BEST MUSIC OF 2018 / episode 1 (#1 to #9)

Almost 40 days have passed since the beginning of the year and we have already enjoyed a first bunch of excellent records. From black metal to electroacoustic, this first part of the journey through the most beautiful records of the year was definitely interesting and with some nice surprises. Let’s see then which were the best 9 albums that we had the pleasure to listen so far…. and stay tuned for the following episodes!


ATRIUM CARCERI, CITIES LAST BROADCAST, GOD BODY DISCONNECT - Miles To Midnight - 800x800

MILES TO MIDNIGHT is the collaborative album by three masters of dark ambient music: Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect. This is not a record that you can play when you have some friends at dinner, or early in the morning as you prepare to go out, unless you have really special tastes. But there are many other moments in our days in which it can be pleasant and liberating to abandon the reality that we face in our daily routines and be transported into a dark and mysterious world like the one created by these three artists. Full review is available here.


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ALL MELODY is is the last work by German composer Nils Frahm. This particular and challenging album offers the listener pure and minimalistic melodies, rarefied musical lines that slowly and gently emerge from the white noise that surrounds us. The typical elements of Frahms’ music, which are the combination of analog and digital instruments and the perfect fusion of electronic and modern classical styles, are all present here, but the architecture of this new album is so bare and essential as we didn’t hear for long time in his discography. Full review is available here.


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CONTRA LA INDECISION by Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and his trusty companions is the best Jazz album that we heard in the first days of 2018. The music played by the trio in this record is based on slowed rhythms and rarefied atospheres, on top of which we hear sometimes melodic and cantabile musical lines, and in some other cases hints of intermittent, whispered and delicate motifs. Full review is available here.


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SLOWGOD II is the debut full-lenght album by Grajo, from Spain. The band plays a doomish version of stoner rock that manages to move with great ease between trippy moments and more abrasive sections. The LP consists of 6 tracks, all of them interesting and deep, with a couple of peaks which elevate the album among the best things we heard so far in 2018. I’ve been particularly impressed by Malstrøm, the epic sludge song which closes the album and that features 8 minutes of pure atmospheric beauty. Full review is available here.


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SANGUE CASSIA, by Portuguese band Sinistro, is an album for those who have time. Time for long songs, time for repeated listens, time to get rid of distractions and be carried away by the incredible music played by this group. The members of the band use to describe their music as “cinematic”. And in fact they managed to create here extremely evocative atmospheres and suggestive soundscapes, on top of which we have one of the most beautiful voices of the current days. Full review is available here.


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HELLO WORLD is the first mainstream music album composed with artificial intelligence, at least according to the release notes which come with the LP. Basically a group of electronic music artists joined a research team which was working on AI, under the coordination of French pop artist Benoit Carré, who operates under the stage name of SKYGGE. The result is a very nice collection of fresh and forward thinking electro-pop tracks. Full review is available here.


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POST- is the fourth LP in the solo career of Jeff Rosenstock, an american rocker from Long Island who’s playing punk rock since a couple of decades. His music is one of the truest versions of punk that is in circulation today. Not the street punk which tries to imitate the atmospheres of the 70s, and not even the ska-punk which has been so much succesful in the last years. This is raw and honest music that speaks from the heart. Full review is available here.


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Starcrawler is a band of very young rockers from California who polarized in a couple years the attention of fans, critics and even a number of old glories of rock of the caliber of Ryan Adams and Elthon John, who contributed to promote their music. Their debut self-titled LP provides the listener with an excellent collection of rock songs, all of them exciting, relatively raw but at the same time accessible for a mainstream audience. Full review is available here.


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VARG UTAN FLOK is the new album by Shining, from Sweden, which is one of the most regular and longeve bands in black metal. This work presents almost the same winning formula of their previous albums: an interesting version of depressive and experimental black metal which often incorporates many elements from thrash and, less frequently, other intriguing inserts from jazz and rock. The full review is available here.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF PROGRESSIVE AND ART ROCK IN 2017

By now we have turned our attention to the new year and fortunately we have already enjoyed a first group of really nice and interesting new discs. However, the story of the year that has passed is still to be completed and there some albums released in 2017 that it’s essential to mention for completing the assessment of the year that has concluded a few weeks ago.

I present in this article the selection of the ten best albums of 2017 within the progressive and art rock category. The albums that belong to this musical genre are always in risk to remain trapped in the mere replica of the sound and the dynamics of the golden period of prog rock (that’s located almost 40 years ago), but those few bands who escape this trap are able to convey the more poetic and profound music in modern rock. The ten LPs that you will find in this ranking belong entirely to this second category and they have given us some of the best songs of 2017.

Before starting with the presentation of the albums, let me remind you that there is a dedicated playlist on Spotify which I created to assemble in one single place the best progressive and art rock songs of the past year, but which actually evolved to become the living repository of all the best songs that are released for this musical genre. Check it out and follow this playlist because it’s updated periodically with new songs.


 

Number 10

TO THE BONE by Steven Wilson

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It was one of the most anticipated and awaited albums of the year, and at the end it delivered. Legendary prog rocker Steven Wilson, who had already left his mark among the most appreciated musical releases of 2017 with his side-Project Blackfield, released also the new album of his solo-career, named To The Bone, which is the fifth released after the brilliance experience as leader of the Porcupine Tree.

Wilson’s new album confirms that the English musician is a complete and talented composer who keeps pushing further the boundaries of his personal musical exploration, this time showing a remarkable pop sensibility together with the curiosity of manipualting the typical elements of electronics music. As a matter of fact, To The Bone isn’t just a new collection of songs from one of the most appreciated musicians of our time but rather it’s so complete and engaging to become a testimony of the versatility of modern rock.

You can thus listen to this album at different levels. You may appreciate the single tracks as stand-alone pieces, enjoying the elegance of the arrangements and the particularity of the musical lines created by the artist. But you can also live the experience of a unique, varied and exciting journey into a world where the different genres are able to merge every time in a differnet way, like permutations of a single language that uses rock, electronics and pop as instruments to transfer an universal musical message


 

Number 9

CHALICE HYMNAL by Grails

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Grails are an American instrumental experimental rock band founded by Alex Hall and Emil Amos (who’s also the drummer of the legendary doom stoner band Om). The band is active since early 2000 and they have released in 2017 the tenth album of their career, named Calice Hymnal.

Those who happened to listen to the last few albums by the band had the possibility to see how the band evolved and improved with the time, both for what concerns the quality of the sound but also in terms of songwriting technique. The last album from Grails is maybe one of the best the released so far, in particular for the special atmosphere that permeates all the songs of the record. Throughout the different tracks of the album there is a constant feeling of anger and mistery, further enhanced by the introduction of many evocative and cinematic moments.

As is typical in the case of instrumental albums, the songs of Chalice Hymnal rely on quite a good number of different musical ideas and also changes in dynamic and atmosphere. There are a few tracks that stand out for their particular quality, but the overall value of the album is definitely good and because of the relatively limited duration and the alternation between different moments, the album may be also appreciated as a single conceptual musical travel, something that’s not always true for rock instrumental works – which sometimes result too much flat and monochord and are thus more suitable to be enjoyed in separate moments.


 

Number 8

FLYING MICROTONAL BANANA by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is a band of crazy Australian rock musicians who had launched in early 2017 year the challenge of publishing – in the same year – five LPs, each one dedicated to a different concept. In the end they did it, with the last album released on December 31st. But at the end of this rush we can say that of all the 5 records dropped by the band in 2017, the one that resulted the most various and complete was basically the first of the five.

Flying Microtonal Banana, the first album released by King Gizzard in 2017, deals with the concept of microtonality, which is about the adoption a special musical scale with more than the standard number of 12 tones, with the result that the separation between adjacent sounds is smaller than what we are accustomed to hear. Beyond this particular aspect, the songs of the album present an energetic and explosive mixture of progressive and alternative rock with frenetic rhythms and very funny melodies that really stick in your head since the first time you hear them. It’s an album full of joy and played with verve and great technical ability. Sometime we hear a guitar solo which seems slightly out of tune, but now we know that it’s the effect of microtonality!

At the time it was released, this was the ninth album released by the Australian experimental rockers since their formation in 2010.


 

Number 7

IN SPADES by The Afghan Whigs

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I was just a teenager when I heard for the first time a few songs from the american alternative rockers The Afghan Whigs. At that time, however, I was too much involved into the fantastic metal scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s to give enough attention to the elegant and complex architectures from these skilled and talented musicians.

Eventually they broke up in 2001, just when I was starting to really discover and appreciate their music. After almost ten years, the guys from Cincinnati started composing and recording new material together. But if the first album of the reunited band received mixed reviews from both critics and fans (I also wasn’t too much excited from their 2014’s Do The Beast), with their following release, In Spades, they have managed to match the beauty and the quality of their first releases.

In Spades is the eight album in The Afghan Whig‘s discography. Musically speaking the album is full of progressive rock references, with passionate and engaging motifs, and the disc stands out effectively as one of the finest works from the band, even considering their entire production since 1986. There are a few noir anthems in the album which are among the best rock songs of the past year, and the record has all the cards in place to win both the old fans and to capture the attention of the new generations.


 

Number 6

DETACHMENT by Barock Project

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Barock Project are a talented rock band from Modena, in Italy, which has the declared objective to mix together ’70s progressive-rock with classical music. In their musical career, which is now over 10 years long, these musicians have already released a good number of studio albums and one live disc The latest album from the band, Detachment, was published on March 2018 and it’s the fifth studio LP of their discography.

The album is clearly reminiscent of the standard tradition of Prog Rock, both in terms of the overall sound (they spent one year in the studio to refine and record the LP) and also for the classical “suite-structure” of most of the songs. But such reminiscence of the past glory of progressive rock is limited to the form of the music they play, because beyond the external cortex there are beautiful and very interesting songs which show an undeniable creative vein and also a remarkable unique ability in the combination of elements coming from different musical experiences.


 

Number 5

THE OPTIMIST by Anathema

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Anathema started their musical journey more than 25 years ago as a doom metal band. Through the years their sound has significantly evolved leaving away the most metallic elements and and gradually embracing the canons of progressive rock, with a path that has become particulary evident in the last ten years once they recruited prog legend Steven Wilson (former Porcupine Tree) to produce their works. I personally consider that the most beautiful and memorable works of the band are those released in the 10 years time period from 2003, the year of release of the magnificient A Natural Disaster, until the early years of the current decade, up to the 2012 album Weather Systems. What I partially object to the more recent works from the band is not the adoption of a more soft and melodic approach, which is legitimate and also appreciated in its essence. What I didn’t get, in fact, is how the songwriting seemed really petrified on a single compositional solution, which can be summarized as follows: take a simple and expressive melodic line and begin to repeat it over and over to the bitter end, slowly adding other layers of sounds (first the piano, then the bass, then the synthetizers, then the drums, then the voice, then there is an escalation of the guitar, then the sound becomes a little heavier, and so on….).

I must say that the first listens I made of the new work from the English band were not encouraging, although with a little more patience I could appreciate how the music in The Optimist managed to find a point of balance between the mono-melody style of the last phase of the band and minimum acceptable level of sonic evolution within each song, something that’s somehow reminiscent of the glories of the past. In this respect, the new album from Anathema opens the way to a new start, a phase where the different experiences of the past can merge together in something new and – at least – exciting again.


 

Number 4

BLACKFIELD V by Blackfield

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Blackfield is the interesting and fascinating musical collaboration started more than 10 years ago by legendary and prolific British rocker and producer Steven Wilson (founder of Porcupine Tree and who’s also present in this chart with his latest solo work) and Israeli songwriter and musician Aviv Geffen. As the title of the album says, Blackfield V is the fifth album generated by the duo and it comes four years after their previous release which is named, with a shot of originality, Blackfield IV.

Blackfield V was written and recorded over a period of 18 months, both in Israel and England. It is no coincidence, then, that all the songs on the disc show a remarkable attention to detail and a clear sense of maturity. We feel in fact that some of the musical ideas on the album were left to age without rushing and possibly reworked over time.nd it is also clear that both the two musicians drew extensively into the reserve of ideas they accumulated in their careers, but always with the desire to adapt them the new context and enjoying the result of a fusion of different inspirations.

One of the characteristics of the album that I appreciated the most has been the ability of the two artists to compose a truly accessible, immediate but at the same time deep and inspired collection of songs, proving that it is still possible to produce exciting progressive music without necessarily having to inventi some kind of conceptual and articulated superstructure.


 

Number 3

A BLACK MILE TO THE SURFACE by Manchester Orchestra

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A Black Mile To The Surface, the 5th full-lenght album by Manchester Orchestra, was immediately recognized by many ciritisc, as soon as it was released, as one of the best art-rock albums of the year. That’s because the American rock band has put in this album such a fantastic sequence of good songs that you have even the difficulty to indicate which tracks are more beautiful than others. It is not wrong to say that this album is one of the most successful of the band up to this moment of their career, and that the album will remain a reference point for their future.

From a musical point of view, A Black Mile To The Surface meshes togheter in a beautifully and natural way all the different stylistical elements that the guys from Atlanta perfectioned in their last few productions: gorgeous rock melodies, ambitious and elegant arrangements, layered harmonies and evocative lyrics. And whether you pick up single songs or you deal with the entire album, this work won’t disappoint. That’s a must have for rock lovers.


 

Number 2

THE TOWER by Motorpsycho

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When I was a student at the University, more than 20 years ago, Motorpsycho reached for me the status of a cult band and every year or so they repeated the rite of releasing a new album, which for me used to become a new relic to be worshiped. Between 1994 and 1998, in particular, this trio of Norwegian rockers released 4 albums that marked the renaissance of progressive rock in the ’90s. Their music was just wonderful. They played a genuine, engaging and exciting rock, a music gifted by a level of creativity that was really outside the boundaries of the human being, with a powerful and devastating sound. In short, a myth. The story tells that at some point in their career the band faced a musical turn and the magic of those years was never to be repeated, probably not only because of their music, but also because it was also my life that changed. Through the years I have continued to follow their steps, perhaps with less transport and passion but always with great interest. Their prolificity has been somewhat slowed, but they have continued to produce albums with a certain frequency.

In the past few years, however, their music started again to move in the direction of the best works of their discography and eventually last year, with their latest work The Tower, it seems that the Norwegian masters of rock decided to resume that fantastic musical journey they had started twenty years ago.

The current lineup of the band features only two members of the original formation: Bent Sæther (lead vocals and bass) and Hans Magnus Snah Ryan (guitars). In 2016 the drummer who supported the previous 7 albums of the band decided to quit and was replaced by Tomas Järmyr from Zu, who was presented as the new permanent drummer of Motorpsycho. But as it sometimes happens in music, the arrival of a new member apparently activated a new vein of creativity in the band. As anticipated, in fact, the latest work from Motorpsycho is so amazing and full of many different musical ideas that it really seems to be back to the magical period of their career.

The Tower is a must have LP, there are not doubts about that, and this applies to both long-term fans of Motorpsycho and for those who have never come across this incredible band. At the end of the day we’re talking about one of the most influential formations for contemporary rock, and with their new record they confirmed once again the reason why.

For those who want to deepen the knowledge of this group, I recommend the special retrospective that was proposed a few months ago on the pages of this site.

 


 

Number 1

KAHIO by KAUAN

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Kauan are a typical case of a band who had to face a long and articulated journey through different genres before landing on the shores which proved to be the best suited to convey the poetry of their music. Started as a black and doom metal band, this group of musicians from Chelyabinsk, in Russia, first transformed their sound into a blend of post-rock and neo-folk, and eventually arrived to play an incredible combination of ambient music and atmospheric minimalism.

The abandonment of metal and doom sounds was already initiated by the band with the spectacular 2015’s album Sorni Nai, which is still one of the most incredible and thrilling LPs of the decade (and the album is available for free at high quality on Kauan’s bandcamp page, as most of their discography).

This year, with Kaiho, the process is completed. I find quite difficultto find a proper category for the music that is being played by these poets of modern music. But this is a little problem with almost no importance. What really matters, in fact, is that we are in front of a musical masterpiece, an album that is capable to make you fly into magical soundscapes and feel pure and breathtaking emotions.

As a side note, one of the songs of the album was also selected here in this blog as the Best Song of 2017.

I will always express my gratitude to Kauan. What they have given to me in the recent years with their music is something unique, special.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: THE BEST SONGWRITERS AND FOLK MUSICIANS OF 2017

In the meantime that we listen and select the new albums of 2018, let’s continue the roundup of the best works that were published last year. This time it’s the turn of folk, here expanded to include the broader family of songwriters who also engage themselves with pop and rock.

As a foreword, let’s just say that 2017 was not a particularly memorable year for this genre of music, especially because of a large number of albums that – despite the high expectations – didn’t leave the mark that we were expecting at the beginning. Reading the list of artists who published last year (Fleet Foxes, Mark Lanegan, Sun Kil Moon, Robert Plant) we really expected the fireworks. In the end, except for some interesting songs, the records released by these artists have left us quite cold. Fortunately a group of fierce girls intervened to improve the situation, and was relatively easy for them to conquer the top positions of the chart.

 


 

Number 10

COMMON AS LIGHT AND LOVE ARE RED VALLEYS OF BLOOD by Sun Kil Moon

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Sun Kil Moon, the folk rock project led by American singer and songwriter Mark Kozelek, released in the recent past a couple of challenging but oustanding albums (Among the Leaves, in 2012, and Benji, in 2014). Many (including myself) were really impressed by these two masterpieces, which presented something really new in the music scene but also a very engaging kind of muisc. From that moment on, unfortunately, Kozelek has decided to embark on an strange path which his songs to become long monologues, leaving most of the music in the background.

The last album released by the band, Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, is basically a 130 minutes collection of self-reflective considerations and polemics over today’s life. The album contains however a few surprisingly great moments, which allow the disk to find a position in this ranking but – most important – still leave some light for the future of what was one of the most interesting music projects of the recent years.


 

Number 9

SEMPER FEMINA by Laura Marling

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British singer-songwriter Laura Marling is nowadays an established figure in folk music, and with her last album Semper Femina she has reached the important achievement of six solo albums, that’s quite impressive considering that she’s only 27 years old. Despite the young age, the times of her “innocent creativity” are now lost and she artist has now embarked into a more ambitious and articulated musical approach. With still good results,

Laura Marling’s last effort is a profound and quite complex exploration of women world and also female relationships. Fortunately the British musician managed to keep a certain distance from an excessive conceptuality and she instead succeeded in giving interest and pleasurness to the different tracks of the album.


 

Number 8

CARRY FIRE by Robert Plant

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Robert Plant, the legendary singer of the rock band Led Zeppelin, is certainly not an artist who has settled on the achievements he reached at the height of his career. And for a musician who was even nominated as the best vocalist of all times, it’s really impressive to see how his indomitable spirit has always led him to continue experimenting, exploring the less accessible corners of rock and folk, with alternate successes.

With this new album, Carry Fire, Robert Plant arrives at the eleventh studio album of his post-Led Zeppelin phase. In this occasion, the relentless journey of this incredible artist has led him to delve into an area of folk which results extremely melancholic and intimate. Plant’s creative and experimental vein didn’t generate the same results in all the songs of the album, but the stylistic coherence of the artist and a couple of particularly successful songs still manage to elevate the disc well above the average level of quality of what we usually hear in this genre of music.


 

Number 7

CRACK-UP by Fleet Foxes

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Crack-Up is the new studio album by American indie folk masters Fleet Foxes and the third entry of their discography. The guys from Seattle became extremely popular after their incredible 2008’s self-titled debut album, which is still today one of the most appreciated and innovative indie folk albums ever released in music. Both the two following works (including the last release) didn’t mach the beauty and creativity of their debut (“a landmark in American music — an instant classic” as stated by The Guardian) and their music has become increasingly complex and less immediate.

Hidden inside their latest disc we still find a few gems of folk that seem to shine of the same light which illuminated the beginning of their career. As an overall effort, however, the album looks too  much as a conceptual work and offers a version of folk that results very little engaging, light years away from the early steps of the band.


 

Number 6

GARGOYLE by Mark Lanegan

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Gargoyle, the new work by Mark Lanegan and his bandmates, was one of the most waited albums of the last year. Lanegan has built over the years the fame of one of the most interesting singers in the rock and folk scenes, not only for his very particular and fascinating voice but also for the enjoyability and the intensity of his albums, that often feature a wide range of high-level guest stars. In this respect, Gargoyle doesn’t reserve particular surprises: we have a bunch of very nice songs, we have Lanegan’s unique voice, and also many good musicians who have contributed, including Josh Homme (ex-Kyuss and leader of the Queens of the Stone Age), Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood.

The new album from the American singer-songwriter, however, shows the artist consolidating his legacy without breathing new life into the standard forms of folk he established in the last decade. In this respect the album seems a small step back when compared with Lanegan’s previous work – the more innovative and inspired 2014’s Phantom Radio, which in my opinion is still one of the best “Folktronic” albums of the last few years.


 

Number 5

POSSIBILITES AT SEA by Blake Hazard

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American singer and songwriter Blake Hazard has shown since the early years of her career a musical sensibility that is out of the ordinary, both in her solo works and in the important collaborations where she’s been involved so far, including of course her participation in the indie rock band The Submarines with John Dragonetti, who’s also been her life partner for a few years.

Possibilities at Sea, which is Blake Hazard’s new solo album, is a fantastic and exciting journey in the world of modern folk, with interesting diversions into indie rock and alternative. The record reveals the class and talent of the artist but it’s also one of those albums gifted by that genuine feeling which can result only from many years of playing in small clubs.


 

Number 4

LOTTA SEA LICE by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

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Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett has joined efforts with American songwriter Kurt Vile to release in 2017 one of the best collaborative albums of the year, named Lotta Sea Lice.

The album succeeds where many musical collaborations fail: the two artists managed in fact to integrate their different compositional approaches and singing techniques and the amalgam resulting from this joint work is ultimately a musical style in itself, complete and well-characterized. A confirmation of this achievement can be recognized by the fact that both the original tracks and the few covers which have been reintepreted by the duo are hard to distinguish from each other


 

Number 3

THE GREAT PLAINS by Thomas Dybdahl

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Norwegian singer and songwriter Thomas Dybdahl is without any doubt one of the most interesting representative of the neo folk movement. Often compared to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake for the elegant way with which he touches the themes of love and loss, Dybdahl confirmed all of his skills and sensibility in the new album The Great Plains, which arrives four years after his previous LP, the wonderful What’s Left is Forever.

One of the most interesting features of the music composed by Thomas Dybdahl is the natural way in which he manages to move between relatively energetic pieces to more intimate tracks without ever losing intensity and depth. There are also a number of different influences which are merged into his songs, such as some clear inserts from Americana and indie pop.

Compared to Dybdahl‘s previous works, The Great Plains seems to indulge a little more on warm and nostalgic atmospheres, but in the end we must recognize that the acoustic tracks are the most successful of this very valid album.


 

Number 2

I’M NOT YOUR MAN by Marika Hackman

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Marika Hackman is a young English singer-songwriter whose debut album, the 2005’s We Slept at Last, showed to the world her talent as singer but also her delicate and atmospheric folk style. Her last recent release, the beautiful I’m Not Your Man, confirmed her ability to mix together traditionally english-folk atmospheres with alternative-rock elements. In my opinion her second album is even more convincing than the debut LP and there are at least 4-5 songs of absolute quality.

The first singles that were shared from the album were more oriented towards the mainstream indie pop (Boyfriend and My Lover Cindy). I’m Not Your Man, however, features also a number of more atmospherical and melodical tracks that in my opinion are among the best things we heard last year.


 

Number 1

LIFE, LOVE, FLESH, BLOOD by Imelda May

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Life Love Flesh Blood, which is the last full-lenght published by Irish singer and songwriter Imelda May,  may be described in a few words as one of the best collection of songs released in 2017, across all genres. In her fifteen years of career, Imelda has earned a strong reputation as one of the best folk and rock singers of our time and this new work further consolidates all the positive things that have been said so far about her.

Initially affirmed with a rockabilly-oriented musical style, Imelda May has slowly shifted towards a peculiar and enjoyable soft rock with the incremental introduction of elements coming from the folk tradition. The last album signs the definitive change in her musical direction and sees the artist engaged with a number of country and folk ballads of absolute value and a few other catchy soft rock tracks which complete the LP. In all the two kinds of song her splendid voice is combined with a particularly intense melodic vein of the music, and the final result is extremely satisfactory.

The album topped the charts of this blog since the day of its release in April of last year, so it’s absolutely no surprise to see Imelda May guiding this ranked list after the conclusion of 2017.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC IN 2017

Carrying on the long journey through the best musical publications of the past year, we arrive to the important chapter of electronic music, which is by large one of the most heterogeneous but at the same time one that always manages to give us great surprises and which usually brings with it an healthy dose of experimentation.

The judgment that I had made in my head about 2017 was of a fairly irregular year. Alongside some periods that have been positive and rich of interesting releases, there were others which resulted extremely flat, with very few if not even no significant album. But when I found myself assembling and selecting the top 10 albums of the year, I had to recognize that in absolute terms, the one which has just ended was an extremely good year for electronic music.

Let’s see then which are the ten best electronic music records published in 2017, ranked from the bottom to the top.


 

Number 10

WHAT IF by Hauschka

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We start this list of the ranked albums with an LP that was really hard to classify. It’s included in the electronic category beacause of a greater assonance with the genre, but to be honest in this musical work there is really a lot more than just electronics. Therefore, defining What If as a simple electronic album is somehow a limitation and it could be also misleading for some listeners.

German pianist Volker Bertelmann, who’s the man behind the stage name Hauschka, is mostly known for his compositions for prepared piano, i.e. a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects on or between the strings (in this case scraps of aluminum, ping-pong balls and other household items). On his new album, which is the eighth of his career, Hauschka plays the prepared piano in combination of other keyboards instruments such as a Yamaha’s high-tech player piano and a 1970s-vintage Roland analog synthesizer, and such a blending of new and old Technologies is used by the artist to generate singular but still accessible pieces of modern music. The real peculiarity of this author is that he transforms the piano into a mechanical instrument: a source of sounds which are at times delicate and sometimes disturbing. The result is a combination of multiple layers of minimal and introspective music which manage to evoke different and sometimes contrasting feelings.


 

Number 9

PLUNGE by Fever Ray

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Danis singer and producer Karin Dreijer has always created works that lie on the thin border between traditional music and experimentation and this happens both when she plays with her broter in the electronic duo The Knife and when she frees all his creative spirit in the solo project named Fever Ray. Her new album Plunge – which arrived as a surprise in last October – makes no exception.

Plunge is the second album from Fever Ray and it follows the debut LP that was released more than six years ago. From listening to her record it is clear that during this time the Swedish artist has acquired further courage and confidence in her own talents. First, we recognize a greater variety of styles and references in the songs of the album, but we can also appreciate – much more than in the debut work – her beautiful voice, which today is much less hidden under layers of effects and alterations.

Plunge is definitely an interesting and engaging album, perhaps with the only limit of challenging the listener to go through extremely different genres and styles. Basically, aside to some more accessible tracks we find a series of much more experimental songs, not always at the same level of the others.


 

Number 8

WORLD EATER by Blanck Mass

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Blank Mass is the electronic solo project by the English DJ and producer Benjamin John Power, who is mainly known for being one of the two founders of the experimental duo Fuck Buttons (where he plays together with Andrew Hung). World Eater is the new album released by Blank Mass, and the third in the discography of this music project (there are actually a number of other releases as EPs and soundtracks).

For those who are familiar with the earlier work by this artist, both when he plays alone or within the Fuck Buttons, you know what to expect: a sonic attack with mesmeric repetitions and industrial inserts. And this record, in fact, is no exception. The album contains seven interesting tracks that move between noise and experimentation, all seasoned with a good dose of sonic violence.

A particular aspect of this album is that Power tried to work with a limited set of electronic tools, trying to focus the development of his songs with a small number of effects. And the result is very interesting and enjoyable to listen.


 

Number 8

UNUNIFORM by Tricky

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Conceived in Russia and produced in Berlin (his new adopted capital), the new LP by English trip-hop master Tricky is maybe one of the more claustrophobic and dark of the thirteen records in his discography, as indeed announced by the same album cover. The production notes tell us about an artist that embarked into a journey to confront his legacy: history, family – even death itself. And in all of this, he found the strangest, least familiar thing – peace.

The LP has received mixed reactions from the critics and surely it doesn’t have much to do with the early masterpieces of the artist. But these were other times, for Tricky and for us too.  And if it remains always a great pleasure to brush up the great successes of this artist and play them to brighten a special moment of the day, it is however Tricky’s last album the one that can play the soundtrack of our times.


 

Number 7

SOIREE DELUXE by Tape Five

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Last year we’ve seen a clear resurgence of high quality electro-swing and it is not by chance that we have in this chart, one after the other, two worthy representatives of this musical genre. German collective Tape Five claim to be the co-inventors of the electro-swing and Soiree Deluxe is the 6th studio album of the project.

Beyond the bold statements from the band, it is beyond doubt that these guys have found the perfect recipe to mix together virbant electronic beats with swing jazz, bossa nova, reggae and other multiple influences. The album is a collection of refreshing tracks that are enriched with marvellous performance from very skilled musicians (mostly horn sections and singers). A special positive characteristic of the album is the high number of very good tracks that you will find inside. Very rarely I find myself liking so many tracks from a single work, and this is one of these few cases.


 

Number 5

THE BURNING SPIDER by Parov Stelar

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Parov Stelar is the stage name for Marcus Füreder, an Austrian musician, producer and DJ which gained popularity and success in the electronics industry as one of the pioneers of “electro-swing”. In his productions he mixes with great skill disparate elements from house music, dance and even some fragments of jazz. It’s worth saying that Parov Stelar is Austria’s most successful international artist and won 7 Amadeus Austrian Music Awards. His unique sound, his specific approach to music production and the unorthodox combination of musical genres soon made him the star of an uprising scene.

In the last years he released a number of good and captivating albums, almost one every year. The album he published in 2017 is named The Burning Spider and it is another great collection of enjoyable and variegated electro-swing tracks together with more conventional dance-pop tracks.


 

Number 4

OKOVI by Zola Jesus

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Nika Roza Danilova, better known with her stage name of Zola Jesus, represents one of those artists who, although gifted of a fantastic voice that could have guaranteed her a brilliant career in pop or rock, decided instead to devote herself to the world of experimentation and avant-garde, which is definitely more challenging from an artistic point of view view but at the end of the day gave her a fame which is definitely minor than what she would have achieved – presumably – with mainstream music. The association with the case of Bjork is almost immediate. But if the Icelanding singer has shifted with the years towards an increasingly extreme, conceptual and essentially less immediate style of music, with Zola Jesus – fortunately I would say – we’re apparently going through a different process. Her beautiful latest album, in fact, has the capacity to hit us directly to the heart for passion and immediacy, in a way that’s quite unique in her discography. Experimentation, in this case, really seems devoted for transmitting the profound message that the artist wants to convey, rather than to represent a mere stylistic tool or a way to elevate – artificially – the artistic quality of her offer.

Okovi, which is Zola Jesus’ fifth album, arrives three years after her previous LP and represents the result of an experience of isolation and retreat into her hometown in Wisconsin.


 

Number 3

SAVAGE SINUSOID by Igorrr

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I was expecting this album for ages. And when it arrived, it delivered. Igorrr is a unique project, led by one of those musical innovators who appear once every generation. And the last album produced by Gautier Serre and his supporting musicians, Savage Sinusoid, is simply a masterpiece of experimentation and electronic madness.

There is no way to properly capture Igorrr’s sound and style by just words, the best you can do – if you’re not familiar with the production from these crazy Frenchmen – is to visit their bandcamp page and start exploring their rich discography. If this is not your first encounter with the band, you already know what to expect with Savage Sinusoid.

There is however some evolution with the previous works, in particular for what concern the level of experimentation they do with the basic elements of the songs. In the early works of their discography you could see that the starting point of the song (whether it was an harpsichord sonata by Scarlatti or a popular Balkan dance) was just the beginning of an exploratory journey that could eventually lead to something really different. In their last album, the amount of experimentation seems a little bit reduced and the original baselines are more present throughout each of the songs, giving even more diversity to the different tracks of the album.

From a technical point of view the album is “sample free”, meaning that everything you listen in the album has been played or generated for the purpose of the disc. You really need to see the “making of” videos on YouTube to understand how Igorrr play and record their songs. Alternatively, the official video for the song Cheval gives an hint on their unique style.

In summary… this is not music for everyone: it requires mental opening, curiosity and sense of wonder to go beyond the chaos. Listened with the right spirit, Savage Sinusoid can certainly provide the strongest emotions of all the records mentioned in this ranking.


 

Number 2

SHIKANTAZA by Chinese Man

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Since the first moment I played this album on last February, I realized that this was going to be a long-term companion throughout the year. And now that we turned into 2018, it’s no surprise that Shikantaza, the last release by the electronic collective Chinese Man, is well within the top three positions of the Electronic Chart.

With this album, the French trip-hop-influenced rap collective has realized a woderful and perfectly balanced mix of funky, groove, hip-hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references. The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks which leave us speechless.

Shikantaza is an album made to be listened and listened again, this is one of those albums that you can easily play in the background during your day for hours and hours and never get tired of listening to it. But sometimes you will find yourself turning up the volume and dancing alone like a fool, captured by one of the many vintage rhythms that punctuate the entire disc.


 

Number 1

THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIUS CAESAR by Ulver

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It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective that is nowadays approaching 25 years of activity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they have initiated an incredible and ambitious exploration of other musical genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. In 2017, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is experimenting with synthpop and EDM. The result is brilliant, as if the four Norwegians were long-term and celebrated artists of this genre and not the neophytes of this type of music as they are in reality.

The album manages to combine an incredible fluidity of sounds with a unique and truly elegant musical elegance, something that’s really challenging and not easy to achieve with electronic music.

Maybe the best way to indicate how brilliant and fantastic is this album could be to check the positive reviews that The Assassination of Julius Caesar received within the metal world. It is really unfrequent to have a band that abandons its starting musical genre in such a radical way, but without leaving any resentment and disgust in a community that is so rigid and sometimes intransigent like that of heavy metal –  which I also belong to, in some way. 


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF ALTERNATIVE ROCK IN 2017

In the meantime that the first albums of 2018 arrive to our music players, let’s continue the review of the best music that was released last year.

Among the music genres that during 2017 have seen the highest number of publications of excellent level, Alternative Rock holds one of the leading positions. The one that just ended was a notable year for the most agitated brother in the wide family of rock and roll , with a series of great albums that arrived with an almost constant cadence from the first months of the year up to the last weeks of December.

Selecting the top ten albums of the year was not an easy task. At the end I tried to find a certain balance between a number of major bands which confirmed, or even improved, the positive consideration they built during the last years, and a few debut works from new bands or side projects. The overall quality of the resulting chart is impressive.

And for better representing the state of alternative rock in 2017 I prepared a special compilation, in the form of a mixtape, where the best tracks of the past year are mixed together into a single stream of music. These are 50 minutes with the most energetic and catchy alternative rock of the last year, featuring the bands in the top ten list but also the other formations which contributed to make 2017 such a special year for rock and roll.

 

Last, but not least, you can enjoy the best alt-rock tracks in the dedicated playlist I maintain on Spotify. This will be updated with the new tracks of 2018, therefore I recommend for you to follow the playlist and check it regularly.


 

Number 10

ALL IS IN SYNC AND THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO SING ABOUT by Ghost Atlas

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Ghost Atlas is the side project from Jesse Cash, the American singer and guitarist who’s primarily known for being one of the founders of the progressive metalcore band ErraAll is in sync, and there’s nothing left to sing about is the first LP from Ghost Atlas and it follows two previous EPs.

Those arriving to Ghost Atlas from the original works of Jesse Cash will appreciate on this album the melodic side of this multifaceted artist. For all the others, this LP represents a very interesting compilation of relatively accessible and energetic alt-rock tracks. Keeping a good rhythm throughout the record, Cahs offers us a very pleasant sequence of catchy tracks where he tells us about his feelings, his emotions and experiences.

As a side note, it’s interesting to say that Cash opted for a fully indipendent and self-funded route for the production of his work, actually investing thousand of dollars in this venture.


 

Number 9

ONCE MORE IS ALL I AM by Face The King

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I engaged with this album with pure chance and, as it often happens, unknown bands in certain situations can give you the most interesting surprises. Face the King present themselves as an alternative hard rock band based out of Long Island, New York, with influences ranging from Kings of Leon to Radiohead.

This four piece band is active since more than 5 years but Once More I Am is their first full-lenght album. Before arriving to this debut, however, they have refined and consolidated their style by playing both in their home area and also sharing the stage with major bands in the context of tours and festivals. There has been also an EP, named The Sound, that could be find from the band.

From a musical point of view, the music from this band offers a refreshing variant to that side of alternative rock which looks for mainstream sounds and – potentially – large audiences. Given this promising debut, with a little luck these guys could even make it.

 


 

Number 8

AS YOU PLEASE by Citizen

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With the album As You Please, Ohio rockers Citizen arrive to the third album in their discography, a stage that usually marks the transition to the final musical maturity of a band. But in this case, to be honest, it seems that the direction taken by the group after their two previous interesting works is still unclear. It’s like if there was the desire to remove that label of pop-punk band that somehow marked the first steps of the lineup, but without the capacity to find a completely original way to complete the transition towards a particular and unique vision of music.

In the meantime that this process completes, however, the band managed to drop in this new album a couple of songs that by themselves remain among the most pleasant things we heard in rock during 2017. Listening to these pieces one really gets the impression of the group’s still unexpressed potential. The effort of the band to evolve (and elevate) their sound is evident, but the results are not yet to show the level of success they hoped for.


 

Number 7

Rainer Maria (S/T)

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More than 10 years afther their previous release and the group dissolution following their last concert in Brooklyin (it was December 2006), the American rock trio Rainer Maria comes back to the scene with a self-titled album, which is at this point the sixth long-play work of their discography.

One of the interesting aspects of this release is that it looks as the ideal continuation of the musical journey that the band initiated from the initial raw and punk sounds of their early years into the more polished and refined style of rock that the band was approaching at the ten-years stage of career, which was also the time of their break up. It is from that specific point in time that the group has resumed their path, and the result is an interesting album that expresses emotions and complexity at the same time.

This looks as a new beginning for the band. Some of the members of the trio went through important experiences and radical changes in these years of silence (even a change of sex), but their music seems to start exactly where we left them ten years ago.


 

Number 6

NIGHT PEOPLE by You Me At Six

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One of the first albums that was reviewed last year on the blog, Night People by English rock band You Me at Six confirmed after many months and many listens the good impressions that I had at the time of its release. This work, which is the fifth album in the band’s discography, is particularly relevant because it signs a clear shift in the musical direction of the group with the incorporation of heavier and darker sounds. This change, to be frank, generated mixed reactions from both fans and critics, not always positive.

To be considered presumably as a transition album, Night People contains however a few songs that enter without any doubts among the best compositions ever released by the band. As a matter of fact, some tracks of this album have been an almost constant presence in the rock compilations that were published on the blog.

The process of evolution which the band embarked from the pop-rock of their first albums into the current style of alternative rock appears to me as a genuine and natural transformation of their musical approach, maybe still to be completed and consolidated but capable to offer more depth and emotional charge to their music. The band is moving, and it does not seem like an artificial maneuver.


 

Number 5

STORMCHASERS by Lucky Boys Confusion

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With Stormchaser, the new and long awaited album from the American rockers Lucky Boys Confusion, we add another entry in the special club of those bands which have interrrupted in 2017 a long period of absence from the studio. This album arrives in fact about ten years after the last LP from the group, which has been however engaged in a number of live shows in the meantime.

From a musical point of view, Stormchaser features the band’s signature mix of multiple influences: from alternative rock to pop punk, passing through indie pop and also some flavour of reggae. Rhythms are generally fast and dynamics, although in some sections of the disc there are a few slowdowns – which are also the least successful parts of the LP, in my opinion.

A special mention goes to Burn a Little Brighter, which is not only one of the most interesting tracks of the LP, but also one of the best alternative songs of the past year.


 

Number 4

MOSAIC by 311

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Three years after their last LP, veteran alternative rockers 311 (three-eleven) came back with another excellent release. Their last work, named Mosaic, is the twelfth studio album of their long career and it required only a few days after its release before it received very good reviews from both music critics and fans.

The band has achieved a very good recognition in the alternative rock scene for their smooth but energetic rock anthems, most often featuring very nice and enjoyable influences from reggae and ska. And their last production definitely confirms their unique skill in mastering so many different genres into a captivating and coherent package of songs.

Possibly one of the most complete rock albums of the last year, Mosaic keeps the band’s unique rap/rock/reggae mix alive and at same time introduces a few additional elements in their palette of sounds which make the album somehow new and refreshing.


 

Number 3

Navier Gene (S/T)

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Navier Gene is the one-man-project ideated by Eddi Pickard, a name that probably does not say anything significant to the majority of people since – so far – he only distinguished himself as a valid guitar player within small and medium-sized metal bands such as Black Tounge and Infant Annihilator. Listening his recent slef-titled LP, however, we immediately realize that Eddi is actually graced by a creativity and songwriting skills that go much more beyond the simple boundaries of death metal. As a matter of fact, at his first try as a soloist, he dropped one of the best rock albums of the past year. Chapeau!

What’s really impressive in this work is the ability of the artist to reach out and take the influence from many different rock genres, from the stoner of the first song to alternative rock and grunge, but always maintaining a personal and recognizable approach, absorbing thus the inspirations from the various styles he addresses but without becoming succube to them.

This was for me the masterpiece which came out from nowhere. An happy surprise which deservedly won a place in the Top 3 of its genre.


 

Number 2

MODERN RUIN by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

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One of the most cited albums in the blog during 2017, Modern Ruin by Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes features a perfect blend of many different genresand in fact for some time the LP bounced between the alternative rock and punk charts, before finding its definitive home here in the alternative rock page.

This is the second album released by the new band capitanated by former Gallows frontman Frank Carter, here supported by Dean Richardson, Thomas Mitchener and Gareth Grover (The Rattlesnakes). Released almost one year ago – it was January 2017 –  Modern Ruin immediately topped all the music charts of this blog. It’s an incredible compilation of energetic and catchy songs supported by an perfect sound which magnifies the fantastic voice of the band leader. And despite the ups and downs in the charts, this is a release that can’t really miss in your collection of the best music of the past year.


 

Number 1

WOLVES by Rise Against

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The disc that occupies the top position in the chart was initially one of the surprises of the past year when it was released in June 2017. Certainly not because the group was not known to me –  actually they’re active since many years and have a wide discography of musical releases – rather because the music featured within their last album showed since the firts listens something very interesting and particular .

Wolves, the latest album by American rock band Rise Against, is full to the brink of the band’s signature and explosive formula where aggressive punk and hardcore sounds are combined with fiery vocals and furious choruses, typical of alternative rock. With the exception of a couple of catchy songs, however, the album needs some repeated listening to be appreciated in its entirety. Or at least this was my personal experience…. I had to go through the album a few times before getting involved at the right level by the record’s eleven tracks. Steadily and incessantly, the album climbed on the top of my preferences and eventually reached the top position in its genre.

 

Besides the absolute beauty of its best tracks, the album in its entirety to be characterized by a very high quality of music and lyrics. Rise Against play a very effective and powerful rock and the value of their production goes well beyond the politic message they convey with their songs.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF SLUDGE IN 2017

Sludge metal is an extreme style of music that originated through combining elements of doom metal, stoner and hardcore metal. It generally features slow tempos, heavy rhythms, dark atmospheres and abrasive sounds. There are today many good bands dedicated to this genre of metal, each one giving its own interesting interpretation, and judging by the results the year 2017 has been definitely important: we have in fact some excellent albums that will leave a clear mark for a long time.

In collecting and selecting the 10 albums to be included in the list I had to make some choices, both because of a few good bands that didn’t enter the chart and also to assign the positions in the list for those groups who where included. As always these choices will generate some criticis, but I believe it’s part of the game and there is always the opportunity to comment. In any case, I’m much confident that the present selection of the top ten albums of the year is fully representative of the status of sludge metal in modern times and even a few modifications that could occur in the list wouldn’t change the overall situation. 

An interesting element that emerges from this list is how sludge metal has become an universal musical genre, practiced successfully everywhere in the world. The top ten chart includes two bands from U.S. and Sweden, one from Germany, one from UK, one from France, one from Belgium, one from Italy and one from Poland.

Before leaving the floor to the top ten list, I take the opportunity to provide below the access to one of the most recent mixtapes dedicated to sludge metal among those published in the blog. This features most of the bands included in the chart and it may be the ideal soundtrack for reading the rest of the post. Enjoy!


 

Number 10

DARK TOWERS, BRIGHT LIGHTS by Cranial

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Darl Towers, Bright Lights  is the debut release of the German band Cranial, which features in the line-up some members coming from the the mythical band Omega Massif, now dissolved. In 45 minutes and 4 long tracks, these guys from Hamburg deliver an epic sludge and post rock opera, somehow reminiscent of Isis, Cult of Luna and Neurosis.

The music of Cranial keeps all the main features of sludge metal with clear deviations towards the more elegant melodies of post rock. There is no particular innovation or creativity in the music produced by these guys but pure, simple and beautiful marching riffs, repetitive bass lines, and apocalyptic atmospheres.

In summary: the debut LP from Cranial features a satisfying and exciting collection of modern sludge medal songs, although I am convinced that these musicians have the capacity – for their future works – to contribute in a more innovative and personal way to the evolution of this musical genre.


 

Number 9

WIZARD BLOODY WIZARD by Electric Wizard

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British doom veterans Electric Wizard have published this year the ninth studio album of their long career, the second featuring the new rythmic section played by Clayton Burgess on bass and Simon Poole on drums and percussions.

The latest work from the Wizards, whose publication has been quite tormented and affected by a series of delays and postponements, sees the band from South West England abandon any desire for complex and dynamic structures. Almost all the songs of the album are in fact built on a simple and linear implant where the initial riff, slow and sometimes bluesy, is repeated substantially until the end of the song, with few variations and evolutions. Where this mechanism benefits of an intriguing and engaging riff the final result is certainly captivating. But in some cases, unfortunately, the songs appear too simple and flat to become memorable.

At the end of the day we can say that this record is not comparable with the major masterpieces that the band has released in the past, although these guys confirm themselves among the best representatives of that variant of sludge which bases its roots in doom metal.


 

Number 8

DOMAIN OF EMBER by Boson

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Boson is a new sludge metal band from Minnesota, in the U.S., and Domain of Ember is their promising debut full-lenght album. As the name of the band suggests, the music composed by this quartet takes inspiration from the “Boson”, which is that fundamental element of quantum physics named after the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Basically the Bosons are elementary particles that – once combined – generate all the most complex atomic structures that we see around us. In the same way the music of this band also starts from the combination of simple, linear elements, which are placed next to each other to develop long, complex and articulate songs.

The result is definitely interesting and the group shows ambition and personality, all features that foreshadow good things for their future. Surely there must be a little more attention and effort to increase the variety of songs, which in this debut seem excessively similar.


 

Number 7

TRELU by Fallow

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Fallow is a metal band from Southern France formed in 2010. Trelu (which means “Full Moon” in the old language of Southern France) is their second album and it’s basically a live session that the quartet recorded at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory of Music of Aix en Provence, France. This work follows their previuous LP, Werra (“Controversy”), published by the band a couple of years ago.

The music played by Fallow is an interesting version of post metal with many elements of sludge and psychedelic metal. There are in fact many moments in Fallow’s songs where the walls of heavyness and the poderous guitar riffs leave room for more rarefied and dreamy atmospheres; but it’s usually a short breath, a small parenthesis of delicacy before the most powerful sounds make their return.

As the band writes on their social media pages, the songs in Trelu are about witchcraft and legends in Southern France. And as a side note, currently the album can be acquired for just 1€ on their bandcamp page.


 

Number 6

MATTER & VOID by Sorxe

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Sorxe, from Phoenix in the U.S., are one of those groups that managed to find the right balance between the typical musical structures of post rock and the heavy and brutal sounds of sludge metal. Matter & Void, the second full-lenght album released by the band, represents an evident evolution with respect to the debut album (Surrounded by Shadows, published in 2014), especially for what concerns the introduction of slightly lighter atmospeeres in most of the tracks. It looks lite these guys from Arizona had established that the monotonous oppressiveness of their first LP was a bit of a limit to their creativity, and therefore decided to loosen a little the grip to explore new territories.

An aspect which is definitely interesting about Sorxe is that they feature two bass players in the four piece line-up. The “sonic” management of the two bass lines has been exceptional: there is no “bass overload” in the sound of the band and, on the contrary, this stylistic choice gives additional flavours to their pieces.

It’s really a pleasure to see a band that managed to improve so well the already good results obtained at their debut. Surely this band is among those to be observed and tracked carefully from here on.


 

Number 5

RUST by Monolord

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Today it’s almost impossible to see a rock or metal chart that doesn’t contain a couple of Swedish groups, and this ranking is no exception.

Monolord, from Gothenburg, released this year their latest album, Rust, which is the third since their formation four years ago. Despite such prolificity, all the albums published by the band so far have always been characterized by interesting and innovative elements. Moreover, during these four years the band has also shown a positive trend with a steady improvement in the quality of their music, something that is fully confirmed with their new album.

From a musical point of view, Monolord is one of those bands which like taking a given rhythm and keep it constant through the whole song, or even the entire album. What makes the difference, in this case, is the beauty of the bluesy guitar riffs, always intriguing and definitely enjoyable to hear. Stylistically we’re in front another variation of that marriage between sludge and doom that proved to be so successful in recent years,  with atmospheres and melodies that are in this case less oppressive and gloomy than the norm.

Monolord is another band that has been capable to build its own style even by drawing heavily into the sounds of the masters of this genre. And if these guys will continue to publish albums with the same frequency that characterized their production so far, we won’t need to wait a lot to see if the positive trend they have shown up to this point will be confirmed with their next albums.


Number 4

CHILDREN OF THE HAZE by Dopelord

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Children of the Haze is the new studio effort by Polish sludge quartet Dopelord, and it’s the third entry of their discography since they were formed in 2010. The music of Dopelord is an oppressively slow and psychedelic trip into heavyness and as they say on their bandcamp page, their music is inspired by “old movies, 70s music and magical herbs“. And indeed, this is probably the most hallucinated album on this Top Ten chart.

One of the peculiar characteristics of Dopelord has alway been their innate capability to be heavy and expressive at the same time. This element is fully represented in their last work, where the powerful guitars and the massive rhythm section creates an impenetrable and oppressive wall of sound, slow to exhaustion, but at the same time capable to generate incredibly expressive melodic lines, further enriched by abundant psychedelic inserts and a few light touches of keyboards and synthetizers. To complete the picture, the extensive use of clean vocals adds another peculiar element of innovation in the succesful recipe crafted by this quartet of doped metallers.   

It’s almost impossible to remain indifferent to the music of Dopelord, and Children of the Haze is for sure another masterpiece in their very good discography.


 

Number 3

MASS VI by Amenra

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If there is an album that can be fully summarized by its first two minutes, this is Mass VI by Belgian domm & sludge masters Amenra. Every constituting element of this new masterpiece from the band of the West Flanders is in fact contained in the initial moments of their last album: disturbing melodies, suffocating atmospheres, and a crescendo of anxiety that ends up in violent screams and an explosion of guitars.

The eerie quietness of the first couple of minutes of “Children Of The Eye” announces the coming storm, and the nine explosive, cathartic minutes of this opening song hold in themselves all the strikingly disparate emotions that we have come to expect from Amenra (from the album’s bandcamp page).

As a formation that is active since many years, we could somehow anticipate what would have been inside their new album: contrasts of light and darkness, plenty of crescendos, brutality, intensity and melody perfectly balanced in every song. What we couldn’t imagine, maybe, was the brilliant and astonishing way in which all of these elements have been composed together. Taken as a whole, this is one of the most satisfying records we had in 2017, and it fully deserved its position in the Top Three of this chart.

 


 

Number 2

8 by Ufomammut

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I cannot hide the pleasure of presenting an Italian band in one of the main positions of this chart. But Ufomammut, from Alessandria, have nowadays achieved such a reputation in the stoner doom panorama that I can’t be accused of giving them a favorable treatment.

A particular stylistic choice that the trio of Italian metallers has adopted for their new record, which is named 8 as the position that the disc occupies in the band’s discography, is that the 8 songs of the album are merged one into the another without a real separation, creating a single uninterrupted flow of crushing sounds with sparse touches of psychedelia. Making an album as a single stream of heavy music could generate serious drawbacks in terms of accessibility and overall enjoyability. To avoid this effect the band has produced one of the most beautiful sequences of sludgy riffs among those we have heard this year.

Ufomammut have been often accused in the past of writing songs and albums bigger than themselves. But with this work, which comes after 18 years since the band’s formation, we can say that the band has eventually reached its maturity. Their last work signs the definitive inscription of the band among the masters of modern sludge. The ambition that these musicians had always manifested in their previous works has been finally combined with a brilliant capacity of songwriting and a particular attention to every detail of the production process. Passion and experience generated a memorable result, an album that has the full potential to leave a clear mark in the sludge and stoner world.


 

Number 1

HOUSE OF THE DEAD by Ordos

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Ordos is the name of an incredible stoner-doom band from Sweden, which released early this year their second album, House of the Dead. The LP follows their 2013’s homonymous debut work.

The band does nothing to hide that their sound is inspired by the legacy of the the 70’s, and although there are no particular traces of innovation in their music, the product that they have packed for this new album is so incredibly addictive that the lack of novelty is not perceived at all.

I’ve fallen in love with House od the Dead since the first time I’ve heard it on Spotify, and the initial positive impression remained unchanged – indeed it has further grown – after many and many other listens of the album. I’m convinced that this record has got all the necessary elements to excel: the variety of the songs, an incredible enjoyability of the riffs, the perfection of the production, the skill of all the musicians and also the right level of roughness which makes the product genuine.

And as a matter of fact, day after day this album has become one of the favourite LPs of the year, well beyond the boundaries of sludge, stoner and doom.  Competition was tough this year for the Top Ten chart, but in true honestly there have never been doubts that this record would have given the way to some other contender.

 


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF STONER IN 2017

For a musical genre that many say it’s too much rooted in the past, the world of stoner music gave us this year a surprising number of great records. From the retro-rock of Kadavar and Sasquatch to the modernity of new groups like Cairo Knife Fight and As They Come, we have been offered a wide range of different interpretations of this fantastic style of music. And it hasn’t been easy to decide wich groups were to be included in the final Top Ten of the year and which ones should stay out.

Differently from the previous year-end charts I didn’t prepare for this occasion a new mixtape. The reason is that there was a stoner compilation which I published a few weeks ago (Kings of the Road) that has not only got a great attention by the readers of the blog but which became, in a short time, one of the most appreciated of the year. I present it again as it can be the ideal soundtrack to accompany the reading of the Top Ten chart. Enjoy!

 


 

Number 10

MANEUVERS by Sasquatch

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Sasquatch is a trio of retro-stoners from Los Angeles, in the U.S. The band, which has already earned quite a good reputation in the stoner panorama, released this year the fifth LP of their discography, named Maneuvers, which features also the new drummer Craig Riggs, who recently joined the band.

Sasquatch like to merge modern stoner rock with influences from the 70’s, and this approach is heavily applied also in their new work. With the exception of the energetic opening track of the album, the songs of the album settle-down on slower rhythms, on top of which the guitars are free to draw their interesting melodic lines, full of reverberations and other typical stoner effects.

The album is extremely concise. In less than 40 minutes we’re provided with an enjoyable collection of dirty and dense rock and roll. Personally I believe that these guys could have reached a better result with just a little more alternation between slower and faster songs, but in any case this remains a very good and nice LP.


 

Number 9

TO THE ROAD by As They Come

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To The Road is the debut album by the motorcycle stoner rock band As They Come, from Portugal. This funny but talented quartet from São João da Madeira is active since 2012 and before this debut album they published a couple of years ago their first homonymous EP.

The songs of To The Road are characterized by an easy approach to stoner with direct and essential rhythms and lyrics, without too many conceptual frills. What you don’t miss in their songs, however, is the incredible load of adrenaline and energy that fills every second of the record. That’s a very interesting and surprising debut LP and this band is absolutely worth to be tracked in their next steps.


 

Number 8

SEVEN by Cairo Knife Fight

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Two musicians, one loop station, a synth and a couple of guitar amps”. This is Cairo Knife Fight, the rock music duo originating from New Zealand consisting of Nick Gaffaney (who’s also the founder of the band) and George Pajon.

With a musical style that that fits into an ideal meeting point between Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails, the music from Cairo Knife Fight pushes the boundaries of conventional stoner and embraces inputs and elements from many additional genres.

Their new album, Seven, was written and recorded in only 8 eight days and you can feel from almost all the songs of the LP the beauty – but also the limits – of such an instinctive and spontaneous writing.


 

Number 7

THE DEPTHS BELOW by Cortez

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American rock band Cortez, from Boston, released this year their second full-lenght album, The Depths Below, which represents a peculiar version of stoner rock with many catchy elementes and evident influences from heavy rock and grunge.

The LP arrives five years after their homonymous debut album, and it somehow contains the same recipe of stoner where groovy riffs are alternated with more slower melodies. The final result is definitely interesting, mostly thanks to the impressive performance of vocalist Matt Harrington.

Cortez band has the habit of letting a lot of time passing before a new publication. As a matter of fact, until today each new album came almost five years after the previous one. In the case of the last album, however, this time frame was also used to improve the cohesion between the elements of the group as there have been many changes in the line-up after their debut LP in 2012. Because of the above, a new album by the band is by itself an important event. And given the quality of the songs of The Depths Below, in this case is definitely an enjoyable one.


 

Number 6

ROUGH TIMES by Kadavar

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Rough Times, the new album by the German band Kadavar, is another of those albums that draws heavily in that unbridgeable basin given by the music of the 70s. With respect to many other retro-rock bands, however, the music played by Kadavar has the declared objective to imitate as faithfully as possible the atmospheres ad the sounds of the glourious era of rock and roll. 

With this premise it is clear that an album like Rough Times is destined to divide the listeners. Many people will say that the concept behind this LP doesn’t find so much justification in the second decade of the new century. However, if you leave aside these kind of considerations and listen to Kadavar’s songs for what they are, i.e. beautifully crafted rock and roll tracks, at the end this is an album that is capable to transmit a wide range of sensations.

There are a few songs, in particular, that shine for their absolute quality, such as the title track of the album or the single Die Baby Die. And it’s not by chance that the album has been often contributing to the stoner mixtapes and playlists we have presented in the pages of this blog.


 

Number 5

SLEEPING THROUGH THE WAR by All Them Witches

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Sleeping Through The War by All Them Witches has been one of the first albums to be recommended this year by this blog, even if at that time it was not straightforward to imagine that at the end of the year the LP would be entering the Top 5 of its genre. This is because the songs on this record – apart from a couple of particularly catchy singles – need some time and repeated listens before revealing all of their qualities.

Starting from the very first track of the album we are drawn into the obscure and melancholy territories created by the band. The songs are full of psychedelic elements supported by a solid stoner rock implant. And among the 10 albums included in this chart, Sleeping Through The War is maybe the one more representative of that intimate and poetic side of stoner music.

This is the fourth album in the career of the band, and their sound today shows a clear sense of maturity. It looks like that the four guys have incrementally learned to balance the various influences which contributed to their music: psychedelia, stoner rock, alternative metal, blues and bit of sludge. Year after year, album after album, these guys from Nashville have now consolidate their own and unique style of music. And this is a very good one


 

Number 4

VIBRACIONES DORADAS by Causa Sui

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Causa Sui is an instrumental stoner rock quartet from Denmark which has taken the interesting habit of publishing a new album roughly every year; sometimes it’s a full-lenght release, other times it’s a live recording of one of their concerts, and in some cases it’s a collection of special recordings (sessions), more experimental and in which they are typically accompanied by other guest musicians. The last of Causa Sui’s releases is a five-chapter mini-LP named Vibraciones Doradas, which is at this point the the thirteenth official publication since their debut in 2005.

The album delivered one of the finest collections of stoner rock tunes I have heard this year. From all of their songs it’s possible to feel the pleasure that these rockers have in playing their music, both when they’re following tight rhythms or when they are free to float with their instruments over more relaxed drum rates. Vibraciones Doradas is undoubtedly one of those jewels of the underground rock that should deserves a far greater visibility of what the band has achieved so far.

As a side note, every time I’m engaged with one of their new releases, I always find myself thinking of what could have happened in their career if the band had integrated a frontman. In fact, although the music of this group develops on the fairly classic canons of psychedelic and instrumental post-rock, I still feel that there are so many of their songs that would have benefited by some evocative and engaging lyrics.


 

Number 3

EMPEROR OF SAND by Mastodon

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Emperor of Sand, by American heavy metal band Mastodon, belonged to the category of the mostly awaited albums of 2017. And from the position the album gained in the final chart, at the end it turned out as another great album from what is nowadays one of the major bands in stoner music.

The four guys from Georgia don’t need too many introductions. With Emperor of Sand the band arrived in fact at the seventh album of a career which started almost eigthteen years ago. With their unique and strong mix of progressive and stoner rock, Mastodon become one of the preeminent metal acts of the early 21st century, gaining also mainstream success with some of their most accessible songs.

Emperor of Sand looks like two albums in one single disc. The work starts with a pack of the more aggressive, direct and mainstream-oriented songs, and then proceeds in the second half with the more complex and articulated tracks. The overall quality of the album, in any case, it’s very high. The only critic that I can express about the album is that it explores extensively the legacy and background of the band without any particular innovation in their musical approach.


 

Number 2

THE COYOTE WHO SPOKE IN TONGUES by John Garcia

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As long term fan of John Garcia I tend to adore almost every single album he publishes or where he simply contributes with his wonderful voice. In his last full-lenght disc, however, he really managed to convey a tsunami of emotions and the balance between new and old tracks is definitely satisfying. The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues is an acoustic album which contains new songs and some wonderfully rearranged tunes from the Kyuss era.

Much of the beauty of this record lies in the fact that John Garcia didn’t just follow the desire to pursue the commercial success by rearranging the most famous songs of his long and glorious career. Rather, it is evident the depth of emotions which he needed to communicate and which is at the basis of such a little masterpiece.

Here in this blog, the last album by John Garcia has spent many months on top of the overall music chart. The value of the album goes in fact well beyond the pure stoner world and this is a work which clearly represents one of the best things which happened in music in 2017.


 

Number 1

FORCE FIELD by The Atomic Bitchwax

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Last in First Out. One of the last albums to be reviewed in the blog becomes the top album of the stoner chart. Since the day of its release, Force Field by American supergroup The Atomic Bitchwax was immediately noted as one of the most powerful records of 2017. And at the end it deserved the award of best stoner album of the year.

With more than 25 years of history and characterized by a special relationship with the stoner legends Monster Magnet – a band with which the Bitchwax have always shared some of the main members of the line-up – this rock project founded by Chris Kosnik has always released high-quality publications. And their last LP, released in December 2017, absolutely confirms this rule.

From the first seconds since we push the button on our music player, we are greeted by the usual sequence of thick, energetic and catchy riffs, an element that has always been one of the main characteristics of their works. And in Force Field they manage to generate the same incredible level of energy without any slowing down. This is an incredible 35 minutes ride where the pedal of the accelerator is always pushed down, a celebration of the most unleashed and sharp sides of stoner rock. A simple and effective musical assault, but played with a surgical level of precision that is quite uniqe in modern stoner world. Push the play button, and start the ride.


 

 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF JAZZ IN 2017

This chart with the best 10 Jazz albums of 2017 is the perfect combination of a first group of albums which conquered and mainteined their positions in the top ten since the early months of the year, and a few “late” masterpieces that arrived after the summer and that – in a very short time – have literally twisted up the top positions of the final ranking.

Another general consideration that we can make on this top ten is that the artists with the most experience prevailed. Apart from some young promise that has managed to find a place in the lower parts of the ranking, the main positions are all assigned to musicians with a consolidated background. But beware, this does not mean that we are always facing the same old music. On the contrary, this year’s Jazz music scene shined for the absolutely brilliant way in which the most important artists have managed to combine a somewhat classic approach to their music with clear elements of innovation, replicating once again that magic thanks to which this musical genre, despite the criticisms of many, still manages to represent – much better than many other types of music – progress and growth.

There is nothing left to say that recommend going through this list of artists and their new albums: maybe you could have missed a few of these LPs and in this respect this article could be an opportunity to fill any gap in your Jazz discography for the year. And to better complement and accompany the reading of the chart, I’ve also prepared a special compilation with selected tracks from the most interesting LPs released in 2017. This mixtape includes also artists who have not reached the top ten chart and that aren’t mentioned in the article. In this respect, the mixtape is even a better way to revisit the state of contemporary Jazz through a fascinating journey through various musical sub-genres and different styles.

 


 

Number 10

LA DIVERSITE’ by Nicolas Kummert

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La Diversité is the last album produced by the young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert and it’s an LP which slowly but incessantly ascended in the Jazz music charts of this blog. It’s not bny chance, then, that it eventually consolidated its position within the Top Ten albums of the year.

La Diversité is a particular release which requires a few listens to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are in fact subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that you may need some time to untangle the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album. This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy at the best all of its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

In most of the tracks Nicolas Kummert is is supported by a number of talented musicians who all participated actively with their single touches to the final result. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.


 

Number 9

FAR INTO THE STARS by Markus Stockhausen

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One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.


 

Number 8

GENTLE GIANTS by SLOWFOX

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Slowfox is a recent music project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz & avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album under the moniker fo SLOWFOX, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains: on one side boundless creativity, on the other reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)


 

Number 7

TRANSPARENT WATER by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

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Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.


 

Number 6

PROVENANCE by Björn Meyer

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If last year I ended up completely conquered by the beauty and the particularity of Janek Gwizdala‘s American Elm, it may be understandable how it was possible for me to fall in love with Provenance, the new album by Swedish Jazz bassist Björn Meyer. This work, in fact, shares with Gwizdala’s one the same exact musical approach and provides the listener with a collection of fabulous solo pieces for electric bass and very few other contour elements.

The technique used by Meyer for his new album is very special: by playing his six-strings bass only in the highest regions of the instrument’s dynamics, the artist manages to produce a lighter sound, very similar to that of an electric guitar, but with a substance and a body which result definitely denser and more stratified. And with the addition of a few electrical touches and some effects like reverberation, the result is complete: in front of us magical worlds unfold thanks to the wise touch of this great musician.

Provenance is one of those albums that reject tags and labels. “Jazz” or “meditiative music” become simple attributes of a music that assumes mystical and universal contours. There is no need to wonder what kind of music you hearing when such a pure sound and these poetic melodies come before you. You just have to enjoy it, and be transported into the realms of magic.

As a side note, the album was recorded in an highly responsive auditorium in Lugano and according to the author this aspect had a big influence on the final result: “Even though the instrument is technically non-acoustic, the music is deeply influenced by the properties of the space where it is played. The many different ways in which acoustics affect my compositions and improvisations have always been sources of surprise and inspiration. There is definitely a second member in this solo project – the room!


 

Number 5

POSTDAMER PLATZ by Jan Lundgren

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Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums). For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.


 

Number 4

FAR FROM OVER by Vijay Iyer Sextet

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American pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, and he’s also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with two great albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention.

In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone in the career of Vijay Iyer and it’s absolutely no surprise to find him reaching the top 5 in the final chart for Jazz music.


 

Number 3

JERSEY by Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet

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There are artists who are so much driven by musical curiosity and the desire to explore different influences that they feel the pressure to produce adventurous works mixing together musical genres, always trying to find new languages for expressing their creativity. And it may defintely curious to see how, sometime, the best way these artists really manage to achieve their goal is to come back to the origin of their music. Evidently, it is just by going through the most well-known roads that you can travel the further.

Mark Guiliana, the talented and versatile drummer who gained the attention of fans and critics playing together with artists of the caliber of Brad Mehldau and Avishai Cohen, started a few years ago an exploration of electronic music, pop/rock and free-improvisation – sometimes with mixed results in my opinion. This year he has movedback to a more conventional lineup, a total analogue set-up, and he eventually released one of the most exciting records of his entire discography.

Working together with long-time supporting musicians such as tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey, and the the new addition of Fabian Almazan on piano, Mark Guiliana managed to record a compilation of songs wich are today the perfect synthesis of Conteporary Jazz and that showcase a perfec balance between the excellence of the individual musicians (often engaged in breathtaking solos) with an excellent harmonic cohesion.


 

Number 2

BODY AND SHADOW by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

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As a long-term fan of American jazz drummer Brian Blade, I’ve been waiting for this new record with great expectations and some trepidation. His last effort with his fellow companions, Landmarks, dated 2014. But although I was therefore ready to listen to a great album, I could not imagine falling in love with Blade’s new release from the real first notes of the first track of the record. Body and Shadow, the last work released by Blade with the Fellowship Band, it’s something so beautiful and unique that it literally takes your breath away. This is a music with no reference, no original model: it is pure poetry that the musicians play spontaneously, leaving aside technical those virtuosities and conceptualisms which in any case they would not have any problem to use given their pedigree.

The adjectives that comes to mind thinking of the jazz played by the musicians on this record are “soft” and “sweet“. In fact the music proceeds in this album without angularities: we have sounds, melodies, and harmonies played with care and with delicacy, melodies that manage to touch the most intimate strings of the soul. But be aware, delicacy and softness here do not mean lack of emotions. Instead, this is a clear manifestation of musical leadership and a group of musicians who have played together for years and years. They show an impressive capacity to self-synchronize their sounds and a level of self-awareness that makes all the ensemble tuned and compact. And what has been said at the overall level is also true for the drumming of Brian Blade. His touch is never heavy or above the other instruments.


 

Number 1

AN ANCIENT OBSERVER by Tigran Hamasyan

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After so many times this album has been mentioned in this blog, it was extremely difficult that another record could remove it from the top of the chart. And in the end, as easily predictable, An Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan won the award of best Jazz album of the year.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

Many readers of the blog already had the opportunity to enjoy the Spotify playlist that was assembled to celebrate the greatness and the ingenuity of Tigran. This is available from the following widget, and collects both new and past pieces of music from our beloved pianist.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF INDIE POP IN 2017

The moment I got ready to prepare this list I could realize how many good records were released for indie pop this year. And in the end it was not easy to choose those to reward. Looking back to the ranking of the best 10 releases of the year, it is also possible to appreciate the fact that alongside established artists there are a number of intresting new musical groups, and the balance between well-known names and musical surprises is really balanced.

In order to better appreciate the quality and variety of the songs that were released this year,  I prepared a mixtape with all the best bands that released their albums in 2017. The result is a mix with more than two hours of incredible music, which in my opinion allows to fully evaluate the current status of indie pop music.

Finally, at the end of the chart you will find a link to the playlist on Spotify that collected during the year many of the songs that were released by the artists mentioned in this post. My suggestion is to register as a follower of the playlist because new songs will be added regularly.


 

Number 10

Cigarettes After Sex (S/T)

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The Top Ten of indie pop starts with a debut album. Cigarettes After Sex is the beautiful self-titled work produced by the new ambient pop project founded by Greg Gonzalez, an artist from Brooklyn, who has been supported for this LP by a number of different members and collaborators.

Cigarettes After Sex contains 10 delicate and elegant tracks, all of them minimalistic and essential as the front cover of the album, typically developed on simple but beautiful melodies. The songs are based on very slow rhythms, dreamy electronics and reverbered guitars. We are in front of a special kind of pop which sometimes crosses the border with ambient and meditative music.

This album was for me a great surprise. I’ve read on the Internet that a few years ago their EP became a sort of online phenomenon – which I missed. But maybe the experience of listening to this album without any previous reference contributed to give me an even stronger impact. The music played in this album is definitely out of the ordinary and if you are ready to accept its particularities and to tolerate extended times and slowed down rythms, you can really get in return the pleasure and the feelings of a unique musical experience.

Cigarettes After Sex work in a sub-genre where atmosphere is often allowed to trump melody, but Gonzalez’s tunes are uniformly fabulous, to the point where it’s hard to pick out a highlight. Addictive, memorable and with the potential to reach an audience far wider than the cult following that normally awaits this kind of stuff, they’re the reason why an album where every track’s sonic components are more or less the same never feels monotonous or boring. (The Guardian)


 

Number 9

CAPTURE by Thunder Dreamer

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Thunder Dreamer is a relatively new dreamy rock formation from Indiana, in the US, and Capture is their second album, released two years after their debut LP.

The style of the band is located on the exact point where indie pop meets with post rock and this album – considered as a whole – stands out as one of the best indie songbooks that have been released in 2017. The songs of Capture reflect the main elements of the US midwestern heartland from where these guys come from. All the tracks of the album feature poignant melodies, moody arpeggios, and also some very good musical escalations typical of post-rock and shoegaze.

Thunder Dreamer have found their sweet spot with this love letter to the circular roads and deserted workshops of middle America, the heat and despair that bakes itself deep into its buildings and its people and forms its own desolate, lonely beauty. Why ever leave. (Sputnik Music)

This was for me one of the most nice surprise of the year in pop, in particular because I missed their debut work and therefore I was totally unprepared to the skills and the expressive abilities of these guys. Certainly I will be more attentive to the next steps of this very interesting band.


 

Number 8

LITTLE FICTIONS by Elbow

ELBOW - Little Fictions - 800x800

Given the fact that this beautufil album by Elbow was released early in the year, we had the opportunity to speak about it many times in this blog. And as a matter of fact, for many months this LP was the source of many of the tracks that were included in our pop playlists and mixtapes.

Little Fiction is the seventh studio album produced by Elbow, which is an historical and appreciated band from England. These musicians play together since more than 25 years, and you can feel it from the cohesion and balance that these guys have reached for their music. In absolute continuity with their latest works, the new album features a refreshing compilation of elegant and enjoyable pop & soft rock songs (“tastefully simple tracks”, as someone says). Simple but not trivial, because every song on the album shows an evident effort from the group to enrich the melodies with focused arrangements and – where necessary – some moderate experimentation.

In all of their long discography, Elbow have always shown an undeniable talent for songwriting. This is fully confirmed here and even the abrupt departure of drummer Richard Jupp didn’t affect too much the style and the sound of the band. When it comes to craft melodic and intimate pop rock songs, these guys are still one of the best groups around.

Through a labyrinth of limb-twisting time-signatures, treated tones and weird choral counterpoints, the Mercury-winning band’s elaborate scaffolds of rhythm and harmony have rarely sounded more driven by the joy of creation. (Rolling Stone)


 

Number 7

DARK GLOW by Choir Vandals

CHOIR VANDALS - Dark Glow - 800x800

Often referred to as the modern reincarnation of The Smiths, Choir Vandals may be described as a new-wave and indie pop band from Missuouri, in the U.S. After a relevant number of very good EPs and live recordings, the four-piece band eventually released their debut album, named Dark Glow, which contains a good number of great songs moving in a suprisingly natural way between pop and rock.

From a musical point of view the music from the band is definitely centered around the two guitars played by Josh Cameron and Micah Kelleher. The guitars’ layers give the song a clear rock’n’roll feeling, which is however blended with soft and introspective melodies.

As a debut album from a relatively new band, this work seems to anticipate great things for these musicians, which become now of one of the indie groups to track carefully in anticipation of their next steps.

Dark Glow is a great debut full-length offering from Choir Vandals with a lot of appeal for both mainstream alternative rock fans and those who prefer a slightly more underground leaning. It’s obvious that a lot of deliberate work went into the music without it ever sounding forced, and the payoff is big. (Out From the Pine Box)


 

Number 6

V by The Horrors

THE HORRORS - V - 800x800

It tooks only a few days from the release of V, the fifth LP produced by the English band The Horrors, that the album established itself as one of the most important releases of the year in its genre. This is mostly because of the impressive number of good tracks that are collected in the LP, for sure not because of the cover of the album, which I believe it’s maybe one of the worst we could see this year.

The Horrors have a unique capacity to sound “commercial” but keeping at the same time a style and creativity that are typical of the best indie groups. There are many influences here which bring a lot of variety to the songs, and because of the many sub-styles that alternate one after the other, at the end the LP stands out both for the single tracks but also as a whole. There are many moments in the album where the atmospheres turn decidedly towards harder and more abrasive sounds, and this is for sure a pleasant surprise.

The band’s basic formula—simple, languid melodies, traditional verse-chorus structures interrupted by guitar and synth wig-outs—hasn’t changed, but the surfaces are grittier, the drums smack harder, and the vocals sit louder in the mix. (Pitchfork)


 

Number 5

NATIVE INVADERS by Tori Amos

TORI AMOS - Native Invader - 800x800

Native Invader is the new beautiful album by American singer-songwriter Tori Amos. This is the 15th studio album by the poliedric artists and it is impregnated – as usual – with his fantastic voice and the delicate and heartbreaking melodies of the piano.

Tori Amos explained that most of the songs of the LP are inspired partly by a road trip she took on last winter through North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, and partly by a number of critical events which happened in the same period (two seismic events, the result of US Elections and a severe stroke which was suffered by her mother). These elements of inspiration are often blended together and give depth and passion to the songs of the album, which are executed with a class and elegance that have become a trademark of Tori Amos’ production.

Native Invader is not one of Tori’s sexier albums, nor is it as playful as she’s demonstrated herself capable of being. But it’s strong and unwavering in its commitment to being muse-driven and unafraid. There’s a warm melancholy throughout, like being inside on a rainy day – things may look bleak, but for a moment, there is a safe haven in sound. (Paste Magazine)

From a musical point of view it is interesting to see how the artist constantly tries to innovate her own sound without ever abandoning that enjoyability and class that distinguishes her style. We find delicate elements of country music, recalls of pop rock, flashes of electronic, a lot of piano and symphonic elements, everything at the service of her wonderful voice.


 

Number 4

DARK HORSE by Biggi Hilmars

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I came across to this incredible album by Icelandic composer Biggi Hilmars with some delay with respect its release on last September. But as soon as I started listening to the first tracks of Dark Horse, it became immediately clear to me that I was in front of one of the most interesting records of the year – and not only in pop music.

The name of Biggi Hilmars is probably not among the best known of today’s music scene, but this musician has however already achieved a certain consideration not only as a pop artist but rather as a composer of music for film scores and trailers for both television and commercials.

Icelandic by birth, but international by nature, Biggi has lived and worked in London, Reykjavik, Paris, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles. His film work includes the music score for ‘Beeba Boys’ the crime thriller written and directed by Academy Award Nominee Deepa Mehta, the official movie trailer for ‘I Smile Back’, starring Sarah Silverman and music for the trailer for Thomas Vinterberg’s 2015 movie ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ starring Carey Mulligan. Recent commissions include the original score to Thomson Holiday’s ‘Moments’ advertising campaign, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the London Chamber Orchestra. Biggi has also recently composed for Apple, Skoda, IBM, Mercedes Benz and Chevrolet, to name but few. (from the artist’s webpage)

Dark Horse, Biggi Hilmars’ third release as a solo, seems to summarize in a single disc most of the artist’s production and styles, floating in an unstable balance between commercial, classical and meditative music. But beyond the many influences and mixes of styles that generated the album, what’s really important at the end is that the songs on this record are absolutely beautiful, poetic, delicate and elegant in a way that is really difficult to find today. From a musical point of view, the 10 tracks of this album flow on a main vein of timeless melodies, on top of which there are delicate musical arrangments and ejoyable vocals. Everything is graced by an excellent production that managed to enhance the individual elements of the pieces but without affecting consistency and pleasure of the album as a whole. That’s really one of the most lovely releases of the last months, a precious gem that shines with elegance and simplicity in an increasingly chaotic music scene.


 

Number 3

SILVER EYE by Goldfrapp

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Silver Eye is the seventh studio album by legendary English electronic duo Goldfrapp and as it’s typical with their works, it sees the band exploring new musical directions. After experimenting with with folktronica (Tales of Us) , 80’s pop (Head First), and downtempo (Seventh Tree), the duo has now moved towards an intriguing and enjoyable synth-pop.

The album offers to the listener an impressive number of very good songs, maybe a bit “basic” with respect to some of their previous productions, but with same level of elegance and delicacy, something that unfortunately has become a rare thing nowadays in pop music. In some tracks the band decide to venture along darker and nebulous passages, and in this case the atmospheres take more obscure connotations. But there is always a perceptible light at the end of the road, something whicheventually brings us back to brighter and more positive territories.

In the right frame of mind, Silver Eye will take you on a journey through distant and nebulous corners of space, where humans and machines are intertwined, reality is not quite defined, and everything is cloaked in shadow that seeps into your headspace. Sure, it’s a scary place to be, but sometimes exploring the dark side of the force pays dividends as long as you keep the faith and don’t let your silver eye burn out. (Popmatters)

Whether you’re just looking for a soft musical background during the working hours, or to “unplug” yourself for a moment of relaxation, this record can truly be your loyal companion and it will hardly disappoint your expectations. And it’s not by chance that it remained in the top three even after many months from its publication.


 

Number 2

REST by Charlotte Gainsbourg

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG - Rest - 800x800

Rest, the new LP by British / French singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of legendary singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg) is a little gem of contemporary pop, a collection of lovely, poetic and emotional short pieces which leverage the skills of all the artists who collaborated for the record (Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Paul McCartney and Owen Pallet) but which also showcase the impressive talent of Sebastian Akchoté, the man behind the mixer and who also composed most of the tracks.

The record charmingly marries modern electronic pop and Kate Bush-like feminine art-pop vocals. Gainsbourg’s voice, along with French DJ and remixer Sebastian’s production, brings a sophisticated gloss, unsurprising considering the influence of Gainsbourg’s mother, British fashion icon Jane Birkin, and Charlotte’s own glamorous career in the spotlight. (Under the Radar)

The talent of Charlotte Gainsbourg as a singer emerged more or less a decade ago, when in the timeframe of just 3 years she released a couple of incredible albums (5:55 and IRM) which received both critical acclaim and good commercial success. After a relatively weaker passage (2011’s Stage Whisper) and the participation to the provocative Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac movie, she’s now back with a new album which seems to summarize in one single place all the best things she’s ever done in music so far.

Rest is an album that develops its full potential after repeated listens, which allow you to appreaciate the delicate and dark atmospheric layers of sounds on top of which the beautiful voice of Charlotte is free to float.


 

Number 1

SLEEP WELL BEAST by The National

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As many could imagine from the first moment when American band The National announced the recording of a new album, this was going to be a major hit in the music scene. And in fact it delivered. Sleep Well Beast, the seventh album by American indie art rock The National, was in fact one of the most anticipated and awaited albums of the year and it’s not by chance, then, that the LP topped in a few days some of the most important music charts in US, UK and Canada.

Born as college rockers and post-punk revivalists, these four guys from Cincinnati developed with the years a unique musical style where delicate melodies and intimate atmospheres dominate over every other element. One of the best characteristics of the last album is how the band managed to introduce a bunch of new elements and innovation in their style but without reinventing their overall musical approach, which is still permeated by a profound melancholy but with some nice and appreciated relatively energic inserts (as it’s evident, for example, in the beautiful single Day I Die).

The National might be the closest thing America has ever had to The Smiths: a dexterous guitar band with a magnetically morose frontman who’s able to complain about the government and his love life in the same breath with the same eloquence and the same dark humor. (Consequence of Sound)

As it’s typical with every albums of The National, a few songs are a notch higher than the average level, which is however very high, making the experience of listening to the whole LP as a really enjoyable journey.


 

As promised at the beginning of this long post, here is the link to CRESTS OF WAVES, which is the Spotify Playlist which collects the best indie pop songs of the last months. Enjoy and follow the playlist in order to remain up-to-date with the new releases.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF THRASH METAL IN 2017

Like all those who have started listening metal music in the early 90s, I have developed an exaggerated passion for thrash metal. These were the years of the Big Four, and nothing seemed cooler, more energetic and incredible than this fantastic type of music. Fast forward of 30 years, and we still have a good number of bands, both new and “mature” ones, dedicating their skills to thrashy riffs. Over the years the genre has gradually transformed, mainly incorporating more modern elements such as those developed in groove metal and metalcore. It is no coincidence, therefore, that today we should use the terms “classic thrash” or “old school thrash” to indicate those groups which remained faithful to the original characteristics of thrash, without too many evolutions. But because I am one of those who still have some problems to untangle the moltitude of tags and appellations that circulate today in the metal arena (they are far too many), in this blog I continue to categorize as thrash also the altered versions of the main genre, i.e. those that are often indicated with thrash / groove or crossover.

The year 2017 has been of average level for thrash metal. Among the hundreds bands we have listened to, about thirty of them were noted for releasing nice albums and songs (you will find them all in the mixtape which I’ve prepared for the occasion), but only a few have produced something really interesting and destined to stay for long in our music players. Most of the major publications took place in the first half of the year, while in recent months there have been very few releases worthy of note. Anyway, there have been some albums that deserve a particular mention for their contribution to this genre: we had the incredible album released by Power Trip, a band destined to leave a deep mark in the history of this genre of music, and some other important confirmations such as those of Havok, Body Count and Cavalera Conspiracy. A handful of interesting debuts completes the picture.

You’ll find here the list of the best 10 thrash metal albums of 2017, ranked from the bottom to the top. But in order to represent a wider picture of the state of thrash metal I’ve also prepared a mixtape for celebrating all the bands that made a valuable contribution to this genre of music. You have 2 hours of uninterrupted ride into thrash metal: 29 bands, 29 songs, one single flow of energy. And if you want to stay updated on the last news in thrash, at the end of the post you’ll find also the link to the Spotify playlist that I maintain and bring up-to-date with any new song which emerges from the mass. Have a nice listen and any comment is welcome!


 

Number 10

DIVISION & DISHARMONY by Swarm

SWARM - Division & Disharmony - 800x800.jpg

It’s nice to start this chart with a debut album. From Antibes, France, this new quintet of metallers released on last March an interesting album where modern thrash is mixed with groovy and hardcore elements.  And since its publication on last March, Division & Disharmony, the new and first album by Swarm, has been often taken into consideration everytime a new metal compilations was going to be published on this blog, reflecting the extreme enjoyability of the songs contained in the LP.

From a musical point of view, the album makes no effort to hide the many sources of inspiration that contributed to the genesis of this work, from the arpeggios a-la Master of Puppets that open some of the songs, to the the alternation of clean and growing voices that has now become a distinctive feature of Metalcore, not to mention the changes of rhythmthat have led to the success of historical groups such as the Pantera and Machine Head. All these components, however, have been mixed and blended with great skill to the point that the final product is absolutely not just a patchwork of elements from the history of metal. On the contrary, the combination of old and new elements has generated an extremely varied work and – most important – really nice to listen. Presumably with the subsequent works of this promising group we will see the birth of a more unique and particular style of music, but for the moment we enjoy this excellent debut work which, at the end of the year, has reached the top ten by making out many more famous competitors.


 

Number 9

I AM LEGION by Witchery

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We shall be honest here. Given the expectations that we had on the new work from the Swedish Witchery – largely justified by the beautiful LP that the band published about a year ago – the fact that we find their new record placed only at the ninth position of the chart highlights  by itself a certain level of disappointment. And to some extent it was predictable. This is a band that used to make us wait many years between two consecutive albums – with excellent results – and which this time decided to return to the studio after a very short time from the publication of their latest work. There was something strange. And in fact, alongside some fantastic songs that still put the album among the best things released this year, we find, however, a number of tracks that result much less inspired and fresh than the rest, and we weren’t used to it with this band.

I Am Legion, the new album from Witchery, may be summarized in a few words as a raw version of the precedent work, Infernal Majesty’s Service. The Swedish band has crafted with the years their unique version of blackened thrash, and with the exception of a more immediate style and of an arrangement that is certainly more brutal and crude than in the past, the overall approach does not differ too much from the style of metal they have been playing so far.


 

Number 8

THE DISEASED HEART OF SOCIETY by Solitary

SOLITARY - The Diseased Heart of Society - 800x800

Solitary is an English thrash metal band which is formally active since 20 years. The band’s previous album, however, was published about ten years ago. It is no coincidence, therefore, that among all the albums heard in 2017, The Diseased Heart Of Society, Solitary’s new release, is maybe one of those more closely related to the sound and the style of the past. But if you love this kind of music – as I do – you will for sure appreciate this record since it features a very good collection of heavy and brutal thrash songs, gifted by the efforts of a band of skilled musicians but also by an excellent production.

The music from Solitary is inspired by the masters of thrash – Testament and Slayer above all – but the four guys from Lancashire managed however to create a personal musical style which somehow evolves from their models. The result is definitely positive and it’s necessary to hope they won’t take another decade to assemble andother album of the same quality.


 

Number 7

CONFORMICIDE by Havok

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American thrash-metal masters Havok released in 2017 their fourth studio disc, Conformicide, which interrupts the four year break since their beautiful 2013’s Unnatural Selection, which has been so far the longest gap between two band’s albums. As almost usual with Havok there was a change in the lineup before recording the new LP, in this case bassist Mike Leon left the band and was replaced by Nick Schendzielos, coming from Cephalic Carnage. Despite the change, however, not only the new line-up led by David Sanchez managed to put together another solid collection of enjoyable and aggressive old-school thrash songs, but they managed also to record what could be easily considered the band’s best work so far.

By listening to their discography it’s evident in fact how both their sound and songwriting skills improved a lot with the time. The overall level of the Conformicide is defintely superb and there are a couple of songs which stand out for their brilliance. It’s not by chance that they’ve been a stable presence in many metal playlists released this year on the blog.

One of the distinctive features of this group has always been the technical expertise of all musicians involved. In this sense a special mention is necessary for the newcomer in the Group (Mr. Schendzielos) who plays a style of bass in the album which is at same time furious but also incredibly precise (“surgeon-like” as many said). You may have a look to the video for Intention To Deceive to figure out what I’m talking about.

In summary, Havok’s last album is not only a further confirmation of greatness for this group of old school thrashers, but it also becomes the new peak in their valuable metal career.


 

Number 6

PSYCHOSIS by Cavalera Conspiracy

CAVALERA CONSPIRACY - Psychosis - 800x800

Since the first time the two Cavalera brothers reunited in 2007, the level of excitement for every new release has been always very high. And indeed, despite some false passages like 2014’s mediocre Pandemonium, their albums have always been interesting and in some cases with unexpected surprises. The style of this band is certainly not for sophisticated palates or cultists of creativity, it is just pure and simple groove and thrash but played by two of the most influential characters of the metal scene of the 90’s.

With their brand new LP Psychosis, Cavalera Conspiracy arrive to the fourth full lenght release of their discography, and this, by itself, is a result of all respect if we think that this group started as an extemporaneous project after the brothers Igor and Max Cavalera (two of the founder members of Sepultura) had the opportunity to find themselves together again in a concert in Tampa, after the infamous diatribes that brought their spectacular band to dissolve in 1996 (everyone knows that Sepultura is still active with another line-up, but all agree that it’s not the same thing of the original band…).

From a musical point of view, one of the most important characteristics of the new album is how it appears consistent when considered as a single object. The sequence of the 9 songs of the disc is absolutely fluid and all tracks bring a devastating charge of rhythms and riffs. The first segment of the album, in particular, is impressive. The first three songs have the effect of smacking you hears with frenzied and furious rhythms, on top of which the simple but effective gusts of bass and guitar discharge a load of destructive energy. As anticipated: you won’t find anything absolutely original and innovative in this release, but when music is played at these levels you can sometimes indulge with just healthy and pure metal without too many pretenses.


 

Number 5

INFINITE PUNISHMENT by Get The Shot

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We enter the top half of the chart driven by the blind fury carried out by a quintet of hardcore thrashers from Quebec, in Canada. Get The Shot is one of those groups destined to divide metal listeners in half: on one hand we have those who argue if their music is more thrash rather than punk or hardcore and therefore more or less worthy of being appreciated (if you ever posted some link on Reddit’s subgroups you know what I mean), on the other side we have those – like me – to whom these labels do not interest too much and that find themselves enjoying the brutality and passion that transpire from the songs of this album.

Infinite Punishment, the new LP from the band, arrives three years after their last effort and it certainly represents a sharp turn towards harsher and “thrashy” sounds. Thanks to a skilful combination of contributions and inspirations from the classics of metal with elements of absolute modernity, the band released one of the most fresh and immediate works of the year. This is one of those records that leaves you breathless, a furious ride into the angry world painted by these guys. Infinite Punishment can be heard on repepat many many times: it will hardly bore you, surely it will make you feel a charge of energy like you have not felt for some time


 

Number 4

BLOODLUST by Body Count

BODY COUNT - Bloodlust - 800x800

Bloodlust is the new album “dropped” by the American metal band Body Count, which was founded almost 30 years ago by legendary rapper and actor Ice-T with guitarist Ernie C. A lot of time has passed since their hated and controversial song Cop Killer, which was eventually removed from their first album and caused at that time the terminatio of their contract with Warner Bros. And in fact today their approach is certainly less offensive than their origins. It still remains, however, the urgency to convey a heartfelt message against the misery of some elements of modern society. In this sense, the music in all Body Count’s albums has been always the medium through which transmit their polemical and angry vision of life, and in this respect – with this specific kinds of band – it wouldn’t make so much sense to judge the disc by analyzing only the musical part of the work – which is however extremely satisfying.

From a musical point of view we’re in front of a simple but effective thrashcore & groove metal, sometimes blended with melodic moments. In all their albums these guys have never hidden the tribute their music owes to the giants of the past like Black Sabbath and Slayer (of which we find in this album a wonderful cover of Raining Blood), indeed, the familiarity that their music presents with the canons of metal is in this case a special feature which has the clear advantage of concentrating the listener’s attention on the message that wants to be transmitted by the songs, rather than the music by itself.

Interviewer: Ice! Explain Body Count

Ice-T: Body Count is a band I put together just to let one of my best friends Ernie C play his guitar. He’s always been playing guitar, we all went to Crenshaw High School together in South Central Los Angeles. And I had the idea of let’s make a metal band, let’s make rock band, because I had been to Europe and I noticed that the kids would mosh off of hip-hop. So we put the band together and I used the three bands that were my favourites at the time to set the tone. We used the impending doom of a group like Black Sabbath, who pretty much invented metal; the punk sensibility of somebody like Suicidal, who basically put that gangbanger style from Venice, California into the game; and the speed and the precision of Slayer, one of my favourite groups and always will be.

(from the intro to Raining Blood cover)


 

Number 3

RAISED ON DECAY by Shrapnel

SHRAPNEL - Raised in Decay - 800x800

Shrapnel is a relatively new metal quintet formed in Norwich, England. They are active since 2009 and in 2014 published the first LP, The Virus Conspires. After a few years of refining and improving their musical style, these guys released in 2017 their second album, named Raised on Decay, which gained immediately a great attention as possibly one of the best thrash releases of the year and which at the end entered the top 3 of his genre.

What’s definitely remarkable on this record is the personality and character of these English metallers. Their music, despite moving into a musical genre where nowadays almost everything that could be invented has been already played, manages to appear still cool and intriguing. There is nothing very new in these songs and the influences of the thrash masters permeate many of the songs of the album. Nonetheless, the basic ingredients of the genre have all been perfectly dosed into their recipe, which is then enriched with a good dose of pride and impetuosness.

Musically speaking, we’re in front of a style of metal that is clearly dominated by the powerful and incessant rhythmic sections, on top of which we can enjoy chirurgical guitar riffs and also a number of very good guitar solos. Many songs are characterized by a beautiful alternation of conventional mid-tempo thrashy passages with sections at much higher rhythm, producing a contrast that typically makes the songs brighter and more dynamic.


 

Number 2

HEARTLESS OPPRESSOR by Primal Attack

PRIMAL ATTACK - Heartless Oppressor - 800x800.jpg

Primal Attack is a new promising thrash & groove metal band arriving from Portugal. These guys released in 2017 a beautiful album called Heartless Oppressor, which is the second work since their formation. Although it’s evidently inspired from the works of Pantera, Hatebreed and Machine Head, the album contains a high number of original features to become a unique piece in the current metal scene.

Heartless Oppressor is a strong and energetic disc and it’s fully packed with catching riffs and melodies. These guys from Portugal must have some special gift if they managed in less than five years to achieve such a level of maturity in balancing different metal influences, which span from groove to death metal. This is an album that I definitely recommend and I’m expecting big things in the future of the band. A few of the songs from the album have become a regular presence of the metal playlist that were published in this blog, and this LP remained firmly in the upper section of any metal chart despite the high number of contenders they faced throught the year.


 

Number 1

NIGHTMARE LOGIC by Power Trip

Nightmare Logic

Nightmare Logic, which is the last and second full-lenght album by Texans trashers Power Trip, has systematically climbed the rankings of the metal charts of the blog and eventually it reached the top of its category. At the end of 2017, this record deserves without any doubt the title of best thrash album of the year.

Power Trip is a relatively new metal band from Texas which plays an energetic and violent blend of thrash and hardcore. They aren’t around since many years but they guys have already accumulated considerable experience playing live together with some big names like Anthrax, Lamb of God and Napalm Death. Nigthmare Logic is their second full-lenght album and it quickly became a benchmark of moderm metal. The style of music here is fast, energetic, and innovative with a lot of inserts from other metal sub-genres such as hardcore and industrial.

Nightmare Logic looks to me as one of that fortunate cases where the classical and typical elements which made this kind of metal so much successful in the past 30 years have been masterfully reshaped with modern elements, creating a new and unique sound that most likely will become itself a reference for future generations. Impressive, not to be missed.


 

As anticipated, I conclude this long post with the link to the Spotify playlist which collects the best in thrash metal. This is updated with new tracks as soon as new good songs are releases, so my recommendation is to follow and visit it periodically to check for new material.


 

 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF LOUNGE & DOWNTEMPO IN 2017

Lounge, Chillout and Downtempo are musical genres where the difference bewteen valuable works and commercial / low-quality albums is absolutely relevant.

You’ll find here a selection of the three best discs of 2017, choosen among the many albums I had the opportunity to hear throughout the year. In addition, you can enjoy a nice 40 minutes mixtape with the best tracks from these LPs. Enjoy!


 

Number 3

OUT OF TIME by Hugo Kant

HUGO KANT - Out of Time - 800x800.jpg

Historically, France has always produced excellent musicians and producers of electronic music, and beyond the stage name of Hugo Kant there is Quentin Le Roux, who’s definitely one of the most interesting and eclectic artists of the current French electronic scene. Out of Time, the album released this year by Hugo Kant, confirms all the positive things we had the possibility to appreciate in his music since the initial works he published since 2011.

Whether he explores electro pop sounds or he decides to plunge into the mazes of downtempo and hip hop, Hugo Kant’s music remains always classy, never exaggerated or excessive. His production belongs to that school of French electronic artists with an innate melodic and expressive vein, and those who know absolutely when it’s time to stop adding sound layers or effects to avoid weighing down the songs.

One thing that Kant’s music is certainly rich in is the variety of instruments and influences. All of these elements, however, are here at the complete service of the pleasantness and fluency of the songs. Out of Time hosts in fact a number of very good and delicate songs that may be the perfect background for reflection and meditation, and the record also succeeds in the difficult task of telling us something new about a genre that absolutely needs some innovation.

Another valuable element of this album is the use made by the author of numerous jazz and cinemaitc influences. Nothing completely original, of course, but the blend that has been developed by Monsieur Le Roux is definitely interesting and he managed to stand out from the average level of the downtempo albums which we heard in 2017.


 

Number 2

MIGRATION by Bonobo

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Migration, the sixth electronic album in the career of British DJ Simon Greenby (a.k.a. Bonobo), was the first electronic album to be awarded this year in this blog. And even after many months since its release on last January, now that we find ourselves gathering all the notes that were written throughout the year for defining the best works of the year, the qualities of this work remain all unchanged.

Probably today Bonobo is one of the best artists in the downtempo sub-genre. His works are emotive, passionate, intricate but delicate, with a special attention to every detail. And it’s a real pleasure to get lost within the intriguing musical harmonies that permeate the work. The music of bonobo does not want to be revolutionary or even conceptual. The recipe in this case is the classic one: pure and simple downtempo with myriads of ethnic influences, occasionally enriched by vocal elements.

The musical style of Bonobo does not make it suitable as background for a party or a celebration. Rather, here we are faced with a kind of electronic music that’s definitely more suitable for reflection, concentration, and spiritual journeys.


 

Number 1

DAWN CHORUS by Hidden Orchestra

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On top of this mini-chart we find Scottish composer and producer Joe Acheson, the creator of the “imaginary orchestra” named Hidden Orchestra. As we learn from for the project’s website, all the tracks feature a wide variety of guest musicians who recorded their contributions separately. The single pieces are then combined by Acheson to create an imaginary ensemble that doesn’t really exist.

Dawn Chorus, the third and last work from Hidden Orchestra, is a concept album dedicated to put into music all the field recordings that Joe Acheson did in the last 8 years in the early hours of the day. From the artist’s bandcamp page:

Hidden Orchestra’s  Dawn Chorus is built around a collection of birdsong and other field recordings captured over many years in diverse locations around the UK and abroad. Rich in detail and character, these snapshots intertwine with bass, drums, percussion and eclectic instruments – including piano, electro-harp, zither, Turkish mey and cello – for an emotive and transporting listen that Acheson describes as “a kind of personal audio diary, time capsule or memoir”.

Each track on the album is set to a different one of Acheson’s dawn chorus recordings, these magical snippets of nature providing effects both percussive and melodic, and sparking evocative journeys. Album opener “First Light” features the first ever full dawn chorus that Acheson recorded, on a 5am walk in December 2009 amid a blanket of crisp snow.

The beauty of this record lies in the fact that the environmental recordings are not simply an additional layer put in the songs to give a naturalistic feeling. On the contrary, all the songs develop around these magical atmospheres and manage to create soundscapes and harmonies of absolute quality, slow, medidative, but never dull or boring. This is definitely one of the most particular and interesting albums of the year. Not easy to approach, given its particular structure, but certainly full of emotions and moments of great musical poetry


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF HEAVY METAL IN 2017

Let’s see which have been the TOP 10 HEAVY METAL ALBUMS of the year, ranked from bottom to the top! You’ll find in this list a number of veterans of heavy metal but also a number of relatively new bands. All the bands featured in the list have done something particular to emerge among the hundreds of records that have been listened to so far in 2017. Check if you’ve missed any of these albums and enjoy the best songs from their albums. And to make the reading more enjoyable, we also offer to you a special compilation of 90 minutes that collects all together the best songs of the year. Scrolling down the list and listening to the mixtape you will be in condition to discover and assedd the current state of heavy metal today; you will also appreciate the different approaches and styles that each of these bands used to play one of the most iconic and influential musical genres of the last 50 years. Hail to the King!!


 

Number 10

BRINGER OF PAIN by Battle Beast

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Perhaps the most fitting example of a band fully devoted to keep high the flag of the classic heavy metal of the 80s, Battle Beast from Finland arrived this year to the important result of their fourth LP since their debut ten years ago. Bringer of Pain, the new album from the group, doesn’t show any particular innovation with respect to the previous works, except maybe for an increased drift towards more commercial sounds. As a matter of fact there is an abundance of rock and electro-pop elements in many of the songs, which if on one hand makes the approach to their songs definitely easy for a wide range of listeners, on the other hand clearly removes depth and longevity to the record.

Anyway, there are still a bunch of nice songs in the album which manage to transmit that feeling of joyful and vigorous energy that is a characteristic of this kind of music. And it is for this reason that although we are not in front of a masterpiece, this record still managed to get a mention in this list of the best heavy metal records of the year.


 

Number 9

THE CROWNING OF THE FIRE KING by Sorcerer

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Sorcerer, a veteran metal band from Sweden, was initially active in the early nineties but soon entered into a long period of inactivity until their comeback a couple of years ago. This year the band released their second LP, The Crowning of the Fire King, which offers to us an interesting version of epic metal with doom influences.

The music played by Sorcerer is powerful, slow, and soaked with dark and disturbing atmospheres. There is a great guitar work behind most of the songs of the album, and also the vocals are of absolute value. What perhaps limits the overall quality of the album is a certain repetitiveness of the songs, partly due to the stylistic choice to lock the speed to an almost constant measure along the entire disc. Nevetheless, there are still a few very good songs that are among the best things we heard in the year.


 

Number 8

ARROGANCE: THE FALL by Valor

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Valor, the power metal band from Greece, has been around since the beginning of the century and has always shown quite good songwriting skills. With their third and most recent full-lenght album, Arrogance: The Fallhowever, their music seems to have reached a fairly static point. At times it seems to perceive as if these guys were a bit tired of looking for those vibrant and interesting combinations of melodies and rhytms that had characterized their two previous works.

As is typical of heavy metal albums we always manage to find a few good tracks worthy of note and particularly enjoyable to hear, but the average level of the compositions this time doesn’t allow for these guys to reach the highest positions of the chart.


 

Number 7

MAGIC by Serious Black

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Originally born as a super-hroup featuring former members from Blind Guardian, Helloween – and many other metal bands – Serious Black today seems to have become a forge of albums, we are at the third release in three years, with the evident effect that the creative and innovative vein of their first steps is slowly giving the way to a more static, less explosive and interesting kind of heavy metal. And it is honestly a bit of a shame because the members of this group have clear and indisputable qualities, as can be seen from some of the songs that appear in this third work, Magic.

The musical approach of this band doen’t take many steps away from the classic European heavy metal style: pop-oriented choruses, layers of keyboards, catchy guitar riffs and relatively moderate rhythms. Where this model is supported by catchy and pleasing melodic lines the result may be exciting and compelling (we won’t never forget the beatiful High and Low from their debut album), but when there is a lack of creativity, this structure proves to be a bit boring and mannerist.


 

Number 6

PILLARS OF FIRE by Tau Cross

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Let’s start saying that in any chart I had put this album, it would always seem out of place. Tau Cross, the multinational collective super-group featuring metal veterans such as Rob Miller (Amebix), Michel Langevin (Voivod), Andy Lefton (War//Plague), Jon Misery (Misery) and Tom Radio, plays in fact an extremely innovative mix of heavy metal, punk and hardcore which escapes from any categorization, at least according to the conventional canons of metal. Their debut and self-titled album in 2015 was an instant classic. This year they’re back with their second LP, Pillars of Fire, which somehow confirms the great expectations that were generated in between these two works.

The songs from Tau Cross don’t leave you indifferent. They are dirty, rough, dissonant, but absolutely straightforward and engaging. And if the impact of this new album is maybe less shocking and innovative than their debut work, this still remains a  unique and valuable work that for sure stands out in the mass of anonymous and flat records that too often find place in our music players.


 

Number 5

AND THE BATTLE ROYALE by The Unguided

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Oscillanting between Power Metal and Melodic Death, this awesome new work by Swedish gorup The Unguided demonstrates once more that sometimes the departure of a bandleader may be a reason for the other musicians to give their best in the creation of a new album. Having lost lead guitarist and vocalist Roland Johansson – who was one of the co-founders of the band and who decided to give up for following other personal interests – the other guys have rolled up their sleeves and together with one of their session musicians have developed this new LP, And The Battle Royale, which doesn’t look bad when compared to the previous works of the band,

One of the main characteristics of The Unguided has Always been the accessibility of their music despite the dense use of complex and articulated mechanics that are typical of melodic death and metalcore. The last album, in this sense, confirms the same approach but with also the introduction of a few new elements. First, we have the new voice of Jonathan Thorpenberg, who’s definitely more oriented to Heavy Metal than his predecessor. Second, we recognize an increased presence of catchy choruses and groovy elements. In short, this is an album that on one side confirms the good characteristics of the band, but at the same time embodies the embryos of a change that perhaps will be more evident in the next albums of the band.


 

Number 4

BLOOD – FURY – DOMINATION by Arthemis

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Arthemis is an Italian heavy & power metal band which is active since almost 20 years. Their style is basically a combination of the dark side of heavy metal with thrash-oriented guitar riffs, fast solos and catchy vocals. On their website they describe themselves as the marriage between Judas Priest and Megadeth. Arthemis have released so far 8 full-length albums, with Blood – Fury – Domination being the last one of their interesting discography.

By listening to their records you may perceive how this group has sought, album after album, to abandon their initial style which was basically an imitation of the masters of heavy metal and trying instead to gradually embrace into their music many elements of innovation and modernity. The result is that  Blood – Fury – Domination merges today the typical elements of classic power metal with a lot of heavier, thrashy and groovy riffs. The final amalgamation is definitely an interesting one, despite it could maybe disappoint many purists of heavy metal.


 

Number 3

BLACK LADEN CROWN by Danzig

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After seven years since the last time he released original material, American heavy metal legend Glenn Danzig has gathered his faithful disciples to write and record a new chapter of his incredible heavy metal story. And with this new album he demonstrated once more that a band doesn’t have to play ultra fast or to mimic the latest trends in music to be heavy and to be good.

Black Laden Crown is Danzig’s eleventh full-lenght studio release and it arrives a couple of years after the controversial home-made covers’ album Skeletons. The album sees also the returning of former drummer Joey Castillo, who was with the band from 1994 and 2002. The other key member of the group is legendary guitarist Tommy Victor, who has also released a new album with his own band, Prong. Tommy Victor and Glenn Danzig shared the duties of bass player in the album.

From a musical point of view, Black Laden Crown offers the usual pack of warm, slow, melancholic but damn enjoyable heavy metal Tunes, enriched by the baritonal voice of our beloved metaller. And there are a few songs of the album are close to be among of the best compositions Glenn Danzing has ever written in his long career. These songs wouldn’t be out of place inside the best albums released by the band, which are universally considered to be the first three LPs produced between the 80’s and the 90’s.


 

Number 2

TAROT by Æether Realm

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Æther Realm has been one of the most happy surprises we had in metal this year. This band from North Carolina emerged a few years ago with an interesting combination of melodic death and folk, but it’s with their second and last album, Tarot, that these guys eventually managed to define their own and unique style, something that’s not easy to achieve in a kind of music that’s so strongly influenced by a few major and relevant groups such as Ensiferum and Wintersun.

What’s really impressive in Tarot, and which made the album reach the higest positions in the chart, is the quality of the guitar riffs. Donny Burbage and Heinrich Arnold, the two guitarists of the band, spend most of their effort playing in the background and supporting the melodic soundscapes which are created by keyboards and vocals; sometimes, however, we hear them take command of the action and drive the songs with furious rhythms and fierce guitar rides.

The album is also characterized by a combination of clean vocals with growls and screams, and the balance between these two styles is excellent and gives another positive element to most of the songs of the LP. This is an excellent job from these American metallers: the album confirms and indeed improves all that good things that were said for their debut almost four years ago.

Tarot can be streamed and acquired from Æther Realm’s bandcamp page.


 

Number 1

KINGSLAYER by Almanac

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There are bands predestined for success. Almanac was born a couple of years ago after that guitarist Victor Smolski – the founder of the Group – left the legendary German heavy metal trio Rage and created this new metal project. Today, after only two albums, Almanac has achieved a popularity and a level of interest that other groups reach only after years and years of albums and tours. Kingslayer, the second and last LP of Smolski’s new musical project, follows last year acclaimed debut album Tsar and shows a further evolution and refinement of the already excellent musical qualities of the new band.

From a musical point of view, the album develops essentially around a classic symphonic heavy metal style with rare hits in the power metal world. What’s really particular in the album, however, is the exciting and somehow natural beauty of the choruses and the melodies that emerge in most of the songs. Epic lyrics, crushing riffs, splendid solos, a genuine and brilliant heavy metal as we weren’t listening since many years.

Nothing in this record looks seeks modernity and innovation: from the arrangements to the style of the cover, everything calls for healty and pure heavy metal. But when the final result is so excellent, music becomes pretty much universal: a gift that only few albums manage to achieve and something that we can enjoy for a very long time.