Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
'Cause people often talk about being scared of change/But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same/'Cause the game is never won/By standing in any one place for too long
Standout tracks: Jesus Of The Moon, Moonland, We Call Upon The Author
Soundtrack for: almost everything I thought or felt in 2008
A million different things, but never unfocused. Gloriously intelligent, but never up itself. Utterly, deeply in love and hate with his life. And absolutely no jejune or banal prolix. A bit like this description.
I'm worn, tired of my mind/I'm worn out, thinking of why/I'm always so unsure/I'm always so unsure
Standout tracks: Plastic, Small, Threads
Soundtrack for: getting drunk and still not being able to say what you really want to say yet easily being able to say what you really don't
Portishead's first album in eleven years (and only their third ever) is, well...this is the stage where I start running out of ways of saying stuff is like soooo good. Like the only album above it in my rankings, it just is this year, as far as I'm concerned, as battered products of postindustrial society begin to realise that those were the easy times. It's not really trip hop anymore, because that distinctive rhythm is gone, but in its place is just the heaviest sound imaginable. Obviously, I don't mean heavy in a metal way, but heavy like getting up in the morning, and feeling like your limbs weigh a tonne. The vocals and lyrics are if anything made more even more raw and fragile by the times that have passed since Beth Gibbons last bled all over a record. If only Silence didn't do that!
Tom Morello: the Nightwatchman – The Fabled City
I'm surprised you didn't come forward when the cops dragged me away/There's a museum in the Netherlands I hope to see again someday/There's a painting of a woman gathering wood/It's almost dark/In a world bereft of meaning there's a flicker in the hearth
Standout tracks: Midnight In The City Of Destruction, Saint Isabelle, Whatever It Takes
Soundtrack for: doing whatever it takes
Another superb album from the former Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist, in his new role as acoustic folk one man revolution. Despite how amazing it is, I haven't really got much to say about it, because it's very similar to last year's solo debut. There's more arousing, singalong, fist in the air moments. There's more sombre, brooding moments. There's also more Irish-sounding moments (which wouldn't be difficult, as there were none on the first album), perhaps influenced by Tom's mother Mary. Actually though, none of it quite matches his 'sung' guitar parts for Bulls On Parade when the police stopped Rage plugging in at the Republican National Convention, or his wonderful, defiant speech that evening.
The Verve – Forth
Will those feet in modern times/Walk on soles that are made in China?/Feel the bright prosaic malls/In the corridors that go on and on and on
Standout tracks: I See Houses, Love Is Noise, Valium Skies
Soundtrack for: sitting and silently contemplating everything as the summer sun dips behind the rooftops
I used to love this band when I was like sixteen, before I became angry and metal, back when I was just sad and indie. It's not as if I'd gone off them any in the intervening period, it's just they hadn't released anything as a band. Richard Ashcroft had made some curate's egg solo albums that mostly seemed to be bound up with his drug problems, then hated the invasion of Iraq, then burst into a Wiltshire youth centre pleading with staff to let him help people or somesuch.
Back together since 2007, The Verve have now released this emotive (NB not 'emo'), searching album. It doesn't sound like a particularly radical evolution given those eleven years, mixing early period reverby jams with Urban Hymns-style anthems, but I don't care, because its great. And Ashcroft alludes to William Blake again, which gets mega bonus points from me.
Filter – Anthems For The Damned
I'd like to wake up/In a dream/Where they don't scream/Without misery
Standout tracks: I Keep Flowers Around, Only You, Soldiers Of Misfortune
Soundtrack for: the damned (of the earth)
Filter are another band who have finally got their shit together this year, although it's really frontman Richard Patrick who's done it, making it out of rock star rehab world and into a critical examination of the society and his place within it. The spark was apparently when a friend of the band was killed in Iraq, and Patrick began writing stirring, sweeping songs for all soldiers of misfortune. It's great to see Filter make an album like this, because it shows that the global crisis is starting to make artists realise their full potential. It makes me excited for the years to come.
Soulfly – Conquer
In the heavy side of life we live/It's not how we chose/But it is how it fucking is/Unleash! Unleash!Unleash! Unleash!
Standout tracks: Fall Of The Sycophants, For Those About To Rot, Unleash
Soundtrack for: blood, fire, war, hate...and love
I groaned when I read the first track on the new Soulfly album was to be called Blood Fire War Hate on Blabbermouth.net. It seemed like Max Cavalera had got it from an online Metal Song Title Generator. In that case, I thought, he must be past it. He must have got to the point where he finds nothing to be inspired by, and so he's reverted - like so many do - to his chosen artform by numbers. How wrong I was.
Instead, this is the consummate Soulfly album, and Max Cavalera is coming of age amidst all the blood, fire, war and hate. He seems to have totally dropped all the rugged individualism and 'spirituality' that have dominated previous Soulfly stuff, and has embraced all his fellow warriors still fighting the Sepultura era struggle. Even the forays into non-western music, which previously seemed so tacked on, meld seamlessly into this truly global work. As heavy as hell, as heavy as life itself, but with just enough light to reassure us that the struggle is worth it. An inspiration.
Tiamat – Amanethes
And now that we're clean/Our souls can be free/Our love is the only drug we need/And now that we're one/We don't need any God/Divinity flows in our blood
Standout tracks: Circles, Meliae, Via Dolorosa
Soundtrack for: struggling to survive in a world of things that actually exist, but which you don't have enough control over.
A beautiful, swirling reverie of an album, which mostly examines religious themes. Types of music I didn't really know existed are made by instruments I don't think I've heard before (or keyboard versions of them). Bearing that in mind, there's not much more I can say, except wow!
Nine Inch Nails – The Slip
And this is not my face/And this is not my life/And there is not a single thing here/I can recognize/This is all a dream/And none of you are real
Standout tracks: Echoplex, Head Down, Lights in the Sky
Soundtrack for: surfing the waves of alienation...and then remixing them!
Following the success of 2007's epic Year Zero and the instrumental Ghosts I-IV, Trent Reznor takes another step towards reshaping the way music is made and distributed with this free gift, The Slip. Released gratis after no press build-up, it is also available under Creative Commons, meaning you can do what you want with it, with Trent's compliments. By no means a NIN classic, it still knocks almost every other release into the proverbial cocked hat, and the times that are coming seem perfectly designed for Mr Reznor to get his teeth into.
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday At Devil Dirt
When the world steals all hope from you/Wonder where you dreams have gone to/You're the one I still belong to/Listen why I love you
Standout tracks: Back Burner, Salvation, Trouble
Soundtrack for: a quiet, gloomy, anaesthetised night in
For some reason this seems miles better than this duo's first album, Ballad of the Broken Seas. It's pretty much the same ingredients: songs of love, debauchery, and regret, with Lanegan's world-weariness counterposing Campbell's sweetness. But I think they've really gelled here.
Cavalera Conspiracy – Inflikted
Born from war and tension/Fed up and fucked up/Feeding on frustration/Fed up and fucked up/Unleash devastation/Fed up and fucked up
Standout tracks: Bloodbrawl, Nevertrust, The Doom Of All Fires
Soundtrack for: fighting!
The personal and musical reunion of the Cavalera brothers - Max and Igor - after twelve years, brings us an album of straight up, visceral, meat and potatoes metal fight songs, reminiscent of Max's work in Nailbomb, and drawing on his love of 1980s British punk. So it's not particularly inventive, but it is extremely heartfelt. The lyrics aren't anything fancy. But they are fiercely stirring, calling us on to struggle against the enemy. And if you don't know who Max's enemies are by now, listen to Nevertrust.
Those that didn't quite make it
The Ruby Kid - La Manif: In which the scarily talented twenty-one year old spits his rap manifesto, mixing dialectics and polemics "like Percy Shelley tripping off a vicodin". I had the bizarre honour of being introduced to his lyrics in a field at dawn in front of a line of cops this summer, and it was entirely fitting.
One Day as a Lion - One Day as a Lion: In which Zack de la Rocha returns to recording with an EP, alongside the drummer from The Mars Volta. "When our cubs grow, we'll show you what war is good for". Indeed.
Warrel Dane – Praises To The War Machine: In which the Nevermore vocal, lyrical and philosophical virtuoso spins more wonders for Jeff Loomis to...oh.
Moonspell – Night Eternal: In which they make perhaps their most solid release, with one or two surprises.
Slipknot – All Hope Is Gone: In which they make perhaps their most solid release, with one or two surprises.
Bauhaus – Go Away White: In which their first album since I was one (and their 'final' one) shows they've changed almost as much as I have.
Netherbird- The Ghost Collector: In which their songs about 'Darkness, Struggles' (according to metal-archives.com) are really great, even if some are from pre-2008 releases.
Opeth– Watershed: In which they make a decent album which retreads old stuff, and it gets a bit boring after a while.
Ohgr- The Devil Is In My Details: In which he goes a bit more Skinny Puppy soundscapey stuff and is all the better for it.
Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood: In which the Radiohead factotum far outstrips the silly film adaptation of a far superior novel.
The Haunted – Versus: In which the Björler brothers from At The Gates, the legendary Adrian Erlandsson, the guy who writes THAT MySpace blog and some bloke called Patrik Jensen don't quite make the quality of music one might expect, given all that. But they will do.
Clinic – Do It!: In which the Liverpool band stick to what they're best at, and come up with a well-crafted - if not that exciting - release.
Enslaved - Vertebrae: In which they serve up more haunting weirdness than you one shake a very large stick at.
Bloodbath - The Fathomless Mastery: In which the supergroup concoct some truly blistering barrages. Words like 'blistering' are used to describe metal far too often for my liking, but look: I have all these blisters now!
Cradle of Filth – Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder: In which Dani and the Filths somewhat unaffectingly detail the exploits of another olden days serial killer. Still, as the man says, "Torture Garden rules..." Cheers Dani, you used to rule too!
Misery Index - Traitors: In which pummelling 'deathgrind' perfectly describes the world of 2008, but paints it in shades of metallic monochrome.
Testament – The Formation Of Damnation: In which the long-awaited follow-up to First Strike Still Deadly sounds about as fresh as thrash can.
Scott Weiland - "Happy" In Galoshes: In which the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver survivor invokes David Bowie and makes an even stranger album than his late nineties solo effort. The longing opiate of the people intensity of closer Be Not Afraid makes for one of my musical highlights of the year.
Jeff Loomis – Zero Order Phase: In which the Nevermore guitar virtuoso spins more wonders for Warrel Dane to...oh.
Steven Wilson - Insurgentes: In which Steven Wilson tries to overcome his Fear of a Blank Planet by travelling the world, and finds more of the same by the sounds of it. Interesting to see how his elegiac music relates to the unfolding crisis.
Satyricon- The Age of Nero: In which Satyricon make more pretty decent unpopular pop black metal.
Cult of Luna - Eternal Kingdom: In which Cult Of Luna try to explain why a mental prison inmate killed his wife. It would probably only make sense to that guy, and he's dead.
Disturbed– Indestructible: In which Disturbed remix all their previous albums. Not really, but really.
Draconian– Turning Season Within: In which the emotive Swedish metallers tread water.
The Faint - Fasciinatiion: In which Carl Carlson from The Simpsons and friends make the kind of music that Moss from the IT Crowd might like. And I might like it too.
Brett Anderson – Wilderness: In which Brett Anderson goes on about various women in an unconvincing way, because he has to.
Arson Anthem – Arson Anthem: In which Phil Anselmo, Mike Williams and some other people deliver about ten minutes of fucked-up smackdowns.
Jarboe & Justin K Broadrick – J2: In which the whole is much more dull than the sum of its parts.
Scars on Broadway - Scars On Broadway: In which two System Of A Down members are occasionally fun but quite boring over the length of the album
Metallica – Death Magnetic: In which the band improve on St Anger by 50%, still making this an appallingly bad release, full of James Hetfield's boring demons and shit production. Again!