Category Archives: 2009 Top 10s

TheBigBlack’s 2009 Metal Top 10

Metal Top 10

10. Slayer – World Painted Blood

Never in my life did I think I would pen such words about the almighty Slayer, but this album is a disappointment. I was concerned it was just me, but it would seem that all the staff here at TheBigBlack HQ are on the same wavelength – the album is just plain dull. The production is suitable and the playing top-notch as always, but the song writing just seems uninspired. The tracks have no memorable choruses, there are no riffs that jump out – even the solos seem like the same ones that have played a hundred times before – and the lyrics are suitable for a bunch of 15 years old in their garage. Sure, we expect songs of Satan and murder, but these aren’t even that intelligently penned – it is hard enough to listen to a line like “heated iron bar inserted in your cunt” as it is, but when it doesn’t even rhyme with the next line or suit the context of the song, you question the point of putting it there from guys of their age. For me, the second half was better than the first, but only by a smidge. I’d like to name a standout – but I am still yet to find one. This is like an album full of fillers or b-sides – there is not a single track that explodes as a winner, instead they all just blend into the same standard gallop and tempo. If Derryn Hinch were a Slayer fan, he’d say “Shame Slayer, Shame”. Having said all that though – as a die-hard Slayer fan I do find I keep coming back, but I’m not sure if that is because I am interested, or hoping I’ll find something I am yet to discover. It made it into the Top 10, because in the context of other bands/albums, Slayer will always be a cut above 95% of them anyway, but let’s just hope this isn’t their last album…

9. Believer – Gabriel

Believer and I go way back – ‘Extraction From Mortality’ was probably my thrash album of the year (neck and neck with Exodus’ ‘Fabulous Disaster’) in 1989, so I was keeeeeeeeeeeen as to hear this. This is still Believer, but with a modern edge, and they seem to have (thankfully) lost the gothic tinges they displayed on ‘Dimensions’, to go back to a straight up thrash sound. A BIG THUMBS UP HERE (but I am a nostalgic biased fool). The vocals are perfectly Believer, and I had wondered if the years would have mellowed his pipes somewhat. The music is also like their last album was yesterday, that bizarre thrash / experimental cross-over. One bad point on this album though, I will mention the production. I had hoped the downloaded promo I had was just a bad leak, but even after I purchased it, I found the production not much better.

8. Mastodon – Crack The Skye

I was never much of a fan of Mastodon until we saw them live on the Slayer tour, and they have grown on me ever since. Although I really liked ‘Blood Mountain’, the only thing that really held me back from LOVING it, was the screamed vocals. All is well here – This is like ‘The Wall’ was to ‘Wish You Were Here’. The same band, but refined to perfection. Highly recommend this one if you are a fan of progressive.

7. Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know

A quick history lesson boys and girls. 1979 – Ozzy Osbourne leaves Black Sabbath for the second time, and this time vows not to return. Sabbath has just released the worse album of their career, following up the previous worst album of their career, now only second worse. Things look bleak. But while Ozzy was off crying in his pile of coke, drinking like there is no tomorrow (exactly like he would drink tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after…) the rest of the drug crippled Sabbath boys cleaned themselves up and reinvented themselves. Enter American Ronnie James Dio fresh from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. They release ‘Heaven & Hell’ – one of the best albums of Sabbath’s lifespan, and a new sleeker (dare I say ‘intelligent’) Sabbath is born. Fast forward to 2008, and almost 30 years later, they are back – The line up is different – We still get Iommi and Butler, but instead of Ward on drums, we see Vinnie Appice, Ward’s original 1981 replacement (who played on follow-up album ‘Mob Rules’). This album is smooth and sleek, like a panther – these guys are veterans, and they sound like they are on autopilot, but their vehicle is designed for a smooth ride, so this is good. On the first couple of listens, I didn’t think much of it. Most of the first half is slower than expected, more doom than Sabbath has been since the 70s, but as the album progresses, the tempo increases, and all the faster songs are toward the end. To be honest, it didn’t set my world afire (and I had hoped it would!), but Dio sounds the best he has in years and Iommi still solos like a demon, so all is well. Not the album I had hoped for, but good in other ways I didn’t expect, and that’s what makes it worth listening to.

6. My Dying Bride – For Lies I Sire

Brilliant. It’s My Dying Bride, so of course it is. This has a lot of classic MDB elements such as the return of the violin, but also has some of their heaviest moments. Not one of their most memorable albums – and it did have to take a lot more effort that previous recent albums, but rewarding none the less. As always, it kept me coming back for repeat listens. Long live English Doom metal, and long live My Dying Bride at its forefront.

5. Immortal – All Shall Fall

A new album from Immortal, especially considering they officially called it a day a few years back, is always a wonderful thing to us fanbois of Norwegian Black. This is an album though, that may appeal to more than just the diehard legions that usually flock to it. It is easily the most accessible album yet by Immortal, showing a huge maturity to both the song writing and the production. There are riffs aplenty, the vocals are a lot less coarse than previous releases, and it is all together an easier listen. Let’s not forget that Abbath, Demonaz, and Armagedda have formed and released the ‘I’ album since the last Immortal offering, and although it had Black Metal leanings, it was essentially a Motörhead album. This seems to have shaped this new Immortal style a little – but not a huge amount. How does this make it fare up then? Much like most of the Norwegian behemoths, they could play the jug, and I’d love it. From a Black Metal perspective, I have certainly heard better, but as an album that stands on its own merit – this is pretty sensational stuff, and definitely one of my favourites this year.

4.  Gnaw Their Tongues – All The Dread Magnificence Of Perversity

Well – Paint me green and call me Gumby if this isn’t the most original thing you have ever heard in the genre. Amazing stuff. The staff at TheBigBlack HQ have certainly been divided over this one… More a ‘journey of sound’ than music as such, this is amazingly detailed and with layers of texture that give me chills. This isn’t for the faint hearted, and at 80 minutes is quite a feat of endurance, but once you start to know the tracks on repeat listens, it is amazingly rewarding – especially through a good set of headphones. I highly recommend this one, but completely understand if you hate it. PS – Kudos for the track names… ‘The Stench Of Dead Horse On My Breath And The Vile Of Existence In My Hands’ sounds like the greatest song name ever, and then you get to ‘The Gnostic Ritual Consumption Of Semen As Embodiment Of Wounds Teared In The Soul’. Poetry.

3. Den Saakaldte – All Hail Pessimism

I have done a lot of Black metal over the years, so it isn’t very often that I hear anything new. But with this album I have. The newer Swedish scene seems to be always moving forward with their BM, unlike the Norwegian newbies that prefer to stay grounded in the early 90’s ‘classic’ style – and this is a blend of both regions. This has a range of tempos and dare I say styles – similar to the latest Shining album – but is still suitably gritty as a Black Metal release. I highly recommend this one if you like your music black as the asshole of Hell. PS – Yes that is JAZZ TRUMPET on a couple of tracks…

2.  Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Lo Anemi Francor

This sucker almost made number 1 on the list, except it isn’t as good to drive to… Possibly no other release has ever left the staff at TheBigBlack Top 10 branch as divided as this one (except for maybe item 3 and/or 4 on this list). I won’t tell you why other reviewers disliked it, but instead why I did. Simply put – It is like nothing I have ever heard before. It is a blend of French black metal sped fed a heavy dose of classic European folk. It’s an ugly thing of beauty, raising the bar on what black metal can do. Harmonica anyone? I still hear the cries of fellow staff member mk shouting “Where the fuck is your head at this year!” at the mere suggestion this was Top 10 worthy – and now here it is at number 2, the same cry will possibly be heard again.

1.  Megadeth – Endgame

When Megadeth released ‘The World Needs A Hero’ in 2001 I cried “Megadeth are back!”. I will admit, it was more wishful thinking than actual faith, as the album had its moments but wwas generally still lacking in any real Mustaine magic. When they released ‘The System Has Failed’ in 2004 again I cried “Megadeth are back!”. I meant it that time, as the album had found that Megadeth charm – but it looked likely at that point that it would be their finale. Fast-forward to 2007 and ‘United Abominations’, and you guessed it – I cried it again! Here we are in 2009, and I’m happy to say, I will scream it once more, but I won’t bother on the next album, as I think they are back to stay now. Musically the album sits pretty much in the same spot as ‘United Abominations’, although the solos are pretty rife here, and are certainly longer and faster than the previous album. The mid- section of the album slows down the pace, and on the first listen or two seems to drag, but the tempo lifts again toward the end to an explosion. ‘This Day We Fight!’ is very ‘Rust In Peace’ era sounding, and ‘The Hardest Part Of Letting Go… Sealed With A Kiss’ has an acoustic intro, and even some strings. All in all, on the first few listens I’m still not sure if it is as good as ‘United Abominations’, but it is certainly more technical. Longer term, it has lasted the test of time with me, although my least favourite track is the title track – usually one of the standouts.

Honourable Mentions

Altar Of Plagues – White Tomb

This is a bit of a mixed bag really, but I think what I disliked (didn’t like as much?) about it most is that just as I started to get into the black jelly beans, they ran out and all I was left with was the milk bottles and bad liquorice allsorts. Track 1 is a great piece of modern black metal in the rhythmic drone style, and left me barred, up ready for more. From there the album tangented, and went on some kind of progressive metal shoegaze journey. A shame really, as I was loving it until then. It didn’t end all bad, in fact it was quite an amazing journey, but after track 1 had locked in what I thought would be the standard for the rest of the album, I kinda got bored with the rest. Repeat listens were a lot more forgiving, and long term I can see this one is really gonna grow on me.

Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Although I probably still found Systematic Chaos a more listenable-able (and overall more enjoyable) album, this one is possibly better. Not many bands this late in their career can claim to still be creating their best works, but these guys are. The playing is amazing (as always), but there is a bit of a return of the keyboard here (which always SUCKS). The reprise of ‘The Glass Prison’ at the end of ‘The Shattered Fortress’ is very nice – This is the final part of Portnoy’s ‘Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program’ opus. All in all, possibly my second favourite Dream Theater album. Let’s just hope they keep writing edgy metal, and don’t fall back in that girly hole they were in around the time of ‘Falling Into Infinity’.

Nachtmystium – Doomsday Derelicts [E.P.]

Considering these guys gave me one of my albums of the year in 2008, I was expecting much. This is actually a bit of a disappointment to me. Fairly straight up modern American style black metal, with nothing varied or original. This could just be some left overs, used as a stop gap before a new album next year – of maybe the ‘Assassins’ was just a fluke. I hope not. Don’t get me wrong – this is still well executed, but I just hoped for more.

Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt

I will admit – I was amongst the non-believers that didn’t have much hope for this one. I won’t go into the details here, as you can Google them if you want – but in a nutshell, since their last album, guitarist Infernus was jailed for rape, and vocalist Ghaal and bass player King Ov Hell bailed on him, sacked him, and tried to take the Gorgoroth name with them. Since neither of them were original members, they lost the court battle – and now he carries on. The result is actually not what I expected. Early pre-Ghaal Gorgoroth albums were rather 2 dimensional, so it seemed he was the key ingredient in bringing the sound life. With new vocalist Pest (actually the band’s original vocalist from the first couple of albums), the life has still been retained, and Infernus has crafted some great timeless Black Metal. In fact, this is possibly some of his best writing yet. The production is also the best of any Gorgoroth album. All in all, a fantastic return from a band I thought would be as good as dead, even if there is only one member remaining since the last album.

Archgoat – The Light-Devouring Darkness

Apart from the gurgled (rather than growled) vocals, this is pretty much an old school, late 80’s style death metal album. When I was 14 I would have creamed myself for this. Having said that I would have creamed myself for pretty much anything – I was 14, so couldn’t keep my hand off it for long. Based on the name I expected the modern black/death cross-over style that most bands are playing these days, so this was a welcome surprise. All in all – I loved it. It almost made the 10, but it doesn’t have a lot of substance really – just fist pumpability.

Kreator – Hordes Of Chaos

This was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. This is classic thrash, Kreator style, with great modern production. The riffs are brilliant, and the lyrics intelligent. Kreator have made a brave new world for themselves in the last few releases, with a bit of old and a bit of new.

Dishonourable Mentions

Queensrÿche – American Soldier

2 things – First up, this wasn’t as bad as I expected. Secondly, it is utter shit. Imagine how bad I thought it was gonna be… When Queensrÿche first made it big in the late 80’s with the apparent masterpiece ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ I was already listening to the likes of Possessed and Death, so the whole ‘prog metal’ thing annoyed me to defecation. Over the years I have gone back to the album numerous times – and I still hate it. Anyway – My opinion of that ancient and pointless relict aside, I honestly think the band is riding the success of that album still. This latest offering has maybe 3 or 4 actual ‘songs’ – the rest of the album is made up of nothing more that moody instrumentals with audio samples of soldiers telling their horrifying (read: laughable) war stories of walking down suburban streets in Iraq and having small pebbles throw at them by old women and children under the age of 5. Wait! Let me check Wikipedia – perhaps Queensrÿche have done a Scatterbrain on us and decided to be a joke metal band from here on? Hang-on they always were a joke…

Static-X – Cult Of Static

Yawn. If you have ever heard Static-X before, you will know the style – and there are no surprises here – at all. There is finally a guitar solo or two (so someone in the band must have finally learnt to play more than the 2 dropped-d chords it takes to play an entire Static album), but otherwise this is just the usual 1 chord per track repetitive lyrics crap that I expected. And what’s with the Wigger spelling on some of the track names? Lame. I took a shit earlier today, and it was more entertaining looking at it than listening to this. Wayne Static, do me a favour, die. Horribly. And record it, as it will be better hearing you gurgling than sing. Thanks. How the fuck does shit like this deserve an audience, when real bands that can write and play struggle to get a record deal? This gets my Stinker Of The Year award, and we are only in March 2009 as I type this. Pure fucking shit. File under ‘Artists That Should Die’, and if that file is full because you have the whole of Silverchair and Powderfinger already filed there, place it under ‘Albums That Should Be Burnt By American Christian Activists That Are Still Upset At John Lennon For Those Comments About Jesus’.

Katatonia – Night Is The New Day

I have long been a supporter of Katatonia. Sure, their style changed from a blend of proto doom/black metal to their self-proclaimed ‘dark rock’ a few albums back – and I still stood by – as it was still heavy enough and varied enough to hold my interest. Year by year, album by album, the friendship has been stretched, as each release moves further into the realms of generic radio friendly rock. This album is the final straw really. Every release gets more ‘easy listening’ – and the sickly sheen of the double tracked vocals and distinct lack of distortion on this album has finally brought me to the realisation that I’m holding onto a memory now. The real Katatonia is dead, and in its place is a band not even as heavy as Linkin Park. Stick your ‘dark rock’ up your ‘dark hole’ next time and don’t bother me with it…

Rumpelstiltskin Grinder – Living For Death, Destroying The Rest

OK – I was disappointed, but not a lot, as I didn’t hold my hopes very high in the first place (although this was one of my most anticipated albums of the year). The first RG album (Buried In The Front Yard) is a modern thrash masterpiece – but without vocalist Eli Shaika I feared the Grinder just wouldn’t have much charm, and unfortunately that is how it turned out. Also, the style seems to have moved from fast-paced riff-heavy thrash, to more of a full-throttle hardcore approach. PS – The cover rocks, but not enough to salvage this disappointment.

O.S.I. – Blood

I loved the first O.S.I. album, but their second outing ‘Free’ left me really bored. There were a couple of line-up changes (for one Mike Portnoy had moved on, and besides being a great drummer – he is also one of the few drummers that can write a tune), and that is possibly why. All in all it is just a dull album, and the heavy has been turned right down to make them sound like not much more than a Rush clone.

Spinal Tap – Back From The Dead

I was a fan of the original Spinal Tap movie all those years ago, and I actually bought the soundtrack CD at the time, but if you are going to release an album so many years after your last (1992’s dismal ‘Break Like The Wind’), you had better make it worth listening to. In essence, this is nothing more than a padded out re-recording of the movie soundtrack, with most songs barely different from the original except better produced. Why bother? This is the sort of album that actually tarnishes your legacy rather than adds to it. I’ll give it one thing though, the fold-out of the band members on the front cover is marketing brilliance…

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TheBigBlack’s 2009 Non-Metal Top 10

Non-Metal Top 10

10. The Mars Volta – Octahedron

The Mars Volta don’t usually disappoint me, in fact I see them as one of the last great ‘rock’ bands left. They are edgy, they push the boundaries, they reject radio play, and they take lots of heroin – the last of the real rock stars. This album though, well – it left me cold. This actually started life on my dis-honourables short list, before it finally found the energy to grab my giblets and give them a little shake. It is an altogether different album for them – similar, but much laid back – almost too laid back. The intention was a pace change, and they achieved what they wanted, but by making the songs slower and simpler it somehow made them less accessible. If you unzip your fly and guide its hand toward you, it’s an album that will give you much pleasure, but if you wait for it to make its move on its own, you are going to be having a cold shower.

9. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Josh Homme and Dave Grohl teaming up sounded unreal – but with John Paul Jones on bass? Oh boy! Unfortunately all I really heard was a stack of Queens Of The Stone Age songs with Foo Fighters choruses. I have to admit, I expected a lot more from this, but the more  I listened, the more I liked it. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is quite nice to kick back to with a glass of lemonade with a little slice of lemon in it. That Lipton’s Iced Tea is quite nice on a warm day too. Having said that I tend to go inside if it gets too warm. Looks like we are in for a hot summer this year. I hate hot summers.

8. Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream

This is not what I expected from Springsteen at this point in his career. After his trip into folk on his Pete Seeger tribute he returned with ‘Magic’, an album that I though lacked any identity. It looked like a woman with lots of expensive jewellery going through a metal detector, and when it doesn’t beep everyone laughing when they work out it is all plastic. Now with ‘Working On A Dream’ he seems to have found where Springsteen 2009 fits, and has woven an incredible fabric of new and old sounding material. There are stadium sing-alongs, and intimate tales of life for the little man. Possibly my favourite Springsteen album in a decade or so.

7. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life

Ah Dylan – Unless he sings Christmas carols (see below), he never fails to disappoint us fanbois. If he were to fart into a paper bag, I’d buy it, as long as it came with a certificate of fart authenticity., and lid so it didn’t escape. At 70 years old, he still makes us music. I will admit one thing though, provided you promise not to tell mk – I don’t think Dylan has much left in the tank these days. As much as I liked this album, I didn’t love it – It had its moments, and those moments are great, like the blues opener Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, but that song title alone is like the call of what to look forward to in the future. This is not as engaging as Modern Times was, and Modern Times wasn’t as good as “Love And Theft” and “Love And Theft” wasn’t as fantastic as Time Out Of Mind… You see the pattern. This album won’t win any new fans, and for us that are fans already it is a welcome addition, but not a masterwork.

6. Grinspoon – Six To Midnight

Getting Grinspoon back in the 10 is something I never thought I’d be capable of. They had followed that familiar Powderfinger template of starting out all alternative with the music as their guide, then turning to the almighty dollar for motivations, leaving the music behind. It seems that Phil Jameson must have gotten drunk and vomited on some hotel carpet somewhere, and in his haste to clean it up before getting billed used the a page from his contacts book to clean it up. That page just happened to be labelled “Producers That Can Turn Rock Music Into Pop Shite”. With that page lost, the grinners have given us an album that sounds like they produced it themselves – and fuck it is good. It is dirty, and apart from a moment or two where the demon wasn’t completely exorcised,

5. Porcupine Tree – The Incident

This is possibly the most inaccessible of all Porcupine Tree albums, and given the band’s history – I think that is quite the statement. I think the issue is that they have entered this 1 hour ‘movement’ hot on the tail of 3 or 4 quite commercial albums, so it is what the doctor ordered. Once I got to know the album, it did grow on me, but although the tracks are broken into digestible chunks, this really is a ‘all-in-one-sitting’ type album – It’s designed to be listened to in one long session. When it is applied to the skin appropriately, you are given that summertime glow that a good PT album is renowned for providing. The music is sparse, and repetitious threads are heard through most songs. Be warned though, if this is your first time with the Porc (or the Tree, if you don’t like words that sound dirty), you are better off starting elsewhere.

4. Bloodhorse – Horizoner

Brilliant! This is how stoner rock is supposed to sound. Laid back, but still angry. Refined, but still dirty. Surely these guys are sitting around in a dutched up garage writing these tracks – therefore the tension and production have to have that same feel. Stoned. Too many albums in this genre today over produce their sound. These guys have got just the right amount of grit in their amps and in their teeth to make this rock. A BIG thumbs up for me.

3. Chevelle – Sci-Fi Crimes

First prize for grower of the year. These guys are fantastic, and I have found every album gets better on repeat listens. Although technically not metal (but they do sit on that borderline…), they do rock pretty hard. I hate to use the comparison, and I am sure they are sick of hearing it, but they are filling the void Tool left when they decided to head away from heavy music into the space rock shit they play today. The riffs are catchier than 2007’s ‘Vena Sera’, and vocally his range seems to have improved.

2. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Well. New Wave Pearl Jam. Where to start? This one is definitely a grower, and maybe it’s only because I love the band so much that a dedicated A LOT of time to let it grow. This is the same Pearl Jam that wrote Even Flow and Rearviewmirror, but somehow it is not. There are no big rock stadium anthems on here such as Betterman to allow the crowd to sing and surf to, but what there is  are a bunch of punchy 3 minute ‘pop’ songs, that are just as good to sing to – but maybe not with a pumping fist. I use the term ‘pop’ loosely, as it’s not like they have sold out to the dark side – but these songs are simple in structure and execution like a Duran Duran classic, but are still rockin’ in style. Lead single ‘The Fixer’ is so infectious it makes you want to cut yourself in an attempt to stop singing it. I did, and then continued to sing in the ambulance. So where’s the reason it’s hard work? The songs like ‘The Fixer’, the ones that makes you smile – are fantastic. The others, well, to be completely honest (and go against every grain in my body in admitting so) are just plain boring. PJ have always been capable of coughing up a fur ball on occasion – but about half of this album feels like it has potential, but none of it is realised – and worst of all, it feels like it has been designed that way…

1.  Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue

As you are all aware, I had high hopes for this one. On the first couple of listens, I thought it was all wrong, but once I got to know the tracks I realised this is a brilliant album.  Apart from the obvious single ‘Check My Brain’, most tracks are slow – not so much at a snail’s pace – but trotting rather than a gallop. New vocalist Duvall fills Layne’s shoes very nicely, by keeping that familiar AIC sound, while still not mimicking, and when given the chance to fly solo uses his own distinct style. Cantrell, as always, is magic on the guitar. After a 14 year wait, you sometimes wonder if it’s worth the effort at all (ARE YOU READING THIS AXL ROSE?), but this picks up brilliantly where AIC ended – in fact I’d go so far as to say it is better than their last album with Layne…

Honourable Mentions

Nirvana – Live At Reading

It has been nearly 20 years, but we finally get to hear (and see if you bought the DVD) Nirvana’s 1992 Reading Festival performance in its entirety.  They rip through all the classics, and play a few unexpected highlights. Sloppy as hell, but brilliant in his execution anyway is the magical Cobain. Had this been seen in 92 t certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact as when it is seen now.

Pearl Jam – Ten ‘Redux’ / Drop In The Park / MTV Unplugged DVD / Mamasan Demo Tape

A big 5 thumbs up (that’s 3 people’s thumbs to get that many – or 5 people if they only have one hand each – or 1 person if they are horribly deformed at birth due to Thalidomide usage) to Pearl Jam for giving Ten a right royal rogering and reissuing it in this beautiful set. We get the original ‘Ten’ remastered, we get the album remixed in 2009 style. We get unreleased bonus tracks from the ‘Ten’ sessions, we FINALLY get a DVD of the greatest MTV Unplugged show ever recorded, we get the complete audio of the historic 1992 Drop In The Park concert, and we get a cassette (yes, cassette kiddies – you made have seen a player attached to a car battery in your daddies garage) reproduction of the original Mamasan demo tape that got Eddie the gig in the band. Merely seeing the press release from this caused me to claim I would never require sex again, and the first listen caused me to physically pass over to the spirit world 3 times. Luckily I still have that defibrillator handy that I picked up at the hospital surplus store to jump start the car, or I may not be typing this today.

Bob Dylan and The Band – Hollow Horn’s ‘Encore Series’ – Mixin’ Up The Medicine – The Safety Tape, June-October 1967 [Unauthorised]

This by far is one of my favourite non-metal albums of the year, but misses out on the Top 10 as 1. It’s technically a compilation of previous material, and 2. It’s technically an unauthorised album. I started a lengthy explanation of this album, and realised the Heathens that may bother to read will never appreciate Dylan anyway, so I’ll stick to the short version –

  • Mid 1966 – Dylan burns out on Rock & Roll excess on world tour. On a visit home he is involved in a mysterious motorcycle crash, and breaks his neck.
  • Early 1967 – Relieved of rock star duties while he recovers, he retreats to the basement of The Big Pink with his touring band The Hawks (later to be known as The Band) and jams on old favourites.
  • Mid 1967 – Presumably pressured by his  publishers for new material, Dylan starts using these informal jams to record oodles of new music, in a style never before heard – a mix of Americana, folk, and rock.
  • 1975 – A handful of these legendary recordings are finally released (touched up / butchered), but there at least 100 more still in the vaults.
  • 2001 – In 1976 a ‘safety tape’ of some of the best recordings considered useful is made and stored in Neil Young’s personal vault for safe keeping, and is now discovered when he goes through his archives to prepare his history spanning box set.
  • 2009 – Some cunning individual has procured said Safety Tape, and shared it for us all.

What this means is when get a perfect copy of the tracks straight from the master tapes – Not the 3rd or 4th generation we have all listened to for years, and not the terribly over-produced and over-dubbed versions from the official release.

43 years later the songs still sound otherworldly.

Dishonourable Mentions

Bon Jovi – The Circle

If Bon Jovi were also airline pilots (similar to that jolly Englishman Bruce Dickinson and that douche John Travolta) their plane would go down. Why? Because you should never fly the whole trip on auto-pilot. Considering this is one of the world’s (apparent) most popular rock acts, this whole album, every song on it, all sounds like it has come out of a computer programmed to write songs based on the exacting Bon Jovi formula. You will predict every chorus, you know when the solo is coming, you’ll even know when to prepare your voice for backing-vocal reply to Jon’s main vocal line. It is so tried and tested and tried and tested again, I guarantee you will even feel like you know the songs on first listen, because you have heard it all before.

Chris Cornell – Scream

Produced by Timbaland and duets with Justin Timberlake. Chris Cornell get’s this year’s ‘Fuck Off And Die’ award. I’ll waste no more time on this.

U2 – No Line On The Horizon

“Mummy? Why does Bono make the children cry?” I have never actually heard that said, but I am sure I will one day, in a shopping centre, as this is piped through the speaker system as ‘elevator music’. I know U2 are getting on in years, but I hadn’t actually realised they are dead. No living musician could enjoy playing music this dull, just as no music fan could enjoy listening to it. Listening to this alongside War or The Joshua Tree is akin to hearing John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy – You think it is a amazing, and then you get a Yoko song. I think it is a joke that Bono thinks he is an activist, but is still doing a better job of that than making rock music these days. AND TAKE THOSE STUPID GLASSES OFF!

Bob Dylan – Christmas In The Heart

What a year! Bob Dylan – the greatest songwriter in history – making all three categories. Top 10, Honourable Mention, and now a Dis-Honourable. Seriously Bob, a Christmas album is the peak of trashy, even at the top of one’s game – but these days, with your voice nothing more than the grating sound of a croaking toad hoping to mate tonight, this was a REALLY bad idea. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, because you ruined mine with your misguided Holiday spirit.

AC/DC – Backtracks [Compilation Box Set]

Buying AC/DC products these days is akin to legalising rape as far as I am concerned. This is a ‘rarities’ set that is overpriced and actually contains nothing rare (or if it is – it isn’t anything worth caring about). Exhibit A – The studio rarities. 18 tracks (if you are rich enough to buy the $250 ‘special edition’ – otherwise you only get 12), 10 of which have always been available on Australian AC/DC albums, 6 that have been on various bonus discs and other compilations – and 2 actual b-side rarities. Exhibit B – Discs 2 & 3 – The Live Rarities. 29 tracks (again – only 15 unless you are rich), every one of them from single b-sides, mostly from the mid 90s onwards. WHERE’S THE RARE BON SCOTT? WHERE IS THE FIRST SINGLE WITH DAVE EVANS ON VOCALS? This all seems like such a wasted opportunity really. Very disappointing. I must say though, the working amplifier box is nice, but that shouldn’t be the only way to get all the tracks. Between Bourbons, Bon Scott would be turning in his grave, I’m sure. Whole Lotta Rosie? Whole Lotta Ripoff.

mk’s 2009 Metal Top 10

10. The Seven Gates – Angel of Suffering

This was a late entry into my list (OK, OK, I’m late in general with my list, but this was the last of the crop). Can’t really pin-point what it is about this one – it’s certainly nothing special but I think it’s just the guitar tuning and tempo of Angel that has me interested in every track – the direction and tempo wavers in parts through the songs, giving you something new to appreciate.  Certainly not in the 10 just because there was nothing else. It just hits the right spots for me – not bad for a debut release from these French guys.

9. The Burning – Reawakening

A late entry into my Top10, this release by a relative unknown. A Danish band with their second LP.  A take on modern DM sound, minus the brutality and frenetic pace. Again, just catchy enough to have me wanting to re-listen time again.  The sound is a little Static-X in parts but with a Millie from Kreator type Vox.

8. Austere – To lay Like Old Ashes

I’m in two minds right off the bat for this one. After a small intro, ‘To Fade With the Dusk’ swings the doors of your coffin open and begs you to enter. Depressingly brilliant!  The harrowing vocals work really well here. This continues for the next few tracks before we are treated to a 20-minute last track which is essentially an instrumental involving the same chords as heard in previous tracks, played on and on and on to a completely boring an annoying ending.  I would have almost preferred a 30-minute, 5-track album.

7. 16 – Bridges to Burn

Down-tuned guitars, a mid tempo pace and howling vocals all work together quite well.  Being a fan of such bands as Weedeater, this type of sound tickles the right spots for me. Catchy as FUCK!!

6. My Dying Bride – For Lies I Sire

I was really hoping for a suitable follow-up to the masterpiece ‘A Line Of Deathless Kings’ from 2006 (which made my number 1 in Metal).  News of a return of violin made me nervous, but I needn’t worry.  It’s insignificant and is far outweighed by the gut-wrenching guitar sound, pulling you limb by limb into their misery-ness. Stainthorp’s vocals are brilliantly vacant and moody. 

5. Heaps of Dead – Deceased, Dismembered, And Left To Decay

Damn this is great!!  Only clocking in around the 30 minute mark, it’s perfect for a DM album.  But those put off purely by DM don’t shy away – timing changes a-plenty  along with the odd thrash moments here and there.  The scream vocal has been used nicely and isn’t overbearing.  Last track isn’t necessary but you can forgive them that.

4. Ruins – Front The Final Foes

Have given this a stack of listens now and love it.  Took me a while though – while I instantly loved the first couple of tracks, I did find myself losing interest a little further on.  In contrast to when I saw them live and was instantly hooked on the set they played. Anyway buy it!!

3. Warbringer – Waking Into Nightmares

It can be a hard task separating the shit from the new wave of Thrash Metal shovel these days. But these guys are screaming to be rescued and I’m more than happy to give them a hand.  This is really well executed in my mind.  They’ve avoided the high end speed and ferocity of the likes of Municipal Waste and kept things pretty simple.  Mid paced with well executed solos thrown in. The vocals remind me of the now ex lead singer of Rumplestiltskin Grinder.  A pleasant surprise.

2. Mortification – The Evil Addiction Destroying Machine

Right from the title track for Track 1 I’m hooked.   The production is slightly neutered, the playing as tight as can be and the grhowling (cross be growl and howl) vocals spot on.  Was a fan of their return in 2004 (Brain Cleaner).  Sorry that I missed Erasing the Goblin, but glad they are continuing on their new direction and still releasing quality, dirt under the fingernails, Thrash!!

1. Heaven and Hell – Heaven and Hell

Ahh not getting my list together until much later in 2010 is in some way going to impact on my list.  Before we go too far here. I love this album – listened to it once and went straight out and bought it.  There is some absolutely classic Dio/Sabbath cuts in here – from the unnerving build up in Bible Black to the up-tempo Double the Pain – this album have just about got everything. And how about Ronnie’s voice?  You listen to the likes of Ozzy and Dickenson lurching into the microphone still in their 50’s/60’s and you can notably hear the deterioration.  Not so Dio – sounds as crisp and as clear as ‘Mob Rules’ effort t for example all those years ago.

So to the point at hand – Mortifications effort was/is a breath of fresh air in my much loved, slightly stale thrash cupboard, but Dio’s passing makes Heaven and Hell an extra special release now.  It takes the number 1 spot.

mk’s 2009 Non-Metal Top 10

OK, this year has been a lean year in the non-metal stakes. I couldn’t even muster 10 together. Good news is there are some controversial picks in my 10 which will create much debate I’m sure.

9. Firewind – Grand Union

Gee. Steer plays a mean guitar in Carcass, but with Firebird we get to hear his sweetening vocals, and damn their good for the sound. Oh and the guitar work is still smooth, albeit a completely different sound. He’s capably backed up by virtual nobodies (well, when compared to Steer anyway) in Smoczkiewicz (bass) and Witt (drums). There are mind you, a couple of odd balls in Worried Mind and the closing track Caledonia which seem to be a departure from the rest of the album. Had read a bit about this band’s work, but never been really interested.

8. Crucified Barbara – Till Death Do Us Party

This is actually better than I thought it would be. I know this will alienate others in the BigBlack Headquarters, but I’m thinking a Peste payback is warranted anyway. Despite some cheesy song titles and lyrics, the hard rock sound of the all female band rocks along at a nice pace. Nothing groundbreaking, not surprisingly – think The Donnas and you’ve pretty much found their clone……but better. Still, not one to dismiss without a listen or few

7. Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fan of Hagar’s raspy vocals, so for me it has been way to long between drinks hearing him sing. Thank Keyryst he sold that Cabbo Wabbo tequila shite and realised he still should be singing. Anyway, that aside, this is surprisingly a great listen. I say surprisingly as despite the quality of all band members I did have questions as to whether they could put together a tasty piece of Rock. To me they have done that in loads. Satriani’s keeping things in check and hasn’t t done the Marty McFly at the high school dance – plenty of cool licks without going overboard. You can also easily hear Anthony at the bottom end and well, Chad is just Chad – nothing here extending his abilities but a solid effort indeed. Then there is Sammy of course. Lyrics could be considered a bit ‘old-hat’ – everyone has sung about their girlfriend before, so nothing new really, but musically they have kept their collective street creds well and truly intact.

6. O.S.I – Blood

If I didn’t know the background of OSI, I’d have probably guessed it. Look a large who’s who here but even without Steve Wilson appearing on Blood, there is still a close relationship in parts to the Porcupine Tree sound. For the cattle alone in this band and this release (Mikael is on it – what more excuse do you need), I think it worth some of your attention. Very chilled out.

5. The Devin Townsend Project – Ki

Wow!! Is my first reaction. I was expecting this to be different and a little nervous of whether I would like this or not. Maybe it’s my mood as I listen but Ki is a very soothing release. A complete departure from the ear insult of Dev’s back catalogue. Am really looking forward to the following 3 releases now.

4. Chevelle – Sci-Fi Crimes

My first impressions after a couple of listens was that it’s certainly not as aggressive as their previous release Verna Serna. Songs seem a little more structured and if you’re a fan of The Butterfly Effect, particularly Imago, then you will see big similarities here. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan, but much like Imago actually, this took a little longer to grow on me. Am glad I made the effort – these guys are brilliant songwriters! Can’t believe it took 4 long players in for us to discover them.

3. Bloodhorse – Horizoner

A 10minute instrumental of nothing really does distract, but if you hang in there you discover some interesting stoner/alt rock moments from Bloodhorse. Just when you comfortably cruising the highway of mellow the start of ‘Paranoiac’ smacks you in the face to make sure you are still maintaining an interest. Yeah, of course I am dude.

2. Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue

I can remember a earlier this year hearing the snippets on the net of some of the tracks (Check My Brain intro was one along with A Looking In View). They were full of dirty crunchy guitars. That sound I had been longing for since about 1993. Tie this to the surprise Soundwave performance in Feb 2009 (surprise as they were the last band I expected to see touring at that stage) and I’d have to say I had greater expectations of this release than I did for Death Magnetic. So temper your interest in my review with that in context. This baby had a huge responsibility to live up to. After supplementing my thirst for anything Alice related over the past decade with Jerry’s solo efforts, my first impressions with the majority of the vox being lead by him, is this is some floor scraps from Degradation Trip. The song writing credits certainly allude to this, so I have my suspicions. It’s not until Last Of My Kind that we have co-song writing duties with William. And funny enough we hear him singing solo for the first time. And let’s jump over this hurdle right now – No one, no one is going to replace Layne’s unique sound, so let’s not try for comparisons. This track shows his ability to put the moody lingerings on a couple of lines, but also give us something a little different in the abrupt delivery, which matches well with Jerry’s axe (or maybe his). But hey, we return to a Jerry song on track 4. I’ll admit that Layne didn’t contribute too much to the song-writing either, but I guess his absence, mixed with Jerry’s continuing contribution has me convincing myself that this is not the Alice in Chains of old. In actual fact it never could be. If I shut my eyes tight and compare it with 2003’s self-titled effort, I’d have to say this would probably rate better as a complete record. I could go on and on and probably haven’t given a direct impression of my thoughts. If I was to summarise – it hasn’t lived up to my expectations, but in reality my expectations were foolish. It’s a good effort, (although I would have loved to see the next Jerry solo effort if this didn’t come together) and I look forward to hearing the tracks mixed in amongst the likes of Would? and Rooster on their next trip to Oz. Oh, did I say I love the name of the album. Perfect!

1. The Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

I went into the first release of this series – Ki earlier this year – expecting anything and came out the other end quite appreciative of the sound, as far removed from the Heavy Dev we have come to know over the past few years. This one was expected to ramp up the heaviness. In fact it does, returning some of those families crushing riffs, but still tainted with the softness of Ki, in part due to the female vocals. Dev relates this record in similarity to some of his Ocean Machine work. I wasn’t really a fan of OM, but like this release.

Honourable Mentions

Clutch – Strange Cousins From The West

Their previous effort ‘From Beale Street To Oblivion’ was a winner for me. I’m certainly aligning better with their more bluesy sound of their past releases. However ‘Strange Cousins….’ doesn’t seem to have quite the same groove as ‘From Beale Street, but I’m a fan so it makes my Honourables!

Kong – What It Seems Is What You Get

Instrumental albums are a difficult thing to nail. In the current climate where I’m struggling with a lot of the screaming vox types, this is quite a nice change. Obviously the focus then moves to the music quality and whether it can capture your imagination and interest. The Industrial style comes from their early releases I believe as there is very little of that influence in ‘What It Seems Is What You Get’. The undertone of a nice crunchy guitar with plenty of additional layers over the top has me interested. My only criticism would be that it’s a lot to take in. The album I think should be listened to in entirety in one sitting and for me clocking in at just over an hour is a little long for an instrumental.

Saxon – Into The Labyrinth

Ahh, the soothing comfort of a Saxon release. Like smelling your favourite meal out of the kitchen window on your walk home from school, the promise of a new Saxon album delivers that warm glow of expectation. Trying to convince yourself they are still producing the same killer licks as their early to mid period 80’s is futile, yet the legacy has not been disrespected. Biff, Paul and Co. continues to release some satisfying serves of power on their heavy metal menu.

Dishonourable Mentions

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – III

The transformation from II to III is wider than the gap opened up by Moses in the Red Sea. Initially I wasn’t sure whether to side with the ‘they’ve sold out’ haters or embrace it as the next step in their humble journey towards stardom. That grit you get between your teeth when you munch on previous releases just doesn’t seem to be there for me. Having said that the song writing is intelligent and typical of the Maylene style but it’s the very formulated feel that has me heading back down the tunnel.

Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Tis about time I buried the hatchet and made a decent attempt to admire to some level the new Pearl Jam wave. After listening to Backspacer – yes I listened all the way through at least twice – it’s just insipid, self-indulgent tripe. I’d almost have to say the new Powderfinger wave is slightly more interesting than this. Thankfully I’ve saved my $$ on this and can get into the back catalogue PJ reissues (the first wave as I call it)!