Bad Album Covers

I’m switching up my programming a bit – this was going to be posted next week. Instead I thought I’d end the year on a lighter note.

Instead of actually thinking about anything today I want to take a few minutes and chuckle at some really bad album art. Cover art can be very important to a record, it can also be utterly meaningless. A good cover for an up-and-coming act can catch a potential fan’s eye, while off-putting art might be ignored for good tunes on the album itself.

Art is subjective and very much hit or miss. For today I’ve compiled a series of album covers that I think are total misses.

Creed – Human Clay

I’ve been over it a bit in the past – I don’t like Creed. But my dislike of the music is separate from my dislike of this terrible album cover. It looks like some random monster encounter from an old Final Fantasy game. I don’t know what this is supposed to represent and honestly I don’t want to. There’s a crossroads and some ghost-like humanoid guy popping out of it, holding a clock of some sort. The clock looks like an oven timer. It’s as if this ethereal dude is returning to the corporeal realm because his cookies are done in the oven.

I guess the horrific artwork didn’t impact Creed’s album sales – this was a massive hit and has moved over 20 million copies worldwide. Again, I won’t lie and act like I think any more of the music on the disc as opposed to the cover, but damn this is a really, really awful album cover. The worst part is that it might not be their worst one. But I’ll save that for another time.

Black Sabbath – Born Again

I guess this falls in the “I tried” department. The album itself has divided opinions, I myself sit on the fence about it more than anything. But this cover is not winning any awards unless third grade art class is holding a contest next month.

I guess this is supposed to be some kind of demonic child. It almost passes for imp-like artwork, like that you’d see in a Dungeons and Dragons book. Except D&D artwork is good.

I see that at least two members of the band are with me here – both Bill Ward and Ian Gillian thought the cover was trash. Sadly, Tony Iommi didn’t think so and here we are. Also sadly, I’m going to tell a similar story with a different legendary British band in a few minutes.

Kiss – Hot In The Shade

Kiss had a pretty rough go of it in the late 1980’s. Their albums weren’t great and they’d fallen far off their glory days pedestal. Fortunes would soon turn for them, but it wouldn’t be with this half-baked album of mostly crap.

There are a few songs worth listening to on the record. It’s far better than this cover. It seems to me like someone in the band got a hold of Powerslave and told some low-budget art director to do something like that. Kiss is a band who long plied their trade with the visual as well as the music, you’d think they’d have more sense than to release a bad picture of the Sphinx wearing sunglasses. But the band did miss on some album covers, this one being the biggest in my book.

FYI – The Sphinx isn’t in the shade so it makes no sense anyway.

Wolf – self-titled

Wolf have been active in the metal scene for a long time now and had a period where they made some waves in the mid-00’s. This particular debut escaped my attention at the time. I probably would have noticed the cover had I seen it around.

Now, underground music is a whole other ballgame from the mainstream. These guys probably didn’t have a huge art budget. This album was released on a variety of labels like Prosthetic and No Fashion, this wasn’t an affair where some renowned artist could be paid thousands to make an awesome cover.

I’m willing to grade on a curve because the independent artist struggle is real, but damn this is an awful cover. I noticed that a reissued version of the disc a few years later featured a totally different cover. Good call.

Iron Maiden – Dance Of Death

I can’t be honest about this exercise if I don’t include my favorite band. The revulsion at this album cover is easily found, it spread like wildfire the second the cover hit the Internet before the album’s release.

Maiden were known for striking cover art in their heyday. They’d left that behind a bit in their reunion era, with Brave New World having a fine yet unremarkable cover compared to 1980’s masterpieces. The reunion would soldier on to be the band’s longest era but this abortion of an album cover is one blemish on the period.

And the cover literally was an unfinished work. The artist reportedly submitted a much more pleasant version of this cover with Grim Reaper Eddie as the centerpiece, while band and/or management decided to shove a bunch of dancers in around Eddie. The artist was so displeased that he asked not be credited for the botchjob of an art piece.

Imagine something being so bad that you, as an artist, ask not to be known for designing an Iron Maiden album cover. What a world we live in.

The album itself is a solid Maiden outing, with several good songs and few bonafide epics. But the cover art is absolute drivel. Even if a few later albums could be said to have unimaginative designs, they aren’t vomit-inducing bad like this one is.

That’ll do it for this edition of bad album covers. I’ll probably do this once in awhile when I’m feeling a bit snarky. There are some truly grotesque album covers out there, and sure, they deserve a bit more attention. Happy New Year, see you in 2022.

A Story And A Song, Vol. 2

I realized after the first one of these that I called it “Story and a Song” but I do “song and a story” instead. Oh well.

This is two songs and a very small story. It’s almost not even really a story, more a chuckle-worthy anecdote from a concert I attended a few years back.

In 2018 I had the honor of seeing Judas Priest and Deep Purple. The show was at an amphitheater in Kansas City. I had missed a few opportunities to see Judas Priest in the past and this was finally my first time seeing them. I also had not seen Deep Purple before and I was very happy to have seen them in concert. Both bands put on great sets and I had a very enjoyable time.

For Judas Priest I’ll go with the lead single from their last album Firepower. This was an electric tune and the album saw a rejuvenated Priest clawing back at the top of the heavy metal heap. They had meandered a bit since their reunion, touring solidly as a legacy act while recording left-of-center material before finding their stride again with Redeemer Of Souls, then truly recapturing it on Firepower and Lightning Strike.

For Deep Purple I’ll also roll with the lead single from their last original studio effort. Throw My Bones comes from the album Whoosh!, released in 2020. The group tried to delay the release while in the grip of the pandemic but ultimately decided to get the music out. The play worked as the band hit their highest UK chart position in decades with the effort.

My story from the concert is this – I was up inbetween sets. Judas Priest played before Deep Purple on this night, I’m not sure if that’s how the whole tour went or not. I was off to fetch more beer and was among a lot of other people doing the same thing.

I hadn’t paid much mind to my surroundings. I guess I wasn’t processing a fact that was clearly abundant right before me. As I was heading off with my fresh brew in hand, someone very bluntly and loudly asked

“We’re at a fucking Judas Priest show, why is everyone wearing Iron Maiden shirts?”

I busted up laughing, with beer in hand and my fresh Book Of Souls tour shirt from the year prior on my body. The handful of people next to me, all wearing similar Maiden tour shirts from the past several years, also kind of looked around and laughed. A guy a bit off to the side with a Trooper Beer shirt cracked up, as did his friend in the Killers shirt.

It’s true – there wasn’t a lot of Priest or Deep Purple merch to be found on people that night. They do say to not wear a band’s shirt to their show. It’s kind of a stupid rule that many break when they buy their new shirt right then and there, something I’ve done myself before. But I was among many that night sporting the other British metal favorite while Priest was playing.

I mean, it isn’t a hard choice to make. I may like different kinds of music, but I could and have wore Iron Maiden shirts to country shows. I’ve worn Iron Maiden shirts to the grocery store, to baseball games, to get gas or to the brewery for a few pints. I have 15 of the damn things, I’m not going to feel out of sorts wearing one. I’d wear one to a funeral, if the person who passed on was worthy enough of having an Iron Maiden shirt at their final ceremony.

I don’t know, it wasn’t like something I thought about long and hard or anything. If I’m seeing Judas Priest or, well, anyone else, I would certainly not have an issue wearing an Iron Maiden shirt to that. Apparently I was far from the only one, as I’d say a good 20% of the crowd of around 5,000 had Maiden gear on.

There it is, that’s the “story” for today. The next few of these will be actual stories, and one of them will also have to do with an Iron Maiden shirt.

Album Of The Week – December 27, 2021

For the final week in 2021 I’m going all the way back to 1988. I’m also going back to last month, as this album was one of a series of sorely-needed reissues finally offered in box set form on vinyl. While Skid Row’s “Atlantic Years” box snagged a lot of attention, another in the Atlantic series with six full-length records grabbed my attention and my money.

Overkill – Under The Influence

Released July 5, 1988 via Atlantic Records/Megaforce Records

My Favorite Tracks – Drunken Wisdom, Hello From The Gutter, Brainfade

Overkill were one of the earlier thrash bands to sign a major label record deal. Their demos and debut full-length had brought a ton of hype to the band and labels began arming up with thrash acts as a way to counterbalance the glut of hair metal flowing from their assembly lines. And while thrash is often hailed as a Bay Area invention, Overkill were one of a few pioneering East Coast acts to take the reigns and build thrash into a truly worldwide phenomenon.

Under The Influence marked the band’s third full-length release after two acclaimed records. While this album does not bear the same weight as those two in the thrash lexicon, it does somewhat quietly sit on the upper end of the band’s more appreciated works.

Of course there is nothing quiet about the record. Proceedings open with Shred, which does simply state its point, just as the chorus says. The songs roll hot and heavy on the album’s first side, with everything kept under the five minute mark through songs like Never Say Never and Mad Gone World.

The first side closes with Brainfade – a banger that gets on someone’s case for being a mouth-running know-it-all who honestly doesn’t know a damn thing. I have an inside joke with a friend of mine about a former mutual acquaintance, we’ve decided that this is the guy’s theme song. I’m sure everyone knows someone like this. If a person doesn’t, then that person might be that guy.

While many thrash acts were incorporating other influences around this time, Overkill stayed on a more true thrash path. If anything, this record showcases an early example of groove metal – something that would start massive arguments years later between fans of pioneers Exhorder and the explosively popular Pantera. Whoever deserves credit or blame for the sound that made Pantera famous, there is a blueprint towards that groove on Under The Influence.

The album’s second side sees a turn to longer songs, with the tracks running over six minutes each. Drunken Wisdom enters with a somber acoustic intro but then gets into a pummeling attack that highlights the group’s contribution to the coming groove metal phenomenon.

It’s hard to tell who Bobby Blitz is bitching about in the song – I’ve heard it was a music journalist. That does track with lyrics like “defining our performance” and “just get the fuck out.” Either way, I’m sure most of us have been around someone imbued with drunken wisdom before, and have also possibly been that person a time or two. (Not me, of course…)

End Of The Lines picks up the speed again and hits hard with an apocalyptic message. This song has a lot of guitar in it, at times feeling Maiden-esque inbetween the thrash beatings of the verses and chorus. Head First continues in the much the same fashion, slamming toward the album’s conclusion.

The record ends on the third of a self-named series, this one subtitled Under The Influence. The song adds a layer of creepiness while still retaining the thrashing groove found through the rest of the album. It seems this Overkill song series ends here, with one future sequel found years later. Having one on every album would have been a nice bit of trivia, but I guess “Overkill Part 19” might be dragging things out a bit.

This album was my introduction to Overkill. I was a bit too young for the first albums and I got into thrash just as the movement was swinging into uncharted waters in 1990. This was among several tapes I was able to get my hands on in my podunk Midwest hometown without a vast music selection. Thankfully I was able to round out the catalog soon after. This one will always stand out for me, it was an album with an attitude and snarl that wasn’t found in a lot of other easy-to-come-by places.

Under The Influence checks all the boxes for a great thrash record. Overkill might not have seen the same success as thrash’s top acts but the band has endured and become a symbol of sticking to roots and longevity as they now prepare to release their 20th studio album in the coming months. The group has straddled lines between the mainstream and underground and have persevered as one of thrash’s enduring legends.

S-Tier Songs, Vol. 6

It’s time for a new entry onto the list of S-Tier Songs. Here’s the page with the list of the others and an explanation of what I’m doing.

I’m going back to 1991 and the tail end of popularity for hair metal. While much of that scene began to sputter out in the summer before grunge put the final nail in the coffin that fall, one band released a genre-defying masterpiece that transcended the scene and is often remarked on as a master class in rock and metal. Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind would hit number 1 on the US Billboard charts and would see the band ride a wave of success for a few years while many peers fell by the wayside.

Skid Row – Wasted Time

Wasted Time was the third single released from Slave To The Grind. The song did not break the US Top 40 but did perform respectably well in international markets and would be their final “hit” in terms of charting in multiple countries.

The song transcends its middling single status by being an oft-cited highlight from the record and often mentioned among the best ballads ever recorded. The album as a whole has been revisited by many as a landmark moment in hard rock and metal, and much of that revisiting holds Wasted Time as the chief exhibit.

The song musically is a well-written and played power ballad that ditches the well-worn “hair metal ballad” formula. It isn’t just a slow song – its melodies and hooks are well-crafted and in abundant supply. The guitar solo is perfectly done, in keeping with the song rather than being a showcase of how fast a guitar can be played.

Skid Row really were on another level from their peers, both on their debut and this second effort. Much of what they did, both in sentimental songs like this or in blazing hard rockers, stands head and shoulders above the other offerings of the day. When they were on, very few acts could hope to touch what they were doing.

While the song’s instruments are very well done, it’s of special note to discuss the star of the song – the vocal performance of Sebastian Bach. His work on Wasted Time is the stuff of legend. There are very, very few singers walking the planet, from any genre, who could touch what he did on this song. His high notes are just beyond the reach of most humanity, and he uses his considerable range effectively to communicate the dark, swinging moods of the song.

Lyrically the song is about losing a friend to the throes of drug addiction. The lyrics had a specific muse – former Guns N Roses drummer Steven Adler, who had been fired from GnR a year prior and who would go on to have a well-chronicled series of problems with addiction. Wasted Time depicts that harrowing experience in grand form. It’s a song that cuts through a thorny issue that many have sadly had to deal with.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Wasted Time is a magnificent showcase of the strengths of hard rock at the turn of the decade into the 90’s. It is songwriting on a level not many can touch and Sebastian Bach’s singing is something in a league all his own. The song is a fitting conclusion to perhaps an entire era of music and was a powerful final statement on an album that defied categorization and exceeded many’s expectations.

2021 – A Final Look

After dispensing with the Album of the Year on Monday and a more fleshed-out list the week prior, I’m back to wrap up 2021 with a variety of thoughts on things. I’ll discuss music as a whole, where I’m personally at and going with this blog into the new year, and I’ll give out a few “… of the year” awards as I go along.

The End Of The Year In Music, 2021

It’s about time to bring 2021 to a close. Christmas is just days away, and with that just one more week until 2022 begins. The COVID pandemic rages on after a brief glimmer of hope in the summer. Political unrest and partisan hostility continue to define the social conversation. We appear headed to the brink of some dystopian disasterpiece, but it’s kinda hard to say.

In music, the industry and artists tried their best to get back to the business of making music, tours and money. Legacy acts sold off catalog rights for large sums while smaller acts hit the road in uncertain conditions to try and make a buck. Bands who had sat on albums hoping to air them out as part of a new touring cycle instead chose to release their efforts and see some recompense.

Psychical formats came back strong, even in the wake of massive streaming numbers. But those formats might be threatened by short supply. Record plants are backed up on orders for years, only pushed further when one of the world’s biggest artists needs half a million copies of her album pressed ASAP. Cassettes have returned as a novelty but are only made in one place on a mountain in some remote Himalayan nation. More and more physical format collectors are casting fond eyes once again at the CD, a format thought to have been rendered obsolete by streaming. Hey, some people want to have something on their shelves.

Fans have turned out again for the bands who have braved the perils of travel to tour. While many places in the world continue to lock down over virus concerns, other parts have flat outlawed health restrictions and are as open as they were before 2020. It’s in these enclaves that bands and fans have met again after a nearly dead touring scene in 2020. It appears that the touring machine is preparing to fire up in a bigger way for 2022, replete with arguments about vaccination requirements and other protocols that have become as divisive as opinions about the best Metallica record.

2022 appears to be promising for a real return to the business of music, at least on the surface. Bands left and right are queuing new albums for next year’s release and many acts who sat on the sidelines during 2020 and last year are gearing up for tours this next go around. It might be a tenuous hope, but it is some hope after all that these groups can get back to what they need to do in order to keep themselves going.

Live Album Of The Year 2021

I’ll just be real – I didn’t listen to a lot of live albums this year. I don’t know of that many even released. I know some legacy acts like Kiss and Metallica pump them out almost in constant rotation, and that Deep Purple dumped a few old recordings on the market. Hell, I guess Pink Floyd just did a massive dump of early 70’s live stuff the other day. But I haven’t got to any of it yet. There’s stuff I’ll give a spin to later, sure, but live albums as a whole aren’t the biggest part of my music experience.

Of course, one live album did get released that caught my attention this year. In fact I spent a good portion of time on here discussing the band in the lead-up to the album’s release.

The live album of the year, to probably no one’s shock: Oasis – Live At Knebworth 1996.

I went into very full detail on this album and the accompanying documentary already in this earlier post, so I’ll spare details now. I’ll probably back off on Oasis content for awhile since knocking out the first two albums and the Knebworth discussion does tend to cover most of their career highlights. Liam does have a solo record hitting sometime in 2022 so I’ll certainly give space to that, but for now Oasis can give way to a multitude of other stuff I want to discuss.

This Blog In 2022

I was uncertain how I’d feel about getting back into blogging after a 10-plus year absence. Also I was unsure of sticking with one topic – in the past I would just write about whatever I wanted. But these days require a bit more specialization of subjects to hold any attention at all and music has always been one of my primary interests, so music it was.

So far I have to say I’ve been quite pleased with how things have turned out. I don’t find myself with as much time to write and plot out future stuff as I’d like, but I’ve started getting a handle on that. I have some new series and project-style features I want to air out and I should be getting to some of those early next year. I do hope at some point to expand to at least 4 days a week of posting, but for the time being I’m going to hold to 3 a week as it suits my present routines and time constraints.

One project I had intended to have going by now was a YouTube channel. I figured it would be a good way to do some list-style things like ranking a band’s albums and stuff of that nature. I haven’t found the time to get to work on that yet though I have a bit of planned content ready to go. It is a whole other animal with more demanding time requirements than the blog so it’s been a bit to get it going. I’ll be knuckling down after the holidays to get that ball finally rolling, though in reality the blog will remain my main mode of expression.

Thanks to everyone who has dropped by and read, and either left comments here, on social media or in person. It’s been a different world than when I blogged in the past, when it was semi-anonymous and almost no one knew or cared what people were writing. Even in an age where social media and video have driven many people from this written format, I’ve still found that people are interested. Time marches on into the new year, and this thing will keep going.

Song Of The Year

I’ll leave off with one more “award” presentation. Albums are fine and all but the individual songs do mean something and have their own processes to evaluate and take in. I didn’t bother with a ranked list or anything else for this one. Perhaps next year I’ll take some extra time to give a list.

But for this year I’m just going to crown a champion. I discussed this EP early on in the blog’s beginnings and I’ve been over it a time or two since. It wasn’t much of a contest for me to determine my pick for Song of the Year – To The Hellfire by Lorna Shore.

I went over it in my Spotify Wrapped review a bit ago – I played the shit out of this song. I was reeled in right when I heard it. I did miss it when it actually released in June due to being busy with a million other things, but I got into it right when the EP released in August. And I played it a few hundred times since.

I’ve noticed a lot of adverse reaction to this song after the hype built for it across the Internet. Now I can find as many people dismissing it or digging up every other deathcore release in 2021 to proclaim that “better.” I guess that’s how things go, but no other deathcore act captured that many ears and put up the kind of numbers that Lorna Shore and this song did.

But hey – it isn’t worth it to try and argue against people arguing against something. The song struck a nerve with a whole lot of people and did great things for the band and the subgenre as a whole. A rising tide lifts all ships, as they say. Lorna Shore have completed recording their new full-length, an album I’d expect to see sometime next year. They gave themselves a tough act to follow with this song and EP, we’ll see if they can live up to it.

Wrap It Up

That’s about all for my look back at 2021. A wild year, unsettling and chaotic with everything going on and the uncertainty of the future. But the music landscape looks to possibly be brighter in the coming year, and even with all the chaos, it seems many artists were able to turn in some great releases over this pandemic-soaked landscape.

I will be posting on my regular schedule for the rest of the year – this coming Friday and 3 days next week. And I’ll have a special album of the week that ties in to the coming of 2022, I’ve been looking forward to this since I got this up and running back in August. Have a good holidays, I’ll be around on my normal schedule, and off to the new year we go.

Album Of The Year 2021

This is the second part of my look at 2021. My picks 2 through 10 of 2021 albums can be found here.

As 2021 draws to a close it’s time to pick an album of the year. I haven’t really picked an AOTY in many years, 11 at least, so it’s a bit weird to be doing so again. And while I had a bit of deliberation over a few albums that were clawing at my top spot, the answer was fairly clear to me in the second half of the year.

It was a bit tough to figure as the year wore on – I have gotten into several new sounds I wasn’t familiar with before the year. My favorite band released a new album. Plenty of albums from my generally favorite overall genre came out from bands old and new, something reflected on my top ten list. I’ve been more receptive to music than I have been in a long time, perhaps owing to the long-term crush of the pandemic, I don’t know.

But in the end I have my album of the year. It’s from one of my favorite acts and it made an immediate impact on me when I first heard it. It received good critical reviews on release though met with mixed reactions across the fanbase. I’ve seen it on several year-end lists from others, but none that I saw have it pegged near the top and certainly not on it.

None of that matters much though – it’s time to reveal my 2021 Album of the Year.

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Released on July 2, 2021 via Century Media Records

My Favorite Tracks – The Fall Into Time, Spectre Of Extinction, The Nightmare Of Being

This album, the third of ATG’s reunion stint, continues in the path that its predecessors set forth. The band did not get back together to pay perpetual tribute to their 1995 masterpiece Slaughter Of The Soul – rather they came back to explore new territories and push boundaries in extreme metal.

The Nightmare Of Being explores the thematic concept of pessimism. It is far more involved than a simple chant of “life sucks, now here’s some fat riffs.” Both the music and lyrics delve into a greater contemplation of what a negative outlook means. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg composed lyrics that offer a deep dive into the philosophical concept, rather than simply venting about stuff that could be aired on a therapist’s couch.

The music mostly fits well in the present-day lineage of the band, often piggybacking off of work done on prior effort To Drink From The Night Itself. Album opener Spectre Of Extinction certainly sounds like it could fit on either of the band’s other reunion-era records.

At The Gates introduce more layers of sound and arrangement as the record wears on. The Gardens Of Cyrus is especially notable for both being a piece of movements rather than a standard verse/chorus construct. The song also features a saxophone, an uncommon element in metal for anyone not in studio with Ishahn. The accompaniment works well on the song, which seems to twist the album and thus the listener down further into a spiral of philosophical agony. The Fall Into Time also goes into non-conventional metal territory for its melodies and stands as a greater work for it.

The album lyrically is more layered and opaque than a cursory rundown of misanthropy and negativity, long standards of heavy metal subject matter. Instead, the song The Abstract Enthroned probably sums up the album the best – this album is abstract, requiring a deeper sense of exploration than surface-level headbanging enjoyment would provide. The Nightmare Of Being does require something of the listener in order for the album to be processed, it won’t just come with a casual spin or two.

Songs like The Paradox, Touched By The White Hands Of Death and Cult Of Salvation continue to walk a line between between the signature At The Gates sound and the need to explore other soundscapes in order to deliver the concept better. There are dense, atmospheric layers to a lot of the songs that add to the complexity the lyrics deliver but also fit well with the band’s style. This may be an extension of more experimental parts of the band but this isn’t a departure – the band was always going to do stuff like this, almost as if they were interrupted by their melodic death magnum opus in the mid 90’s rather than working toward it as a goal.

Several people have made one criticism of the album – the vocal delivery of Tomas Lindberg. It is a raspy bark as opposed to the ferocious sneer often associated with melodic death metal. Of course Lindberg is no spring chicken, having been a part of many a project over the past 30 years. But also, his somewhat worn delivery works very well with the album’s theme. This isn’t some feeble old man trying to hang with the music – instead it’s someone singing in keeping with the album’s lyrical fare. And also – listen to The Red In The Sky Is Ours again and then tell me what Lindberg is supposed to sound like.

It was a fine day when The Nightmare Of Being released and delivered on its promise of a deep exploration of pessimistic themes. Such fare is dark, sure, but is also very fitting in these present times. It is another master stroke in the catalog of the Swedish pioneers of melodic death metal. No one could blame At The Gates for resting on their laurels and simply touring a nostalgia package centered around Slaughter… that bore influence in so many areas of heavy metal. Instead, the band pushed their own boundaries when they reunited and have now offered this complex, opaque and demanding record. It may not be for casual listening and perhaps is not easily enjoyed, but the true weight and beauty of the album is there to be found.

Here again is the first part of my Top 10 of 2021 list. On Wednesday I’ll wrap up the year in review with some thoughts and the Song of the Year.

Top Ten Albums Of 2021 – 10 through 2

It’s that time – the end of 2021. With any music-related posting, that necessarily entails top “of the year” lists. It’s time to get mine rolling.

I’ll do this in a few parts. Today I’m going to roll out the bulk of a Top Ten Albums list. I’ll do everything from 10 through 2 today. On Monday I’ll give extra space to my 2021 Album of the Year. And on Wednesday I’ll go over some other stuff like Song of the Year and various thoughts about music this year.

No point in wasting time, here it is – my top 9 of 10 albums for 2021.

10: Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

The old gods of black metal switch it up, much as they have over the past many years, and go full-out dungeon dank on this record. It’s part Celtic Frost worship and very awesome. Only five songs but 42 minutes of old school, depth-trawling throwdown.

9: Hypocrisy – Worship

After 8 years away, Hypocrisy returned with a set that hits all the right notes. This set is a bit more savage and in-your-face than previous, more atmospheric efforts. It’s a highlight from a band that has done little wrong in a very long career.

8: Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

The group’s 13th studio album finds the band reinvigorated and firing on all cylinders. This album blends the band’s signature sound with the present day existential crisis running through the world.

7: Asphyx – Necroceros

A bit of a tricky one here. I could’ve sworn this album came out in 2020, but everything I’m seeing indicates it was released the very first day of 2021. We’ll go with that. Anyway, another great effort from the reformed group who have been kicking ass since their somewhat unexpected return several years ago.

6: Genocide Pact – self titled

Unrelenting death metal that doesn’t take a note off from pummeling the listener. This is brutality at its finest.

5: King Woman – Celestial Blues

A spectacular record that shapes its sound from several genres to fashion a harrowing masterpiece. This album can’t be labeled by any one thing and is a work greater than the sum of its parts. Truly one of the more unique listening experiences of the year.

4: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

The 17th studio album from the legends raised some eyebrows with song length and composition. The album saw Steve Harris reclaim the creative reigns and head in a more atmospheric, ponderous direction.

Senjutsu was my Album Of The Week on September 6.

3: Illuminati Hotties – Let Me Do One More

This one came out of nowhere for me and instantly reeled me in with a mix of indie rock, pop punk and plenty else going on. It has been climbing this list since I started going over it this fall.

Let Me Do One More was my Album Of The Week on October 25.

2: Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine Of Hell

I only really began exploring Emma’s work earlier in the year and she capped 2021 with this minimal, desolate collection of songs. Only her voice, a guitar and piano weave these tales of trauma and sorrow.

Engine Of Hell was my Album Of The Week on November 29.

That’s the list, except for the Album Of The Year, of course. I’ll be back Monday with my 2021 champion.

Upcoming Releases – New Year Edition

I wasn’t going to run one of these this month, but as it turns out everyone and their mother have released new songs from upcoming albums. Might as well roll with it.

Blind Guardian – Deliver Us From Evil

The German metal masters offer up an early serving from a new album slated for September 2022. This song will make up part of a preview EP coming soon. It is unmistakably Blind Guardian, yet another great track in their impressive catalog. While the whole band is obviously great, it’s just stunning to hear Hansi Kursh sing like this after all these decades in the business. The new record’s early outlook is extremely bright.

Crowbar – Chemical Godz

The Louisiana sludge merchants are back for another round. This song heralds a new album in March called Zero And Below, marking the group’s 12th studio album in 31 years. It is also their first release in nearly 6 years.

The band is sounding great on this track, a brutal romp through the dangers of drug use. The video is better anti-drug propaganda than anything world governments cranked out in the 1980’s. In fact it’s not really propaganda, it’s pretty much just the ills of drug use. The song sounds pretty fresh and it seems Crowbar is ready to kick ass again in the new year.

Immolation – Apostle

New York’s death metal veterans return with their new effort Acts Of God in February. Immolation have been unparalleled masters of death metal over the years and it sounds like nothing will change with the new record.

Apostle is signature Immolation. No reason to fix what isn’t broken, and nothing is broken besides necks in this case. It’s another bastardized, dissonant riff parade from the band, and lyrics that I’m sure have something to do with Sunday church service. Looks like we won’t get too far into the new year without at least one essential listen.

Spite – Made To Please

This is totally new to me, something I’ve run across now that I’m following more deathcore-oriented media. There is no information about a new album at this time, only this single drop.

Unsurprisingly, this is very violent and very brutal, both musically and visually. It does, to me anyway, help illustrate that the line between death metal and deathcore is almost non-existent. But this is one I’ll keep an ear out for, presuming the band intends to record a full-length in the near future.

Arch Enemy – House Of Mirrors

This is the second new Arch Enemy single to be released in a few months, though as yet no new album information has been forthcoming. The song is quite serviceable and does sound like one would expect Arch Enemy to sound. The band continues to provide the highlight of having Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis on guitar, something of a metal guitarist’s wet dream. I think it would’ve been cool if the video would have shown some real broken mirrors but I guess safety is a big feature of modern-day metal video shoots.

Saxon – Carpe Diem (Seize The Day)

Venerable English metal institution Saxon return with the title track and lead single for their upcoming and (if I’m counting right) 23rd studio album coming in February. It’s been a pretty good run of late for the group, their last several albums have held serve among metal’s best.

This song is straightforward, up-tempo and gets right to the point. And honestly, the band looks older than dirt in this video but is still totally bringing it. It’s kind of shitty to think about how many more new albums are going to come from some of these metal legends, but Saxon act like they’re good for another 10 or so.

That’s about all for this month. I got enough that I didn’t have to waste time talking about the new Kid Rock song, which really sucks. We’ll see who brings what in the first month of the new year.

Album Of The Week – December 13, 2021

This Album of the Week will be a deluxe edition. I am going to cover an album, Blu-Ray and documentary. It was a few weeks back that the entire package of the Oasis – Knebworth album and film came to retail shelves and now it’s time to get into the astonishing amount of material within.

Oasis – Live At Knebworth

Released November 19, 2021 via Big Brother Records

My Favorite Tracks – Slide Away, Acquiesce, Columbia

The Album

The official live record compiles the entire setlist of both shows, though this compilation borrows from both shows to make one record. I suppose a completionist might have rather have both shows in full as an audio offering, though this stitched-together effort does a fine job of showcasing the gigs.

The songs are presented in order from the shows, the setlist did not deviate between the two nights. Almost all of the songs are slightly truncated versions of their studio counterparts – the structure is verse-chorus-verse-chorus and close, things were kept simple for the massive concerts. Set opener Columbia loses over a minute from its studio runtime, and everything besides Champagne Supernova has a bit of fluff trimmed off.

The song selection is almost completely spot on – 5 songs from the debut album, 8 from the seminal What’s The Story…, 5 non-album cuts and 2 tracks from the band’s next release Be Here Now. There is only one glaring omission from the chosen set and that’s a point addressed in the documentary – Rock N’ Roll Star is a perfect tune for the energetic festival performance. For some reason the band wasn’t playing it at all during this touring cycle.

For this massive scale performance the band would necessarily leave some nuance behind and put more force behind the musical presentation. Even with that, songs like The Masterplan and Wonderwall get string arrangements to accompany them, and horns join in on Round Are Way (which also sees the chorus of Up In The Sky sneak in at the end). Even the melancholy Cast No Shadow translates well to the stadium-sized performance.

If any one song loses a bit of something to the noise of Knebworth, it’s Don’t Look Back In Anger. Noel simply turns up his guitar and slams through the song. While the rendition is fine, it is a song that could have benefited from an arrangement of some sort. It is not a large disappointment but it is a note to be made out of the set.

Of course, Oasis has no shortage of hard hitting tracks that translate very well on the big stage. Supersonic, Cigarettes And Alcohol, Some Might Say and Morning Glory all stand out in the noise and power of 125,000 people. And the second song Acquiesce, a celebrated B-side that probably suffers from not having a proper album release, is an especially on-fire version of the song. Liam’s snarl through the verses is beautifully matched by Noel’s more delicate delivery of the chorus and the song absolutely stands out in the Knebworth gigs.

One track stands out above the others from Knebworth. It has been long known among Oasis diehards that the Sunday performance of Slide Away is perhaps the definitive version of that song and many consider it the band’s best live offering ever. While I haven’t checked out other landmark gigs enough to make such a determination, I will say that Slide Away absolutely hits on this live set. It is a complete monster performance, that much is certain.

In the end, the choice to piece an official Knebworth album from both nights works well. The diehards who wish to have both nights on audio probably already do digitally or in bootleg form, so it’s not a disservice to the product to patch this set together from both nights. Many celebrated live albums have gone that route in order to deliver the best possible experience.

And it’s nice to finally have one of the band’s historic gigs in official form. Oasis only released one live album during their tenure while Knebworth and other massively-celebrated concerts have been relegated to bootleg or YouTube status. A superfan will of course hope that Earl’s Court, Maine Road and other landmark gigs from this and other tours will get official releases in the future, but whether or not that happens is impossible to say.

The Blu-Ray

The video presentation of Knebworth offers the theatrical documentary as well as both concert sets in full. While we did not get an complete official audio package, the video side does deliver with both nights.

The footage does a good job of joining high definition content with more grainy film from 1996. I didn’t have a problem with how the video played out, it was all put together well. There isn’t a lot else that needs to be said – both shows are here for anyone who wants to get into them.

The Documentary

The centerpiece of the Knebworth package is the documentary filmed earlier this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the gigs. It was an historic occasion for Oasis and so Noel chose to honor the memory with this deluxe offering.

The film is very well-done and does not offer a dry run through historical facts, nor is it some hollow puff piece that kisses the band’s ass while not offering anything of real value. The filmmakers chose to let the fans tell the story of Knebworth and it’s a choice that makes this documentary stand out from many other music films.

The film runs through the build up to the concerts – the pain of getting tickets, finding a way to the shows, and getting on the grounds and up front when there. There is no central narrator – most of the story is told by the fans, while Noel and Bonehead also contribute thoughts. Liam only speaks briefly at the end, perhaps owing to how shitfaced he reportedly was on the night between the two shows. Also of note is that no modern-day footage of anyone from the band is shown – everything is from that weekend in 1996 or recreations of fans’ experiences.

I don’t know how well the film would play out for someone who isn’t a fan of Oasis. Some documentaries can be compelling viewing even if a person isn’t a fan of the subject, but Knebworth is very much a fan service film. It doesn’t offer up a lot to someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the band and isn’t an accounting of facts and figures – it’s the true story of that weekend in August 1996.

The fans tell their stories of that weekend – a young man who found out his girlfriend was pregnant just before arriving at the shows, the requisite group of lads who drove a junk car across the country, and a couple of girls who were able to score tickets early Sunday morning with just enough time to get to the festival grounds. One woman’s story about her brother, told as the band ran through The Masterplan, is especially touching and a standout moment from the film that truly captures the weight of these concerts and Oasis at their peak in 1996.

It is a theme discussed in the film – these shows in August were the end of youth and innocence for many in the crowd. These shows are often looked at as the end of the Britpop movement, though some choose the next year’s release of Be Here Now as that moment. While I wasn’t at the gigs it also was the end of my youth – I turned 19 about a week after these gigs. It was a strange and interesting time where the last vestiges of childhood fell by the wayside. Music and life wouldn’t be the same after this.

The Knebworth film does a great job of showcasing how much weight Oasis and these shows held. The story is told by the fans, for the fans in celebration of that historic weekend in 1996. This film lines up very well just after the Supersonic documentary, as its endpoint was these Knebworth shows. This is likely the end of full-form documentaries about Oasis, as their high points are now covered by these two films. It is a collection of stories – about the band, the 250,000 fans who packed the house those two nights, and the millions of fans around the world.

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP

Rather than cheap out and make another EP the Album of the Week, I decided to go ahead and give this one its own space. This new record comes to us from Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen, a perhaps unlikely pairing who offered up a fantastic full-length album earlier in 2021.

Richie Kotzen has been around the block in rock music – over 20 solo albums, many more as a band member, and a slew of guest shots and projects. And Adrian Smith has a handful of various projects over the years, interspersed with his time as a part of Iron Maiden’s celebrated guitar duo/trio. As luck would have it, Kotzen and Smith are neighbors and the pandemic finally gave them a chance to hang out and record some music.

The self-titled debut of Smith/Kotzen was an excellent affair that stood out from the typical “side project” crowd. We’re now offered this 4-song EP as a Black Friday treat. Thankfully this release did not suffer from the secondary market RSD premium and is readily available on wax for normal retail prices. I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having an Iron Maiden-adjacent record in my collection, even if it means financial well-being will elude me.

As there are only 4 songs on this disc, it should be pretty easy to get through a track-by-track look at it.

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP

Released November 26, 2021 via BMG

My Favorite Track – Better Days

Better Days

The EP’s title track leads the proceeding. This is a nice rocker that picks up right where the debut album left off. The song brings the well-worn theme of looking at the past with rose-colored lenses while hoping for better days to come, something certainly relevant after the past few years. On highlight is the guitar work, well done but also very fitting for the song and not just a wank fest showcase. Of course both Smith and Kotzen have long plied their trades in that fashion so it’s no surprise.

Got A Hold On Me

This track kicks up the power a notch. It is another example of rock music done in 2021 outside the influence of alternative rock, something that usually takes a bit of digging to find these days. It’s a song that also would have been at home on the full album, driving home the point that this EP is not an exercise in getting rid of leftovers.

Hate And Love

A more mid-tempo affair that sounds like something that could have been a solid hard rock hit from the later 80’s. It does benefit though from the seasoned experience of the players, both in vocal delivery and in the to-the-point groove of the song. The song is fine to listen to for its own merits, and a person almost needs to keep an ear out for the quick guitar flourishes that remind everyone who exactly they’re listening to.

Rise Again

This song brings a different vibe that reminds me at points of Van Halen’s song Judgment Day from the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge record. It’s a very quick rocker that feels like it’s over almost as soon as it began, but with plenty going on for its duration. This closer keeps things fresh with its variety but also maintains the rocking mood of the EP.

The Better Days EP is another excellent offering from the duo of Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen. It’s great to have both a full album and this bonus recording from the group. Hopefully they will find time to do more in the future and perhaps have a gig or two. Time will tell, especially as Adrian’s day job is calling again. Whatever the future may hold, it’s nice to have some good rock music in 2021.