Best Albums of 2016

Ah, yes, it’s the end of the year so it’s time for my annual best albums post which I always thoroughly enjoy writing.  As you will notice almost all of these are rock/metal albums but since that’s my favorite style of music that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Aside from the first two, these are in no particular order.

**Edit as of Jan 18, 2017: I had to come back & add to this post because I’ve discovered 2 more albums (technically 3) which I would be greatly remiss if I left off of this list.

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  • The Black by Asking Alexandria: I already wrote a whole post about this album because it floored me so much when it debuted.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, so you can read that post here.  However, I should add that since the time this album was released Denis Stoff has exited the band & original lead singer Danny Worsnop has rejoined the band.  I never knew AA’s music before this album & what I have listened to since then I haven’t liked as much, so I have to say I was quite disappointed to learn that Denis had abandoned the group, especially after creating such a great album.  I’ve since come to appreciate Danny a bit more, but even so it pains me to think that the magic of this album will never be furthered.  If you can’t be bothered to read my full post about this album, at least check out the following songs: I Won’t Give InThe Black, & The Lost Souls.BSC Kentucky
  • Kentucky by Black Stone CherryOnce again I already wrote a blog post about this album when it debuted because I was so impressed with the music.  You can read that post here.  Since that time I’d like to add that I had the privilege of seeing BSC perform here in Raleigh & they were even more amazing live.  It’s so obvious that every single one of these guys is extremely talented so when you put them together they have a truly unmatched synergy.  Once again if you can’t be bothered to read this post, at least check out these songs: Cheaper to Drink AloneShakin’ My Cage, & The Rambler.uabb-sftb
  • Straight From the Barrio by Upon a Burning Body: With artwork that looks like graffiti & a title that honors the band’s upbringing in the barrios of San Antonio, this is a diverse & fun album that you do not want to miss.  Check out Till the Break of Dawn & Already Broken which include some fantastic Spanish inspired music as well as some Spanish lyrics.  Lyrically my favorite song is the inspiring piece The Outcast.  Also be sure not to miss the ending ballad My Distorted Reflection which presents a whole new side to this normally very “tough” sounding band.  who-you-selling-for
  • Who You Selling For by The Pretty Reckless: This right here is an album that absolutely begs to be played as an actual album, that is from top to bottom without skipping a single song.  With strong blues influences this disc shows great maturity both musically & lyrically.  I truly believe you can’t appreciate this album for its true genius without listening to it in its entirety, but some stand-out tracks include Hangman with its very dark Alice in Chains vibe, the catchy Take Me Down, & the funky Mad Love.i-prevail-lifelines-cover
  • Lifelines by I Prevail: This Michigan band made a huge splash two years ago when they covered Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, & this year marked the debut of their first full length album.  Don’t miss the catchy & snarky Stuck in Your Head & the equally fun Come and Get It.  The other single Scars is also one not to miss.joanne-lady-gag
  • Joanne by Lady Gaga: Ah, here’s the lone non-rock/metal album on the list!  But as some of you may already know, I’ve long been a Lady Gaga fan.  Regardless of what you think of her outfits & some of her more bizarre antics, you’d have to be crazy to deny the beauty of her powerful voice.  On this album Gaga displays her best songwriting to date while also showcasing a variety of different musical styles.  I have read some reviews that criticized the album for sounding so different throughout the various pieces but I think that’s exactly what makes it so fantastic.  Be sure to check out the title track, a gorgeous ballad written in honor of Gaga’s aunt who died at a young age.  Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one will relate to this song.  Other stand-out tracks include current single Million ReasonsJohn Wayne, & Angel Down.the-last-hero-ab
  • The Last Hero by Alter Bridge: Back in high school Alter Bridge was one of the first rock bands I ever appreciated & I’ve been a fan ever since.  Alter Bridge have always appealed to me because of their intelligent, well written lyrics as well as their combination of heavy riffs & soaring melodies.  These qualities are in great display on tracks such as lead single Show Me a Leader, the uplifting My Champion, & my personal favorite Poison in Your Veins.bad_vibrations
  • Bad Vibrations by A Day to Remember: I’d head of ADTR prior to this album but I wasn’t familiar with any of their music.  However, somehow I stumbled across several of the songs from this album & immediately fell in love.  I swiftly bought the album & became enamored with the entire thing.  Some of my favorite tracks include ParanoiaBullfightJustifiedTurn Off the Radio, & Naivety.  never-alone-stitched-up-heart
  • Never Alone by Stitched Up Heart: I came across Stitched Up Heart on YouTube one day a few months ago, probably while listening to In This Moment as the bands do have similarities.  This album is the band’s first full length compilation & it displays great maturity for a debut album.  Tracks like Monster definitely bring to mind In This Moment but even so the band has plenty of their own unique sound.  Also be sure to check out Finally Free & my favorite Bleeding Out.shotgunalbumfeb
  • All This Could Be Yours by Shotgun Revolution: I discovered this remarkable Danish band when Black Stone Cherry posted a link to one of their songs on their Facebook page.  I figured if BSC liked their music I would too, & right I was.  Why these guys aren’t more famous is beyond me because their music is both lyrically & sonically exceptional.  They definitely have a true classic rock sound but with just enough modern flair to not sound like a throwback band.  Be sure to check out City of Fire which starts out sounding a bit like a redneck throwdown but quickly morphs into a true rock song.  Also don’t miss Rise to Power (especially the guitar solo that starts around 2:27) & Suzie.  I feel so strongly about this album that I’m even going to include a link where you can order the album.  (The website says “preorder” but you can actually order it now . . . P.S. 12 Euros = about $12.50.)undeniable
  • Unden!able by Hellyeah: Hellyeah is a band that seems to be getting better with every new release.  This latest album makes a great workout disc (& one that is definitely not for the faint of heart) with hard-hitting tracks like Scratch a LieX, & Start a Riot.  Also check out the somewhat softer but equally interesting Human.getaway
  • Getaway by Adelitas Way: Adelitas Way left their record label & self-released this album which includes some of their best work to date.  My personal favorite is Low.  Other tracks not to miss include I Get AroundBad Reputation, & Sometimes You’re Meant to Get Used.aggressive-beartooth
  • Aggressive by Beartooth: I wasn’t familiar with Beartooth until a few weeks ago when I came across the title track from this album on YouTube.  Immediately I knew I’d found an album I had to purchase.  Lead singer Caleb Shomo is only 24 years old but you’d never know it by the amount of material he has already produced in his short life.  Other stand-out tracks on this album include Hated & Loser.  Also don’t miss King of Anythingsixx-am
  • Prayers for the Damned (Vol 1) & Prayers for the Blessed (Vol 2) by Sixx AM: I first discovered this double album when I came across We Will Not Go Quietly from Vol 2 on YouTube a few weeks ago.  I quickly delved into both albums & have been thoroughly impressed with the musicianship & lyrics throughout both albums.  Guitarist DJ Ashba (formerly of Guns & Roses) particularly stands out on both albums.  Other favorites from these albums are Barbarians (Prayers for the Blessed)Maybe It’s Time, & Prayers for the Damned.  I’ve never owned a Sixx AM album before but this double album makes me want to go back & listen to all of their older material.

That’s all, folks!  I hope you’ll take the time to listen to at least a few of these songs & maybe even purchase an album or two off of this list.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Happy 2017, everyone!

Album Review: The Black by Asking Alexandria

Every once in a while I come across an album that is just so fantastic that I feel compelled to write an entire blog post about it.  Asking Alexandria’s latest record The Black is just such an album.  You may remember that I mentioned a few songs off of this album in last week’s post, but that was before I’d had time to actually devour the entire album.  I bought it last Monday (after it had debuted the Friday before that), & it’s been on almost constant replay in my car & on my computer ever since.AA band

If you’re not familiar with the band (as I wasn’t until about two weeks ago), Asking Alexandria is a British metal band which was formerly fronted by Danny Worsnop.  I’d heard the band’s name quite a bit over the past few years, but I’d also heard lots of stories about their excessive partying & Worsnop’s drug use, so initially I dismissed the band as not worth my time.  However, as I explained last week, when I heard Andy Biersack of Black Veil Brides (another band I initially ignored only to recently realize their brilliance) reference Danny Worsnop in an interview, I decided to give the band a listen.  After a quick Google search I discovered that Worsnop actually left the band last year to focus on his new group We Are Harlot.  It is indeed rare that a band can lose their lead singer & come back stronger than ever, but that is exactly what Asking Alexandria has done.  I’m still not a big fan of their earlier work with Worsnop, but this latest album with 23 year old Denis Stoff from Ukraine at the helm is nothing short of splendid.  Okay, enough background, now let me tell you why this album rocks & share with you my favorite tracks!

aa the black

Disclaimer: this is an adult album.  If the F word offends you, this album isn’t for you which is unfortunate because you will miss out on a truly epic record.

The album opens with the brilliant & aggressive track Let It Sleep.  There are a few moments that bring to mind MIW’s Reincarnate which of course is a great compliment in my opinion.  This song is a great way to open the album because it shows off the diversity of Denis Stoff’s voice, particularly his ability to scream ferociously as well to sing very melodically.  Lyrically the song addresses the demon inside of all of us & the struggles we all face in that regard.

The second track is The Black for which the album was named.  This is another heavy-hitting song, but the fierce aggression of the majority of the song is tempered by moments of placid melody that are all the more beautiful because of their contrast with the rest of the song.  The section at 3:05 gives me chills every time I hear it.  Sonically there are moments that remind me of Sempiternal-era Bring Me the Horizon (another British metal band, for those who are unfamiliar), but the song is by all means very original nonetheless.  The piano ending is particularly brilliant to my ears.

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New lead vocalist Denis Stoff

The third song is the first single off of the album (I believe) I Won’t Give In.  Both lyrically & musically this is a very uplifting piece.  This is the song that initially grabbed my attention & encouraged me to delve further into the band.  Lyrically I can’t help but feel that this song was inspired by Worsnop’s behavior before he left the band.

The fifth song The Lost Souls is sonically perhaps the most intriguing piece on the album.  The track opens with an instrumental segment that calls to mind a horror movie.  It then switches into a chugging anthem for all of us who have ever felt left out, rejected, or otherwise different than the norm: “We are the ones that no one gave a chance/We are the ones that almost lost it all/Ghosts in the hallway who never catch a glance/We are the lost/We are the lost souls.”  The track ends with a haunting piano solo that somehow makes you want to hit replay & listen to the song all over again.asking alexandria logo

The seventh song Send Me Home is a considerably softer, more melodic track that speaks to the longing for home that the band members feel when they’re relentlessly touring all over the globe for much of the year.  Like any truly great song, there are many ways to relate to the lyrics here.  I think anyone who’s ever been away from home for an extended period or even someone who is missing a loved one who has passed away will find comfort in the longing expressed in this beautiful track.

The ninth song Here I Am is another more melodic piece that helps balance out the blatant aggression of some of the other pieces.  Lyrically it’s an anthem to self empowerment that is relatable to all.

Next up is Gone which is by far the gentlest, softest piece on the album, perhaps the only one that is a true ballad.  The harmonies between Denis & the voices of the other guys are hauntingly beautiful.  While it may seem “boring” next to some of the heavy-hitting tracks like Let It Sleep & The Black, there is no doubt that this song is no less a work of art than those pieces.

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Founding guitarist Ben Bruce

The next to last song on the album is Undivided, an unequivocal “moving on” type of song.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, lyrically it is both profane & clever, & the tone reminds me a bit of Antivist by BMTH.

The record closes with Circled By the Wolves, a piece with a very cinematic vibe that makes for a perfect ending to the album.

denis stoff I wont give in

Yes, that’s an awesome owl tattoo on his chest there.

Well, that’s it, y’all.  I don’t know what else I can say to convince you to give this album a listen (& hopefully a purchase).  Trust me, you won’t regret it if you do.

To the guys in Asking Alexandria, I doubt you’ll ever read this, but if by chance you should, thank you for making such a musically & lyrically brilliant album.  Congratulations on coming back better & stronger than ever!

Just Another Manic Monday

So it appears that I came down with the flu (or some other similar respiratory virus) over the weekend.  I went to work Friday night feeling like I might have had the beginnings of a cold but I wasn’t worried because I figured it was just allergies since the pollen has been off the charts here lately.  However, by the time I left work the next morning I had a bad feeling there was a bit more wrong than just simple springtime allergies.  This was largely because after walking up the three flights of stairs in the parking deck I found myself out of breath which is NOT normal for me.  By that evening it was obvious I had a fever, & I barely slept that night due to the fever coupled with severe congestion, coughing, & horrible body aches.


Yep, this is a pretty accurate depiction of me right now.

I’m still intermittently febrile which is apparently causing me to be a bit delirious.  Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I seriously just drove to the grocery store to return a Red Box DVD only to realize once I was there that what I had picked up was actually a CD, NOT the Red Box movie.  Oops.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total baby when I’m sick, but I must also confess that there is an upside to being sick, namely that it gives me an excuse to lie around on the couch reading, listening to music, & watching movies/YouTube videos without the least amount of guilt.  In so doing I have discovered two new (to me) bands this weekend which have made this flu significantly more bearable.bvb

On Saturday night while perusing YouTube I finally decided to give Black Veil Brides a listen.  I’ve heard their name tossed about a lot over the past year or two, but for some reason I always assumed they were just a bunch of overgrown teenagers full of way too much angst.  However, I quickly realized that that initial assessment was entirely incorrect.  These guys are actually extremely talented & wise beyond their years.  They are indeed young; in fact the lead singer, Andy Biersack, is only 25 but if you read up on his life & listen to his interviews you will quickly realize he is a very educated, industrious, & eloquent young man (he seriously  has a great vocabulary which only serves to increase my respect for him of course).  Despite the fact that I’ve never been all that enamored with 1980s acts like Kiss & Motley Crue, I can’t help but admire the fact that someone who’s my age (actually a few years younger) was so inspired by those types of bands that he created his band largely in their image, yet with a sound that’s all his own.  Right now I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of both the third & fourth BVB albums which I ordered on Amazon this weekend.  If you’re not familiar with the band, please do yourself a serious favor & check out my favorite song of theirs (thus far). andy bvb

Through my internet browsing, I also quickly discovered that Andy Biersack, alternately known as Andy Black, has a solo album coming out in early May.  When I watched this interview this morning & heard Andy describe how the first single from the album is about his social anxiety, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit talking to me.  It’s like he was reading my mind when he wrote the song.  Perfection!social anxiety party

The other band I “discovered” this weekend is Asking Alexandria.  Again, this was another band I’ve heard & read a lot about over the past few years but given their reputation for being a bunch of wild party animals I was just never very interested in actually listening to their music.  However, after hearing Andy Biersack reference their (former) lead singer Danny Worsnop in an interview, I figured the band might be worth at least a cursory listen.  As it turns out, Danny left the band early last year & was replaced by Denis Stoff, a 23 year old from Ukraine.  It became apparent to me very quickly that Danny wasn’t a great loss to the band & that Denis is actually a far better fit with, in my opinion, a much more interesting voice.  I’m very impressed with the first single from their brand new album The Black which just debuted this past Friday.  This haunting track called The Lost Souls has also caught my attention.  It’s very rare that a band can lose their lead singer & find a replacement who’s even better but Asking Alexandria has done exactly that.AA band

So yeah, this flu or whatever it is sucks.  But I can’t complain about the subsequent discovery of some great new (to me) music thanks to having such an inordinate amount of time to be blissfully lazy & not have to feel guilty for it.MLK love

In conclusion, I’d like to end this post with a link to a picture of Andy Biersack with his grandmother.  I found it on his Instagram this weekend, & the picture just warmed my heart so much that I feel compelled to share it with my readers.  Here is a young man who is a heavily tattooed rock star who frequently wears black eyeliner & other makeup, has multiple earrings & a nose ring (& sometimes a lip ring), & is often dressed in black leather or other typical rock star gear.  And yet here is smiling & holding hands with his adorable grandmother who, for the record, doesn’t look the least bit terrified of her not so traditional grandson.  This picture is just proof to me that love can conquer all boundaries of age, race, religion, & any of the other superficial labels we so often use to categorize ourselves, & furthermore that those who choose to judge by appearances are indeed missing out on a whole world of opportunities.  You can view the adorable picture here.