Continuing on from where we left off yesterday (link), here’s the fourth and final part of my quest to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive. This post covers 2006 to the present, demonstrating an even greater diversity in my listenings and revealing trends for the future and (perhaps) what I’ll be listening for the next seven years. Next week, I’ll round up those albums that couldn’t quite make the cut, but still deserve to be on the list.
Doing this series has been a pleasure and a joy; allowing me to re-review a lot of my favourite albums, and to provide opportunity to put my stamp on what defines me, at least musically. There’ve been no huge, gargantuan, revelations along the way, but the process has re-affirmed some of my most dearest records and given some of the other a new ‘ear’ and re-discover them after a long time.
This isn’t the last post, though, as I’ll be providing a quick run-down in the next post about some of the albums that didn’t make the cut; usually because they were in a competitive year and I could only choose one. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little amble down musical memory lane and without further ado, here’s the rest of it:
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
Since the release of Rush’s 2007 cracker Snakes and Arrows, the enduring Canadian prog-rockers have ridden a wave of resurgence which is (arguably) the highest they’ve seen since their 1970s/80s heyday. It’s with fine reason though, since their consistently superb live shows have been supported by albums that show some serious form – Clockwork Angels pulls together some of Rush’s finest songwriting, conceptual imagery and lyrics since 1981’s Moving Pictures. ‘Caravan’ opens proceedings with a barrage of distorted guitars and by the time that second track ‘BU2B’ kicks in, it’s clear that Clockwork Angels is possibly Rush’s heaviest album to date; at least sonically. Evoking ideas of time travel, alchemy and anarchy, Neil Peart’s top-score lyrics deliver a compelling story through the likes of ‘The Anarchist’ and the stonking ‘Headlong Flight’; both of which must surely become setlist regulars from now on. Overall, it’s a barnstorming lesson in modern progressive rock, drawing inspiration from the band’s forty-year career and with that proviso, remains utterly, utterly essential.
Song Choice: [Caravan]
2011: Rhapsody of Fire – From Chaos to Eternity
In an ideal world, From Chaos to Eternity would win the 2011 award based on its superb cover art alone, but we’re here to judge the music, not the cover art (though that gives me an idea for a future blog series…) and on that basis, there’s plenty to love here. Where the previous year saw Rhapsody release a returning masterpiece that recalled some of their best work, From Chaos to Eternity raises the bar yet further for orchestral power metal; injecting even more heavy metal riffs into the Rhapsody cauldron and cooking up an even darker tone, albeit with no compromise on epic symphony. The titular song that opens proceedings is infectious and tempestuous, whilst the likes of ‘Tempesta di Fuoco’, ‘Ghosts of Forgotten Worlds’, ‘Aeons of Raging Darkness’ and ‘I Belong to the Stars’ are heavenly slices of symphonic power-metal, capturing some of their best material since, well, ever. This would, unfortunately, be the final album that the power trio of Alex Staropoli, Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione would make together; instead deciding to amicably split into two Rhapsody-canon bands: Rhapsody of Fire (Staropoli, Lione) and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody (Turilli). If it means that we now get twice as much Rhapsody as before and if it’s anything like their output in the last few years, I’m all for it.
Song Choice: [From Chaos to Eternity]
2010: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels
I felt slightly guilty putting two Rhapsody albums for consecutive years, but when the prolific Italians insist on releasing two stellar 60-minute albums and a killer 35-minute EP in the space of fourteen months, what’s a guy to do? After a brief hiatus following 2007’s lukewarm Triumph or Agony, Rhapsody took time off to adjust their view; the time off allowing them space to derive more lore, lyrics and lilts and for the continuing ‘Dark Secret’ saga (which was last touched on in 2004’s Symphony of Enchanted Lands II and which took my award for that year). The result is a powerstorm of ideas, themes and expressions spouting from the orchestral nerve centre that is the combined Alex Staropoli/Luca Turilli hive-mind: ‘Sea of Fate’ is classic Rhapsody, full of vim, vigor and galloping, exploratory guitar/key solos; ‘Raging Starfire’ lives up to its monicker, delivering a clash of symphonic, charging riffs and orchestral tones; whilst the eponymous final track is some of the darkest Rhapsody that exists in the canon, but equally some of the most essential; rounding off a blinding return to form.
Song Choice: [Sea of Fate]
2009: Karnivool – Sound Awake
I was first exposed to the Australian five-piece when they played support to Skindred on their 2009 autumn tour; I was instantly blown away. Even as a mere support act they oozed class, but they’re also a band capable of delivering a live show that’s so tight and note-perfect (even when delivering their multi-layered, progressive rock/metal), and with a quality and professionalism rarely seen in a band so ahead of their years. Their debut record, Themata expresses their hallmark sound with a raw, undeveloped energy, but it’s on their sophomore, Sound Awake that you hear a band in total harmony, and delivering a noise-scape of dream-like quality that’s been delicately crafted and refined. The result is staggering, monumental slab of unpigeonholable sound, and an album that instantly latches onto your synapses and merely gets better and better. You may not have heard of them, but I highly, highly recommend you seek out Karnivool while they’re still (relatively) undiscovered by the masses.
Song Choice: [Simple Boy]
2008: Less Than Jake – GNV FLA
Twenty years into their punk career, the fact that LTJ can still produce bodies of work of GNV FLA‘s quality is testament to the band’s monumental talent and presence in the ska-punk scene. The follow-up to 2007’s disappointing In with the Out Crowd feels like the work of a band reinvigorated, finding their direction once again – the ska is back, the horns are turned way up, and the likes of ‘Does the Lion City Still Roar?’ absolutely commits to everything that makes LTJ one of the very finest live and touring bands in the genre. Perhaps the inspiration for this return to form lies in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida (providing the title of the record), resulting in a re-discovery of ideas, values and sounds. Whatever the cure, the solution is a sight (and sound) for all to see, and an accomplishment equal to the stunning Hello Rockview exactly a decade previous.
Song Choice: [Does the Lion City Still Roar?]
2007: Turisas – The Varangian Way
After inventing a whole genre with their stonking 2004 debut Battle Metal, their sophomore record represents Turisas’ first fully-conceptual album, telling the story of Scandinavian (Varangian, in Greek and Slavish) warrior longship expedition to join the Byzantine Varangian Guard. The story begins in Holmgard (Novgorod, in modern-day Russia) near the Baltic Sea in ‘Holmgard and Beyond’, passing through Kiev and down the Dniepr river in ‘The Dnieper Rapids’, before arriving in Constantinople in ‘Miklagard Overture’. The battlers’ fable is told with the usual Turisas power and ferocity; boiling down the tale into 8 folk-/power-metal songs infused with Viking spirit and atmosphere. Their folk-metal cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ (included here as a bonus track) may be their most famous output, but Turisas are most formidable when given free rein to create stories of their own.
Song Choice: [To Holmgard and Beyond]
2006: Scar Symmetry – Pitch Black Progress
Of all the music-years that I’ve compiled in this list, I think 2006 was the most difficult purely because I couldn’t think of anything that really fit the bill. Sure, there were some great releases (Foo Fighters’ Skin and Bones, Iron Maiden’s AMOLAD, Killswitch Engage’s When Daylight Dies, Tool’s 10,000 Days), but nothing quite hit me square in the heart; the effect being that 2006 was the last year I committed to, and written at the very last minute. Pitch Black Progress is a strange choice, then, but not quite one chosen in the heat-of-the-moment. It’s a defiant release by the least well-known band on my list; a splatterhouse of metalcore, melodic death metal and prog-metal; melted down to their constituent parts and revealing gold in a warped form of mechanicalchemy. It’s a chaos of gutteral-/melodic-vocals, crushing guitars and ferocious percussion, but there’s order in the disorder and it’s an undeniably accessible body of work, revealing new facets with time. A kaleidoscope of Scandinavian metal, then, but assuredly a stout fit for this compliation.
Song Choice: [The Illusionist]