Monday, February 3, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 2: Gloryhammer through Soilwork

Today, we continue with the next 10 entrants on my list of favorite albums of the last decade...

GLORYHAMMER – SPACE 1992: RISE OF THE CHAOS WIZARDS (2015): Yes, this is Christopher Bowes’ second inclusion on this list, but it’s a different band and just as much fun. Instead of pirates, we’re focusing on heroic fantasy and science fiction. The next chapter of Bowes’ tale about Scottish hero Angus McFife takes us to space in the “far future” of 1992, where Angus McFife XIII battles the evil wizard Zargothrax, released from the ice prison where the hero’s ancient ancestor had locked him. The story was a bit looser than the band’s debut, 2012’s Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, but the music had matured by leaps and bounds. It was a tough call between this one and 2019’s Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex, but in the end, I think the songs here are stronger overall – and there’s “Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy.” If I’m most thankful for one thing musically in the last decade, it’s Bowes and the joy he’s brought me with both of his primary projects.

HELLBOUND GLORY – PINBALL (2017): The past decade was a bit of a strange journey for Hellbound Glory. After releasing three albums of rowdy and raucous country from 2008 to 2011, the band seemed poised for greater success when they landed opening slots for the likes of Kid Rock and ZZ Top. Then came a shift in direction on 2014’s LV, a stripped-down reflective affair that was really more of a solo effort for frontman Leroy Virgil. But in 2017, the wilder side of the band re-emerged with their first album on Shooter Jennings’ Black Country Rock label. Pinball recalls their earlier work, but is a bit more mature. It’s also grittier and heavier with songs like personal fave “Hellbound Blues” being pure rockers. As always, the songs feature Virgil’s blunt and plain yet poetic lyricism, even when singing about drug binges and robbing ATMs.

HOLY GRAIL – CRISIS IN UTOPIA (2010): The past decade brought a resurgence in traditional heavy metal sounds that was a very welcome throwback for me. Two of the best albums in that vein hit in 2010, and they were related. Holy Grail arose out of a split in the band White Wizzard (more on them in part three of the list), and their debut album was fantastic. Vocalist James Paul Luna, who I had not been a huge fan of on WW’s debut, killed on these songs that were in a similar, but slightly more modern style. The sound was old-school and traditional, but not dated or derivative. Guitarists James J. LaRue and Eli Santana laid down absolutely blistering leads from the very first strains of “My Last Attack,” and the songs were chock full of addictive hooks. At a time when every band seemed to want to be heavier and growlier, it was just what I needed.

SHOOTER JENNINGS – THE OTHER LIFE (2013): Another artist who has traveled some strange paths from his country-rock roots, Shooter did return pretty much completely to that with his eponymous 2018 release – but this one, with its mix of country, rock and strangeness, I think is stronger. He made a few waves with the single “Outlaw You,” which took a jab at the commercial country sound of the time. Beyond that, however, this was still an interesting collection. There are rowdy honky-tonkers (“A Hard Lesson to Learn,” “The Low Road”), weird pieces like “Flying Saucer Song” and the spacy “15 Million Light-Years Away” (featuring Black Oak Arkansas’ Jim “Dandy” Mangrum) and sincere and sentimental country songs like “Wild & Lonesome,” a duet with Patty Griffin. It closes with the odd-but-cool “The Gunslinger,” which remains one of my favorite Shooter tunes.

JUDAS PRIEST – FIREPOWER (2018): Was there a better metal album by any of the pioneers of the genre in the last decade? I don’t think so. After a tumultuous and uneven run through the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the band started to find its groove again on 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, but Firepower is a return to form the likes of which we rarely see. It’s as though the band went into the studio determined to make the most Judas Priest record they could possibly make – no bullshit, no experimentation, just straight-up classic metal – and, man, did they ever succeed. The rhythms are driving, the riffs are biting, and Rob Halford’s piercing shriek is in fine form. Firepower will go toe-to-toe with any of the band’s classic records.

TOM KEIFER – THE WAY LIFE GOES (2013): My feelings about this record are not quite as strong as Blackberry Smoke’s The Whippoorwill. I can still enjoy listening to The Way Life Goes without finding myself in a dark place, but the situation is similar. This record came along as I was trying to drag myself out of that hole, and for the most part, the songs here run toward the hopeful. Still, it was a record that touched me in a very personal way and really helped me cope with the things that were going on in my life. Because of his roots in the 1980s glam metal scene with Cinderella, Keifer has always been an overlooked and underrated songwriter, and the pairing with his wife Savannah Snow only makes that aspect of his talent more potent, as witnessed on this record and 2019’s Rise.

MARILYN MANSON – THE PALE EMPEROR (2015): I love the first three Marilyn Manson albums and the evolution that he went through on them. After that, only a song here or there connects with me, at least until this record. I randomly clicked on a YouTube video for “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” a few months after this one came out, and my interest was instantly piqued. This sounded like the proper successor to 1998’s Mechanical Animals, and I found that the rest of the music followed suit, nicely mixing the spacy Bowie-inspired sounds of that album with the heavy, industrial shock rock noises of his first records – and even a few things we hadn’t heard from him before. It was a fine return to form that sadly didn’t carry through to his 2017 release Heaven Upside Down, an album where he was dealing with quite a bit of grief in his personal life. Still, it ensures that I’ll at least give a listen to whatever Manson has coming next.

NIGHTWISH – IMAGINAERUM (2011): This is a statement that would probably get me burned at the stake in some fan circles, but the biggest problem with Nightwish for me was always Tarja Turunen. Don’t get me wrong: She’s an incredible vocalist, but the operatic soprano just didn’t do it for me in the context of the band. Annette Olzon’s more rock-oriented vocals did, and Imaginaerum is my favorite record by Nightwish. It starts with “Storytime,” which is one of those songs that I listen to and wish that I were able to write. It has a great mood, it’s energetic, and the lyrics are fantastic. It’s a song you can get lost in, and it’s one of quite a few on Imaginaerum, which delivers up raucous rockers, mystical ballads and big, bombastic epics.

PARKWAY DRIVE – REVERENCE (2018): I pretty much checked out on the metalcore scene just a few years after it began, but I discovered this album in early 2019 and was completely blown away. I absolutely love the mix of heaviness and melody on the record, where touches of thrash and death metal meet more mainstream rock sensibilities. The raging “Wishing Wells,” which explores the anger and pain of coping with loss, would definitely be a contender for a top songs of the decade list – but it’s just one of a lot of great songs on Reverence.

SOILWORK – THE LIVING INFINITE (2013): I was very tempted to go with Soilwork’s 2019 release Verkligheten, but in revisiting a few of their records, I think this was their strongest of the decade. It’s a double album, which usually means a lot of filler. Yes, there is a bit of it, but not as much as you’d expect. The Living Infinite marked another slight turn of direction for the band, with some more progressive elements coming through in places, but it also delivered on the blazing melodic death metal that Soilwork was founded on and had been criticized a bit for moving away from on prior albums. This one may still represent the pinnacle of Soilwork’s songwriting prowess.

Look for part 3, coming soon...

No comments:

Post a Comment