Wow, another year that flew by. At times it felt like I’ve been slacking off a little in my writing efforts, but looking back on the past 12 months, I’ve written 84 articles, in addition to some non-music related articles for Montreal Rampage. I’ve reviewed old and new favourites (more than half the artists I covered started their careers in the 2000’s), as well as promising new artists that caught my attention. Most reviews were positive to some extent, but that’s because I don’t HAVE to review anything, and I prefer to focus on artists I’m passionate about. It’s much more useful to share a passion than complain about an artist that failed to ignite that spark.
So here are, in no particular order or rank, my musical highlights for 2015.
Most impressive arena concert
With an innovative stage design that made the most of the arena space, U2 managed to do what I would have deemed impossible: follow and top the grandiose 360 Tour. The setlist was amazing, the visuals were fantastic and they played with a passion that made even the new material sound good.
Most amazing live performance
A new discovery for me this year. This husband and wife duo uses loops to fill in their live sound, but that’s not to say they play along pre-recorded material; they record the loops live on stage as they develop the songs into fantastically atmospheric masterpieces, highlighted by their heavenly vocal harmonies. And while it may look like I’m being a little overly poetic, words fail to convey how amazing their performance was.
8th time’s the charm
I’ve never been a big fan of symphonic metal, and Nightwish, one of the flagship bands of the genre, always failed to interest me int he slightest degree. I never subscribed to the cult of Tarja Turunen, their first singer, and her replacement never really changed my mind. In fact, I once attended a Nightwish concert but left before they played!
But their latest album, featuring former After Forever/Revamp singer Floor Jansen, presents Nightwish in a new light that more comfortably straddles the line between traditional, progressive and symphonic metal. In fact their album made such an impression on me that I drove 6 hours to see them live in Worcester, Massachusetts! It remains one of my favourite albums of the year.
Most impressive progressive album
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Wilson would chastise me for using the term “progressive rock”, as he did when I interviewed him earlier this year, instead of “conceptual rock”. But whatever you call it, his fourth solo album is a magnificent piece of art, pretty much a perfect album.
Some bands keep on exploring and refining their sounds. Some remain steadfast in the style they’ve forged. Slayer, the devil bless them, are in the latter category, and “Repentless” sounds exactly like what you’d expect from a Slayer album despite lacking the writing of the late Jeff Hanneman. Horns up!
Best film music
For some reason I did not pay a lot of attention to film music this year, so I’m sure I missed a few great scores. But John Williams’ return to the Star Wars universe really drew me back in to that galaxy far, far away. I must have played it 10-12 times when it came out!
Special mention to Christophe Beck’s “Ant-Man”, a super fun score to a surprisingly good movie.
Tie: Charlie Benante (Anthrax)/Steven Wilson
Both meant a lot to me, for different reasons. I’ve been listening to Anthrax since I was a teenager and they were the new kids on the thrash metal scene, so chatting with Charlie was a great feeling.
Steven Wilson is so smart, that any conversation with him is bound to be fascinating. Having the chance to talk to him on the heels of an amazing release was perfect timing.
Runner up: Tom Cochrane. The Canadian music legend is such a gentleman, and was immensely passionate about his music. I was a casual fan at best but the man made me appreciate the music even more.
It should have sucked, but it didn’t
Def Leppard – Def Leppard
My expectations for this were so low that I didn’t even review it. It lingered on my iPod for a few weeks before turning up on shuffle, and I was pleasantly surprised. Mind you, it’s no “Pyromania” (their last good album in my opinion), but it’s decent pop rock with catchy melodies and big choruses. Good on them for defying the odds and making a good album 30 years after their prime.
This British band really blew me away this year, with their EP “Have You Heard?”. It contains material released last year on their debut album, but whatever, it warrants inclusion. They’ve got a passion and fire that sets them apart from most artists, and their singer Luke Spiller seems to channel the spirit of Freddie Mercury. Yes, he’s that good.
Most awesome nostalgia moment
With a setlist that went in reverse chronological order from their latest album to their self titled debut, Rush offered and amazing set full of deep cuts that hadn’t been played in a long, long time. Considering this tour most likely served double duty as a farewell tour, it was a great way to cap a four decade career.
My top 6 albums of 2015
- Ghost – Meliora. A fantastic album of melodic hard rock that’s excellent from start to finish.
- Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. A masterpiece of conceptual rock.
- Nightwish – Endless Form Most Beautiful. Great symphonic/progressive metal from these veterans.
- Whitehorse – Leave No Bridge Unburned. For the fantastic moods that draw you into their musical world.
- The Struts – Have You Heard? It’s just an EP but it’s so much fun that it ends up on this list. These guys will be big.
- Adele – 25. For that voice.
Of course, the year also had its share of heartbreaks. Among the many musicians we lost this year are Ben E. King, B.B. King, James Horner, Scott Weiland and Lemmy. Rest in peace, and thank you for the music.
Happy new year everyone, and thank you for reading this blog. As one last treat, here’s my Spotify playlist of the best of 2015.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage