31 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 1 Galahad - Battle Scars

And my album of year for 2012 is... Battle Scars by Galahad!

It had been a six year wait since their excellent Empires Never Last album and my investigations of the bands back catalogue had not been as fulfilling as I'd hoped. Consequently I was concerned that lightning may have only struck once but Battle Scars blew any worries away - it is awesome!

Galahad have released two albums this year and whilst Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria is very good, I think Battle Scars tops it with an eclectic mix of musical styles from the heavy metal through neo-prog to trance. Not only does this album get your foot tapping (and maybe your bum wiggling) but also your head banging with some serious guitar riffing! The vocals are passionate, the keyboards pulse, the drums pound, the guitars rock, nothing is missing from this album.

It is hard to pick individual songs out of the whole but Beyond the Barbed Wire and Seize the Day probably encompass all that is great with this album.

My only regret in respect of Galahad is that I missed seeing them live in 2012 as I was too ill to attend Danfest in November. If I have one new year's resolution for 2013 it is to remedy that...

30 December 2012

2012 Top Five Disappointments

Before revealing my top album of 2012 tomorrow, I thought I'd have a look at what, in my opinion, didn't deliver.

Overall I don't think 2012 has been a vintage year and the quality of releases not as good as 2011. For me there have been some disappointments along the way as well. By this I don't necessarily mean that the releases were bad just that they didn't live up to what I was expecting...

5. Muse - The 2nd Law:

How can something that has 13 good songs be a disappointment? When it is Muse...

Whilst there isn't a bad song on this (though Panic Station borders the absurd) to my ear it doesn't work as an album. It is an album of three parts/styles and probably should have been released as three different albums with extra tracks fitting the styles.

First off is the Queen style material Supremacy through to Big Freeze, then what should be on a Wolstenholme solo album (Save Me & Liquid State) and finally the two 2nd Law tracks with their dubstep influences which I so wanted to hate but would now love to have had expanded into a whole (concept) album, nine minutes is not enough...

4. Threshold - March of Progress:

I love Threshold and was really looking forward to hearing Damian Wilson back in the band, unfortunately the album doesn't grab me.

None of the songs are very immediate and they lack the catchy choruses of albums like Hypothetical, Subsurface etc).  Much of the sound is very "samey", with little variation and the band haven't pushed on as they should over the last two albums.

Good not great and I was hoping for great.

3. Anathema - Weather Systems: 

I must confess I didn't join in with the adulation of We're Here Because We're Here in 2010, as I didn't think it stood up well against A Natural Disaster or A Fine Day To Exit (the two albums released before Anathema became cool to the prog crowd).

Listening back to it, it is not a bad album and has some nice songs (The Beginning and the End for example) and it is better than the over-hyped We're Here Because We're Here, but I think Anathema can do better.

A band who have lost their edge and now seem to be content with safe.

2. Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri - Not The Weapon But The Hand:

Marillion fused with Porcupine Tree, what could be better than that?

Ok, I wasn't expecting a musical fusion of two of my favourite bands but felt the this moody introspective release largely disappointing.

There are a couple of tracks I quite like, Red Kite for one, but overall I felt that Not The Weapon But The Hand did not live up to its potential.

The lesson learnt here is not to assume that just because two artists from bands you love collaborate on a project, does that mean they will produce something you like, a lesson that leads nicely to...

1. Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion:

Oh where do I start? The "long awaited" collaboration between Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson was mooted as being the ultimate progressive metal album when first publicised but what we got was, well it is hard to say what we got instead...

It is hard to believe that this album came from the talents that brought us Blackwater Park and In Absentia as it is a morose, introverted pot purri of musical ideas that appear to have been thought up after too much red wine has been consumed.

It is as though Åkerfeldt and Wilson are playing some practical joke on us producing this or maybe they are guilty of the "we produce the music we want not what the fans want" mantra that certain successful artists trot out, which usually means that their ego has taken control and a strong producer isn't there to tell them they are producing drivel. Even if they decided against making the ultimate prog metal album guiding hand of a strong producer would have helped them take the good elements this album has and turned it into something worthwhile and possibly epic.

Of course what made the whole Storm Corrosion episode even worse is that the press seem to treat Steven Wilson as some kind of prog rock Sir Alex Ferguson who cannot be criticised and therefore called the release "bold", "challenging" and "experimental" (aka WTF?!).

This is definitely a case of the Emperor's New Clothes and the press seem unwilling to tell Emperor Wilson he is stood in the nude...

26 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 2 Europe - Bag Of Bones

No, I have not been on the festive sherry, second in my top 10 of 2012 is Europe's superb Bag of Bones.

If you haven't heard it you may have preconceptions of  what it sounds like but I don't think Europe could have got much further from the euro-hairspray metal of The Final Countdown as they have with this unless they'd started using death growls! It's a ballsy heavy blues rock album with the kind of Purplesque material that would not have been out of place on any classic rock album of the seventies. Budgie, Purple, Heep, Zep etc, it's all in here...

If Bag of Bones had been released by Black Country Communion everyone would be raving over it as one of the best of its ilk. Don't let the fact that this is by Europe put you off. If you like seventies heavy blues inspired rock, this should be in your collection.

The single Not Supposed To Sing The Blues and opening track Riches To Rags are two of my favourites on the album, but it is hard to choose as they are all great songs.

23 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 3 The Pineapple Thief - All The Wars

There was no doubt that The Pineapple Thief were going to find it hard to follow up their superlative 2010 release Someone Here Is Missing, but this year's All The Wars comes damn close to matching it...

The band's brand of "indie prog" is hugely enjoyable and invigorating, with punchy guitars, mournful voclals and foot tapping percussion, the only thing missing is the overt use of synths that to my mind pushed the last album into the stratosphere. That said they do rope in an orchestra to help out on the album and the classical strings do add a lovely atmosphere to songs like Last Man Standing and Build A World.

Despite high expectations, The Pineapple Thief (unlike others) didn't fail to deliver. It is hard to pick one track over another on the album but if I had to pick a couple for a Best of... compilation it would be the title track and Burning Pieces (or possibly Give It Back or maybe Build A World...)

I managed to catch the band at The Fleece in Bristol in September and the band were superb with a brave set that largely comprised of material off the last two albums. If you get the chance to see them on tour you will not be disappointed...

22 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 4 Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made

At number four of my best albums of 2012 is Marillion's return to form album Sounds That Can't Be Made.

It was thirty years ago that I managed to hunt down the 12" single of Market Square Heroes (complete with the epic Grendel) and it is impressive that the band are still hungry enough and motivated enough to keep producing new music.

The album isn't perfect, Pour My Love is a couple of minutes too long and Montreal is lyrically uninspiring (some people like it, I don't). However, with the epic Gaza (and Steve Rothery remembering what an electric guitar is for), the wonderful title track as well as classy numbers like Power and The Sky Above The Rain it is easy for forgive the slight imperfections as the rest is as near perfect as you can get.

I managed to get to see Marillion on tour as well in September this year at Cardiff and they were very tight and hugely entertaining with a great set. When many 'old' bands have sat on their bygone laurels and effectively become tribute acts to themselves it is great to see that some old dogs can play new tricks...

21 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 5 Alcest - Les Voyages de L'Âme

Au nombre de cinq - Alcest et Les Voyages de L'Âme!

Before you rush to Google Translate, number five in my top ten of 2012 is French shoegazing band Alcest's wonderful Les Voyages de L'Âme (The Journeys of the Soul).

I haven't a clue what "shoegazing" is, nor do I care. No doubt it is one of the pointless sub-genres that seem to restrict what people listen to these days. In my view Alcest are similar to Anathema in the early 2000's (definite echoes of A Natural Disaster) and this is the kind of album Anathema should have released this year. Ok the singing is in French but the music is that is irrelevant as you immerse yourself in the beautiful music the band have created.

I have to thank the members of the Thursday Night is Music Night - Virtual Album Listening Group on Facebook for brining Alcest to my attention. If you love the whole album experience I recommend joining but be warned you can find your credit card taking a hit as they introduce you to a multitude of wonderful bands and albums!

20 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 6 Galahad - Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria

At number six I have chosen what can best be described as this year's Marmite album as people either love it or hate it! I love it...

The second of Galahad's two album releases this year, Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria is a wonderful blend of neo-prog fused in parts with techno dance rhythms, crunching guitar riffs and even, at one stage, what sounds close to an Opeth style death growl!

It is a wonderfully progressive album but the introduction of dance synth beats into some songs seems to have upset reviewers who seem to think that progressive rock should regurgitate the same sounds as were produced in the seventies or eighties. Fools.

I'm not sure if it is a conscious decision, I suspect not, but 2012 Galahad seem to be channelling Absolution-era Muse, which given Muse are now channelling Queen is great if you miss Muse being Muse!

...And Secret Worlds and Guardian Angel are two stand out tracks on an album of stand out tracks. This album probably warrants being higher than number six but there was some stiff competition when it came to picking a top five!


19 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 7 Mystery - The World Is A Game

Whilst I like prog I am not a great Yes fan so wasn't at all interested in Mystery because of the Benoît David connection. However, thanks to Geoff Banks raving about a song off Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face I ended up checking out, and loving their latest album, The World is a Game.

This sounds nothing like Yes, if anything it has a Rush like sound with occasional elements of Jon & Vangelis and a dollup of Spock's Beard (well to my unrefined ear it does). The album has a fine collection of songs, the title track and Pride being two of my favourites.

Overall I am really glad I picked up this album and certainly plan to investigate the back catalogue when finances permit next year...

18 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 8 Maiden United - Across The Seventh Sea

Blimey, not Damian Wilson again? 'Fraid so, this time singing with Maiden United on their second acoustic collection of Iron Maiden songs called Across The Seventh Sea.

Unlike their first album Mind the Acoustic Pieces, an acoustic reinterpretation of the 1983 Iron Maiden album Piece of Mind (largely great but did we really need to hear Quest For Fire again?),  Across The Seventh Sea is a mix of songs from different Iron Maiden albums from Killers through to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and all the better for that.

Some of the interpretations are exceptionally good and demonstrate just how melodic some of Maiden's material is in the first place. The Evil That Men Do and (rather surprisingly) 22 Acicia Avenue are excellent examples of this.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Maiden United come up with next and hope they will tackle some of Iron Maiden's more recent output which should be something special if they do.

17 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 9 Headspace - I Am Anonymous

Back to my top ten of 2012 and at number 9 I have chosen Headspace's I Am Anonymous.

It had been something of a wait since the band's first release, the I Am... EP in 2007, but the full album was certainly something well worth waiting for.

Progressive metal albums can on occasion suffer from sounding a bit "samey" even if the individual songs are good (something the recent Threshold album is guilty of), but Headspace have not fallen into this trap producing a varied selection of sounds and some excellent songs drawing on various musical styles and influences. I am especially taken with with In Hell's Name and Invasion.

Lead singer Damian Wilson (also in Threshold) is in fine form and with a new album already being worked on hopefully it won't be another seven years before we get some new music from this excellent band.

16 December 2012

Dancing with Tears in My Eyes

There may not have been any dancing last night but I must confess to a few tears in my eyes as Twelfth Night performed their final ever gig at the The Barbican in London...

Twelfth Night were my second "prog" band that I began following in 1983 as I tried to find bands playing similar music to Marillion (and no I never got the "they sound like Genesis" argument). Unfortunately I never got to see them with Geoff Mann but did see them on the Art & Illusion tour at the Colston Hall by which time Andy Sears had taken over vocal duties.

After the failure of the "Virgin album" the band split but in 2007 reformed for a series of gigs including a show at The Albany in London, followed by performances at The Peel, in Reading, Wath and Lorely.

This year saw a kind of Barclay James Harvest two band situation with part of the band (fronted by Mark Spencer who had played keyboards and guitar with the band since 2007) concentrating on Geoff Mann era material under the non de plume of The Cryptic Clues (at The Peel, Summers End and Danfest), whilst the Andy Sears fronted lineup performed at Nearfest in the States.

Last night was The Cryptic Clues line up, featuring the three original members of Andy Revell, Brian Devoil and Clive Mitten, performing (as they should) as Twelflth Night.

An emotional experience? Damn right. After every song (The Ceiling Speaks, Creepshow, Sequences...) it was hard to contemplate that it was the last time you would see the band play the song live. It is also hard to fathom as they are damn fine live act, have a wonderful collection of songs and I, along with many fans, would have liked to see the band continue and maybe pen some new material (as many of their eighties contemporaries are still doing). Unfortunately, not to be...

As the band brought the curtain down launching into a final rendition of Love Song grown men where seen with tears streaming down their cheeks, I'm not ashamed to say I was one of them. If music is the food of love, I love this band...

15 December 2012

2012 Top Ten: 10. Big Big Train - English Electric (part one)

To kick things off I thought I'd post my top ten albums of 2012 over the last few days of the year - assuming the Mayans aren't correct in which case I think we'll have only got to number 5 before it all goes belly up! :-)

I don't think 2012 has been a vintage year musically, there have been some good releases but generally not as many as in 2011.

Kicking off my 2012 top ten is Big Big Train's English Electric (part one)...

Big Big Train are a band I know nothing much about and have never seen, but lots of prog friends were raving about it and so I decided to give it a spin (mind you they all raved about It Bites, Rush and Storm Corrosion so maybe I should have been a bit more wary!)

The album is a pretty good collection of songs with a definite old school seventies prog feel with echoes of seventies Genesis and a bit of Tull folkiness thrown in. Some songs sounded like they have a Spock's Beard influence to my untutored ear.

Quite a mellow album, whilst I do like my bands to remember they are supposed to rock on occasion, it is something of a retro-chill out pleasure and I am looking forward to part two next year.

Track wise The First Rebreather and Winchester From St Giles' Hill stand out for me, you can hear the former below...


14 December 2012

I Know What I Like

I like blogging! However, despite running various blogs I've always felt a bit wary about blogging about my love of music.

After all what do I know?

I might be able to strum Sailing on the guitar but I have no musical ability. Despite reading many music magazines I've never written a review of an album or a gig and whilst I take my little camera to gigs my photos aren't usually anything more than personal records of some great nights.

So why do this?

Really I can't give you a straight answer. I love music, it is important to me and I feel it is important that I share my passion somehow and blogging seemed the best way for me to do this.

My music tastes are varied (well I think they are) but at heart I am a rock fan but I am not fixated with the need to categorise rock music into genres and then sub-genres within genres. As a teenager you were allowed, almost expected, to like anything from Marillion to Metallica and I still do.

With the blog I intend to put down my thoughts on albums I buy, gigs I go to and occasionally have a look back at some of the thousands of albums I have scattered around the house and the many gigs I have been to since The Rolling Stones in 1982 (I think that was my first gig).