Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best Of 2014

The Best Of 2014

Despite the best of intentions, I didn’t get to write much this year. The growing demands from work, a move in homes, the ongoing failures of my chosen internet provider - and more recently, a newly discovered fault in the telephone line – have all contributed to my absence from the worldwide web.

But while I’ve been absent from the keyboard, I haven’t forsaken music one bit. I still managed to find the time to listen to new music. And like every year, 2014 produced its fair share of magnificent gems, or disappointments. As so without further ado, he’s what I consider my personal favourite of 2014.

Big Wreck – Ghosts (Anthem Records)

The second post reunion album from the Canadian’s proved to be a bit of a sleeper for me. Initially, I though the album was a little too slow and moody compared to their former efforts. But after giving the album time to grow, it turned out to be an absolute winner. The album’s worth owning for ‘Hey Mama’ alone.

Comeback Kid – Die Knowing (Victory Records)

Canada’s Comeback Kid has always impressed me, but there’s something about this fifth studio album from them that totally blew me away. Maybe it’s the infectious melodies, or the catchiness and brutality of the riffs. Either way, this is without a doubt one of my favourite hardcore/punk album’s for 2014.

Winger - Better Days Comin’ (Frontiers Records)

Hard rockers Winger have always been a bit hit and miss with me – especially since their reformation. But if truth be told, the band’s releases seem to be getting stronger, and ‘Better Days Comin’’ is evidence to support this. Although it does have a couple of less than stellar tracks, ‘Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine’, ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Tin Soldier’ are up there with the best the band has ever offered.

KXM – KXM (Rat Pak Records)

I’m always wary of the so-called supergroup. But lo and behold, here’s one that not just lives up to the hype – but exceeds it. Surprisingly enough, while King's X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick and Lynch Mob/ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch are the big names involved, it’s actually Army Of Anyone/Korn drummer Ray Luzier that steak the show. Part hard rock, part groove and experimental in places, KXM’s debut effort turned out to be beyond my expectations.

Flying Colors – Second Nature (Mascot Label Group)

Although strong in places, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by all-star neo progressive rock outfit Flying Color’s self titled debut effort. But on the second album, the issues that plagued the first album (In particular the album’s inconsistent direction and songwriting) are all issues relegated to the past. The opening trio of ‘Open Up Your Eyes’, the heavier ‘Mask Machine’ and ‘Bombs Away’ showcase the band at their best.

California Breed – California Breed (Frontiers Records)

From the ashes of the critically acclaimed Black Country Communion comes California Breed. Although featuring half of the former group (Bassist/Front Man Glenn Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham), this isn’t a carbon copy of their former act. Heavier, funkier and rooted in 70’s groove, the album is another Glenn Hughes vehicle worthy of his legendary status.

Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition) (Independent Release)

This was a bit of a tricky release for me, because as much as I love Ginger’s output, this isn’t one of his more memorable releases as a whole. But while some of the tracks fall flat on their face, the good tracks are absolutely stellar. And that’s because this is something of a band release rather than a true solo effort, and it’s clearly evident in what the album offers overall. Tracks worthy of genius status include ‘Drive’, ‘The Order Of The Dog’, ‘Burn This City Down’ and the title track ‘Albion’.

Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this new album from the reactivated Sanctuary isn’t all that far from the sadly defunct Nevermore. And yes, this album will never sit stack against the bands past efforts in the eyes of the diehards. But I don’t care. A good album is a good album, and this one is a real surprise winner for me. Yes, Warrel Dane’s vocals can’t hit the high notes of the likes heard the last time Sanctuary were an active band (Some twenty-five years ago!), but Dane is in terrific form, and so is the band. Check out the slamming opener ‘Arise And Purify’, the moody ‘Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)’ and the shredding ‘Frozen’. This is not an album to disappoint Nevermore fans.

Mark Kelson – Resurgence (Audio Cave)

Having been a huge fan of The Eternal throughout the years, I was keen to hear what front man Mark Kelson would come up with on his debut effort as a solo artist. It’s again another one of those albums that takes a little while to sink in, but when it does, it blew me away. The album takes a bit of Pink Floyd, adds in a dash of The Tea Party, spices thinks up with equal parts progressive rock and hard rock, laid on a base of The Eternal and wrapped in plenty of melancholy. Essentially, it’s Kelson through and though. I’d single out a track, but this is the kind of album that truly needs to be listened to from start to finish to really appreciate.

Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Century Media Records)

After writing up a review of this album, a friend of mind stated that there wasn’t really a question of whether the album was a move forward for the band, but more a statement. This release really is a defiant statement of who they are. And I totally agree. I rarely accept more of the same without progression, but in Triptykon’s case, I’ll gladly settle for what’s on offer. This is grim, primate, suffocating and morbid. And really, what else would you want from Thomas Gabriel Fischer.

Top Ten Songs For 2014

This is really an excuse for me to make a top twenty list for the year. These album’s didn’t quite make the top list, but they’re worthy of an honourable mention because they all at least boast a few absolutely awesome tracks. So here it goes...

Wolf – Shark Attack (From ‘Devil Seed’)

As much as I love it when band’s push beyond the realms of expectations, there are times when all I want is a bit of traditional heavy metal. And one of the best at it is Sweden’s Wolf. ‘Devil Seed’ (The band’s seventh effort) is up there with the band’s best, and one of the best tracks on offer certainly has to be the belting ‘Shark Attack’.

Decapitated – Moth Defect (From ‘Blood Mantra’)

I was one of the few who genuinely loved 2011’s ‘Carnival Is Forever’. So it’s would come as no surprise to find I was really hanging out to hear ‘Blood Mantra’. And while I think the band sound better than ever, I still feel that there’s something about the previous album that stands out as my favourite. Despite that, ‘Moth Defect’, the limited edition bonus track from ‘Blood Mantra’, is a definite favourite from the band. The track is brutal, progressive and delivered with perfection. And really, what more could you ask for?

Tantric – Cynical (From ‘Blue Room Archives’)

At this point in their career, I pretty much know what I’m going to get from a Tantric release. But with ‘Blue Room Archives’, Tantric front man Hugo Ferreira has put together a compilation of sorts that brings together a variety of songs under the Tantric banner that didn’t fit any of the band’s former releases in the feel sense. It makes sense, but a shame nonetheless because ‘Cynical’ (Which also features ex-Dark New Day vocalist Brett Hestla) is a great track.

Skindred – Kill The Power (From ‘Kill The Power’)

The follow-up to 2011’s ‘Union Black’ was a bit of a middling affair for me. There were too many slow and atmospheric efforts and not enough rock for my taste. But ‘Kill The Power’ did have its moment, and no more so than with the title track.

IQ – Knucklehead (From ‘The Road Of Bones’ (Special Edition))

As much as I love British neo-progressive rock outfit IQ, sometimes their album don’t quite hit me in the same way as some of their others. ‘The Road Of Bones’ is an O.K. album, but it’s the bonus disc that really won me over. A prime example is ‘Knucklehead’, which is uncharacteristically heavy sounding for the band, and a truly unique track from the band. As you would have already guessed, it’s only available on the bonus disc.

Transatlantic – Black As The Sky (From ‘Kaleidoscope’)

Much like IQ, I actually found the bonus disc on the new Transatlantic album more enticing than the album itself (In particular the band’s take on Yes’ ‘And You And I’ and Procol Harum’s ‘Conquistador’). But after allowing the album to really sink in, I found ‘Kaleidoscope’ was a true return to form for the band, and easily a more satisfying album than 2009’s ‘The Whirlwind’. My personal favourite is without a doubt the truly collaborative ‘Black As The Sky’.

Sevendust – Upbeat Sugar (From ‘Time Travellers & Bonfires’)

This album is somewhat of a filler release from the band until they release a new album. Half the album is acoustic renditions of old classic efforts from the band, and half are newer efforts. So while it sounds cool, it’s not entirely satisfying. But if there’s one track that stands out, it’s ‘Upbeat Sugar’. Don’t be surprised if this gets the electric treatment somewhere down the track given how much it rocks already in acoustic form!

Anathema – You’re Not Alone (From ‘Distant Satellites’)

Anathema has hit a formula, and they’re not willing to let it go just yet. What that means is that while I enjoyed ‘Distant Satellites’, I found that after three album’s of the same thing, it doesn’t have the same impact that it did when I first heard 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re here’. But that’s not to say that the band can throw the odd curveball every now and then. Much like ‘Panic’ from 2001’s ‘A Fine Day To Exit’, ‘You’re Not Alone’ is completely different from anything from anything else on the album, and is a reminder that Anathema can sometimes break free of their self imposed style and song writing cell.

Soundgarden – Kristi (From ‘Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path’)

O.K., so this is lifted from a compilation, but of the previously unreleased material featured on the expansive three disc set, ‘Kristi’ is classic old-school Soundgarden. Downbeat, heavy and dense and impassioned with Chris Cornell’s unique vocals, this track is a must have for true Soundgarden fans.

Pain Of Salvation – Falling Home (From ‘Falling Home’)

Much like the Sevendust release listed above, ‘Falling Home’ is a release which sees Pain Of Salvation reinterpret some of their recent vintage material in acoustic form. While some don’t quite hit the mark, some work like a wonder. But the real stand out cut is the new title track ‘Falling Home’. Daniel Gildenlöw, despite his flaws, is still a genius song writer when he puts his mind to it.

The Best D.V.D. Of 2014

Peter Gabriel – Back To Front (Peter Gabriel Ltd And Real World Productions Ltd/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd)

As a fan of Peter Gabriel, I’ll admit to be a little frustrated with his lack of studio work in recent years. But despite my grumbles about his studio ventures (Or lack thereof), it’s hard to criticise the legend’s efforts on the visual front. ‘Back To Front’, which celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his watershed ‘So’ release from 1986, is another step forward in terms of concert performance. Rather than just deliver the album in its entirety and some greatest hits selection to bolster the set, Gabriel divides the concert in the three thirds, with each set building up in members and momentum to what can only be described as a true fans’ fantasy. The film is filmed with an intensity I’ve never seen before, and the musicianship is absolutely second to none. Sure Gabriel is showing his age in places, but that’s easily overlooked given the stunning results of the performance shown. Does this compensate for a true studio release from Gabriel? No (Even if it does feature one new song – ‘Show Yourself’). But given the likelihood of Gabriel producing a new full-length album, this is a more than worthy filler effort for the meantime.

The Best Book Of 2014

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself (Simon & Schuster)

Billy Idol may have made my 2014 for the biggest disappointment on the album front, but he won me over on the book front. With his self penned autobiography, Idol lays done his story (Which is his version of events I might add) from his early days in England, Chelsea and Generation X, through to his glory days as a pin-up and MTV icon. Idol is quite candid and detailed about his formative years helping establish the growing punk movement, and sheds light on his fast rise to fame within a couple of years after returning to the U.S. in the early ‘80’s. But what really captivated me was Idol’s tale of growing drug dependency in the late ‘80’s, his personal insight into particular songs, his failures (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’, and his relationship with guitarist Steve Stevens and partner Perri Lister), his explanation for his absence from the music scene for twelve years and his ultimate triumph that saw him return to splendour in grandiose form. The book does lack a bit of detail (There’s no mention of ‘Don’t Need A Gun’, his reunion with Stevens in 2002 on VH1 Storytellers, his 2006 Christmas album and his contributions to various other artists), and does feel a little rushed from around 1990 onwards, but is solid enough to answer most of the questions I’ve always had about the legendary rocker since I first seriously invested in his brand of rock/soul/punk rock way back in 1986.

Biggest Surprise Of 2014

2014 saw a lot of surprises, but none more so than the retreat of Jason Newsted from all things related to the public eye. Despite some well received releases in 2013 (The E.P. ‘Metal’ and the full-length follow up ‘Heavy Metal Music’), Newsted laid his band to rest and closed down all his social network sites in September without any real reason. What triggered Newsted’s retreat from the spotlight is anyone’s guess, but the speed at which it was carried out does cause some concern. On a personal note, I think it’s a real shame. Newsted’s band released some great releases, and I was seriously looking forward to hear what the band was going to come up with next.
Best Newcomer Of 2014


O.K., so technically ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ isn’t the band’s first album and the album was officially released at the very tail end of 2013. But let’s overlook the technicalities and focus on what matters here. And that is that Icecocoon’s ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ is without a doubt one of the strongest independent Australian releases I’ve heard in the last year. Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Owen Gillett has put together an album that’s hard to pigeonhole, but could be best described as a unique take on a hybrid post rock/progressive sound. This is an album that needs to be heard from start to finish to fully appreciate. Tracks worthy of a listen include ‘It’s All On The Line’ and ‘About Loving Someone’. Here’s hoping there’s more to come from the band in 2015.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2014

This award really had me torn this year. For the better part of the year, the dubious honour of disappointment of the year was bestowed upon Def Leppard for their so-called deluxe edition of ‘Slang’. But given that I found the time to write up a review of the band’s re-release, and have already found an avenue to vent my opinion on all the things that the definitive re-release lacked (From a huge fan of the said album and from a diehard’s perspective), the decision kind of made itself. As a lifelong follower of Billy Idol, I have to say that ‘Kings & Queens Of The Underground’ is a real letdown after his huge return to form on 2005’s ‘Devil’s Playground’ (Barring the god awful ‘Yellin’ At The Xmas Tree’). Rather than follow his rock/punk strengths and trademark sound, Idol instead tried to reinvent himself for a new generation. And the results are bland at best. The album starts off with some solid tracks (In particular ‘Bitter Pill’, ‘Can’t break Me Down’ and ‘Save Me Now’), but eventually things go from bland to blander with most of the album sounding too middle of the road, modern (Both in terms of production and in musical delivery) and forgettable. And don’t even start on me about the absence of guitarist Steve Stevens throughout the course of the album. Idol has always been a bit patchy on album, and admittedly, some albums (1986’s ‘Whiplash Smile’ and 1990’s ‘Charmed Life’) are stronger than some of his others (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’). I was really looking forward to this album, but after giving it some time, I honestly feel that this is one of Idol’s inconsistent and disappointing releases to date.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2015

There’s a lot of album’s I’m looking forward to in 2014, but the one I’m most looking forward to is the possibility of something new from Travis Meeks/Days Of The New in 2015. Meeks has some serious personal issues over the years, but apparently he’s back to playing, and in more recent times, back to recording. 2001 was the last we heard anything new from Meeks, and while the reunion of the original line-up may have sidetracked things for a little bit (The band has since split once again after completing the tour), I’m hoping Meeks (Who was once again in the news with a brush with the law in October, which put the reunion line-up celebration to an abrupt halt) is ready to face his demons, and finally put something new together and break the fan’s long running drought of anything new from the troubled musical genius.

© Justin Donnelly