Friday, 1 January 2010

Dan's top 25 albums of the decade

Well I have to say that this decade has been pretty astounding for musical releases, stronger than the 90s certainly for my tastes. I've decided to limit it to one album per artist. This list will probably seem totally wrong to me in several months, as I've noticed several 'key' bands not listed that have the potential to be on here easily, but oh well, I can always amend this list. And so without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of the decade:

25: Adagio - Underworld
I've known Adagio for many years, but only recently have I appreciated what a masterpiece that Underworld is. Neo-classical prog power metal? Sure, why not. Improving on their debut in every way, there is little to complain about on this album. too bad the next two albums went in a less satisfactory direction.

24: Alter Bridge - Blackbird Rising from the Ashes of Creed, a questionably successful mainstream rock band, the members (sans singer) manage to snag hold of Myles Kennedy - the best rock singer today. This album is pretty much the perfect rock album to me, and the almost 8 minute title track has to be my favourite rock song of all time.

23: Iron Maiden - Brave New World After three lackluster albums in the 90's, it seemed that the once magnificent Iron Maiden had fallen. But behold, the old bassist and singer rejoin the band and put out not only their best album, but the best 'heavy metal' album of all time. Welcome back Bruce.

22: Spock's Beard - Snow
When Neal Morse left Spock's Beard to persue a Christian-orientated music career, Spock's Beard fans were understandably upset, after having just received the best Spock's Beard album yet. A stunning double CD concept album.

21: Muse - Origins Of Symmetry
This was the album that shot Muse into the mainstream light of the English music industry, and still remains as their most cohesive and strong album. Brilliant.

20: In Flames - Clayman
In Flames' last album before moving away from their melodic death metal heritage, Clayman was a brilliant release after a stunning run of classics in the genre. I'm sure many fans wished that this was as 'mainstream' as In Flames would go. Sadly not.

19: As I Lay Dying - An Ocean Between Us
The single best metalcore album in existence. Don't dismiss it just because of the genre, this is genuinely stunning metal, and has been one of my most played albums since it's release two years ago.

18: Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
Not following in In Flames footsteps, Dark Tranquillity have remained dedicated to the traditional Gothenburg sound. Fiction saw singer Mikael Stanne finally use his clean vocals again, the first time in nearly a decade. Mixed with some 'modern' synthesised sounds (nothing like In Flames' approach, I hasten to add), they manage to push out their strongest album in a long line of strong albums.

17: Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
When Mikael Akerfeldt declared NITND to be the best 'heavy' record he'd heard in the decade, I was skeptical, not the least because of him being bestest buddies with Katatonia singer Jonas Renske. While it didn't quite steal that award, it is certainly my favourite Katatonia album, where they finally managed to balance their sound out.

16: Scar Symmetry - Holographic Universe
Newcomers to the melodic death metal scene, Scar Symmetry soon carved their own following, proving that there was still life left in the genre. Holographic Universe is certainly their best album, with the 9 minute title track possibly being the best melodic death metal song ever. They also get bonus points for one hell of a vocalist in a genre full of average-to-bad vocalists.

15: Epica - The Divine Conspiracy
In one fell swoop Epica manage to get to not only mature their sound, but perfect their previously dodgy album production. Coupled with their already obvious talent, this makes for the best symphonic metal album ever, with not a single skippable song.

14: Radiohead - Kid A
Ah, Radiohead. Some people might be shocked to see them so low in this list. Unfortunately my favourite albums are stuck back in the 90's (The Bends and OK Computer), but Kid A is damn good too, with Radiohead yet again changing their sound, and being yet again successful. Quite incredible.

13: Riverside - Out Of Myself
What do you get when you mix Tool, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd? A band from Poland who managed to impress the prog rock community substantially with the debut, and very favourable reviews for subsequent albums. Riverside also get the 'best debut' award from me. This album blew me away on first listen.

12: The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading
Often music that we have recently discovered is biased favourably, but The Dear Hunter would probably be even higher if I had known them for a bit longer. The second album of a double trilogy concept series, it manages to pull off a lengthy concept that is not boring for an instant, and showcases
Casey Crescenzo's ridiculous vocals - see the song 'Red Hands'.

11: Coheed And Cambria - Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness
The Best Coheed And Cambria album. This album has so many great vocal moments, thanks to unique singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. These guys know exactly how to mix rock with proggier tendencies, while keeping it straight-forward and catchy.

10: Protest The Hero - Fortress
I think that Protest The Hero get the youngest band award on this list. Virtuosic musicianship coupled with a standout singer make these progressive metalcore Canadians the best in their field. With two almost perfect albums back to back, it was very hard to choose which to put on here.

9: Neal Morse - ?
What does Neal Morse do after leaving Spock's Beard at the height of their greatness? Go and do even better. This guy truly is one of the best men in prog rock today. I think that ? is his most perfect album, although none of his albums manage to waste much time. Fun concept too.

8: Ayreon - 01011001
Arjen Lucassen cannot read sheet music. But that doesn't stop him making some of the most ambitious progressive rock albums around. Ayreon is a project that incorporates a silly number of singers, all taking on roles of particular characters in the overarching storyline. I think with 01011001 being the last Ayreon album, Arjen was determined to get the best lineup possible, and he succeeded. Despite the Similarly strong 'The Human Equation', I think that 01 manages to win in terms of vocals. The added heavier element on this album also works in Arjen's favour, making 01 the best album of the Ayreon series.

7: Kamelot - The Black Halo
What do you do with the only non boring power metal drummer and an opera trained vocalist? Make the best power metal album around, and tie in some prog just to make it that little bit better. Without a single moment that I don't like, The Black Halo is the one power metal album that I can never get sick of, despite not liking the genre as much as I used to.

6: Mastodon - Crack The Skye
Despite only knowing these guys for the past couple of months, they managed to snatch album of the year 2009, and get sixth on my decade list. Wow. These guys truly came out of nowhere for me. The press love them, and I couldn't stand their vocals at first. Well that changed. This album has so many amazing moments that I loath to ever play a single part of it, despite not being a concept album. Well okay it is, but it's such a mindfuck that it doesn't really matter :P

5: Between The Buried And Me - Colors
I remember being ferverently recommended this album at it's release. I heard the first ~3 minutes and turned it off, deleting the album. A year later, I decide to give it another go after many people moan on and on about how much genius it is. And genius it is. Although the previous album has my favourite guitar solo (ever) on it, this album manages to blow to pieces all three previous releases.

4: Pain Of Salvation - The Perfect Element, Part 1
This album took me atleast 6 tries to start getting into it, and it was probably by the 10th that I truely loved it. But as you can see, I really love it. Daniel Gildenlow...just wow. His vocal variety and abilities are matched only by his ability to write a flawless progressive rock album. No wonder that this is the first modern album on the progarchives top 100.

3: Dream Theater - Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence
Oh Dream Theater. You have ~2.5 times more plays than any other artist on my profile, despite not being my favourite band. Definitely the most talented musicians in any band that I know that exist, Six Degrees marked the perfect blend of the light and the heavy, and provides two CDs of this magnificent music!

2: Porcupine Tree - In Absentia
I think Porcupine Tree get the award for best albums in a row. Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun, In Absentia, Deadwing, Fear Of A Blank Planet (with Nil Recurring) and The Incident. So when I went to pick the one album to list, I had a really, really, really hard time. In the end I chose the album that got me into the band, despite not having my favourite PT song on it (and indeed, my favourite song ever), it has so many 10/10 tracks that it almost gets a bit overwhelming.

1: Opeth - Blackwater Park
Well this isn't really a surprise is it. My favourite band has album spot 1. To be fair, it's not my favourite Opeth album (Still Life narrowly steals that). However, I think that working with Steven Wilson on the production of this album was perhaps the best move that Opeth have ever made, apart from recruiting Martin Lopez, perhaps the most standout drummer who nobody realises stands out today. This album has so many Opeth classics that it could be the Greatest Hits. It's so flawless that even the bonus tracks are better than half the bands I listen to. This album is pretty good.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Top albums of 2009

Well it's 2010, we both completely failed to post reviews for the past 6 months, but that just gives us all the more backlog to work with!

Dan's top 10 albums of 2009:

Mastodon - Crack The Skye

Being a new fan to Mastodon with CTS, I was blown away, and so impressed that it nudged ahead of my second and third favourite bands releases of the year, which were both amazing too. No wonder the press seem to love them.

Dream Theater - Black Clouds & Silver Linings

A brilliant return to form after three great but not superb albums. The Count of Tuscany is my second favourite Dream Theater song now, narrowly beaten by A Change of Seasons.

Porcupine Tree - The Incident

Not a single moment of the cycle that I don't enjoy, and a truely brilliant second cd too. Yet another masterpiece by Porcupine Tree, it's getting a bit silly after 6 cds in a row! (And now me and matt have tickets to see their special evening with show at the end of their Incident tour!)

Katatonia - Night Is The New Day

Consistently one of the bands that I went through spurts of loving and ignoring, NITND has proved to be mine and Mikael Akerfeldt's favourite Katatonia album. They got the prog/heavy balance just right this time, and it feels even less repetitive than The Great Cold Distance which was my previous favourite.

Between The Buried And Me - The Great Misdirect

After the masterpiece 'Colors' (one of my all-time favourite albums), people were understandably concerned about whether they could match it. While they didn't completely, TGM is a bloody great album and easily second best of their discography.

Dredg - The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion

Introduced on their previous album 'Catch Without Arms' I was thrilled to find their new album to meld the catchy pop of CWA with the older and perhaps better material of El Cielo. And Gavin's voice isn't annoying in a single song this time.

The Dear Hunter - Act III

Casey yet again proves that this double trilogy of concept albums will be strong throughout it's six albums. While I prefer Act II, this is easily it's match.

OSI - Blood

A band I only got into literally 20 days ago, veterans Gavin Harrison, Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos manage to make one hell of an album combining prog rock with electronic. Bring me more!

Riverside - ADHD

I was slightly unsure whether Riverside would truly change their sound for their first album outside of the Reality Dream trilogy - and they did. Definitely relying more on keyboards, the new Riverside proves that their best material may yet to come and definitely wasn't on their first two CDs.

Alestorm - Black Sails At Midnight

It's Alestorm's second album, need I say more? Well okay, one of the songs that is a rehash of an early demo of theirs has part of the Pirates Of the Caribbean theme tune in it. Yup.

Notable mentions include Muse's The Resistance, Swallow The Sun's New Moon*, Devin Townsend's Addicted, Jordan Rudess' Notes On a Dream, Scar Symmetry's Dark Matter Dimensions, and Transatlantic's The Whirlwind (which would probably be in the top 10 but i've only heard it once so far)

*I feel Sorry for STS picking that as their unfortunate album name.

Matt's top 10 albums of 2009:

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

[Review] Demians - Building an Empire

Right. Hello again. I'm going to be doing a third review, seeing as Dan has still yet to get around to his. I believe he wanted to review this album at some point... though that won't be happening now. Heh.

He'll probably get me back later by stealing a Pineapple Thief album. Oh well.

Anywho, on with the Review.

1. The Perfect Symmetry (9:19)
2. Shine (3:17)
3. Sapphire (7:27)
4. Naive (4:54)
5. Unspoken (5:59)
6. Temple (3:05)
7. Empire (6:32)
8. Sand (16:09)

Bonus Track - Earth (8:48)

So, Demians. It's a solo project by Nicolas Chapel, the debut Building an Empire having been released just over a year ago, though I only came across it recently.

I'm glad I did.

The album opens with the beautifully textured track The Perfect Symmetry. After an interesting opening, Chapel's great vocals enter. His voice is quite something, I think. There's also some nice strings interwoven with the guitar, and though it begins relatively quiet it soon builds for some heavier guitar and thumping drumming towards the end. Then we have Shine, a song of two parts. It opens with some lovely twiddly acoustic guitar and more of those fabulous vocals, then the drumming begins to build until pretty much exactly halfway through comes my favourite guitar riff on the album, growling and stuttery. Short but amazing track there.

Sapphire has a building opening and contains more heavy guitar in the opening section. Chapel's quiet, almost whispering vocals work well in the verse, before a powerful chorus breaks through the quiet. The vocals only improve into the second section, which also has some yummy drumming. Naive starts with more twiddly acoustic and has a basic but effective riff at the beginning. The vocals are much of the same as seen throughout the album so far (very good), and the drumming is pretty nice too. The next track, Unspoken, lacks any of the heavier riffs, though this is a welcome break midway through the album. The drumming is gentle but absolute genius, and the whispering vocals (really whispering this time) gradually build along with some nice backing strings.

, the shortest track and obvious choice for a single, has fingerpicking acoustic, some nice bass guitar and a building ending, though the vocals seem to have lost some of the feeling that was present in the other songs. Still a good track, though. Empire is basically Temple Part II, as it contains some recurring lyrics and follows straight on from the preceding track. The sounds at the beginning are unusual but nonetheless interesting. The drumming progresses throughout, though to me it is one of the weaker tracks.

Then comes the epic end track Sand, clocking in at over 16 mins. It contains all of the great things from the songs before it, both gentle and pounding drumming, fabulous acoustic guitar, strings, heavy riffs and outstanding vocals including some growl. A great building track and probably the best on the album.

Earth is only available on the CD, and is a good bonus. It contains lyrics and elements from most of the songs on the album, tying the whole thing together rather nicely in a nine-minute upbeat bundle. It has some good guitar and bass again, though the lyrics don't entirely fit in all places and sound somewhat contrived. Despite this, it's worth getting the CD for rather than just the download.

As a whole, the album contains a fair bit of variation, especially towards the end, and has a great deal of good elements. And the vocals... best I've heard in a long while. Demians is definitely on my watch list now, and I highly recommend you prog fans go listen to this wonderful debut.

There's a reason it's top of my favourite albums at the moment:


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

the RIAA Rader

Firstly, I must apologise for the delay in getting the Colors review to you, and thanks to life problems (tm) It won't be up until friday!

But in the meantime here is an awesome site run by one guy:

So when you complain you don't want to buy albums because it supports the RIAA and the big bad record companies, well search the artist on there and find out which of their albums aren't released on record companies in cohort with the RIAA, leaving you the option to be both legal and supporting the great independent record labels and the artist! (Incidently, all of The Pineapple Thief's stuff is safe - awesome).


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

It's all in the timing.

Unfortunately with exams starting for me in 6 (gulp) days, i'll have to cut back on reviews. However, I hope to get two more done before then - the first being the incredibly epic 64 minute long rollercoaster of an album: Between the Buried and Me - Colors.

Now for some exam prep.

Monday, 4 May 2009

[Review] The Pineapple Thief - Little Man

It wasn’t going to be long before I reviewed this band. My favourite band. In the words of Frontman Bruce Soord, they’re “Yeovil’s most famous band you’ve never heard of”. Which is a pity, because I think that everybody should have heard of them. They’re not just a band for prog fans, either.

1. Dead in the Water (5:27)
2. God Bless the Child (4:45)
3. Wilting Violet (4:42)
4. Wait (3:26)
5. Run a Mile (6:43)
6. Little Man (3:44)
7. November (6:51)
8. Boxing Day (3:58)
9. God Bless the Children (2:02)
10. Snowdrops (5:59)
11. We Love You (8:46)

Little Man was their fifth studio album and is dedicated to Bruce’s son Felix, who was born three months premature and sadly passed away in February 2006. It is then, understandably, a lot different from their other albums.

The opening track Dead in the Water sets the tone for the album nicely, with its haunting, echoey vocals and bleak lyrics. Then along comes God Bless the Child, which has some fabulous acoustic picking before the bass and drums come in. The middle section drags on a bit, but the combo of strings, strange synthesised sounds and what I presume are tubular bells are effective. Soord’s powerful, clean voice is used throughout until suddenly the music turns heavier and the vocals become gritty and menacing. Great switch in mood there.

Wilting Violet is next up, which uses delicate piano and an orchestral section which builds and builds and builds and climaxes with some frenzied scratchy electric guitar work. Like the opening track, haunting vocals are there again. Wait is another quiet track, with acoustic guitar, xylophone and triangle used in the opening half. Then some great, marching drumming enters and finally strings. Run a Mile then begins quietly, and then suddenly comes in with spooky synthesised vocals and noisy guitar. Perhaps too noisy, though - it drowns a lot of the other sounds out. The verse is very sing-along, though a little repetitive. At first listening, it was a favourite, though now it’s lost its appeal and is one of the weaker tracks.

The title track Little Man uses interesting time signatures (3/8 and 5/16?), with some delicate acoustic guitar and piano work again. Violins begin the next track, November, which has some very creepy singing, a great chorus, nice drumming and some good guitar work in the second half. Boxing Day has some very heartfelt lyrics (“I hold you tighter every night, and I’ll never let you out of sight”) and is a fabulous acoustic track, containing a mini violin solo-type-thing.

God Bless the Children is a continuation of track #2, carrying on from the gritty menacing section with some wonderful synths and robotic vocals. I feel as though they could have been left together as one track, though it does function as a clever brake between Boxing Day and the very similar song Snowdrops, which has a nice percussive element including echoey clapping towards the finish.

Finally we have what is, in my opinion, the best song on the album, We Love You. It begins with the sound of a life-support machine and eerie pulsing background noise. You just know it’s going to be a disturbing track as soon as the vocals come in. Very creepy lyrics as well, with the repeated line “Don’t you know we love you?” and then the chorus - “I need your soul, I need your soul, to feed my world, to feed my world.” There’s great piano in the chorus, some wailing guitar and excellent use of synths and keyboard.

Overall, it’s a hugely emotional and at points disturbing ride. And, I must add, very difficult to listen to. This isn’t an album you can just have playing in your car as you drive to work, or listen to whilst browsing the web or whatever. To really appreciate it, you need to find a free 56mins, sit down, and really listen. If you’re new to the band, I suggest getting Tightly Unwound first. It’s an easier listen, and also a lot easier to get hold of.

If you do listen to it properly, though, it’s very, very good. If it were a little more varied and an easier listen, I think I'd rate it higher.

Final score:


Review Requests

Me and Matt are totally open for album review requests.

Bear in mind our music tastes of course, but I like everything from classical to death metal to mainstream rock (Muse, Radiohead etc). And Matt is similar, minus the death metal. If in doubt, well ask anyway. If one or other/both of us haven't heard of them then we'll be even more keen to review it as it'll let us discover new bands! If one or other/both of us have heard of it and hate the band, well we'll just laugh at you :)

Also, we can always divvy up music between us depending on who prefers what. Matt certainly won't be reviewing any Opeth... or at least, not any time soon.