THE triumphant seizure of the Christmas Number One by Rage Against the Machine was, for many, a fine way to round up what we here on this blog predicted would be a vintage year for metal. For once, in several years the sub-Butlins talent show that is the X-Factor did not have a vacuous so-called singer, claim their predicted 15 minutes of fame while everyone talked about Cowell and not the phone-in friends failure to have a serious success later on.
But that clouds the fact that X-Factor will be back next year with another range of numpties with no talent. However, we do hope that the campaign to get a Cannibal Corpse track to number one next Chrimbo...
So, with 2009 ending with a small victory for the loud, unapologetically guitar orientated, beer swilling masses (yeah, there are more of us than they suspect mwuhahah!) what was notable in the hard rock, heavy metal world over the last 12 months here in Norn Iron? What was the best album? What was the best gig?
As philosophers of many a bar note opinions are like arseholes...everyone has one so whatever we commend or condemn there will be those that disagree, those that laugh out loud with incredulity and those that murmur and agree. Please feel free to slag off this review of the year, disgree with the selections and point out glaring errors - just make sure to post the comments!
2009, also ended with a triumphant homecoming gig for the fine gentlemen of The Answer, storming the Ulster Hall, just as they had laid waste to the Mandella Hall a bare six months earlier. Fantastic gigs apart (and a tour with AC/DC to boot!) it saw Everyday Demons hit the shops, an album with more darkness than predecessor Rise, and deservedly picking up plaudits and sales. The question for The Answer is the timing of the next platter. Just as Rise tracks have reduced in favour of '...Demons' songs, how long before the band need the fresh flourish of new tracks to keep themselves and the audiences interested? However it comes out one can be sure that the 12 months have been one that has consolidated the band in all our hearts and provided real hope for every other act here. The gigs and Everyday Demons are our first honourable mention for the year about to pass into history.
Now, for a wee swing away from that...extreme metal. While metal and hard rock has clawed its way back to the mainstream's attention (Iron Maiden's victory at The Brits) extreme metal has had a year worthy of note. While 2008 ended with Slipknot bothering the charts (and ending 2009 with the release of the brilliant Sulfur video) the year's outstanding extreme metal album was Slayer's 'World Painted Blood'; a true return to form, building on Christ Illusion to deliver a dystopian, defiant diatribe to a cacophony of ire and satire.
Honourable mention to Lamb of God for Wrath and a reportedly brutal Mandalla Hall gig. Also, one of the favourite platters of the year was Devildriver's Pray for Villains. The doubters that Dez would always struggle to shed the albatross of Coal Chamber off his back are the cantankerous minority who refuse to revel in the sheer metallic magnificence of Pray for Villains.
And, when it comes to putting extreme metal (and other forms) to the fore the work of James and the Distortion Project this year (and for the past decade!) must be mentioned. Everyone who has spent a Saturday afternoon losing hearing and destroying a liver at the Limer knows how much recognition the Distortion Project deserves for keeping the metal flame burning bright, notwithstanding the many other achievements such as bringing the likes of Amon Amarth to town.
On the subject of the Limer, the Spring and Airbrake and Katy Dalys were honoured as the best live venue in Northern Ireland. A worthy honour, especially from those of us who have enjoyed far too many nights in one of the three. Congratulations to CDC for not only this, but for the bravery at booking so many hard rock and metal acts into the venue.
And hard rock has been a theme for 2009. In the 80s Def Leppard, Whitesnake, UFO, Tesla et al were regarded as metal, together with DC and many others that today's genre splitters would disparage such titling.
But young and old alike took to hard rock with gusto at many of the gigs of 2009, whether it wasWhitesnake, Lepps and Tesla in Dublin, the Download headliner sets, AC/DC wet in Punchestown or the Tesla/UFO two night blast at the Spring and Airbrake.
UFO was certainly a stand-out night, with aged band and audience members managing to rock Ormeau Avenue to the core...yeah I hear Tesla the night before was even better, but hey can't get to as many gigs as we wish what with advancing years :)
UFO's The Visitor was a stand-out release of the year combining British blues with good old fashioned hard rock. Unfortunately it won't get the airplay or sales that it richly deserves.
And nor will many of the wonderful albums that emerged in 2009. For CDs are on their way out, as decreed by a record indstry that now sees the ease of plugging empty headed pop downloads over the effort of supporting a band to musical maturity. Not for the first time we have heard bands bemoaning the fact that gigs are populated by a minority who have either downloaded just one track or heard a song on a cover-mount sampler...and then talk through the rest of the set. While we can do the grumpy old men whine about this can we also humbly and with consideration ask those who natter while the band are playing to shut the fuck up. Other paying customers might want to actually listen to the whole set. We writers are generally peacable people, but others are not and we are led to believe that a smack in the mouth really can hurt...whether it does or not some pissed off fan of music battering teeth into a bleeding pulp will generally shut yer mouth.
And a smack in the mouth is a risk we may have to take in mentioning two non-metallic gigs that are worthy of real note. First Biffy Clyro roasting St George's Market. Yes they are darlings of some indie media and have yet to darken the pages of Terrorizer or Metal Hammer, but the Scottish threesome are no shoe-gazing freaks. From widdly wankers they have grown to have a stage presence echoed by a live sound akin to a sledgehammer being weilded with melody and angst...and if you don't get that over-stretched metaphor only being at a Biffy gig can explain it.
Also non-metallic was SLF at The Ulster Hall in March. Stiff Little Fingers may be casually labelled as punk (and they were, musically, in the late 70s and early 80s) but their sound is as much about loud hard rock than some teeny pop ten-minute sensation from the USA. When one magazine said Green Day were SLF 2.0 the writer missed the point. Without SLF, Jake Burns beloveed Clash (and their ilk here in Northern Ireland) the sound of Green Day and others would be empty, and the sociological rants of Billy Joe will never ever be as insightful as Jake. The Ulster Hall gig in March was a celebration, capped by Jake dedicating 'Guitar and Drum' to that cunt Cowell for destroying music.
And that is about where we came in, with Cowell as a pseudo hate figure for a mainstream and radio programming thought police who trot out metal once in a while to poke fun at, or nod with post-modernist wisdom at Anvil's film.
What they will never get is that Anvil's tragi-comedy documentary is not a Spinal Tap 'rockumentary' but rather a summation of the spirit that pervades all really great music, not just metal, rock or punk. Rather it is the sheer love that the band members bring and the audiences lap up.
By all accounts the career of an 80s bassist from a disbanded supergroup and latterly a noughties supergroup should be one now marked by caberet slots and bitter interviews with magazines. Not such Mr Duff McKagan who brought his 'Loaded' crew back to Belfast earlier in the year. On the back of the magnificent 'Sick' album Duff McKagan proved that it is that perverse attititude exemplified by Anvil as much as Guns 'n' Roses that sums up everything we love. Love the music - nothing else matters...
There ends the sermon....
But afore ye go to Hogmany hijinx a few honourable mentions...
Mastodon for delivering Crack the Skye - haven't got a clue what the lyrics are a metaphor for, but it was one of the best releases of the year
The return of prog - Bigelf to be the acceptable face of the resurgence, and Dream Theatre getting more of the acceptance and adulation they deserve in 2009, complex chord structures and time signatures back in style!
Alice in Chains - a super album, and here's hoping they can mantain the momentum next year
Heaven and Hell - not as good as we hoped the album would be, but still head and shoulders above others: now we can all just hope that little Ronnie recovers from his stomach cancer to deliver more magnificence
Steel Panther - cringeworthy porn lyrics and a real homage to big hair absurdity combined with actual musicianship
Back to reality with Dan Reed soulful brilliance in Ahoghill of all places
On that note kudos to Derwin and the Diamond Rock Club for keeping the metal dream alive beyond the Belfast boundary
And speaking of porn...Rammstein's video for Pussy just ain't for the kiddies. No really, it's not!
But most of all the honourable mention must go to each and every single reader of this site. Writing about anything can be a long boring stare into a computer screen, self delusion that your views count. That so many have taken the time to email, phone, comment, text, reply etc means that people care not about what we write, but about the music.
Yeah, fuck you Cowell, we won't do what you tell us! We're still here, metal lives on and my black atheist heart is ready and stoked with hard rockin' fire for 2010. Happy New Year to y'all!