5 – Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun (2014)

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In the world of modern metal (and even some of the more adventurous rock circles), Mastodon are fast becoming a household name. From humble sludge metal routes, they’ve incorporated progressive elements as well as stoner rock into their sound and continued to mature into something fairly detached from their original roots. Their last release, “The Hunter” felt like a commercial watershed for the band. Thick, distorted riffs were almost deserted in favour of a lighter guitar tone and songs “simplified” (by Mastodon standards) with extra emphasis on melody. Whilst, these brought them some success, it led to a lot of the longer term fans of the band crying out for the bite of previous releases. “Where’s the sludge?” disheartened Mastodon fans asked and even led to accusations of them selling out.

I’m not sure how much of an impact such comments really made on the making of this album, but Mastodon do seem to have taken a leaf out of past albums when writing these songs. Whilst not a carbon copy of before, the guitars and riffs on this have a crunch that The Hunter lacked. At the same time Mastodon have pushed further down the progressive aspect of their sound and it really pays off. They now have best of the both worlds, their heavier beginnings are balanced perfectly with their later, more progressive sounds on this album.

Here is a band really striving for the top, not afraid of the big chorus but still intent on creating something unique to them. Mastodon have really matured here and created a richly layered collection of songs with refreshing variety. The band switches between fast, dazzling displays of prog metal to moody, psychedelic numbers with consummate ease. It matches the otherworldly cover art perfectly and I think this may well be the most “complete” Mastodon album to date. Plenty won’t agree with that statement, but I’d be shocked if this wasn’t acknowledged (at the very least) as a fine example of modern progressive metal.

Personal Fave Track: “The Motherload”

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6 – Neurosis – Through Silver In Blood (1996)

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Every now and then an album comes along that just absolutely floors you. One that makes you drop everything you’re doing and just listen in awe. It might be because the songs are completely different to what you’ve heard before and it gives you a different perspective on things. Other times the music is from a genre you’re well versed in, but it blows everything else similar you’ve heard out of the water or perhaps twists it into something new. Perhaps the former is a better feeling to have, but there’s something almost as equally refreshing as a band breathing life into a genre you thought you’d heard all before.

This was a very much in the former camp for me, I’ve heard a lot of sludge metal and its various sidebranches before I came to this. I kinda knew what to expect, but that didn’t prepare for the onslaught that was to follow. The first thing that strikes me is how just MASSIVE this sounds. It’s one of those records that just crushes you and makes you feel like the tiny spec you are in this huge universe we live in. This is the sound of watching planets colliding and the world collapsing around you.

Firstly, the riffs pummel you into submission. Thick, sludge like sledgehammers batter your brains. Meanwhile, the vocals sound like the bellows of a man who is living his few hours on earth who hasn’t accepted his fate. The deep bass grooves and pounding drums only add to the sheer weight of it all.

But, that only tells half of the story. The heavy side of this album hits you the hardest, but there’s some really understated and subtle elements that really help pull together the apocalyptic atmosphere that can be heard. There’s creepy voice samples, industrial noises that sound straight out of the Godflesh catalogue, bagpipes (yes really!), violins…..I could go on and on. These are all applied with a feather touch, making these songs even more terrifying and perhaps hinting at desolation. These bring balance and allows the band to build up their songs to a devastating climax. Neurosis also sometimes strips back the sludge assault in their guitars as well, allowing themselves solemn moments.

So all I will say is, if you want an album with the intensity of Earth collapsing around you, you’ve come to the right place. Not just a collection of songs, more an experience.

Personal Fave Track: “Purify”

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7 – Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)

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My new job as an Reprographics Operator requires a lot of concentration. It’s my responsibility to prepare digital artworks to the best of my ability so they look good on the shelf and are printable on an industrial scale. Sometimes I have to go through paragraphs of text consisting of different languages making amendments. It’s no real surprise I turn to music when I need to really focus and I’ve timed checking out this band perfectly. Time and time again this year I’ve turned to this band to help me really get stuck into work.

But, for me to suggest this is just an album to put on when you have some repetitive office work to do is doing this album a real disservice. I can’t believe this album was released in 1991, because for me it still sounds so fresh today. Hip hop, electronic, dub and soul all combine to create this fantastic urban sound. Some people perhaps think urban as a dirty word, but this is such a clean, cool collection of songs I think some people may redefine their meaning of the word after listening to this.

Such variety as well, compare something the hip hop of “Blue Lines” to the soaring soul of “Unfinished Symphony”. It just works. You could put this on after the worst working day imaginable and find yourself completely de-stressed. This is where this record excels: chilling you out. And in this fast paced world we live in, that is certainly no bad thing.

Personal Fave Track: “Hymn of the Big Wheel ”

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9 – Deftones – White Pony (2000)

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Sometimes you stumble across bands you just aren’t ready for. Back in 2010, I attended my first festival. It was Download and some band were subbing to Rage Against The Machine called Deftones. I’d not checked out any of their stuff and they did not impress me. Only one of my mates, a fine fellow nicknamed Blink was into them at the time. He shook his head whilst we all acted really bored.

Fast forward probably a few years and I made friends with a great lady (nicknamed Pinky) who had started working in the same office as me. As we grew to know each other, the main connection we seemed to have was music. I remember a discussion were we spoke about our favourite bands. Pinky happened to bring up how much she loves Deftones. The next thing I did perhaps wasn’t my cleverest idea, I said I’d seen them but didn’t really “get them”. I think the phrase “hell hath no fury like a womans scorn” would apply well here, as I was given a look of sheer disgust and disdain. That look alone was almost enough to convince me to give this band another choice and I finally got round to it this year.

I can tell you now that I’ve completely embraced this album. Deftones produce track of track of bittersweet perfection on here. Heaviness is perfectly mixed with melody and Chino’s vocals simply take it soaring to new levels. It’s a touchy feely album but at the same time has a whole load of balls and comes across as incredibly genuine. There’s some great riffs on here, but there’s nothing overly self-indulgent and technical that some metal bands are sometimes guilty of. Here is a bunch of guys just producing honest expressions on life with their music, a la punk. I always pick up on the sheer passion of feeling in these songs above anything else and that’s no bad thing when a band puts this much into it. They go into melancholic and angry moods with equal ferocity. The songs are fantastic too, this isn’t just a case of me going “oooo it’s all emotional I love it”.

This album’s a walking contradiction for me, as it sounds equal parts humble and subtle as it does massive and elevating. For me to make such a shift on this band is a dedication to just how strong this record is. So sorry Blink and Pinky, you were right all along. In fact, to prove me even more wrong, I saw Deftones live this year and they were one of the highlights of a seriously fucked up weekend.

Personal Fave Track: “Back to School (Mini Maggit)”

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10 – Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007)

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A concept album with a storyline based on a omnidimensional, omniscient space alien who threatens to invade planet Earth in search of humankinds finest cup of coffee isn’t something you come across every day. In fact, I’m probably doing the likelihood of that happening a big disservice. More like every millennium perhaps?

Before I heard this, I was worried that this was going to be one of those “funny” albums that’s full of gimmicks, focuses too much on the comedy aspect and gets old after five minutes. I’ve always loved Devin’s more reflective stuff and I thought I wouldn’t click with this album. Not for the first time, I was completely wrong.

This album is in fact a space metal epic with really well constructed songs which portray the storyline perfectly. When listening to this, I could really picture the cosmic goings on in my mind. It’s progressive and over the top, but what sets it apart from other records of this nature is just how accessible and above all how FUN it is.

That’s largely down to the main character of the story, Ziltoid. A being from a galaxy far, far away who is parts evil genius equal to parts bumbling nerd, you can’t help but laugh and end up loving him a bit. Him and his ridiculous adventures provide a fantastic basis for these songs and they are integrated perfectly to ensure we never sway to far into “funneh comedy rock” territory. The spoken word sections provide amusement and you’ll probably find yourself quoting this record, confusing as well as intriguing your family and friends in equal measure.

I think it speaks volumes that Devin felt the need to release a sequel to this and play a show at the Royal Albert Hall (yes, really!) dedicated to good old Ziltoid. So, throw away your seriousness for a second and revel in an entirely bonkers space adventure.

Personal Fave Track: “Planet Smasher”

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1 – Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine (1997)

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Every now and then, an album comes along and completely knocks you for six. You never expect albums to make such an impact on you. Your always just looking for something enjoyable to listen to. When those special albums arrive, they grip you and don’t let go for a long time (sometimes never!). Whilst in their grip, you might completely reevaluate what you listen to or even further still make you think about who you are as a person or how you are living your life.

This was one of those albums for me. I remember listening to this for the very first time and feeling like I was having some sort of epiphany. The amount of times I’ve put this album on when I’m struggling with the anxieties of everyday life or just had no idea what to listen to I couldn’t possibly count. I feel like this album has taught me lessons and I’m almost still as floored by this album after listening to it for the umpteenth time as I am the first time I heard it.

It’s just about a metal album, but it’s one so filled with pop like melodies it’s a very light one. And this is where this album truly shines, in its melody. It completely lifts you up and barely let’s go. The melody never sounds cheesy, but instead completely heartfelt. There are moments in this album when you’ll feel like singing your heart out and going nuts, but there’s also moments when you’ll find yourself wanting to reflect and think about your own life.

Behind the soaring melodies, there’s ambient touches which give the whole thing an ethereal like quality. It sounds completely different and almost feels like your participating in some emotional journey whilst listening to it. Devin really has completely outdone himself here, and I’m not sure he’ll ever create anything I enjoy as much as this one.

As you can probably tell from this review I’m almost completely in love with this album. I honestly feel like it’s impacted on me massively and I hope anyone else who listens appreciates this as much as I do. Cause if it does, you’ll probably be changing a few things about yourself or even your life for the better too.

Personal Fave Track: “Seventh Wave”

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2 – Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (1994)

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What do you get when you combine a group of super talented rappers probably completely high on weed with Wu-Tang Clan style production and an unhealthy obsession with horror films? You get one of the most sinister, menacing and probably dopest Hip Hop albums ever that’s what. In fact, I reckon Darth Vader could have played this to Luke Skywalker to convince him to join the Dark Side.

This album draws you into its shadowy world and will not let go. The theme of impending doom and horror throughout this album is such a refreshing contrast to some of the more clichéd Hip Hop out there. The aggressive rhymes tell morbid tales of death, the devil and ghoulish goings on with a strictly dark sense of humour. The production completely nails the eerie atmosphere and when combined with verses this good ensures almost every track is a classic.

So, give this a listen and indulge your dark side. Come now, we have cookies.

Personal Fave Track: “Diary Of A Madman”

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