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Best Of 2011 - 2012 (EnglandAshes)

ARTIST: Best Of 2011 (EnglandAshes)


Well what a year, a few surprises, lots of discoveries and the inevitable disappointments. Well the surprises and discoveries are well documented (more of a selection of short stories really) below in my picks. Yes as usual I have been writing some tall tales and strung these out into numerous paragraphs while the other more accomplished writers here can just use a few words and still get the message across better than I can. However there is a method to my madness because over the next 12 months I intend only too review items from my vinyl collection, so that means no new releases or anything say released since 1990 (just as I saying that the new Last Autumn's Dream arrives all the way from Sweden, blast!). Unless of course, cracks start to appear during the year and then maybe I will write under a suitable pseudonym, like 'wolvesarelosers','wolvesheadforthechampionship' or 'wolvescannothitabarndoor'. So this is why I am maybe over-elaborated or rather I like to think, enhanced my commentary. So I'm looking forward to many an evening locked away alone in my record room dusting off the old vinyl.

As usual I'm just going to touch upon the state of the music retail. I am prepared to predict that HMV will drastically start reducing their number of stores during the year, because at the moment it is just not working. On the plus side in the UK at least, there seems a surprising growth of new independent record shops, specialising in old vinyl and avoiding the need to sell all the goodies on line. However the growth of the new vinyl market amazes me and those who trumpet this success should be aware that however much you tart up the package, I am still not ready to part with 20 for a bit of nostalgia when the equivalent cd can be purchase at Amazon for 7.99.

On a quick personal note I intend to reach my 100th article during the year, something the England Cricket Team as a whole seem to be out of reach at the moment, let alone as individual batsmen.

So let's look at some near misses, disappointments and somewhat controversial view on some incredible new melodic rock releases during the year (remember only my view to meet my listening requirements). Well the big disappointments centre on my love of somewhat extreme metal bands and one of which can safety stand outside that criteria now, Opeth.

Over the years the following have all appeared in my previous top ten's and even appeared in my best of the 00's and I anticipated at the start of 2011 that the following would again feature, although I found the likes of Shining, Moonsorrow, Edguy (not extreme, granted), Wolves In The Throne Room and even The Devil's Blood (except for the track 'Fire Burning') failing to deliver, maybe I'm getting too old or maybe they are no longer extreme enough for me. This continued as my love affair with While Heaven Wept hit a rocky patch whose release 'Fear Of Infinity' their first for Nuclear Blast I might add, forced me to go off and have a fling with Hammers Of Misfortune, their '17th Street' release gave me much more satisfaction. I then seemed to always leave before the final curtain fell on Septic Flesh's extreme metal symphony, 'The Great Mass'. Opeth with 'Heritage', well I'm sorry I just didn't get it, I resorted to signing up for mediation sessions between the two parties, to help me appreciate this in the future, 'it's me, not you' I cry!, but the real stab in my tender heart being 'The Lotus Effect' by my beloved Suncaged, what happened here?

You will be glad to hear that I have started to recuperate, by listening to the likes of new releases by Fate, Enbound, Love Might Kill and finally the reconciliation between DC Cooper and Andre Anderson to provide a spiffing new Royal Hunt album. Some re-issues by the exceptional Tokyo (why is 'Fasten Seat Belts' still so expensive?), Lonestar, Infinity and the initial three Hall & Oates albums put together under the title 'The Atlantic Albums', released by Edsel, for as little as 5.50. Just touch on a couple of other good things that has happened being the likes of Reckless Love, with the excellent 'Hot' tune and the very weird and wonderful, A Forest Of Stars, which presented a clearing in my mind, which for the last couple of months have been filled with Celtic Frost inspired Vallenfyre.

Finally, you may notice that only Toby Hitchcock's album makes my top ten, when really it's been a great year for Frontiers and for melodic rock in general. For instance the likes of Lionville, The Magnificent (containing the excellent melody attached to the lyrics 'watch me as I turn the lights on' from 'Satin & Lace', and in hindsight is totally worthy of a place), Last Autumns Dream, After Hours, Work Of Art, Fergie Frederiksen, Grand Design, House Of Lords (where finally they have seem to have spent more time on the songs and production rather than airbrushing pictures of James Christian) and even Mecca except the rapping on 'Life's Too Short', yes I love most if not all of these, it's that when a need a melodic fix, I have found most of them quite interchangeable (at least I can discount The Magnificent from this), all fulfil that need , I'm not going as far as saying they are not that undistinguishable, because obviously they are, but ?. So as I leave you with that thought, in true The Simpsons style, I hear a lynching party coming over the hills looking to string this whinging pom to the boughs of that yonder tree.

In Summary

1 - Sixx: AM - This Is Gonna Hurt
Who would have thought that Hard Rock would be given a much needed injection by one fifty plus year old bass player? Yes Nikki Sixx is fifty four and still can't spell his name correctly (only one X). But who cares as he has brought this trio together for a second bite of the cherry, and yes this is a trio of equals, as he owes his comrades in this, being Dj Ashba and the incredibly talented James Michael one very large debt of gratitude. In fact I would hazard a guess at this being even larger than the current size of Britain's national debt, being in the region of 1 trillion (I thought we were promised that all these austerity measures would mean it would reduce not increase, hey if you think of it as in Trillion the 80's AOR band it doesn't sound that bad!). In my eyes these guys have produced an album that other so called great albums in the future will need to be measured against; it has an air of greatness surrounding it. Rather than pick out individual songs at this junction (I'll leave that for my future review, which screamed necessary to do) this collection explores so many depths of the musical world, previously unknown to humans. They have managed to combine influences, styles from so many unworkable genres, this is no Treaty of Versailles, this actually works and will stand the test of time, as they ask on one song, `Are You With Me?' Yes!

2 - Von Hertzen Brothers - Stars Aligned
Doobie Bros, Hanson Brothers, err.. The Brotherhood Of Man, not entirely sure where I'm going with this introduction, but this group are actually brothers (yes obviously!) and whether it's just brotherly love, instinct or a form of intuition that you sometimes get between twins, well that theory looks like it could also apply to brothers because together these Finns have produced an album full of hi-jinks, in-jokes and special messages covering a wide plethora of musical influences. Universal like many large conglomerates have swallowed up yet another family business, but instead of asset stripping they have actually heavily invested by making the Brothers first couple of releases available to the other outer reaches of the World, and good they are too. Already a success in their native Finland, you can like me finally catch up with this their own description of prog, rock, modern pop, metal, well put it simply, an indescribable picnic of sounds. If you have read reviews about these guys, well don't believe everything you read, I'll widen this when I came to provide a full article soon. Don't just keep it in the family, there's no black sheep here, explore and discover new musical cultures.

3 - An Autumn For Crippled Children - Everything
Granted not the most pleasing of names, but this creation from The Netherlands is shockingly beautiful, yet to appear in the pages of Glorydazemusic and as likely as George Osborne counting to ten without the use of his fingers. Yes it's extreme time, vocals hard on the ear no doubt? well in all honesty the vocals are used here just like another instrument, in the background, creating another texture. Listening to this is like detoxing your body from all those nice, pink, fluffy and sugary melodic songs that you have overindulged in throughout the year (and nothing wrong in that). At times this is frightenly melodic, even sounding like a poltergeist coming through your hi-fi, but this time the ghoulie has a ready ear for a good melody. Not for the faint-hearted but for those who enjoy a fright once and while.

4 - Beggars & Thieves - We Are The Brokenhearted
When I was little, I wrote a review of the debut by Beggars & Thieves and sent it through to a fledgling AOR fanzine asking them to consider whether it was good enough to be published, well I never heard back. Whether that was because they bailed out and never made it to Issue 4 due to financial matters or after reading the said review it turned them into giggling wrecks and failed to be able to hold a pencil ever again, I seem to have the effect on lots of things. So all these years later, Beggars & Thieves are still making an impression on me. This puts me back to late 80's when we all were enjoying AOR's last hurrah, Diving For Pearls, Drive She Said and Tall Stories. Thing is, while two of these bands seem to have rubbed off on this current opus, did any of those three groups comeback albums get anyway near my top 10 in previous years. Nope, that's why this release is so special; they show they still have the ability to stun the listener at close range. Everytime I play this it seems to stay in the Hi-fi that little bit longer, it keeps stretching say to track 7, then track 8 then track 9 etc., its batting average is increasing after each play. Buy this as the time is now, not 1989. In addition we have Jake E Lee making an appearance in the promo for 'We Come Undone' so even waist jackets are making a comeback, which I keep telling them at work as I have my frame poured into one, although they are still not impressed when I turn up to the office with silks scarfs round my wrists.

5 - Joe Bonamassa - Dust Bowl
Don't you just hate those end of year Best Of articles by the likes of Classic Rock (can someone tell them that Ghost's - 'Opus Eponymous' was released in 2010, I should know it was in my top ten), Record Collector and Q, you know they give the impression of 'we know best', and as 'we all work in London'!. Just think of the suckers who are easily swayed by the views of the hottest writers, well not me. Well that's not entirely true; it seems that I am easily swayed, quite easily really, because 'Man Of No Principles '(me!) has gone out and brought the likes of The Blacks Keys, Gentleman's Pistols and Joe Bonamassa based on purely these type of recommendations, and I'm still to buy The Union, so I haven't finished yet. Yes it seems they are all very good but it's the last of this trio (actually there are more but I'm too embarrassed to show I'm even more gullible I can be) that on reflection has had the greatest affect, even to the point of picking up large chunks of his back catalogue (I can heartily recommend 'The Ballad Of John Henry') and even contemplated driving the family to see him live in Bournemouth, regrettably chose not to as only the balcony seats were left available, (I'm not that old, but as these seats are a long way from the stage, I don't want to put any undue strain on my eyesight). I thought I knew the Blues, you know, tired, boring, repeating the same lyrics line after line, those school music lessons have a lot to answer for, nothing would instil me to browse the Blues section in a music shop. However Mr Bonamassa seems to put a more rock edge to the songs, although there is still one or two stinkers contain in the grooves. Played this on the journey to work many times and it's so good that I'm purposely looking for traffic queues, red lights, anything to prolong my journey to work, so I can listen to all the tunes, taking detours, running over small wildlife animals. One reason is due to the fact the last track is the song 'Prisoner' written by Karen Lawrence and John Desautels, yes them of 1994, original performed by Barbra Streisand, is just amazing, please check Joe's version out and report back, I'd appreciate it.

6 - Shy - Shy
'It's Shy Jim, but not as we know it', whether it was the introduction of Lee Small on vocals or the sheer perseverance of the late Steve Harris to complete the best Shy album ever and totally create a different feeling, even persona, I don't know? well anyway it worked. This was stronger, heavier, more flamboyant than anything in the 30 year plus history of these boys, and believe me I was there buying the limited edition of 'Brave The Storm' album (my previous favourite) in WHSmith to get my free t-shirt. Probably the most played album this year by myself, especially travelling to work, needing a shot of rock adrenalin and having the songs wavering back and forth in my mind during the day, when that happens, you know it's special. Inspirational and not just in the music sense.

7 - Within Temptation - The Unforgiving
It is said that the performance of women long distance runners improves after they have given birth to a child; well if that is a medical fact then maybe the same can be said for female singers, because Sharon den Adel just excels with the latest from this Dutch band. In my view this is their personal best not just in terms of National records, or All-comers records but World records (getting excited about The Olympics??yes the races, not the extra 40m spent on the opening and closing ceremonies, don't they get it ,it's the competing not the spinning ribbons from the dancers and red buses that counts). Catchy songs peppering the target, with the likes of 'Shot In The Dark' and 'Sinead', which would have sprinted up the singles charts if they actually meant anything today unlike the 80's. I took a long time to purchase this, in fact only had to part with 5, so don't leave it too late, as it's the best fiver I've spent all year.

8 - The Poodles - Performocracy
Yes it's easy to knock these guys, and many have felt it's been a downward slide since their opening salvo and near miss Eurovision quest. But these guys have been around long before they become pooches and they know their game. They have shown great bouncebackability to come back from losing one of their stars players to Hammerfall (sounds like Andy Carroll scenario) but really like Newcastle this has strengthen their performance. They have pulled off a major melodic achievement, how can you doubt it with my song of the year being 'Cuts Like A Knife' which leaves a permanent puncture wound. Long live The Poodles, the Best of Breed.

9 - Brian Robertson - Diamonds And Dirt
In between appearing on a host of Phil Lynott documentaries Brian has finally returned to the recording studio and does what he does best, although die hard Motorhead fans may think differently. I suppose my view of the whole Thin Lizzy position is best describe by the following Yvonne Elliman lyric (well Bee Gees really) 'If I Can't Have You, I don't want anyone else baby', being of course without the great Phil Lynott. I would have a change of heart if they recorded something new; we all know Scott Gorham is capable, look at 21 Guns. So in the meantime, I will take Brian Robertson sometimes maybe slap dash collection of songs, some being self-penned which are the best on offer, covers and new versions of previous Lizzy tunes. It's the new ones that have the real melodic dimension, ably assisted by the smooth vocals of Leif Sundin (MSG, Great King Rat). I find myself constantly hitting the repeat button, a surprisingly return to form.

10 - Toby Hitchcock - Mercury's Down
So the young Toby Hitchcock goes it alone and breaks from the Joe Peterik stabilizers and is starting to ride into his own destiny. Holding the handlebars this time is the immensely talented Erik Martensson and really, on what is contain here I can't see any incentive for Toby to return to his former Jedi Master. This display is more free thinking, the cutting edge is shown on the likes of the splendid opener 'This Is The Moment' and 'Let Down', just picking out a couple of favourites. Erik has taken the place of the Bounty Hunter looking for the right prey and boy did he find him, or could it had been Toby playing the part of Indiana Jones locating a worthy song smith. This still begs one question? Erik is a fine vocalist in his own right; we need to hear from him again. For all those doubters in the melodic world, to me this has created as much as a rumpus as Paul Scholes returning to Manchester United, Thierry Henry to Arsenal, as Carlos Tevez to my local village side. (I wonder if Mancini is aware of that?).

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#1 | gdazegod on February 05 2012 23:43:40
Excellent read Chris. Thanks.. Thumbs Up
#2 | swazi on February 06 2012 11:11:33
Backed! clap
#3 | Eric on February 06 2012 13:38:12
Finally- someone else who agrees with me on Opeth - 'Heritage'. Anything that Steve Wilson touches (mixing in this case) these days seems to rate with critics, but this one blew right over me. The Devil's Blood- eh, another 70s-rip along with Blood Ceremony. Nice list Chris, an entertaining and informative read as always.
#4 | englandashes on February 08 2012 22:52:03
Eric, I wonder what Storm Corrosion will bring in April, Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and Steven Wilson collaboration? on paper excellent, but if it's Heritage part 3,(as the press releases are mentioning) oh dear!, for once I need some growls on the vocal front!
#5 | Eric on February 09 2012 00:08:46
Yeah, I don't know. Wilson's an extremely talented guy and I liked the Blackfield disc on K-Scope, but more Opeth related stuff has zero interest for me.
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