Wednesday, 23 December 2015


As mentioned in yesterday's post, this year's album ranking is based on the three-point numerical system of the constructed language Toki Pona. Part #1 set out the mute or many, but now we turn to those in second place (the tu) and my unequivocal favourite album of the year (the wan).




A band that has been around 36 years has no business sounding this furious. While Killing Joke’s basic song template has arguably changed little from their early days, they have undergone a gradual metamorphosis, becoming heavier and harder as the years go by – especially since 2003’s eponymous album. Pylon continues this trend of intensification, with some tracks arguably their most punishing yet. All of KJ’s trademarks are here – post-punk-meets-metal-meets-industrial rhythms, Geordie’s vicious, heavy but curiously elegant riffs, Jaz singing like a pile of burning tyres about conspiracies, geopolitical horrors, psychological warfare and the apocalypse – but just a little further, a little faster, a little more febrile than the last time. Yet for all that KJ excel at snarling vitriol and justifiable paranoia, they are at heart an accomplished, if idiosyncratic and aggressive pop band – most explicitly, on tracks like ‘Big Buzz’ and ‘Euphoria’. Fierce, timely and appropriate, Pylon is the perfect soundtrack to our age. And that should worry us all.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Reviewed on The List:


Despite all the metalhead praise heaped upon them, I’ve never really connected with much-acclaimed Italian riff-lords Ufomammut. Yet for some reason Ecate really got its hooks deep into me. There’s just something so primordial and monumental about their riffs here, almost as if they’re tapping into the pure, unfiltered, Platonic form of the riff itself. It’s massive, powerful, feral and yet, for all its bluster and violence, curiously Zen.


While collaborations with the likes of Asva, Wolves in the Throne Room and Sunn o))) have associated her with the heaviest of guitar bands, Jessika Kenney’s solo work and collaborations with Eyvind Kang are much less visceral, but no less weighty. A devoted student of Indonesian and Persian music, Kenney is also blessed with one of the most pure, expressive and unashamedly beautiful voices on the planet. Atria is essentially minimalist gamelan – still, spare, breeze-through-reeds slow and spellbinding, driven by meticulous, chiming percussion. While strongly melodic, its primary appeal is textural, lying in the sumptuous, sustained resonances of struck metal, the honeyed tones of Kenney’s poised, elegant vocals, and the mesmerising way in which the two interact – at times, so fluid as to be almost indistinguishable from one another.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Loosely translated from the Spanish, this record is titled ‘Cut Everything’. It neatly sums up the content – angry, violent, lashing out at an increasingly ridiculous world. Their previous album, 2009’s Carboniferous, saw Zu take their spidery, complex, polyrhythmic bass/sax/drums prog and turbo-boost the bludgeon, producing something stunningly heavy but also inviting, even infectiously danceable. By contrast, Cortar Todo and last year’s Goodnight Civilisation EP take the sheer force and momentum of Carboniferous and turn it into a weapon.

Lead track ‘The Unseen War’ comes stomping in, all blunt trauma and sudden flurries of body blows. The wild, tumultuous ‘Rudra Dances Over Burning Rome’ evokes the firestorm of its title in (new to Zu, ex of The Locust) drummer Gabe Serbian’s whirlwind of debris and the charred howls of Luca Mai’s baritone sax. The title track itself gets locked into an extraordinary bit of micro-focused repetition, all tapped hi-hats and palm-muted chug, punctuated by malicious stabs, Massimo Pupillo’s bass rattling teeth as well as guts through judicious use of a sadistic, piercing octave pedal. Only ‘Serpens Cauda’ and the closing ‘Pantokrator’, twin slithers of immersive beatless dread akin to Zu’s recent work with Eugene Robinson, offer any respite from the pummel.

Zu’s music is still wildly inventive and damnably clever, but – unbelievably – this is its heaviest, most punishing manifestation yet. If it continues accumulating mass at this rate it’ll be a neutron star by 2030.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)




While the prospect of a new album, 18 years after the last, was absurdly exciting, even the most optimistic of Faith No More devotees must have approached it with a certain amount of anxiety. Reunion albums don’t exactly have an illustrious history. What if they’d lost it? What if they could no longer recreate that elusive magic?

The opening moments of Sol Invictus might therefore appear slightly anticlimactic. Rather than announcing their return with a bold statement of intent, the title track slinks and saunters in, all widescreen shimmer, intimate crooning and spare piano. It’s second track ‘Superhero’ that brings the metallic fire and spittle-flecked bluster you may have expected. Yet this disarming opening gambit sets the overall tone. While some tracks are as punishing and caustic as any FNM fan would wish, Sol Invictus is also characterised by a more restrained, cinematic character, which conveys greater emotional depth than the band’s younger, more cynical selves would ever have been able to muster. A spare, foreboding atmosphere, dotted through with acoustic guitars and pianos, gives the album an air of seasoned elegance – which only makes the furious bits more intense by comparison. The plentiful peaks are as good as anything they’ve ever done: the relentless, claustrophobic ‘Separation Anxiety’, driven by a vicious, instant-classic Gould bassline; ‘Cone of Shame’s transition from ominous swamp-blues to feral noise rock; ‘Rise of the Fall’s infectious patchwork genre-mash; sweet, sepia-toned closer ‘From the Dead’. Best of all is ‘Matador’, the massive climax, which is jaw-dropping in its scale and impact – ‘Just a Man’s scope and choral ascension meets ‘King for a Day’s multi-part structure and ‘Pristina’s emotional bruises, with several new twists along the way.

Stripped down to a focused, concise ten tracks, Sol Invictus makes for a beautifully balanced, varied and consistently impressive collection that far exceeds expectations. It’s a record made by a band not softened by time, but honed by experience. What it’s not is typical Faith No More – which, of course, makes it typically Faith No More.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine; also reviewed on The List:

Tuesday, 22 December 2015


I recently became aware of the minimalist constructed language Toki Pona, which consists of just 120 words. Now, while this is perhaps inadequate for the purposes of the self-consciously verbose – indeed, positively sesquipedalian – music writer, it does present an elegant solution for how to approach the tedious business of ranking one's obligatory end-of-year list. Y'see, Toki Pona's numbering system comprises just three terms: wan (one), tu (two) and mute (many).  

This almost perfectly reflects my own in-head ranking system. There's usually one clear winner, several second-tier favourites, and a whole bunch of things that were also brilliant but cannot be arranged into any kind of order.

Here are the many, the mute. All fantastic records. In no particular order. Tomorrow, the wan & tu



Bleak and full of despair, Will Haven’s latest adds a haunted, sorrowful air to their relentless bludgeon. The riffs here are absolutely monstrous, but weirdly ill-defined, fuzzy around the edges, like cirrus clouds made of cast iron.


Utterly dazzling Assyrian/Armenian death metal, bringing together Mesoptomian melodic influences and razorwire riffs. It’s a perfect synthesis, without a hint of gimmickry. Astoundingly adept, savage and innovative. One of the best metal albums of the year.


One-man DIY doom/black metal project, rendered utterly nauseating by the use of microtonal scales. Sounds like a recording of several bands slowly sinking into a swamp, being played back on a broken turntable. Uniquely horrible, in a brilliant sort of way.


One of the more indefinable and unsettling releases of the year – haunted location recordings, woozy beats, layers of fuzz and grime, alien skronk, clattering improv, folky riffs and caustic guitar noise. It’s like a radio half-immersed in honey in an Egyptian cafe, picking up two stations at once. I’ve no idea who these people are or what they’re trying to achieve, but I like it. A lot.


Bringing together Kavus Torabi’s ambitious prog ensemble’s two previous EPs (Dear Lord, No Deal and Clairvoyant Fortnight) and adding one new, drifting, nigh-ambient track, Home of the Newly Departed is likely to be familiar to existing fans. However, it does brazenly illustrate that, far from being stop-gap throwaways, this band’s EPs have been among their strongest work. At least four of these seven tracks – the urgent and ebullient ‘Pilot Her’, the good-natured rolling groove and fractured climax of ‘In a Foreign Way’, the Magma-esque stomp of ‘Prime of Our Decline’ and the thoroughly unhinged 14-minute modular monstrosity ‘HMS Washout’ – would surely dominate any semi-respectable Knifeworld top five.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Designed to be played simultaneously with 2013’s Far West, though I have never done so and it sounds great as a standalone entity. Entrancing sounds that take John Carpenter’s synth aesthetic, marry it to Maryanne Amacher’s head music and bounce sounds around your skull, or build beautiful drones packed with drama and romantic yearning. Another left turn from this inventive, ever-evolving and curiously emotional band, sadly and incongruously saddled with one of the worst, most crass and stupid names in the history of music.



Full disclosure: Jason is a friend and occasional collaborator, but that doesn’t mean I felt duty-bound to laud his latest album. On the contrary, Home World is undeniably appealing – a delightful collection of low-tech DIY electronica and virtuosic live percussion that’s just brimming with charm, verve and originality. Look out for a remix album in 2016.


After losing interest in LB after Hypermagic Mountain, Fantasy Empire picked me up by the scruff and dumped me back in front of Brian Gibson’s monstrous amp stack, soaking up the octave-jumping abuse. Nothing particularly new from camp Bolt, but it’s always a colossal pleasure to hear them at full force.


Probably one of my favourite Glasgow bands at the moment, another project from the ever-prolific Hamish Black. This is the band’s second album, recorded live in a day. Lean and nasty, it’s a short blast of really inventive, punishing and immediate noise rock/hardcore, with a constantly surprising rhythmic and melodic sensibility that will leg you up and steal your shoes.


The mad scientist of industrial doom, Tristan Shone has a unique approach to his craft – building an array of scratch-built noise-making machines in what one can only assume is a subterranean workshop filled with robotic bats. At its heart, Melk en Honing (with harrowing artwork from Black Sun’s Russell MacEwan) is a heavy, grimy work of cybernetic aggression, starkly impressive on its own bleak terms. But what makes Author & Punisher special is something that occasionally pushes through the mechanical filth like a weed through concrete – an unexpectedly lavish and poignant melodic sensibility: ‘Shame’ coats a bludgeoning trudge with incongruous beauty and layered harmonies, ‘Future Man’s yearning lines soar desperately over a tar-pit trawl, and ‘Void, Null, Alive’ climaxes in a surprisingly elegant choral mantra.  

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Two sides of long-form ritualistic, psychedelic trance/doom/drone from Finland. Low, slow, heavy, sensual and unashamedly portentuous, this ebbs and flows between looming ambience and planet-crushing riffs with deceptive ease.


Originally reviewed on The List:


Astonishingly, Guapo have now been at this heavy prog thing for 20 years. They’ve mutated considerably in that time, shedding people, gaining others, evolving from a two-piece to the current quartet – and they’ve also been pretty consistently brilliant. Like their 2004 opus Five Suns, Obscure Knowledge is a single, album-length composition divided into movements. However, curiously, the three tracks’ running times and overall structure almost exactly mirror their last album, History of the Visitation. Whether this signifies coincidence or deeper conceptual significance is moot, as the resultant album grooves, thunders, confounds and mesmerises in all the right ways. Driven inexorably onwards by James Sedwards’ serrated basslines and the deft, subtle drumming of Dave Smith, it gallops magnificently from big-riff bombast through cosmic mind-drift and lithe, nigh-funky strut to a climactic wall of noise-rock.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


A third outing from this Italian bass-and-drums duo. While 2013’s Opera was an impressively complex and thoroughly pulverising experience, as dense and heavy as it was disorienting, Motomonotono offers some measure of refinement. It’s still ridiculously energetic and powerful, but the emphasis has shifted slightly from bludgeoning, sculpted chaos to precision and repetition, with the pair locking into agile, trance-like offbeat rhythms. Luca Cavina’s bass has a more spidery, multi-layered tone this time around, with chorus and synth effects broadening his formerly brutish palette. Allied with drummer Paolo Mongardi’s lethal pinpoint polyrhythms, the results are remarkable and instantly appealing – complex but flowing, hypnotic, full of groove. Fans of Ruins and Zu will lap this up like thirsty dogs in a paddling pool.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Originally reviewed on The List:

Thursday, 1 January 2015

OF BABIES, BELLS & BLUES – a 2014 best-of thingy

2014 snuck up on me. I spent much of the year thinking it was quite a poor one for music. However, when compiling a list of aural goodnesses that have pleased me greatly, there were two or three times as many than in most years. My final list was nearly 70 albums long… in most years, I don’t even hear that many albums, let alone that many good ones.

Anyway, there follows my top 20, most of which is in no particular order. As we reach the top five, some rankings will come into play. Outside of this list, there are dozens of excellent albums, with particularly honourable mentions to Triptykon, The Cosmic Dead, RM Hubbert, Prescott, Godflesh, Thin Privilege, Innercity Ensemble, Christina Vantzou, Swans, The Unsemble, Sound of Yell…

Obake – Mutations

A second outing and a new lineup for Obake, with Porcupine Tree/Metallic Taste of Blood’s Colin Edwin taking over from now-departed Massimo Pupillo on bass. There’s little change in the band’s aesthetic though – planet-smashing mid-to-sloth-paced sludge, with occasional detours into pretty and/or eerie ambience providing some tonal contrast. However, this is on the whole vastly more focused and confident-sounding than its predecessor – bigger, tighter, harder (to list but three sexually suggestive adjectives). Aside from one weirdly aberrant bit of overly slick neo-psychedelic soft-prog/post-rock at the mid-point, this is a relentless and aggressively assured collection. Whereas the first album at times had the feel of experimental noise jams rooted in doom-metal tropes and textures, Mutations finds Obake blossoming into a sharp-fanged and gloriously brutal metallic unit with just enough experimental leanings to keep things unpredictable.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Nisennenmondai – N

Three tracks of extended, spiky, minimalist groove. Super-lean and scarily efficient. Most thrilling of all, it sounds like they took the choppy chukka-chukka guitar lick from ‘Bootylicious’ and constructed a whole album out of it. 

Tētēma – Geocidal

In his latest attempt to assuage a pathological fear of not making music, Mike Patton finds himself recruited by electroacoustic composer Anthony Pateras for this new duo. Seasoned Pattonites will hear elements of some of his more fringe projects here, from the unsettling swathes of Maldoror to the rude rhythms of General Patton and the brooding atmospheres of the soundtracks. But tētēma, largely conceived by Pateras, has a curiously moreish flavour all its own. Recorded in several different locations, it has the feel of a travelogue through a quasi-fictional land, rendered as bristling misinterpretations of traditional ritual, devotional music and forgotten noir cinema, taking in scenes of dystopian dread and modernist composers festering beneath mosquito nets. Pateras’ compositions span vast stylistic and emotional terrain, and Patton gleefully pushes his throat into painful new areas in response. Heavy on both beats and abstraction, it’s instantly accessible yet deeply strange and indefinable too.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

Can it be that Deerhoof have really been around for 20 years? Yes, it can. At first, their 13th album seems to consist of typical examples of their slightly more restrained and hugely welcoming, but still offbeat latterday aesthetic. But with ‘Doom’s mid-section wall of bristly guitar and the discordant stomp of ‘Last Fad’, the band’s wilder leanings begin to dominate. By the time we reach ‘Exit Only’s uber-fuzzy into-the-red garage-punk and ‘Big House Waltz’s dubstep-meets-Afropop reprisal of the riff from Sepultura’s ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, all rationality is lost in a giddy whirl of good-natured but raucous possibilities. It’s a gluttonous feast of beautiful and ridiculous and sweet and silly and outrageously clever ideas packed into 31 all-too-swift minutes. Can it be that Deerhoof have really delivered their best album 20 years into their existence? Well, just maybe.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Earth – Primitive and Deadly

Dylan Carlson and Adrienne Davies return with the eighth Earth (that’s difficult to say) album, sounding beefier and more aggressive than they have since the turning point of Hex. Still full of space and contemplation, but with a rockier, more aggressive edge. The vocal tracks (from Mark Lanegan and others) didn’t really work for me, but the instrumentals are among Earth’s finest.

Olga Bell – Krai

An enticing and unique melding of electronica, Eastern European/Russian folk music and post-rock, though far less precious and much more immediate than that genre-mash description might imply. Singular, fun and beautiful.

Slomatics – Estron

One of the best relentlessly heavy albums I’ve heard all year. Ugly, brutal riffs, dripping with foul ichor, complemented by incongruously spectral vocals. Gorgeous Moebius-style cover artwork, too.
Knifeworld – The Unravelling

In the five years since the last Knifeworld full-length, Kavus Torabi has hardly been idle, releasing two Knifeworld EPs, playing with Gong, Guapo and the Medieval Baebes, orchestrating the Exquisite Corpse Game project, running his label Believers Roast and hosting a prog-rock radio show with snooker champ Steve Davis. Somehow, he found time to record these eight lavish tracks, brimming with imagination. More concise and focused than 2009’s Buried Alone, this finds Torabi exploring bold new areas – like ‘The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown their Eyes’ eerie manual imitation of electronica, or the eerie abstraction of ‘This Room Was Once Alive’. Yet, for all its forays into way-out psychedelic prog curiousness – and there are many – at the heart of The Unravelling is Torabi’s warm and welcoming pop sensibility, which eases the unsuspecting listener through a theoretically imposing world of intricate time changes, sputtering horns and spiralling riffs.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Howie Reeve – We Are in Repair

Since the dissolution of his former outfit Tattie Toes, Howie Reeve has been pioneering the use of acoustic bass as a solo instrument. Although he’s an extraordinary player, this is no noodly, self-pleasuring wankfest. Rather, his songs are snare-tight, startlingly original compositions, rooted in post-punk, but much more exploratory and personal. A unique aesthetic, both nakedly intimate and giddily visceral, with lyrics crammed full of everyday yet profound observation.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Bad Aura – Bad Aura

Superbly greasy and sleazy Glaswegian noise-rock quartet, full of diseased groove and good-natured confrontation. One of the best live bands I saw all year.

Melvins – Hold it In

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God

Promotional gimmickry and false-leak shenanigans aside, this is a superbly upsetting collection from OMG, with barbed sounds, bantha-sized riffs and oppression to spare.
OOIOO – Gamel

As these words spill forth, dear reader, the sun is doing its best to bake any and all puny human flesh that falls beneath its gaze. And it turns out OOIOO’s Gamel, their first in five years, is an absolutely perfect soundtrack for a scorcher of a day. As you might guess from the album’s name, Yoshimi P-We and her psychedelic ritual/post-punk/trance-rock ensemble have turned their attention toward the traditional sounds of Bali for their fifth full-length release. Both in terms of composition and instrumentation, these 11 tracks draw heavily on the chiming, tinkling, rhythmically complex music of gamelan, and in doing so create something that fair sparkles with uplifting energy. They make for a gloriously bright and euphoric confection of glittering cross-rhythms, pulsing krautrock-style thrust and giddy vocal chants, with occasional bursts of splattershot guitar. The unmistakable citrusy fractal tang of Yoshimi’s day job as Boredoms drummer can be detected at times, but this is less monolithically pounding than their current incarnation, more protean, playful and fun. It’s beautifully euphoric and joyous, with an appealing lightness of touch, even fragile and delicate when it needs to be – the sound of liquid summer being piped directly into your lugholes.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Zeus! – Opera

Whether it’s the packaging, the name or the two intense-looking bearded Italian blokes, something about Zeus! suggests stoner sludge-doom. It is, then, a source of extreme and giddy delight to find that this band are far weirder and more interesting than all that. Theirs is a largely instrumental bass+ drums hyper-prog, its manic energy, mischievous sensibility and super-intricate composition most likely inspired by the Tatsuya Yoshida school of impossible musics, but with added caustic metallicisms redolent of Fantômas or classic-era Slayer. As an added treat, the titles are awash with delicious and terrible puns (of which the best/worst is opener ‘Lucy in the Sky with King Diamond’). As heavy as it is clever, as ridiculous as it is utterly, magnificently brilliant. 

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

Xylouris White – Goats

5.  Merkabah – Moloch

It only came to my attention via the Quietus’s end of year list, but Merkabah’s third album was an instant hit. Stunning, visceral noise rock with a heavy dose of King Crimson threading through its intricately interwoven physicality.

4.  Richard Pinhas & Oren Ambarchi – Tikkun

Tikkun […] brings the fire. While Pinhas and Ambarchi get the spine credit, they’re joined on these three tracks by Masami Akita, Duncan Pinhas, and twin drummers Eric Borelva and Joe Talia. Driven by an unrelentingly sexy 6/8 bassline, ‘Washington DC’ sets the tone, piling on layers of lavish noise and savage beats, while ‘Tokyo’ is steadier but more imposing. But closer ‘San Francisco’ is the peak, a torrent of drums and joyfully busy noise that achieves the kind of irresistible, ecstatic cosmic-psych solar flares of 21st-century Boredoms.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

3.  Music Blues – Things Haven’t Gone Well

Anyone who’s seen Harvey Milk live will know that bassist Stephen Tanner seems like the happiest man on Earth. Even through the sometimes overwhelming darkness of their music, he remains a radiant transmitter of bonhomie and good vibes. It’s therefore painful to hear that this an illusion. Recorded in the wake of personal tragedy, Things Haven’t Gone Well is a reflective and harrowing autobiography in instrumental form, the titles a timeline of his life from difficult birth to adult depression. These 12 tracks were originally ideas for a new Harvey Milk album, and it shows. It’s the sludgiest, dirgiest moments of Courtesy and Goodwill or My Love…, minus Creston Spiers’ ursine howl, plus an ocean of despair. However, in true perverse Harvey Milk fashion, there’s potent beauty in there too – as much as ‘It’s Not Going to Get Better’ could crush tanks, it’s soulful, yearning and painfully human too. On the face of it, Music Blues seems like a poor name for a project – so vague and bland as to be meaningless. Yet in context, it makes perfect sense. This is not blues as genre, but as simple, honest, direct statement. A stunning piece of work, as viscerally invincible as it is emotionally vulnerable.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)

2.  Richard Dawson – Nothing Important

1.  Babymetal – Babymetal

They’ve been unavoidable in 2014, for good reasons or ill, drawing equal amounts of adoration and ire, but I for one bloody love Babymetal. Their debut has been, by some margin, my most-played album of 2014.  

Like most people, I first encountered them via ‘Gimme Choko!’. Given my fondness for brutal metal, cheesy pop and many aspects of Japanese culture, they seemed to be tailor-made for me. However, had the fairly silly ‘Gimme Choko’ been entirely representative of Babymetal, that might have been the end of my affinity. Luckily, there’s a lot more to them than singing about chocolate. They transcend novelty and gimmickry. Their debut album is a whirlwind exploration of myriad metal styles, from death, thrash and punk to power and prog, djent, industrial and nu-. And it’s all done with remarkable conviction and intensity (as you’d expect, given that the backing band/songwriting team includes Takeshi Ueda of Mad Capsule Markets). 

The juxtaposition of actually really-bloody-good and super-heavy metal tracks with ultra-sweet and poppy female vocals is supremely exciting. I generally prefer female voices over male, and the uber-macho vocals on ‘proper’ metal can be a bit wearing. So this is made for me. It has an element of extreme tonal contrast that’s really compelling and addictive – it’s the salted caramel of music. Aside from one track that’s a little too close for comfort to Limp Bizkit, the entire album is really solid. It’s surprisingly diverse too, each track with its own distinct identity. Highlights abound, but here are the top three: ‘Megitsune’, which combines more traditional Japanese music with face-booting riffs, and even includes a heavy breakdown based on the old tune ‘Sakura’ (also referenced by Martin Denny and Bon Jovi, as it happens); the arty, obtuse ‘Akumu No Rinbukyoku’, which sounds like the hybrid of Bjork and Meshuggah that has previously only existed in my dreams; and ‘Akatsuki’, an unbelievably sweet and gorgeous ballad offset by full-force metal assault. When Su-Metal sings that sublime chorus backed by all the heavy metal thunder you could ask for… goosebumps the size of golf balls. Pure bloody pop/metal genius.