2018 Top 100 Albums Part 4
Welcome to part four as we are heading towards the end. This is another selection of great records that our very own Stewart Lucas counts as the upper half of his top forty albums of the year. There is all sorts in here, so read and join us on Spotify to listen to them and then give us your opinion.
We are as far from the early nineties as the early nineties were from the late sixties, so it only makes sense that young millennials will be take influence from sources that many of still view as current. This is modern Metal poured through a filter of Rage Against the Machine, Chilli Peppers (when they were good), Faith No More, The Prodigy and Symposium (remember them). It's spikey, shouty and leery but also knows it's pop sensibilities in that puts to the front the accessibility that nineties alt-rock majored in. It is self-assured and full of youthful vibe and vigour and just great fun, in fact I would go as far as to say it could easily have got higher if it was shorter. Great album, even if it slightly overstays it's welcome.
I've take an executive decision and combined parts one and two of Between the Buried and Me's grand concept work into one single entry. They may have been released separately at different times during the year but they still make up the same story of viewing other people's dreams, so I'm classing them as same album. I adore Between the Buried and Me so I am rather biased, but there is no one like them. They combine Prog, Death Metal and Jazz and do so in a way that constantly sees their music shifting and morphing. Across the ten tracks that sprawl across the two parts they net together thousands of individual musical pieces. The complexity is mind blowing as they leap from style to style in a way that is both invigorating and befuddling. There is just so much going on here, it is utterly mind-blowing that it still manages to sound like a coherent whole. Stunning and unlike anything else you will listen to this year.
Årabrot are named after a garbage dump in their home town of Haugesund, Norway. They occupy the more avant-garde and experimental planes of Norwegian Metal and since the beginning of this decade have essentially consisted solely of guitarist and vocalist Kjetil Nernes (with a supporting cast of contributors from Norway's many art collectives, including his wife Karin Park). In 2014, Kjetil was diagnosed with throat cancer and spent two years fighting and eventually beating the disease. 2016's 'The Gospel' was the story of his battle with cancer played out in bleak experimental Metal, 'Who Do You Love' is the glorious cultural re-birth with the Metal replaced by a jagged but also playful take on post-punk. The closest comparison is Television circa Marquee Moon but with harsh guitars, there is also a feel of Arcade Fire's wonderful debut album. This is a glorious life-affirming record, it is the sound of musician deciding to push his boundaries to the limit but also wanting to deploy joy in what he does. Yes it is heavy and weird in many places but ultimately, it is the sound of someone glad to be alive.
One of the most interesting, inventive and vibrant British bands currently operating under the musical radar. They have been going thirteen years and this is their fifth album, but I suspect for most reading this list, they will still be an unknown quality. Revolving around the core creative duo of brother and sister Eva and James Spence, they produce a blistering mix of math rock, synth wave and shoegaze. Now that probably means nothing to anyone over thirty so think John carpenter collaborating with a very angry Tool with Swervedriver turning up half way through. Add on top of that Eva's amazing vocals which are incredible. She goes for sweet silky beautifulness to guttural death growls in the same track. It's both stunning and gobsmacking and I've been a fan for ten years and I am still struck with awe how she summons such evil vocals from her small frame. ‘Time Will Did and Love Will Bury It’ feels like the sixth season of Buffy in that it is about dealing with all the shit that comes with growing up. This is about death, betrayal, break-ups and paying the rent and it is all soundtracked by a constantly contrasting mix of rhymic melody and utterly bonkers noise. It perfectly mimics the rollercoaster emotions of dealing with the realities of adulthood and if I were in my late twenties again it would probably talk to me like no other record.
We haven't had any Doom for quite a while so here is some Sexy Doom. Yes, you heard right, Sexy Doom. Sultry and seductive Doom Metal that literally drips sensuality. This is all down to Patricia Andrade's hypnotic "come to bed" vocal chords which creates a lush entrancing sound that would easily have lead mariners to smash their ships upon the rocks. Her voice is silky smooth but full of lust with the promise of forbidden pleasures. With delivery in her native Portuguese, it bypasses your ears and goes straight for your reproductive organs. The music is dreamy cinematic Doom and it manages to paint huge aural pictures of crashing waves and ethereal forests in your mind. But it's the vocals that makes your hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, it's just so sensual and alluring. Fantastic album but you may need a cold shower after...
Well here we have part two of our “bloody hell are they still making records” department. And it's Magnum, yes Magnum, don't you worry I can hear the scoffing from Wolverhampton and Swansea, but yes Magnum, have only gone and made their best album in thirty years. As you will have seen there are loads of authentic sounding Prog and Blues albums around made by young whipper-snappers who weren't even born in the eighties. Well here comes a band who looked old back in the eighties to wipe the floor with all of them. What 'Lost on the Road to Eternity' has is songs, eleven of them and they are all absolute corkers. There are plenty of albums in this list that are cleverer than this one, plenty more that are more complex, many others that are probably musically better, but and it is a big but there is no other album on here where I found myself singing along to each and every track. By my fourth or fifth outing with this album, all the songs had started to feel like old friends and comfortable shoes. So Magnum prove that you can be as cerebral as you want but a good hummable tune will win each and every time.
Progressive Doom (yep another flavour, remember Metal loves it's sub-genres) from Brighton. There are lots and lots of great things about this record, but the one that screams out is Anthony Trimmings vocals. They are outstandingly good and not in anyway what you would expect to find on a Doom Metal record. It is magnificently full and bellowy, 'Brian Blessed sings tenor is probably the best description I can find. But humour aside, it is brilliantly rich and full of pitch and power. It is also fabulously enunciated, which is a very rare thing in Metal! Musically, this is a fantastically deep and diverse record. The heaviness that is in the DNA of doom is there but it's subtle and in many places understated. It shares space with intricate Prog interludes that never feel over-complicated, in fact the albums seeming simplicity and minimalism is another of it fascinating features. The album feels lean and well rounded, whilst there is lots here nothing feels over indulgent or over-played. But the last words has to be about that voice, it possesses so much emotion and passion that just makes the album.
Leeds collective A Forest of Stars produce Black Metal with very much a steam-punk flavour. This is grandiose story-telling plucked straight from the Penny Dreadful's of a bygone era and the Black Metal flourishes heighten the atmospherics rather than dominate the sound. ‘Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes’ is their fourth album and is a further exploration into a gas-lamp lit netherworld of occultism and forbidden magics. The songs are expertly crafted fables of fallen women, questionable gentlemen and the influence of powers beyond our understanding. Essentially it's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel given a dark avant-garde and ethereal soundtrack.
Ahh the glorious and rather wonderful Mr. Grant, one of the most genuine and inventive artist to emerge this decade. What is fantastic and highly unique about him is his brutally honest self-awareness and his reverential delivery. His material is becoming even more electro and experimental record by record and there is very much a feel of LCD Soundsystem about this album. ‘Love is Magic’ manages to combine warm conversational song writing with envelope pushing arty credentials and then wrap all that up with lush production. But at the heart of all of this is the man and his enigmatic self-deprecating personality and the fact that every song feels like it is being sung directly to you. A true and rare talent indeed.
Well it seems the secret to releasing decent material in 2018 is to have a near death experience. YOB's driving force Mike Scheidt experienced a major health scare in 2017 and was hospitalized for a number of month, experiencing hallucinations and slipping in and out of fevered consciousness. He wrote the whole of ‘Our Raw Heart’ from his hospital and it is meant to provide a living document of the journey his delusional mind took him on. As you can guess from that preamble this isn’t frothy surgery pop. This is dark, whirling psychedelia. Not quite doom but also not quite space rock, it falls into its own unique genre. The slow grinding riffs merge with atmospheric sparse interludes and the whole thing comes across as rather disconcerting but that is very much the point. Not an easy album but if you live with it and let your self be immersed in it, it is deeply rewarding.
'Dose your Dreams' is a direct squeal to Fucked Up's seminal 2011 album 'David Comes Life', a concept album about concept albums and never trusting a narrator as they have an ulterior motive. 'David Comes Alive' was a blur of different musical styles and bonkers story-telling and I am happy to report that 'Dose Your Dreams is an equally ridiculous kaleidoscope of euphoric colourful contrasting musical styles. It feels like my entire eclectic CD collection has been boiled down into eighteen tracks. Fucked Up have always been a band daring to be different and doing things on their own terms, but here they take all of that to dizzy new heights. This is no longer punk, it isn’t even rock any more, it maybe psychedelic funk but even that doesn't work. What it is, is sprawling, challenging and different to anything else you will find here this year. Seriously bizarre but utterly awesome!
Sleep are by far the greatest and most significant doom metal band of all time (to set the record straight Black Sabbath may have single-handedly birthed the whole Doom Metal movement but they were never a Doom Metal outfit). Sleep may have only operated between 1990 and 1998 but in their short time they produced ‘Holy Mountain’ and ‘Dope Smoker’, two colossal granite heavy monolith like records that still to this day provide the benchmark by which other Doom records are measured by (though neither are the greatest Doom record of all time, that honour goes to the Warning's extraordinary ‘Watching from a Distance’). Sleep reunited in 2009 and for the last ten years they popped up at various festivals playing either ‘Holy Mountain’ or ‘Dope smoker’ in their entireties. Then in April of this year with no pre-warning or fanfare, their fourth album ‘The Sciences’ magically appeared and boy is it good. As you will all be more than aware of by now there are lots of acts doing Doom but ‘The Sciences’ is a case of the masters walking in and saying "no, this is how you do it". It is heavy, slow and pendulous and the riffs grind against your bones. It is the sound of tectonic plates smashing together and the earth folding in on itself. It's heavy and relentless and unrepentant. Most importantly, it's very existence is a joy to behold.
What I do hope this list has done is prove that metal is not as emotionally illiterate as the mainstream media portrays it to be. It can be a highly passionate and soulful medium that it is subtle, fragile and full of emotional nuance. One example of Metal at its most beautiful and entrancing are the excellent Oceans of Slumber and 'The Banished Heart' that sees them further explore how to produce rich heart-wrenching music using Metal’s many building blocks. This is sophisticated and sultry Metal and Cammie Gilbert's vocal delivery is haunting and otherworldly. Both clever and captivating, Oceans of Slumber have once again proven there is indeed a soul within metal.
There isn’t much social mobility in Metal. Extreme Metal tends to stay in its box and mainstream happily exists in its. Very few acts crossover, in fact Metallica are probably the only band that began in the dark and probably ripped and blood stained extreme box but then became god-emperors of the mainstream. There are however a number of acts in a transient phase, becoming too big or ambitious for the extreme end but not quite having the smooth edges for mainstream. Behemoth are one of those band. Their 2014 album ‘The Satanist’ was the first ever Stadium Blackened Metal record which showed that they potentially had the ability to take their hybrid of Black and Death Metal songs to a much wider audience. ‘I loved You at Your Darkest’ is great If you liked ‘The Satanist’ (which I did) but doesn't really move them on further in their quest to be the first extreme act since Metallica to make it into arenas and Download headline slots. They have broadened their sound and the songs on here are great (hence the high placing) but they haven't made that stellar leap I thought they may be capable of. This is still very much Blackened Metal for a Blackened Metal audience and whilst it is very good I am disappointed as I had hoped they would produce an album that would take them crashing into the world of Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot. Maybe next time....
It’s bat-shit bonker’s corner. Avatar are not a band for a person with Clownophobia, they are a modern day freak show designed to frighten the hell of anyone that finds circuses, the tinniest bit creepy. Usually they major in melodic Death Metal of the early In Flames variety, but with this album they have just gone utterly pottty and created not only an album that visits most musical genres in existence (and a couple that don't) but actually their own fully formed universe. ‘Avatar Country’ is not just a concept album, it is a fully formed alternative reality with a ready-made history attached to it. This is the story of Avatar Country's god like ruler (similarities to Sweden's legendary Charles XII are purely intentional). This is a bloody brilliant album and it would have been top ten but they lose their bottle toward the end and it all peters out with two completely sulphurous instrumentals. All a real shame as the first seven tracks (discounting the king speaks as it is dialogue) are all stunning . It is still fabulous and over the top, but it could have been even better with a proper ending!!
So when is a Metal album, not a Metal album? In this case, it is when the Metal band making the album decided not to put ANY Metal whatsoever in it. Voices are what the rest of legendary Black Metallers Ackercocke did when vocalist Jason Mendonça split the band in 2012 and seemingly walked away from music forever (the band reformed in 2016 but that is another story for another time). Voices produced two claustrophobic dark Black Metal albums (the evil in these albums were not Satan but instead real-life issues such as poverty and isolation) before the call came to re-group Ackercocke. So ‘Frightened’ is Voices first post reformation album and it feels like the members have no need to make Black Metal as that urge is dealt with in their day job, instead they have carved a dark goth rock album that is very much grounded in the horrors of modern day reality. This is an unsettling and bleak record but it isn’t metal, it almost seems to want to drag indie away from its comfortable dotage and make it again the sound of nightmares and despair. There is also a lot of David Bowie’s incredible but highly underrated 1995 masterpiece ‘’Outside and The Cure’s equally amazing ‘Disintegration’. Yes those are two amazing records to try and live up to but this is bloody excellent record. It is disturbing and effecting but it is also utterly brilliant.
At The Gates are probably my third favourite band of all time (I'm a geeky male whose on the spectrum, of course I can give you a full list of my fifty favourite bands with a full explanation of why for each one), they are also probably the most influential band that you have never heard of. Their third album ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ is metal's very own ‘Raw Power’, no one bought it on release in 1996 but by the power of word of mouth, it has gone on to influence every single metal album released this century. The whole harsh but melodic sound that modern metal is founded on came from the one incredible thirty five minute long record, it really is that important. As you would expect At The Gates reformed in 2007 to draw dividend from the fact that everyone seemed to cite them as an influence and after milking the nostalgia gravy train for a good number of years in 2014 they released their first new album in eighteen years. As is often the way, At The Gates have now been reunited for longer than they were together the first time around and can no longer rely on good will to secure their position at metal's top table. Fortunately ‘To Drink From the Night Itself’ is excellent and sees At The Gates once again effectively mix brutality with great songwriting, but this isn't just a re-run of past glories as you can hear new influences and nuances coming into their sound. I always worry about new material from bands who are incredibly important to me as I always feel that the bubble is about to burst (Manics I am so looking at you) but here I shouldn't have fretted as this is once again brill.
After having made a sensible grown up record about sensible grown up things, Coheed and Cambria have gone back to their much loved comic books series Amory Wars concept for possibly one of the best albums they have made. They have certainly recaptured what made me fall in love with them ten or so years ago, in that this is once again a perfect blend of commercial rock and eighties Prog. It manages to be unashamedly euphoric and cheesy but without losing the overall cleverness of the whole thing. Big, bold and commercial, if only all accessible pop rock was this good.
At a wedding earlier this year I was genuinely asked by a curious enquirer what I got out of ultra extreme Metal. Their probing was fuelled by the enquirer’s complete mystification about what pleasure I could derive from listening to what they perceived as being pure noise. My simple answer was that I reveled in and fed off the sheer intensity and utter primal power of brutal extreme music. To be honest, I don't think he got my explanation as he then went on to tell me how Adele had the same effect on him, at that point my eyes glazed over. Anyway I recount this story because I see Anaal Nathrakh as a fantastic example of the magnificent beauty of brutal music. Not only is this heavy as hell but they have thrown in all possible ingredients to make the end product as chaotic and disorienting as possible. The genius of Anaal Nathrakh is rather than an incoherent mess, what they come out with is a highly compelling sensory overload of extremity that leaves the listener breathless and just a little punch drunk. ‘A New Kind Of Horror’ is focused on the utter futility of war and the maelstrom of jagged heaviness matches the subject matter. The vocal delivery is beyond angry and has arrived at indignity and utter contempt, screaming at the atrocities we reap on each other. This by far is Anaal Nathrakh’s finest piece of work and shows once again protest music doesn't have to be a hippie with an acoustic guitar.
A huge, huge, apology to every single person I disbelieved over the years about Clutch. There are plenty of people (you know who you are) who I have dismissed and disregarded when they have bigged up Clutch and encouraged me to take a chance on them. "Oh not for me" I would reply "I just don't get them". Well I can tell you now that having lived with ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ for four months or so I so do get it now. This is stunning confident swaggering heavy blues rock. It is gritty real life blue collar rock n’ roll, there is no finesse or fancy twiddly bits, just straight down the line solid jaunty heavy rock. But it does it so so well that the whole thing feels effortless. I'm so, so, a convert.
And that’s your lot and we are nearly there, just twenty records to go…..