Getting some graduation business out of the way during the past 6 months while still keeping the steady stream of brew-reviews coming has taken an unfortunate toll on the musical side of this blog. So the least that I can once again do to catch up is count down what I think has been the best recorded music released during the first half of 2013. For notable convenience I’ve made separate lists for the jams of my native country and the foreign ones.
10. Santa Cruz – Screaming for Adrenaline
The young blokes in Santa Cruz bring some classic 80s style hard rock (more Guns N’ Roses than Mötley Crüe, although you could make a case for the styles of both, I guess) with some added virtuosity in the guitar solos to spice up the hard partying mood. Strong yet suitably sleazy pipes on that vocalist as well. Fans of straight-up rocking should take special notice. 7,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
9. Hexvessel – Iron Marsh EP
Psychedelic folk summonings to the max. Not the most high-energy offering on this list so not the first choice of an LP for the party season but in terms of atmospherics and some brew-sipping-while-lounging-music, this is great stuff. The kinda music that’s also most recommendable on vinyl. 7,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
8. Jätkäjätkät – Marian Sairaala
Considering the high volume of rock, prog and metal that dominates my lists, it might disturb some readers that the vocal side of this album is largely rap-oriented. But frankly, as a language major and hopeful academic toungue twister, I cannot shun rapping when it is of such a high quality as it is here. Naturally it helps immensely when the musical side provide a high-energy dose of balkan/slavic-influenced folk that may not provide many distorted guitars but in terms of the vibe, is very rocking nonetheless. Something different to bring flavours into your mind. 7,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
7. Mikko Pettinen – 2Happy
Mikko Pettinen is one of the long-standing trumpet players of Finland’s perhaps premier jazz/soul/all-around-rhythm-ownage collective, the UMO Jazz Orchestra. His first solo album provides a hearty dose of grooving jazz and ample touches of soul-funk that should get any folks with a pulse moving. Maybe the lyrical side can get a tad corny from time to time but even if that grinds your gears for a moment, the music should get your engine going again real quickly. 8 / 10 MUFASAs.
6. WÖYH! – Ikkillyk
A circus show of different genres in stellar Finnish wordsmithery. Band references such as YUP and Absoluuttinen Nollapiste will probably be lost on most if not all foreign readers. Imagine a melting pot of zany progness with a good helping of rhythmic trickery, notable flavours of hard rock, a commendable appreciation of harmonized acapella singing, some woodwinds and horns for a touch of jazz, even the kind of naive whimsy you often find in children’s singalongs…all that and then some comes together on Ikkillyk and somehow holds together nicely. Not an album for everyone but personally I thoroughly enjoy the versatility. 8 / 10 MUFASAs.
5. Lost Society – Fast Loud Death
Four dudes each barely scratching the age-limit of two decades individually, churning the kind of high-speed crossovering thrash metal that should either put huge smiles on the faces of fans of the Kreators, S.O.D.‘s and Stone‘s or put those same fans out for the count. A band to be reckoned with in the near future, metal fans have been warned. My detailed review is available here. 8 / 10 MUFASAs.
4. Sammal – Sammal
The Finnish prog scene has never entirely dwindled throughout the decades but out of names in the past few years, Sammal (Finnish for “moss”) has made a particularly strong impression on me with their take of some classic 1970s vibes from the folky flourishes to the more cosmic keyboards and overall high-flying atmospherics. And they don’t forget to mingle with some poppy sensibilities either. Potent, versatile stuff. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
3. Kalmah – Seventh Swamphony
A band that I’ve long considered the middle of melodic death metal’s road from mediocrity to greatness finally slaps one deep into the net with their seventh studio offering. Aggressive, catchy and suitably epic at times without stretching too far for their style. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
2. Amorphis – Circle
The pioneering stalwart of the Finnish metal scene keeps pumping out the atmospheric and melodic metal goodness from one album to another while still keeping a few fingers on those death metallic roots. Maybe even a touch more of the ancient blackness can be smelt here as well. The most reliable war horse around, folks. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
1. Shade Empire – Omega Arcane
A buddy of mine once described Shade Empire as “Much like Dimmu Borgir, except Shade Empire is awesome”. That’s a pretty apt characterization. Their brand of grandiose, suitably complex melodic black metal has enough thrashiness and hooky twists in it to avoid monotony while keeping everything suitably brutal. Extra points are naturally given for the intentional-or-not melody-reference that opens the record. Fans of author George R.R. Martin’s most famous works and their modern adaptations should get a hearty smile out of it. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
10. Bad Religion – True North
The cerebrally compelling punk pioneers keep the pit churning, with the enjoyable touches of hardcore to boot. The world-famous oozin’ aaaahs cannot let you down, if ya ask me. Plus points for the great album title as well. 7,5 / 10 MUFASAS.
9. Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
The undisputed champion of the 1990s Seattle-scene why it had a leg up on its local colleagues with a HEAVY batch of new tunes that provide both the gloom and the melody. Riffs grind away and the harmonized singing is stellar. I was even a little surprised how sludgy and ground-shaking this turned out to be. Viewing their new output, I may still enjoy the Black Gives Way To Blue-record just a little more, but the Chains are still definitely on. 7,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
8. Suicidal Tendencies – 13
Still Suicyco after all these years. Few people know how to fire a mosh pit with the ferocity and groove of Mike Muir and his band of punky thrashers. Bonus points for the straight-up funky nods at Suicidal’s “sibling band” Infectious Grooves. 8 / 10 MUFASAS.
7. The Winery Dogs – The Winery Dogs
Musical “supergroups” have always been a dicey proposition in my eyes as it has been easy to find the initial enthusiasm of name recognition and individual skills fade under the weight of mediocre song material. But it seems Ritchie Kotzen (guitar for Mr. Big and briefly Poison), Billy Sheehan (bass maestro with Mr. Big, David Lee Roth, Steve Vai and many more), Mike Portnoy (that whole Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Neal Morse Band scene of pretty spectacular bands, ya know) have been able to avoid this trap by mixing their evident virtuocity with nastily grooving, bluesy hard rock that gets my veins pumping with the quickness. And man, I had no idea Kotzen can sing leads this well. I agree with the folks who have said that Kotzen sounds a lot like Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell at times, except that Kotzen is better. 8 / 10 MUFASAS.
6. Riverside – Shrine of New Generation Slaves
If it’s a spirit-affirming picnic record you’re looking for, these Poles may not be you primary choice of entertainment. But after writing these guys off (somewhat needlessly) as a lightweight Porcupine Tree for quite some time, this thought-provoking and enveloping slab of heavy prog rock pounding convinced me that Riverside is for real. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
5. Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood
The boys are back, and they’re looking for trouble. Whether they found it or not does not really affect the fact that they brought the high-voltage, ale-drenched celtic punk with all the pipes, whistles and stellar quality that we wished for. Long may they revel, on Lansdowne Street and beyond. 8,5 / 10 MUFASAs.
4. The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
“The Rite of Work”, what I’d also dub as the greatest soundtrack to your standard 9-to-5 workday that you could find. A frolicking progressive adventure with rock, touches of classical music, jazz and even dabs of fusion, hints of folk, awesome washes and stings of keyboards and organs filling the skyline of buzzing around you, all set to a thematic story about the joy or futility of modern life, depending how you want to take it. In no way a sermon though, as humour plays a very important part here. You can’t take your work with you to the other side and your kids will sell the rest off on Ebay anyhow, so don’t waste their time and enjoy what you can, mate. Very decidedly British, both dry and witty. Superb stuff. 9 / 10 MUFASAs.
3. Here Come the Mummies – Cryptic
Undead funkiness from the dusty depths of ancient spacy Egypt with a groove that would make the sun god Ra himself sweat profusely. Lemme rephrase that. Undead. Funk. Get this. 9 / 10 MUFASAs.
2. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep
California’s favourite prog rock sons continue to unintentionally mirror the career path set by the British overlords Genesis as their singer/drummer Nick D’Virgilio left the group after having already taken the spot left by the original front man Neal Morse (in effect just like Phil Collins did in relation to Peter Gabriel in Genesis). Losing such a brilliant singer and drummer would crush lesser bands but Spock’s Beard soldiers on with new vocalist Ted Leonard and against many odds, nails it marvelously on their first collaboration, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep. Full of lush melodies, walls of vocal bliss, twists and turns in structure while keeping it all intact and away from noodling self-indulgence…simply put, progressive rock how I like it. 9 / 10 MUFASAs.
1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
This doozy has probably locked the honor of the foreign Album of the Year circa 2013 already. Something brain-melting has to come out to do better. If you seriously need to know more, I’ll give you the details right here. 10 / 10 MUFASAs.