It’s two years since a slew of already radical artists produced some of their career best work in 2011. Those albums reflected the reality of austerity, its effects on billions of people, and the beginnings of fightback. Since then, the global resistance has grown only slowly, and even slower in the European and American countries where the vast majority of those musicians I’ve been exposed to live. While a significant numbers did make some successful attempts at reinvention, in politics as in music, we are still waiting for the great leap forward.
1 Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Highlights: Drive Home, The Pin Drop, The Raven That Refused To Sing
“Just because I’m weak/You can steal my dreams/You can reach inside my head/And you can put your song there instead”
Steven Wilson does what he does best musically – weaving many ideas together into a logically consistent overall piece. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the staggeringly melancholic (nearly) title track, which is hands down my song of the year. Stories of individual suffering, raised to a level of collective grandeur. Wilson’s finest hour.
2 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Highlights: Jubilee Street, Higgs Boson Blues, Push The Sky Away
“Can’t remember anything at all/Flame trees line the streets/Can’t remember anything at all”
With Grinderman out of the way, Nick Cave really is old enough to know better, and old enough to make an album about feeling old. Not so much raging against the dying of the light as actively embracing it, and making life seem all the sweeter for its fleeting brightness in the immense pitch black.
3 Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Highlights: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, Low Ceiling, Hung On A Hook
“Ghost town strip of misery/I ain’t feeling no better/Roadkill heart inside of me/Follow it to the letter”
This is their second album with William DuVall and the band continues to grow, despite all the years and the deaths of two previous members. Jerry Cantrell is securing himself a place amongst the all time greats of rock musicianship.
4 Wisdom of Crowds – Wisdom of Crowds
Highlights: Pleasure, Stacked Naked, Centre Of Gravity
“Look at our ways, look at how we suffer”
A collaboration between Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse and some guy I’ve never heard of but who is obviously great, it showcases Renkse’s exceptionally emotive vocal talent, shining all the brighter in this stripped-down, crisp and innovative new setting. Hoping for more from these two before too long.
5 Tomahawk – Oddfellows
Highlights: White Hats/Black Hats, “I Can Almost See Them”, South Paw
“They call us oddfellows/We’re dancing on the gallows”
Finally Tomahawk seem to have perfected the formula they’ve been working on since Patton and Denison started swapping tapes at the turn of the millennium. The creepiness of Patton’s croon has finally fused with the fucked up ness of Denison’s guitar. The result is a glorious monster.
6 Suede – Bloodsports
Highlights: Barriers, It Starts and Ends With You, Faultlines
“Aniseed kisses and lipstick traces/Lemonade sipped in Belgian rooms/Couldn’t replace the graceful notions/That clung to me when I clung to you”
Of course, without Bernard Butler, ‘Suede’ is little more than a brand name for ‘more epic Brett Anderson solo album’. Yet it is extremely epic, and well worthy of that brand. An ecstatic celebration of the dramatic in love lives, it could do with a pinch of the social criticism which was once mixed in with that.
7 Mark Lanegan – Imitations
Highlights: Pretty Colors, I’m Not The Loving Kind, Autumn Leaves
Feels a bit cheeky sticking a covers album here, but these imitations are far from pale, and Lanegan’s world-weary croon is a perfect fit for these heartbreaking torch songs. Real spine-tingling stuff.
8 Bosnian Rainbows – Bosnian Rainbows
Highlights: Worthless, Turtle Neck, Mother, Father, Set Us Free
“The world is worthless. But I… I will live… live on!”
The new project of The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López, he combines with Teri Gender Bender to produce something fresh, scary and beautiful. The Mars Volta’s revitalised skittishness is combined with Gender Bender’s versatile vocals that sounds like a million different influences, mixed in a unique way.
9 Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals – Walk Through Exits Only
Highlights: Battalion of Zero, Betrayed, Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens
“The remarks will imply, “This not music!”/ But the rebuttal is truth: regurgitation is boring!/ Emulation is death! Agitated, anthemic, discordant, chorals, take over begins now.”
This is a fucking colossal mess. It’s also some of the most vital music I’ve heard this year. Lyrical and musical ideas collide with brutality, and tunes are left in the rubble. But who cares? He’s fucking trying. And people need to, because the old ways can’t reflect the new reality.
10 Ministry – From Beer To Eternity
Highlights: PermaWar, The Horror, Change of Luck
“Here’s my prediction of what is to come/The perfect storm is coming, there’s nowhere to run”
Just when I was beginning to dread the tedium of yet another ‘last ever’ album from Ministry, Al seems to have rediscovered his focus. And significantly, he criticises Obama’s America as an deepening of the crisis presided over by his favourite nemeses, the Bushes.
Seidr – Ginnungagap
Mind-expanding stuff from Panopticon’s A. Lunn.
White Lies – Big TV
Another excellent release from this lot, who retain the ability to produce musical and lyrical landscapes bringing fleeting moments of time to vivid and dramatic life.
Filter – The Sun Comes Out Tonight
Yet another consistently excellent release from an extremely underappreciated band.
Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood
Another predictable but brilliant burst of ‘Irish’ rebel songs. Feel the energy of this lot like a knife.
Mick Harvey – Four (Acts Of Love)
Very nice, sparse bittersweetness about life’s ups and downs. The kind of music that subtly makes everyone’s life seem like the great drama it is.
Mike Patton – The Place Beyond The Pines
Half of this soundtrack is very obviously made to be background music to the film, and then the second…well worth a place on any album made this year.
Carcass – Surgical Steel
Pretty good comeback album. Good enough not just to be a cynical cash-in. There’s the bite of the earlier records here, plus the musicality of Swansong.
Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
More endless experimentation from these always enjoyable veterans.
Trouble – The Distortion Field
The sheer impact of Eric Wagner’s vocals have not been replaced, but the first half of this is still mighty fine doom.
Jesu – Every Day I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came
You know what you’re getting from Justin Broadrick with his Jesu head on. But wait a moment, is that…hope?
Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues
Somewhere between Thin Lizzy and Arch Enemy, these new millenium spins on classic rock often soar with their rebellious spirit.
Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Not exactly breaking new ground, but this is a solid release on the ballady side of the QOTSA ouevre.
Katatonia – Dethroned and Uncrowned
These minimalist reworkings bring the best out of last year’s disappointing Dead End Kings, and there are some truly sublime moments.
Blackfield – Blackfield IV
Nice effort. Just enough of Aviv Geffen’s vulnerable sweetness, combined with just enough of Steven Wilson’s musicality so that it doesn’t overwhelm.
Rob Zombie – Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor
Rob gets his mojo back and puts out some ridiculous heavy rock like we know he can.
Suicidal Tendencies – 13
The suicyco army party like it’s 1983! So contrived, but fun.
Grails – Black Tar Prophecies Vol’s 4, 5 & 6
Grails are new to me, but this is some seriously atmospheric dark instrumental shit.
Black Sabbath – 13
I hate it when bands sound like obvious Black Sabbath rip offs, but I think in this case we might make an exception. Not too great overall, but final track ‘Dear Father’ makes a fitting ending (?) to their career.
Serj Tankian – Jazz-iz Christ
Really not one for jazz in most circumstances, but Serj is such a brilliant composer that he could probably make any style of music compelling.
Cult Of Luna – Vertikal
Apparently Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was a major inspiration for this. Can’t see it myself, but this is a solid enough product anyway.
Serj Tankian – Orca
Really not one for classical in most circumstances, but Serj is such a brilliant composer that he could probably make any style of music compelling.
Placebo – Loud Like Love
Nothing spectacular, but this is definitely a grower, and they’re not dead and buried yet.
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
A largely tiresome comeback. A copy of a copy of a.
Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
Not a critique of the SWP, and it would have been a lot better if it was.
Sodom – Epitome of Torture
Not a terrible example of your typical variation on the Sodom format.
Korn – The Paradigm Shift
Ambitious title for an unambitious project. Head is back, but that just makes it seem like sub-par old Korn.
Rotting Christ – Kata ton Daimona Eatou
Curiously uninteresting, even though I can tell they’re trying really hard to be interesting.
Satyricon – Satyricon
A very conscious attempt to un-sell out.
Atoms For Peace – Amok
A pretty but generally unaffecting release from this supergroup. All the talent is there, but there’s little inspiration.
Palms – Palms
Opener ‘Future Warrior’ is an absolute stormer, but the rest is much of a muchness. This Chino Moreno side project doesn’t promise much.
Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones – Part 2
Occasionally passable, nothing more.
Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
The cult early-mid nineties shoegazers return with a record that sounds like it took seventeen hours, not seventeen years. And not in a raw way. In a stale way.
Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
Mark Everett retreats from the experimentation of later years into familiar acoustic chord patterns and ‘life is shit’/’I’m strong enough to make it’ bluster.
Meat Puppets – Rat Farm
Soulfly – Savages
Max more or less plods his way through another fucking album, and the ‘extremity’ is dull beyond belief. Some other guy’s screaming on here in a much more interesting way occasionally.
Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart
Extremely forgettable follow-up to Kairos, which had showcased a revived urgency. Only the devastatingly amazing and un-Sepultura-like Grief makes any impression.
Skinny Puppy – Weapon
Sorry, did an album just play?