This was my first concert, gig or night out at all since the pandemic. I actually got the tickthts for this as a birthday gift in 2019!
Other bands who I had tickets for pre-pandemic, like WASP castagencelled their gigs, some postponed theirs until it wasn't possible for me to go anymore, with work or around the birth of my second son. One, I was just straight up was too anxious to go, having been stuck inside too long and I eneded up chickening-out and just giving the tickets away for free to a random fan on the internet.
I still didn't really feel ready for this gig yet either, and thought about cancelling many times... but the idea of it being a birthday gift, and of having the tickets for basically three years now, kind of made me feel obliged to go.
In the run up to the event, I had seen news peices about how Cardiff wasn't a good city for stadium gigs, with travel chaos and inadequate infastructure, people missing gigs due to being stuck in the car etc, which didn't help my trepidation any.
Despite me only living a 25 minute drive from Cardiff (35 until parked and out of the car), I only arrived at the stadium exactly 40 seconds before the band played their first song, having had a ridiculous commute with lots of shenanigans, including taking of 40 minutes to drive down a road no longer than 200m that I drive through in mere seconds any other time I visit the city, then getting to my usual car park to find it full (but the "full" sign is not visible until you already enter the building, thus being totally pointless, and condeming you to a 5 minute loop de loop to get back to the very start of the road, and thus sufffer another 40 minutes again to get down the same 200m you just drove).
After accidentally going down a one way street, missing my correct turn due to a psychotic taxi driver tailgaiting me too aggressively for me to safely turn, I then proceeded to get stuck in a residential street whilst trying to lose the taxi guy as any more beeping of his horn and I would probably get out of the car, murder him and end up in prison. After deciding prison didn't seem like the best option, I trued to do a 3 point turn in about 18 turns, then finally make my way to an alternative car park after some more shenanigans involving a train track, and finally hoof it across the city to the stadium.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, I walked out onto the stadium floor, and 40 seconds later, the band started playing.
The setlist was mostly drawn from their first 3 albums and their newest 2 albums, with approximately 3-4 songs from each, and then just 1 song each from LIFAD and Reise Reise, plus nothing from Rosenrot at all. Mostly hits and fan favourites, maybe 1-2 unexpected songs, but with a crowd this size that’s exactly the right call.
This was the first gig I had ever attended at the stadium, and I am not too impressed with it as a music venue. It is clearly a sports venue, and the flooring they put into it to protect the grass was weird, at the wrong angel, slippery, and made it hard to see the band as it felt like you were downhill, and hard to keep your footing (I saw so many people fall over compared to normal gigs in clubs and theaters, or even arenas). It definitely wasn’t the ideal place for a rowdy metal crowd who need firm footing.
That being said, the venue wasn’t all bad – the staff were very friendly and trained, the bathrooms were good, and best of all the sound was very good, probably the best thing about the stadium experience.
Rammstein’s pounding, simplsitic, mostly mid-tempo industrial style suits a big arena sound, its not too busy for the sound system. Big gigs often have poor sound, but I was very happy with this, I could hear every thing – every drum, every bass line, every guitar chord, every word.
As you have no doubt heard if you pay any attention to metal music, Rammstein put on a good stage show.
There were all sorts of things to make the show visually interesting. Lights, lazers, confetti, foam, explosions, sparks, flames, fireworks, a flamethrower-guitar, band members using different parts of the stage or an alternative stage at times, lots of props, an elevator, a treadmill, musicians going out into the crowd. Basically, it wasn’t low-effort.
Of course other bands do big shows too, in the last few years I’ve seen Alice Cooper and Ghost do props and confetti, Slayer‘s final tour did pretty good pyro, and Parkway Drive do the flames and sparks and elevator plus going out to a second stage and going in the crowd, Slipknot do the cool stage set and treadmill. I didn’t see it with my own eyes because I didn’t want to spend the money at the time with Vince Neil’s voice being bad and with me not having time off work, but I know Motley Crue do the flame-thrower (bass) guitar thing, you can see it on their The End DVD.
Rammstein was kind of like seeing all of that in one show. It didn’t quite seem like it was living up to the hype for the first few songs, they started off without much spectacle, but they built more and more over the course of the show, and by the time it went dark outside, and they played “Sonne” I was starting to think maybe this was at least bigger than anything I’ve seen.
The crowd were pretty decent where I was standing, no crowd-killing, everyone respecting eachother’s space, drunks and pot smokers just merry – not falling down or vommiting or fighting. Quite respectful of wheelchairs and mobility scooters too, which wasn’t always the case in previous gigs I’ve been to. The crowd didn’t seem full or sold-out, but there is a pandemic and the show was rescheduled twice, so they did well to have it quite full.
Because I was deliberately trying to hang back at a quite spot with lots of breathing room and space for pandemic reasons, and not getting up and sweaty, I didn’t really buy into the atmosphere of the gig, and it was mostly just an “ok” gig for me, rather than something amazing or life-changing, but the music was good, the sound was good, the stage show (if not something I’ve never seen before) was still good, and the band’s performance was pretty decent. They definitely put a lot of thought, planning and effort into it, and they did well to fill the size of the venue.
Was this the best show I have ever been to? No. Was it nice to be back at a concert after two years? Yeah, kind of, but I just worry I’ve contracted Covid after being so careful and avoidant for such a long time (time will tell). Would I go back to this stadium for any other band? Probably not, unless it was something really special that I couldn’t see anywhere else, like AC/DC maybe. Would I see Rammsteing again? Definitely, but only if it was in a better venue, in a city with better infastructure. If this same show was in the same place at the same time next year, I’d give it a miss (and I wouldn’t say that for Slipknot at the Motorpoint Arena for example).
The way home was luckily much less eventful and chaotic – just a nice orderly queue for a very long time, then a clear shot home. Once I got out of the city centre, I was arguably home faster than during my normal work day commute.
Had this have been in the Motorpoint Arena instead, or had it been in a pre-pandemic world, I probably would give it an absolutely gushing rave review, but all the stress and the feelings or risk and the subpar venue took a little bit of the rose tint away for me personally.
Don’t get me wrong though, great band and I’m glad I went, I’ll probably just not be in the mood for this sort of thing the same sort of way I used to be for another year or two. I’m currently debating whether to go to any gigs at all this year (there are some tempting ones, like Machine Head, Parkway Drive and Volbeat coming to Cardiff at various points this year) but I’m still a bit uncomfortable being outdoors or in crowds at present.
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.”
Its getting to that time of the year where normally I’d make an album of the year list. However; this year I haven’t been buying many new releases, focusing more on boxsets of older bands and filling in missing pieces in my existing music collection. That or discovering bands for the first time. For example, even though I bought one album by them each back when I lived in Manchester, I never really got into Aerosmith or Alice Cooper properly until this year. I also expanded my Thin Lizzy collection to include the seminal Live And Dangerous and all their studio albums after Black Rose which was my previous cut off point. I’ve also been toying with getting into Opeth for years and years, but this year is the year I finally bought a bunch of their albums myself and actually clicked with them.
Anyway; with not enough new releases bought or listened to, I can’t exactly make a convincing or well informed list of 2019’s best albums, so I thought I’d focus on the decade overall instead. Its been an interesting decade personally as well as musical. I started the decade as a single tram conductor in a seaside town in Northern England, and ended the decade as a husband and father in Wales with an actual career. In terms of media, I went from only owning a few comics that were gifts, to having read thousands, from never having heard a podcast to having listened to one every week for 9 years, and from thinking blogs were silly to having written this one for nearly a decade.
Another interesting thing with this decade is that I started using LastFm to track what I listen to in mid-2011, and I had a nice milestone recently, when I found out I had listened to over a quarter of a million songs since starting using LastFM. That’s a lot of music. This year has also been the year of the most listens since joining.
What follows next is a list of what I’ve been listening to, and then a list of my albums-of-the-decade…
Part 1. What I’ve Been Listening To This Decade:
Here’s a round up of my most listened to artists of this year:
Some interesting things here. Volbeat have been my in-the-car band for most of the year, but I didn’t realise just how much music I listened to in the car. Slipknot have skyrocketed back to near top position this year, with the new album and all the surrounding excitement, as have Motley Crue with their The Dirt movie coming out and renewing my interest. Then next up are bands I got boxsets from, like Annihilator, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper (and to the lesser extent, ZZ Top). The rest is a mixture of new faces and old favourites. There’s some Hair Metal, Thrash Metal, Classic Rock and even a few Death Metal and Indie bands.
Next up, a list of my most listened to artists since joining LastFM in 2011 (close enough to the whole decade that it gives a good picture):
Over the decade as a whole, the list is more what I expected, with favourite bands like Queensryche, Slipknot, Saxon and Helloween (who thank God, I’ve got concert tickets for next year, doing another United Alive set with Kai and Kiske back in the band, hell yeah!) at the top.
Volbeat are surprisingly high given that I only got into them at Download Festival 2018, so the majority of their listens are from this year alone.
C.O.C and Protest The Hero, while high enough, feel like they should be a bit higher still, given that I like them more than some of the bands that I listened to more often, but I guess they have fewer albums than the likes of Judas Priest and AC/DC.
Part 2. My ‘Albums Of The Decade’ List:
20. Saxon – Thunderbolt (2018) – To be honest I was struggling to decide whether to include either both this and Battering Ram or either this and Battering Ram and it was quite a toss up, but in the end I wanted to include 20 different bands and not just show too much bias for one band. Its difficult to put such a recent album in the list, that has to cover a whole decade, but one listen to ‘And They Played Rock And Roll’ and that thought is gone from my mind. Saxon have been too good for too long that you can use terms like comeback, but this record and the one before it are just marvelous.
19. Helloween – Seven Sinners (2010) – I only got into Helloween after this album came out, but as you can see above they have become one of my favourite bands. This is probably their best album in the 2nd half of their career, with the most metallic guitar tone, but not afraid to have a flute solo. Fun and satisfying both. There’s plenty of great material on here. Check out ‘Where The Sinners Go’ and ‘If A Mountain Could Talk.’
18. Ghost – Meliora (2015) – Before this album came out, I was a Ghost skeptic. I thought it was all gimmick, no substance. I also expected a Black Metal band given Papa’s image. After this album came out I was a convert for sure, finally understanding what the band were going for. It varies day to day whether I prefer this album, the more metallic debut, or the more ‘70s sounding Prequelle, but I feel like this one may have the best set of songs. If only ‘Square Hammer’ was on this album instead of a nearby EP. Then it would be even higher on this list.
17. Lamb Of God – Resolution (2012) – Not as good as their previous record Wrath, but still good enough to make it on my albums-of-the-decade list. There’s a great mix of Groove-focused ‘Redneck’ clones, a grand semi-progressive closer, a doomy concussive intro, and even a Sex-Pistols referencing speedster. Highlights include ‘To The End,’ ‘Ghost Walking’ and ‘Desolation.’ History hasn’t been too kind to this record, but given how much of it they still play live, I’m glad the band still believe in it.
16. Accept – Stalingrad (2012) – The album before it introduced new singer Mark Tornillo, formerly of TT Quick, but this was the album where everything gelled. Brilliant songs, brilliant production, great fired-up performance. I guess I am a bit sentimental about it as it was the first new Accept album in my time as a fan, but there’s more to it than just personal attachment. This is pure heavy metal perfection. There’s nothing flashy, no gimmicks, but you can’t argue with the quality of the material.
15. Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (2016) – The band were on a roll with the last two albums, and then this one evolves it even further. I flip flop between favouring this album, or the previous one, Lost Together // Lost Forever, as this one has more passion and feels more like an artistic triumph, and the other has more bangers and catchier tunes (in context, for a band as techy as this, catchy is a relative term).
14. Queensryche – Queensryche (2013) – I also could have included their The Verdict album from this year, which has some higher highs, but this one is more consistent all the way through. There’s just something about these songs that really chimes with me. When Todd sings that ‘’with God as my witness’’ bit in ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ I get chills nearly every time. I have no time for people who don’t give Toddryche a chance. I like albums like Tribe and American Soldier, but I love this album. Comeback of the decade? Quite possibly.
13. Black Country Communion – S/T (2010) – Its hard to choose a favourite BCC album as they are a very consistent band and everything they’ve done has been gold. However, this one has probably the best set of songs of the lot. Opening with ‘Black Country’ and going into ‘One Last Soul’ next is almost criminal! Leave some talent for the rest of us.
12. Mastodon – The Hunter (2012) – Mastodon’s most commercial, catchy and instantaneous album. The four albums before it are better. However that’s only because Mastodon are one of the greatest bands out there. If this was a band’s debut album, the media and fans would loose their absolute shit over this. Its not just all comerical and accessible though, it is quite an ecclectic release too. If a band can put ‘Curl Of The Burl’ ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Creature Lives’ all on one record, you’re onto a damn special band there.
11. Rishloo – Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth (2014) – Speaking of special bands; Rishloo are a truly special band. Seattle’s answer to Tool, but so much more. After they broke up, I was pretty bummed out. The reunion album was one of the better reunion albums I’ve ever heard. A perfect continuation of the band’s legacy and the introduction of some of their finest material to date. Tracks like ‘Dark Charade’ ‘Winslow’ and especially ‘Just A Ride’ are perfect examples of what make this band stand out from the crowd. There’s just something magical about this band when they really let loose. The fact that this band are not millionaires is one of the greatest crimes in music. Manowar once sand ‘’If you’re not into Metal, you are not my friend.’’ Quite often I feel like if you aren’t into Rishloo, you are not in your right mind.
10. Trivium – The Sin And The Sentence (2017) – Pure and simple, this is Trivium’s best album. The best production, the best drumming, and the best fired up, ‘’balls out, let’s just go for it’’ performance. This is the sound of a band playing the fuck out of songs they believe in. Ascendancy may be their equivalent to ‘Burn My Eyes’ but this is their ‘The Blackening.’
09. Volbeat – Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013) – I haven’t been into the band for long enough to feel like I have the right to include them on this list, but damn, just look at how much Volbeat I’ve listened to this year, I’d say I am catching up quickly enough. Choosing a favourite album is tough, as I came to the band late when they have so many albums and all of them are so good and all my favourite songs are scattered across all of them. I also more often listen to the band more on shuffle than I do listen to them on an album basis, which makes it even harder. However, when I think of Volbeat, I think of standing in the Summer sun, listening to ‘’a little tale about a shady lady called Lola’’ (as track ‘Lola Montez’ was introduced live, the song that made me fall in love with the band). To top that off, this album has everything, from the groovier metal track ‘Dead But Rising,’ as well as the speedier metal track ‘Black Bart’ and the King Diamond influenced and guest-featuring track ‘Room 24’ in addition to big commercial hard rock moments in ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ and country flavoured ‘Lonesome Rider.’ There’s a bit of everything here, and some very high highlights.
08. Killswitch Engage – Disarm The Descent (2013) – So many concert favourites. Many singles. A great mixture of the heaviness and aggression of the early days, and the melody and songcraft of the Howard Jones era, arguably eclipsing any album from either previous era. A damn fine album, with some of the band’s all-time best songs on it; ‘In Due Time’ ‘The Turning Point’ ‘The New Awakening’ and ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’ I mean, damn, that’s more 10/10 songs in one album than some bands have in a career. Along with Clutch below, the album on this list that feels the most like a greatest hits compilation.
07. Creeper – Eternity In Your Arms (2017) – Best debut album I have heard in a long time. This album is a fiendishly catchy mix of drama, melancholy and fun. Perhaps a bit too emo-laced for most of my readers to get into, but with amazing song-writing, surprising depth & complexity, and very lively performances. Astounding vocal diversity and damn catchy choruses to boot! So good I played some Creeper at my wedding! If you don’t know this band, but like any pop punk or emo, do yourself a big favour and check out ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Black Rain.’
06. Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014) – Its hard to disentangle the music from the story behind this. The concept very much in tune with what was going on in singer/guitarist Laura Jane Grace’s real life. It feels kind of cheap to talk about bravery or try and explain what she must have been going through, but it is difficult to talk about just how superb the lyrics and vocals are without doing so.
‘Black Me Out’ for example, is one of the best vocal performances of anyone in this list, for its sheer raw emotion and pure honesty. I’ve never heard more anger and disappointment and raging against the machine in one song. Listen to the audiobook of her autobiography, especially the bits about the therapist and the blacking out of the old tattoos, then listen to this song, and you’ll be moved near to tears. It also helps that the music is 10/10 perfection. That drum fill on the title track is more fun than any Green Day album this decade.
05. Machine Head – Unto The Locust (2012) – It must have been difficult following up The Blackening, which is rightly seen as an absolute classic nowadays. That album saw such a serious turnaround in the band’s public perception, and was one of their most musically accomplished works to date. I’ve been a Machine Head fan almost as long as I’ve been a Metal fan, and The Blackening absolutely blew my mind when it was new. But The Blackening isn’t even my favourite Machine Head album, and that’s because they managed to write something even better, they managed to write Unto The Locust. ‘Darkness Within’ is such a memorable and emotive track. Album closer ‘Who We Are’ after a questionable children’s choir intro, is a Manowar-referencing red blooded heavy metal odyssey. Opener ‘I Am Hell’ manages to marry the speedy and the mid paced parts of The Blackening and congeal them into one track that covers it all. The title track is still the song I want to hear the most live out of any song in their discography. I think the album’s real success is that there are only eight tracks, all of which are necessary. There’s no fat, no filler.
04. Letlive – Fake History (2011) – Definitely one of the more unique albums on this list. I’ve heard it described as a mixture between Glassjaw, Old Dirty Bastard and Michael Jackson. I mean, I wouldn’t have used those reference points myself, but all I know as it is one of the most memorably, hooky, well constructed and explosive albums I’ve heard in recent years and there is a damn good reasons its looked upon as a modern classic. Masterpiece is an understatement.
03. Protest The Hero – Scurrilous (2011) – Sometimes Protest The Hero get a bit of a ‘the wacky band’ tag because of their on stage banter, music videos and Roddy’s personality in interviews, but when it comes to music, they are dead serious. Definitely the most progressive album on this list, no one has ever made music that sounds like this before. People have made technical metal before, people have made prog metal before, people have made metalcore before, but there is no one out there that sounds like Protest The Hero. My favourite album from these unique Canadians is the superb concept album Kezia, but that wasn’t released this decade. My next favourite album is the diverse and eclectic third album, Scurrilous. There are more ideas per song here than many bands have on the first side of an album. There isn’t one weak track here, it’s a whole album of solid gold, but highlights include the very impressive ‘Sex Tapes,’ the lyrically captivating ‘Cest La Vie’ and the powerful ‘Dunsel.’ I can’t say enough about this underrated genius of a band. Please check them out if you haven’t yet.
02. Clutch – Earth Rocker (2013) – Clutch are one of the best bands on the planet, and they have a broad and varied discography that covers a lot of musical ground, with many fingers in many musical pies. However, I always like them best when they are focused and rocking hard. Earth Rocker sees the band at their most laser beam focused, and is arguably the hardest rocking album of their whole career. What is not to love. Every song on here is a banger. This has more quality songs than most greatest hits albums. Anthemic and raw in equal measure, with so much fun and personality, and one of the best lyricists in the game. A real treasure of an album, from a real treasure of a band. If you don’t own this, fix that as soon as you can!
01. Parkway Drive – Ire (2015) – Before this album, PWD were one of the better bands in the subgenre. On this album, PWD became one of the best bands in the world. There are songs on this record that will never not be one of my favourite songs, for the rest of time. The sheer amount of all time unarguable classic tracks on this is damn near criminal. How can one band write something as brutal as ‘Crushed’ as catchy as ‘Vice Grip’ and as interesting as ‘Writings On The Wall’ on just one album? How can they come up with the venomous ‘Destroyer’ and the pounding ‘Dying To Believe’ in the same writing sessions as the heroic sounding ‘A Deathless Song’ ? How can a band with a vocalist who never sang clean before this record have such a varied vocal approach just all of a sudden? How can a band who were originally marketed to me as a decent Killswitch clone, suddenly turn in a better modern metal album than Slipknot or Machine Head did this decade?
(Honourable mentions to the new Slipknot album, which probably deserves to be here but as I’ve not had it long enough I don’t feel I can include it yet, and Fear Factory’s Genexus, which was in here before I counted properly and realised I actually had made 21 entries).
Corrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.
The celebrated and arguably most popular line up (the Pepper-in-charge on from the mid 90s-early ’00s) reunited recently and toured the globe with incredible reunion shows and now the time has finally come for them to put out some new music together. Its probably one of my most anticipated albums in a very long time. What on earth could it possibly sound like?
Well, the first track is a slow instrumental Sludge intro, bringing immediately to mind the Blind era. Next comes the third single, ‘The Luddite’ which is almost indistinguishable from the style on their Doom-focused In The Arms Of God album from 2005, which is interesting to hear with Reed Mullin on drums. It totally works. Speaking of that album, the creepy-ass title track here might remind you of a certain dark semi-acoustic track from there too.
Like their seminal Deliverance album, there are a few instrumental interludes and mood pieces sprinkled throughout. The first two singles, ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Cast The First Stone’ hark back to the Wiseblood sound, recalling hits like ‘Long Whip/Big America’ or ‘King Of The Rotten’ in a certain specific way that the instruments interact with each other and with the production style (by John Custer, who did Wiseblood too!) leaving the space at the end of sections and sounding very organic and Jammed-out-in-a-rehearsal-room, if you know what I mean. ‘Little Man’ has a very characterful and southern-fried sound, reminiscent of the under-rated 2000 album, America’s Volume Dealer, only without the over-polished production.
So far, so great. Towards the end, there are a also few slower, sludgy, dragged-out pieces that hearken back to both ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.’ It just wouldn’t be a C.O.C album without mixing in something slow and dirty sounding towards the end, would it now?
The overall feeling is a mixture of all the Pepper-era albums, with a warm and very earthy production. It doesn’t stand out as an immediate drop-everything, earth-shattering revelation, but it is a very welcome return (although they were never really that gone recently, and I’d still love if they threw ‘Demark Vessey’ or ‘Tarquinious Superbus’ into the setlist nowadays too!) that gets better with repeat listens. If you walk in expecting to be blown away like the first time you heard Deliverance you might be disappointed, but if you go in with realistic expectations you’ll find a very solid and rewarding album. My favourite track on the album is ‘Forgive Me’ which has a sort of Thin Lizzy vibe to its hook, but a very metallic breakdown, and Pepper’s vocals are very exaggerated and full of character like they were on ‘Volume Dealer.
To top it all off, there’s a cover of Queen’s very heavy and Sabbathy debut album deep-cut, ‘Son And Daughter’ and it really, really suits C.O.C’s sound. I remember Iron Monkey covering it in the past and it is a very suitable track for this end of the Rock & Metal spectrum. I know people imagining ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘I Want To Break Free’ might raise an eyebrow, but Queen’s debut was a lot heavier than you remember. For Stoner, Doom or Sludge bands it is a natural fit.
In summary; without disrespecting the fine work of the trio line-up, its nice to have the four guys from Deliverance through to ‘Volume Dealer back playing together again with their unique chemistry. The album is pretty diverse, with a nice mix of fast and slow, clean and dirty, stoner and doom, sludge and hard rock, atmospheric and immediate. The production job is perfect and there’s a fairly decent proportion of the tracks would make it into any fan’s future dream setlists or best-of playlists. If you don’t immediately do a spit-take and have heart-shaped eyeballs the very first time you hear it though, don’t worry, it grows on you.
What an album! Crushing beatdowns, catchy fun memorable sing-alongs, twin guitar widdly joy, it’s a surprising and bold move from a band who already perfected their formula, but now seem somehow even better. I didn’t even fully expect it to be my AOTY but it just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. Monumental!
Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Tell me motherfucker how the hell do you sleep at night’ as well as ‘Now snap your neck to this’ and ‘…and we all go to heaven in a little row boat.’
Chocked full of catchy and memorable moments that I’ll remember for years, this album sees the band further distance themselves from the past but in an organic and logical way. This thing just sticks in your head. Its masterful.
Its surprising how well Ollie can sing nowadays. Also, I don’t care if they’re childish, the lyrics to ‘Throne’ are awesome.
Highlight moments: The whole of the songs ‘Doomed’ and ‘Throne.’
“Oh… I hope Clutch stay focused after Earth Rocker” I found myself thinking…. ‘av some of that Psychic Warfare replied as it slapped me in the chops with exactly what I wanted. Razor sharp, not a wasted second, just as good as always but never-been-tighter focused, Psychic Warfare is the right move at the right time and I hope it pays off for the band like the last one did.
Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘It goes against my catholic upbringing, I admit it…’
Their best, most exciting release in years. The very opposite of bland; Genexus just gets everything right and perfectly blends everything the band do, creating a real career highlight, possibly their second or third best ever!
Highlight moments: The first few seconds of ‘Soul Hacker’ smashing you in the face.
5. Tesseract – Polaris
I was always going to be harsh on this because I loved their previous singer Ashe O’Harra so much, and because Altered State is a genuine masterpiece and in my eyes one of the best albums of the last decade. Even with the weight of those unreasonable expectations Tesseract still managed to make an album this good. That’s talent!
Is it just me or is the guitar to the verse in ‘Island’ straight off of Permission To Land? What’s all that about? Anyway…dropping the sci-fi doesn’t seem to have harmed the band one bit… As usual, if Coheed release an album its one of the best albums anyone released that year.
Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Where’s My Life-saver When I’m Screaming Danger’ and the drums to ‘The Audience’ as well as the lyric ‘And if there’s one good thing that comes from my away it’s that you won’t be anything like me, and so better for it you will be’ and the music to the intro of ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid.’
Highlight moment: ‘The Arrow Of Time’ in its entirety, the guitar solo In ‘Bulletproof’ and the ending to the title-track.
8. Baroness – Purple
Maybe not as earth-shattering and game changing as its predecessor Yellow&Green (and how could it be, reasonably?), but Baroness’ attempt to create a better version of Mastodon’s Once More Round The Sun is a damn strong album, those Lizzy-esque guitars make me weak at the knees!
Its maybe a bit unfairly placed seeing as how recent it was, so I’ve not listened to it anywhere near as much as the others on the list, but I was always disappointed that Mudvayne’s self titled album missed many AOTY lists due to its late-in-the-year release, so I won’t let that happen here.
Highlight moment: The entire song ‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)’ in every way.
Its arguably just another Helloween album… so in my eyes that means its an absolute gem! All Hail the pumpkins, as they say in Germany (I assume).
This makes up for their previous album missing out on my AOTY list when I got it too late.
Highlight moment: Deris’ vocal performance on ‘If God Loves Rock N Roll’
10. Periphery – Juggernaut Alpha
I still don’t feel like I’ve fully gotten into this album, plummed all its depths, or really had it click with me yet, but the fact that its still here shows you how good it is. I haven’t researched the concept behind it, or seen songs live and both of those things always make me like an album more so you definitely haven’t heard the last from me on this! This, this weird jazzy, proggy, deathy, emoey, unpredictable melting pot. What, me wearing a Periphery t-shirt to work regularly… never! (shifty eyes).
Highlight moments: The music and vocal delivery of the parts ‘As the water beats upon the window turn the sad song up on the radio” and “Fuck me I am dying for sleep!”
I couldn’t fit some interesting records like F5DP and Lamb Of God’s newest efforts (or Periphery’s other album from this year, two-album-releasing blaggards!), and I haven’t even heard some pretty important ones like Maiden, Saxon and Faith No More’s latest so its not maybe what the average listener’s Top 10 may be… but this is my blog and I’m me, so you didn’t come here to ask what I thought other people’s top 10 might be (presumably).
Also, I thought my number 1 would be Rishloo’s latest but they changed the official release date to its early pre-release date of December 2014 so it didn’t technically come out this year. I was torn over whether to include it anyway or not. So, I’ll retroactively name it my number 1 of last year, because …that sort of thing totally matters to anyone, obviously.
What surprised me was that The Libertines and The Fratellis both had new albums and neither made my Top 10. The Libertines are one of my favourite ever bands and I was an absolute obsessive at one point on all the forums and fansites listening to every single demo, scratch track and live bootleg ever, I’ve been a member of bands that cover their songs, I’ve had a poster of theirs on my wall for years (until this year when I finally moved into my I’m-an-adult apartment with my partner, as a matter of fact) but yeah, this new album didn’t make the top… guess the rest of the years releases were just too good. You’re ok, Anthems Of The Doomed Youth, but you aint no Psychic Warfare! …The Fratellis is trickier, as I think I’ve listened to it more than most of my Top 10, and I think really it might have a good claim to edge Periphery out but the choruses of its two best songs are soooo good they elevate the album as a whole crazily high. Still… ‘(Imposters) Little By Little’ is a song that I’ll never grow tired of. Such a difficult choice.
Top 10s of the year are just top 10s of new releases though….and I didn’t just spend the year listening to new releases…. My actual yearly top 10 would have Stairway To Fairyland, Shout At The Devil, Out Of The Cellar & Detonator, Smash, and several other non-2015 releases in it. I mean, I spent almost the entire spring and summer listening to Slipknot’s newest album almost every day on the way to work.
Hey but at least I’m not broke and can afford some new releases, last year I was so broke I only bought about four new releases and couldn’t make a top 10 list. Anyway, for further reading see my previous year end articles:
FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 78: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy
I think my usual long intro for these articles is too long so I’ve condensed it from here-on to this simpler version:
Forward 1: This is not a review, but a stream of consciousness written as I hear something for the first time. It’ll be subjective, personal opinions and un-researched speculation. The tone goes for fun rather than informative.
Forward 2: If you wonder what I’m talking about you can stream anything I reference on websites like Spotify nowadays and read about anything I reference on databases like Wikipedia.
Forward 3: Everyone is a nerd about something. Maybe its Heavy Metal, maybe its football, maybe its beauty products and grooming tips but we all get our nerditidy from somewhere, whether or not society currently thinks its nerdy or not right now.
So; today I find myself listening to the third studio album by Yngwie J. Malmsteen, a nine-track record from 1986 entitled “Trilogy” with very Targarian looking album art and featuring in the line-up not only the titular Swede but also the very talented Jens Johansson who later went on to join Stratovarius to awesome results.
I have no idea what to expect… I have heard the name Yngwie Malmsteen bandied-about before (was he the guy who said “you have unleashed the fucking fury” on an airplane??) by people citing great guitar players, and I half-remember that he helped popularize the neoclassical guitar style in Heavy Metal (alongside of course Ritchie Blackmore and the late Randy Rhodes) but other than that I’m a blank slate.
Is it instrumental? Is it heavy? Is it Rock or Metal? …I have no idea. Let’s find out together…
“You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget” energetically bursts the record open, with bright shiny ’80s keyboards and some chugging NWOBHM-esque guitar stabs. Seconds later and it sounds like I’m listening to Dio’s classic Holy Diver album. Hey…speaking of which, the vocals (ah, so there ARE vocals?) come in and what’s this? The guy sounds massively like Ronnie himself! Is that Ronnie?
Hmmm… a quick sly look on Wikipedia reveals its someone called Mark Boals…. My oh my, I feel like I did when I heard Eric Adam’s name for the first time.
Oh hey! A guitar solo kicks in… hmmm that IS a nice guitar solo… and I’m a sucker for a good guitar solo…oh and hey before the end there’s plenty more guitar soloing.
Then Foghat’s ‘Coming On Down The Line’ plays because I forgot to unselect ‘shuffle’ in my iTunes. Its got a nice boogie, I have to admit, but its not strictly relevant so I’m going to have to stop listening to it and get back to the matter at hand.
Next comes ‘Liar’ which opens up with one of those great gallop parts like ‘Aces High’ by Iron Maiden or ‘The Needle Lies’ by Queensryche. When the vocals come in there’s a sort of feel like Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’ (oh Hey… DIDN’T DIO SING ON THAT?) but with a nice NWOBHM-y chug underneath. This song is right up my alley. Then hey, when he says the word ‘Liar’ the song jumps a bit into a syrupy Power Metal mould for just a second and the whole mixture together is intoxicatingly perfect. I imagine this album was probably an influence to some of the early Power Metal pioneers for sure. Wow… its like listening to Tygers Of Pan Tang’s ‘Gangland’ along with ‘The Needle Lies’ and ‘Stargazer’ at the same time, and then at the break when all the neoclassical guitar heroics break in its like a big slice of Stratovarius pie as well! Then when the actual guitar solo follows it sounds so fresh and unique and unlike anybody else that I feel all nice and warm inside.
The next song comes on and its is pure shimmering 80s Dio. Are we sure iTunes didn’t shuffle again and actually stick on Sacred Heart? Nope? OK. This one is called ‘The Queen Is In Love’ and its amazing. I feel like I’ve heard it before. It sounds like it would’ve been on Grand Theft Auto Vice City.
Guitarwise, I think Yngwie is even further down the neoclassical spiral than Randy or Ritchie are. A lot further. Its cool that its on such a nice ’80s Metal record though. I thought it might’ve just been pagganini lines on an electric guitar but not actual songs and not heavy or catchy on the rhythm section. I like how they throw in double-kicks for the last verse of the song, I always like when a song will do that.
‘Crying’ comes next and really reminds me of Dream Theater ballads for some reason. Will it be a ballad? There’s some nice clean guitar. It’s a bit softer. The keys remind me of Hammerfall album closers, especially ‘Glory To The Brave.’
Two minutes in and still no vocals. Not a ballad per sae but rather a slightly softer instrumental. Not brushes-instead of drumsticks levels of soft though. It sounds like the music in a movie’s credits. Vague as that could be literally anything… but its what the song makes me visualize.
Then next he unleashes the fucking fury so to speak, in as much as the next song is called ‘Fury.’ It starts off with a nice ‘The Needle Lies’ sort of drumbeat… but the music sounds a bit more like Iron Maiden’s ‘Invaders’ than ‘Aces High’ if you need a Maiden reference point (because of course you do, right?). The keyboards dampen the heaviness a bit, and the vocals, though still Dio-esque are a little less biting so it feels like a laid back kind of heaviness. Then the guitars and keyboards dual in the way great Power Metal often does and it is delicious. I like this drummer, wonder who he is?
Hey hey, wait up… the drummer is Anders Johansson out’ve Hammerfall? Well I’ll be a son of a paladin! I had no idea. That is a nice bit of business. Hey, this record has members of Stratovaris and Hammerfall on it? If I’d known that I’d probably have tried it out quicker!
Next up is ‘Fire’ which is very much the kind of song that is the most-commercial song on a Dio album. It REALLY sounds like the 80s due to the keyboard sound… it feels like it’d be in the soundtrack to an 80s movie and by extension sounds hugely like GTA Vice City again. I can imagine competing against the rich preppy kids as a poor but determined underdog in a Ski Tournament in a montage to this song. Side note: A lot of these songs just fade out and don’t have a specific ending.
‘Magic Mirror’ follows. I’m getting more Dio, it’s a mix between the Speed Metal ones and the commercial ones. It doesn’t have the Maiden/Queensryche thing of the other two I mentioned. Its Still pretty Dio sounding though. And yes, after a period there’s a nice fat slice o’ neoclassical. The guitar solo in this one is wonderful, if brief, sort of that Black Label Society paradox where the band famous for guitar would be expected to really have mostly guitar solos but it isn’t the case. Nice song though, catchy, fun, easily digestible but Metallic enough to satisfy that urge as well. Its like a halfway point between Cacophony’s Speed Metal Synmphony and Ozzy’s first four solo albums.
Next up is ‘Dark Ages’ and it’s slower. I don’t know if its going the ‘epic’ route or the doomy route. I think it might be a bit like ‘Egypt (The Chains Are On)’ where it’s the ‘epic’ route without the bells and whistles, and only a regular length. A similar example would be Exodus’ ‘Like Father, Like Son’ which you imagine lasts ten minutes but it really doesn’t… or a modern example would be Trivium’s ‘And Sadness Will Sear.’
Its not an especially memorable song, but towards the end, when the song starts fading out, there’s a really nice guitar part that is pretty entertaining.
The album closes with ‘Trilogy Suite Op 5’ which has an unwieldy title but a nice guitar intro that actually reminds me of the aforementioned Speed Metal Symphony, up until the drums kick in with a sort of shuffle that reminds me more of Saxon’s ‘A Little Bit Of What You Fancy’ and ‘This Town Rocks.’ This song seems to be 7 minutes of solid guitar solos (and instrumental, and much more neoclassical focused) and in that respect is exactly what I expected from the album (I never figured all that Dio stuff would be on it, but lots of guitar solos is exactly what I predicted).
Side note, the drums are excellent, all the fills and little touches with the ride’s bell are right up my street. Oh wait, what’s this… it goes the ‘2112’ route and stops the rock in the middle for some quiet acoustic guitar! Its remarkably well done. At 2.51 it comes back to rock and boy what a fun riff! Nice and bouncy! At this point its not too dissimilar from Michael Schenker Group at times but then there’s also great heavy guitar that’d be happier with Dave Mustaine than Mr. Schenker, but again the keys dampen it so you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking.
I really like this last song. Heck, I like the album rather a lot… Its like if the Europe song ‘Ninja’ was a whole album… but that album wasn’t The Final Countdown.
No… I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore… I’m going to bed.
Rishloo – Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth
Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth is the crowd-funded reunion album from the incredible Seattle Progressive band Rishloo. Its their fourth full-length album overall and sees the band back together now that singer Andrew Mailloux has returned to the fold and the other bandmembers changed their separate crowd-funded new instrumental band The Ghost Apparatus back into Rishloo. Its been an interesting wait as a fan, but I won’t bury the lead… that wait was well worth it!
Consisting of just eight tracks with no intros, outros or hidden bonuses, this is the bands most succinct and concise offering to date, but you can file that under fat-free and lean rather than skimping on extras.
Stylistically; if you haven’t heard the band before, they are often compared to bands like Tool, A Perfect Circle, Coheed & Cambria, The Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, Soen, Dredg, Fair To Midland, Jurojin, Cog, Karnivool, Circe, The Mayan Factor and others. No single comparison there really does justice to what you can actually expect, but if you understand the sort of common theme between all of those bands you can at least expect the right ballpark. On top of that, Rishloo are also constantly developing and evolving, and no two of their albums sound that much alike because they progress and change over time (while always retaining a certain core identity where you can still tell its them straight away) so even their own catalogue doesn’t necessarily train you for what to expect here. This album is stylistically a million miles from their 2004 debut Terras Fames, but in a way that makes sense and feels logical.
In that spirit, Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth is no simple retreading of their back catalogue, nor any attempt to sound like someone else. On this album Rishloo sound like nobody but Rishloo. Even the previous Tool comparisons bounce limply off this album like wooden arrows off a tank. Hints is all you get, the rest is new. This record sees the band mix things up even more and explore different sounds, textures and combinations. Drew tries out new voices and styles he hasn’t used before, such as the deranged sounding heavy vocals in the middle of ‘Winslow.’ There are guitar styles a past fan wouldn’t expect. Things that only came up once on a previous album are given more time.
The rhythms are more disjointed and jarring. There’s even more playing in uncommon time signatures and switching between tempos; opener ‘The Great Rain Beatle’ is particularly jagged, its unhinged and yet hypnotic like some psychedelic nightmare and makes Mars Volta comparisons more understandable… its like the most jagged parts of ‘Scissorlips’ made into an entire song. So too is the jazzier single ‘Landmines’ in its heavier sections. Although that being said, towards the end from the guitar solo onwards that kicks into some beautiful, straightforward head-banging energy.
There are also more hints of classic ‘70s Progressive Rock here than there have been on previous albums, to the point where (deep and hidden) you get feelings of almost Tales Of Topographic Oceans era Yes sounds at some stages (such as the middle of ‘Dark Charade’), and the intro to ‘Salutations’ reminds me a little of Pink Floyd’s ‘Hey You’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ updated through some Radiohead and Deftones filters. There’s also five-second bursts of King Crimson influence all over the place in spidery Fripp-esque guitar runs crammed in there every now and again by the underrated Dave Gillet. None of it is overt though, its subtle, bubbling under the surface. Hints.
Its difficult to pick album highlights in such a well-crafted, concise and consistent body of work; ‘Dark Charade’ for example has THAT riff, and afterwards kicks off into an exciting build-up that feels like the sequel to ‘Downhill’ off of the previous record and ‘Dead Rope Machine’ is just so unique, its like every song has its own identity and something completely singular to offer. Gun-to-my-head I’d have to recommend that you check out ‘Winslow’ (which people who followed the whole Ghost Apparatus period might recognize) and ‘Just A Ride’ as your tester-songs to see whether or not you’d like the album. Jesse’s drums on those two are particularly excellent. ‘Just A Ride’ is the absolute perfect ending to this roller-coaster of an album and features the defining lyrics of this whole saga. That said, the whole thing works so well as a single journey that I almost feel bad picking favourites.
There are some things you can always count on Rishloo for; Firstly – interesting, poetic, provocative, intriguing lyrics. Secondly – powerful, emotional, evocative vocal performances. There’s also always interesting, spiraling, unexpected music that will defy initial expectations but feel ‘right’ once you’re used to it. Furthermore you can count on a certain arty air of mystique and most of all, quality songwriting depth that means you never get sick of the tracks, they just get better and better with each listen. Considering all these aspects, this new album is no exception to the rule, no misstep and no weak one in the set. This album has it all; whimsy, brooding, passion, intensity, subtlety, power, aggression, chilled out moments, virtuosic moments and scaled-back serve-the-song-not-the-player moments. Its got a strong sense of diversity yet feels like one cohesive whole throughout and a single journey (or ‘ride’) from start to glorious finish.
If you are a fan of the band then you unquestionably need this satisfying grower of an album. That may be a bit of a redundant sentiment but it’s the absolute truth; I know that if you are an existing fan of the band then you probably crowd funded The Ghost Apparatus or pre-ordered the record already and got rewarded with early access downloads, so recommending it to you seems like preaching to the choir… but if you haven’t checked out the band yet, or were waiting for the reviews then by all means please do give this a chance. This album is just as good as their previous work and if you give it enough spins to reveal its subtleties and hidden depths you will be greatly rewarded.
Oh, and if you enjoy it make sure to go back and check out the rest of their records too!
*** Side note: If you are a regular reader of this blog and generally agree with most of my taste in music, or like any of the comparison-bands, you can consider checking out this band as a personal favour to me. That’s how much I recommend them! ***
Fair To Midland – Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True
The major label debut by the Texan Progressive/Alterative Rock band Fair To Midland; 2007’s cumbersomely titled Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True, drew public attention to the underground band when it was released on System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian’s Serjical Strike record label.
The album; produced by David Bottrill (of Tool, Muse, King Crimson, Dream Theater and Mudvayne fame), sees the band in an experimental mood, mixing touches of electronic music, Progressive Rock, Metal and hints of country music and bluegrass, with large doses of Alternative Rock, and turning it all into a single, cohesive whole. For the most part they manage to squeeze all this into succinct yet multifaceted four-minute tracks that work as catchy rock songs on one level and display hidden depths on closer inspection.
The lyrics concentrate on fairytale themes, old sayings and a general feel of poetic antiquity. The vocals are a mixture of soft melodic singing with harsh Metallic roaring in moderation, very much in keeping with the band’s spirit of mixing it up. Then the toms will starts coming in as heavy singing overtakes them and suddenly keyboards or pianos will appear. Tones range from whimsical, artistic, angry and bittersweet, often within a single track.
Highlights include “Kyla Cries Cologne,” “April Fools And Eggmen” and “Walls Of Jericho.” That being said its all fairly consistent and there isn’t much in the way of filler.
This is a record with a pretty broad appeal, and would suit fans of bands like Coheed & Cambria, Cog, Rishloo, Dead Letter Circus, The Mayan Factor etc., as well as bands like Linkin Park, Flaw and Disturbed, or indeed bands like Muse, Placebo and Radiohead. It’s a grower, and isn’t quite as instant as its superb 2011 follow-up Arrows & Anchors, but is definitely worth your time and will reward repeat listens.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 70: Living Colour – Vivid
Hello, and welcome to my Blog. Why is it called KingcrimsonBlog, the official Blog of Kingcrimsonprog?. Good question; It is called that, because I am called Kingcrimsonprog (or Gentlegiantprog). Well, I’m not. I’m called Jimmy. But, I’m called either Kingcrimsonprog or Gentlegiantprog on most websites and forums. (You know, in the way you have to choose a name or “net-handle” when you register?).
Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.
I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Real Ale or French Cinema, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated art-lover and their knowledge of Vincent Van Gough. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or Vincent Van Gough. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This is the seventieth entry in the series (wow, I didn’t imagine I’d be doing seventy of these when I first started, especially when I thought it was going to be all Black Metal and Death Metal albums at the start).
This time I’ll be listening to the debut album by the American band Living Colour, (interestingly spelling colour with a ‘u’ despite being American).
This is one of those albums that’s pretty unique and so you can’t really fit it into a true subgenre. Sure its got rap, but its not really Rap Metal in the Limp Bizkit sense. Sure, its got a lively bass player, but it doesn’t really fit in with Primus or indeed with Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Sure its got a big 80s production, but it doesn’t fit in with Warrant or Poison.
I can’t really talk about the genre then. My formula for these articles is usually to discuss the genre, but I think these guys are in a genre of one, really.
Maybe I could talk about Penguins then? Apparently they don’t really mate for life like most people think. What? You don’t want Penguin trivia? Fine…
I guess I’ll talk about the band. I don’t really know about the band. Apparently they were a big deal at the time. To me they are a one-hit-wonder. I only have one Mental Post-it Note about them, and all it says is: “Living Colour. Cult Of Personality. 80s Production. Funk Bits. Rap Bits. Influential To Nu Metal?” – That’s probably because I’m too young to have seen or heard of them when anything other than ‘Cult Of Personality’ was on offer. Wikipedia says it was one the most popular albums of 1988, the year I was born. Apparently a lot of people know about the band then.
What else is interesting is that apparently the album was produced by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. I didn’t know or suspect the two bands had any connection. I don’t want to dwell too much on the race issue. Much like the ‘can we please stop thinking of women in Metal as WOMEN in Metal’ thing. Sure a bit of background and context is educational, but at the end of the day, leaning too heavily on that context is a bit reductionist.
With that being said, let’s just have ourselves a listen to the music itself then:
The album opens with the main single, and the band’s biggest hit ‘Cult Of Personality.’ I do remember seeing the video on Kerrang and MTV2 a few times but I never watched it, if you know what I mean. Apparently it was in GTA San Andreas too (as was Alice In Chain’s ‘Them Bones’ and Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’ – but I don’t remember ever hearing any of them there, just ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ on an endless loop).
The production reminds me a bit of Faith No More’s The Real Thing. I guess they came out around the same time and were a sort of mixture of funk with the bright, trebly Metal of Hair Metal and Van Halen/Randy Rhodes influenced bands.
The main riff and vocal pattern is quite catchy. The tone of the snare drum really reminds me of Vinny Paul for some reason. There’s a guitar solo, but it’s a bit noisy and un-musical. A bit more Kerry King than Eddie Van Halen.
Towards the end, it gets pretty interesting, with extra fills and that fast bit at the very end.
Then comes ‘I Want To Know’ which sounds to me like a mixture of Van Halen, with Kiss and Extreme. Especially with that ‘Hey Kids’ opening line. There’s some occasional funky bass pops. The chorus reminds me of 80s and early-90s pop music actually, as well as Yes’ ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ for some reason. The bit with the word ‘dream’ being repeated reminds me a bit of Queen. Again, there’s a guitar solo, but not a very pleasing-to-the-ear one.
‘Middle Man’ comes in next with quite a punky riff, but then it slows down into a grungey pace that really reminds me of that nickles-and-dimes referencing song that is the opening song to the movie Clerks. It’s a bit more of a lively track than the previous one. The drums are quite bouncy and satisfying. It has the whole rock-meets-funk thing down, but actually is good as well and not just a good idea. There’s a brief solo. Again, same thing. He has a definite style of lead guitar that isn’t quite to my own personal tastes. The drummer on the other hand, is pretty entertaining with his beats and fills.
The big breakdown where most of the music cuts out is quite entertaining, and then when the music all comes back its extra energetic. I always enjoy that sort of thing. Then its over.
Next comes ‘Desperate People’ which opens up with a weird sort of early Greenday sound, y’know the Kerplunk and Slappy stuff, only, with double-kicks and overly funky bass. Its sort of a noisy mish mash, then it kicks into a riff that reminds me of ‘Back In Black’ with a sort of Kiss’ ‘I Love It Loud’ production. There’s also something of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker’ about it. Its pretty entertaining at this point. The vocals actually remind me a bit of Mike Patton here. There’s a middle-eight that reminds me of 80s-Genesis. There’s another guitar solo that doesn’t really do it for me.
‘Open Letter (To A Land Lord)’ opens next, it starts off with a soulful (yet Spice-Girls-esque intro) then it morphs into a funky part that reminds me of the Ghostbusters theme tune. The intro comes back but with guitar and drums and it kind of reminds me of Use Your Illusion’s cheesier moments. At about 2.50 it kicks into a much harder funk part, and has a lot more energy. It reminds me of the colourful purple and green animations from the TV Show “Movies Games and Videos.”
Overall, this song isn’t really doing for me though. Again, the drummer is pretty interesting, but the main parts of the song don’t really do it for me.
‘Funny Vibe’ comes next. It starts with some jazzy filler, before a sort of faster punky bit comes in, its vaguely reminiscent of Faith No More and even King Crimson in the way the guitar seems to be working, then it morphs into pure funk. It sounds like the advertisement a clothes shop would put on for summer parties. Then they start putting in samples. The way the vocals work remind me a little of Faith No More’s ‘We Care A Lot.’ Then an alternative funk bit which might have some DJ scratches (or it might just be the echo from the Hi-Hat) and a guitar solo. Then that part that vaguely, distantly sounds like King Crimson comes back. It also, in no real way that I can explain, reminds me of ‘Duke’s Intro’ by Genesis.
It has a false ending, then they play the fast bit again.
‘Memories Can’t Wait’ opens up with a part that could be Rage Against The Machine (but at the same time, is actually quite similar to Motorhead’s ‘America’ in a weird way) and has a guitar solo as soon as it starts. There’s a few really Faith No More reminiscent vocal parts, and another guitar solo once that RATM-sounding part comes back. Good drums again. This is probably my favourite track so far. There’s a vocal part that reminds me of that song ‘I’m Going Deeper Underground.’
Then there’s this massively Radiohead sounding middle-eight that seems a bit out of place. It goes in and out, with a faster, punkier part in the middle of its departure and return. They start adding proggy guitar effects over the top of it the second time and the song starts freaking out into a sort of psychedelic fade-out.
‘Broken Hearts’ comes next, with a loud sampled intro, then a big cock-rock standium anthem drum beat, that is surprisingly offset by guitar parts that are like a mixture between The Bends era Radiohead with a Lynyrd Skynyrd ballad.
Its weird. It reminds me of underwater and beach levels in Mario games. Its slightly sleepy, with a definite Seagull vibe. There’s a nice bass solo that reminds me of Banjo Kazzooie. Then a brief guitar solo that reminds me of November Rain, and horses.
Could you call this song a ballad? I don’t know. It’s a sort of slow, more contemplative number than the previous tracks, but its not really a ballad. Its not exactly ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme, even if it does have love-forgiveness-song lyrics.
I don’t really dig it at all to be honest. Nothing about this really speaks to me.
‘Glamour Boys’ opens up next. It has a sort of happy Jamacian vibe. It sounds like a Megaderive game’s Jamica level. After a while they throw in a distorted riff, but mostly, its this fun, beach-party music with Phil Collins style vocals. When the distorted riff comes in the second time it really makes me smile, the same way Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ does, every time I hear the line ‘You gotta roll-roll-roll with the punches!’ – For a song called ‘Glamour Boys’ I expected one of two things, either something that sounds like ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ or something that sounds like ‘Big Dumb Sex’ – this super happy, beach barbeque wasn’t ever something I imagined.
‘What’s Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song)’ comes next, it opens with a big does of energy, then starts again as a really calm funk piece that sounds like low background music in a sofa advertisement or a birthday party in Saved By The Bell. If it was four times as energetic, it would remind me of the music that makes McLovin start dancing in Superbad. Its not though. You know what it does remind me of though? ’13 Flavours’ by Sacred Reich. When they ‘break it down’ its actually really entertaining. There’s probably just a bit too much repetition and not enough energy for the rest of it.
‘Which Way To America?’ opens up sounding like a Motorbike level in a megadrive game, its got energy and speed. The vocals are a bit Pattony. There’s a nice distorted chords bit, then a nice guitar rise. Hey, this song is pretty badass.
I think the speed and energy really pay off here. The guitar solo is just as noisy and Kerry King-esque as before, but it suits the more lively music. If more of the album had this much energy I’d really be interested. There’s a good middle part, there’s a few samples. After that he really starts throwing powerful shouts into it. This is great! Where was this passion the whole rest of the record?
Ok. That was the whole album. It was bookended by its two strongest songs, and there were a few interesting or even fun parts, but overall, it was a bit of a dull listen. There was variety yes, but it was such a slow, polite record that it did’t really have the power to keep me interested. I’m not a person who really gets excited by the idea of adding funk or adding rap on its own. I will really respond to them if they are added with the power and passion of good Rock or Metal, but just their mere presence isn’t enough to make me think its interesting.
I’ll give it this; it’s a very unique record. The basis of it isn’t hard rock, hair metal or alternative music you’ve heard before, and even if the only band I can compare them to is Faith No More, that’s only the barest of surface similarities. There’s no other record I’ve ever heard like this, and that’s before you even factor in all the stuff they mixed into it like the funk, soul and rap. The actual basis of it is darn unique too.
It hasn’t won me over though. I‘m glad it only cost me a penny. I’m glad to have heard it, and to now understand how it fits into the musical landscape, but much like MC5, its not really for me. I can’t really ever foresee any of these songs being a personal favourtie.
If you were to ask me if its worth checking out, I think I’d say either ‘only if you buy it for a penny’ or, just to buy ‘Cult Of Personality’ ‘Middle Man’ and ‘Which Way To America’ because that will give you all the best moments and save you all the filler. I think it has a gem to filler ratio about equal to White Zombie’s Astro Creep 2000 album.
[Side Note: I’ve been listening to the album a second time while finishing typing this and checking all the grammar, and I have to say, ‘Middle Man’ is very good. ‘Desperate People’ aint half-bad either actually. I’m enjoying it all a lot better the second time around. Maybe it’s a grower. Its just a minor shame that the sort of last two thirds of the record (excluding the excellent album closer) is so boring.]