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:

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