Ihsahn After “After”

Ihsahn – Eremita Ltd. Ed (purchased in HMV on 9th July)

Amount spent on purchase: £13

Amount spent in total so far: £88

I resisted buying this for a surprisingly long time. Eremita has been picking up some great reviews since its release and has been compared very favourably with its 2010 predecessor, After, which I enjoyed very much. Despite all this, every time I picked it up in the shops I just couldn’t be arsed. Weird.

Eventually I just had to force myself to buy it and I’m glad I did because this has the edge on its predecessor and is one of the most enjoyable releases of the year so far.

Opener Arrival gets things off to an exciting start with a Dream-Theater style rampaging riff. It’s also immediately noticeable that the vocal performance is more nuanced than on After and there are some pleasingly soulful Kings X style harmonies which are a nice touch (Arrival guest vocalist Einar Solberg certainly brings to mind Kings X vocalist Doug Pinnick). The guitars are also allowed some free reign from Ihsahn’s usual orchestrated approach and the result is some great shredding solos, in particular from Jeff Loomis on The Eagle and the Snake (one of the album’s centrepieces).

Emperor fans will be in more familiar territory with the track Something Out There which hits you in the face like an icy gale. Although the album’s overall feel is quite Avant-Garde (check out The Eagle and the Snake’s Jazz Café opening and orchestral interlude Grief) there is still enough evidence of Ihsahn’s Black Metal roots for this album to appeal to Emperor fans.

For an album that’s title translates as “Hermit” Eremita is surprisingly collaborative and impressively cohesive. It maybe doesn’t have the same peaks as After but it is more consistent and more fully-formed. I hadn’t been in the mood for this but it won me over and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Number 1!

The 1990s were a tough time for a young Metal fan and these are the Top 10 albums of the era that helped me get through it! If I knew then what I know now things would maybe be different but these are all still amazing albums from that decade.

1: Skid Row – Slave to the Grind (1991)

Skid Row made mincemeat of the “difficult 2nd album” challenge with their masterpiece, Slave to the Grind. Released at the turn of the decade this album was essential listening throughout the 90s and still is.

The early 90s were a difficult time for the so-called Hair Metal bands that fared so well in the 80s. If Metallica’s stark real-life horror and Guns N’ Roses’ alluring and dangerous depiction of Hollywood “glamour” hadn’t been game-changing enough, alternative music was taking over and Grunge was rearing its ugly head. Skid Row’s answer to this was to come out fighting, channeling new levels of fury and power into their already accomplished Glam Metal.

I was a fan of the self-titled album but when this was released I was taken aback. What happened to this band? It still sounded like Skid Row but I was not expecting this band to come up with the massive palm-muted chug of the title-track. This was all very intense and, to be honest, I was a little bit intimidated!

There is a startling array of musical influence in here. Chunky down-tuned riffs cut into clean Hendrix Funk on Creepshow. The more familiar Glam territory of Psycho Love is interrupted by some evocative, mellow psychedelia. Fast paced Ramones style chargers jostle with wistful and heartfelt balladry. The guitar duo of Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill are also more assured and tasteful, confident enough to reign in the 80s flash which would not have fitted here. The album is extremely well paced and the songs are skilfully written and arranged.

The real X-factor in Slave to the Grind is vocalist Sebastian Bach. He is on winning form throughout this record, displaying a range and sense of dynamics that ensures the album crackles with energy. On The Threat the phrase “wrecking ball” is initially sung with a melodic, whoah-oh delivery while, before the 2nd chorus, the same phrase is given an exciting full roar. His wild performance, ad-libs, wobbly vibrato and unhinged crescendos come across as raw, natural and naively enthusiastic.

This was one of those albums that is so consistently good that every track is vying for your attention. Each song has, at some point, been my favourite from the album and there aren’t many albums I can say that about. Slave to the Grind is easily the best record of the 90s and one of my Top 10 all-time favourites.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Introduction

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 8 to 10

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 5 to 7

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 2 to 4

Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 9th July 2012

Been on holiday the last week so not as much music listened to as I would manage normally.

Helloween – Mini-LP and Walls of Jericho These two always put a spring in my step. A bit derivative at times but with an insane energy that makes them irresistable! A great way to start any holiday.

Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines Great, exotic Death Metal classic. Getting in the mood for their newbie At the Gate of Sethu, which just popped through the letterbox today but I haven’t had a listen yet. I’m kind of hovering around it.

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh Enjoying this band more and more. What I thought was kind of flat, at first, is now all kinds of thrilling and interesting. Their new album and their previous From Mars to Sirius are on their way.

Anathema – Weather Systems I really love this band. Their previous album We’re Here Because We’re Here was the best thing to come out in 2010 (along with Ghost’s Opus Eponymous) so I was really up for this. It’s great but not grabbing me quite the same as the previous… but that was a grower so we’ll see.

Heart – Little Queen I was always a mild fan of Heart in their 80s incarnation. A great article about this album in the recent issue of Classic Rock magazine prompted me to check this out. Sounds good on first listen but maybe not what I’m quite in the mood for at the moment so it’s been put on the backburner.

Gregg Allman – Laid Back The perfect soundtrack to a night in playing cards with my beautiful girlfriend. This is one of my all-time favourite albums, absolutely gorgeous soulful Rock. Gregg’s voice is peerless. The versions of the Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider and Please Call Home are stunning and his cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days is masterful.

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard and Little Richard The 1st two albums from the Rock n’ Roll innovator and originator. All Rock and Metal owes Little Richard a debt and it’s really worthwhile going back to the source every now and again .Songs  like Lucille, Rip it Up, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Tutti Frutti, Keep A Knockin’ etc. are impossible to resist and Richard’s voice is an absolute belter.

R.I.P. Jon Lord

Really sad news about the death of Jon Lord at 71. He was an absolute innovator in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and as important a figure in the origins of the genre as it is possible to be. Here’s a snippet from the Classic Albums documentary on DP’s classic Machine Head album, where the band and Jon discuss his role and his amazing organ sound… The Beast!

Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 1st July 2012

Sorry had to miss out a week of this due to laptop problems. Thankfully, by the good will of Odin, I have a new one so I’m back in action. Last week’s listening was almost entirely the new Manowar and Rush albums anyway!

Manowar – The Lord of Steel Already covered this one here but, suffice to say, it’s good.

Magnum – Vigilante One of the Magnum albums I’m less familiar with, apart from the invincible title track. Dug this out on vinyl and enjoyed it a lot. Way poppier and more keyboardy than customary and you can definitely hear producer and Queen drummer Roger Taylor warbling away in the backing vocals. But, as always with Magnum, rock solid songwriting and Bob Catley’s wonderful voice selling everything.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth Not the car-crash that I expected, in fact it’s extremely thrilling. Dave Lee Roth’s vocals are great despite the criticisms, he has a front-porch bluesy feel that I really love and his usual playful lyrics. Re-working 70s leftovers seems to have helped here too, so good for them. Yet another Album of the Year contender in a strong year for new releases.

Ginger – 555% (1st Disc) Right, got all 3 discs of this to listen to but I’ve decided to listen to each a few times before moving on to the next. Don’t want to get overwhelmed! 1st disc is full of the super-catchy, anthemic pop-rock we’ve come to expect from Ginger. Less guitar heavy than The Wildhearts material but there are hooks here that are instant and some interesting soundscapes too, in the mellower moments. This has definitely been the most listened Album of the week.

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh Still grappling with this slow burner! It is really living with me now so their new album L’Enfant Sauvage and the previous From Mars To Sirius are already in the post! I’m sure I’ll have a whale of a time when they drop through the letterbox.

Mantas – Death By Metal Bought this now so I’m going to have to cover it more fully but it’s pretty much what you’d expect from the pre-Death pioneers of Death Metal. Having read Ian Christe’s liner notes, I have to say I’m not sure if this is the sped-up Chicago version or the slowed down Denmark version. Probably neither.

Whitesnake – Ready and Willing “The bitch is in heat. So you better run.” David Coverdale once admitted he wasn’t “Billy Shakespeare”. Thanks for clarifying that, David.

Warrior Soul – Last Decade, Dead Century Fantastic dirty, urban, punky Hard Rock from the post Appetite For Destruction re-think. More people should know about this album. Annoyingly hobbled by boring spoken word piece “Five More Years” which is enjoyable exactly once. If it’s not music, at least make it short!

Skyclad – The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea One of my 90s Top 10 and one of the best bands of the decade.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s (Positions 2-4)

The 1990s were a tough time for a young Metal fan and these are the Top 10 albums of the era that helped me get through it! If I knew then what I know now things would maybe be different but these are all still amazing albums from that decade.

4: Skyclad – The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea (1995)

The mighty forefathers of Folk Metal! There were quite a few albums from this band, fronted by ex-Sabbat vocalist Martin Walkyier, that could have made the list here. Skyclad were ahead of their time in the 90s. Metal was unfashionable enough during this period without throwing in fiddles and (often pun-tastic) ecological lyrics.

This was their 5th full length album and they had moved away from the more traditional metal style to something more unique and sophisticated. Their earlier albums felt quite medieval whereas with this and Prince of the Poverty Line they were becoming Dickensian!  How many Metal bands can you say that about? Also, every Saturday I would watch an episode  of Sharpe with my Dad and then listen to this. The two were curiously complimentary and this a large part of why it is imprinted on my DNA to this day.

3: Pride & Glory – Pride & Glory (1994)

After Ozzy’s “retirement” Zakk Wylde followed up No More Tears with this brillant Southern Metal gem. Being out of the slick confines of the Ozzy band allowed Zakk to stretch out with a much looser and more improvised performance. It also allowed him to indulge his Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Creedence and Elton John fantasies. Heavy takes on retro 70s classic rock influences were in vogue amongst the Grunge performers of the era so Wylde’s influences resulted in a fashionable album without any of the stigma of “going Grunge” (a sad fate that awaited many of the 80s acts that survived into this period).

Pride & Glory became my guitar bible. Tracks such as Horse Called War, Shine On and Toe ‘N The Line have fantastic extended guitar jams with only bass and drums for company. There are also a lot of great ballads on here and an evocative swampy feel throughout. Zakk gives a surprisingly good debut performance vocally, although still a bit in thrall to his heroes like Gregg Allman. The other happy result was that my interest in this album also led to a lifelong love of the Allmans, Skynyrd, Blackfoot and the like. This was a rich area of musical exploration for me throughout the 90s and beyond.

Zakk’s sartorial choices during this time were also an introduction to the wide world of flared jeans..

2: Black Sabbath – Tyr (1990)

Through the 80s Black Sabbath were a shadow of their former selves, commercially, and had eroded much of their respect with a series of embarrassing line-up debacles and music that, while often excellent, didn’t seem appropriate for the band name and identity. By the start of the 90s, Sabbath had achieved a tentative line-up stability and clawed back a bit of respect with the Headless Cross album. They would follow that up with the superb Tyr, one of my favourite albums of all time!

I have a bit of a penchant for fantasy, vikings and medieval atmosphere in my Metal. Later in the 90s, Norse Mythology would become a common theme in some of the Black Metal 2nd wave but when Sabbath released Tyr it seemed terribly unusual and creative to me (not having heard of Bathory). Tony Iommi’s reliable thick riffing is thickly layered over with keyboards and atmospheric effects. Dynamic and catchy tunes like Jerusalem and Heaven in Black nestle alongside sweeping epics like Anno Mundi and the Valhalla trilogy that opens Side B. The album’s power-ballad Feels Good To Me succeeds by way of its excellent production and mood. Tony Martin is in confident form vocally and lyrically and if this had been released under a different banner I think we’d be talking about it like the proto-Power Metal classic it is, rather than an under-heard record from a great band’s wilderness years.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Introduction

The 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 8 to 10

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 5 to 7

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Number 1!

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Time elapsed since last music purchase: 12 days

Amount spent on purchase: £15

Amount spent in total so far: £58

Any new Rush album is a big event and lots of folk have been very excited about this one. As a Rush fan I was inevitably going to buy this as the band is always capable of great things and always has the potential to come up with sonething new and exciting. But in truth, my expectations weren’t running too high for this one after the disappointing Snakes and Arrows.

I’m happy to report that after a few listens this has defied my expectations quite dramatically. And I’m also quite sure the full joys of the album have not yet revealed themselves so this is already a strong contender for Album of the Year. They channel a lot of the excitement and energy of Vapor Trails here but with a much warmer sound and looser feel. The band performance is more reminiscent of their earlier days and there are some throwbacks to earlier material like the Bastille Day referencing Headlong Flight. At times they seem to be channeling The Who and even have some riffs that would sound at home on latter-day Cheap Trick records!  There are also some dynamic choruses and tasteful orchestration. It’s a great sounding record and a really electrifying band performance.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the record are the lyrics. I found Neil Peart’s writing on Snakes and Arrows to be a bit too mild mannered and lacking in edge. In some tracks like The Larger Bowl the lyrics actually hampered the effect of the tracks. So it’s really pleasing to report that the man is in fine form here. The use of a story-concept for the album’s lyrics has helped add mystique and, conversely, some of the lyrics here seem more personal and biting than before. The opening tracks refrain of “I can’t stop thinking big” could be Neil’s life story and other tracks deal with religion and the cruel passage of time in a really intriguing way.

So, in short, Rush are back and I’m delighted to say they are defying the ravages of time coming up with one of their finest albums yet.

… and classic rock too!