As a metal fan who was a child in the 80s and grew up in the 90s, growling was not a huge thing for me. I saw it creeping in to metal as far back as I can remember and I dismissed as either ‘that really dangerous stuff from Europe’ or silly. I liked my metal to be heavy, to be fast, to be aggressive, but I also liked to be able to sing it too, preferably without sounding like I was choking on a Wizard’s Hat will being jabbed with a cactus. And so, I rarely branched out into the more growl and scream-based sub genres of metal – Death, Black, the various ‘cores’, until it reached the point where almost every band was taking on some form of vocal exorcism.
I think this has something to do with Metal’s need to always be on the fringes – to never be accepted by the mainstream. When Metal first started, it was the subject matter and the volume and the associated ‘negative emotions’ which put the scene at odds with your every day consumer of music. Music was supposed to be light, frothy, ‘enjoyable’, not dark, fast, angry, shouty. As time moved on the subject matter became more extreme as certain bands were becoming incredibly successful, to the chagrin of the genres initial followers. The musicianship became more elaborate, the songs became more complex, longer, more vicious, and various new waves became Public Enemy number 1 as parents and record companies didn’t know what to make of it all. As with all movements, they eventually become a product – the kids love it, buy it, and parade around with the same hair and clothes as everyone else – and soon the next thing comes along to push the genre further away from the mainstream. To me, growling was one of the next steps in doing that. What’s the first thing most people notice when the hear a song? Hint – it’s not the music – it’s the singer. If you don’t like the singer, you tend to discount everything else. So the metal gods decided to sing in a way that couldn’t really be considered human, with growls and shrieks from the very pits of their stomachs in an anti-melodic assault which doesn’t sound pleasant to anyone.
Nowadays, I don’t care about growling in any major way. I don’t know enough about the form to comment further, but I know enough and have heard enough to know which singers I like and who is better at it. Some bands absolutely suit this approach and would be lost without it. Most new bands seem to latch onto it because ‘it’s the done thing’ and because they mistakenly think it makes them sound more metal. In most cases, it makes them sound like prats while in the grand scheme of things they are sacrificing what makes their voice unique just to sound like everyone else. Which to me, is the very antithesis of Metal. People have been growling now for forty years or so. It’s been done – it’s tame – lets find the next thing.
Opeth was one of the first bands to really fully utilize growling in a meaningful way for me. It truly felt like an extension of and an integral part of the music. Mikael’s vocals have always been among the best in the game, but every since the turn of the Century Opeth had been on a transitory journey, gradually moving towards a cleaner approach. Albums which merged clean and harsh vocals were acclaimed and their sound became more Progressive. By the time Ghost Reveries rolled around, long term fans were used to the approach and new followers were joining in roves thanks to the exceptional reviews and live performances. In the time since, the band has all but abandoned their growling, harshest roots and now sound increasingly like a lost Blues Prog band from the 1970s. This has had those long-term fans up in arms – with every forthcoming release an argument between the ‘will Mikael be growling again’ camp, and those in the ‘Opeth have always been experimental let them do what they want’ camp. Honestly, I’m somewhere in the middle – only because the band and their singer have always done both so well. I would like a little more aggression to counter the seemingly endless charge towards becoming the next Deep Purple, but as long as they’re still writing and recording, I’m good.
To me, Ghost Reveries is their pinnacle, and Ghost Of Perditionis their finest moment. It’s monumental, it’s everything I want in a metal song. Brutal, beautiful, epic, with moments to scare your parents and others to make them say ‘oh that’s nice, what is that’ before the next transition comes along to take me down some other dark path. It’s a shade over 10 minutes long, but not a second is wasted. Opeth have always been fond of playing a riff or an idea a few times too many in what seems like they are padding out the running time, but in Ghost Of Perdition, every sperm (note) is sacred. The opening seconds, before the noise even comes in, are pure horror show. Then the guitars crash in and takes five years off your life. Mikael is on blistering form – his growls sounding effortlessly demonic, his clean vocals smoother than Sinatra’s shaved nutsack.
It does that Opeth trick of sounding ‘wrong’ – not quite in tune, like a child’s toy programmed with a lullaby whose frayed wires have made the tinkling melody slower and just a shade off where it’s supposed to be. The clean moments are absolutely gorgeous, the harmonies swirling and uncovering a depth of aural vision, the soloing employing a lazy virtuoso style, the drums sounding like they’ve been shoved off a towering castle parapet and are crunching against jagged rocks as they head towards a torturous demise. Structurally, it’s all over the place – shooting off in fifty different directions, but never once does it sound like the band don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing, and in true Opeth style we end not far from where we began, both colder, wiser, rejuvenated, and exhausted. It’s exploding with ideas and is a showcase for a group of musicians at the height of their considerable powers – everyone else should bow down, or at the very least consider themselves put on warning. It’s right up there with the best of the best, and transcends Metal to become one of the all time greats.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Ghost Of Perdition and Opeth!
2003, Baby! Well, back then I had just passed from the jaded land of teenage dreams into the terrifying world of ‘I’m in my twenties’. I went to Glastonbury and saw a tonne of great bands – old and new, and I both marveled and despaired at the commercial music scene. On one hand, we had the continuing resurgence in the popularity of metal and rock from a commercial sense – shitty pop punk bands were ruling the airwaves alongside even worse post-grunge do-gooders. Most of the commercial metal hitting the charts in the US and UK was stagnant, but behind the scenes there was plenty to love. Bland UK and US mainstream rockers were the main order of the day, with a billion ‘The’ bands popping up from everywhere and some truly awful indie types making repetitive garbage that would be best suited to the numbing hell of a club dancefloor. On the other hand, what was now termed R’n’B continued to rise, manufactured, vapid pap from Television talent shows consistently traumatized those who actually like music, Madonna kissed Britney Spears, Pete Townsend looked at some awful pictures for research purposes, Michael Jackson met Martin Bashir and was then arrested, Phil Spector was accused of murder, Napster came back from the dead and was used by nobody, and ITunes was born and used by everybody.
But surely the music was influenced by what was happening in the word? The Space Shuttle Columbia fell to pieces on reentry, US and pals invaded Iraq looking for those pesky WMDs, and everybody continued to laugh at George Bush. As usual, various coups and uprisings began and ended around the world while people in US and Europe began taking steps to legalize or make same-sex marriage possible. Leslie Cheung killed himself, while many other notable stars passed away including Gregory Peck, June and Johnny Cash, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, John Ritter, Jonathan Brandis, and many more. I was in my middle year of University witnessing all these things which would later inspire my billion selling book.
Lets take a look at what was being forced into our earholes by the radio overlords in October of 2003. Some of these are making me vomit just from remembering how bad they were, and a few I don’t recognize at all. Some I’m sure I’ll remember when I listen, and only one is remotely likeable. Here we go:
1: Black Eyed Peas: Where Is The Love. Does anybody even like Black Eyed Peas? I mean, honestly? Sure they have little tunes and little beats, but it’s all so showy and shitty. This isn’t their worst – it’s well meaning, apparently, but that chorus is a clear rip off of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’. There’s no two ways about it. When it’s not ripping off some melodies from there, it’s ripping ideas from Michael Jackson to make an inferior, slightly twee but mostly okay song. Drum sounds are awful.
2: Beyonce: Baby Boy. I have no idea what this is. More miserable attempts at Beyoncé’s laughable grasping of feminism? Oh dear, it’s a ‘feat’. song. And oh dear, it’s Sean Paul. Has there every been a single song that Sean Paul has appeared on that has been anything better than terrible? Cheap Thrills is so much better without his robotic shite. Does Beyoncé have a thing for infants – is that what this is about? It’s about sex. It’s terrible. The backing thrusts of music are all faux-drama and threat, but with Beyoncé’s warbling over the top it sounds pathetic. It turns into some tribal Indian disaster near the end, not for musical reasons you understand – just so, I bet, Beyoncé can try out a new outfit and dance for the video.
3: Jamelia: Superstar. Yeah, this song was everywhere at the time and it’s still played quite frequently for something that’s almost 14 years old. Listening to this and the previous song, and listening to the charts today, makes you think that music has not progressed whatsoever in the last decade. Think about what happened between 1960 and 1974. Or 1974 and 1988. Or 1988 and 2002. I didn’t have any real problem with this one. It’s light, and it does have good melodies in verse and chorus. Jamelia’s voice is fine, doesn’t standout, but serves the song. It’s about sex.
4: Rachel Stevens: Sweet Dreams My LA Ex. So, this was the hot one from S Club 7. I think I’ve heard the song name, but don’t think I’ve heard the song. Spanish/funky chords. Terrible drum noises. Terrible attempts at sexy vocals. Terrible attempt at emulating Britney. Feeble, generic verse and chorus. Bland bland nothingness. It’s about sex.
5: The Darkness: I Believe In A Thing Called Love. I saw The Darkness at Glastonbury just before they exploded for a brief couple of years. Sure they’re a joke band, but that didn’t stop them from making catchy songs and they don’t get more catchy and unusual than this in chart music. It’s about sex.
6: Dido: White Flag.Speaking of bland bland nothingness, ladies and gentlemen… Dido! We all loved Stan when it came out, but then Dido started popping up everywhere, for no reason. I think this song would be better if someone else was singing. But that empty void of a voice, coupled with the silent elevator fart of the music does make the whole thing sound like a surrender.
7: The Strokes: 12:51. Ugh, I can’t stand The Strokes. They are basically Status Quo, but without the musical ability. Ha. Or the ear for a tune. Lets see if I know this one. Surprise surprise – tap tap tap the SAME FUCKING RHYTHM AND SAME REPETITIVE CHORDS ON EVERY SINGLE SONG. Here is every Strokes song ever – d d d d d d d d d duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH. How did The Strokes even happen? How did people fall for this!? It is as generic as Rachel Stevens and as bland as Dido. Arguably the worst successful rock band ever.
8: S Club 8: Sun Down.There was an S Club 8? Why don’t I remember this? Did they add another member to 7 or is it a sequel to Juniors? Who the fuck cares, none of it should have ever happened. Holy hell this is bad. Just listen to that music? The annoying thing is that the leading melodies are catchy, even if it does rip off everything from Abba to Kylie Minogue. This exists solely to teach 8 year olds how to dance. Badly. It’s about sex.
9: Texas: Carnival Girl. Jeebus, this really wants to take the crown of most bland list ever. Texas is the same as Dido. Charlene Spit-Near-Ye may well be Dido in disguise. I thought I knew this one, but it doesn’t sound familiar. WTF rapping balls is this. Is that Sean Paul? Possibly Paul Sean. It’s definitely Feat. someone. Poor poor poor.
10: Fast Food Rockers: Say Cheese. Never heard of this in my life. And within the first three seconds I wish I could still say that. What the absolute balls is this? Chav noise for the braindead.
Now that’s out of the way, lets take a look at what you could have been listening to. We had decent album releases from the likes of Children Of Bodom, Cult Of Luna, Strapping Young Lad, Opeth etc. Outside of metal there was a new Madonna album, and releases by Radiohead, The Mars Volta, Placebo, Muse, and probably others. Below is a much better selection of songs to enrich your life and remind you that yes, somewhere out there are folks making genuinely good stuff.
Greetings, Glancers! Once more we torture ourselves by listening to what passes for music in the hearts, minds, and ears of the great unwashed. Today we go back to a year you should all remember well, because it was only five years ago. In 2011 the world was still in the grip of talentless shows, celeb shows – basically not too different from today in that almost every form of popular media which receives any sort of exposure was glossy, bland, and sexualised to the point that we all wished we could be celibate. I mean, just look at the top 10 below, just look. You don’t need to listen at all, I… I wouldn’t do that to you. But what else was happening? The Arab Spring, the March 11th Tsunami, Occupy Wall Street, William and Kate’s Wedding – all horrific events, so it was no wonder everyone was excited when we found evidence of water on Mars; it’s time to get off this rock! Oh yeah, Bin Laden was killed too.
In the music world, Amy Winehouse, Bert Jansch, Gary Moore, Mike Starr and others died. Adele released her horrible second album, a bunch of people you’ve already forgotten won Brit Awards, Lady Gaga did something, Jeff Hanneman was almost killed by a spider, and Nightwish released both a new album and a tie in movie. Help me out here… did anything else happen? No? Okay then, lets get through this as quickly as possible.
I don’t think I’ve actually heard this entire song before, but I know the chorus as it is played EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. It’s a pity Rihanna screeches so badly out of her nose because some of her songs are okay. Terrible speaking. Isn’t this the one where the video was filmed 10 minutes from my parent’s house? So the verse is pretty much the same as the chorus, but with different words. Meh.
2: Maroon 5: Moves Like Jagger.
An absolute travesty. Like injecting shards of glass into your eyeballs and having a badger pull them out. I ain’t linking this.
Remember him? Poor Matt. A winner cursed by a win. I’ve never heard this. The verse at least tries something unusual with it’s stoppy, starty beat, but the chorus then turns to X Factor white bread shite.
That’s about it really. We did also get albums from Kate Bush, Radiohead, Chili Peppers, and many more, but I’m just not as familiar with them to pick something great, and without resorting to the bands above I can’t choose anything else. Let me know what else was good in 2011 – there must have been something!?
While the (awfully named) Naughties had some terrifyingly bad guitar/rock band trends a miniscule handful appeared to give some respite from the overall stagnance. The decade for music as a whole (at least in Britain and North America) was led by generic R’n’B acts, and bland, MOR reality stars. The decade saw such terrible trends as the angular guitar monotone nonsense started by The Strokes; a rise in lyrically worthless, chorus led British drival such as Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs; Energetic but substanceless groups more interested in how many articles they had written about themselves in Heat rather than their music such as The Arctic Monkeys and The Killers; The less said about Pete Doherty the better. Disenchanted rock fans began the fruitful search though other genres, other countries, and other times to find something worth listening to, many unaware that the (by far) best album of the decade in any country or genre was right on their doorstep.
The Music had a couple of years earlier an average amount of commercial success with their self titled debut, a mix of funk, disco, and Zeppelin-esque riffs. They were full of life, had a very strong vocalist, and a host of talented musicians, with an ear for a catchy melody to top it off. Welcome To The North was released fairly unceremoniously with some good reviews by the ‘Big Magazines’ and a couple of chart scraping singles. Listening to the album as a whole, any of the 11 tracks could have been a top ten hit with a more musically savvy audience other than the British public. From the opening strains of the title track which could easily grace any club in the land, to the high speed Cessation, from the high emotion of Guide, to the perfection of album closer Open Your Mind, Welcome To The North is a classic in every conceivable way. Like Revolver, like Thriller, like The Bends, it is a genre bending record fuelled by a pure love for music and features something for everyone. Robert Harvey’s vocals soar, his lyrics emotive but hardly anything new, but it is the intertwining melodies, the coherence, the invention, which makes the album truly special. Rather than reading this, go buy it, go listen to it. Perhaps this will be recognized for its genius in the future- it is up to you to make sure it isn’t forgotton under a dark cloud of unoriginality.
The Gathering: Sleepy Buildings: 2004
As with all of these top 15 albums, if you want further exciting information go to the Music Reviews section where hopefully at some point there will be an in depth review of each. The Gathering released several good albums during the decade- every album is a big change with this band, though in this decade they endured their biggest change to date- their singer and figurehead leaving. Before that happened though they had finetuned their latest sound- minimalist rock with progressive influences. Between studio albums they released this recording of their recent semi acoustic live shows, and with it unleashed one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. They trawl through their back catalogue playing some of their biggest songs in an almost acoustic fashion. That isn’t too extraordinary- MTV Unplugged had been doing it for years. The difference is that many of the songs on show here were originally effects laden behemoths filled with a multitude of instruments and more often than not, played loud and heavy. For the group to adapt these into a soft, intimate setting is a triumph- for some of the songs to be changed beyond recognition and still be so good is a talent almost unheard of.
There are many stand out moments and songs, each member showing their abilities and passion. Anneke Van Giersbergen (who millions unfortunately have not and may not ever hear) is one of THE great vocalists and on Sleepy Buildings she puts her entire array of skills on display flawlessly. While the guitars understandably take a background seat, the drumming and pianos fill the void. For beautiful, haunting, shadow filled music you can do no better than The Gathering, and on Sleepy Buildings the band is at their most chilling, their most exquisite.
Muse: Origin Of Symmetry: 2001
The first 6 songs of Muse’s second album are the stuff of myth- note perfect, word perfect, nothing else touches them. From there the album unfortunately but understandably loses momentum and quality, but while later efforts may be more consistent overall, this remains their best. Heralded by some as the savior of guitar music and by others as (falsly) just another Radiohead clone after the success of their debut Showbiz, Muse had a lot to live up to- prove to the doubters that they were unique, and prove to fans that they could get better. Not that they cared as here they simply ploughed on, carving their own individual niche and blasting their competition away. While Radiohead were struggling through self important experimental dirges, Muse were blowing the tops off the the towers of excess and creating something new and exciting in rock music. Matt Bellamy throws off the shackles of the Thom Yorke comparison by displaying some other worldly vocal antics, shrieking about love and despair, paranoia and space age insanity like a man possessed by a demon released from a millienia of torture. While the first album had plenty of musical invention and chugging guitars, Bellamy becomes a full blown guitar hero here, casting off classic riff after classic riff before jumping on his piano for a bit of Bach twiddling. Each song has so many ideas and so much creativity squeezed in that at times it all becomes daunting, but never does it become a self indulgent mess. Classic melodies on the likes of New Born and Plug In Baby will stand the test of time, while the epic Citizen Erased makes Bohemian Rhapsody look like Basshunter. A breathless, breathtaking magnum opus.
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP: 2001
Already America’s Most Wanted, hated by middle America, politicians, celebrities, and just about everyone else Eminem’s second album was destined to be controversial. What no-one expected was that it would be just about the greatest, and best selling rap album of all time. On The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem bares all; his rage at hypocrites, his satirical rants at musical executives, talentless wannabees, useless celebrities, and psychotic fans. There are no lazy samples with a few commercially edgy lyrics here which poison just about every other rap and R’n’B artist of the decade. Eminem does everything his own way- the music, ideas, and most importantly the lyrics are all his own. In fact, the only major sample he uses turned out to be one of the best ideas he ever had- turning an otherwise bland Dido song into a masterpiece. In doing so he unfortunately gave Dido a career, unleashing her and a cavalcade of soulless, talentless singers onto the airwaves. Luckily for us we can drown them out with such belters as The Real Slim Shady, The Way I Am, Marshall Mathers, and the absolutely terrifying Kim. Eminem’s overall performance on that song must surely rank highly with the best vocal performances of the decade.
No punches are pulled, the melodies, music, and effects are all simple yet highly effective, and there is plenty of humour. By this point Eminem already knew what everyone thought of him, fans and haters alike, and he continues to tantalize both groups by keeping them guessing at the true nature of the mythological figure he has created. Arguably this is the album which brought the genre into the mainstream but none, not even himself have since come close to equaling the power and intelligence on display here. This remains his most personal, most inspired, best work.
Natalie Imbruglia: White Lillies Island: 2001
No-one expected former teen actress of Neighbours to trample all over the footsteps of Kylie and Jason with the release of her hit debut album. Featuring chart toppers like Torn, Big Mistake etc it was a success she has yet to match. Aside from the hits the album was a mish mash of faux Morrisette angst and anger, big vocals and ideas, though now it all sounds not quite clichéd, but ‘we’ve heard it all before’. Rather than being left of the middle it sounds middle of the road, although surprises like Smoke and the title track help to mark it above the rest of the female singer songwriters of the time. What no-one expected was that her second album would be a flawless piece of pop perfection with all new mature lyrics leaving any notions of little angry girrrl behind. White Lillies Island is the best pop album of the decade, easily. Covering a multitude of emotions, featuring unforgettable melodies, powerful vocals it is tinged with darkness, sadness, but also filled with infectious joy for life, love, and music.
Although the singles, particularly That Day are loaded with catchy barbed wire bits and invention it is the rest of the album tracks which make this a classic. Unusually for what most would see as a simple pop album, the songs picked as singles are not the best on offer. Too often nowadays a pop album is thrown out on the basis of two or three hit singles (usually found on the first half of the album, if not the first 3 songs) while the remaining songs are an assortment of guff, rubbish, and murder inspiring drivel. Those of a similar style who have truly stood out in the decade, Lady Gaga (knows how to write a decent chorus, but falls flat on her ever so outrageously painted face in every other respect), Rhianna (needs to lose the commercial R’n’B crap and branch out), and Pink and Stefani even suffer from this to an extent. Although it has sold a million copies it is still embarrassingly overlooked, I would recommend this to any fans of the pop wailers above just as much as I would recommend it to fans of Tori Amos and Metallica. Every song is great, with only Sunlight marginally annoying me 8 years later.With all out classics such as Hurricane, Come September, and Everything Goes it is a Goddess of a record. Counting Down The Days- her third album has some damn good stuff too, and I wait for the proper release of her 4th; this though is her masterpiece.
Nightwish: Once: 2004
Nightwish had been progressing ferociously since their average but promising debut. After the success of Wishmaster and the brilliant Century Child, two albums showcasing that they band were getting heavier and incorporating more progressive elements into their music while remaining as melodic as metal can get it was a great surprise for Once to become such a commercial smash. On the back of two massive singles, Nemo and Wish I Had An Angel, Nightwish finally got recognition beyond Europe and cemented their reputation as one of the biggest European bands. The band are on top form here and achieve the production quality that they had sought long for; a band with such big ideas needs big values and big sound. The traditional mythological and literary references in the lyrics and themes are still present but they cast off the metal clichés and integrate these thoughts and ideas into the modern, real world. Toumas has greatly matured as a songwriter, not only in the lyrics but musically also- most of the songs feel short and sharp even though you won’t find any under four minutes- all the twiddly extra parts which seemed drawn out or unnecessary on previous albums have had the razor treatment- everything is urgent and precise. The two most epic songs here- Creek Mary’s Blood and the mammoth Ghost Love Score are epic in every sense, but never do they feel tired or excessive. The band have also been capable of writing songs over the 6 minute mark and with Ghost Love Score they have created possibly their best song.
Musically the band has never been so inspired up till this point, and thankfully there are non of the cheesy moments which marred past songs. The guitars are fast and furious when they need to be, and restrained for the lighter songs such as Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijian and Higher Than Hope. Tuomas keyboard and piano work is moved to the forefront of many songs, while Tarja’s vocals are as strong as ever on what would prove to be her final album with the group. Jukka’s drums are frantic and forceful while Marco give’s his trademark growling vocals when needed. The band employs what sounds like a choir and orchestra of a hundred in many of the sounds meaning every song sounds huge, and it is this addition which truly pushes the album into stardom. While Evanescene were teaching a generation of adolescents to whine and that it was ok to like sub par pop music as long as it employed guitars and dark clothing, Nightwish were breaking the boundaries of the fading symphonic metal genre, teaching jaded metal weirdos that it was ok to like female singers, and making groundbreaking, heavy music which everyone can and should appreciate.
JJ72: JJ72: 2000
Early in the decade this Irish trio of youngsters with a penchant for Joy Division and melodic, quiet/heavy rock burst into the charts with a string of hits from an album which failed to start any musical revolution, a band which failed to become media darlings- all good, but unfortunately the band never lived up to their early potential and split after an equally good but ill received second album. With an ever so pretty lead vocalist and writer, his sensitive lyrics juxtaposing the often barbaric vocals and with an every so pretty female bass player the band seemed destined to become something special. It seemed though that the band were out of tune and out of time with the Zeitgeist though as a new wave of talentless American one chord guitar bands would slope into the hearts and minds of the brainless, tuneless generation. Perhaps the band will become more appreciated in the future for now the loyal fans will have to contend themselves with this, with I To Sky, and some of the great B-Sides and tracks from the unreleased 3rd album- check them out, all good stuff.
JJ72 opens in blistering style with October Swimmer an emotionally charged rocker with melodies to die for and a chorus made for moshing. This along with other singles Snow and Oxygen showcase the band’s trademarks- catchy verses building up to shout along choruses- kudos to anyone that can follow Mark’s vocal peaks on any song. The album is full of tender moments like Not Like You, Improv, but especially Willow- a beautiful song which is so fragile that it might break if you listen to it. The album at times feels bare, with an unknown record company and probably not much production behind it but all of this gives a haunting tone. Closer Bumblebee is THE gig closer, and possibly the best album ending of the decade. On record you can barely hear the verse; turn up the volume at your peril though as the chorus is loud enough to make you go blind through your ears. Played live this is a monster, band and crowd alike becoming possessed, jumping around and generally breaking stuff. For such a young band there is great innocence and maturity here- all scars are ripped open and put on display, all ghosts are released from the proton packs and held in suspense for us to witness. For whatever reasons the record company didn’t back the second album and everything collapsed. Either album could be featured here- the second is probably more complete, but the first has all the hits, and all the youthful exuberance of a band that should have been, but never were.
Manic Street Preachers: Journal For Plague Lovers: 2009
15 years after Richey said goodbye, and possibly 3 or 4 albums past their best work according to some, the Manics returned with this beast. Choosing not to release any singles this is as much a gift to the fans as it is a tribute to Richey. It is his lyrics which are used throughout, giving Nicky a break from his writer’s block. As everyone will know the band has been on a rollercoaster of fortunes since The Holy Bible, with Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth being massive hits. Know Your Enemy remains their worst album while Lifeblood breathed some life and venom back into the band. Send Away The Tigers proved that the band still had the potential to be hitmakers, featuring some big singles and many short, sharp, punk edged songs. When 2009 came around, the furore concerned the new album of ‘Richey speak’ and rumours of a new (which has now been lauded as their greatest work) Holy Bible. True, there are many similarities between the 3rd and ninth albums- Richey’s lyrics move between stomach churning rage to lung deflating fragility, from humour to hatred, and from political to incomprehensible. If you got the special edition of the album you’ll know that many of these lyrics were edited, and once you’ve listened to the music and how everythings fits perfectly you’ll appreciate the band’s skill as songwriters all over again.
This is not an easy album, and not one which will grab you immediately. The trouble is, each fan was expecting something but in all likelihood the finished result is not what you expected. After getting over this initial shock you should see that the album is their best in years. The artwork is Bibleesque, as are the song titles, and there are many sound effects or guitar/vocal moments which recall certain songs. But the band has moved on, becoming more accomplished in most ways. Opener Peeled Apples starts with an ominous bass riff, second only in power to Archives Of Pain, closer William’s Last Words is a tear jerking Nicky vocal- don’t let that put you off as his singing style is honed in and he merely speaks the words with a 4st 7lb lump in his throat. In between we have the potential singles Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and Me And Stephen Hawking, as close to massive hits since Design For Life, angry blasts such as She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach and Marlon JD, and softer moments such as Facing Page Top Left and This Joke Sport Severed. However, my personal favourites as always come in the shape of the lessor known album tracks- Virginia State Epileptic Colony and All Is Vanity. This is as good an album for any non fan to get as an introduction (though as always you should start from the beginning) and for any jaded Manics fans- Welcome Back.
Mika Bomb: The Fake Fake Sound Of Mika Bomb: 2001
Most people may know the band after Lamacq called them the best band ever to come from Japan on the unlistened to destroyer of music that is Radio 1, back before it collapsed completely. Whether or not this is true (there are tones of excellent Japanese bands) this amusingly lyriced, firey debut is one of the most energetic and exciting albums of the decade. Also true is that their second and final album could have made this list, but I think the first edges it for sheer fun and unashamedness. Mika Bomb are primarily a Japanese/British girl punk band. Usually that would be enough for me to fall in love with a band, but more often than not such bands become irritating quickly. Not so here, with songs such as Super Sexy Razor Happy Girls, Garage Superstars, Contact Tokyo, and Heart Attack ripping to shreds similar American male fronted punk bands of the time. You can keep your Blink 182/Offspring/Sum 41 etc with their ‘humourous’ naked videos, ‘innovative’ blending of rap, and ‘good’ musical qualities. Even most of the song titles here are worth the money alone, but once you here the band rip into one of their million mile an hour 2 minute songs you’ll never go back. They even manage to get a soft love song in there with Don’t Speak amongst the madness of Super Honda, Underwear, Yellow Danger Babies and the rest. Song topics include computer games, superheroes, motorbike racing, playing music for the love of plying music, the Wizard Of Oz, martial arts techniques, who knows? The guitars are sublime, crashing chords and jangly riffs flying about everywhere, epileptic drums and bass, and vocals which will probably take the uninitiated a few listens to get used to. Once you absorb it all you’ll be jumping around like Yoshi after he realized he’s eaten Mario’s favourite mushroom.
Gemma Hayes: Night On My Side: 2002
Gemma had been touring the pubs and clubs of Dublin some time before this was released. Although it didn’t have many hit singles (unlike Mercury Prize Winners and Nominees of today- if you don’t have a number 1 or a song covered by Winehouse, don’t bother) it nevertheless became the best Irish album of the decade. Most female artists of the time were singing of independence to convince us that they aren’t actually the empty, attention seeking, male driven harpies that we know they are. Gemma was doing and singing exactly what she wanted to, with rock songs such as Hanging Around and Let A Good Thing Go, to more gentle, emotional songs such as Ran For Miles Tear In My Hand. There is a beauty here which any folk artist would strive for, an ease of style and writing which even the best struggle to reach. Gemma’s lyrics are open and honest, singing tales of love and anguish, loss and joy. Her acoustic stylings were the perfect antedote to my daily doses and nightly blasts of metal, although she is just as passionate and at times angry as anyone. While songs such as Back of My Hand could have been big singles, Gemma has never been one to chase the spotlight as seen on subsequent albums- plenty of commercial songs, plenty which no radio would touch as they are too personal or too uncommercial. We see her humour, her influences, her skill as a writer and guitarist, and a sign of things to come. Her voice on this record sounds as if she is singing on your shoulder, as both a guardian angel and occasional imp of mischief. When I saw her in Glastonbury she frequently chatted with the crowd, eventually accepting and dowing a show of Whiskey from one screaming fan. Similar things have happened in other gigs I’ve been to. Her next two albums would also showcase her trademark charm and songwriting beauty, but it is her debut which has the rawness and the tenderness which make it her best.
Blind Guardian: Night At The Opera: 2002
Blind Guardian had been doing the whole European power metal thing since the 80s and had become one of Germany’s and the continents most successful bands. Their later albums had taken on a magnum opus feel with each being an attempt at a grand concept album. Most of these albums didn’t work as well as they should have and are mostly notable for a few very good stand out tracks. In 2002 though, Hansi, Andre and co. finally got it together with this blistering, over the top, ultra complex beast. Lyrically we are on familiar ground with A Night At The Opera, songs are filled with classical references as well as songs about Jesus, Neitzche, and Tolkein. Everything is on a much grander scale though and a glance at any of the lyrics is quite daunting due to the size. Most importantly though it appears that the band have found a sound which suits them best, sounding like they are thrashing around in the middle of a war with choirs and orchestras all crashing together. The whole thing is ridiculous yes, but it is also ridiculously better than every rock and metal album of the year. Vocally Hansi has never sounded better, reaching insane highs and galloping through melody after interweaving melody.
Like Origin Of Symmetry it is the first set of songs which take the breath away, the huge opener Precious Jerusalem making way for overwhelming behemoths like Under The Ice and Sadly Sings Destiny. Each of these songs progresses through several different parts reaching ominous lows and emotional highs. Remembering though that the band are seen by fans as travelling bards they reign in the mayhem for more acoustic songs like The Maiden And The Minstrel Knight and Mies Dies Dolor. There are plenty of classic riffs, faster than Linford Christie solos, apocalyptic drumming, but it is the layered vocals, string and brass sections, and the grandeur of it all which makes this most memorable. If there is one good thing about this decade it is that a new, smarter breed of metal has emerged. With bands such as Lamb Of God and Mastodon amongst many others proving that the genre isn’t just a silly pile of noise, the older bands had to catch up with the times. Metallica finally sorted themselves out with Death Magnetic and British stalwarts Iron maiden have been untouchable since Brave New World. A Night At The Opera is above all of these though for its sheer bombastic nature, and remains their best album.
My Vitriol: Between The Lines: 2002
Possibly the most cult band on the list with the most fervent supporters, My Vitriol released their first and only album Finelines in 2001 amid a blur of impressive live shows and a couple of average selling singles. I’ve included Between The Lines instead, basically the American cut of the album with an extra cd of B-Sides and covers. The band stopped touring and vanished off the face of the planet for about 5 years, although recently they have come back by releasing a great EP and playing something well received live shows. Their album is a mixture of jagged punk riffs, angsty lyrics, and high paced melodic rock. Highlights include Always Your Way and Losing Touch which each come with an instrumental (or distorted noise) introduction track before blasting into the song. Frantic guitar playing though pretty much solo free, emotional lyrics and delivery but without any whiney attachments, short, simple tracks which immediately get trapped in the head. Other tracks like Ode To The Red Queen and Infantile merge haunting vocals with nightmarish shrieks, while more mellow tracks like Under The Wheels provide a distraction from the rough edged, effects laden guitars. Comparisons with the Manics and Radiohead were frequent (and rather odd) and perhaps the weight of expectation was too much. With the re-release a year later we were treated to more of the same with Vapour Trails, Moodswings, and Deadlines all proving to be near perfect angry rock songs. The band showed a more mature side with All Of Me and Wait A Minute, two extremely catchy songs which could easily grace any album, while acoustic versions of favourites and a Madonna cover rounded off the eclectic mix. This was again the sign of a promising new start which never came, swiped away by less talented more Top Shop friendly bands. Signs are though that the band will finally be back soon. Yay.
Opeth: Ghost Reveries: 2005
Mikael Åkerfeldt is one of the best musically creative minds of the decade, making classic album after classic album of poetic rage and structurally complex songs which you can’t believe could possibly be played live until you see it for yourself (without even the slightest mistake too). Opeth fans are known to be particularly rabid in their support with complete and utter devotion shown. Anything less and you won’t be seen as a fan. After a string of heavy albums the band began to experiment more with other sounds, other genres. Their previous album Damnation which was a soft, albeit overwhelmingly dark, rock album had been well received and it seemed that the band could do no wrong. Hearing the opening few seconds of Ghost Of Perdition and you know the band are back to their heaviest, and most epic. Fusing jazz, prog, with death meatal vocals spewing between clean, heartfelt ones it is one of the best metal songs of the decade, and each track progresses from there. Isolation Years shows the band at their softest, but the bleak, grave-like hallmark tone pf the band remains. Few bands regardless of genre are so ambitious, so experimental, and it puts to shame notions that all metal is stupid. Nothing falls into the ‘up their own ass’ category as this is the only way the band knows how to play. Mikel’s vocals are as strong as ever, though more than ever does he mix styles, his and Lindgren’s guitars are on scintillating form, crushing at one moment, silk like the next, with overlapping chords, riffs, and solos that you need a dictionary to decipher. The drums are as galaxy shattering as always- play this in a vacuum and you would still hear it. Lyrically the band follow the same path, all focused on sadness and pain though steering clear of the usual cliches which would usually follow, everything suits the mood. Next album Watershed would prove to be even more ambitious voted by many publications and fans as album of the year, but Ghost Reveries edges it for me as their return to loud, gigantic sounds.
Haven: Between The Senses: 2002
Haven are the band that should have been as successful as the dreary, emotionless Coldplay currently are. Now split up after an average second album each member has gone on to different things, but for a while in 2002 they had the potential to be huge. Between The Senses was heralded (and produced) by Johnny Marr as something exciting and the band had some success with grat singles like Say Something and Let It Live. However, for whatever reason even after much touring no-one seemed interested. Although the album is made up of simple, soft rock songs about love, hope, despair, it is the way they are built and performed which makes them better than they had any right to be. Gary Briggs is, hands down, the best commercial male vocalist of the decade. Give him any song, any note, and he’ll do it better than perfectly. His writing on every track here is top quality, the only let down being that there isn’t really anything new, anything experimental. When you look at pop and rock as a whole though, and what constitutes success, this doesn’t need to be a major flaw. Marr’s musical influence isn’t overly clear as the guitars are simple yet effective, there is no need for any twiddly guitar hero stuff here. It’s all about the emotion and the mood, songs such as Still Tonight, Till The End, and Lately are anthems, heartfelt ballads which deserve to be heard by more people. It is the sweeping nature of these songs which makes the follow up album look worse as it lacks any of the hooks or melodic hugeness of its daddy. I’ve always thought the band needed the confidence gained from success to spur on their imaginations and writing but sadly this never came. Luckily we still have this album, truly a gem, and probably the album on this list which would appeal to the most people.
Lene Marlin: Lost In A Moment: 2005
Most people will know Lene for the twee, girlish pop delight of Sitting Down Here, and the edgier sister Unforgivable Sinner from her smash hit debut album. Being from Scandanavia most music-lite music fans shoved her in the same crazy category with Aqua, Abba, and Lord Help Me, Wigfield. Closer inspection of that first album, and everything since shows that Sitting Down here is her most unusual, most offbeat, most ‘unlike her’ song. First album Playing My Game is cold, lonely, sparse, but nevertheless filled with killer melody. Lost In A Moment is Lene’s 3rd album and for those who know her features her usual mix of sadness, cautious hope all played to heart tearing music. Although her 2nd album showed bigger production and expanded musical styles it is her 3rd which shows the biggest step forward. There is greater structure, bigger and smarter instrumentation, and more varied styles and emotions. Most importantly though her voice retains the familiar tone though now sounds more world weary, more experienced, and the music is as sublimely catchy as always. Tracks like How Would It Be and What If are filled with strong guitar riffs, while Never To Know, Hope You’re Happy, and Leave My Mind have a gut wrenching string section or downbeat choir noise. As with everything she has done, once you’ve heard a snippet of any song you will want to hear the rest, and once you have it will be trapped in your head all day. It is just that on this album she has found her niche, adding pianos where needed, low bass and strings, rather than the girl and guitar nature of her other albums. Although there is nothing particularly dancy here, nothing sexy, it puts other female pop artisits to shame. Emotionally, and musically she is miles ahead of her contemporaries; in fact they don’t warrant being called contemporaries given how far ahead of them she is. She has gone past such distinctions and is in a category of her own. Her latest album’s great too.