We’re into the top ten now, with the top five to go. It says a lot about how good this year has been that many of these would have been in the top five in other years.
Gazpacho – Molok
The Norwegian six-piece pick up where they left off with last year’s “Demon”. The vibe resembles late period Talk Talk crossed with Storm Corrosion, sinister atmospheric soundscapes making prominent use of violin and the occasional irruptions of central European folk motifs. But be careful when you play it. The sound resembling modem noises at the very end of “Molok Rising” is a code which may destroy the universe.
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
Lonely Robot is the project from John Mitchell of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame, with a all-star supporting cast including Nick Beggs, Go West’s Peter Cox, Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, Heather Findlay and Kim Seviour. The end result is a varied but hugely impressive album. It goes from dense guitar-heavy industrial prog-metal to gorgeous ballads to uptempo 80s-style pop-rock, with imaginative arrangements that frequently veer off in unexpected directions.
Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The latest release by the Finnish masters of symphonic metal marks the studio début of lead singer Floor Jansen, and is also the first to feature celtic folk multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley as a full member of the band. It’s rather heavier than their previous “Imaginaerum“, thought the straight-up metal numbers end up less interesting than the soaring ballads and folk-rock workouts. It might have done without the spoken word parts from the odious Richard Dawkins, though at least he’s talking about evolutionary biology here.
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner – Layers of Ages
Gigspanner are an acoustic trio led by former Steeleye Span fiddle player Peter Knight, and Layers of Ages sees imaginative arrangements of traditional folk numbers. Though not an instrumental record, Knight’s evocative and lyrical violin playing is the heart of the sound, full of melody and emotion. Much like contemporary jazz, some modern folk has a lot of appeal for fans of progressive rock wanting to venture out of their comfort zone, and this record is a very good place to start.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
Steven Wilson’s third release following the dissolution of Porcupine Tree is an ambitious concept album about isolation that’s drawn comparisons with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and Marillion’s “Brave”. He reins in the wind-driven jazz-rock elements in favour of more guitar-centred sound that’s closer to the spirit of Porcupine Tree than earlier solo releases, going from stripped-back minimalism that evokes XTC to dense layered prog-metal workouts. It’s perhaps not quite as consistently strong as “The Raven That Refused to Sing”, but nevertheless contains many powerful moments.