songs sound much more like Elephant Riders/Self-Titled era songs live, stripped of that tight stiff production, and similarly, if you look at the demo version of “Sinkemlow” on the 2004-reissue of Jam Room, you can really get an idea of what a difference the producers (the pseudonymed combo of “Uncle Punchy” and “Machine”) made here.
All talk of production jobs and stylistic directions aside though, this is a solid collection of good songs, with some really high highlights that make the overall package even better.
Best songs: “Pure Rock Fury,” “Red Horse Rainbow” & “Careful With That Mic.”
11. Clutch – Jam Room (1999) – The band’s “we’re sick of record label disappointment, let’s just jam in a garage and have a good time” type album. It is a lot looser, more “live” sounding, freer and “jam”-feeling than any of the albums that preceded it (and certainly the one that followed it).
The band weren’t trying to write hits, the band weren’t trying to win over legions of new fans, the band weren’t trying to make a definitive magnum opus, this is just four dudes knocking out some music. For what it is, Jam Room is a complete success.
The only reason it is so low on the list is that Clutch are one of the best bands to ever pick up instruments and this album isn’t as good as their usual output by comparison. It’s a deliberately low effort, low brainpower, unrefined version of the band, and gloriously so, but the fact remains, they’ve done better.
Definitely not “skip it” but don’t let it be your first Clutch album either, wait until there’s almost nothing else you haven’t tried before giving it a go.
Best songs: “Raised By Horses” “Big Fat Big” & “Who Want’s To Rock?”
12. Clutch – Slow Hole To China (2003) – This list doesn’t cover some of the band’s catalogue, such as the various early EPs or reissues and compilations thereof, the mid career Basket Of Eggs EP, various live albums, the Weathermaker Vault series, or spin off material like The Bakerton Group.
However; there is one non-studio-album release I felt needed to be included – the B-Sides album, Slow Hole To China. Slow Hole’ is sequenced and arranged like a real album, features many fan favourites that the band still play live and have been on live albums and generally, compared to other bands this B-Sides compilation is not just random loser-material for superfans only, but rather an “essential album” for all but the most casual of fans. Ok, its not Earth Rocker, Blast Tyrant or The Self-Titled… but it is worth your time.
Best songs: “Hoodoo Operator,” “Willie Nelson” & “Easy Breeze.”
13. Clutch – Transnational Speadway League’ (1993) – The band’s debut album is stylistically quite different than most people’s idea of the Clutch sound. When I first got into the band, I didn’t like this album at all and have very-gradually warmed to it over the years. When you hear songs from it live in amongst songs from Elephant Riders or The Self-Titled you sort of “get it” a bit more, and because the music is pretty dense, thick and sludgy it takes a lot of repeat listens for it to sink in.
It’s the band’s heaviest, nastiest, most aggressive album to date (all usually things that make an album my favourite) and some of the band’s trademark wit, humour and inventive lyrics/vocals are starting to come through, but the reason this album sits in last place is that only about half the songs are what I’d describe as “good” and only about a quarter of them are what I’d describe as “fun” so basically, I usually listen to the very good band Clutch and have a fun time, but when I listen to this album all the way through in one sitting, I’m only getting that part of the time. Instantaneous this is not, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of quality. For collectors.
Best songs: “A Shogun Named Marcus,” “El Jeffe Speaks” & “Walking In The Great Shining Path Of Monster Trucks.”
2021’s Servant Of The Mind is Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat’s eight studio album, it was produced by Jacob Hansen (with Michael & Rob from the band) and follows up 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound album.
I first got into the band after seeing them live on the cycle for Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie, and fell in love instantly, then devouring their back catalogue and becoming obsessed, listening to them more in one year than it takes me a decade to listen to most other bands, but when it finally came time for me to get in on the ground floor with a new release; 2019’s Rewind’ was a bit of a disappointment for me (especially at first, but to be fair it was a grower), as it initially felt like it was missing a lot of the charm, variety and quirkiness of their earlier work, and also was significantly less heavy or metallic than my favourite side of Volbeat’s many sided style. For me, Rewind’ leaned much too heavily on the band’s radio rock side. That’s always been a part of their sound – but not the whole sound, and to me Rewind’ just focused on it too deeply, too often.
Servant Of The Mind by contrast seems to be very conscious that the previous album was a bit too far away from their metal side, and is a pretty hard and deliberate course-correct towards heaviness. There is much more speed, power, groove, crunch, umph, tiny bits of Thrash-esque moments here and there, even one cheeky Death Metal riff hidden in there once.
Tracks like “Becoming,” feel built for fans who like the band’s heavier material (think “Slaytan”), while “The Devil Rages On,” “Step Into The Light” and “Say No More” more than make up for the previous album’s lighter touch. Heck, “The Sacred Stones” seems to be a deliberate tribute to Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” In addition to Metal though, they’ve also always had a bouncy punk tinge at times, and “The Passenger” covers that side of them as well.
While I may be banging on a bit too much about the metal; Volbeat have never been entirely all about heaviness – it is an important part of the puzzle, and it is nice to see it get enough focus again, but it is only part of the bigger picture. For those fans who like the bigger, catchier moments, the album does still have some nice radio rock moments, for example the single “Dagen Før” (featuring Alphabeat’s Stine Bramsen doing guest vocals) covers that kind of “Cape Of Our Heroes” or “Last Day Under The Sun” melodic vibe, and the choruses of even some of the heavier tracks lean into big American radio rock at times (its still there, its just blended better on this album).
Volbeat have also always had a fun side, and while I sort of make it sound like I didn’t like their previous album, it certainly had its great moments. This record takes some of those great moments and builds upon them. Single “Wait A Minute My Girl” has a jaunty saxophone solo, kind of like the fun “Die To Live” from the previous record, while “Step Into The Light” with its reverby twisted surf-rock guitar lead feels like a sequel to the previous album’s “Sorry Sack Of Bones.”
Now, while I have spent most of the review describing the album’s stylistic decisions, being heavy, or melodic, or bouncy or fun is pretty pointless if the album isn’t actually good. Luckily, the material is really strong. There are riffs that will stick in your head for days, choruses you’ll be dying to sing along to, memorable fills and a very clear production job. More than three quarters of the album I want to see live, I’m spoiled for choice over which songs I’d include in a best-of compilation or playlist.
While I wouldn’t make an argument that it is their all time best album, it is certainly in the top half of their discography, pleasantly surprising, and I would whole heartedly recommend it.
Ps. If you can, try and get the edition with the bonus tracks, the extra cover songs are brilliant!
2021 sees the release of the seventh full-length studio album from the horror and sci-fi obsessed industrial tinged larger than life rock icon Rob Zombie. Cumbersomely named; “The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy” sees Rob Zombie continued his tradition of excessively titled albums, but perhaps not topping his most OTT choice from a decade ago with his fourth record “Hellbilly Deluxe II: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool.”
It was released on Nuclear Blast and follows up the very well received “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser” album from 2016, which the general consensus around reckoned was one of Zombie’s best albums to date, but for me it was actually a bit of a let-down after my favourite album to date, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from 2013. Warlock had its highlights for sure, and I appreciated the attempt to be lean, succinct and have a big personality, but fell a bit flat a times in the song writing department of the deeper tracks.
As such, I approached this new album with a bit of trepidation, but luckily ‘Kool Aid really knocked it out of the park in my opinion, as it seems to fuse the best elements from ‘Venomous (Catchiness, hooks, better song-writing) and ‘Warlock (immediacy, character, eccentricity).
This is the second album to be produced by Christopher “Zeuss” Harris. It doesn’t have as clean nor big a sound as the old Scott Humphrey produced albums of yore, but it does has a lot of energy and seems to be going for a bit of a slightly punkier vibe than a typically industrial or even stadium sound.
The band line-up is also the same as last time around. Former Marilyn Manson member turned solo virtuoso John 5 has been in the band for years and years now, but his influence is particularly notable on this record, with all the little funk asides and effects laden guitar parts. I feel like he has been allowed to shine much more than say Educated Horses for example. I would argue that in terms of sheer guitar playing fun, this is definitely one of the most colourful Rob Zombie records to date. Its also the third studio with former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish on board. Now that Manson’s career is looking to be fast going downhill, its great to see some of the members from the iconic Holywood line-up are still out there making an impact.
There are a lot of damn fine songs to be found here. From the single “The Triumph Of King Freak” and “The Eternal Struggles Of The Howling Man” to the much talked about country tinged “18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks and a One-Way Ticket on the Ghost Train.” The real highlights for me personally are the stompy “The Satanic Rites of Blacula” and the groovy “Shadow of the Cemetery Man” as well as “The Ballad of Sleazy Rider.” I’d already rank it higher in the discography than Hellbilly Deluxe 2 or Educated Horses and in fact there is certainly a much higher hit to miss ratio than ‘Warlock on the deeper cuts. It hasn’t been out that long so its probably too early to tell, but already I’d estimate that this is in at least the top half of his discography.
Its not all glory though. There are 17 tracks here, totalling 42 mins, but there is a bit of fat that could be trimmed. Six of the Seventeen tracks here are effectively intros or interludes and this cumulatively makes up a full five minutes of the record. Zombie has never been a stranger to intros and interludes, the classic debut Hellbilly Deluxe certainly has its fair share, and the platinum selling follow up The Sinister Urge had a couple, and while I appreciate that one or two can add flavour and break things up, I think this record has perhaps the most extracurricular activity outside the main songs, which may affect the flow a little bit (its not a deal breaker or anything, but I’ll probably find myself skipping them a lot in the future).
To summarise; it has a silly name and a lot of interludes, it doesn’t sound as huge as the early records sonically, but it is consistently chocked full of strong and memorable songs, has some variety and in terms of quality it is even better than its much hyped predecessor. Well worth checking out.
Bring Me The Horizon have had an interesting career. They started off as a very uncommercial, noisy, sloppy Deathcore band with screams, screeches and murderous lyrics. People covering that sort of music at the time basically laughed them out of the room though. It wasn’t pretty.
Then they evolved into one of the best British Metalcore bands in the scene for several years, releasing well crafted and memorable albums like Suicide Season, There Is A Hell’ and Sempiternal. Their audiences got bigger and bigger, but so did the backlash, the internet and magazines were awash with anti-BMTH sentiment. All the negativity, critical bashing and internet comment-section abuse eventually alienated the band from the Metal community, and they seemed to decided if they’re going to be called sell-outs or “not metal” anyway, they may as well go with it and seek a more mainstream radio audience.
Their next two albums, That’s The Spirit and Amo were much more commercial, pop-music-infused, modern, melodic, and autotuned. It definitely turned off some of their early audience, but it gained them a whole new audience and mainstream approval, allowing them to go on TV shows Metal fans scoff at, play festivals Metal fans scoff at, get play on radio stations Metal bands can only dream of and get covered in magazines Metal fans scoff at (or in reality allow them not to have to speak to Metal Journalists who rudely dismiss them and focus on more mainstream publications. Some fans call this selling-out too, but if I got that much abuse from the Metal community, I’d do the same thing!).
Even if the music slowly moved away from what I liked about the band on their 2nd and 3rd albums, they always put out great sounding and interesting albums that were objectively quite good and I’ve enjoyed their musical evolution.
Their last release, last year’s Music To Listen To‘ EP was their bigest departure yet; an experimental, chill out affair and not really what I’d consider a canonical release. Now in late 2020, they’ve released another EP, but this time of proper Rock/Metal songs. Its 9 tracks and about half an hour long, but it does feel like a canonical release and you can imagine these songs being included in future live sets and best-ofs unlike material from the previous EP.
Some of the tracks have been released already, such as ‘Parasite Eve’ and ‘Ludens’ on various soundtracks, and ‘Obey’ (featuring a colab with the singer Yungblud) was dropped as a single earlier this year, with a music video reminiscent of ‘Intergalactic’ by The Beastie Boys. All these (at the time) non-album singles were fairly well received and got people’s hopes up that the band were “going heavy again” as there was a lot more guitar and bigger grooves than the last two albums, and got several lapsed fans excited for the next effort.
Post Human: Surival Horror opens strongly with the heaviest song in years. It would have been a good bridge between Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit. That’s not to say the whole EP is a return to old formulas. There’s still a lot of the pop/electronic focus of the last few albums, there’s vocal lines that would’ve never fit on older albums, but it does have a crunch and bounce that was in short supply on Amo. In fact that had a song called “Heavy Metal” basically calling out Metal fans for all the comment-section hate.
On the other side of the coin; the collaboration with Babymetal ‘Kingslayer’ is a colourful neon explosion that sounds exactly like what you’d imagine when you hear “BMTH collaboration with Babymetal 2020.” That’s also preceded by one and a half minute intro of the same nature. New single (is it the lead single when they released the other 3 singles separately before the EP was even announced?) ‘Teardrops’ is a nice melodic modern radio-rock single and the natural evolution of what they’ve been doing on the last two albums.
There’s also 1×1 which is a very faithful recreation of the style of Linkin Park’s first two albums. The band have never made any secret of their appreciation for Nu Metal’s biggest selling band, but this is their most influence-on-sleeve track to date. The EP closes with the annoyingly titled “One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death” which is a slow electronic half-ballad, with a guest appearance from Evanescence’s Amy Lee, that will suit fans of material like “And The Snakes Start To Sing” or “Memorial” from previous efforts.
Overall, stylistically this EP is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no easy tag. Its not the band going heavy again. Its not their poppiest album to date. It is a mish mash of their past 3 records, plus new ideas, and multiple collaborations as usual. You’ll probably never find an objective review of this highly controversial and much discussed band, but throwing my biased two cents in, I think this is a worthwhile EP and fans of the band who haven’t jumped ship yet have nothing to fear, fans of the band who’ve only been here a short time have nothing to fear, save maybe the opener. All in all, I think they’re going for a best-of-both-world’s thing here and they’ve almost nailed it. If they ever release a new full-length album (which is uncertain as they’ve talked about giving up on that format in today’s modern Spotify world) then I imagine further practice at this compromise will yield even better results and hopefully their most well rounded album in years.
Progressive Poles Riverside have such a fine track record when it comes to top quality, album-of-the-year level studio albums. Their fourth album Anno Dommini High Definition for example, is arguably one of my favourite albums by any band, ever.
2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine; their third consecutive gold album and final output with guitarist Piotr Grundizinski (before his untimely passing), is no exception.
Their early works were dark and interesting, they then hit a phase of being bombastic, colourful and Deep Purple influenced. I saw them live during this period and it was such a rocking good time, you didn’t expect such good fun from a morbid bunch of proggers who usually released concept albums about psychiatric hospitals.
This sixth full-length studio record sees yet another evolution of their sound. It is cleaner, softer, with more prominent classic-‘70s-prog moments and a bit more of an unexpected The Cure influence. (That’s not to say it doesn’t rock out when it wants to, “Saturate Me” hits a delicious Tool-influenced groove in the middle, for example).
I regret, I have been sleeping on this album for a few years, I was hoping to time buying it for just before my next Riverside live show for maximum excitement overlap, but in 2020 with all the concerts dried up, its gotten a bit “well, what are you waiting for?” so I’ve finally taken the plunge, and I’m beyond glad I did. In hindsight, I don’t know how I ever coped without “Afloat” in my life, (a chilling tune, which out -Judgements Anathema).
Its hard to chose highlights, but if I was to introduce the band to a stranger, the number one pick of introductory track would be “Discard Your Fear.” If you like my wet trousered praise of this album, that would probably be the first track you should investigate to see if you’ll like the album as much as I do. It doesn’t really sound at all like typical Riverside fare, but as a singular one-off song, it just rubs me up in all the right ways. If you already like the band but have been sleeping on their later works as I had been, try out “Time Travellers” to see just how well Mariusz’s vocals have developed.
There is rarely such a thing as a flawless album, but I feel confident in saying that this beautiful, exciting, mellow, peaceful, energetic, diverse, interesting, tasteful bag of contradictions is a completely magical masterpiece.
Ps. [If you are unfamilair with the band but like bands such as Haken, Dream Theater, Opeth, Pain Of Salvation or even The Mars Volta then I highly recommend you check them out.]
Thirteen is an unlucky number for some; but not for Lemmy and co, on 1996’s ironically titled Overnight Sensation record. The record was released on Steamhammer and sees the band returning to a trio line-up after 2nd guitarist Wurzel left the group.
It was produced by Howard Benson, who also did the previous two records and sounds top notch, crunchy, metallic, but still rock n’ roll enough for the band’s claims not to be a metal band to sort of be understandable (that’s a whole other can of worms though).
Tracks like the speedy opening 1-2 punch of ‘Civil War’ and ‘Crazy Like A Fox’ really slam, and the catchy ‘Love Can’t Buy You Money’ is very memorable. ‘Them Not Me’ features some brilliant drum work and ‘Listen To Your Heart’ finishes the album out with some acoustic guitar work. At 41 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there are no real weak link tracks or filler.
As with almost all Motorhead albums (with the exception of maybe On Parole and March Or Die) it is fast, hard, blunt and greasy. They know what the audience want and how to give it to them. Some people will tell you only Motorhead with Fast Eddie and Philthy’ Phil are worth listening to, but this is an album that blows that viewpoint out of the water.
2005’s The Strength, The Sound, The Songs is the debut album by the unique Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat. Released long before their international breakthrough and before former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano joined the band.
This is arguably the heaviest and least eclectic Volbeat album in the catalogue, and probably the least commercial too. Its also probably the only one in their catalogue without a guest appearance from an outside musician. In several ways it stands out from the rest of the catalogue.
That all being said, it is still sounds unarguably Volbeat through and through. For example; Michael Poulsen’s unmistakable Danzig meets Johnny Cash meets James Hetfield meets Elvis Presley voice came out of the gates fully formed. Catchy sing-alongs are still the order of the day. Basically; Apart from the more radio-hard rock moments which would appear with increasing frequency in future releases, much of the band’s trademark blend of styles are still present and accounted for.
Highlights include concert favourite ‘Pool Of Booze, Booze, Booza’ which rumbles along with stoner rock riffs and groove metal chug and highlights the band’s more metallic side, as well as the cover of Dusty Spingfield’s 1963 debut single ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’ which highlight’s the band’s fun side, and ‘Always, Wu’ which showcases the band’s Misfits loving, catchy, Woah-Woah filled Punk influenced side. (Try saying that three times fast).
Maybe not their best-selling, or most famous record, but a very strong debut, a sign of things to come, and heavier and more consistent record from start to finish than you may expect. Overall, If you like Volbeat, it’s a must have.