New year, new music. I normally enjoy a good written waffle each December, looking back on my records of the year, but with lock down in full swing again I thought I’d make it a monthly occurrence. It’ll also be interesting (to me at least!) to see how my opinions of records change over the months, as most of these comments will be based on just two or three listens. Time will tell if I can be arsed to do this every month, particularly if and when life returns to normal!
I listened to sixteen new releases from front to back in January 2021, as well as an EP and two one track singles. There were also a few more I abandoned as either shite or just not my bag. Brief thoughts on each follow, with YouTube links hidden away in each.
Long running German metal band’s sixteenth album, and fifth since reforming without original vocalist Udo in 2009, is exactly what you’d expect from them. Often referred to as a Teutonic AC/DC, they’re a band who know what they’re good at and never really deviate from that path. It’s old school anthemic heavy metal, often with a thrashy, angry edge. If you’ve heard any of their recent albums you know what to expect. Personally I thought this sounded a little tired, not unpleasant just a bit un-necessary. I find it hard to get really excited by something like this in 2021 but die hard fans are unlikely to be disappointed. 3/5
My album of the month for January…and by some distance. Anna B Savage has a voice that instantly made me sit up and take notice, a deep vibrato, melancholic and simply breath taking. This is an honest, soul searching record, mostly played over picked acoustic guitar, incredibly emotive, with Savage not afraid to lay bear her demons lyrically. Likely to be a contender when I’m putting together my year end list in 12 months time. 5/5
Thirty years on since their debut, Dutch death metal act Aspyhx unleash their tenth album and it’s a bit of a corker. Vocalist Martin van Drunen is the only surviving member from that 1991 album, one of the genre’s greatest vocalists, a man who sounds like a rotting corpse brought back to life. There’s nothing particularly new here, with filthy, swamp ridden riffs, mostly mid paced but never afraid to push the pedal to the floor, alongside some captivating and catchy guitar work. I’m not often won over by new death metal but this album has had me coming back for more. 4/5
This is a really fun album, up tempo and punchy with some catchy hooks and great tunes. Vocalist Anders Manga reminds me of 1990s era James Hetfield a touch, singing over a Ramones style, melodic yet heavy punk. As can be evidenced by the album cover, it’s lyrically paying homage to old horror movies, with a smattering of samples between each song. It’s a short but sweet affair, clocking in at just over 3o minutes, but a blast to listen to. 4/5
R&B isn’t my go-to genre but I’m always prepared to step outside my comfort zone. Despite this being her debut, most people will be familiar with some of the songs on here, they’ve been used for John Lewis and SKY television adverts and as such, already seem a bit well worn. Celeste has a terrific, soulful voice and I found the album a pleasant enough listen, if a little middle of the road in places. I expect this will become huge though, it’s definitely got a mass appeal feel to it. 3/5
Farmer Dave and the Wizards of the West. I’m already fairly certain this will be my favourite band name of 2021 if nothing else. Proof positive that if you come up with a daft enough moniker I’ll check your record out! This self titled album sounds like it was made whilst high on several substances, a hallucinogenic space rock affair that recollects the music of the seventies, a sprinkling of Grateful Dead and a touch of Gong. It’s also a bit funky and disco in places, despite being so laid back it’s horizontal. Best listened to in colourful but low lit lounge rooms, bathed in smoke and lava lamps. 3.5/5
The old adage of ‘always write about what you know’ seems to have passed Frozen Soul by. Hailing from Texas, it seems unlikely they’ve experienced too much of the arctic ice and cold they delight in singing about but either way, it’s the music which counts and this Bolt-Thrower inspired death metal hits the mark. Crushingly heavy with the perfect combination of slow, steam rollering riffs, interspersed with blast beating ferocity and groove, Frozen Soul have written one of the better death metal records of recent years, that brings to mind the original early 90s scene without ever feeling too redundant. I’m not sure it’ll stick in my play list for long but any fans of old school death metal would do well to check this one out. 3.5/5
Sometimes I want to love a record just because of the album cover. This was one of them. Look at it! It resembles a drug induced nightmare vomited on to a canvass at four in the morning. Absolutely gorgeous. As for the music…it could be a grower. I vaguely recall their previous album being a noisy, post punk opus, with short, snappy songs. On All Fours is far more restrained, with swirling guitars and soft vocals, akin to some sort of indie dream pop with trippy melodies. There are some nice moments but often I found my attention wavering, with the occasional melody catching my ear and bringing me back in. Might be worth asking me again in a couple of month’s time but for now shelve this as intermittently interesting. 3/5
Russian atmospheric black metal band that tick all the boxes you’d expect of a Russian atmospheric black metal band. High tremolo riffing, a vocalist that sounds like a constipated dalek, background keyboards used to add some ambience and mood (occasionally crossing over into the realms of pomp) and a drummer going ten to the dozen. It’s perfectly enjoyable, if well worn, the band know when to slow things down, when to add a blast beat and use the synth to good effect. But I’ve heard it a thousand times before and doubt I’ll listen to it more than a few times. 3/5
This is a one track single release which is hopefully a precursor to his forthcoming album. Because it’s absolutely brilliant and my favourite individual track of the month. Written in the summer of 2020, ‘The Only Baby’ is a reaction to the state of the world and proof that you can write a pissed off song without putting it to angry music. This is better than anything from Grant’s electro pop disco record of a couple of years back and finger’s crossed more of a return to what he does best. 5/5
Finnish folk metal act Korpiklaani have, for me, been running out of steam lately. It’s been a while since any of their new releases have made much of an impact on me and I say that as someone who adored their first four albums. Happily, this four track EP sees them very much back on track, book ended by a couple of barn stomping tunes that sound like Gogol Bordello on acid. Stylistically there’s nothing here the band haven’t done before, fast, jiggy thrashed up folk music, but it’s done with a bit more panache than they’ve achieved in recent years. Here’s hoping the forthcoming full length fulfils the promise this shows. 4/5
If you’ve ever heard a Lana Del Rey song before then you know what to expect here. Crooning over a laid back, inoffensive tune, this is perfectly listenable but not one of her stand out tracks. 3/5
Anyone with even a passing interest in classic rock and metal should need no introduction to Michael Schenker, guitar virtuoso who plied his trade with The Scorpions and UFO in the seventies before forming his own solo act. Whilst the music contained on this, his 50th anniversary release, holds no great surprises stylistically, it does so on quality. I can’t confess to having followed his recent career and wasn’t expecting a great deal from this but it’s a more than solid collection of old school rockers, with some fantastic guitar work from the man himself and an impressive array of vocalists, including former and current Rainbow voices Joe Lynn Turner and Ronnie Romero, as well as Primal Fear singer Ralph Scheepers. The songs are a varied bunch, some mid paced, a few that gallop and an opening salvo that speeds head first out of the tracks, alongside the obligatory wet fart of a ballad that bands like this always insist on including. 3.5/5
I couldn’t help but feel I was too old for this one. An amalgamation of every metal genre you can throw a stick at, it’s angry, bitter and the raging voice of someone who feels like a societal outcast, a man alone against the world. It’s an absolute unholy racket and I can see it being the soundtrack to a new generation of teenagers, those who feel like a square peg being asked to fit into society’s round hole, but for me, whilst I could appreciate it, it’s not really the voice I’m looking for anymore. 3/5
The post punk revival shows no signs of slowing down and early doors in 2021 here’s another one to add to the pile. With a passing nod to a more boisterous Talking Heads, Shame’s sophomore album is a perky, quirky record with jagged guitar melodies played over frenetic drum rhythms, accompanied by young vocalist Charlie Steen venting spleen. It’s full of youthful energy and dynamism and likely to impress those who’ve been enjoying the likes of Idles, Fontaines DC and HMLTD of late. 3.5/5
I really don’t get Sleaford Mods. Seen them live, listened to them in the past, awful, but hey, I thought I’d give this a go all the same. Lyrically I’m on the same page, as they rage against the shite of modern day Britain, but to listen to? Sounds like a drunken John Shuttleworth shouting at passers by outside a kebab shop at three in the morning. There are some catchy, keyboard driven beats going on here but the out of tune caterwauling and primal feel just leaves me completely cold. 1.5/5
After the critical disaster that was their snooze inducing triple disc last offering, Therion return with a more back to basics record for album number 17. Well, as back to basics as Therion can be I guess, it’s a return to the bombastic, symphonic metal pomp that they’ve become known for since transitioning from a death metal band in the mid 90s. Sadly it’s a limp and uninspired record that sounds like a band who have lost their creative spark and are just going through the motions. I found the entire thing an enormous chore to sit through to be honest and am unlikely to ever re-visit. 1.5/5
It’s already starting to seem surreal that I once saw this lot play a pub in Plymouth to about a dozen people, as they’re now tipped for big things. Tribulation are one of many bands homaging 1970s hard and heavy rock, but with a more metallic edge, notably in the vocals. At times it’s reminiscent of a heavier Ghost, with less emphasis on the poppier sensibilities, but the melodies and song structures are rooted in those same influences. Some of the riffs are quite catchy and toe tapping but if the album suffers anywhere it’s in a lack of really memorable hooks. But it’s still something I can see myself returning to a lot throughout 2021. 4/5
Epic Norwegian viking folk music, the soundtrack to your windswept trudge across the hilly moors, with stick for a sword in hand whilst sheep scurry in mortal fear. If I’m honest I’m more impressed with the concept of Wardruna than I am the execution, it should be something that’s right up my alley but I find myself zoning in and out of it. Showcasing a wide range of traditional instruments alongside the usual guitar, flutes and percussion, replete with soft chants, croaking crows and sorrowful vocals, Kvitraven is a technical marvel which often sets the heart pumping but all too often leaves me feeling a little cold. 3/5
…and finally, albums I didn’t make it to the end of…Arlo Parks (indie pop, not really my bag), Daniel Knox (downbeat singer songwriter, was ok, but four songs and I was done), The Dead Daisies (horrible party metal), Dragony (by numbers power metal), Nervosa (decent but unremarkable thrash, just got bored before the end).