Tag Archives: Less Than Jake

My Life in Music IV: Set Fire to the Hive

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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

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

From+Chaos+To+Eternity+cover

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

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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

Sound+Awake+PNG

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

GNVFLA

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

Turisas-VarangianWay

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

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 AMOLADKillswitch 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]

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music II: Where Boys Fear to Tread

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Continuing from yesterday’s post (link), here’s the second part of my quest to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive. This post covers my second seven years: 1992-1998, which describe a fondness for grunge and alt-rock. Tomorrow, I’ll examine 1999 through to 2005 before culminating in the most recent seven years.

So without further ado, let’s boogie:

1998: Less Than Jake – Hello Rockview

Hello Rockview

To the untrained eye, this probably seems a more obscure choice than others on this list; however, Hello Rockview was one that was a shoe-in from the get-go. Less Than Jake are one of my very, very, very favourite bands but as good as they may sound on record, it’s nothing to their consistently skank-tastic live show. But we’re not here to judge to judge live performances but recorded output, and Hello Rockview remains the pick of the bunch. Where LTJ hit their 20th anniversary in 2012, Hello Rockview remains the high-water mark for their album output: after a few scruffy (but solid) entries to the third-wave ska movement in Pezcore and Losing Streak, they really hit the sweet spot with their third album release. Sure, a ska-punk album is never going revolutionise the world, but finely hones the tropes of its genre; delivering  there’s a deft balance between horns and guitar, catchy tracks and insatiable lyrics superbly delivered by Chris DeMakes and Roger Manganelli. The whole is a near-flawless package, epic-ly catchy and perfectly skankable; polished off with some smooth production values that sand the rough edges into a clean-cut bundle of fun.

Song Choice: [All My Best Friends are Metalheads]

1997: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape

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In my humble little opinion, Dave Grohl is probably the most talented and influential rock musician of this generation. Out of the ashes of Nirvana came Pocketwatch!; a self-penned side-project which later developed into Foo Fighters, undoubted kings of stadium rock in the 21st century. Stepping out from behind the drums to create debut album Foo Fighters, on which Grohl played every instrument on the record before assembling a band for the live setting. It was only on the follow-up, The Colour and the Shape, that the Foo FIghters display a true group effort, and it shows. Count the classics: ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘Everlong’; never mind a whole raft of other favourites like ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’, ‘Enough Space’ and ‘February Stars’. More so than their eponymous debut, there’s a barrel of emotion contained on this shiny disk, demonstrated by the powerful ‘My Hero’ and legendary ‘Everlong’, but it’s also still (arguably) the heaviest and most chaotic that Foo Fighters have been in their 18-year career. A masterclass in modern rock, it’s also a gateway between alternative rock and the heavier stuff, and undoubtedly has ushered many an indie kid into a full-blown rock and roll. Perfect in every way, a remarkable icon for an enduring band.

Song Choice: [Everlong]

1996: Tool – Ænima

1996

Tool aren’t the most immediate of bands: the undoubted rulers of the prog-metal kingdom, their material can sometimes be overlooked since it’s sometimes deeply unsettling, progressive and leftfield. This is no more true than on Ænima, their sophomore effort which builds on the momentum gathered from debut Undertow, yet refuses to yield to accessibility. There’s a greater range of confidence on display than on its predecessor and while there’s the immense sense of craft that typifies any Tool release, it’s got the feeling of a slightly ‘rougher’ (perhaps “abrasive” is more appropriate) object of still considerable weight: I’ve no doubt that it’s all in Tool’s design; the endless struggle to trouble the listener with abstract ideas, sounds and images and disrupt the status quo. The formula would later be perfected on 2001’s Lateralus but regardless, Ænima represents an epic of  immense bulk, and an absolute classic in the progressive metal canon.

Song Choice: [Stinkfist]

1995: Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Inifinite Sadness

1995

It took me almost five years to ‘get’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; more accurately, five minutes to ‘get’ the first disc (‘Dawn to Dusk’), but five years to fully appreciate the second (‘Twilight to Starlight’). I first picked it up after hearing a few of the Pumpkins’ hits, like ‘1979’ and ‘Today’, and immediately fell in love with the first disc: the songs felt dream-like and wonderous (none more so than ‘Tonight, Tonight’), whilst others (such as ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Muzzle’) felt like pure-bred rockers. The second disc, on the other hand, is a lot more rough, inconsistent and meandering: the alt-rock anthem ‘1979’ is followed directly by ‘Tales of a Scorched Earth’, a song that could well have come from the back catalogue of any noisy alt-rock upstart. Like the band itself, Mellon Collie typifies the excesses and indulgences of the post-grunge period, but documents a stellar-esque jaunt through some of the Pumpkins’ most dreamlike lilts and lullabies which, to this day, remains a sheer delight.

Song Choice: [1979]

1994: Green Day – Dookie

1994

Since Green Day’s ‘second coming’ circa American Idiot, it’s sometimes easy for the music mainstream to forget their first career. It’s also easy to forget that this album is nearly twenty years old, which is astonishing, given that this remains pretty much the pinnacle of punk rock and top of the ‘suggested playlist’ for teenage converts to the rock/metal scene: alongside the endeavours of The Offspring, Weezer and Blink-182, Dookie still ranks among the most influential albums to emerge from the Nineties pop-punk resurgence and feels no less relevant now. In between the classics (‘Basket Case’, ‘Welcome to Paradise’, ‘Longview’, ‘When I Come Around’) are ten other, equally superb punk rock anthems which reinvigorated the punk rock scene  and drove thousands to pick up a guitar and replicate Green Day’s signature three-chord sound; myself included. Cut me in half, and you’ll see Dookie scoring my bones and tissue, like rings on a tree trunk, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Song Choice: [Welcome to Paradise]

1993: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

1993

For me, Siamese Dream is the ultimate Pumpkins record. It instills their skilled grunge leanings with a vision of the overblown, rock behemoth that they’d become on Mellon Collie… and beyond; yet keeping everything in check to deliver a lean, mean rock record that stands the test of time. Opening with the killer ‘Cherub Rock’ and soon following with the equally-brilliant ‘Today’, the album then opens up into an abrasive mix of short rock tunes and 7-plus minute epics in a way only the Pumpkins could pull off.  Sure, things get a tad bloated in the middle, but it’s rounded off magically with the maniacal ‘Silverfuck’, and then the two shortest songs of the record but which are also the most touching.  The Pumpkins may forever struggle to capture their heyday of the early 1990s, but thankfully with Siamese Dream, we have a snapshot of their brilliance that we can return to, again and again.

Song Choice: [Cherub Rock]

1992: Faith No More – Angel Dust

1992

For the 1992 crown, there was a long-fought tussle between this and Dream Theater’s sublime Images and Words. For both bands, they represent a high-water mark in not only their back catalogues, but their respective genres as well. Indeed, according to a 2003 Kerrang pollAngel Dust is the most influential album of all time; Images and Words doesn’t appear on the list, which I can only assume is due to some typographical error. The Real Thing may have the more famous tracks, but Angel Dust is the connoisseur’s delight: ‘Midlife Crisis’ is the killer app, but the quality of the rest is still consistently superb and with a far more diverse musical genre-set than before. Representing FNM’s second album with Mike Patton, it’s here that his experimental, offbeat musical bandwidth really begins to reveal itself, nestling perfectly inside the band’s evolving, genre-straddling style. The result, then, is a musical tapestry of almost criminal brilliance; one which deserves infinite high regard.

Song Choice: [Midlife Crisis]

[Zinar7]

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