Our chief reviewer John brings you his round-up of the past year
2016: A Horrible Anus Of A Year?
Well then. 2016. The history books will read thus: “2016 was a bag of shite”.
The rise of the alt-right. Growing global tensions. Brexit. “The Donald”. A plethora of high profile celebrity deaths. The continued popularity of “Mrs Brown’s Boys”. And, perhaps worst of all, the Spice Girls reuniting as a three piece (without the only talented one, but thankfully also without the useless one).
But, it’s not all been doom and gloom. So here, in a (fairly sizeable) nutshell, I present my cut out and keep guide to “What was not shite about 2016”.
TOP TEN EPs OF 2016
10: Cerberus Unchained – Di Inferi
Dark, heavy and blackened to a crisp, an impressive debut from Hertfordshire death combo Cerberus Unchained.
STAND OUT TRACK: The Monstrosity Beneath The Sea
9: Target:Renegades – Gallows Humour
How exactly do you follow up one of the best releases of 2015? By releasing something even better in 2016. The band allow the music to flow and shape their trademark sound to perfection.
STAND OUT TRACK: I Concede
8: Line Of Fire – Purple Sky
Introducing their new drummer Ste Dudley into the fold with one new track and re-recorded versions of two previously released tunes. The band have never sounded better, and the new recording of ‘Wrong Side Of The Track’ manages the almost impossible and makes a magnificent song even better.
STAND OUT TRACK: Wrong Side Of The Track. The best song that Lynyrd Skynyrd never wrote.
7: Impavidus – Impavidus
High quality first offering from North West noisesters. Heavy, brooding, melodic and utterly essential.
STAND OUT TRACK: Black Mirror
6: Nycosia – Pariah
Tech metal at it’s very best, this has to be heard to believed. A young band who are making big waves, and have a very bright future ahead of them.
STAND OUT TRACK: Mind Of A Hermit
5: Die No More – Destruction Complete
Cumbrian thrashers follow up their ‘Elected Evil’ album with four slices of pure metal frenzy.
STAND OUT TRACK: Destruction Complete
4: Donkerkarnuffel – The Omen
After a long gestation period, those loveable zombie clowns unleash a near masterpiece, based around the movies of the same name. Hail Donko.
STAND OUT TRACK: None – this should always be enjoyed in full.
3: Outright Resistance – Me Vs I
Channeling all their inner rage, Me Vs I is angry, aggressive, powerful and deeply moving. A band who are not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
STAND OUT TRACK: Gee, Dyspohoria – an anthem for the LGBT community.
2: I Saw The World Burn – Barren
It’s been quite a year for this ecletic four piece, and Barren is full to the brim with angry metal goodness, and sees the band take another massive leap towards the big time.
STAND OUT TRACK: Species Obsolete – there is a good reason the video spent around 6 weeks on rotation on Scuzz TV
1: Conjurer – I
Has to be heard to be believed. Sheer doom metal perfection.
STAND OUT TRACK: Frail
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2016
10: Fury – Lost In Space
If you yearn for the old school Maiden sound, this is definitely the album for you.
STAND OUT TRACK: Sons Of War
9: Master Charger – Eroding Empires
Fuzzed up stoner metal with quality oozing through its blackened veins.
STAND OUT TRACK: In Hells Grip
8: Ballsdeep – …and on the Eighth Day
Stoke based noise monkeys deliver their finest work to date. Heavier than a sumo wrestling convention and with more grooves than the output of a vinyl pressing plant.
STAND OUT TRACK: Way Misguided
7: Bull-Riff Stampede – Enraging The Beast
No frills thrash in its purest form. If this doesn’t get your head banging then you may well have gone deaf.
STAND OUT TRACK: Devoid Of Pretension
6: Conan – Revengeance
Quite possibly the heaviest album you will hear all year. Proof that speed isn’t everything. A pure unadulterated aural assault.
STAND OUT TRACK: Earthenguard
5: Beholder – Reflections
Refining their sound to wonderous effect, the midlands metal behemoths take themselves to dizzying new heights.
STAND OUT TRACK: Speak To Me
4: Suicidal Tendencies – World Gone Mad
Yet another solid addition to the back catalogue of a band who never got the recognition they deserved. With more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing, ST prove that they are still cyco after all these years.
STAND OUT TRACK: Get Your Fight On!
3: Footprints In The Custard – The Descent Of Decency
Killer musicianship combines with insanely hilarious songwriting to brillilant effect. The five years between albums have clearly been well spent, as this slab of comically addictive thrash proves.
STAND OUT TRACK: Merlin In Berlin – the band save the best for last with a prog metal epic, telling the tale of the brave wizard Merlin being sent forward in time to battle Hitler and the Third Reich. Utterly genius insanity.
2: Twisted Illusion – Temple Of Artifice
Not a single second of the album’s running time is wasted. With an underlying narrative based around the impact of technology and social media on society running through the 7 tracks, it is a remarkable piece of work, with outstanding musicianship from all involved and more hooks than a cenobite convention.
STAND OUT TRACK: Imitate Me Part 2
1: Obzidian – Obliteration Process
From the moment you start to listen, the sense that you are in the presence of something very special indeed starts to grow. Over the course of the 12 tracks, Obzidian mould a number of influences into one perfect progressive thrash whole. Killer riffs, flawless production and genuine heart, they effortlessly blend styles and transcend genre to blistering effect. A worthy recipient of my album of the year.
STAND OUT TRACK: Like Maggots They Infest. A dark, heavy and beautifully crafted instrumental.
TOP THREE MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2016
3: Twisted Illusion – Online and In Line
Of the many lyric videos created by Very Metal Art this year, none are quite so perfect at conveying the message of the song through a series of carefully chosen images.
2: Footprints In The Custard – Party Metal
Getting drunk and listening to metal with your mates. What could be better? Nothing, as proven by both the song and the lunacy based video. There ain’t no party like a Footprints Party.
1: Twisted Illusion – Apocalypse, LOL
Yes, them again. With a light hearted video that highlights the negative influences of mobile technology on our social interactions. Gloriously silly. Oh, and to paraphrase ‘Aliens’ – “Somebody wake up Jess”….
BEST ARTWORK OF 2016
If there is one thing that metal does head and shoulders above the rest, it is the album art. Lets face it – trying to imagine Iron Maiden without Eddie would be as unthinkable as sitting through a Michael McIntyre live show without getting the urge to go on a killing spree.
So, in honour of this, the top 5 pieces of cover art of the year:
5: I Saw The World Burn – Barren (Very Metal Art)
A post apocalyptic vision of destruction.
4: Twisted Illusion – Temple Of Artifice (Very Metal Art)
A dystopian nightmare of a world driven to the edge as technology kills individuality.
3: Donkerkarnuffel – The Omen (Sean Keatley)
Donko returns, and, in his new antichrist like persona, he’s more unsettlingly evil than ever.
2: Footprints In The Custard – The Descent Of Decency (Nos4a2 Design)
Riffing on Stephen King’s Dark Tower mythos, who can resist imagining the backstory of the Pickleweasel’s quest to reach the knobelisk? Just don’t show your nan….
1: Fury – Lost In Space (Very Metal Art)
Channelling the best of Derek Riggs’ work for Maiden, this is an absolute sci-fi themed masterpiece. Brilliant attention to detail, which continues on the back cover. Extra nerd points to be gained by recognising all the destinations on the departures board. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, where else would you find a Cyber Chris Kamara? Genius.
TOP THREE LIVE SHOWS OF 2016
3: I Saw The World Burn – Metal 2 The Masses Final, Grand Central
While the guest slot on the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock was, in every possible way, better than this, there was a definite “I was there” vibe as the announcement was made, and the raucous celebrations began. Playing a flawless set to a partisan crowd, to say that they nailed it is an understatement. And Simon Hall clearly agreed!
2: Twisted Illusion – The Ruby Lounge, Manchester
With support acts of the calibre of Faith In Glory, The Working Man, Vice and Die No More, it’s fair to say that a headline band has to be at the absolute top of their game.
Luckily, Twisted Illusion certainly were. With a set mostly comprising tracks from their outstanding second album ‘Temple Of Artifice’, plus one from ‘Calm The Dark’ and a Rush cover for good measure, the band pulled out all the stops to deliver a blistering set, interspersed with some good banter between the band and the crowd. Sheer prog rock perfection.
1: Footprints In The Custard – New Blood Stage, Bloodstock Open Air
Possibly the most surreal experience of the year, if not my entire gig going life. Earlier in the year, I had taken to social media daily, to encourage people to vote for Footprints In The Custard in the Bloodstock video competition. It was just a bit of fun, and a chance to try and bring the delights of the band to a wider audience. We all knew, deep down, there was no way they could win.
But, if 2016 has proved anything, it is that the world of voting has gone insane. And so, late on a Sunday afternoon, Footprints In The Custard took to the New Blood Stage. It’s probably fair to say that no other band that weekend had a crowd wielding purple and green dildo swords, or enjoyed the sight of crowd surfers in a paddling pool. And the most surreal part of all was turning round during their cover of a metal classic (no spoilers for those who have never seen them), to see that, not only was the tent full to capacity, but that there were a large number of people crowded outside the tent, trying to get a glimpse of the unique brand of lunacy on show. As “I was there” moments go, this could well be my number 1!
Quite simply unforgettable.
DISCOVERY OF 2016
Having already received a few mentions in this round up, no band has had quite the same impact on me this year than Twisted Illusion.
‘Temple Of Artifice’ had me hooked from the very beginning, and has been listened to at least several times every week since I bought it. With a major line up change towards the end of the year, and a new album on the horizon, hopefully the band can keep up the momentum and move on to bigger things.
VIDEOGAME OF THE YEAR
Uncharted 4 – A Thief’s End
Quite simply, the perfect swansong for Nathan Drake. Building on and improving everything that has gone before in the series, and featuring engaging gameplay, outstanding set pieces and an emotionally involving storyline, Uncharted 4 is not only the game that all PS4 owners need in their collection, but is actually worth buying the console for just to experience it. So, raise your glasses to Naughty Dog, and here’s hoping they can raise the bar even further with the recently announced ‘The Last Of Us II’.
MOVIE OF THE YEAR
There have been a number of quality releases in 2016, but for me, the movie of the year is a dead heat.
Until this very week, the award would have gone to the snarky, sarcastic comic book movie subversity of Deadpool. Violent, profane, and gloriously, stupidly tongue in cheek, it was an absolute blast from start to finish.
But then a certain little sci-fi franchise happened….
Without going into too much detail, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the Star Wars movie I’ve been waiting for since 1983.
Good as “The Force Awakens” was, “Rogue One” obliterates it on every conceivable level.
Telling the story of how the rebels came into possession of the Death Star plans in the original Star Wars, and possessing a level of emotional engagement seldom seen in the movies to date, it breathes new life into the franchise, while having enough nods to the original trilogy to satisfy even the most fervent fans.
In the humble opinion of myself, the best Star Wars movie since Empire, featuring the best battle sequence to be found in any of the movies. Yes. That’s right. The battle of Scariff even outdoes the classic Hoth battle. Has to be seen to be believed.
ONES TO WATCH IN 2017 (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!)
Faith In Glory
Raised By Owls
Tides Of Sulfur
Pray U Prey
Uprising Festival (Leicester)
So, there you have it. 2016 wasn’t all bad, was it.
Love and best wishes to everyone out there. Let’s work together to make 2017 even better. We’ll try and ignore the Spice Girls…