3 GREAT 2022 ALBUMS: KINGS, CAVES AND CROSSES

Festive greetings all! ’tis that time again and we’ve had some proper cold for once, which makes everything better and more seasonal and better and more seasonal. As does a stollen bread carbo-coma.

But what’s kept the music fires blazing through the year?

Here are three metallic diamonds (?) from 2022 – not a definitive shortlist but certainly albums that caused much excitement AND lived up to it. That’s what we’re looking for right now: true musical love and long-term listening, so let’s start with the big one from a very strange year.

KING’S X – Three Sides of One

It starts badly. Really badly. What in the name of Satan Clause has happened to Dug’s voice?

Hang on – wrong speed. Amateur Hour over here, the record’s a 45rpm-er. Anyway, King’s X. First new album for 14 years. Fan froth. Where will it sit in their staggering back catalogue?

Chances are it’ll slide right up towards the top of the King’s X table because it’s got the very things the first four albums had and XV somewhat lacked. Stylistic range. Acoustic guitars. Choppy riffs and rhythm shifts. Dark and light, not just groove, and – of course – heaviness, melody and harmony all over, aka the KX factor.

Record one, side A: Let It Rain rings out a pounding apocalyptic vision before Flood Pt 1 cranks a jagged riff as heavy as they’ve ever done and Nothing But The Truth takes you back to Dogman’s very own Flies and Blue Skies.

Not a bad start? No, a bloody great start – and so it goes on. Driving hard rock singalongs (Festival), glacial bass-heavy vibrations (All God’s Children), Hendrix-y screamers (Give It Up) and early-days recreations (Watcher). Swipe Up repeats Flood Pt 1’s punishing riff, but without the Beatles-esque sweetener this time around, it hits even harder.

There’s every chance this will turn out to be one of their top-tier albums. On first listen it’s the most King’s X-sounding record since 1992’s King’s X, at least to me – don’t know why exactly, not over-analysing it either, it just somehow brings back not only the sound but the feeling of that album. After a couple more plays, fragments of songs and riffs worm into your head and stick. Just how we like it.

Whatever issues Dug Pinnick, Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill had during the making of XV, they’re straightened out now and if this ends up being their last record then it’s a rich, vibrant, complete send-off.

King’s X are back. 100%.

CAVE IN – Heavy Pendulum

Who’d have thought there’d be a follow up to Final Transmission? Me neither. Heavy Pendulum is Cave In’s first album of new material without the late Caleb Scofield, but with credits on three tracks and artwork space in the booklet, he’s still present. Nice. Brother-in-arms noisemonger Nate Newton keeps the bass close to home and the band carve out another molten post-hardcore trip. Tracks like Blood Spiller and Floating Skulls shred with barbed riffs and open aggression while Heavy Pendulum drops a proggy descender of a riff so sublime you wish it’d never end.

As is often the case with Cave In and their collaborations and crossovers, the slower tracks have a knack for nailing a transcendent, awesome beauty and we get two of those to close out the album. Reckoning‘s unplugged heaviness feels fit for a campfire ritual, while album finale Wavering Angel burns a 12-minute pathway to the ether. Only Cave In themselves know if it’s an epitaph for their departed bassist but it sure as hell feels like one, traversing from acoustic picks to juggernaut chugs to full-circle convergence. Class.

DEAD CROSS – II

32 minutes and 11 seconds. That’s all you need for Dead Cross’s 2022 OTT hardcore goth-creep assault and it’s a grinningly perverse, relentless beating from Michael Cain, Justin Pearson, Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo. How can you not succumb to Nightclub Canary‘s full throttle discharge and skipped beats? Or Christian Missile Crisis with its sneaked-in Slayer riff? Or Imposter Syndrome‘s insane realisation of art-thrash/punk expression?

There are plenty of non-solos and shadowy breaks peppering II – the Tomahawk vibe oozes through in those moments – but, for the most part, Dead Cross don’t hold back. At all. Prepare to be flattened.

And there we have it, a trio of faves from 2022. What are yours? Do share – after all, it’s the season to give.

’til next time …Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

MUSIC 2021: GIFTS AND GIVING – PINNICK, PLANT

CHRISTMAS WISHES, all! What’s your album of the year? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss?

Correct.

Bye, then. See you next time

ah, but not quite. Let’s divert for a winter ramble for a few minutes as night outruns day and strings of lights blink into life. Let’s evade the best-of-the-year music rat race and run with the spirit of the season:

Gifts and giving.

Whether it’s a time-of-life thing or a COVID-rooted acceleration, I don’t know. But music seems to mean more and get more special with every year, as do those who make it. They’re the givers of true gifts.

One album which won’t be troubling any end-of-year lists (because he never does) but fits the theme is Joy Bomb by Dug Pinnick.

Why the big love?

BECAUSE IT’S DUG PINNICK.

Yep, the guy best known for being the singer and bass groover in the unfathomably magnificent King’s X put another album out.

Listening to both the Faith, Hope, Love and King’s X albums again today, 30 or so years after they came out, was an exercise in time travel and euphoria. Any King’s X fan knows this. The band inspires unconditional love and those records are exalted rock territory. It doesn’t need explaining, even if you could put it into words. And though they never quite hit the same creative peaks later on, they’ve always been consistently great.

So, it was a buzz to hear about a new record from the ever-prolific Dug (many other projects on the go, not least the harder edged KXM). The guy is 71 now. How does Joy Bomb fare?

Well, it’s pure Pinnick – voice fulla soul, snaking bass-led low end, melodies you can’t shake, varying degrees of rock-funk-soul depending on the track. Key Changer stomps an upbeat funk while rocking too hard to be funk, but it’s in there. As he says himself in interviews, everything comes out through a Dug filter and this is very purely a song about music. Equally Divided is a zombie singalong lurch, a bit gluey, a fraction slow. And if there’s a slight dip two thirds the way through the album, it picks up again with The Poison‘s beat-messing groove and the jerky, heavy, unsettled funk jabs in Making Sense of the Bones.

Some nicely unleashed solos throughout as well. Shades of KXM/George Lynch.

But however this album goes down, the point (today) is this: having Dug Pinnick in the world releasing music is, in itself, a great thing. That’s the gift. Especially when everything’s a little bit fucked.

Another record generating a bigger-than-music vibe is far higher profile and it’s no surprise, given the opening paragraph, that Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s Raise the Roof is a record of the year.

I say this with all the confidence of a slacker who’s only played it twice

but yes, the quality is that obvious. The special something, the huge inner glow, is fired up as soon as the stylus hits touchdown, and how many records each year really do that?

Maybe it’ll be a lesser record in a few spins, who knows. Doubtful, but possible. Right now though, there’s no rush to Raise the Roof. No need to listen in haste and cram it. Better instead to create a moment and be open to the overlapping musical histories it spins.

So, there we go. A couple of non-reviews of special records from 2021 this Christmas. Maybe we’ll throw a few others out there in a more typical look-back in a few days, who knows.

But if not, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Plant-Krauss and Dug Pinnick - gifts of 2021
Spreading the joy bomb

TOOL: NO FEAR?

AUGUST REWIND: TOOL MUSINGS, BURIAL’S NEW FLAME … AND AN ELK HORN

Tool. Four-letter word of the month, event of the year, band of all time and all that, but even though Fear Inoculum is finally out, it remains untouched by many devout followers because it’s not available physically – even if you could shell out 75 quid plus for the deluxe version, there’s no stock. So, it’s a waiting game. I don’t want to blow a new Tool audio sensation by rushing it through crappy digi mobile tech that won’t do it justice. I’m putting faith in old-school formats appearing because I don’t believe that Tool, one of the most meticulous and attentive rock bands of all time, will deny millions of fans the chance to hear the album that way. It’s been 13 years, a bit longer won’t hurt.

(it does hurt. #whereisaffordablefearinoculumcd)

Because of all the Tool build-up, 10,000 Days has been on rotation a fair bit and Right in Two‘s eventual intense pummel has crept in as a new Tool-worm. Class. But some BTL comments (Guardian Fear Inoculum review) shows that some people in this crazy world express mild disappointment with 10,000 Days …

que? How is that even a thing? And doesn’t it break some natural law?

Even weirder is the fact that August threw up ace new tunes despite Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor, Danny Carey and Maynard James Keenan having nothing to do with them.

Insane, I know. But true. Check a couple of these non-Tool sonics.

FLAME 2 – Dive

Flame 2 is the second collaboration between Burial and The Bug. DIVE is the dark hour, the pitch black business end of the day/night. Beat-less heavy ambience on a full burn. Controlled tension. Without knowing anything about The Bug bar the name, I can’t comment on its merit as a collaboration, but the potent whiff of Burial’s urban nocturnal is more than enough.

ELKHORN – To See Darkness

Rootsy psych-folk with a cosmic sprawl. TO SEE DARKNESS picks out a rich John Fahey-like tapestry until an electrified late scorch fires it up Six Organs of Admittance style, aka spiritual trip magic.

Other shorter bites: Black Midi‘s album has been out a wee while but 953‘s collision of mangled riffs and scattered beats is a welcome shot of intellectualised noisy rock. And for something non-rock but wholly gutsy and compelling, Tenesha the WordsmithWHY WHITE FOLKS CAN’T CALL ME … – packs race politics and civil wrongs into a jazz-feel trancey pulse ‘n’ flow. Searing stuff.

KING’S X CANCEL

The news we never wanted to hear – King’s X have cancelled their European tour. Gutted not to be seeing them in Cardiff in September but, more importantly, let’s hope their family emergency is sorted and everyone is OK. As we know, King’s X have a lot of love, warmth and affection flowing their way. We can’t help it.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind