Tag Archives: Ihsahn

Best Albums of 2016 – Part Two

We’re into the top ten now, and this time I’ve managed to rank the albums in order rather that just list them alphabetically. So with no further ado…

10: Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveDeserved winner of Best Female Vocalist and Best Breakthrough Artist at the British Blues Awards, Rebecca Downes has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers. When combined with her talented backing band result is a hugely varied record, combining blues with hard rock, funk and soul.

9: Tilt – Hinterland

Tilt HinterlandThe band including Fish alumni Steve Vantis, Robin Boult and Dave Stewart deliver a hard-rocking album. The layered sound and powerful bass grooves recall Porcupine Tree and Steve Vantsis’ work with Fish.

But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm, and if anything it’s his performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.

8: Ihsahn – Arktis

ihsahn-arktisThe fiendishly inventive Norwegian black metallers reign in the avant-garde experimentalism of 2013′s Das Seelenbrechen in favour of an album of more straightforward metal songs. But “straightforward” is a relative thing for a band like Ihsahn; there’s a lot of varied creativity on display here, balancing face-melting guitars with occasional moments of atmospheric beauty,

7: Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe collaboration between former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and Sound of Contact’s Dave Kerzner results in a record with a strong 70s vibe.

There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. It’s an impressive work that’s as good as anything either of them have done.

6: Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train - FolkloreBig Big Train continue to be better than anyone else at invoking the spirit of 1970s English pastoral progressive rock. Again the lyrics are steeped in English landscapes and socio-economic history.

The songs cover subjects from London’s lost rivers to World War 2 RAF pigeons, with music that sometimes evokes the mood of albums like Genesis’ “Trespass”, and at other times is closer to the electric folk-rock of bands like Steeleye Span.

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Continuing the end-of-year albums-of-the-year contdown with the the first six from the top ten. Like the first part from 21 to 11, I have listed them in alphabetical order rather than attempting to rank them, but if I had, they’d be #10 up to #5.

Also Eden[REDACTED]

[Redacted] Also Eden have significantly raised their game with this, their second album since Rich Harding took over as lead vocalist. Despite occasional echoes of Tangerine Dream, Porcupine Tree and even Trespass-era Genesis in the album’s quieter moments, this is a harder-edged and more rock-orientated record than their previous work. The result is powerful yet richly layered record, with Simon Rogers’ inventive guitar playing at the centre of the sound, and Rich Harding’s lyrics moving from the political to the personal.

HakenThe Mountain

Haken The Mountain Haken are another band to step up to the next level with their third album. Previous albums had displayed some obvious influences, most notably Dream Theater and Zappa. But here, aside from a couple of nods to Gentle Giant, most noticeably on the completely bonkers “Cockroach King”, they develop a sound that’s all their own. There are metal riffs, church-like vocal harmonies, deep and complex arrangements and recurring motifs, resulting in a record that both progressive in every sense of the word, and very contemporary sounding at the same time.

Iain JenningsMy Dark Surprise

My Dark Surprise It was indeed a surprise when Mostly Autumn’s keyboard player released a solo album with very little fanfare early in the year. It’s a concept album with lyrics by vocalist Mark Chatterton, and guest appearances from Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison amongst others. With its mix of hard rock and atmospheric ballads with touches of electronica it has many familiar ingredients, but it’s all put together in a different way and avoids sounding anything like a repeat of Iain’s earlier work. The way it seamlessly blends a lot of different styles demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger. A dark surprise indeed, but a very pleasant one.

IhsahnDas Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen Ihsahn’s last couple of albums have been ideal for anyone missing Opeth from the time before Mikael Akerfeldt abandoned the cookie monster. But this album sees Ihsahn leave Black Metal behind, setting course for far stranger waters. There are still moments of ambitious prog-metal especially on the first half of the record, but this album also takes in avant garde noise, with storms of clattering percussion and passages of spooky atmospherics. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it does show how the more experimental end of metal can be far more progressive than many an act labelled as “prog”.

Magenta The Twenty-Seven Club

Magenta -  The 27 Club When it comes to old-school neo-prog, Magenta are still one of the best bands in the business. They’ve never denied their strong Yes influence. There are some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry, and Christina Booth often sings in similar register to Jon Anderson. although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. Their sixth album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music it makes a very good starting point for new listeners.

Touchstone – Oceans of Time

Touchstone_OceansOfTime SMALL Touchstone’s fourth album sees something of a change of direction, with vocalist Kim Seviour and guitarist Adam Hodgson taking on a bigger share of the writing. The result is an album with a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than prog-metal instrumental workouts, and a rawer stripped-down sound with a lot more light and shade that gives Kim’s vocals space to breathe without being swamped by the instrumentation. With their most mature album to date they deserve to win themselves a much larger audience with this release.

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mFlow’s 20p-a-track Sale

Music streaming and downloading site mFlow has been having a January sale.  For a few days, they reduced the price of all downloads to 20p a song, or 20p x the number of songs for the whole album.  It’s resulted in something of a feeding frenzy; I think I bought ten albums altogether; and judging by the steady stream of credit notification emails I’ve been getting, many others have been doing the same thing.  20p for a song or two or three quid for an album is well within impulse-buying territory in a way a £7.99 album is not.

My purchases included a couple of lesser back-catalogue albums I’ve only got on vinyl from Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult, a few albums I’d passed on when they came out, such as a couple of recent Marillion live albums, and “After” by Scandinavian metal artist Ihsahn, which I decided to check out since it had appeared in several people’s end-of-year lists. I flowed on track from that with the words “This album is so awesome I feel guilty for paying only £1.60 for it”, and promptly got three 20% commissions for further sales!

Since I’ve seen both The Reasoning and Mostly Autumn coming up in my credit notification emails, I do wonder how artists feel about their work being sold for such low prices – I do remember one RPG writer I won’t name being not at all impressed to find one of his works in the remaindered bin at Stabcon a few years back.  But surely any revenue is better than none, and gets there music heard by people who might not otherwise have listened.  From such beginnings, fandom can start, if the music is awesome enough.

It does make we wonder what the rational price for MP3 downloads ought to be nowadays.  This year I’ve paid everything from that £1.60 for the download of the Ihsahn album, to well over double the price of a regular CD  for the pre-order special edition of “Go Well Diamond Heart” by Mostly Autumn, and I really can’t say that either was not a “fair” price.  In one case I was taking a gamble on a completely unheard-of band, with only Dom Lawson’s word for whether it was any good, and the other was a fan pre-order for an album which would not have been possible to record otherwise.

Time will tell what sort of pricing strategy labels and artists will take in the future.  It may well be that with universal “always on” internet connections we’ll all move towards streaming anyway.  But I think the days of pricing album downloads so as not to undermine CD sales are almost certainly numbered.

What does anyone else think?

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