Metal-Nerd Blog 2020 Round UP and AOTY list, part 2:

I know, I know, it is probably two weeks too early, but I’m in the middle of moving home and working 65 hours a week on top of that, so may as well get it in while I have the chance. It’s the tenth year of this blog, and I’d hate to miss out on what is now a yearly tradition.

Last week in part 1, I wrote a round-up of what I’d been buying and listening to this year, and links to reviews of the concerts I had been to prior to lockdown.

Next up;

Here are my most-listened-to artists of the past 12 months according to LastFM:

Quite a mix there; Classic Metal, Classic Rock, Metalcore, Thrash, Prog, Hair, Power, Groove, Death, even a bit of indie. Old favourites, new discoveries. Nicely balanced, didn’t even mean to.

And finally; since it is December now, here is the Metal-Nerd Blog Album Of The Year List, 2020:

Honourable Mention: Salem – S/T EP. – Creeper went from being a fun pop-punk band with some Halloweeny lyrics to a ‘90s Britrock band tapping into older American sounds. Afterwards, their singer has a side project basically making a fun pop-punk band with Halloweeny lyrics. Highly recommended to fans of early Creeper (or Alkaline Trio).

10. BMTH – Post Human Survival Horror – Review here.

09. Five Finger Death Punch – F8 – Review here.

08. Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic – Review here.

07. Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void – Review here.

06. Haken – Virus  – (Rhymes with Bacon, not Kraken) British prog metal wizards release a captivating sequel to their previous album and continue to escape comparisons to other bands and forge their own identity. Might have even been higher, but I came to it late and haven’t even fully unpacked all its hidden glories yet.

05. Lamb Of God – S/T – Review here.

04. Testament – Titans Of Creation – Review here.

03. Protest The Hero – Palimpsest – Review here.

02. Trivium – What The Dead Men Say – Review here.

01. Sepultura – Quadra – Review here.

Metal-Nerd Blog 2020 Round UP and AOTY list, part 1:

Leaving aside any talk of the pandemic (you’ve read enough about that this year, this is a light-hearted site, I barely even post bad reviews) 2020 has been an interesting year musically and personally. On a personal level my first and only child celebrated his first ever birthday and my wife and I have just finally bought our first home. I also had a nice break at work at the start of the year where they moved me to an easier job for two months, which was a welcome if brief change. I also managed to loose one stone in weight recently after having put on too much around the pregnancy and new-fatherhood stage.

Musically, before the world turned upside down, I got to go to some fabulous concerts, in the form of Slipknot (childhood favourite but hadn’t seen since I was a teen, wearing the tour t-shirt as I write this), Five Finger Death Punch (better than you’d expect, and Megadeth supported!) and finally Testament, Exodus and Death Angel together (Dream come true line-up, shame a load of the band members and crew caught the virus from this tour).

In terms of new music, some icons like Ozzy released a new album, lots of bands have been releasing short one-off singles or mini-EPs (like Machine Head), some of my favourite bands released albums which obviously made it to my Top-10 list, and some other less-obvious bands surprised me.

In terms of old music; I’ve spent a hell of a lot of the year listening to Def Leppard, (expanding my knowledge of the band beyond just the early NWOBHM days), discovering Danzig, as well as expanding my Motorhead collection. That and as per most years, listening to a bunch of Thrash Metal (just got into Canada’s Sacrifice and LA’s Agent Steel recently, and Hirax earleir this year, there’s always more Thrash to explore).

I’ve also been reading band biographies and music books where I can find the time between work, exercise, parenting and trying to get a house. Max Cavelera and Dee Snider’s books were particularly good. I read Fiver Finger Death Punch’s drummer’s book too, but it’s a bit too simplistic Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll for me, or I should really say erectile dysfunction, alcoholism and metal (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean).

Due to all my Def Leppard listening, I’ve just finished Phil Collen’s book (which is a real easy read, very smoothly written). Most recently I’ve just started fellow blogger 80s Metal Man’s simi-fiction, semi-history of Metal/Rock coming of age novel Rock N Roll Children, and obviously if you’re reading this blog, you should read that book, I’ve not finished it yet but its compelling so far so can still recommend it.

I like a good audiobook too, and have listened to autobiographies on audible by the likes of Sammy Hagar, Phil Collins, Rick Wakeman, Rob Halford, Alice Cooper and Steve Tyler, all of which I’d recommend, (except maybe the Steve Tyler one as it is a bit too lyrical and overwritten at times, but still good a lot of the time).

So that’s the introduction, a round up of the year. Part two will see a list of my most-listened-to artists of the past 12 months and of course the actual AOTY list (gotta be December before I post that, I haven’t even put up the Christmas tree yet!). Stay tuned.

Bullet For My Valentine Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

.

.

It’s a weird trait of the metal community that we all got into a competition to claim to like the most extreme thing and forgot the reason why we got into it in the first place – catchy bands that wrote good songs. Everyone cursing out this band for being sissies or that band for being kiddy music and don’t seem to understand that the bands they curse out are sometimes faster and harder than AC/DC and Led Zeppelin or all the bands we all love at the same time as our favourite extreme bands with names like Skull Fucker, Maggot Bastards and Peadophile-Juggernaut. I mean, I like Deicide and Morbid Angel as much as the next guy, I like Mastodon and Tool a fair bit too, but I can still understand that music doesn’t always have to be super heavy, or super complex. I spent most of the last week listening to Def Leppard’s Hysteria album and loving it. Melody and poppy hooks do not always mean ‘bad.’

Even among fans who don’t just hate everything released after 1989, there seems to be a lot of hate reserved for Bullet For My Valentine. Half the people complaining that this band aren’t heavy enough and are therefore ‘not metal’ probably don’t realise that this band sounds closer to Priest and Maiden than any necro black metal or soul sapping drone metal band they praise actually does. Melodic vocals and melodic dual guitar all across this band’s discography sounds pretty metal to me. Listen to the start of ‘Skin’ on here, and tell me if it sounds more like the original sound of metal than Necophagist or Peste Noire do. If we all love Dio and Yngwie Malmsteen why do new bands have to be unlistenably heavy? Strange cognitive dissonance.

I myself definitely saw them as too girly, too watered down, too slick and too commercial when they were new. Imagine how Thrash Metal fans in the ‘80s viewed Poison, that’s the kind of suspicion I had at the time Bullet’ were on the cover of all the magazines. Even when I eventually did get over the prejudice this still is a band I would never wear a t-shirt of, or add a patch of to my jacket to sit alongside Exodus and Testament patches.  Luckily, the podcast I listened to most around 2010-2015 kept defending them and telling people like me to keep an open mind that I was receptive to giving them a fair shot when I was in university during part of that time and my friend kept pushing me on them and exposing me to them to the point I couldn’t hate them any longer. That and the fact that all the other people I knew who liked rock or metal but were five years younger than me were all madly in love with this band’s debut album. I remember being at a party and someone switched Appetite For Destruction off and put this band on instead and they all sang along to it. I was taken aback. But fair play, it was good for shaking me out of my anti-Bullet mindset.

.

.

.

BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE:

01. The Poison (2005) – The original, the heaviest, the public’s favourite and arguably still the best. This album is a classic to a certain generation of British Metal fans. When it first came out, I was incredibly sceptical of this band and didn’t give it a fair chance. I saw them as too girly, too watered down, too slick and too commercial. Hey, after the opening intro, the first three songs were all absolute ragers. This wasn’t too wet or too wimpy at all! What had I been thinking all those years?! I don’t see how you could like Killswitch or Trivium but say this is a step too far. I wonder where I even got that prejudice from? Maybe it was just the times, in a word of ‘punch an emo kid day’ maybe anything with flowers in the logo was just too much for the parts of the metal community I was most into at the time (I was neck deep in discovering as much Thrash Metal as I could at the time, after leaving school and realising there was much more than Nu Metal out there).

Anyway; this is a strong album, and a heck of a lot heavier than I initially would have expected. I’m glad I did get into the band after all, even if it was a bit after their prime. I was lucky enough to later catch them live a few years ago, when they decided to play the album in full, and had a great night.  Even caught a drumstick, the first time I ever did so! There’s a great DVD from that tour which would be a great intro to the band in addition to this album.

Best songs: ‘Four Words To Choke Upon,’ ‘Her Voice Resides’ & ‘Cries In Vain.’

.

.

02. Venom (2015) – This album is a massive return to form. It’s a shame it wasn’t a financial and critical success on a scale of the debut as it deserves to be. After the major career derailment that their fourth album was, this fifth effort absolutely nails everything. The guitars are more impressive. The choruses are great. Even the lyrics are less cringey than before. There are at least 5 songs on this record that I would put in any best-of playlist and more still that I would love to see live. It has arguably the best production job of their career, sounding both professional but also not overproduced. It is arguably the most energetic and vital sounding record they have made to date. It’s a real must-have for any fan of the band. Its hard to believe it wasn’t bigger. If this hadn’t come out directly after such a divisive and fanbase losing record it would have been much more successful.

Best songs: ‘Army Of Noise,’ ‘You Want A Battle (Here’s A War)’ & ‘No Way Out.’

.

.

03. Fever (2010) – This album is slicker, rockier and a lot less raw than the debut, and its slower and less thrashy than the sophomore album, but the Welsh band’s third album makes up for not being stylistically what I’d usually favour with pure song-writing skill. These are just some great, easily digestible, entertaining and memorable tunes. Very much the ‘Black Album’ or ‘Countdown To Extinction’ attempt of this band’s career. Make a fun, brief, well-crafted Hard Rock version of their old style and take a stab at the big time. Festival ready songs for a band that were at this stage being called ‘’the biggest British Metal band since Iron Maiden’’ on a regular basis.

The debut may be the one that people remember the most fondly, but this is a very close second in my opinion. If you told me it was your favourite, I’d totally understand why.

I’d probably have it higher too, but some cringey lyrics make it lose a bit of shine. (Come here you naughty girl you’re such a tease /
You look so beautiful down on your knees / Keep on those high heel shoes rip off all your clothes / You smell so fucking good it makes me lose control!). Its not 1987 and this is not the sunset strip guys. I like Ratt and Motley Crue as much as the next guy, but a modern British band just can’t pull off the womanising lyrics in the way an ’80s Califonian can. Lyrics aside however, this is definitely the best of the band’s various attempts to get bigger.

Best songs: ‘Your Betrayal,’ ‘The Last Fight’ & ‘Pleasure & Pain.’

.

.

04. Scream Aim Fire (2008) – A fine album, a fair follow-up to the debut, and features several of their best-known songs. The only problem is that there’s a bit of filler, and that they’ve simply written better albums. For people who have a bit of a prejudice about the ‘core’ side of metalcore, this one has a bit less of that. I mean, the title track with its ‘over the top, over the top’ gang chants has an almost Bay Area feel to it at times. The band were definitely keen to loose the sniffy attitude metal fans were having to them and so filled the record with much more classic metal and Thrash Metal moments, driving them much more into a Trivium or Shadows Fall side of Metalcore and less of a Killswitch side of the spectrum.

Don’t get me wrong, you won’t mistake this for the new Death Angel or Tankard album, but for people who think this is a bad Emo band for 14-year-old girls only, you may be very surprised if you actually give it a listen.

That all being said, there are a few moments on here that may drive away the Gumby die-hard Metal fans. ‘Forever & Always’ is a power ballad, that sounds like a mixture of Coheed & Cambria’s ‘From Here To Mars’ with vocal patterns from Green Day’s Kerplunk. They make up for it by following it up with the fastest and heaviest song on the album though (the only one with blast beats), so assuming you didn’t throw the disc out the window, crush a beer can on your head, and listen to Reign In Blood instead, it can still pull you back. (Although now that I joke about it, that sounds quite fun to be honest).

Best songs: ‘Scream Aim Fire,’ ‘Waking The Demon’ & ‘End Of Days.’

.

.

05. S/T EP. (2004) – Basically, this is the same musical direction and type of material as is present on their debut full length studio album (heck, one song appears on both), just one year before, and shorter. If you like The Poison (and considering it’s a gold record, in the era when people don’t buy CDs anymore, quite a few people do) then you should absolutely pick this up. More of the same. Obviously, not quite as good as its shorter and a bit rawer in the production, but ostensibly the same ballpark and highly recommended.

I wouldn’t make it your first purchase, definitely go for one of the proper full-length studio albums, but if you are already a fan, its not worth overlooking either.

Best songs: ‘Hand Of Blood’ & ‘Cries In Vain.’

.

.

06. Gravity (2018) – The band’s newest album has certainly divided opinion. On the one hand, it is a brave new move, a shift in style and a willingness to try new things. On the other hand, it is a cynical sell out or a confused identity crisis after their previous intentional return to form album didn’t quite return their momentum and status as highly as it should have and deserved to, so now they are forced to try something else.

I caught the band live during Download Festival 2018 when they were promoting this album, and the material did come across quite well in a live setting, but I’d be lying if I said I’d rather hear songs off this than songs off of Venom. I know a lot of people hated this album for the pop-music and electronic influence that it presented, seeing it as trying too late to ride Bring Me The Horizon’s coat tails into crossover mainstream success, but as I discussed in my review of Amo, I don’t actually mind someone trying something poppy if there are good songs that can entertain me enough.

This album is fine and I have no abject hatred of it. It’s a decent enough set of songs, in a style that isn’t my favourite, but that isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. If it had been bad, it might have been a bigger misstep. As it stands its still ok, just not the best thing they’ve done.

Best songs: ‘No Way Out,’ ‘Leap Of Faith’ & ‘Letting You Go.’

.

.

07. Temper, Temper (2013) – Well, this album was pretty much universally critically panned, panned by fans, sold more poorly than their previous records, irrevocably dented the band’s momentum, status and public relations and when it was new, all the people five years younger than me who used to love the band wouldn’t shut up about what a car crash it was. If you have made it all the way through that overlong comma filled sentence without getting seasick, you will therefore be able to extrapolate that this is considered their worst album, and should certainly either be avoided or at least the last one you buy.

I kind of agree with the public consensus on that it is the least good thing the band have released. I may be a bit less harsh on what a massive car crash it is. I mean, the band are taking the Black Album-ening a bit too far, making it too slick, too Rock and basically turning a bit more into an American Radio Rock version of themselves than I’d like. But its not some hideous collection of unlistenable filth. Its just slightly uninspired and a bit boring and a little underdeveloped compared to their best work.

Maybe its worse to be damned with faint praise, I don’t know, but I can see merit in this. I mean, not if you have an Hellhammer tattoo and think Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’ was an unforgivable sell out. But if you were a bullet fan before, I don’t see why the whole thing needs to go in the bin.  If I had all of the band’s material on shuffle, I wouldn’t violently pull out the earphones and chuck the player into the sea just because a track from this came on.

Best songs: ‘Leech’ ‘Saints & Sinners’ & ‘Breaking Point.’

.

.

Machine Head Albums Ranked:

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

.

.

MACHINE HEAD:

01. Unto The Locust (2011): This album in my opinion is their finest hour, the best balance of aggressive and melodic, the best balance of fast and slow, the most tasteful lyrics and vocals of their career, one of the best production jobs in their career (that guitar tone is killer!).  This album is their most focused and succinct outing to date, seven songs and absolutely no filler, not even flab on indivdual songs (the only thing I would lose is the children’s choir in the intro of the album closer, but that’s just a couple of bars anyway).

‘Locust takes the formula set up over the past two albums and utterly perfects it. There is not one song on here I don’t want to see live. (When I have seen them live, songs from it have invariably been highlights of the whole night!). I’ve had a locust poster on my wall for most years since this albums release. I still have the keychain that came with it on my keys to this day. This may not be the one that gets all the magazine coverage and list features, but it is my personal favourite.

Best songs: ‘Locust,’ ‘Darkness Within’ & ‘Who We Are.’

.

.

02. The Blackening (2007): A truly classic album and one of the best heavy metal albums of the decade.  This album has been called the Master Of Puppets of this generation. While that is a big statement and will likely shock and appal some people, it was absolutely beloved here in the UK and will be the highpoint against which all future records will be judged. There was such a swell of buzz and hype around this album cycle and the band were at their most respected and critically acclaimed since their debut. It also helped that they absolutely nailed the imagery, artwork and music videos. Everything just gelled.

The quality of the song writing is near peerless and it does feature some of the best guitar solos and most fired-up performances of their whole career. This album is the high water mark for the Demmel/Flynn guitar trade off.

There is really no denying the sheer energy and enthusiasm on display throughout the record. Everything just bursts out of the speakers. For example the level of musical, vocal and lyrical venom/anger in the Dimebag-honouring, troll-shaming anthem ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ is almost breathtaking.

I may prefer Locust more personally, but the majority of fans and critics will opt for this one, and the band have featured huge doses of it in every live set since its release. If you only buy one Machine Head album, it should probably be this one.

Best songs: ‘Clenching The Fists Of Dissent,’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ & ‘Wolves.’

.

.

03. Burn My Eyes (1994): The original classic album. When this was new it was the fastest selling debut album Roadrunner Records ever had at that point. This is a definitive metal album of the 1990s. Its up there with Vulgar Display, Demanufacture & Chaos AD in the most important and influential metal albums of my youth (and to some extent the 1990s in general). Like The Blackening it is a cannonised stone cold classic album, widely respected and prominently featured in many list features and retrospectives.

This album is really the definition of Groove Metal for me. There were traces of this sort of music developing one riff at a time over the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in various Thrash Metal and Hardcore Punk albums, but it truly comes together into something new, fresh and exciting here. Up until they released The Blackening, it seemed as though they would never be able to follow up this iconic record. So many live favourites. Such a perfect gelling of art, videos, music, productino and performance. A real complete package.

If you are new to the band and didn’t grow up in the ’90s, its worth pointing out that this album is a lot rawer, harder and dirtier than their later work, with a lot less melody, but what it lacks in fineness it makes up for it attitude and sheer umph.

Best songs: ‘Davidian’ ‘The Rage To Overcome’ & ‘Blood For Blood.’

.

.

04. Bloodstone & Diamonds (2014): I view the three album run of The Blackening through to this album as the pinnacle of the band’s career. This album would be higher if only their debut wasn’t so great. I really love this record, the strings and keys add an extra dimension of variety to the formula of the last two albums, it’s a bit more varied and there is a lot more light and shade than even before.

This was their first album without bassist Adam Duce, who was always one of the most important band members and the ying to frontman Rob Flynn’s yang (very much the David Ellefson of this band), so it was hard to imagine how they would sound without him. It is a real testament to the band that they carried on so strongly given the circumstances.

I caught the band live on this album cycle, and material from this record stood toe to toe with the very best of their back catalogue and was not found wanting.

Best songs: ‘Killers & Kings’ ‘Game Over’, ‘Eyes Of The Dead’ & ‘Night Of The Long Knives.’

.

.

05. The More Things Change (1997): The first album with Sacred Reich drummer Dave McClain who really helped the band define their sound. This album had the unenviable task of having to follow up such an iconic debut, and as such it is often a bit overlooked when people think of definitive metal albums of the ‘90s, definitive Groove Metal albums or even the best Machine Head albums, but it is essential listening for any fan of the band.

In some ways it is a continuation of the style of Burn My Eyes, certainly on the first half, but the second half showcase the band being a bit darker, slower and creepier. It does most of the same things that made the debut so enjoyable and adds its own dimensions into the mix too.

I feel almost guilty not having this higher on the list. If you had it higher on your list I’d totally understand why.

Best songs: ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ ‘Take My Scars’ & ‘Struck A Nerve.’

.

.

06. Through The Ashes Of Empires (2003): This record was something of a comeback. The band were an absolute punching bag in the media before this, they got dropped from their record label, people were starting to go off the band. This record was the path to redemption.

It wasn’t a rehash of the early days, or a continuation of the Nu Metal years, but its own new thing. There was still a bit of the distasteful lyrics, a bit of the string scratching and reverby noises and some of the vocal deliveries were still a bit rapped and rhythmic. However; The riffs were starting to be heavier. The songs were starting to be longer and broader. The band were starting to head in a new direction. I guess there’s just a little less technicality, a little less Thrash influence and the addition of guitarist Phil Demmel into the line up came too late to affect the song writing and recording.

This fit perfectly alongside the new bands gaining ground at the time such as Killswitch, Chimaira and Shadows Fall, bringing back guitar solos, traditional metal fashion but not just rehashing the past. It learned lessons of melody from the previous records but delivered it in a new way, covering more ground.

In hindsight it was sort of a stepping stone towards their real comeback The Blackening (kind of like how Aerosmith’s Done With Mirrors gave way to Pump).

However, that is not to detract from this album’s quality. The definitive track ‘Imperium’ will never not be in the Machine Head setlist ever again.

Best songs: ‘Imperium’ ‘All Falls Down’ & ‘Vim.’ (& ‘Seasons Wither’ if you buy the best edition).

.

.

07. Catharsis (2018): This album got an absolute critical lambasting when it was released.

Between some people hating Rob Flynn’s politics on the anti-trump anthem ‘Bastards’ and some other people hating the swearing, sex-and-drug fuelled lyrics, and indeed some other people hating the band both allowing a little bit of Nu Metal to creep back into the sound while simultaneously following some fashionable modern trends like electronics and autotuners… it seemed like every fan, critic and casual bystander seemed to have something rub them up the wrong way about this record, and let the world know about it online.

In the age of the internet it got absolutely slaughtered up and down blogs, websites and comments sections in every relevent corner of the web. Phil Demmel and Dave McClain quitting soon after really didn’t help the album’s reputation either.

The thing that people tend to overlook however, is that the things people dislike about this record are a relatively small part of the album. Most of the album is the same groovy thrashy guitar tone as before, the same distinctive drum style as before, the same vocal style as before. Most of the best parts of the last four albums are still here.

People who don’t like the politics obviously never listened to ‘Slanderous’ on The Blackening, or ‘A Nation On Fire’ on the debut, or ‘In Comes The Flood’ on the previous album. The band have always been political.

People who don’t like the addition of modern touches are forgetting that from their very ’90s debut to their Nu Metal period to their guitar and metal focused renaisance period happening at the same time as the Thrash revival and melodic metalcore being popular, the band have always tried to stay modern and relevent.

People who don’t like the lyrics are overlooking lines like ”Fuck you you cocksucker, fuck you you whore” on Through The Ashes Of Empires.

If you see the millions of negative reviews out there, you may want to skip this album entirely. I’d advise you treat it with caution, but don’t just skip it altogether. This is not the train wreck it was made out to be. A little different, yes. A bit unpalatable, yes. Misguided. Certainly. But rubbish? Not even close.  

Best songs: ‘Volatile’ ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ & ‘Hope Begets Hope.’

.

.

08. The Burning Red (1999): This album has a bit of a mixed legacy. Fans who were there in 1994 often cite this as a horrendous stain on the band’s legacy.

Ross Robinson’s production and the music videos for this do clearly show a band getting involved in the popular trends of the day and many people called this record a sell out. Fans who got into the album after Nu Metal broke but before Through The Ashes Of Empires however tend to have a really high opinion of it.

For me, I sit somewhere in the middle. As you can guess, given how low down this is on the list, this is not my favourite Machine Head record. That being said I can still appreciate the good moments, and I do have a soft spot for it. I guess it helps that I grew up in the Nu Metal era, and can forgive its trapping a lot more than someone who grew up in the Thrash Metal or NWOBHM eras usually can. The tracks from it are a lot better live, such as on the Hellalive album or Elegies DVD.   

Also, in hindsight, you can see how the melody, slow moments and variety on here would give way for future ideas on Through The Ashes Of Empires, which was in turn the begining of the band’s best run of albums, so this was an essential lesson the band needed to learn in order to have a long career instead of just burning out as a one trick pony and never taking risks.

Best songs: ‘Nothing Left’ ‘Exhale The Vile’ & ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears.’

.

.

09. Supercharger (2001): Its weird, but while this album features one of the best songs in their whole career (live favourite ‘Bulldozer’) most fans seem to utterly hate this record. While previous album The Burning Red has a mixed legacy, this album has pretty much always been viewed as the absolute nadir of the band’s career. I don’t think you’ll find anyone call this their favourite Machine Head album.

The production is a lot better than on The Burning Red but unfortunately the performance is a bit more mechanical and the lyrics are quite unpalatable. Most of all though, outside of a few notable exceptions listed below, the songs are either unmemorable (I can’t remember how ‘Nausea’ ‘Blank Generation’ or ‘Deafening Silence’ go off the top of my head, and I’ve listened to this album dozens and dozens of times) or conversely memorable for the wrong reasons (‘American High’ is the lyrical template for all the cringey bits on Catharsis, and also comes with an amusing David Draiman-meets-Tarzan style vocal intro that people love to make fun of).

Once again, songs from this album come across a lot better live. Lead single ‘Crashing Around You’ in particular is great on the Hellalive live album.

While I have always been a bit defensive about supercharger, and have at times called it underrated, there is no denying that the other albums in the list are better.

Best songs: ‘Bulldozer’ ‘Trephination’ & ‘Supercharger.’

.

.

DevilDriver Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

.

.

DAY 7 – DEVILDRIVER:

01. Pray For Villains (2009) – When Devildriver first came on the scene, they were looked at with unparalleled scepticism due to singer Dez Fafara’s history in the Nu Metal band Coal Chamber. Over the years with relentless touring, incendiary live performances at major festivals and sheer word of mouth, they worked their way up bills, up end of year albums lists and up in the public’s estimation to become a really well regarded act. This album was arguably their peek both in terms of public perception of the band as a whole and also in actual quality of the individual album. This has some of their most distinct and catchy tunes, and leans heavier on the Groove Metal aspect of their sound than any previous or subsequent album. Its still very much Devildriver but with extra flavour, its got kind of a more Pantera, Machine Head and at times even White Zombie vibe than their usual formula.

Best songs: ‘Back With A Vengeance,’ ‘I’ve Been Sober’ & ‘Another Night In London.’

.

.

02. The Last Kind Words (2007) – The best album in the typical Devildriver format, this is simply the best written collection of songs in their usual style, less generic and repetitive than the later albums and more fully-fleshed out than the early works, it is a damn fine record and if you called it your favourite I’d fully understand why. The vocals are memorable, the heavy parts are pounding, and the rare clean moments are shimmering and add good variety to the proceedings. I reckon this would be the best starting point for a new fan, even if the next album is my personal favourite, it’s a close race, and this one is more representative of the band.

Best songs: ‘Clouds Over California,’ ‘The Axe Shall Fall’ & ‘Monsters Of The Deep.’

.

.

03. The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hands (2005) – This album features some of the band’s live favourite songs, there were tracks that got good rotation on music TV channels, one of the songs was in an episode of Scrubs. Basically, this album is when the momentum really started rolling, when the music festival crowds fell in love with the band and their big pits, and when the critics started finding it harder to keep up their scepticism. It was the first album with the classic line up, as Mike Spreitzer replaced Evan Pitts. Although it doesn’t have any one song as catchy as ‘I Could Care Less’ from the debut, it makes up for it by being more consistent and having more of a cohesive vision all the way through.  

Best songs: ‘The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand,’ ‘Sin & Sacrifice’ & ‘Hold Back The Day.’

.

.

04. DevilDriver (2003) – I remember before this album came out, Metal Hammer magazine said Dez was in a heavy new band called Death Ride. Then when the album came out it was called Devildriver. Seemed like a silly variation on the driving theme, but it turns out Devildriver was actually an old Italian superstition to drive away demons and bad spirits that Dez’s grandmother believed in, a story oddly reminiscent of how Dio popularized the horns.

When the album came out it was a breath of fresh air. There were two short super aggressive songs with slightly Black Metal influenced screams, there was the mega catchy lead single (although that is not really representative of the overall sound of the band or the album) and for most of the album, a whole host of fat and groovy modern metal songs with Melodeath, Groove and Thrash influences that at the time sounded quite futuristic when blended together.

I got on board with this album from the get go, but always had a hard time convincing people in my peer group to give them a chance due to Dez’s past. I’m glad the band proved everyone wrong in the end. Over the next two album cycles most of my friends ended up even bigger fans than me!

Best songs: ‘I Could Care Less,’ ‘Cry For Me Sky’ & ‘Swinging The Dead.’

.

.

05. Beast (2011) – The last album with the classic line up, Beast is a fine album, but in some ways, it was the beginning of the end. It may not be quite up to the same high standards as the previous four albums. Every song is good here, and this is another solid collection of typical Devildriver tunes in the classic formula. If you like the band, it’s a good addition to your collection. I wouldn’t make it your first album, but if you like them I wouldn’t skip it either. It is however, a bit of a worry when the best song on any album is a cover song.

Best songs: ‘Shitlist,’ ‘Bring The Fight (To The Floor)’ & ‘Black Soul Choir.’

.

.

06. Winter Kills (2013) – Their first and only album with new bassist Chris Towning, and the last album with Jeff Kendrick & John Boecklin who were really key to making the band sound the way it did. I always liked them both on record, and they seemed like good guys on the band’s You May Recognise Us From The Stage documentary.

It has quite a good cover of that ‘Sail’ song by a band called Awolnation, although I admit, I was so out of the loop at the time I didn’t hear the original until after I’d heard this. I wouldn’t have known it was a cover for at least a year if I hadn’t read about it on the press for this album cycle.

The rest of the album is ok. Its basically a continuation of Beast, but the songs aren’t just as memorable. There’s nothing wrong with the album in the moment when you are listening to it, but its kind of a step down in quality and it’s the first record I would describe as skippable.

Best songs: ‘Tripping Over Tombstones,’ ‘Winter Kills’ & ‘Gutted.’

.

.

07. Trust No One (2016) – This album sees a major line up change, with new guitarist, bassist and drummer. It’s a bit livelier and more aggressive than Winter Kills, but similarly skippable. Maybe the new line up just needed time to gel, maybe the Coal Chamber reunion that preceded it somehow diverted attention, maybe the band has just been heading down one particular direction for too long, I don’t know exactly what it is.

While there is nothing massively wrong here, I can barely remember anything about it after I’ve listened to it, and I’d certainly call this one for fans only. Hopefully the next album (which is apparently a double album) sees the band reverse their current slightly downward trajectory.

Best songs: ‘For What Its Worth,’ ‘This Deception’ & ‘Trust No One.’

.

.

Avenged Sevenfold Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

.

.

DAY 6 – AVENGED SEVENFOLD:

Its strange, but Avenged Sevenfold are a band I feel kind of embarrassed to like. I don’t know why, but I would never wear an Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt or list them in a list of my favourite bands. I probably would give a non-committal answer and look at the floor if someone asked me if I was a fan. I have no idea why, other than I associate them with people I disliked in high school and an ex-girlfriend I’d rather forget. I mean, it can’t be because of how they look or act, because I will happily call myself a fan of Limp Bizkit or Twisted Sister or many others who don’t fit the exact metal sound or look respectively. That being said, after years of sticking my fingers in my ears and hoping they would go away, I eventually got into them through sheer force of recommendation from various friends, magazines and podcasts until I couldn’t justify ignoring them anymore. I slowly picked up all their albums, and I’ve seen them live twice, and they were excellent both times. I really have to work on whatever mental block makes me reticent to give in fully to being a fan.

.

.

01. Avenged Sevenfold (2007) – It is kind of hard to imagine the same band recorded this album and the debut. I’ve heard people call this an experimental album, which I can kind of see as there’s an 8-minute comedy track about necrophilia with Danny Elfman sounding bits and a guest vocal from Randy Blythe. There’s a song with vocoder. There’s some political lyrics which you wouldn’t really expect from this band. It ends with an overly earnest country-tinged ballad.

 That being said, I would actually consider this one of their more normal albums. I mean, it’s a mess of different tempos, styles and tones, but then all of their albums are.

The real thing that elevates this album above the rest (except perhaps confidence) is simply good song writing. No prototypes of things to come. No good ideas lost amongst confusion. The songs here just work. The songs are memorable, the majority of the album is catchy and well balanced, it flows relatively well and doesn’t seem choppy.

Best songs: ‘Critical Acclaim,’ ‘Scream’ & ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven.’

.

.

02. City Of Evil (2005) – This album is most fan’s favourite. Its definitely the most likely to make it into a Top 100 albums list. There’s a few things that rub me the wrong way, like the artwork and music videos, (and while we’re at it the bands pseudonyms have always seemed silly to me, but by this point they should have outgrown it) but after getting into the band I’d be crazy to have it any lower on the list than this.  

There’s a reason its popular with guitar fans. I feel like this was the record where Synyster Gates really stepped up and transcended the subgenre to become this generation’s guitar hero. Speaking of which, I feel like songs from this album are always popular in Guitar Hero video games.

What separates this album and the two which preceded it (apart from presumably budget) is a humongous influx of colour, fun and character. No one, not even massive skeptics could call this one samey. No one could call it boring. It’s a big hyperactive child running in four different directions wearing a propeller-hat showing off all the things it learned. I’ve never heard a song sound like a spring break beach party, a redneck sweaty metal show and a beard stroking prog metal track in one go before I heard this. I’ve never heard anyone combine Guns N’ Roses vocal patterns with Helloween lead guitar and NoFX drumming before. There is a basic framework of melodic metalcore, but they flip-flop through so many ideas it can be a bit dizzying. Its not always to my taste, but no one can deny the talent involved.

Best songs: ‘Beast & The Harlot,’ ‘Trashed & Scattered’ & ‘M.I.A.’

.

.

03. Hail To The King (2013) – This album got a lot of grief in the press for so shamelessly ripping off riffs from Megadeth’s ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ and Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ – check out ‘Heretic’ and ‘This Means War’ if you missed all the internet fury. But there’s a lot more to this record that the questionable choice to pinch other band’s iconic music (ok, it does sound pretty bad when I say it like that).

Besides the above taking wearing your influences on your sleeves too far, this album is a damn fine stompy, simplified, arena ready version of the Avenged style. Its Avenged made for pyro and inflatable 20 foot skeletons and it does a superb job of it.

That’s not to say it is dumbed down or unentertaining. The stompier pace allows for even better guitar solos, the first two songs are so catchy they cancel out the bad taste of the thievery and the album gets interesting and bombastic towards the end, foreshadowing a bit of the sounds that they would go into on the next record. Overall, it’s a hell of a lot better than its given credit for if you can overlook the fact that its been ‘cancelled’ by the internet.

Best songs: ‘Shepherd Of Fire,’ ‘Planets’  & ‘Hail To The King.’

.

.

04. Nightmare (2010) – This was my first Avenged album and as such, I have slightly more regard for it that some of the fanbase. I remember I was absolutely opposed to the idea of even listening to one of their songs all the way through, but a friend who was a drummer turned me on to it with his seal of approval and the news that Mike Portnoy played drums for them.

Some people don’t like this album, thinking it is either too dark or too sappy, and not fun enough (but hey, it was finished by a bereaved group who’d just lost their childhood friend). If I was being super critical I’d say it’s a bit uneven. Even though there aren’t, due to the way the record is sequenced and the way some of the songs are structured it feels like there’s way too many ballads.

It does however have two of their absolute best songs to date on it, the title track and the fan favourite ‘Buried Alive’ are absolute classics at this stage and I don’t want to hear any playlist or see any concert without them ever again. Even when I watch their live DVD filmed on the album cycle prior to this, I still feel like it could use those two songs. If anyone wanted to know if this band was for them, those are the two songs I’d give them to try out.

Best songs: ‘God Hates Us,’ ‘Save Me,’ ‘Nightmare’ & ‘Buried Alive.’

.

.

05. The Stage (2016) – Their newest album. Surprise released. Third album in a row to have a different drummer. Loose existential/space/religious themes.

The music on here is a lot more progressive and expansive than anything they’ve done prior. They’ve always been eclectic and diverse, they’ve always had medium to long songs, and they clearly like Prog if Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater drummed on one of their albums, but this is another step further than they’ve ever taken before. I guess the previous album was making things more simple and straightforward, so when that wasn’t as critically acclaimed as usual, they went completely the other direction and made it bigger, grander and broader.

Its got a very thick satisfying production with superb sounding drums which is always a plus for me. The vocals are a bit more tasteful. There’s a slight Soundgarden influence to it at times that doesn’t get talked about enough. Quite a strong album, I’m quite fond of it. Maybe a bit long, and not what people where expecting at the time of release, but it’s a grower and I think it will be looked upon kindly by the history books.  

Best songs: ‘God Damn,’ ‘Creating God,’ ‘Sunny Disposition’ & ‘Fermi Paradox.’

.

.

06. Waking The Fallen (2003) – Some people think of this as the definitive Avenged album. I like it ok, but just not quite so much as all the others. I almost feel bad not liking it more, like somehow I’m doing it wrong. Imagine listening to Killswitch but not liking Alive Or Just Breathing. Doesn’t sound acceptable somehow, even though enjoyment of music is subjective.

This album probably has their most Pantera-influenced material to date on it, and the least clean vocals. It sounds kind of silly to say about a band as famously eclectic and diverse as Avenged Sevenfold, but the album sounds a bit samey to my ears. There’s usually the In Flames & At The Gates influenced sections, there’s usually the hardcore influenced sections, there’s usually twin guitar, then there’s usually a big clean catchy bit, and the transitions are usually a bit jagged which makes it sound kind of technical, and several times they used a mixture of harmonised guitars and clean vocals to create a bit of a Tim Burton flavour here and there. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was formulaic, but compared to other Avenged albums its closer to formulaic than it should be.

I think any one or two songs off the album are good in isolation and am happy to hear any of them on shuffle or live, but sometimes listening to the whole record just makes my eyes glaze over a bit. Especially in the early days of owning it, before I got more familiar with it and put the time in. The thin sounding production doesn’t help either.

There’s loads of memorable bits, but I often find myself thinking ‘what song was that bit I like in?’ and I can’t really tell them apart too well apart from my favourites. Although for a while it was ‘’that one with the power metal verse’’ or ‘’the one with the Spanish guitar and Axl Rose voice’’ and ‘’that one with the Pantera ending.’’

I’m very much in the minority here though. People go nuts for this record.

Best songs: ‘Eternal Rest,’ ‘Chapter Four’ & ‘I Won’t See You Tonight Part 2.’

.

.

07. Sounding The Seventh Trumpet (2001) – I know, I know, I’m boring. The least favourite album is once again the weird demo-ish debut album from before they got famous, which isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t recommend as your starting point, yadda yadda yadda, it’s a recurring theme with me at this point. I definitely listen to this album the least of anything they’ve ever recorded. I even listen to the B-sides collection which came free with their live DVD more than this.

Best songs: ‘Streets,’ Warmness Of The Soul’ & ‘Turn The Other Way.’

.

.

Chimaira Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

.

.

DAY 5 – CHIMAIRA:

01. The Infection (2009) – This album is the perfect distillation of everything the band had done up to this point, blended together with perfect flow, and the best song-writing of their career. 2009 may have been one of the best years for this type of music.  Everything about this album slays. The lyrics are more tasteful than usual. The production makes everything sound massive. The balance of groove, punch and speed is optimal. Every time I hear that opening guitar line I get chills. I feel like this album didn’t get enough credit as being the genre defining masterpiece it was, but I’ll never stop repping for it, this is one of my favourite albums of the past 20 years.

Best songs: ‘The Venom Inside,’ ‘Destroy & Dominate’ & ‘The Disappearing Sun.’

.

.

02. Chimaira (2005) – There’s an argument to be had that all the best Chimaira albums have Andols Herrick on the drums, but this album definitely bucks that trend. This album was a bit darker, grander and more technical than their breakthrough album. There was more atmosphere, more mood and more variety than the previous record, but it still kept everything that worked and did it harder and on a bigger scale. Some reviewers and fans weren’t just as keen on it as the previous record back in the day, but it’s a grower and time has been kind to it. For me it was love at first listen and its only got better since.

Best songs: ‘Save Ourselves,’ ‘Left For Dead’ & ‘Lazarus.’

.

.

03. The Impossibility Of Reason (2003) – When you think of this subgenre, this is one of the album covers that pop up in the collage of your mind’s eye. A classic. Iconic. A must-have. The fact that its only number 3 on my list tells you everything you need to know about how good I think numbers 2 and 1 are. This album is really dear to me. I bought it when it was really new and got to see the band grow in size all through the album cycle, I was the first person in my peer group that got into it and really enjoyed trying to convert other people to the cause, and then when their Dehumanizing Process DVD came out and showed the story of the band making and touring it, it was like a crowning moment. I watched that DVD over and over and over again for years. The band members have become like fond sitcom characters in my mind.  None of that overshadows the quality of the material though. The lead guitars are superb, the riffs and double kicks are thrashier than a lot of their peers, the vocal patterns are hooky. The electronics make them stand out from their peers and the overall song-writing was really futuristic and exciting at the time. There’s basically no song on here I wouldn’t want to see live. If you were to assemble a best of playlist almost any song on here would fit. This is definitely the album to try first if you are new to the band.  

Best songs: ‘Cleansation’ ‘Power Trip’ & ‘Implements Of Destruction.’  

.

.

04. Resurrection (2007) – Basically a clever combination of the darker attitude of the self-titled album with the ass kicking metallic nature of Impossibility’ – Resurrection is a must have for any fan of this band. Its one of those albums that is even better than you remember it. The fast songs are fast. The slower songs are impressive. It sees the guitarists really expanding their scope and broadening their range. Its not exactly progressive, but its certainly ambitious and adventurous. There’s also more strings to singer Mark Hunter’s bow, who finds more ways to utilises his voice without resorting to big radio rock choruses like a lot of bands from this subgenre do. And hey another album in the top half of their discography with Andols behind the kit, nailing it.

Best songs: ‘Six,’ ‘The Flame’ & ‘Killing The Beast.’

.

.

05. The Age Of Hell (2011) – This album gets a bit overlooked. After the pure bliss that was The Infection this is a solid follow up, but the press around the album cycle was too focused on the band falling apart at the seams and the audience getting tired of this style of music, and not enough on the album itself.

Maybe it suffers from not having Andols (or an actual band member) on drums – producer Ben Schigel played drums here, or not having Chris Spicuzza on keys and electronics… or indeed not having Jim LaMarca on bass, it really was quite a line-up shift. Maybe the track listing, starting off with the less heavy material first and scaring away part of the fanbase was a mistake. Maybe there’s too many guest musicians – most notably Emil Werstler of Dååth (who would later join the band), and Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel. Maybe the songs just aren’t quite as good as before, but people didn’t seem to go for this album the way the did for the previous four.

Ok, they have made better albums, but I still enjoy this one a lot. I caught them live on this tour, and songs from here fit really well in with the fan favourites. That being said, don’t make this your first Chimaira record.

Best songs: ‘Year Of The Snake,’ ‘Trigger Finger,’ ‘Born In Blood’ & ‘Samsara.’

.

.

06. Crown Of Phantoms (2013) – If The Age Of Hell is overlooked and had a significant line-up change, then Crown Of Phantoms makes it look like business as usual by comparison. Basically every member of the classic line-up except singer Mark Hunter is now gone. Half of the band used to be in Dååth. Additionally, it felt like absolutely no-one got on board with this album at the time. Critics, bloggers, fans, casual concert goers. It felt like everyone just gave up on the band. Which was totally unfair. This is still a good album, and the band really didn’t deserve the fate they got, I was gutted when they split up. I really regret not seeing them live when they toured it, I almost bought tickets but it was in a venue I hadn’t been to before and was afraid to go at the time. One of my many concert regrets.

Considering the album features almost all new members, it still sounds really like Chimaira, arguably more so than even the album which preceded it with more original members. If they had have stayed together for longer and released more records under this line-up it would’ve helped it be less of an odd duck and more of a new era. Its actually got a lot of good material and I hope that history judges it fairly. If they ever get back together, I hope they still keep tracks from this in the set and not act like it never happened. It may have been painted as just a contractual obligation at the time, but its much more than that.

Best songs: ‘All That’s Left Is Blood,’ ‘Plastic Wonderland’ & ‘Wrapped In Violence.’

.

.

07. Pass Out Of Existence (2001) – This album is stylistically a lot close to Nu Metal than the albums they would become famous for. As such, its slower, less heavy and there are far fewer guitar heroics on display. The production is also comparatively dated sounding. The main problem however, is that the songs just aren’t up to the same high standard as the band’s future works. Its not without its merits, and songs from it can work live, but it’s a tougher album to listen to all the way through than all the others.

Best songs: ‘Severed,’ ‘Painting The White To Grey’ & ‘Dead Inside.’

.

.

08. This Present Darkness EP (1999) – Like most people I got this free with The Dehumanizing Process after the fact. Maybe that’s played into why I havn’t listened to it as much as I perhaps should have. Not going out and choosing to get it somehow devalued it. Or then again, maybe its just not their best work. It’s an independent EP. A lot like Killswitch’s debut independent album, songs from it were rerecorded later, it’s the roughest and most hardcore the band have ever sounded, its short and its an interesting historic document for fans but not the go-to starting point. You can see where they were going, but they hadn’t quite gotten there yet.

Best songs: ‘This Present Darkness’ & ‘Painting The White To Grey.’

Lamb Of God Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

DAY 4 – LAMB OF GOD:

01. Wrath (2009) – Ok, ok, I know I should be subjective, but its hard to because I love this album so much. It was my first LoG album which may well have something to do with it, but I reckon its more than that. There’s just so many memorable songs. There’s so little filler. There’s shedloads of personality. Its full of character and non-stop entertaining throughout. From the guitar hero opener to the moody album closer, and all the way betwixt the two via the great run of distinct songs that don’t really sound like each other or the band’s back catalogue.

Best songs: ‘Set To Fail,’ ‘Broken Hands’, ‘Grace’ & ‘Contractor.’

.

.

02. Sacrament (2006) – Wrath is my personal favourite, but I feel like the history books and most fans will go for Sacrament, Ashes’ or Palaces.’ Of those three, Sacrament gets my highest ranking because it is the most consistent all the way through, because of my fond memories of the Sacrament-loaded Live At Download Festival feature on their Walk With Me In Hell DVD, and because it has the single best song they’ve ever written (‘Redneck.’)  It also has one of the best mixtures of Thrash and Groove in their career, I think they get the ratio just right.  If you need to choose a first Lamb Of God album, I reckon this is your go-to first draft pick.  

Side note: There was a good 3-4 years where I would sleep most nights in a sacrament T-shirt (I accidentally bought one way too large and it only worked as pyjamas).

Best songs: ‘Beating On Death’s Door,’ ‘More Time To Kill,’ ‘Pathetic’ and the aforementioned ‘Redneck.’

.

.

03. As The Palaces Burn (2003) – This is the album when Lamb Of God really found themselves. It has three of their best songs to date, it’s a lot more adventurous than the debut and it introduces the groove that defines so much of the band’s work. Its faster, harder, nastier and darker than the albums which would follow, but not so abrasive and unpleasant as the debut. What else is cool is there is a guest appearance here from Chris Poland who played guitar on Megadeth’s early albums, and Lamb Of God’s drummer Chris Adler later went on to play drums on the latest Megadeth album. The only real flaw with the record is the production (by Devin Townsend, who you would expect more from) but luckily there was a 10th anniversary reissue where Josh Wilbur and Brad Blackwood remixed and remastered it, and if you are coming to this album for the first time I heartily recommend you get that edition, as it sounds a hundred times better. (Like, its not just a little bit better and only an audiophile would tell the difference, it is a huge honking goose suddenly in the front room kind of difference).

Best songs: ‘Vigil,’ ‘11th Hour’ & ‘Ruin’

.

.

04. Resolution (2012) –  Lamb Of God got a bit of stick in the press for this one at the time, as it was the first time they didn’t really reinvent themselves (Kind of like Tool with 10,000 Days). There’s only so much you can reinvent yourselves though, and for me, this album is giving me exactly what I want. There’s a moody closer, there’s a few tracks that sound a bit like ‘Redneck’ again, there’s some fast tracks all about attitude and there’s enough new ideas that it doesn’t just feel repetitive and by the numbers the whole way through. It’s the perfect balance of giving the fans what they want and not just repeating yourself too much (well, they repeated ‘Redneck’ a bit, but that’s a good thing, and to never explore that sound again would be utter madness!).

Best songs: ‘Desolation,’ ‘To The End,’ ‘Ghost Walking’ & ‘King Me.’

.

.

05. Ashes Of The Wake (2004) – It feels criminal having this album so low on the list, but I guess that’s just a testament to how good the albums above it are. In many circles this is considered a classic, its definitely a fan favourite and it has many of their hits on it. The production is a huge step up from the first two albums, the lyrics are very interesting, the vocals are more dynamic than the early days and the sound is less abrasive and nasty, choosing instead to be crunchy and satisfying. Its heavy, but it’s a more pleasant type of heavy. Also, just to up the Thrash credentials, on the title track there is a guest guitar solo from both Chris Poland of Megadeth and also Alex Skolnick of Testament.

Best songs: ‘Omerta,’ ‘Hourglass’ & ‘Laid To Rest.’  

.

.

06. VII Strum Und Drang (2015) – At time of writing, this is their newest album (although their new self-titled album is about to drop). It is their last album to feature drummer Chris Adler who has since been replaced by Art Cruz. It has some guest vocal appearances by Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato and Deftones’ Chino Moreno, it is the first Lamb Of God album with clean singing, but the biggest thing it will be remembered for is the story prior to its release. If you don’t know, long story short their singer was accused of killing a fan in a stage diving accident and spent time behind bars while the trial was being arranged and going on, it was a real big deal in the metal news for several years, people wore ‘free Randy Blythe’ t-shirts, it was a whole thing. There is a great documentary about it called ‘As The Palaces Burn’ (not to be confused with the album of the same name) which if you live in the UK is available to stream for free on Amazon prime, or otherwise you can check it out on DVD.

Anyway much like this article, the conversation about the record is much overshadowed by those events. The album itself is ok. It’s a bit samey at times, and it doesn’t really have that many stand out tunes that can really go toe to toe with material from earlier albums. Its one of those albums were everything is fine and nothing is egretiously wrong with it, but it just doesn’t pop, it doesn’t excite, there’s no wow factor, no huge anthems and no ‘’holy shit’’ moments. I saw them live with Slayer recently, and the songs from this album were the songs I enjoyed least (although the crowd seemed to love ‘em, so its not like the album is a car crash).  

Best songs: ‘Delusion Pandemic,’ ‘Overlord’ & ‘Footprints.’

.

.

07. New American Gospel (2000) – I seem to be developing a theme here, but at bottom place on the list is the pre-breakthrough debut album. The production and vocals are so much harsher and more abrasive than on their later works. The general sound is more violent and at times angular. Its probably their only record where you can see some Dillinger Escape Plan similarities (not many, but its technical and abrasive and there is a lot of hardcore in the sound). I remember the first day I heard it, I was listening to it on headphones and the kick drum production and panning literally gave me a headache. Of all their albums this one took the most amount of effort for me to get into, and I’ve listened to it the least. That all being said, it does have some great tunes. Some of which they were playing for 2-3 album cycles afterwards (one of which was their set closer for most of their career). So once again, its not without merit, and if you like things rawer, heavier and more hardcore influenced then you’ll enjoy it more, but for the average listener, don’t make this your first choice, even if it does open with a track that has been made iconic live.

Best songs: ‘The Subtle Arts of Murder & Persuasion,’ ‘Terror & Hubris In The House Of Frank Pollard’ and ‘Black Label.’  

.

.

Parkway Drive Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

DAY 3 – PARKWAY DRIVE:

01. Ire (2015) – If you recall my albums of the decade list, then I think you could have guessed already, but there is no chance this album would not make it to the top spot. This is not only my favourite album by the band, but also my favourite album of the subgenre, and my favourite album of the decade it was released. Not bad going for an album I wasn’t sure about on first listen! This is a big stylistic change from the band’s early direction. They’ve injected so much personality, variety and ‘’umph’’ into their sound, and took the ballsy decision to make a grab at the big time (and seemingly succeed, based on the venues and how high up festival bills they’ve been ever since!).  

The Maiden/Priest leads have always been there, but never so well, they absolutely slay it on this record. The clean vocals were only hinted at previously and the big influx of Slipknot & Machine Head influences are new, and they nail it first time. If any criticism could be levelled at their early albums, it may be that the songs were not always distinct enough from each-other, and this album fixes that so completely, never a dull moment, no two songs alike, every second memorable. In my mind this is a stone cold masterpiece.   

Best songs: ‘Dedicated,’ ‘Crushed,’ ‘Vice Grip’ & ‘Destroyer.’

.

.

02. Reverence (2018) – Proving that Ire was not just a one off, PWD followed up my album of the decade with an album nearly as good. They made it even more melodic, more varied and more polished. While it is a bit shorter, and it loses the wow factor for first album in this new style, it is still a terrific album in its own right and a superb sequel.

I caught the band live twice on this album cycle. They were the best band live at Download Festival 2018 even though Guns N’ Roses played after them with Slash and Duff back in the band.  Their headline concert in Cardiff early the next year was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

I feel like this may be the band’s most dramatic and expansive record to date. If you came from the Hardcore scene and have a Killing With A Smile tattoo you may be sat there with a confused expression wondering what the hell happened, but if are happy to go with them on their cinematic catchy new journey, then this is a must have.

Best songs: ‘Cronos,’ ‘Absolute Power’ & ‘Prey.’

.

.

03. Deep Blue (2010) – This was my first Parkway Drive album, for a long time it was my favourite, and it will always have a special place in my heart. I have very fond memories of this record. This is the band perfecting their early sound and is the pinnacle of phase one of their career. It is a must have for any fan of this subgenre.

At first glance it may not seem that original, not have that much of a unique selling point, but while they may not have been in all the magazines from day one, they simply wrote some of the best songs, better than most of their competitors and peers.

The album works best as a journey I feel. Maybe because it’s a concept album, but its best to put it on with no distractions and sink (not pun intended) into the glorious underwater world the band create. Even the shimmering clean guitar lines sound like water half the time. I almost went to see them live on this album cycle, but I skipped it to go on a date that was cancelled with a girl who was very soon an ex. Quite the mistake.

Best songs ‘Sleepwalker,’ ‘Deadweight,’ ‘Karma’ & ‘Leviathan I.’

.

.

04. Atlas (2012) – This album was a bit of a let down when it first came out, but I feel time has been kind to it. Horizons and Deep Blue were so well received and really covered all the ground in this particular furrow, that at the time it kind of felt at the time that Parkway had said all they had to say already. Its strange because the press at the time was kind of about how Parkway had run out of ideas, but in hindsight this was quite a change for the band already. (Not as big a change as Ire was mind you, but a change none-the-less). There were strings, a ballad, a darker vibe, environmental lyrical themes, and even surprisingly some DJ scratches at one point. It wouldn’t be my instant recommendation for first Parkway Drive album, but its not one I’d tell you to skip either.

Best songs: ‘’Old Ghosts/New Regrets’ ‘Wild Eyes’ & ‘Dark Days.’

.

.

05. Horizons (2007) – This is a lot of people’s favourite Parkway Drive album and was a lot of people’s first. It has a very good reputation and songs from it seem to go down a storm live. For some reason, personal choice, who knows, but it is never the album I reach for when I am in the mood for some PWD.

If I was being hyper critical I may say that it is a wee bit samey and it doesn’t have as much personality as later albums, but on the whole I don’t really have anything bad to say about it, and the only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that the albums which followed it were better.

Best songs: ‘Carrion,’ ‘Idols & Anchors’ and ‘Five Months.’  

.

.

06. Killing With A Smile (2006) – For some reason, I never got this album until 2020, every time I went into a shop to buy it (which I have planned to on numerous occasions) it was always 7 or 8 quid more expensive than other albums I saw and always walked out without it. Import costs perhaps? And up until recently, every time I looked for it online I was only finding second hand copies and then the band wouldn’t make anything off it, so I always chose to wait. I finally pulled the trigger on it in the hype building up to their new live album (check back for a review here soon).

I’ve been listening to it pretty consistently since then. Its definitely a little rawer, more rough and ready, less metallic with less guitar hero moments. That being said, all the essential PWD elements are on display here; crunchy riffs, dynamic transitions, dirty beatdowns, memorable guitar lines and savage screams. They didn’t really have the lyrics down yet, but I guess they would have been quite young at the time.

Best songs: ‘Smoke Em If You Got Em,’ ‘Romance Is Dead’ & ‘Anasasis (Xenophontis)’

.

.

07. Don’t Close Your Eyes (2007 reissue compilation / 2004 original) – Like Ember To Inferno, or Killswitch’s self titled debut album, this very early independent album is a solid prototype for what the band would go on to do later, but in the modern day is pretty much ‘’for fans only’’ and the last thing you should pick up when you’ve exhausted all other avenues but still crave a little more. You can see the potential, but the best was yet to come.

Best songs: ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ & ‘Hollow Man.’ (And ‘Smoke Em If You Got Em’ too, but they rerecorded that for Killing With A Smile as above)

.

.

Killswitch Engage Albums Ranked.

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series. Here I’ll be doing a run down, buyer’s guide, what’s hot and what’s not, best to worst, whatever kind of way you want to call it… I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (aka. My subjective favourite) to Worst/Least Good (subjectively, in my opinion)… and then pretending it is a factual list of truth and wisdom. Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number, well, I think you’ve seen enough of these types of articles over the years to gather where this is going…

I’ll chose one band per day.

DAY 2 – KILLSWITCH ENGAGE:

01. Disarm The Descent (2013) – When this was first announced I was a bit skeptical, I was always a big fan of Howard Jones and was sad to see him go. From day one of actually hearing it however, I was utterly convinced, and it has only grown on me since then. Individually, it has some of the absolute best songs the band have ever released.  As a whole, it flows well and makes a good journey. The production is great. Jesse’s vocals are better than the early days and the lyrics are pretty great too. Inspirational even. I know that the history books are probably already written and that ‘Heartache and ‘Just Breathing are the ones that will make all the Top 100 Lists, but in my mind this should be right up there with them. Its my favourite for sure.

Best songs: ‘In Due Time,’ ‘The Turning Point,’ ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’ & ‘A Tribute To The Fallen.’

.

.

02. The End Of Heartache (2004) – I may personally prefer Disarm’ more, but if you need to choose a first Killswitch album, this is probably the one you should choose. Its consistent, strong, confident, perfectly paced and it has utter classic songs on it that will never not be in the live set, will never not be on a compilation and will never not be on playlists. Definitive all time Killswitch anthems. Even the on the nose artwork is iconic. It is probably the ultimate example of the band, and one of the ultimate examples of the whole subgenre. Its one of those top 100 list classic albums that every Metal fan should own.

Best songs: ‘A Bid Farewell,’ ‘When Darkness Falls’ & ‘The End Of Heartache.’

.

.

03. Alive Or Just Breathing (2002) – The breakthrough album and the one where a lot of people first heard of the band. When ‘My Last Serenade’ first came on music tv in the midst of the Nu Metal era it was unlike anything else on the air at the time. The band seemed so futuristic at the time. Although Jesse’s vocals have improved considerably over time, they are still pretty great here. Although the band have become more diverse and also become more polished over time, this album represents the rawer, heart on sleeve, idealistic recipe for what the band what the band would go on to perfect with the next album. (Without being too unrefined, like the one that preceded it). If you like your hardcore, you’ll probably in fact prefer this one over ‘Heartache. Most of all it has monster tunes.  

Best songs: ‘Fixation On The Darkness’ ‘Temple From The Within’ ‘Self Revolution’ and the aforementioned ‘My Last Serenade.’

.

.

04. Atonement (2019) – Their newest album sees the band focusing on choruses. It feels a bit more streamlined, its high on melody and catchy as hell. Its also one of the most even and least frontloaded of their career. Add to that a guest vocal appearance from Testament’s Chuck Billy and ex-singer Howard Jones and you’ve got a damn strong album. I’ve heard a few reviewers not liking this one, but I don’t get that at all, with songs this good and choruses this memorable, its an absolute winner to me.

Best Songs: ‘I Can’t Be The Only One,’ ‘The Crownless King,’ ‘The Signal Fire’ & ‘Know Your Enemy.’

.

.

05. Incarnate (2016) – Following up the masterpiece that was Disarm’ can’t have been easy, and on top of that, being just another album and not having a hook like ‘’the first album with Jesse back’’ or ‘’the first one with Howard’’ also puts it at a bit of a disadvantage in the reasons to recommend it stakes, but this album shouldn’t be overlooked. I think I like this record more than the average fan. It may not be their best album ever, may be a bit uneven, and may be their most frontloaded album to date, but it is still absolutely worth your time. It’s a really worthy sequel to Disarm’ and while it may not reach quite the same heady heights, it isn’t the disappointment some people make it out to be. Its also nice to see them trying new things, one of the songs* sounds like Megadeth at points and one of them sounds almost Djenty.

Best songs: ‘Hate Be Design,’ ‘Alone I Stand,’ ‘Until The Day*’ & ‘Strength Of The Mind**’  

.

.

06.  As Daylight Dies (2006) – Sort of the Incarnate of the Jones-era, it follows up a classic so has to live in its shadow a bit, it has some utter bangers and a very strong lead single, but although its still good it’s a little bit more uneven and not quite as good as the previous record. If all the songs were as good as the best songs, you’d have a contender for the number one stop, but as it stands now, unfortunately its just a good Killswitch album but not an all-time great. Still totally worth owning, but maybe not one you’ll be listening to in full over and over for years and years to come. I can’t foresee them playing the whole album live in full, even if it does feature one of their biggest hits*.  If you can, try and get the version with a cover of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ on it.

Best songs ‘My Curse*,’ ‘The Arms Of Sorrow,’ ‘This Is Absolution’ & ‘Still Beats Your Name.’

.

.

07. 2nd S/T (2009) – This one got a bit of a critical panning at the time due to its lighter production job and the public’s patience for metalcore wearing thin after so many years. History hasn’t really done much to change that opinion. I’ve always been a staunch defender of this album (in and of itself) but there’s no arguing that the albums above it on this list are better than this one. That being said, it does have three of my top ten ever Killswitch songs. It’s a real shame that this album tanked, as I’ve seen the band live three times since its touring cycle and they didn’t played a single song from it live at any of them. Baby with the bathwater scenario if ever there was one. I truly believe if the best 3 songs on this record were on a different album, they’d have a completely different reputation.

Best songs ‘Never Again’ ‘The Forgotten’ & ‘This Is Goodbye.’

.

.

08. Early S/T (2000) – This album is their pre-fame debut album on a smaller label, but you can sort of look at it more as a demo, many of the tracks from it have been re-recorded over the years. Its their shortest album, its their most abrasive sounding album and its got the rawest production of their career. Its not really my thing though. Everything it does right, is done better elsewhere. The best songs have been recreated better elsewhere. The songs which haven’t been remade aren’t all that amazing. Its got the weakest drumming and vocals of any Killswitch album. Its worth a look for curiosity, but it isn’t a must-have.

Best songs: ‘Temple From The Within,’ ‘Vida Infra’ & ‘Irreversal.’

.

.