||IAN SUTHERLAND'S BEST OF 2016
Words: Ian Sutherland
It's that time of year again and what a year it has been, and now it's time to start publishing the Best Of 2016s from our key people and on 31st December we'll be announcing the end result, one winner from each category. Here's Ian's Best Of 2016s...
I think to qualify for band of the year you have to have released a great new album and followed it up with touring and very high quality live performances showing that you embody everything that a truly great band needs to be. In a very competitive year my top three are:
1. DIAMOND HEAD
What? Diamond Head as band of the year? It’s 2016! However the fact is that Brian Tatler and his current compadres have produced a great album which lives up to the legacy but still sounds like now and are following it up with cracking live shows. All the boxes are ticked and it's a sheer joy to see it happen.
These theatrical Swedes have been around for a while but with latest album 'Feathers And Flesh' matching their imaginative live shows in scope and execution they have taken a giant leap forward. This freakshow has the sweet smell of success about it these days.
This a band on the rise and with 'The Holographic Principle' they showed that they are maintaining a creative peak. While the tour has yet to reach UK shores their incendiary live performances around Europe and the Americas have already cemented their reputation as a great live act. Check them out at the Forum in London in February as this is a band headed to arena status soon.
There have been so many great gigs this year I could do a top twenty no problem at all. However I only get to name three so here they are:
1. STREAM OF PASSION: ROBIN 2, BILSTON
The final UK show ever from these talented Dutch/Mexican symphonic Metallers and the hardcore turned out in force to say goodbye. A sweaty, emotionally charged performance from both band and crowd, it was the best gig of the year but ultimately left everyone drained and saddened. Music is meant to mean something to you though and this gig proved that it really does.
2. DIAMOND HEAD: LA BELLE ANGELE, EDINBURGH
The NWOBHM veterans first show in Edinburgh since 1984 was a brilliant comeback; new songs merged seamlessly with the old in a set which set Metal pulses racing. Was I evil? You bet your ass I was!
3. THERION: AUDIO, GLASGOW
It could have been a disaster - a four band bill including a seven-piece headline act squeezed onto the stage of Glasgow's cosy Audio club. It turned out to be a triumph and the packed crowd loved all four bands. It was such a treat to see Therion on such a small stage too as usually I only see them at European festivals. A terrific night.
BEST ALBUM: DIAMOND HEAD: 'DIAMOND HEAD'
The rebirth of a legend. Somehow this rejuvenated outfit have managed to make an album which sounds just like they did in their heyday yet it feels fresh and modern too. With singer Rasmus Bom Andersen at the point of attack with just the right mixture of classic Head vocals and his own style, Brian Tatler has found the foil he needs to match all those classic riffs once more. A triumphant return.
2. AVATAR: 'FEATHERS AND FLESH'
It's a concept album about an owl who is trying to save the world by stopping the sun from rising. Musically it goes from frantic Metal to twin melodic guitars to jaunty circus undertones and everywhere else inbetween. Yet it works. The song writing is tremendous, the scope and ambition of it all is breathtaking and it is a creative triumph. The freakshow is coming of age.
3. EPICA: 'THE HOLOGRAPHIC PRINCIPLE'
These Dutch symphonic Metallers get heavier with every release yet retain that melodic magic they can weave through their furious, complex world. These guys are on a creative high right now and this album is another step up the ladder for them.
I didn't make it along to any of the big open air festivals this year so my festival of the year will have to be of the comfy indoor variety. The inaugural Stone Free Festival at London's O2 Arena brought an interesting mix to the three stages available over two days. I managed to rock out with Alice Cooper, see Rick Wakeman complete with cape and orchestra and discover The Lounge Kittens all without getting sunburnt or wet or having to sleep in a tent. Ah, luxury. With a few small tweaks I think this event can be become one to mark on the calendar every year and the fact that they have Rainbow as one headliner next year shows they mean business.
STREAM OF PASSION
Never mind all these staged little short videos of singles, when I watch a band in action on a screen I want it to be the real thing, a proper live gig to get your teeth into and see what they are made of. This year I particularly enjoyed the debut DVD by Powerwolf as the German Metallers gave us three complete shows in their debut live effort which is enough choruses about blood to keep any Metal fan happy. Dutch prog legend Ayreon went in another direction completely and recorded a full theatre performance of the concept album 'The Human Equation'. The filming may have lacked a little something at times but the performances didn't.
Above them all though was Stream Of Passion's 'Memento', a well filmed set with terrific audio of this line up of the band in full flow. Full of all their trademark fire, bombast, subtleties and Latin twists it's the perfect way to celebrate their legacy as they move towards their end of year break up.
BEST NEW BAND:
THE LOUNGE KITTENS
I never find it easy to pick best new band, mainly because it's hard to define new. By the time I come across an up and coming band they will almost always have been working hard for years to get to the point of starting to get somewhere. There are lots of deserving bands like that around that I saw for the first time this year such as Broken Witt Rebels and Mason Hill but the one that really got my attention were The Lounge Kittens. Yes it may all be covers and no there's no guitars but I love these ladies' style, attitude and superb singing skills. Basically they cheer me up and I have fun every time I see or hear them. Nothing wrong with that. So new band of the year after years of work is The Lounge Kittens. Team Kitten - I'm in.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017:
It looks like 2017 will be the year of the classic rock legends and there are tours already announced from Kiss, Alice Cooper, Rainbow, Guns N' Roses and more. It will be great to see the people that created the rock and Metal scene we love up there once more. I am also looking forward to things on a smaller scale such as the forthcoming debut EP from the unpronounceable Vetrar Draugurinn. Melancholy Metal from Stream Of Passion's Eric Hazebroek and the velvet vocal tones of Autumn's Marjan Welman, a combination which has to be something special.
What I'm looking forward to most though is three shows in Tilburg in September from Ayreon. Arjen Lucassen has finally decided to bring his prog Metal leviathan onto a stage once more and with a line-up featuring no fewer than sixteen singers, including some very well known names, plus a back catalogue of sci-fi epics to choose from it should be something to behold. 2017? Bring it on!
You can read all of Ian's previous reviews right here.