I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.Continue reading
Entering London and the musical heartbeat of Camden, it’s clear that Friday night hasn’t taken full effect yet, in the twilight moments of rush hour traffic, the hubbub outside Camden Town station breathes quiet. Overcast skies threaten ahead, but it stays dry for now. A perfect, ominous climate for the music that awaited around the corner.
I enter the Underworld only a few minutes after Belgium’s Mother take the stage, only after security nearly forgets to hand my ticket back over. There’s some inaudible whispering every once in a while, but there’s a constant ebb and flow of sludge-soaked noise, with terrifying roars tearing through frenzied and impactful guitarwork. Pace switches often, looping numerous layers of guitar, building melodies inside the unstoppable tides to what was a fascinating narrative. The trio ends on a small section of finely pronounced ambience and tranquility, and quell what was a raucous storm for twenty or so minutes. The early show did harm the performance admittedly, but they were utterly mesmerising from beginning to end. In the right circumstances, I’m sure this performance would crush every venue they set foot in. Out of the 10 or so people here, they absolutely made a fan out of me.
Conversely, there’s nothing pretty about Wren, and thankfully the Underworld starts to fill as they take the stage. Being descendants of the unstoppable Holy Roar records, ought to give you some indication of what was about to transpire. Ambient dissonance is instead transitioned into half an hour of primal intensity; an avalanche of concrete-pounding, bloody-knuckled riffs and nerve-shredding screams seemingly played to test limits of ear drums endurance. Imagine your loved ones being cast under the throes of perdition, and that drifts somewhere close to the staggering show of strength on display. Only dulling drones and sharp sustains broke the unrelenting nature of their performance. Although marred by some minute annoyances by mildly inattentive tech crew, their Torche on steroids-inspired onslaught is received well by those desperately trying not to be flattened.
Copenhagen’s Town Portal follows, only then realisation setting in the international flavour of this night, and the most controlled noise barrage yet is what emerges. Magistrates of math-tinged dynamic instrumentals, there’s moments of melodic magic and deeply gratifying groove over compelling syncopated beats which the brain struggled to absorb whether it was truly 4/4 or not, but their own technical intricacies united for some monstrous beatdowns that made obvious why they were on the bill. They were also the first band to engage the crowd thus far, that fabled endearing Scandinavian hospitality shining through their laser-focused performance. However you sought to define or catergorise this masterful performance, which physical viewing made mandatory to capture the real extent of their craft, you couldn’t peel yourself away.
You could somewhat ponder whether we were going to get our first glimpse of new music since 2015, teasing being in the studio at the beginning of the year. Regardless if that question were to be answered, Kowloon Walled City casually finish setting up, and proceed to leather and unequivocally eviscerate all onlookers with their meditated, sludge-submerged, post-hardcore dirges. At any point in their hour-long tenure, you could never tell if the Underworld felt mere moments away from collapse, the magnitude of force simply incalculable from Jon and Scott’s two-pronged guitar attack and Ian’s impossibly dense bass tone. Their Grievances-era tracks sting salient, the latter part of Your Best Years nearing driving me to tears, and the Container Ships tracks, comprising over half the setlist, rile up the crowd, the visceral 50s Dad and Wrong Side of History in particular erupting with a ferocity I’ve seen few live bands compete with. They also drag up Diabetic Feet from their now oft overlooked debut, and that apocalyptic bass grumble at the inset was the closest the Underworld came to devolving into anarchy. And intentional or not, those ravenous few stood beside me beckoned them back for a particularly bone-rattling rendition of Cornerstone before finally departing the stage. Kowloon Walled City just compose astonishing requiems, coursing with the emotional disparity of seething catharsis and agonising loss, that as their music evolves, stretches further and further untouchable.
While perhaps a fraction less as triumphant as their UK debut in 2016, co-headlining with Minsk, they sure as hell solidify their status to stride as one of the best bands on the planet, not just on record, but in a live environment, comfortably.
You Don’t Have Cancer
Wrong Side Of History
Your Best Years
The Pressure Keeps Me Alive
KOWLOON WALLED CITY
In popular cultural semiotics, the phrase ‘ the C-word,’ we all widely acknowledge refers to the often belligerent horrors of cancer. A word that strikes fear, dread and distress into the hearts of those directly and indirectly affected. The disease is now so commonplace, it is impossible to go through your lifetime without knowing someone who has been affected by it. Thankfully, due to the wonders of modern medical science, cancer is now no longer a death sentence, and more and more people everyday can say they are a survivor. Musicians especially seem to be having more and more luck winning their respective fights. Iain Gorrie, of Bristol emo brigade Our Nameless Boy, is among those battling back from life-threatening progression of the disease. Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015, and starting a lengthy chemotherapy cycle, alongside surgical procedures, Iain finally reached a stage where he felt well enough and strong enough to begin writing new music in earnest, the quartet announcing a new EP in Spring of this year, after several away. Titled ‘Tomorrow I’ll Be Scared Again,’ it plays not only into the ongoing worry of not knowing if you could wake up, but into the personal anxieties and adversities of the wider world we live in too. The single All It Is announced from the EP, serves as an intense aural and visual narrative of Iain’s recovery from his chemotherapy.
His vocals, sounding weary and with a degree of frailty, tell of how his treatment has caused a series of diversions in his life and how unwell it made him feel, whilst urgent, melodic alternate picking lay behind his tale’s opening. Short after we’re treated to a brief tease of drums and guitar in unison, those four snare pounds and fiery strums, lighting the fuse of anticipation towards its chorus, but not before all instruments make an entrance and tighten the pressure up that much more. A pause for breath proceeds what doesn’t come across as quite an explosion, but more an emphatic expulsion of energy, strings and skins colliding together, to add prominence to the show of positivity that Iain can conquer his cancer. With production stripped down to its barest bones, the chorus feels that much more heartfelt and encouraging for those still watching a loved one persevere in their own respective battle. Rapid snare taps keep pace and intensity in a high gear with the melodic picking returning to soundtrack the story, the tribulations of chemotherapy initially being somewhat lonesome, but allowing him to return to be the person he once was. This verse neatly ties into the track’s greatest display of strength; a bridge of unclean, near-screamed vocals backed by the punch of snares, and the occasional slam of chords, the rawness, and unbridled emotion of this moment acting as a switch, the pivotal event in Iain’s fight back and his wellbeing close to normal again. The time-lapse and series of photos past afterwards, synced to the music in the video only add to the gravitas of this bridge, with his hair returning in its duration, and watching a young boy grow up in a matter of seconds, a poignant device for anyone with lasting memories of their friends, or children. Our Nameless Boy have transformed a harrowing situation into a memorable message of strong inner resolve, and optimism in a time where hope can so quickly dwindle. Minimalist, melodic at the right times, and a masterstroke of art in a sonic and screen-based space, this Bristol quartet deserve a hero’s welcome back to the UK music scene.
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As the world begins to stir, gently putting the gears back into production, and steadily adjusting weary eyes to the bright new horizon of 2019 (I mean, it probably won’t be that different, other than some cases of lingering hangovers, apparent nationwide incense about a vegan sausage roll, and more than likely international condemnation of whatever Donald Trump does next), we at least have a period longer to contemplate how good a year of music 2018 really did provide us with. However the longer it took to mull over how a good year of music it was, the more frustrating it became to whittle down and distil the ten best. It’s very safe to say EVERY album about to be mentioned was in contention for a top ten position. Tantrums happened and tears were nearly shed. An iron resolve and persistence eventually paid off, and in the settling dust, lay the final ten chosen to represent the best of 2018. Just one of them became the victor and declared ‘the undisputed favourite.’ Continue reading
On February 4, 2001 (though broadcasting events 1,000 years in the future), Commander Zapp Branningan of the starship Nimbus suggests piloting Le Palm d’Orbit, a floating restaurant in space that was evacuated moments before as a result of a disastrous karaoke session. Though believing he can commandeer any vessel built, he shortly crashes the restaurant afterwards onto a nearby planet. In the ensuing descent, he curses, ‘You win again, gravity!’ right as the restaurant enters the planet’s atmosphere. Stay with me here. On Halloween the following year, five young gentlemen from Ontario released their self-titled debut album, proclaiming their sound to be ‘Catholic girls in the middle of a knife fight.’ They went on to become one of the most influential voices in post-hardcore and are still often referred to as The Only Band Ever, despite uncertainty surrounding whether they will make new music together. Still following? Fast forward four years to Halloween of 2006, and Meshuggah re-release Nothing, completely remastered and re-recorded with 8-string guitars, of which its all-conquering polyrhythmic riff stagger and use of then recent technical innovations, arguably became the catalyst for the tech metal explosion towards the close of the decade. Understanding the link between a Futurama quote, Alexisonfire, and the advent of tech metal, is crucial to the raison d’être of these five gentlemen from Windsor, who share the same name of the aforementioned quote. And if the cohesion of sublime melodic hardcore and infallible metallic groove is anything to go by, then You Win Again Gravity are absolutely a band you need to be excited about.
Though happily being a presence on the UK live scene for a number of years, their work rate suddenly amped up with 2016’s three track EP What’s Left Of The Distance, which lends its laser-focused trio of punchy, nautically deep, progressive hardcore hits to the much larger Anonymity released late last year. Seamless is among the latest of the band’s studio output, refining their already killer formula, while lending more volume to some of their broader influences. First filtered through lo-fi radio, Seamless’ core hook broadcasts to the listener, drawing on those tech-metal leanings of theirs and playing a technically simple but astonishingly addictive pattern of notes that requires extra thick bleach to scrub free from. Not to mention a drum performance that is certainly a technical marvel. Bursting through into full stereo moments later, the third guitar produces a more ambient overtone that gracefully blankets atop an already captivating opening sequence and quite frankly, they could’ve still made as stellar a song staying within these boundaries. Yet the progressive dynamic of You Win Again Gravity turns everything they touch into an immersive musical narrative. That triumphant tone mellows, giving all guitars an ambient piece to play, and room for Jack Jennings’ entrancing vocal talents to perform poetry, on the everyday pantomime that is life and trying to find the one. Cleverly and carefully placed too, are soothing secondary vocal harmonies with Jack’s own melodic delivery that although subtle in execution, accentuate so much more passion and nuance in the meanings of every word. The chorus soon storms in, unifying all instruments in a steady headbang, complete with gang shouts and volatile potential to create chaos in a larger live environment, given the breathing space. Call it a breakdown if you will. In the truest of rollercoaster fashions, the mood continues to switch between a calming recital and a tidal wave of emotion, verging on fury at points, setting up for a far greater instrumental pummeling near the climax. Time signatures are thrown around with reckless abandon and vocals once harmonious, become hair-raising growls seemingly fuelled by bitter contempt, the combination of which comes off as the musical equivalent of a descent into madness. The bombardment of riffs comes to a crawl, tension soaring like invigorating light dispelling all previous negativity, and we find ourselves back at the opening sequence, as if it were all a lingering thought in our imaginations.
Make no mistake, You Win Again Gravity are a thinking man’s hardcore unit, but their finesse and songwriting ability are phenomenal, so much so that listener experience is mandatory to even grasp at how talented these guys are. Anonymity will get them on the track to success at last, as no doubt what else they have to offer the UK hardcore and metal scenes remains just as exciting a prospect. After all, they still have yet to release a full-length album, but in their wealth of EPs, lies one of the UK’s best unsigned bands hands down.
I once wrote a lot shorter exposé on these fine gentlemen if you want a TL;DR version of You Win Again Gravity. It might actually be better than this piece. Might. Anyway, I must insist you watch the video of Seamless, as it may be the funniest music video produced in years. They have all their material on Bandcamp, as well as all respectable music retailers, and they’re even on the bill of UK Tech Metal Fest this year, fancy that.
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I’ll be among the first to admit that 2017 is now a fading memory in long and short terms of immediate recollection. After all, we’ve reached a quarter of the year in already and only now do I find myself reflecting on and scrutinising the year past, since coming to terms with my current situation. Of which I feel is moving in a more positive direction. That said, while my own personal presence took a negative slant in the seventeenth year of the new millennium, musically, there was such a creative surge of magnificence which resulted in many, many excellent albums being released. Also one such reason for this list being delayed as it is. So, with ever-so-slightly wistful eyes, The Soundshark casts its spotlight on my ten favourite albums released in 2017, and for your listening indulgence:
This has been a moment years in the making. A moment arguably in the making since the 31st October 2013. The date when Dye The Flux released their first EP ‘SHARK!’ to a room of 50+ people at the University of Surrey. A moment so vivid it shall no doubt live on in my memories. But this is not about living in memories, Dye The Flux have always been all about looking forward, hence why since the release of their terrific debut EP, they were already laying the groundwork for the next release. A release that experienced multiple complications before it reached this point. While quickly reaching the upper echelons of Guildford’s incomparably diverse live scene, an unfortunate wrist injury to their bassist, backing vocalist, and founding member Ieuan Horgan took them out of performing, and almost performing together again. Tasked with either his replacement or calling it a day, the boys instead went in separate directions, waiting out a year’s gruelling rehabilitation, of which a complete recovery was eventually made.
Finally returning to the stage with new material in hand, two years since their last appearance, and with a new drummer in tow, Dye The Flux’s live return was an emotional one, built on frustration, anger but sheer joy in persevering in the face of adversity. Yet it seemed as soon as they were return to the stage, they seemed to disappear off of it just as rapidly. To continue writing for could’ve been labelled their fabled sophomore EP. Admittedly, there has always been the tenacity and work ethic of this talented four piece that has never stopped them doing what they’ve loved. So despite a second drummer departure and months of songwriting and production with acclaimed producer Jason Wilson, we arrive here a little under four years later, at the first glimpse of their second EP ‘FOX’ and the welcome sound of four warriors, who only know to fight or die and have returned to tell their tale.
As has become their calling card, sizeable, urgent chords lead us in alongside punchy percussion, instantly pulling you into a fast-paced fistfight that’s as captivating as it is ferocious. Bright, clean vocals put the madness of society and the human condition to rights, delivered with a confidence and a smirk that is endlessly pleasing amongst the raucousness of the riffs bombarded at you. Perhaps an indirect nod to the notion of insanity, but the refrain of ‘Lunacy,’ frequent throughout, partnered with both the wah-infused hammer-ons and rapid snare bashes is such a powerful hook, you’ll be humming it for weeks. Whether it can be called a chorus or not, stripping it back to a single guitar, rolling off riffs near-effortlessly, while vocals harmonise, backed by drum rolls that sound like cannon fire, serves as just as powerful a hook, steadily increasing tension as it does so. And the intensity only shifts from gear to gear. Chords gather pace, interspersed between quick, fiery licks, and you can physically feel the danger level heightening with every note change. The tipping point is reached at the solo; a passage of double-time picking, with the second guitar throwing authoritative blows to the face and snares and cymbals issuing a countdown to chaos. Bass soon matches the speed of the fast picking, a feat technically impressive in its own right, and after tremendous restraint, the thrashing beast that has threatened and been teased for the course of the song is finally unchained. It really serves as an excellent metaphor for lunacy in motion, the loss of inhibition and the inevitable loss of control we could find ourselves in, inside and outside of a live environment. This is only agitated by the new found snarl in the vocals, a pummeling of aggressive chords and guitar gallops, and drums keeping the adrenaline pumping, while showcasing a far greater technical prowess than we’ve seen before. And we end on the note of four musically skilled gentlemen looking far more feisty than we saw three minutes ago.
It’s truly difficult to pin down an exact comparison point for sound, former Surrey stalwarts Reuben being the closest reaching example, yet passing instances of Deftones, Incubus and even Biffy Clyro, glimmer and fade just as quickly in Lunacy alone. But any claims that they embody any of those bands, does not do them any justice. What music they have created over the last four or so years shares a certain hardcore sensibility with any of those bands for sure, but their sound is ultimately theirs and theirs alone. Lunacy is cathartic and at times, nerve-shredding, but one of the most thrilling three-minute bursts of music I’ve undoubtedly heard this year. All it shows that Dye The Flux are hungrier, harder-working and as passionate as ever, and as a band constantly looking forward, and with the breadth of talent they possess, we can see that the best is certainly yet to come.
Lunacy is taken from their second EP ‘FOX’ which has yet to be released, but you will find it available once it is, on their Bandcamp page. You can purchase Lunacy on Spotify and iTunes in the mean time. Live dates are also yet to be announced. Right now, you can listen to their previous EP ‘SHARK!’ on their Soundcloud, and can only get your own physical copy from them in person. You could probably get a digital copy from them too if you asked them nicely, but I’ll leave that up to you. Buy a shirt whilst you’re on their Bandcamp anyway.
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Ironically, it almost seems like 10,000 days since we saw the last Tool album. Well, 10,000 days is the equivalent to 27 and a bit years, so not quite that far yet, but it has at least been a decade since the previous album from the LA masters of progressive metal. And understandably, there’s a lot of hype growing towards it, as on and off progress continues to be made, and has been for at least three years, not owing part to the now resolved lawsuit that had hung heavy over their heads for a lengthy period of time. There’s also an awful lot of impatience. So far, the only trace of new material we’ve had is a two-minute long instrumental jam, tentatively titled Descending, which by the band’s own admission is only a fragment of a song in progress. Yet the memes, anger and remarks persist. So I thought I’d offer an alternative to those dismayed by the lack of answers or have grown tired of waiting, by rounding up eight excellent, lesser known bands to listen to in the mean time whilst the new Tool album materialises: