Monday, January 4, 2016

Riffcaster’s 2015 Top 10 List

Ok, so it’s that time of year again where I take time to look back at all the new music I’ve been riffed with over the year, and 2015 had some awesome rock and metal moments, not to mention a ton of epic gigs from large arenas to small bar shows.  Here’s my highlights for 2015 and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store! \m/\m/

1. Failure – "The Heart Is A Monster"      One of my all-time favorite bands that I never dreamed of hearing perform together again returned in 2015, first on tour and then with this amazing gem of an album.  Their first united effort since the critically acclaimed 1996 alt-rock classic “Fantastic Planet”, Failure has accomplished what few artists are able to do with “The Heart Is A Monster” an album that picks up right where “Fantastic Planet” left off, but taken a step further beyond their 90’s albums.  The album ranges the spectrum from heavy to mellow and atmospheric but always with amazing depth and melody.  Failure’s knack for creating layered sonic landscapes through Ken Andrews’ and Greg Edwards’ multi-instrumental approach (live they are constantly switching on guitar and bass all while controlling the plethora of keyboards and audio patches to recreate the album tracks simultaneously) built atop Kelli Scott’s thunderous drums, is on full display as is Andrews’ and Edwards’ production which is razor crisp.  “The Heart Is A Monster” is truly a monster album, here’s hoping it isn’t another 20 years before the next one!

2. Iron Maiden – "The Book Of Souls"      Anybody who knows anything about me knows that there is a “trinity” of bands that are just ingrained in my musical identity: Rush, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest.  It’s not that these three can “do no wrong” or anything like that, but 99% of the time, if they put out an album, it’s going to be worth getting in my opinion, and “The Book Of Souls” is no exception.  There were some rumblings in the Maiden-verse when it was announced that the album would be a double-disc with an 18 minute “epic” about a post WWI airship crash, as there are always the wars of words within the fanbase between the “old school” fans who want Maiden to do another “Powerslave” full of shorter faster songs, and those who embrace the newer, more proggy material with the longer format songs, etc.  Being a guy who grew up with a deep love of Rush, Genesis, and Yes, I personally love the more progressive style Maiden have eschewed on the post 90’s albums.  To my delight, when I had my first full listen to “The Book Of Souls” I found it to be much more balanced with several shorter format “uptempo rockers”, several longer format atmospheric numbers, and of course the 18 minute epic “Empire Of The Clouds”.  Featuring some of the most outside-the-Maiden-box songwriting ever on an album with Eddie’s face gracing the cover, it is very much a departure from the kind of thing Maiden have been doing for over 35 years, but at the same time it is distinctly Maiden.  There is also a sense that each band member had a lot of input into this album, with their individual songwriting styles shining through but in a cohesive way.  This album is gigantic in every way.

3. High On Fire – "Luminiferous"      As a relative noob with regards to Matt Pike and his bands “Sleep” and “High On Fire” I was a wide-eyed convert when I was watching from the front of the mayhem to the ear-punishing majesty of Matt and his stacks of Orange amplifiers at Kirk Hammett’s “Fear Festevil” this past summer.  I’d heard snippets of High On Fire’s previous albums and as happens for me sometimes, I heard Matt’s growling style of vocals and wasn’t really that taken with it.  I will admit I’m not really that into what I call “cookie monster vocals”.  Of course there are exceptions such as the legendary Lemmy for example, but when I heard and saw High On Fire live I have to admit, I was blown away.  When I picked up “Luminiferous” I was not disappointed.  Killer ear-destroying riffs, take-no-prisoners tempo, and Matt’s powerful snarl all refined into an album that just body slams the listener from start to finish.

4. Elder – "Lore"     I received this album as a free-download gift from my friend Mark, bassist extraordinaire of the amazing band Zed (can’t wait for their new album in 2016!!!).  I’m not normally the “buy an album download” kind of guy, I’m the “buy the actual cd so it is in my collection bwahahahahaaaa!!!” guy, but hey, it was free so I got on the ol’ compy and figured out how to download it into my iTunes and ‘voila!’ there it were.  Then I listened to it…and I listened to it again…and again…and again…and again.  Holy crap what an amazing album.  This is like classic prog rock but with a hard edge.  Melodic and atmospheric, then rifftastic (yep, another new word, you can say you heard it here first) and heavy, then more atmospheric.  Beautiful and brawny in equal measure, Elder is definitely a band I will be checking out further.

5. The Devil In California – "Longer Ride Down"      I first saw this band at a “local music showcase” kind of thing here in San Jose.  Zed was headlining the show that night and Mark said to me “you’re gonna like these guys”.  Mark was right, I like these guys…a lot.  Take a huge helping of straight heavy as hell bluesy stoner-rock, throw in a dash of southern fried attitude and even a few drops of country & western vibe and BOOM!  This album is melodic, heavy, bluesy, southern goodness all from some good ol’ boys from the Bay Area!

6. Blackwulf – "Oblivion Cycle"      Zed’s label-mates on Ripple Music (if you haven’t heard of Ripple, you need to…some of the best music that not enough people are hearing can be found on Ripple!  Get the net!) Blackwulf are doomy goodness straight out of Oakland.  Huge riffs, Sabbathy and heavy, Blackwulf stretches themselves melodically on “Oblivion Cycle” beyond their previous gem “Mind Traveler”.  A little less psych-rock, and a little more doom-metal but with some very NWOBHM moments sprinkled in, “Oblivion Cycle” is simply a great heavy metal album.

7. Clutch – "Psychic Warfare"      Clutch’s last album “Earth Rocker” was instantly one of my favorite of their albums.  Hard and rocking, “Psychic Warfare” picks up right where “Earth Rocker” left off and is equally hard and rocking.  Instant classic.

8. Graveyard – "Innocence And Decadence"      This was another disc I picked up more-or-less on a whim.  I’d been seeing a lot of buzz about it from other friends and musicians on my Facebook page so figured I’d take a chance and see what the fuss was all about.  I’m so glad I did!  This is a fun album, lots of 70’s rock vibe and attitude, this album would sound just as fresh in 1975 as it does in 2015.  This one definitely fits my Ash (Bruce Campbell-Evil Dead) inspired motto of “groovy.”  This is a great rock album, melodic with great songwriting and quality vocals.  Worth every penny.

9. Tuco Ramirez – "Peligrosa"      Another Bay Area gem, and named after one of my favorite movie characters to boot, Tuco Ramirez are a great rock band with a bit of the 70’s hard rock vibe and southern rock vibe in equal measure, with great riffs and powerful vocals, this album is another fun album to put on and just rock out to.

10. Forgotten Gods – "Twin Sisters"      San Jose doom trio Forgotten Gods make the kind of music I would want to make myself.  Great riffs, strong songwriting with sci-fi lyrics and a pinch of psych-rock, and a pinch of prog-rock thrown into the cauldron, they brewed up a potion of heaviness that follows up their excellent debut disc “Fall Of The Dagger” well.  Looking forward to more from these guys.

11. The Sword – "High Country"      Well, what hard rock/metal "best of" list stops at 10?  None!  They go to 11, same as the amps do, that’s what Nigel Tufnel and Spinal Tap taught me and I’m sticking to it!  I love The Sword, they are Texas riff-kings for sure, and were one of the early bands on the “Doom Metal/Stoner Rock” landscape.  That being said, “High Country” is definitely a departure from what The Sword has done on their previous 4 discs.  I was listening to this album one day and trying to put my finger on what’s different about it.  The criticism it has received from fans has run the gamut from “they’ve totally sold out!!!” hysteria to “I really like it, they’ve totally stretched out of their shell to do something different.”  I understand the “sold out” people who are disappointed with this album, but I find myself falling somewhere in between.  My observation is that all those awesome riffs are still there but it’s like they made the guitars a bit more subdued in the mix to get a more 70’s vibe, and went full-tilt on the psychedelic/classic rock feel.  Mission accomplished, this is a trippier, more straight rock album than they’ve made before, but in its way it is a really good album.  I don’t know if it will ever be one of my favorite The Sword albums, but it’s definitely a good album.

Honorable Mentions (Yet to listen to…)

Wolfmother - "Victorious"      After the phenomenon that was Wolfmother’s self-titled debut, I found their follow-up “Cosmic Egg” to be a bit of a let-down.  A good album for sure, but it just didn’t have the same “oomph” for lack of a better word, as its predecessor.  Apparently, I totally lost track of Wolfmother because as I was getting ready to say I was hoping the newly released “Victorious” would be the return to form I’d hoped for from “Cosmic Egg”, I noticed they had an album out last year “New Crown” which I’ve never seen or heard of hahaha!!!  Guess I have more catching up to do, it’s a never-ending battle!

Faith No More – "Sol Invictus"    I’ve heard some good things about the new Faith No More album, though I haven’t really kept up with them after the “Angel Dust” album back in the 90’s.
Monster Truck – "Sittin’ Heavy"   Killer hard rocking guys from Canada that ooze 70’s stoner rock vibe and swagger with 10’s (yep, I just named this decade the 10’s, that just happened) DIY attitude and production, I first heard Monster Truck opening a festival in 2014 and I was blown away.  When I got their 2013 album “Furiosity” (their first full-length) I was even more blown away.  It has been in regular rotation on the old iPod since, and will remain a mainstay.  Monster Truck are true riff monsters and from the two singles I’ve heard so far “Don’t Tell Me How To Live” and “The Enforcer”, “Sittin’ Heavy” looks to be more of the same.  Plus, they play beer league hockey back home in Canada…how could I not like these guys?!?!?

Baroness – "Purple"      I first discovered Baroness last year when I did something rare for me and on a whim picked up their “Yellow And Green” album on cd.  These guys are similar in my opinion to Elder in that they have a heavy side that is just devastating but they also have a prog rock side to them that is equally beautiful and atmospheric.  Just picked it up at my local record store and it came with a cassette of the album as a free-with-purchase!  They actually produced it on tape!!! Bitchin!  Really looking forward to cranking this tonight!

Well, there ya have it!  Happy New Year to all and bring on 2016!!!  Keep it rocking!


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