Listen above to our conversation about the genesis of the album, each one of its magnificent tracks, and also Anneke’s musical plans going forward. We even ask her about future work with her metal band Vuur…
Here are my picks for the best of the year. I started with a list of thirty, and then cut it down to twenty by creating a list of ten pairs. Then I brutally cut that list of twenty down to ten, by jettisoning the member of the pair that had the lesser number of listens (according to my music playback software, Apple Music). Therefore, here are the ten best, ranked by my highest number of listens for 2020:
#1 — Unleash the Archers, Abyss
This long-form storytelling concept album is the sci-fi sequel to 2017’s Apex and it is unquestionably the most awesomely epic release unleashed this year. Unleash the Archers also gave the best pandemic live-stream performance of the year. If you missed it, then you can at least play this album on repeat. Favorite tracks include “Through Stars” (all the way back to the 80s), “The Wind That Shapes the Land” (a sprawling prog-metal masterpiece), and “Carry the Flame” (a killer duet).
#2 — Pallbearer, Forgotten Days
It’s hard to believe they could top their 2017 masterwork, Heartless, but all the same Pallbearer totally delivered the doom metal goods this year with this slow-growing, richly-textured slab of excellence. It will take multiple listens for you to appreciate all the complex nuances of this underappreciated release. Those who haven’t given it due honor have simply failed to invest the requisite time of listens required for this album to show itself fully. “Stasis” is the shortest track, so you may find access through it first, but “Silver Wings” is the longest track and sheer sonic proof of Pallbearer’s upper-echelon prog status.
#3 — Wytch Hazel, III: Pentecost
The noble tradition of classic metal is alive and well. Wytch Hazel rode atop our top ten list this year with their unstoppable momentum on III: Pentecost. Grab your sword and mount your horse as Wytch Hazel leads you into battle by setting scripture to music. They conquer all, galloping out of the gate with killer tracks like “Spirit and Fire”, “Archangel”, and “Dry Bones”.
#4 — The Night Flight Orchestra, Aeromantic
Climb aboard and get ready for a voyage in an aerial time machine, flying back to the time when radio actually played good music. These cats have mastered all the pop and rock idioms of Planet Earth’s golden age. On this disc, they perform the virtuoso trick of writing all the best songs of an era that they never actually existed in. Until now, by flying back to it this year. Start charting your own course with “Transmissions” (as you taxi a groove down the runway), “Aeromantic” (a totally exhilarating liftoff), and “Golden Swansdown” (a heavenly-perfect audio icon of falling in love).
#5 — Kelsy Karter, Missing Person
Rock and roll will never die as long as each new generation keeps producing truly talented and suitably demented offspring like Kelsy. “God Knows I’ve Tried” to be good, she sings. And she’s certainly achieved it on this debut disc. This is proof positive why artists should follow the maxim, “Stick to Your Guns”. Kelsy accordingly took her time to produce this fine album, and it’s a total blast from start to finish, all the way to the “Liquor Store On Mars” and beyond.
#6 — Pure Reason Revolution, Eupnea
Returning to their prog roots, Pure Reason Revolution pull off their best album since their stunning debut, The Dark Third. This album will become your “New Obsession”, because it was carefully crafted during a “Silent Genesis”, in order to give us a musical guide through the “Maelstrom” of 2020. Absolutely brilliant, this disc is a shining star in the prog firmament. Welcome back, PRR.
#7 — White Crone, The Poisoner
Here’s metal in the traditional style to make you stand up and take notice. If you need a prog awakening, check out the nifty musical intricacies on “Interment”, and then as it morphs into “Edge of Gone”. Every track rocks hard, but my favorite is “The Seven Gates of Hell”, which sports haunting vocals showing what Dio would have sounded like if he were a woman.
#8 — Kansas, The Absence of Presence
Kansas showed up in 2020 with a prog achievement beyond all expectation. This wonderful album proves that the greatest bands never go on past their prime. They just keep showing in new ways: why they are so remarkable, with no need to recycle their glory days. There’s maturity, vigor, and wisdom all here, with stunning tracks like “Memories Down the Line”, “The Absence of Presence”, and “Animals on the Roof”. Carry on, Kansas; carry on…
#9 — The Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance
The Tangent demonstrate yet again why they cannot be vanquished by any critics, because they simply cannot be reduced to any musical category and critiqued in a box. Instead they transcend all attempts to comprehend, and simply dazzle you with musical excellence. “Jinxed in Jersey” is jazzy storytelling that will have you laughing your head off. But the track of the year may very well be the amazing “Lie Back and Think of England” which is definitive proof that if you have ever objected to The Tangent’s “politics” on any release, you are foolishly missing the point. The Tangent’s vision is nothing but the finest humanism.
#10 — Smashing Pumpkins, Cyr
This surprise late entry stormed our top ten list with its unexpected synth rock unfolding atop a full flower of brilliant songwriting. Repeated listens are richly repaid, but you may hold onto early favorites, as I did, that also stand up over time: “Dulcet in E”, “Wyttch”, “Black Forest, Black Hills”, and “Haunted”. Billy Corgan’s immense talent for songcraft is on full display, but perhaps the most wonderful surprise is the radiant female background vocalists, Katie Cole and Sierra Swan, who stand out and shine as if they were fronting the band, making the Smashing Pumpkins now sound like an ideal Platonic form of pop/rock: a Pumpkin mashup with Metric.
Want to pass on the old-school values — the musical essence of rock and roll — to the next generation? This greatest hits package is a killer choice.
In the wake of the ‘90s alternative boom, mainstream rock music had become largely disconnected from its roots in the blues—that is, until The White Stripes hooked it up to some rusty jumper cables and jolted it back to life.
Emerging from the Detroit garage-rock trenches in 1997, the duo of Jack and Meg White embraced a vision of the blues that was equal parts John Lee Hooker and Jon Spencer, projecting a raw primitivism through their minimalist guitar/drums formation, yet also displaying a healthy appreciation for artifice by constructing their own media-trolling mythology.
A married couple at the time, they instead presented themselves as a brother/sister act, wrapping themselves in a childlike white/red color scheme that reflected the perpetual battle between innocence and fury playing out in their music.
While the Stripes were initially right at home among the garage-punk miscreants on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label, their latent appreciation of classic pop songcraft—as evinced by their aching cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on a 2000 B-side—proved to be their ticket out of the underground.
Alongside The Strokes’ Is This It, 2001’s White Blood Cells became a bellwether for the 21st-century garage-rock renaissance thanks to equally thrashy and catchy nuggets like “Fell in Love With a Girl.”
But with 2003’s double-album behemoth Elephant (and its eternal sports-arena stomper, “Seven Nation Army”), the Stripes transcended the garage realm entirely and entered the echelon of rock’s most omnipotent bands.
They continued to expand the sonic possibilities of a two-piece group up until 2007, at which point Meg’s intensifying battles with anxiety forced them off the road, before they officially disbanded in 2011.
But as a prolific solo artist and the impresario behind the Third Man Records empire, Jack has continued the Stripes’ mission of upholding old-school values in a modern world.
They were on the verge of breaking out in the U.S. market in 1980. But a tragic accident suddenly interrupted their trajectory towards mega-stardom.
Guitarist and songwriter Gord Lewis suffered serious injuries. Although he later returned to the band, they spent the next four decades playing small gigs cross Canada.
In 2008, lead singer Frankie Venom died at 52 from throat cancer, leaving the band reeling in the wake of tragedy yet again.
The documentary begins with a stark juxtaposition. It shows the band in concert at the height of their success, and then in the present day with the band taking a limo ride to visit Frankie’s grave site.
They gaze at the words on Frankie’s tombstone: “Picture My Face.” It’s the name of the band’s smash hit first single, which appeared on their first album in Canada.
But in the documentary the phrase takes on a new meaning. Exploring the impact of death and suffering upon the lives of the band members, it expresses a loving remembrance.
Gord Lewis, still reeling from Frankie’s death and his own automobile accident, is shown struggling with severe depression. The band supplements Gord’s medical treatments with efforts to get Gord to record a new album with them and play live shows.
The documentary chronicles much of this real-life pain and struggle as it happens. We root for the band as Gord plays a triumphant live show again with them at the movie’s end.
The film’s central message is supplied by Gord’s brother, Father David Lewis, interviewed at his parish, St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church.
“I believe in Gord’s calling and I believe in my own,” says Father Lewis. As he listens to Teenage Head’s music on camera, he exclaims, “I love it! Love it. It’s of God! God is part of this.”
Father Lewis explains how he believes rock music “just gives strength.” He also reveals: “Gord and I have lost our parents, so we feel like orphans. And I think Gord felt like that when Frank died.”
The importance of this type of music? “Suffering. It’s about suffering,” announces Father Lewis. “I think that’s what produces rock and roll. You learn how to suffer.”
It’s an impromptu homily on the film’s central theme. “The blues and rock and roll are about suffering and expressing it with hope,” he says.
Eminently worth watching, this documentary will lead you to reflect on the presence of suffering and loss in your own life. Perhaps you’ll even start listening to old records from the 1980s.
Album out August 21st: Abyss. Frontwoman Brittney Slayes says about Abyss:
“This track set the tone for the whole record; conceptually, lyrically, musically, it all started here. Andy came up with the opening riff back when we were writing Apex, but I knew right away it didn’t belong on that record. When we finally started writing Abyss in 2019, this was the first song we wrote and it was the first song I listened to when the record was done. It symbolizes five years of hard work for us, and I think it does a great job of putting the listener in the right place emotionally to start the record. It hints at what the rest of the album is all about, but also doesn’t give it all away, not by a long shot!”
From bow to stern and across its inspired succession of riffs, forbidding harmonies, and mournful Iommi solo, ‘The Shining’ is built along the same, towering sonic architecture that defined so many vintage Black Sabbath classics of old, and should by all rights have joined them in the heavy metal trophy room, if not for the travails afflicting its creators.
Instead, ‘The Shining’ has become one of Rock’s Hidden Gems: recognized as such by few, forsaken by many, but glimmering brightly nonetheless, just like the Morning Star rising over the horizon.
And yet, even more hidden is the original Ray Gillen version. His vocals are the best, in our opinion, and the inclusion of his alternate recordings on disc 2 of The Eternal Idol Deluxe Edition are an opportunity for you to discover some of heavy metal’s most remarkable buried treasure (which were previously only available in bootleg form). You can hear the album as it was born. Later on, it was released with Tony Martin’s substitute vocals. But Gillen’s magnificent vocals are an achievement for all time.
As with so many of his earlier films, Kubrick is less concerned with delivering a coherent plot than a mood, an environment and striking, almost dissociative images, and The Shining has so many of them. The ghosts of twin girls in blue gingham dresses, lurking hand-in-hand at the end of a hallway. The elevator doors unleashing a tidal wave of blood. Shelley Duvall’s bulging eyes as she swings a baseball bat in front of her. The reams of typing paper covered in the same phrase — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” — over and over again. And in the film’s most famous moment, Nicholson’s face leering and sweating as he taunts his wife through a door he’s just splintered with an axe.
It’s those individual moments that have cemented themselves within pop culture, and which have been the subject of endless parody and tribute. The plot, which is riddled with logical inconsistencies and continuity errors (some accidental, some deliberate), ends up not really mattering in the long run. So perhaps The Shining is still freaking out modern-day audiences, many of whom have scoffed at the supposedly dated shocks of older horror classics like Night of the Living Dead or The Exorcist, not because it’s relatable or emotionally harrowing but because it slowly and purposefully insinuates itself onto you. It creeps into your subconscious and takes up residency there.