Book review: Ian Winwood – Bodies: Life And Death In Music
Kerrang! writer Ian Winwood examines the failures of the music industry with startling candour…
Don't get out the calendar and check precisely, but we're pretty much exactly halfway through the year right now, which seems like the perfect opportunity to look back on the past six months of music. It's safe to say that it's been a busy year so far, with albums postponed from 2020 seeing the light of day, plus many bands taking the free time afforded by lockdown to work on new material.
Here, we we present the seventeen best albums from 2021 so far. From pop-punk to death metal to synthwave to post-hardcore, there's something here for everyone. Get stuck in and jam something new for once.
We said: "For the uninitiated, a close sonic comparison can be drawn with fellow Swedes and recent tourmates Ghost. Where Tobias Forge and his ghouls tend to fully ham it up, though, playing to their anticlerical aesthetic and pantomime live presentation, Tribulation more consistently go for the throat. If the ragged ravenousness of 2015’s The Children Of The Night and the more theatrically vampiric tendencies of 2018’s Down Below showcased equally brilliant sides to their sound, WTGBS plots its course nimbly between the two, and feels all the more deliciously dynamic for it."
We said: "Through all this existential and unremitting bleakness, the music is vital and vibrant, using a broader palette and brighter colours than they’ve ever used before. A decade ago, the melodic departure of The Here And Now – an album that hasn’t aged at all badly despite their virtual disowning of it – split fans down the middle. For Those That Wish To Exist is far bolder in scope and execution. Much of it is as far from that early technical metalcore as Bring Me The Horizon have strayed from their own deathcore beginnings. You can feel the message boards melting already, but there’s a sense of creative intent at play here that suggests Architects won’t pull back from this one, even if some fans fail to embrace the change."
We said: "There’s catharsis and darkness, but they are of the most forward-looking variety, fringed at times with something approaching hopeful joy. In a time where Evanescence’s usual emotional touch could easily speak to feelings of isolation, fear, confusion, hopelessness, loss and fragility, The Bitter Truth gets on that frequency and interrupts it. It's not an album that lies and tells you everything is fine, but reminds that, even in the darkest points of life, things do and will get better. And in another 10 years if they haven't, Amy Lee will doubtless have a comforting, ambitious, emotionally articulate way to navigate that as well."
We said: "The Greatest Mistake Of My Life is imbued with so much perspective for an album made by men so young. And yet for all the mistakes they’ve made and lessons they’ve learned, Holding Absence have emerged from it all, not quite unscathed, but somehow unjaded, on a mission to show others that feeling and failing are wholly acceptable and necessary. What’s more, with this second album, they've shown what putting your best foot forward sounds like, taking what you’ve learned, bettering themselves, and vaulting closer to their dream. These smalltown boys have big dreams and tunes to match."
We said: "After three decades and change, Cannibal Corpse have become the Motörhead of death metal – naturally reliable, ever in the zone, still louder and heavier than any of the bands who followed them. And like Motörhead as they reached a certain number of albums, Violence Unimagined sounds exactly as you imagine it will, but still surprises in just how much Cannibal Corpse have left in the tank. Meet the new murderous lunatic, same as the old murderous lunatic."
We said: "Fortitude sounds like the album that could propel Gojira the rest of the way to the top. They’re no strangers to melodies and hooks, but they’ve never crafted anything quite like this before. Combining the comparatively direct approach of The Way Of All Flesh with the more expansive atmospherics of last album Magma then throwing in a few complete curveballs, this is the most immediate yet surprising full-length they’ve produced to date."
We said: "Typhoons is an album that, rather than leaning in to the times in which it was created, rather than yearning for a mythical time when COVID’s over, is already in a taxi with its mates. There’s the old Oscar Wilde line that we’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Truly, so confident and perfectly measured are Royal Blood here that, while definitely focused on the stars, they sound like they never noticed the gutter was there in the first place. It's rock'n'roll lit up by a disco ball, and has there ever been a time when we've needed that more?"
We said: "Van Weezer is not really a metal album, at least not in the way your average Gojira fan would see it. True, as with 2002’s Maladroit, there are immense riffs, squealing solos and nods to Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, KISS and Metallica. But rather than merely pastiche the shiny ’80s riffola they grew up on, Weezer use hard rock as fancy dress, rather than their entire identity. Metal is the AAA pass that allows them to return to the sort of irresistible power pop songwriting that every Weezer fan, past or present, should be able to relate to."
We said: "As ever, Awsten's personality is at the core of Waterparks’ music. From the headfuck attitude of LIKE IT, to the hypnotic Snow Globe, to the gorgeously understated The Secret Life Of Me and the warmth of album highlight American Graffiti, this is a record just as colourful as its creator’s hair (which is handy). And while rapping about Bill Gates, Elon Musk, The Office’s Michael Scott and members of One Direction in closer See You In The Future might prove one step too far for some, for everyone else it’s all just a part of the ride."
We said: "Nothing screams ‘too long in lockdown’ quite like a solo black metal album themed around the video game Skyrim. Noctule is a new project from Svalbard singer/guitarist Serena Cherry, and it certainly makes an impression. On paper the idea may seem like the musical equivalent of cutting your own hair out of sheer boredom, but put into practice it not only works brilliantly, but is at times quite sublime."
We said: "A strange ambience permeates these tracks, imbuing them with a darkness that feels genuinely ominous and oppressive. This uncanny quality even extends to the artwork, eschewing the scantily-clad ladies and VHS cover imagery of his early releases in favour of a partially-obscured view of a ritual dance bathed in eerie light; you want to know what’s going on, but can’t help feeling that taking a closer look might not end well."
We said: "Musically they stick largely to their well-honed melodic hardcore. That means plenty of galloping bass runs and fast-paced verses, with huge anthemic choruses blooming like mushroom clouds. There’s a melodic sheen with just enough grit to prevent things from sounding too polished and there’s also the odd deviation. The lyrically nihilistic Sudden Urge borrows modern rock chops that could almost be the Foo Fighters, while the title-track sounds like an electrified campfire sing-along. Despite its portentous subject matter, Sooner Or Later preaches its environmental message via a superbly poppy hook that swings with pure, unfettered, rebellious joy. The biggest departure, though, is the string-embellished acoustic ballad Forfeit, which demonstrates unequivocally that they’re not entirely bound by their own established format."
We said: "The album’s larger-than-life tendencies are custom-tooled with a theatricality to serve Beartooth on ever-grander stages. There are blasts of airy euphoria cutting through the chaos even on the most metallic bangers like Devastation and Hell Of It. And Caleb certainly hasn’t forgotten his way around a chorus, with skyscraping pop-rock bangers I Won’t Give Up and The Past Is Dead packing enough exuberant ‘woah-oh’s and fists-in-the-air sing-alongs to light up arenas around the world."
We said: "While this is certainly different from anything they have released previously, it is unmistakably an Amenra album – they’ve lost none of their razor sharp edge and are every bit as crushingly oppressive as they’ve always been. However, De Doorn has allowed for them to explore a much wider range of the emotional spectrum that their music is skilfully able to express and, as such, breaks down the boundaries that they have spent decades expanding on and pushing the limits of."
We said: "This ability to transform hard-bitten experience into joyous escapism wouldn’t work if, musically, proceedings weren’t compelling. Thankfully they are because they’re teeming with the best characteristics of other genres – the pace of pop-punk, the braggadocio of rap – and festooned with loveable idiosyncrasies (including what sounds like a sample from the old school Donkey Kong game during I Know Something)."
We said: "Ultimately, from its Tolkienesque title and artwork to outlandish tracks like Caravel (named after a type of Portuguese Conquistador’s ship) and The Barbarians, The Battle At Garden’s Gate demands the sort of uncynical approach from before the internet opened Pandora’s Box. Of course Greta Van Fleet aren’t offering anything innovative or original, and much of their appeal surely comes from listeners’ appetite for simpler times of players plugging in and rocking out which will never truly be rekindled. Hand yourself over to a psychedelic song of praise like Trip The Light Fantastic, though, or fall into The Weight Of Dreams’ fathomless nine minutes, and this legitimately might be the next best thing."
We said: "On No Son Of Mine and Holding Poison, the tempo does pick up, and Dave does some shouting on Cloudspotter, but things never topple into anything that’ll give you beer hair. But what this album is, it isn’t really about those moments. Instead, it’s an exhibition of just what a simply, fundamentally good band Foo Fighters are, and how skilled with a tune and a melody Dave Grohl is. You couldn’t call it stripped back as such, but its less hectic nature throws things into slightly sharper focus."
Kerrang! writer Ian Winwood examines the failures of the music industry with startling candour…
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