Sunday, 29 January 2017

Tyketto - Bristol Review

Tyketto are one of those bands who came along a little too late to really make an impact. Towards of the end of the 1980s there were lots of new melodic rock/AOR/hair metal bands formed in the wake of the giants of the genre's stadium-filling success, but they were all soon sadly chewed up by the onslaught of grunge and a changing musical and commercial landscape. One of these bands was Tyketto, who were formed in New York 1987. Despite releasing the acclaimed album Don't Come Easy in 1991, which brought them success and recognition both at home and abroad, the band endured a tough time from record companies and eventually called it a day in 1996. Various one-off reunions followed, and since 2008 there has been a permanent line-up of Tyketto out there touring again. There have been a few different members come and go during this time, but Tyketto has been held together in this time by founding members Danny Vaughn (vocals/guitar/percussion) and Michael Clayton (drums/vocals) who started the band together all the way back in 1987. 2012's Dig in Deep showed the band could still write great melodic rock songs, and their latest opus Reach, released last October, was extremely well-received and was included in many publications' Top 10 Albums of the Year. Tyketto have always been popular in the UK, so a tour to support the album's release was scheduled for last December, but a myriad of sad personal circumstances meant the tour had to be pushed back to January. This actually worked out well for me, as I was unable to make any of the dates on the original tour, and the fact that the rescheduled Bristol date fell on a Saturday made this gig an obvious choice. The venue was the Thekla, a converted boat moored in Bristol's Mud Dock is certainly a unique venue and a new one for me. I was worried that the confines of a boat might not make for the best live music venue, but the Thekla turned out to be a surprisingly good venue with an excellent sound system and a decent-sized stage for the size of the venue.

Before Tyketto's headline performance however the growing crowd was treated to half an hour of music by local band Pixi Encore. Being fronted by two ladies who sung most of the set in harmony together instantly set the band apart from many of your average support bands, and the two ladies added rock guitar over a jazzy rhythm section to create very interesting songs. Apparently they are usually joined by a violinist too, which I am sure would have added more to their sound, but she was absent from this show so they set had a more stripped-back rock vibe. Most of the songs were pretty poppy with prominent vocal lines, but some of the guitar work was surprisingly rocky with some decent riffs and even a few solos thrown in. While Pixi Encore are certainly not the sort of thing I would listen to, their quirkiness and strong songwriting stood out. Many of the songs had catchy choruses and, while the crowd seemed to take a while to warm to them, they probably made a few new fans with this strong performance. I also have to say that I thought their drummer was fantastic, with a real jazzy understated style that was reminiscent of those big band drummers of the 1950s!

After a fairly quick changeover, the lights went down and the crowd erupted. By this point there was quite a sizeable audience in the Thekla and the vast majority of those there were clearly dyed in the wool Tyketto fans who knew every word to very song! Crowds like this always create a fantastic atmosphere, and this one was no different with the fans getting behind every song played, old and new alike! The show started with a bang with Kick Like a Mule from the new album which is driven by Chris Green's (guitar/vocals) guitar riff and is one that allows Vaughn to really let rip vocally. While Vaughn is the obvious focal point of Tyketto, there were many moments throughout the evening where Green managed to steal the spotlight! My only previous experience of Tyketto live was a great show in 2014 in Wolverhampton which was one of Green's first with the band when he was filling in for founding member Brooke St. James. Now Green is a full member of the band, and his confidence has grown in spades since that show three years ago. He is a monster player, and the next number Wings certainly showed this as he played those tricky little riffs and lead breaks with ease. All five of the band's albums were represented in the set (even 1995's Shine which only Clayton of the current line-up actually played on) and there was a good balance of old and new throughout. Faithless from Dig in Deep was an early highlight and has one of the band's best choruses. It was sung back at the band with real passion by the crowd. In fact this, followed by the soaring new number I Need it Now and my personal favourite Tyketto number Burning Down Inside was probably the best part of the night! Burning Down Inside was another one that was loudly sung by the crowd, and from Ged Rylands' (keyboards/vocals) keyboard intro the place went wild. While this was the high point, the whole set could realistically be classed as the evening's 'high point'. There were no weak links in the set, with the band putting 100% into every song feeding of the crowd's energy. The new album's title track came across really well live, and the old power ballad Standing Alone was a small respite during a high-energy set and one that was beautifully received. The final new number played, Big Money, really came alive on stage. Green's guitar riff came roaring out of the speakers and Vaughn sung the politically-charged lyrics with genuine venom. Lay Your Body Down, the main set's penultimate number, turned into a real workout for the band. The crowd really got behind the choruses, and this seemed to spur the band onto even greater heights. The band's newest member Chris Childs (bass guitar), although he is someone that needs no introduction to British rock fans, took centre stage during it for a lengthy and explosive bass solo that seemed to leave even some of the band shocked. The set came to an end with the melodic Love to Love from Dig in Deep which was also extended with a lengthy outro solo from Green, where even breaking a string did not stop him from shredding his heart out! Despite the fact the curfew had been reached, there was of course time for one more and the band came back out for their signature song Forever Young which was of course greeted with huge cheers from the crowd and ensured that an already-triumphant set was brought to a strong close. The setlist was:

Kick Like a Mule
Rescue Me
I Need it Now
Burning Down Inside
Meet Me in the Night
Dig in Deep
Standing Alone
Catch My Fall
Let it Go
Big Money
Lay Your Body Down
Love to Love
Forever Young

While the show three years ago in Wolverhampton was great, this show eclipsed it! The current line-up seem really locked in with each other now, and the energy created on stage showed this and really brought a reaction from the crowd. Vaughn said from the stage that they would be coming out to the merch desk after the show, but the security saw fit to eject everyone from the venue almost straight away which was a real shame. However, I managed to get Green, Childs, and Rylands' autographs on my copy of Reach outside the venue but it was too cold to stand around and wait for the others - maybe next time! Vaughn also hinted that Tyketto would come back to the UK at the end of the year, so I hope that turns out to be the case.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sabaton - London Review

Sabaton are one of those bands who seem to get bigger and bigger by the day. While power metal in general is in decline, or reduced to cult status, the Swedish band have managed to transcend this trend and have become household names now for even the most casual of metalhead. Their high-energy live shows are definitely a big factor in their growing popularity, and their willingness to tour anywhere and everywhere has certainly earned them plenty of respect. The last headline show of Sabaton's that I saw was in the small Hub venue in Plymouth, as part of an extensive UK tour in 2014 that took in many places off the usual beaten track. They were far too big for many of the venues they played, but this did not deter them and they stirred up excitement in clubs up and down the country. The next year I saw them at Bloodstock Open Air, as special guests to Friday night headliners Trivium, where Sabaton played to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and were easily one of the bands of the festival. This current European tour, dubbed The Last Tour as it is in support of latest album The Last Stand, only took in a handful of UK dates this time around, but they were in venues that were far better suited to Sabaton's stature and ever-growing stage show. Their venue of choice in London was the large O2 Academy in Brixton, a venue I have only been to a couple of times before but is, I think, one of the better venues for live music in the city. The sloping floor ensures a good view wherever you stand, and the sound is always very clear. While the Academy was not sold out, there was still a very large crowd gathered throughout the evening, and the atmosphere throughout was excellent.

Fellow Swedish power metal rising stars Twilight Force must have hit the stage the minute the doors opened, as I could hear Battle of Arcane Might spilling out of the venue as I was still in the queue, but they treated the growing crowd to half an hour or so of their over-the-top Rhapsody of Fire-esque bombastic metal. It was only back in October that I last the band, as they supported Sonata Arctica at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, but this performance was stronger overall. The sound for one was better, and their complex, multi-layered sound sounded fresh and exciting, and much more dynamic than on their overly-compressed studio albums. Frontman Chrileon in particular impressed this time, with his high-pitched voice cutting easily through the swathes of metal beneath him and he managed to get the ever-growing crowd interested on what the band were doing. Flight of the Sapphire Dragon was one of the highlights of the set, with Lynd's (guitar) plentiful neo-classical soloing providing some of the best pure musical moments of the evening. The real highlight however was the anthemic Gates of Glory, a song with a massive chorus, and one that many in the crowd already seemed to know. Twilight Force are really starting to make a name for themselves now, and I doubt it will be too long before they attempt some UK headline dates of their own. The setlist was:

Battle of Arcane Might
To the Stars
Riders of the Dawn
Flight of the Sapphire Dragon
Gates of Glory
The Power of the Ancient Force
Knights of Twilight's Might

By the time special guests Accept hit the stage, the Academy was pretty much full and I am sure there were many in attendance who were there mainly to see the German Invasion-leading legends. The fact that Sabaton can get such a well-loved and influential band to support them speaks volumes of their popularity, but Accept treated it as their own show and went out there to wow everyone in attendance. With an industrial-themed backdrop the band stormed through an hour of heavy metal classics, mixed in with newer songs from their critically acclaimed recent run of albums, and had the whole crowd on side by the end. Frontman Mark Tornillo has given the band a real shot in the arm, and his rasping voice and strong stage presence is part of what makes the band so good live. Newer songs Stampede and Stalingrad got the set off to a great set, before the crowd were given a heavy metal history listen with the classics Restless and Wild and London Leatherboys. The latter in particularly impressed, with the whole band providing gang vocals throughout the catchy chorus, as founding member Wolf Hoffmann's (guitar/vocals) jackhammer riffs drove everything. Hoffmann actually took the spotlight more than Tornillo, often standing on a riser at the front of the stage to peel off solo after solo. New recruit Uwe Lulis (guitar/vocals) was content to stick to rhythm, but did join Hoffman on the riser for the dual solo in the ultra-classic anthem Fast as a Shark which was sung loudly by the enthusiastic crowd. This song was also a showcase for new drummer Christopher Williams who played the thrashy intro with ease, and just generally gave one of the tightest and well-disciplined sets of heavy metal drumming I have seen in a while. While the whole set was great, it ended particularly strongly. Teutonic Terror is probably the most well-known of their newer songs, and it was greeted by the crowd like an old friend, before their signature anthem Balls to the Wall saw the biggest crowd sing-along of the night up to that point. As predicted, Accept's set was a triumph and I hope some of the younger members of the crowd that might not have been familiar with the band's music before the show are now converted fans! The setlist was:

Restless and Wild
London Leatherboys
Final Journey
Princess of the Dawn
Fast as a Shark
Metal Heart
Teutonic Terror
Balls to the Wall

If anyone did not know what Sabaton were about, one look at their military-themed stage set would instantly give the game away. Sabaton's songs are all mini history lessons, telling stories of bravery and sorrow in war. This USP, combined with their high-energy stage presence, makes a Sabaton show always a spectacle, and this was no different. From the ever-present set opener Ghost Division, which opened with plenty of pyro and bangs, to the last notes of the encore, this was a top quality evening of live heavy metal and probably the best Sabaton show to date that I have seen. With a new album out, the setlist has undergone a rather large revamp, with many songs that have been ever-present for years seeing a well-earned rest. In fact, this was a very forward-looking set, with 10 of the 17 numbers played coming from the band's most recent two albums. The mid-paced fist-pumping anthem Sparta was the first of the new songs played and saw frontman Joakim Brodén, adorned in a Spartan helmet and cape, really get the crowd going. The song's chorus is made to be heard live and it did not disappoint! This was also the first Sabaton show I have seen with new boy Tommy Johansson (guitar/keyboards/vocals) and he acquitted himself very well with plenty of fluid soloing throughout the evening. Old and new songs sat well together throughout the set, and there were countless highlights for me. One of the early ones was The Last Stand's title track, which is one of my favourites from the new album, and it rocked the house like I always knew it would. The song's co-writer Chris Rörland (guitar/vocals) seemed even more animated during this one, and his solo came tearing out of the blocks with real melody. Halfway through the set the band performed The Final Solution acoustically, something which is very different from something you usually get at a Sabaton show. Johansson was behind the piano for this one, and the stripped back arrangement really helped bring the sombreness of the song's subject matter out even more. It was business as usual after this however, and when drummer Hannes van Dahl clambered back atop his tank drum riser after the little rest bite it was full steam ahead with Resist and Bite, with Brodén picking up a guitar to help bulk out the sound, and then Night Witches and The Lion from the North which are both fast-paced power metal tracks that always get the crowd going. The pace slowed a little again for the groove-based and rhythmic The Lost Battalion, before the rarely-played Union (Slopes of St.Benedict) brought the main set to a surprising but uplifting end. The roar of the crowd ensured there was more, and the ever-present Primo Victoria saw probably the largest amount of crowd noise and movement of the night. It is always one of the defining songs of a Sabaton show, and at this night in London it was no different. The show then came to an end with two newer numbers, Shiroyama from the new album and To Hell and Back from 2014's Heroes. The crowd was just as wild for these songs as they were for the older numbers, which shows that Sabaton's catalogue is great from front to back. They left the stage to a huge cheer, and once again showed why they are one of the most explosive live bands on the planet at the moment. The setlist was:

The March to War
Ghost Division
Blood of Bannockburn
Swedish Pagans
Carolus Rex
The Last Stand
Far from the Fame
Winged Hussars
The Final Solution
Resist and Bite
Night Witches
Dominium Maris Baltici
The Lion from the North
Diary of an Unknown Solider
The Lost Battalion
Union (Slopes of St. Benedict)
Primo Victoria
To Hell and Back

As predicted, this was a fantastic evening of live metal from three bands who gave it their all. While 2017 is not yet a month old, I would not be surprised to see this gig in my Gigs of the Year list when it comes to writing that come December!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Avenged Sevenfold - Birmingham Review

While I would never class myself as a die-hard fan, I have always enjoyed Avenged Sevenfold's music. From their humble metalcore beginnings to their current progressive leanings, Avenged Sevenfold have always created interesting music packed full of melody and attitude. They are of of the best mainstream metal bands around these days, and the fact that they are now able to undertake an arena tour in the UK shows just how popular and well-loved they are. The band's latest album The Stage, released without fanfare last October, shows the band pushing forward into new territories for them and is an album that is truly progressive and packed full of creative songwriting. It gives me hope for the future of rock and metal music when a band as big as Avenged Sevenfold can create an album so diverse and challenging. While better songs exist elsewhere in their catalogue, hearing The Stage gave me an all-new level of respect for the band of songwriters and musicians - and I feel it is the album that has finally allowed them to step out of the shadow of their sadly departed drummer and key songwriter James 'The Rev' Sullivan. While Avenged Sevenfold are a big band now, arena shows are always better with a great undercard to support the headliners. Providing that in this instance were American alternative metal legends Disturbed and Swedish melodic metallers In Flames. Birmingham's Genting Arena is always a good place to see live music, and the sound throughout the evening was mostly pretty good. Unsurprisngly, the place was pretty full too. Only really the back portion of the seats were not full, with the side seating and the floor being full of people.

In Flames were on first and I have to say I found them quite disappointing. In Flames are one of the bands who helped bring melodic death metal to the masses during the 1990s, but their sound over the past decade or so has evolved to take on more of a alternative metal vibe, losing much of their heaviness. While I have never been their biggest fan, I do own a few of their albums and was looking forward to seeing what they were like live. Unfortunately, the sound did little to help them and it was the only time during the evening where I felt the sound was less than acceptable. They sounded extremely muddy throughout, and did not seem to really perform with much energy at all which is a shame to see from a metal band. They were not on stage long, probably not much longer than half an hour, and I have to say I was glad when they walked off after their set.

Disturbed were another story however and really got the crowd excited during their hour long set that contained material from all of their albums and a fantastic stage show that matched the intensity of their songs. Dan Donegan (guitar/keyboards/vocals) appeared on stage alone to play the short instrumental The Eye of the Storm before the band joined him and crashed in Immortalized from their most recent album. Frontman David Draiman prowled the stage all night, making good use of the catwalk, and interacted well with the crowd. It is fair to say that the whole front portion of the crowd, as well as many others, were well and truly enchanted by him, and he led the band through a triumphant set that contained all of their best-known songs. Old classics like The Game sat perfectly alongside newer numbers like The Vengeful One, and the set flowed well. The Animal was included in the set at the request of an ill fan the band had met earlier in the day, before the old classic Stupify brought the first half of the set to a close. Their cover of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence has brought the band a lot of attention recently, and as expected it was performed live with plenty of emotion as the band were joined by a string section and an additional guitarist. After this the set was basically just packed full of classics, including Inside the Fire, with accompanying pyro, and the ultra-melodic Stricken. Their set came to an end with arguably their best-known song Down with the Sickness which had the vast majority of people in the crowd singing along at the band's request. While I would only really classify myself as a casual fan of Disturbed, this was an extremely powerful performance from the band and they showed why they have the strong reputation that they do. The setlist was:

The Eye of the Storm
The Game
The Vengeful One
The Animal
The Sound of Silence [Simon & Garfunkel cover]
Inside the Fire
The Light
Ten Thousand Fists
Down with the Sickness

While I think Disturbed were probably the main event for more than a few people in the arena, Avenged Sevenfold were the headliners and received the biggest reception of the night. With a space-themed stage set to suit the themes explored in their new album, the band kicked off with The Stage and followed it up with a two hour set featuring songs from all seven of their albums. The lengthy opening number proved to be a strong set-opener, and the majority of the songs played from The Stage fit in well and came across well live. It was the older songs that received the biggest cheers however, with Afterlife and Hail to the King really getting the crowd going early on. While frontman M. Shadows is undeniably the band's focal point, and he turned in an excellent vocal display throughout, it is Synyster Gates (guitar/vocals) who stole the show with countless excellent guitar solos throughout the evening. He is one of the best mainstream metal guitarists these days, and this performance helped to cement that. Paradigm from the new album was also well-received, but it was the golden oldie Chapter Four that received one of the biggest cheers of the early set. Shadows sung the chorus with real venom as he was helped out by the large crowd. Of all of the new songs played, I felt that the ballad Angels was the only one that fell flat. It is just not one of the band's most memorable songs, and this showed when it was part of a set as strong as this one. The band have done better ballads in the past, and another one would have probably worked better. The heavy Nightmare soon put all memories of this slight misstep out of site however, and showed that new drummer Brooks Wackerman is a real talent behind the kit. The second part of the set mainly featured heavier songs, including the anthemic Almost Easy and the diverse Sunny Disposition. It would be great to see this song with a live horn section, but the backing track will have to do for now! The song Planets saw a giant inflatable spaceman, which looked like a reject character from Pink Floyd's The Wall show, rise behind the band. The set ended with the emotional and powerful ballad Acid Rain, and the band left the stage to huge cheers. Of course there was time for more, and three classics followed which saw the excitement in the crowd build even more. Bat Country and the strange nightmare ride of A Little Piece of Heaven saw everyone singing along, before Unholy Confessions from the band's past was wheeled out to huge cheers and this ensured that everyone went home happy. The setlist was:

The Stage
Hail to the King
To End the Rapture
Chapter Four
Buried Alive
God Damn
Almost Easy
Sunny Disposition
Warmness on the Soul
Acid Rain
Bat Country
A Little Piece of Heaven
Unholy Confessions

Overall this was a great evening of live music from some of the biggest mainstream metal bands around at the moment. I had not seen either Avenged Sevenfold or Disturbed before, so I was glad to have the opportunity to finally do so.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Fragile Things - Plymouth Review

Back in 2008/2009, my favourite 'new' rock band were Heaven's Basement. I had their debut self-titled EP not long after it came out, and played it regularly. They were one of the first young bands I heard that were playing classic rock-style music with new and youthful energy and they opened my eyes to a whole pile of other new bands and helped to set me on the path I am still following when it comes to new music. One of the things I regret was that I never got to see this influential original line-up of Heaven's Basement live. Their concerts eluded me for a whole host of reasons, including a Plymouth show that was cancelled when original bassist Rob Randell left in 2009. Part of the band's early success was the voice and charisma of frontman Richie Hevanz who left the band in 2010. Heaven's Basement continued on with vocalist Aaron Buchanan, and I finally saw the band live at his first ever show with the band in Leicester in 2011. They went off in a slightly more modern, alternative rock direction and made a sizeable fanbase with relentless touring and the excellent debut album Filthy Empire that was released in 2013. As seems to be the norm with Heaven's Basement now however, they are going through yet another frontman change and they are yet to reveal their plans going forward. Despite still being a big fan of Heaven's Basement through all their changes, I always wondered what Hevanz was up to. I knew he was in a band called Endless Mile for a while but this was a band I never really followed, and it was not until sometime last year when I came across his new band Fragile Things. I knew very little about their music, but saw they were playing a show at The Junction in Plymouth early on in 2017 so I put the date in the diary and decided to go and check them out. The Junction was to be the site of that ill-fated Heaven's Basement gig back in 2009, so it seems fitting that I would finally see Hevanz in that venue which is only a short walk from where I now live.

This show in Plymouth was part of a little run of two shows in the South West of England supported by South West-based rockers All Guilty Parties. They were on first and played for around half an hour to a small but appreciative crowd in The Junction. All Guilty Parties' sound was very riff-based and with a strong bass groove (apart from one song when technical difficulties meant there was no bass!). While I thought some of their music was quite strong, I felt that the vocals and vocal melodies were fairly weak and lacking in any really memorable tunes. In fairness, the lead vocals were quite buried in the mix, so this did not help, but there were not many songs that stuck out to me as being particularly memorable vocally. Being fairly local however they did have some fans in the crowd and they received a genuinely warm reception throughout their set.

Fragile Things were headlining the evening, but it felt like they had to work harder than All Guilty Parties to get the crowd going. The show in Ilfracombe the night before had seen them perform without a singer, as Hevanz' car had a puncture on the way down to the gig, so they seemed raring to go in Plymouth and had a bit of a point to prove. Again the set was fairly short, probably no more than 40 minutes long, but they packed a lot of great music into their show and made a strong impression on me from the off. For the most part, Fragile Things' music is fast and hard-rocking, with strong riffs from guitarist Mark Hanlon that really drive the songs. The opening number, Enemy is I epitomised this sound, with drummer Hugo Bowman really adding a whirlwind of fills throughout the song to really emphasise the band's classic rock influences. Hevanz' was a bit of a different frontman that what I expected him to be, and much more reserved than in those old Heaven's Basement videos. In fairness, that was 9 years ago now and he looks very different to the lion-maned rocker he was then! His voice is still the same however, and he really was the focal point throughout the set with his high-pitched strong vocal display. Some of the songs had shades of his old band, but mainly the set felt more modern with a strong alternative rock feel and plenty of grooves from bassist Steve Lathwell. Despite not knowing most of the songs played, the ones that stood out the most to me where Memories and Wine and  Better Than This, both of which are unreleased as of yet. They both had big choruses and a great performance from Hevanz that showed he is still a force to be reckoned with in the rock world. Another song that stood out was Angry, a song that mixed heavy choruses with a slow, slightly grungy verses. It sounded different to everything else in the band's set but it worked well and showed some diversity in the songwriting. The set came to an end with the only song of theirs I knew, Broken Sun, which is a song that really could have been an old Heaven's Basement tune with an anthemic chorus and a great classic rock strut. By this time the crowd seemed to have warmed up to Fragile Things, and I am sure they made a few new fans in Plymouth with this performance.

After the set copies of the band's debut EP, also called Broken Sun, were for sale. It will see a general official release later in the year, but pre-released physical copies are currently available at their shows. Needless to say I bought one and I look forward to giving it a proper listen sometime soon. Fragile Things got 2017's gigging calendar off to a fine start, and I hope to catch them live again soon.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Music of 2016 - Part 2

Every music blogger worth their salt tries to boil down all the listening they have done over the past year and attempt to come up with a definite list of the best albums of that year. 2016 was another great year for new releases and, like previous years, I have found it hard to whittle everything down to a definitive Top 10 list for 2016's Albums of the Year. The top two picked themselves, and either could have justifiably been my Album of the Year, but the other eight places could have easily been filled by around 20 different albums that are all on about the same level of greatness. When I come to read this back I will probably end up disagreeing with it, but I think these 10 albums best describe the cream of 2016's new music in my current opinion. As always, only albums of new material count; therefore compilations, live albums, and EPs are not in consideration for this list. Clicking the album name for each of the albums listed here will take you to the original review I wrote for each which will give you more detail should you want it. Without any further ado, here is my Top 10 Albums of 2016 in reverse order:

10) Delain - Moonbathers
The Dutch symphonic metal act's fifth album is a slow-burner, but after spending more time with it since my original review, and seeing the band perform much of the song live, has made me realise how great it is. Moonbathers is the band's heaviest work yet as they make use of having two guitarists in the band's ranks for the first time in their recording history, and the amount of special guests has been dialled back to put the spotlight more on dynamic frontwoman Charlotte Wessels. After four albums of subtle experimentation, it feels as if Delain have found their true sound with Moonbathers, and I will be interested to see how they progress from here.
Listen to: The Glory and the ScumSuckerpunch & Fire with Fire

9) Megadeth - Dystopia
American thrash metal titans Megadeth's recent albums have not exactly been popular with large portions with large portions of their fanbase, so I think many out there were pleasantly surprised when Dystopia hit and took the fans back to the band's early 1990s glory days with a heavy, angry, yet melodic album packed with great riffs, snarling vocals, and shredded guitar solos. New guitarist Kiko Loureiro made his mark felt instantly with a sterling performance, and this clearly gave bandleader Dave Mustaine the kick he needed to write this excellent new album. After spending nearly a year with this album, it only gets better with each listen and is easily the band's best since their 2004 reunion, and possibly even before that!
Listen to: The Threat is Real, Dystopia & Post American World

8) Mantra Vega - The Illusion's Reckoning
It took Heather Findlay six years to release a full-length album of new material after leaving Mostly Autumn in 2010, but this collaboration with American musician Dave Kerzner proved to be an instant hit that saw Findlay at her most confident and creative. While most of the album has a laid back organic rock vibe with a strong acoustic base, heavier and more epic moments permeate through and make for a diverse and warm album that brings out the best in Findlay's voice. While Mantra Vega will probably end up being a one-off collaboration between Findlay and Kerzner, it is clear their songwriting chemistry is strong. With The Illusion's Reckoning, Findlay has finally stepped out of the Mostly Autumn shadow and has done something that stands strongly on it's own.
Listen to: Island, Veil of Ghosts & Lake Sunday

7) The Quireboys - Twisted Love
The band's fourth album in as many years sees The Quireboys tackling the blues in their own inimitable gypsy rock 'n' roll style. This is best-sounding album of their recent run of releases, and sees the band rocking out far more too with far less ballads than normal. This is a raw-sounding rock album, but Keith Weir's keyboards help to add warmth and colour, and Spike's trademark whiskey-soaked vocals sound as good and ever. There are not many bands out there that would be able to release four albums in four years and maintain the high level of quality that The Quireboys have here, but then there are not many bands out there that are The Quireboys!
Listen to: Ghost Train, Twisted Love & Midnight Collective

6) Epica - The Holographic Principle
Epica have been sitting near the top of the symphonic metal for quite some time, and with The Holographic Principle they ensure their place there is more than secure. For a band that have included death metal elements in their sound since day one, this is the band's heaviest work yet with guitarist Isaac Delahaye going out of his way to create heavier, more technical guitar riffs to drive the band's bombastic and orchestral metal. There are a lot of memorable moments here, and frontwoman Simone Simons can be thanked for this with plenty of catchy vocal melodies and soaring melodies for fans to sink their teeth into. This is easily the band's best-sounding work to date, and confirms what we already know which is Epica are really on top of their game at the moment.
Listen to: Universal Death Squad, Beyond the Matrix & Dancing in a Hurricane

5) Dream Theater - The Astonishing
When American progressive metal legends unleashed their double disc rock opera telling a science-fiction story set in a dystopian steampunk future, you had the feeling that this was an album they had wanted to make for sometime. Even by Dream Theater's high standards, this was an ambitious ask that could have come off sounding contrived, but they managed to make it work with a simple story that was helped to life by the band's melodic metal backing and frontman James LaBrie's stellar vocal performance. He is the star of the show here, singing a subtly different voice for each of the story's characters, and proves there are few singers in the metal world as versatile and thoughtful as him. While the album gets somewhat bogged down in the middle, the first and third thirds are classic Dream Theater, and they should receive huge praise for even attempting something like this.
Listen to: The Gift of Music, A Better Life & Our New World

4) COP UK - No Place for Heaven
After a slight visual re-brand and new line-up, Sheffield's Crime of Passion returned with their third album, and first for four years, No Place for Heaven. This is the band's most melodic and memorable album yet, and clearly takes a big influence from 1980s rock and metal. Nearly every song on the album has a soaring chorus that will not leave your head, and the smoother overall sound aided by new keyboardist Henning Wanner really suits the band's songwriting style. I feel that COP UK have finally found their true sound on this album, after flirting with heavier and more metal trappings previously, and No Place for Heaven is an album that feels fresh and exciting. I just hope there is not another four year wait before album number four!
Listen to: The Core, My Blood & Stranger Than Fiction

3) Sabaton - The Last Stand
Rather unsurprisingly, Sabaton's eighth studio album sees the band doing what they do best. Sabaton firmly found their sound a long time ago and are unlikely to change it any time soon, but The Last Stand sees some of the catchiest material from the band yet. The keyboards that took more of a backseat on 2014's Heroes are back in full force here, giving the album a gloriously over-the-top pomp rock sound that fits the band's military-themed power metal perfectly. Sabaton are probably the biggest power metal band in the world at the moment, and this is an album that will provide a lot more ammo for their excellent live shows and will no doubt enthral their legions of dedicated fans.
Listen to: Sparta, The Last Stand & Winged Hussars

2) Marillion - Fuck Everyone and Run
In some ways I cannot believe this is not my Album of the Year, and if I wrote this list on another day it might have well been, but second place is no bad thing. Veteran prog rockers Marillion's eighteenth studio album perfectly seems to sum up the political and cultural gloom of 2016 like no other album can, and shows that older bands can still be more than relevant when it comes to new music. The dense, atmospheric sound the band have become known for over the past decade or so has been honed to perfection here and this serves as the perfect backdrop for Steve Hogarth to lay out his caustic and melancholic lyrics that hit home like very little else released this year.
Listen to: El Dorado, White Paper & The New Kings

1) Avantasia - Ghostlights
It was inevitable that one of Tobias Sammet's albums would one day end up being my Album of the Year, and Ghostlights more than deserves that accolade. He is the master of over-the-top bombastic metal and he has assembled another strong cast of guest musicians for his epic, storytelling side project. Avantasia regulars and favourites like Jørn Lande and Michael Kiske return, and elsewhere Geoff Tate sounds better on record that he has for years. Sammet seems to have a knack for bringing the best out of people, and this is another album packed full of memorable melodic metal anthems that I have returned to again and again throughout the year. Let the Storm Descend Upon You might just be Sammet's best ever song too!
Listen to: Let the Storm Descend Upon You, Seduction of Decay & Master of the Pendulum

Well there you have it, the cream of the crop when it comes to new albums in 2016! As I said before there were so many others that could have made this list on another day, so a few honourable mentions include Eden's Curse's best album yet Cardinal, the long-awaited return from American pomp-rock legends Kansas who's The Prelude Implicit exceeded all expectations, and Reckless Love's infectious, party-starting InVader. There are many, many more albums that I have enjoyed, but I feel these ten (well thirteen if you included the honourable mentions) are the albums I have returned to more than any others throughout 2016 and I think that has to be a sign. 2016 has also been a great year for live music, and I have been to so many great shows throughout the year. Usually I do a Top 3 Gigs of the Year, but this year I have decided to do things a little differently and do two Top 3s: one for 'big' gigs and one for 'small' gigs. This is fairly unscientific, and it is hard to draw the line between the two, but for this I have taken 'big' gigs to mean stadium, arena, and large theatre shows, and 'small' gigs to mean small theatre and club shows. I feel it is hard to compare shows that attract 60,000 fans and those that attract 200, which is why I have made the distinction this year. I usually impose a rule of no festival sets, but there is one of those that stands out so strongly here I cannot not include it!

Top 3 'Big' Gigs of 2016:

3) Twisted Sister, Bloodstock Open Air, 12/08/2016
While I have broken my own rules here of not included festival sets in these lists, I cannot not include this masterful performance from American glam metal legends Twisted Sister on their final UK appearance. The whole day had been building up to this, and their headlining performance was easily the best thing about Bloodstock in 2016. Dee Snider is probably the greatest rock frontman ever and led his band through nearly two hours of solid hits and anthems that saw the biggest ever crowd at Bloodstock in full-blown party mode.

2) Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Genting Arena, 25/06/2016
Rainbow is a band I never thought I would get the chance to see live, so when Ritchie Blackmore reformed, or recreated, the band for a few shows in 2016 I knew I had to go. The setlist featured both Deep Purple and Rainbow classics, performed by the man himself and a band that were well-assembled for the occasion. Frontman Ronnie Romero was a revelation and carried the evening perfectly while Blackmore soloed away and looked genuinely happy to be up there on stage playing rock music again. More shows are coming this summer so I urge everyone to go if they can!

1) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wembley Stadium, 05/06/2016
Not even being as far away from the stage as was possible in Wembley Stadium could damped the enjoyment of seeing one of the greatest rock stars of all time, along with one of the greatest backing bands of all time, rip through three and a half hours of timeless hits, fan favourites, and more obscure deep cuts with the relentless energy and enthusiasm that only Bruce Springsteen can muster up. This was something more than a simple concert, and this will go down in my memory as one of the best experiences of my life.

Top 3 'Small' Gigs of 2016:

3) Symphony X, Islington Assembly Hall, 19/02/2016
It had been a long time coming for me to see Symphony X live, and the American progressive metal legends did not disappoint the sold out Islingston Assembly Hall crowd with a forward-looking set that contained all of their latest album Underworld as well as a few choice cuts from their back catalogue. Symphony X have the ability to be technical and proggy, and then a minute or so later will be whipping up a storm with hard-hitting melodic metal sections that are as memorable as they are impressive. I have never seen a show so full of energy as this from a progressive metal band before, and shows that Symphony X really are a force of metal nature.

2) Marillion, O2 Kentish Town Forum, 04/12/2016
A great 'true' Marillion show has eluded me until 2016, but this show in Kentish Town was everything I wanted it to be and more. The band are riding high on the success of Fuck Everyone and Run at the moment, and featured a large portion of it during their two hour set. The set they chose fit together perfectly, with old and new songs sitting side by side with ease and the die-hard fans lapped it all up. Seeing The New Kings performed in full live might well be the best individual gig moment of 2016!

1) Mostly Autumn, Tavistock Wharf, 22/07/2016
The band's setlists have been largely dictated to them over the past couple of years with full performances of 2014's Album of the Year Dressed in Voices dominating the shows, but 2016 saw the band drop this and bring back a lot of old favourites to the set that had been absent for a while. With no new album to promote, 2017 will see the band promoting Sight of Day, this was the perfect opportunity for a set tinged with nostalgia and it worked a treat with Mother Nature finally regaining it's spot in the set and lesser-known songs like Silver Glass and Hollow also getting outings. I saw Mostly Autumn four times in 2016, and this was the best of the bunch.