Prophets of Rage – Live in Rio de Janeiro Review

It’s getting on for a year since Prophets of Rage were first revealed to the world after months of rehearsals behind closed doors, but now this super protest group that came out swinging against Donald Trump’s election campaign has become a global entity as they take their powerful set to the four corners. Last week it was Brazil, and on Friday night (May 12th) Tom Morello, Tim Comerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine hit the stage at Vivo Rio with vocalists B-Real (Cypress Hill) and Chuck D (Public Enemy), with DJ Lord, also of Public Enemy, spinning the wheels of steel.

Despite playing a set liberally spiced with RATM classics, this is no nostalgia gig, the dynamic of not one, but two hip hop greats on vocals giving the project an exciting edge. Throw in a handful of PE numbers, a few snatches of CH, some surprising covers and even some original material (there’s an album in the can due for a September release) and we have an exciting night on our hands.

An enthusiastic set from Rise Against was soon followed by an extended introduction from DJ Lord, featuring a mash up of classics from the worlds of rock, metal and hip-hop, with some badass mixing of ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to set the mood.

The siren rings out to signal the opening track, signature tune ‘Prophets of Rage’, and it’s obvious from the word go that this is one well drilled outfit. Chuck D, dressed all in black, and B-Real, doing his best Arab sheik impression, take centre stage and split the vocal duties, while the Rage boys add a whole new level of power to the Public Enemy classic.

The crowd needs little encouragement and is already bouncing around enthusiastically from the word go. Three RATM tracks follow in quick succession, with ‘Testify’, ‘Take The Power Back’ and ‘Guerrilla Radio’, increasing the intensity, before Cypress Hill’s ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’. B-Real makes for a commanding presence stage front, handling a little more of the lead work (maybe his voice is better suited to the Rage material?), with Chuck seemingly happy to bounce off the rocking Cypress Hill frontman, swinging his microphone baseball style and taking the lion’s share on his own material.

We get two more Rage tracks to push the temperature even higher with the intense ‘Bombtrack’ and ‘People of the Sun’, before something of a hip-hop interlude. First up is the Enemy classic ‘Fight the Power’, the passing years have given Chuck’s voice more gravity but have done nothing to diminish his flow and the rock arrangement adds an interesting angle, the song proving a perfect fit for Tom Morello‘s idiosyncratic style.

Chuck and B-Real then make their way down to the barriers for an extended rap medley of ‘Hand on the Pump / Can’t Truss It / Insane in the Brain / Bring the Noise / I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That / Welcome to the Terrordome and Jump Around’. To be honest, the sound is pretty rough at this point, but the two MCs are giving it their all and are rocking the crowd up close. ‘Jump Around’ is an undeniable crowd pleaser and after working its magic, one of the greatest riffs in history kicks in and ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ opens the second half of the show, which can only be described as insane.

Pits open up all over the venue as ‘Bullet in the Head’ elicits an almost primal reaction from the energetic crowd. ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘Know Your Enemy’ maintain the intensity as what started out as well-drilled slips into top gear and becomes high-octane.

There is something so right about the chemistry in this band that even the new songs sound like instant classics; upcoming single ‘Unfuck The World’ being greeted with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the set. The White Stipes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ is then a surprising addition, before ‘Bulls on Parade’ once more whips the crowd into a frenzy.

Tim McIlrath from Rise Against takes to the stage for the now traditional ‘Kick Out the Jams’ cover and then there’s only one song left. The inevitable closing track
Killing in the Name’
is quite simply one of the greatest protest songs ever and cannot fail. Tonight is no different. The crowd going absolutely mental with circular mosh pits filled with bodies crashing off each other and the floor is absolute ecstatic chaos.

There are no false pretenses here though, we aren’t getting an encore – ‘Killing in The Name’ is the end, and that’s it; what more could you possibly want?

All told, it’s a pretty damn superb performance; the playing is highly professional with impeccable rhythms and Morello never dropping a note; the two MCs work the stage with such a cool dynamic it is as if they’ve been performing together for years and DJ Lord slips in and out seamlessly, even managing a battle with Morello. There is undeniable chemistry and the exchange of energy between band and audience is quite contagious, provoking the kind of scenes not seen since smart phones became the norm. Then there’s the songs – every single thing stands up – whether it’s the Rage classics, the PE classics, the Cypress Hill classics or the new material – it all works and they nail it every time.

Watch out Europe.

Check it Out – February/March 2017

Although life in Brazil tends not to get going until after carnival, which was later than usual this year, I have actually been insanely busy since the start of the year – hence the lack of recommended listening of late. However, in the interest of redressing that balance here are a few recommendations from the thriving British alternative scene. There are so many bands making a lot of very cool music, some of which gets a little exposure, a lot of which stays firmly underground, but either way, it’s fair to say that the British rock scene is alive and well and here is a little taste of what’s kicking around.

Creeper – ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’
With hooks at the ready and more than a certain panache, Southampton Goth Punks Creeper finally delivered their debut album at the end of March and it does not disappoint. The expectation surrounding these guys had been building for months and their ambition was by no means a secret, so to an extent the pressure was on, but if there was ever a band ready for the big time Will Gould and Co are it. Packed with frantic riffs, massive choruses and theatrical aplomb, they deliver quality tune after quality tune, from bombastic opener ‘Black Rain’, past old favourite ‘Misery’ and killer single ‘Hiding With Boys’, through to the totally OTT ‘I Choose To Live’, there’s never a dull moment. Whatever “it” is, Creeper have a lot of it; go check em out.

Patrons – ‘As Above, So Below’
Another debut, another British band from the alternative rock scene and another killer record. Their own blend of post hardcore and epic alt rock may not have the obvious showbiz appeal of Creeper, but what they have delivered on ‘As Above, So Below’ is equally accomplished and has an emotional depth all its own. I have been playing this record to death this last month or so and have to say that it never gets tired, the songs revealing more and more with repeated plays. Every track is well constructed, they deliver some seriously bold choruses and Danny Brooks’ vocals are nothing less than excellent. Don’t be surprised to hear a lot more from these guys.

Luke Rainsford – I Feel at Home with You
If one man singing cool tunes on an acoustic guitar is limited to that ginger guy, then maybe you should check out Luke Rainsford, he’s a very different bag of tricks. Essentially he’s a young man dealing with serious mental health issues in self deprecating fashion through his punky folky acoustic pop. He has a great ear for a melody and employs some neat little percussion moves to keep things interesting as he works through demons of depression and anxiety. It’s by no means doom and gloom though, his work is imbued with a sense of hope that is quite uplifting, despite the bare naked honesty and his, at times, downright heartbreaking lyrics. This is a record that we can all relate to, and its subtle textures and compelling conviction make for a mature, highly listenable acoustic work out.

Patrons – As Above, So Below Review

The rough and ready, post hardcore(ish) stylings of heavy rocking Plymouth quartet Patrons have more than a certain charm; their debut album making for pretty exciting fare. With well constructed songs, a variety of quality riffs and absolutely superb vocals, ‘As Above, So Below’ is further proof that the British rock scene is alive and well.

‘First of the Slow Burners’ gets off to a measured start, being aptly named as it ticks along a little mechanically, before a passionate chorus drops a cool hook to draw you in, the rough edges to Danny Brooks vocal showing a rawness that is immediately likeable. ‘Shapes in Nature’ works similarly well, with a quirky melody and a killer hard rocking chorus, which builds to a passionate heavy finale; tune.

Most of the tracks have a pretty personal feel, musing on life and relationships to great effect, whether it’s the mid paced rocker ‘Everything Matters’, or the excellent ‘The Art of Conversation’, which rolls along atmospherically until some big riffs and a passionate chorus kick it into epic rock shape.

Although they are billed as post hardcore there is plenty of variety on display, we get an air of Panic at the Disco to Eighty Four’ before they rock it up on what is another well worked tune, they then venture into seriously aggressive territory on the gutsy ‘War and Pieces’. But then there are tracks like ‘Listen’, with its sparse intro of guitar, vocal and eighties atmosphere, which slowly builds to a big chorus and a passionate finale dripping in emotion.

Without a trace of filler in sight, as debut albums go this is a pretty damn impressive record. Whether it’s on the quirky guitar lines and frantic banging chorus of ‘Army of One’, energetic rocker ‘Last of the Quick Think’ or the alt rock come down ballad ‘Dawn’, which brings things to a spectacular close, they certainly know their way around a tune.

All in all, ‘As Above, So Below’ is a mighty fine debut album that ticks all the power, energy and emotion boxes. It stands up to repeated plays and to put it in simple terms, is all killer, no filler. Good work fellas.

9/10

‘As Above, So Below’ is out as of 31st March on Rose Coloured Records. Check it out here http://www.wearepatrons.com/

Blast from the Past – Warrior Soul

In the interest of moving forwards, the “Overlooked or Underrated” section has been revamped and renamed as “Blast from the Past”, so as to encompass a wider variety of past releases that may be worth cosying up to once again. First up….

warrior-soulIf ever there was a band with a niche it was Kory Clarke‘s Warrior Soul – too serious for the hard rock crowd, too hard rock for the grunge crowd and too political for an American audience that had partied so hard they wanted to wear plaid and stay in their bedrooms. In the UK though, some of us embraced their anarchistic politicised stance railing against the “system”, the media, the status quo. To say they were underrated wouldn’t be entirely accurate as they were more than well received critically, but they got seriously overlooked by the various CD buying tribes of the time. They probably would have flourished under the musical freedom of the internet where fans no longer run in packs.

Anyway, it is their 1990 debut album, ‘Last Decade, Dead Century’, that has most stood the test of time and is most deserving of a revisit. Jam packed with massive riffs, they achieved an enviable fullness to their guitar sound that had a rolling effect, rather than the usual crunch crunch riffing of most rock bands. They were not afraid to experiment rhythmically either and Clarke made for an excellent front man – behind his massive mane of hair there was a seriously talented vocalist that could rasp with pure vitriol, yet could more than hold a tune. On Last Decade, they create an apocalyptic vision of an America where the system is failing and it’s overrun with drugs and crime.

The A-side of the vinyl, the first five tracks of the CD, is a superbly balanced selection of everything that made this band so damn cool. The pounding of the drums and opening riff of ‘I See The Ruins’ opens proceedings with a sense of foreboding, before the main groove laden riff powers along, underpinning Clarke’s apocalyptic view of nineties America. It segues into the massive ‘We Cry Out’ with the vaguest hint of Goth to the riff, before the plaintive cry of ‘The Losers’ celebrates the disaffected of the world.

However, it was track 4, the totally badass ‘Downtown’ that first got me into Warrior Soul. What a huge song. It’s chugging riff and pounding bass hammer away relentlessly to provide a hard driving back drop to teenage rebellion and the seedier side of life. Throw in the swirling riffs of the hypnotic ‘Tripping on Ecstasy’ and you have a killer first half to a record.

Side 2 is no less accomplished, although the vitriolic rant of ‘Four More Years’ has at least one foot in the pretentious and breaks the rhythm of the record a little. Even so, Kory Clarke is an artist and it’s admirable of him to push artistic boundaries and challenge the listener a little. ‘Superpower Dreamland’ immediately puts things back on track with its mid-tempo driving rock groove and winning hook. Then comes the totally killer ‘Charlie’s Out of Prison’ – what a great fucking rock song – it’s got riffs, groove, attitude, impeccably timed stops and quite simply nails it.

There are more great moments in the closing tracks, whether it’s the slow boiling ‘Blown Away’, the atmospheric desolation of ‘Lullaby’, which showcases Clarke’s versatility, or the rolling riffs and cool hooks of ‘In Conclusion’, neatly capturing their signature sound. Basically, the grating interlude of ‘Four More Years’ aside, their isn’t the vaguest hint of filler on this fine record. Every track stands up until today, making this an album well worth revisiting.

Warrior Soul are actually still going, albeit as more of a touring outfit than anything else. Even so, their back catalogue features some seriously cool music and is worth sniffing around Spotify to see what other gems can be unearthed.

5 Times George Michael Nailed It

george-michael
When I was a child growing up it was kinda hard to get away from whatever pop music was polluting the charts at the time; whether I liked it or not, this music was soundtracking my childhood. However, what I didn’t realise at the time, basically because I found songs like ‘True’, ‘Rio’ or ‘Karma Chameleon’ irritating (though now admit to their pop genius), was that the people who sung numbers like these could not only hold a tune but were seriously talented. Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) had an absolutely massive voice, Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran) could really nail a hook, and as for Boy George, his voice had texture – just listen to ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ it’s stunning.

Then, of course, there was George Michael. I wasn’t exactly a fan, but as pop music went at the time George could normally meet with pretty much universal approval and was about as close as you get to pop perfection. I always knew he was a good singer, I mean, I bought ‘Older’, which is a fine album with a jazzy late night feel that makes for a very chilled listen, but it was only recently that it really hit me.

Since the turn of the century, we’ve been inundated with “talent” realities – Idol, X-Factor, The Voice to name a few – and a number of alumni from these shows have gone on to achieve considerable success. The shows themselves have thrown up a number of memorable moments where singers have stunned crowds with incredible voices or stand out performances. A handful are even genuine talents with a long history of hard work behind them; think Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis, but in reality most are just winging it, benefitting from big production, teams of songwriters and talent makers like Simon Cowell looking for a quick return on their investment. However, singers like these, and other internet sensations discovered via YouTube or wherever, have become the norm and are everywhere.

So when, a few years ago, I happened across a George Michael live show on a satellite music channel – it was an unplugged style thing – it struck me just how easy he made it look and how little production he needed. Where the reality stars were singing their hearts out to make it look good, George hardly broke sweat, where the wannabes were struggling to reach a note and get all the words into the melody, George had smoothly glided through and never missed a beat or failed a note. Thinking back over his career, a couple of big ballads aside, he rarely belted out a tune, there was always this sensation that he was singing well within himself and that he could sing pretty much anything with consummate ease. And therein lies George’s genius, ok, his career may have waned in recent years, but his early work has stood the test of time, simply because it was so well done. Great voice, great talent.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of times George nailed it in his own inimitable style.

‘Careless Whisper’
One of the few times George really lets loose, showing off an enviable range and stunning power. Sure, it’s about as slushy as a ballad can get, but the sax riff is genius and the vocal nothing short of incredible. Hats off to Andrew Ridgeley for writing such a timeless classic.

‘Somebody to Love’
Move over Adam Lambert, George was the original choice as the new Queen vocalist, such was the supremacy of his performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute. There was a lot of speculation in the media that he really would join as permanent replacement, but rumour has it that John Deacon vetoed the project (among other rumours). Whether he could’ve cut it on the rockier numbers will also remain open to question. Anyway, George described ‘Somebody to Love’ as the hardest song he ever had to sing, but boy does he nail it, whether in the famous rehearsal video or on stage at Wembley, where he puts in a sublime performance – take note singers, that is how you work a crowd.

‘Father Figure’
For me, this is one of the most underrated songs in George’s back catalogue and is often overlooked, yet it has stood the test of time and his understated vocal shows the depth of his singing talent. This performance from the Mtv Unplugged of 1996 is testament to the talent of the man.

‘Older’
In my humble opinion, this darkly jazzy track is one of George’s finest moments. It’s a beautifully understated song that shows off some fine vocals – there’s a bit of bite, a bit of hush – and really was a coming of age. The whole album stands up for its quality until today – ‘Jesus to a Child’, ‘Fastlove’, ‘Spinning The Wheel’…great songs, brilliantly sung.

‘As’
Ok, so I’m a bit of a sucker for a big bad Mary J vocal, she always kills it, but on this Stevie Wonder classic George more than holds his own on what is a superb duet. Whether it’s trading riffs between verses or when they go head to head as the song gathers to its killer gospel climax, George puts in an awesome performance.

Check it Out – January 2017

January is a strange old month, kinda slow and long, and come the end of the year it’s been pretty much forgotten. However, that doesn’t stop the music business getting off to a lively start, with 2017 already throwing up some banging releases. There is already a whole bunch of quality records flying around Spotify and filling the racks in record stores, so, with that in mind I figured it was time for something brand spanking new to fill these digital pages.

This new section of Hard Pressed, replacing the now defunct ‘What’s Hot in My House’, aims to introduce people to some of the hottest recommendations each month. It could feature anything from the obvious to the obscure, just depends what’s been grabbing my attention. So here we go with the first crop of big hitters to be jumping around my virtual stage or crooning in my own personal backroom bar.

The xx – ‘I See You’
‘I See You’, the third album from Mercury Prize winners, The xx, is the obvious big release from January and it does not disappoint. Their hushed indie pop sound has progressed into something more expansive and exploratory as they deliver an absolutely gorgeous record. They’ve retained that air of thoughtful vulnerability, while also showing greater confidence, resulting in a gratifyingly adventurous album exploring the textures of well constructed pop music. This is sure to be kicking around for a while and is well worth immersing yourself in – don’t be surprised to see it on many album of the year lists. Superb.

Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
As hip-hop albums go, this is like the anti-thesis of all the brash American rappers bragging about riches and the glamorous gangsta lifestyle. This is not an album about how amazing Loyle Carner is, it’s about life, something we can all relate to, nostalgia, reminiscing, missing the simplicity of childhood, musing on the mundane – damn it, this boy can rhyme about anything. Loyle boasts an effortless almost low-key flow as he glides smoothly through these snapshots of urban life in distinctly chilled out fashion. This is the future of British rapping – sublime.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – ‘Modern Ruin’
On their sophomore album, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have evolved into a slick blend of hard driving rock and twisted punk, with a liberal spattering of Frank’s brand of uncompromising vitriol that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and the Sex Pistols. And what a great album it is. Sure there is a full on dose of power chords and radio friendly choruses, but this is a band moving forwards and progressing into a serious proposition. Besides which, Frank’s lyrics remain as unforgiving as ever with tracks like the incredible ‘Thunder’ putting post Brexit prejudices under the microscope. Great record.

Sepultura – ‘Machine Messiah’
Although balls to the wall, scream til your ears bleed thrash metal may not be everyone’s bag, the innovative new album from Brazilian giants Sepultura is still well worth a listen. The album is essentially a conceptual affair expounding on the robotisation of society and is simply excellent in every department, from the stunning cover art down to the faultless production. Andreas Kisser and Co. have reached an enviable level of technical excellence and they use it to great effect on this creatively diverse record. Doom laden epics? Got em. Superfly shredding? Yep. Cinematic orchestration? No problem. There’s even some adventure to the rhythms and vocals. To be frank this is one of the finest albums of Sepultura’s long career and as metal goes, it’s gonna be hard to beat. Full review: http://alreadyheard.com/post/155988183668/review-sepultura-machine-messiah

Halestorm – ReAniMate 3.0 Covers EP Review

Halestorm recently dropped ReAniMate 3.0, the third in their series of covers EPs, which they use to fill stop gaps between albums, and to put it bluntly, it’s pretty damn fine. What you get is an eclectic mix of six covers from the various sub genres of rock and pop, all of which are a nice fit for Lzzy Hale‘s raspy rocker voice.

It all kicks off with live favourite ‘Still of the Night’, which stays true to the original, moody mid section, blistering solo and all. It’s very close to their own style, but they breathe some freshness into the Whitesnake classic.

Much more surprising is the hard rock twist they put on ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’, the nineties pop classic from one hit wonder Sophie B. Hawkins. Sure, it has a killer hook to the chorus and is catchy as hell anyway, but some laid back radio friendly riffing turns it into a feel good hit for the summer, giving the listener that blaring from the car stereo cruising on LA freeways feel. Joan Jett‘s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ is up next and is everything you might expect; straight forward banging hard rock tune.

It’s the second half of the EP where they really stretch themselves though, nowhere more so than on Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Heathens’. On first listen, it’s not an obvious winner, especially after the radio-friendly rockiness of the first three tracks, but repeated plays reveal it to be truly excellent. Vocally, Lzzy demonstrates surprising versatility as she wraps her chords around the tongue twisting verses, while musically they retain the darkness of the original, but succeed in giving it a harder rockier edge; great track.

Soundgarden‘s ‘Fell on Black Days’ follows in a similarly dark vibe and, like the original, it’s good, but nothing spectacular. Covering Metallica is always a bold move, especially on a raw thrash track like ‘Ride the Lightning’, but they pull it off. Sure, the guitar sound is a little less meatier and as raspy as Lzzy’s voice is, it’s difficult for her to emulate the same naked aggression of the original. Even so, as the song progresses it thrashes along as fast as the original and the solo totally nails it and besides, this is Halestorm‘s version not a copy, so it has to be respected.

It’s testament to the band’s talent and versatility that they can shift easily from rock to pop to grunge to thrash so easily, whilst paying sufficient homage to the original without losing their own identity/style. A lot of upcoming bands could learn from EPs like this; for me it’s a win win situation, you keep your fan base involved between big releases and tours, maybe attract some new fans, whilst also testing your own talents on a variety of styles. Metallica is another band that have long enjoyed a cover, often using them as a way of blowing away the cobwebs in the studio.

So, all in all, a great little release and well worth a listen – fair play Halestorm. Now, about the new album…..

9/10

The Best Records of 2016 Part 2

I’ve already highlighted a bunch of records from 2016 that I believe to be cool as fuck and I’ve also banged on at length about the thrash metal renaissance – five of my favourite albums of the year are right there. However, there was so much awesome music around this year deserving a mention that my end of year round up merits a part two, so here goes…

The Lion and The Wolf – ‘Cardiac Hotel’ is one of the most lovely records I’ve heard in years. Its sublime blend of folky indie ticks all the boxes as it wraps the listener in a warm blanket of melancholy, the sadness of which manages to be uplifting and comforting in equal measure. The quality songwriting weaves a richly textured tapestry, striking an intimate chord with the listener as it deals with the everyday hurt in life. Thank you Thomas George.

The problem with the Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’ is that it’s not ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Doolittle’, but if you take it on its own merit, it is a mighty fine record. Sure, one or two tracks are on the ordinary side, but there is still plenty of quality on display – ‘Classic Masher’ being as good a slice of indie pop as you are likely to hear, while the sound of Black Francis screaming his way through ‘Baals Back’ rolls back the years. Throw in the banger that is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ and it’s a winning record.

The anarchic chaos that is Heck – Instructions is another record that surprised the shit outta me this year. Already famous for their frenetic stage show, the band formally known as Baby Godzilla managed to translate their wild abandon into a noisy as hell collection of attacking riffs and pummelling rhythms that transcends classification, such is the stylistic melting pot on offer. Just when you think it’s all frenzied mayhem they trip you up with a moment of subtle beauty or an absolutely stunning guitar solo. Well worth a listen – it’s exciting stuff.

My EP of the year over at Already Heard went to the superb Making Monsters – ‘Bad Blood’, whose six tracks of hard edged alternative rock are all killer. This is a band going places – they know how to bang out a bad ass riff and in Emma Gallagher they boast a really talented and versatile vocalist; she can do tender or angry, deliver a hook and even go guttural. Couple that with their sassy songwriting and you have a winning combination; can’t wait for the debut album.

I’ll admit that The Hotelier – ‘Goodness’ took me a few listens to get into, but once I did, it became a regular play. It’s a pretty deep record and worth investing some time exploring. For some reason, it reminds me of REM, but in a good way – I guess they are kinda like how I always wanted Stipe and Co to sound – intelligent lyrics in well structured engaging songs, only with an edge. Tracks like ‘Piano Player’, ‘Settle The Scar and ‘Soft Animal are all kinds of good, check em out.

Admittedly, I haven’t given it as much time as it deserves but man, Black Peaks – Statues is one spectacular record. From the furious opening and intricate twists and turns of ‘Glass Built Castles’ through to the shifting textures of ‘To Take The First Turn’ with its powerful blend of progressive hardcore, this is a rollercoaster of an album. It takes the listener on a heady journey through the aggressive, the dramatic and the beautiful; it is as haunting as it is engaging and makes for a truly powerful listen. Following a debut album as epic as this one is gonna be quite a task.

There is a subtly cool vibe to Solange – ‘A Seat At The Table’, as the younger Knowles sister stylishly pulls up a chair. This is a finely worked album that blends elements of pop, soul and R &B around Solange’s soothing tones, though her voice possesses a delicious ache just beneath the surface. There is a maturity to the songs and the insightful interludes as she expounds on race, womanhood and empowerment, that makes for a thoroughly compelling listen. Hypnotic rather than bombastic, assured rather than sassy, this is one classy record.

There is something almost elusive about Warpaint – Heads Up; it seems to be much more about the overall groove than individual songs as it rumbles hypnotically along. It is something of a master class in the use of beats and bass to create a vibe, as the understated guitar lines and gossamer thin vocals add a textured finish. I really enjoyed this record and it’s one that I keep going back to, trying to grasp its meandering indie groove; superb.

I’m sure there are other albums I could’ve included here, but I decided to focus on those that have most stayed with me to make this another excellent year of music. Roll on 2017….

The Best Records of 2016 – Part 1

If there is one dead cert in the world of music writing, it’s the end of year list – the golden opportunity to wax lyrical about all the uber cool shit we’ve been listening to through the year that we totally believe every other fucker should also be listening to. I’m just as guilty as the next pensmith; I mean, I’ve already done two – one for Already Heard ( http://alreadyheard.com/post/154430616852/record-of-the-year-2016-staff-lists), another exclusively on thrash metal albums, although in fairness it was a retrospective article analyzing the genre with a top 5 attached (https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/thrashback-best-of-2016/)

But lets face it, here in the blogosphere it’s basically a totally subjective list and isn’t really worth shit, unlike the top ten we came up with at AH (http://alreadyheard.com/post/154422480446/already-heards-record-of-the-year-2016) which involves several contributors. So, the final list is a kind of representation of the site’s view of the world of alternative rock, and therefore a pretty useful piece of retrospection. Anyway, my top ten is there, along with the site’s top ten, but I have to say that probably wouldn’t be a definitive list, nor would another one that I might write tomorrow. So what’s the point?

However, there is surely some value in celebrating some of the seriously cool records that have had an impact on me this year. It doesn’t need to be a top ten. They don’t need ranking. It’s enough to say that this is cool as fuck and you could do a lot worse than give it a whirl, you might discover something you love – it’s what Spotify is for, for fuck’s sake. So, here come a bunch of records I’ve been listening to pretty solidly this year and intend to keep spinning well into the future.

David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ I was deeply moved by the death of David Bowie and wrote about it at length here:https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/303/ Listening to Blackstar is inextricably linked to the loss of this musical giant and was always going to be an emotional experience, but having gone back to it again and again since its release, I have to say that it really is quality and holds up well. ‘Lazarus’ is undeniably superb and the artistic merit of the record as a whole is unquestionable. Great record – excellent way to punctuate such an incredible cultural footprint.

I only got round to listening to Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’ a couple of weeks ago, but have had it on very heavy rotation ever since. Damn, what a great, honest record this is. Michael lays bare his conflicting emotions on this sublime collection that neatly combines a kinda classic seventies soul groove with a more contemporary feel and some achingly good guitar work. The title track is unbeatable.

Lisa Hannigan – ‘At Swim’ Great songs, cool vibe, lovely voice, excellent record – I keep going back for more.

Lonely the Brave – Things Will Matter is a good solid sophomore record from the Cambridgeshire boys and continues their climb up industry ladders. There are some quite spectacular moments, like the massive ‘Black Mire’, the excellent ‘Diamond Days’ and ‘Jaws of Hell’ that hint at a very bright future for British alternative rock.

Slowcoaches – ‘Nothing Gives’ came out about a week ago and I had the immense pleasure of five outta fiving it for Already Heard. The most exciting garage punk record in years, it has an energy comparable with The Strokes debut and rocks from beginning to end as it tackles issues like loss and anxiety. Heather Perkins is punk rock personified, making their brand of angry optimism instantly relatable – this band deserve to be massive.

The Cult – ‘Hidden City’ There’s nothing like your favourite band hitting good form again. Ok, it’s not ‘Love’ or ‘Sonic Temple’, but it’s creatively vibrant, still pushing boundaries and features some killer tracks. Ian Astbury‘s raw vocal on ‘Birds of Paradise’ and the killer hook of ‘No Love Lost’ find The Cult at the top of their game.

Another return to form from an eighties icon came on The Mission – Another Fall From Grace. Wayne Hussey took a conscious decision to dust off his twelve string and write an album bridging the gap between Sisters of Mercy and The Mission. According to the front man it was a painfully cathartic experience, but the vocalist can be justifiably proud of his band’s finest record since their peak. Sure, it’s as overblown and pretentious as you might expect, but Mish fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The title track is prime example of Wayne’s songwriting prowess and ‘Tyranny of Secrets’ shows they can still deliver a good old Goth rock banger.

Black Foxxes – ‘I’m Not Well’ is quite simply one of the best records I’ve heard in years. It’s rawness imbues it with power, energy and emotion at a level few bands come close to. Stone cold killer from beginning to end – album of the year by far.

Thrashback – Best of 2016

When I first heard Dave Mustaine shredding faster than ever on ‘Fatal Illusion’ it was clear something had shifted. Sure, Megadeth and a bunch of other bands have all continued releasing thrashy records over the years, but it had all gone a bit stale. So when Dystopia dropped and suddenly Megadave was sounding fresh and exciting, it meant something was in the air. And sure enough, little by little, thrash bombs kept dropping and exploding through my headphones with a ferociousness and fervour I hadn’t heard in years.

As in 1986, three of the big four have released killer records this year, but as well as the big guns there are a crop of other groups who have also put out some of the finest work of their careers and some of the finest thrash albums ever. The list of quality releases this year is quite literally massive, the genre as a whole sounding vibrant and exciting.

I put this down to the marginalization within the music industry; now that there are so few major labels, all of which concentrate their eggs firmly in the mainstream basket, there is a gaping hole on the alternative side of things, so counter culture is thriving, and it is largely fueled by the internet. This has meant that smaller boutique labels like the fantastic Nuclear Blast have been able to deepen otherwise niche markets like that of thrash. A quick flick through the label’s roster and it’s obvious that much of the current excitement on the thrash scene can be laid at their door. Then there’s Metal Blade and Roadrunner and their enduring dedication to the metal scene.

Also, now that we live in super slick, social media obsessed, internet madness, there seems to be a kind of retro cool about the old school sound, suddenly, it’s OK to go back to the eighties, so the older groups now sound relevant rather than dated. Anyway, this eighties vibe and vibrant alternative scene has translated into some mighty fine records and made 2016 the biggest year in thrash since the glory days. Here’s what it’s all been about…

Suicidal Tendencies went back to their roots to great effect with ‘World Gone Mad’, their most defiant and most hardcore record in years. It was great to hear Mike Muir as passionate as ever, and with Dave Lombardo putting in a titanic drum performance they managed to retain a thrash edge despite the album’s punkiness. Meanwhile, Danish veterans Artillery put together a good old fashioned riff heavy superfly thrasher on Penalty By Perception, which is one seriously riffy record. Of the younger bands kicking up a storm, the standout is undoubtedly Vektor, whose ambitiously conceptual Terminal Redux makes for a technically excellent record and is well worth investing a bit of time in. They put their abilities to good effect, creating a keen sense of drama that resonates between the multiple layers of this highly textured epic. There have also been noteworthy releases from the likes of Voivod, Flotsam and Jetson, Vader and the massive Gojira. However, for my top five it’s strictly old school.

5) Testament – ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’
Of this year’s releases it was ‘Brotherhood of the Snake that was the most pleasantly surprising. I always had a soft spot for Testament and loved their early material, but there was always a feeling of unfulfilled potential with ‘Souls of Black’ failing to deliver on their early promise, despite selling well. Therefore, it was brilliant to hear them produce a record as strong as ‘Brotherhood…’; they sound harder, heavier and faster than in their heyday, but have managed to incorporate their melodic tendencies with some killer hooks; Chuck Billy is sounding incredible, with the kind of performance younger singers could learn a lot from. ‘Black Jack’, ‘The Number Game’, ‘Stronghold’, ‘The Pale King’ are just some of the stand outs on this relentless collection of all killer no filler.

4) Megadeth – Dystopia
There are moments on ‘Dystopia’ that could slip easily into Megadeth‘s impressive cannon of material. The above mentioned ‘Fatal Illusion’, which rocks as hard and fast as anything on ‘Peace Sells…’, being one, the ‘Rust’ish ‘Bullet To The Brain’ another. Then there’s the double punch of the massive ‘Poisonous Shadows’ and instrumental ‘Conquer or Die’, where Kiko Loureiro (Angra) and Lamb of God Chris Adler really earn their salt, proving the catalysts for this reinvigoration. Sure, ‘Dystopia’ has its flaws, but this is without doubt Mustaine’s strongest album in years and with the current line up they actually sound exciting again.

3) Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’
Despite sounding a little overblown on first listen, For All Kings has stood up well and repeated listens have revealed more and more depth to this excellent record, the songs are excellently crafted and there is a surprisingly strong sense of melody to temper their ever present thrashiness. Joey Belladonna is quite simply outstanding throughout and musically speaking there is plenty to get your ears around, from stone cold bangers like Evil Twin to textured epics like the sprawling ‘Blood Eagle Wings the entire album rocks.

2) Metallica – ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’
At its best ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ is up there with Metallica‘s finest work. The first half of the album, or disc one of the CD, delivering in spades. However, the second half is found wanting and lends a slight sense of disappointment to what could have been their best record since ‘Puppets’. Once again, the band’s incapacity to self edit has meant that some really good riffs are wasted on some really average songs. Even so, when it works, it nails it in style; ‘Moth Into Flame’ is their finest single since Enter Sandman, ‘Dream No More’ will be massive live and ‘Halo on Fire’ plays like a retrospective of their entire career. There is a welcome ‘Kill ’em All’ vibe underpinning the record, with some serious classic riffing liberally peppered around the album, and all in all it is very, very good, but just misses out on being the modern classic we were hoping for.

1) Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Without doubt the most vibrant thrash release of the year is ‘Evil Divide’; with stacks of sublime riffing from Rob Cavestany and absolutely superb vocals from Mark Osegueda. From the moment opening track ‘The Moth’ starts racing away on the back of some fly riffage, the album hits a pulsating thrash fury that is relentless. The full on attack of each and every track is nothing short of killer, it sounds fresh and exciting, yet has a foot firmly in classic thrash territory, while boasting an energy and groove that is hard to beat. ‘Hatred United, United Hate’ is simply awesome, while the performances on the emotion fueled ‘Lost’ are nothing short of stunning; then there’s the killer guitar work on tracks like ‘Breakaway’ and the excellent arrangements of songs like ‘It Can’t Be This’ and ‘Father of Lies’. Not only is it an immediately likeable album, but it stands up – it doesn’t get tired with repeated listens and at a tight ten tracks there’s no baggage and it never gets indulgent. Great fucking record.