Friday, January 31, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 1: Alestorm through Delain

It’s not until you sit down and actually start combing through the hundreds of records you’ve listened to over a decade that you realize how daunting the task of picking favorites over that period of time is. I barely remember who the guy occupying my body in 2010 was, much less where his head was musically when he picked his Top 10 for that year. It seems like both just yesterday and a lifetime ago.

After a bit of mild agonizing, I’ve chosen 30 favorites for the decade. It’s a completely random number because, basically, that’s as far as I could narrow the list – and even at that, there were a couple of tough cuts. They’re listed in alphabetical order because I didn’t have the fortitude to attempt to rank them 1-30, and if I had, it might be another decade before I’d be able to finalize the list. I’ve also limited it to one album per artist, even though several of the artists on the list had multiple records that I would have liked to include. As always, I stress that I am in no way saying these are the “best” albums of the 2010s, only my favorites, and I’m sure that I’ll kick myself for forgetting something as soon as it’s published. Still, off we go …

ALESTORM – NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA (2017): If I had to name my artist of the decade, it would probably be Alestorm. No band brought me more pure, unadulterated fun and joy in the 2010s, and every album they released was a contender. It came down to a tough choice between this one and 2011’s Back Through Time, but in the end, I think No Grave but the Sea may be their best piratical adventure to date. It has some of the most memorable melodies, an injection of heaviness in the form of an increased presence of keyboardist Elliot Vernon’s harsh vocals – and as always, Christopher Bowes’ quirky and silly sense of humor. Oh, and it spawned the profane anthem about an anchor that will likely close every show they do from now on with a rousing, drunken sing-along.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Best of 2019: Gloryhammer, Soilwork, Beast in Black, Tom Keifer, Sturgill Simpson and more

There’s a contingent of metal fans who think the music should always be uber-serious and without any trace of humor. I don’t agree with those folks, and really never have, but I do get it. Many of us were drawn to metal from places of anger, pain or isolation, and we found solace in knowing that there were others feeling the same things.

As I’ve gotten older, I have gained a much greater appreciation for things that just make me happy. There’s enough going on in the world to validate my anger and sadness these days, and more often than not when I turn to music, I want to get away from that.

When Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo were getting bashed mercilessly by some fans this year for taking a couple of minutes of each Metallica show to have some goofy fun by performing absolutely awful covers of songs that had some significance to the town they were playing, I was watching the YouTube videos and laughing along with them. I was happy to see them having fun and not taking things too seriously.

For the same reason, Nanowar of Steel’s completely ridiculous IKEA-ad Christmas tune “Valhallelujah” sits right next to Parkway Drive’s “Wishing Wells,” a violent and raging tale of coping with grief, on my list of Best of 2019 list. (And, yes, I know the Parkway Drive song wasn’t actually released in 2019, but more on that later).

So, if there’s a theme to my list of favorite albums of the past year, you’ll see that it’s not necessarily complex and serious musicianship that won me over in 2019, but rather the ability to make me smile and take me to another place for a few minutes.


PARKWAY DRIVE – REVERENCE: I was a fan of the early wave of metalcore in the late ’90s and early ‘00s with bands like Shadows Fall and God Forbid, but the style quickly got stale for me. These days, I tend to discount most anything tagged with the label automatically, so Parkway Drive was not on my radar until late January. We were listening to Sirius/XM on our four-hour drive back from a concert in Dallas that had been my son’s Christmas gift when I heard “The Void” on Octane (his channel of choice). I thought it was kind of cool with a Metallica vibe. A couple of hours later, they played “Wishing Wells” on Liquid Metal, and the song just punched me in the gut. When I got home, I grabbed Reverence, and it remained a staple of my listening all year. It has the perfect balance of raging heaviness mixed with memorable melodies and riffs that just does it for me. It’s one of my most listened records this year, and if I had heard it when it was released in 2018, it would have easily been a Top 5 pick.