Guest Post: Atli Jarl Martin – Top Ten Albums Of 2015

Eistnaflug 2016 banner

As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends  from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Atli Jarl Martin, promoter and digital go to guy for Eistnaflug Festival, who happily lives with his 19 computers and has a huge affection for his ThinkPads, shared his list of favorite releases of this year with us.

It’s been a strange year for me personally and a bit hard to keep up with as many releases I’ve done in recent years, Nevertheless I managed to build a list of some 70 releases which I have now filtered down to my final Top 10, whereas the top 5 releases could have all ended up in my top slot. I guess that most releases that made the cut won’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows me, but I hope that there are at least a couple that you haven’t listened to yet, and might give it a spin. 2016 is looking tremendously exciting already, first and foremost with the release of Rotting Christ’s new album Rituals early in the year. But for 2015, here goes…

 

1. Thy CatafalqueSgúrr (Season Of Mist)

Thy Catafalque sgurr album cover 2015

Definitely the most delightful surprise of 2015. Following the incredible 2011 album Rengeteg, I became a huge fan of the talent and musicianship of Tamás Kátai, as this is a one-man project, and his vast and diverse musical wizardry is way above and beyond what most other musicians present. The musical direction Tamás takes on Sgúrr is hugely different than what is presented on Rengeteg and the earlier albums, one might say colder, bleaker and harsher, where ‘f.e. Jura’, a straight forward blisteringly fast black metal track made my jaw drop, as it was wholly unexpected. I can really say the same about pretty much every track on the album, which is a phenomenal roller coaster ride through amazing variety of styles and sounds. Just listen to ‘Oldódó Formák a Halál Titokzatos Birodalmáb’, a 15:21 minute ride through a sublime variety of styles and a showcase track on just how multi-talented Tamás Kátai is. A beautiful work of art.

 

2. Lost SoulAtlantis: The New Beginning (Apostasy Records)

Lost Soul Atlantis

Yes, they fucking did it again. These Polish wizards, led by mainman Jacek Grecki, pretty much blew everyone’s mind back in 2009 with their absolutely phenomenal Immerse In Infinity album, which shared the top-slot on my list back then with my favorite, and ever so lovable Finns in Amorphis (more on them later). Lost Soul are finally back after 6 long years, but the wait was so worth it. Atlantis is every bit as fast and brutal, yet Grecki and his merry men have managed to push their music further into the technical and progressive realms, bringing you one, if not THE pinnacle of technical death metal offerings of all-times. Listening to this album leaves me dumb-struck with awe, every-single-time, such is the wizardry performed here. Perfection!

 

3. MelecheshEnki (Nuclear Blast)

melechesh 2

5 years after the release of the fantastic The Epigenesis album, and after a plethora of lineup changes, Melechesh return with Enki, yet another masterpiece of an album. Uncompromising as always, adhering to their sublime Middle Eastern music influenced extreme metal concoction, Melechesh apparently can do no wrong. While The Epigenesis took a tad more progressive turn, with sublimely heavy and thundering songs, Enki returns back to the faster, more intense songwriting as presented on their earlier albums, such as Emissaries and Sphynx. I was fortunate enough to finally see the band on stage last May, and the experience was mind-blowing. Among the best musical entities on the planet. Period.

 

4. AmorphisUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)

Amorphis, by Hillarie Jason

Amorphis, by Hillarie Jason

As a very, very long time fan of the band, their current lineup, starting with their absolute best album, Eclipse (2006), almost every album since has been a tour-de-force, showcasing the enormous capacity of the bands collective skills in songwriting and musicianship, as well as being one of the hardest working bands out there, as this is their 6th full-length album in only 9 years. Under the Red Cloud very much takes up the thread from the stellar 2013 album, Circle, but the band is in absolute top-form here, as every song on the album is outstanding. Songs like ‘The Four Wise Ones’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Dark Path’, and the phenomenal ‘Tree of Ages’, have made the album my most heavily rotated album from the band since 2006, and there is no letting up on how often I spin it. Masterpiece.

 

5. ClutchPsychic Warfare (Weathermaker Music)

Clutch, by Evil Robb Photography

Clutch, by Evil Robb Photography

Yes indeed, here‘s another super-hard working band which has been dishing out release after release of superior quality since, well, forever. Their 2004 album Blast Tyrant is perhaps my favorite rock album of all-time, and their subsequent albums, albeit all having different qualities, none really came close to it in overall groove and fierceness, until now. Psychic Warfare absolutely hits every mark of excellence that Blast Tyrant presented. Every song is superb, the lyrics are fantastic, and the whole album pops and clicks on every beat, every groove, and infuses that good old feeling of strapping on an air-guitar and do a bit of headbanging while singing along to Neil Fallon’s often hysterically funny rants and phrases. As I write this, there are only 2 days until I see the band onstage for the first time, and the anticipation for seeing the tracks from this album presented is making me all giddy. Woohoo!

 

6. Keep of KalessinEpistemology (Indie Recordings)

 

This is an album I actually had high expectations for, specially after hearing the 2013 EP Introspection, which was the first release from the band following Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech taking over the vocal duties after Thebon‘s departure earlier that year. Their first full-length album in 5 years, I was supremely happy to hear that Keep of Kalessin is very much up to the task as a three-piece outfit, and musically, the album is a healthy blend of the more commercial aspect of 2009‘s Reptilian and the earlier fierce and blazingly fast Armada (2006) and Kolossus (2008). Stand-out tracks and passages on the album are many, but the pinnacle is most certainly ‘The Grand Design’, a track that easily rivals the best of their earlier works, and was absolutely amazing to witness on stage. The band is in top-form at the moment and I can‘t wait for the successor, just hope that I won‘t have to wait 5 years for it.

 

7. George KolliasInvictus (Season of Mist)

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This master of extreme metal drumming certainly has had a busy schedule in recent years, touring and playing with Nile, as well as releasing drum lesson videos and attending drum clinics, but there were a couple of his own songs available on YouTube, rough mixed and non-vocal demos. Very cool stuff, but nothing that really prepared me for the delicious death metal assault he put together on this first solo album of his. It is a showcase of enormous death metal talent, as Kollias plays every instrument on the album, as well as performing vocals, but the album also features guest performances from many prominent musicians, such as Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade (Nile), George Emmanuel (Rotting Christ) and Efthimis Karadimas (Nightfall), to name but a few. Overall a fantastic death metal trip, modern in technicality, speed, sound and feel, blended with a healthy dose of some old school riffing, but what really amazed me the most is Kollias‘ vocal performance, which ranks among the best I‘ve heard in a long time. Highly recommended.

 

8. HateCrvsade: Zero (Napalm Records)

HateCrusadeZero

Being a very early release this year, as it came out in late January, this album has had way more spins than many other albums on my list, but it is definitely to its credit that it ends up on my Top 10 list, as the re-playability of the album is phenomenal. Mainman Adam “ATF Sinner” Buszko and his band mates strengthen the already very impressive legacy of the band and their highly energetic style of death metal getting stronger with each subsequent album. One of my favorite bands for sure.

 

9. NileWhat Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)

nile

Another album I had really high expectations for in 2015, and they were not betrayed. Nile have been on a remarkably consistent roll since the release of Those Whom The Gods Detest in 2009, followed by At the Gate of Sethu (2012) which has since then bulldozed its way to being my second all-time favorite album by the band. The band pulls no left hooks here, plowing onwards and upwards with their instantly recognizable brand of death metal mastery. Super-heavy, blazing fast and tremendously well executed, track after track just thunders through and the confidence and coherence displayed by the band is absolutely why they are one of the biggest extreme metal acts in the world today.

 

10. Malevolent CreationDead Man‘s Path (Century Media)

Aaaah, like a warm blanket, listening to a new Malevolent Creation, one of my all-time favorite bands, is always a very pleasant experience. I’ve been following these old masters almost since the beginning of their career, and despite the very turbulent history of band members, they always manage to land on their feet, providing me with that deliciously violent old-school death metal that I love so much. Dead Man‘s Path is pure Malevolence, and the band and the music sound better than they have done since the magnificent Envenomed came out in 2000. No-one can destroy this Malevolent Creation.

Clutch To Release New Album Psychic Warfare In October

clutch psychic warfare album cover

Clutch’s ‘Psychic Warfare’ album cover art, by Dan Winters

Clutch has announced today they are releasing their next album Psychic Warfare on October 2nd, via Weathermaker Music. Produced by frequent Clutch collaborator Machine (Lamb of God, Every Time I Die) will feature 12 tracks and will have cover are from renowned designer Dan Winters.

Clutch Singer Neil Fallon talks about the concept of the album:

The title ‘Psychic Warfare’ is taken from the track, ‘X-Ray Visions”… “It’s a tale about an unnamed protagonist who is forced to seek refuge in a flop house motel. He is hiding from several nefarious psychic forces, the worst of which is his own sleep deprived paranoia.”

Clutch,  photo by Susanne A. Maathuis

Clutch, photo by Susanne A. Maathuis


Psychic Warfare track listing:

01 The Affidavit
02 X-Ray Visions
03 Firebirds
04 A Quick Death in Texas
05 Sucker For The Witch
06 Your Love is Incarceration
07 Doom Saloon
08 Our Lady of Electric Light
09 Noble Savage Clutch
10 Behold the Colossus
11 Decapitation Blues
12 Son Of Virginia

Clutch has the following tour dates planned to support the release including this summer’s GWAR BQ, The Rock Carnival, The Aftershock Festival, Knotfest, and the Voodoo Festival:

Aug 15: GwarBQ – Hadad’s Lake – Richmond, VA
Sept 04:The Joint – The Hard Rock Hotel – Las Vegas, NV special guest for Primus
Sept 19:The Shindig – Carrol Park- Baltimore, MD
Sept 20:The Rock Carnival – Oak Ridge Park – Clark, NJ
Oct 24: Aftershock Festival – Sacramento, CA
Oct 25: Knotfest – San Manuel Amphitheater- San Bernardino, CA
Oct 31: Voodoo Festival – New Orleans, LA

Clutch Recording New Album

Photo by Bill Collins

Photo by Bill Collins

Clutch have entered the Machine Shop in Austin, TX to begin tracking material for their next album, with producer Machine (Lamb of God, Every Time I Die) at the helm. A spring release via Weathermaker Music is expected. Photos from the sessions can be seen here.

Neil Fallon of Clutch In The Studio.

Neil Fallon of Clutch In The Studio.

Machine and Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch In The Studio.

Machine and Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch In The Studio.

Tim Sult of Clutch In The Studio.

Tim Sult of Clutch In The Studio.

Dan Maines of Clutch In The Studio.

Dan Maines of Clutch In The Studio.

Into The Future– Nate Bergman of Lionize

lionize album cover

 

To Lionize means to celebrate. And Maryland’s funky, reggae-infused hard rockers Lionize are celebrating their tenth year with their first jaunt into Europe, a new album, and a new label. Vocalist/Guitarist Nate Bergman sounds like a very happy man because life is pretty good at the moment.

 

For one, despite rarely being off the road in the US, this is the band’s first UK tour. “It’s been amazing, the first few shows were just awesome. I think we’re starting to like it a little bit better than the States; the audiences are incredible, people are very receptive and the press has been very good. Right off the bat people understand our band a little bit better here.” So what can people expect from a Lionize show? “I think our live show is exciting; it’s fast, it’s upbeat and you can expect to hear a different set every night. You’re gonna get a lot of classic rock flavours and get a little bit of Jazz and Dub-reggae and funk thrown in there as well.”

 

It’s a potent mix that garnered the band a dedicated following. Their new album, Jetpack Soundtrack, is their fifth effort and sounds like a band heading for the big time. “I would say by leaps and bounds this is our best record. I think the previous efforts were really good, but I think this is our most concise and focused point. Jetpack Soundtrack describes our approach, trying to take it somewhere new, somewhere fresh, into the future. It’s fast, and it sounds cool.” Anyone who’s followed the band over the years will note the reggae & funk influences aren’t as apparent on the new record as in the early days, continuing the band’s transition into a purer hard rock outfit. “I think through the evolution of the music we have figured out how to internalize the reggae sound more. It wasn’t a conscious effort, it just happened. The reggae is less overt; it’s still very much there in a lot of the rhythm and texture stuff that we’re doing, but it’s so ingrained in who we are now that I don’t feel that ‘this has to be the rock part, and this has to be the reggae part,’ it’s just all there.”

Produced by Clutch’s drummer John-Paul Gaster and Machine (who worked on Clutch’s Blast Tyrant & Earth Rocker), the band decided to mix up how they approached an album. It was very focused on preproduction, very focused on arrangements beforehand and trimming all the fat, and making the parts individually as big and as exciting as they can be On previous records we’ve rehearsed the songs really well, arranged them to a certain point and then gone in and recorded it live, and this one was a very layered, very calculated effort. After working with producer J.Robbins for their previous album (Superszar and the Vulture), the strength of Machine’s CV made them take a new direction. “We wanted to do something different, we wanted to do something fresh for us. I think a big part of that was how Earth Rocker sounded, I think that was a big influence on how we wanted to make the next record. I’ve been listening to Clutch for about 15/16 years, and it’s certainly one of the best. There’s not one track on it that’s bad or that’s close to boring. It’s a classic rock album.”

lionize_band_med_res

 

 

The effort seems to have paid off. Finally breaking out of the US, Lionize’s profile is bigger than it’s ever been. “I think this is the most exposure we’ve ever gotten, I don’t think we ever thought it was gonna be this great, especially here in the UK, people seem to be really taking to it. And I think a great deal of this is down to the way Weathermaker releases records. I think we’re touring a little bit harder, we’re playing a little bit better, and the album is great.“ Fortune hasn’t quite followed their increased fame yet, however. “We still live a very humble existence and we’ve very happy to do so to be able to play music.”

The band’s new label, Weathermaker, was set up by Clutch, and features a roster of bands with close ties to the Maryland rockers. “Weathermaker is hands down one of the best labels going and definitely by far the best label we’ve ever worked with. It’s run with the musician’s interest always in mind, there’s never an instance where it’s Us vs. Them, everyone on the label wants to be associated with each other and it’s all of us together. It’s a label with more of a Mowtown vibe.”

 

It’s clear that Lionize have a very close relationship with Rock legends Clutch; as well as touring together many times, Clutch’s guitarist Tim Sult has played on several of their records, their new album was produced by drummer JP and was released through the band’s own Weathermaker label. What’s the secret to such a close relationship? “I think it comes from a common interest in just wanting to make good music. We definitely have our own identity and have our own thing, but we look up to these guys immensely. I mean they’re hands down in my opinion the best rock band on the planet.”

 

Everybody in the band is an immense talent. When you’re a younger band and you’ve got access to that kind of musical knowledge and talent you should do everything you can to absorb it. And I feel like we’ve ingratiated ourselves in that way, it’s a teacher/student sort of relationship.” But the Clutch ties go beyond being label mates and studio buddies. “My dad used to own a fish market and I think that was Neil’s [Fallon, Clutch vocalist] first job. Along with being a fish monger, he was also a doing a fair bit of baby sitting in the store and also still probably kind of feels like he’s babysitting. There is an element of being socially close and the way that Weathermaker and their tours are run means it is a family business.”

 

clutch tour poster

 

 

Obviously such close association means that Fallon & Co. often come up in conversations with Lionize, but Nate doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “I don’t think we really get tired of it, because we’re being associated with something that’s pretty great. People that know Lionize know that we’re our own entity, people that are Clutch fans know that Clutch is its own thing separately. Did Bad Company get tired of the Led Zeppelin associations?”

 

The Lionize celebration looks set to continue. The band just released a split with Clutch for Record Store Day, more international touring and then back into the studio for the next record. Come join the party.

 

Lionize on Facebook

 

DAN SWINHOE

 

 

Clutch – Lionize: Live at Metropolitan University, Leeds

clutch tour poster

 

The second set of tour dates supporting last year’s highly successful Earth Rocker (Weathermaker) opus see’s Clutch riding a high having one again reaffirmed their status as one of rock finest live acts currently treading the boards.

 

The met is still disconcertingly quiet when support act Lionize begin their set, but their funk infected grooves impress punters early on. Chris Brooks and Nate Bergman deliver some rich vocal harmonies. Clutch’s Jean Paul Gaster even joins the band briefly on percussion yet while its clear their label bosses have been a forbearer for Lionize sound they retain a feel all of their own. Hell they even manage to get away with dropping a bit of reggae without sounding laughable or trite.

 Clutch-Earth-Rocker

 

When father Neil Fallon begins the sermon the congregation has joined us in full swing. ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ lives up to its name, with frantic dancing breaking out en masse. Such is the energy that the Maryland quartet inspire that the crowd keeps singing even when Tim Sult’s guitar cuts out half way through ‘Crucial Velocity’.

 

The charm and charismatic presence of Fallon certainly means he is the wide eyed focal point yet the musicians around him lock into a groove that is irresistible. ‘The Elephant Riders’ makes a welcome appearance, making good on the reputation Clutch have of keeping their lives shows fresh and invigorating. The acoustic ‘Gone Cold’ provides a break from the raucousness allowing Fallon to show off his soulful side before a storming ‘Struck Down’ picks the pace back up.

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Considering Neil Fallon was recently a whisker away from being unable to perform following an operation on his spine which meant a delicate operation which meant his windpipe having to be moved temporarily in the process his performance is, if anything even more driven and passionate.

 

A four song encore concludes with the one, two punches of ‘Electric Worry’ and ‘One Eye Dollar’ which leave many drenched in sweat smiling in unison. Tonight may not have gone without a hitch, but when you’re a journeyman act with a discography few can match and perform with such vigour and zeal you can do very little wrong.

 

Clutch on Facebook

Lionize on Facebook

 

WORDS BY ROSS BAKER

PHOTOS BY EMMA STONE

 

Lionize – Jetpack Soundtrack

lionize album cover

For years Lionize had carved themselves a nice little niche. A small but dedicated fanbase that lapped up their unique brand of Clutch-style boogie rock combined with soulful Reggae that led to some cracking records. But times change, and with new album Jetpack Soundtrack (Weathermaker Music) the band look to be really trying to breakthrough to a wider audience.

 

The Maryland rockers are five albums into their career and all the core elements of their sound are still in place, but they’ve tried to push everything up a notch. Produced by Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and Machine (best known for his work with their mighty Blast Tyrant album), which can only help their profile, the music is far slicker than it was before.

 

Take ‘Breather,’ there’s still plenty of funk, but with more melody, bigger guitars, and the whole thing is just more polished than their previous releases. ‘Evolve’ is more of a hard rocker, with its galloping riffs and synths while lead single ‘Reality Check’ is a well-polished melodic number that sticks in the head for days.

 

The only bad thing to say about the album is that there a few forgettable ‘Lionize by numbers’ tracks. ‘Electric Reckoning’ and ‘Lazarus Style’ fall under this category. They’re not bad, they’ve still got all the elements of a good song and played with plenty of energy, but leave little impression once they’re gone.

 

There are still plenty of gems, however. Lionize are seriously good at making feel good music that infects the body and give you the desire to move, and that’s exactly what good rock bands should do. The title track, the southern-fried ‘Replaced By Machines’ and the cowbell-filled ‘Skynet’ are all highlights. And as ever, front man Nate Bergman’s lyrics are a highlight throughout. Micro Machines, Dinosaurs and Friend’s Rachel Green all make an appearance, while ‘Amazing Science Facts’ is full of lyrical gold such as “Did you know Alex Jones grows his own food at home without GMOs, wow what a guy.”

 

Jetpack Soundtrack is a quality record. Perhaps not as enjoyable as Superzcar and the Vulture or Destruction Manual simply because the songs aren’t quite as memorable, but there’s nothing bad on here. And even if it’s still not an improvement on what’s gone before, Lionize still stand apart in a genre of one.

 

7.5/10

Lionize on Facebook

Dan Swinhoe