I thought as a final last hurrah to 2019, I’d bring you my thoughts on my favourite ten songs of the year. In no particular order, except for the number one spot, here goes…
In first place:
‘All I Have’
This was the song that was the soundtrack to a very difficult time in my life and it remains the anthem that broke me, then helped to rebuild me over the past year. I’m now in a very different place a year on, but the song has become so personal, so powerful, so all-encompassing, that I couldn’t even contemplate picking a different song to be my number one of 2019. Here’s what I wrote in my album review:
“For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius. It kicks off in doom metal fashion, with an ominous and impossibly heavy delivery. The riff is subtly progressive in that it doesn’t quite conform to a simple four-four beat (I think) but still manages to get the head moving. Then, as the chorus enters, so do Rikard’s tinkling ivories before the intensity builds into the bridge. And then, in comes the chorus.
“It’s All I have,
It’s all I have,
All I have,
All I own that I can give to you”
On paper, it doesn’t seem much but the way that Tom belts out the words with more feeling than I can describe, sends shivers down my spine, especially when coupled with a truly beautiful and simple melody. It is one of the best choruses I have ever heard and after nearly three months, none of the magic wanes.
The lead guitar solos take over at this point with a majesty all of their own and the pleading, mournful notes that soar over a reprise of the chorus melody send my head into a spin. More often than not, I get shivers coursing up and down my spine and the tears come unbidden to cascade down my cheeks. I realise, much like Tom, that regardless of perceptions to the contrary, I gave all I had to my relationship but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.”
If I need to say anything else about this song, it is this: perfection.
‘Garden Of Thorns’
Quite deservedly, Odd Logic found their way into my top 10 albums of 2019 and now, they can just as deservedly find one of their compositions in this equivalent top 10 for individual songs of 2019. As I wrote in the review:
“It stood out on a first listen to the record but with subsequent listens, it has become irresistible. The delicacy of the soft, almost whispered vocals from Thompson are beguiling, but when coupled with the incredibly sophisticated and nuanced melodies, and the guitar work, it becomes addictive in the extreme. I find myself singing the melodies long after the album has finished, and I get withdrawal symptoms when I haven’t listened to it for a while.”
The more I listen, the more I appreciate the clever, subtle nuances that help to underpin a song that captured my imagination right from the very beginning. And it is remarkable that this is the creation of just two musicians; the level of sophistication and the impeccable delivery are incredible. I was initially drawn to the softer, more melodious sections, but sitting here now, I appreciate and enjoy much more those sections where the foot is placed on the accelerator pedal and we’re treated to some uncompromising djent-like riffs and the odd growled vocal.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly the central melody because it’s a thing of real beauty, a beauty that simply refuses to dim over time.
Big Big Train
As certain as death and taxes, you can guarantee that a Big Big Train record will contain several world-beating compositions and their latest opus, ‘Grand Tour’ is no different. I regret the fact that I have not reviewed this cracking disc during 2019 but it deserved the best and initially, I wasn’t in the position to do the review justice, not by a long way. And then, when I felt ready to tackle it, time ran out.
Nevertheless, I hope that this accolade will help to soften any disappointment from those who love this incredible prog rock band.
Without doubt, ‘Voyager’ has become one of my all-time favourite Big Big Train songs. It wasn’t always thus as it took a little time to dilute the fog in my mind. But when it did, it was like watching a shaft of brilliant sunlight stretch over the landscape below, bathing the visage in its warm and welcoming embrace. At 14 minutes in length, it isn’t a quick listen, but it is testament to the song that it never feels that long. It is elegance put to music with grandiose melodies, extended instrumental passages and, at the 9:35 mark, it unleashes its magic to full, devastating effect. Tense, epic, melodic and with great performances from every corner of the band and guest musicians, it comes together to create something truly special, with a crescendo to stand the hairs on the back of your neck on end. I can’t get enough of this marvelous track, I really can’t.
‘Bury The Bodies’
“And then, suddenly, I come face-to-face with ‘Bury The Bodies’ which is easily in the running for my personal favourite song of 2019. It opens with a stomping and lurching mid-tempo riff and to be honest, it’s an unremarkable start. But at the 90 second point, in comes the most incredible melody. The strings float in and around as a sadness and melancholy butts up against the glorious bittersweet melody. It is enhanced by some beautiful clean singing from Tomb, that conveys a sense of frustration and emotion when he lets go a little. Solemn lead guitar breaks and lead embellishments add more spinetingling moments, whilst the rhythm section provides a strong backbone upon which the incredible song is built. I could listen to this track all day long. As it is, I generally press repeat at least once before continuing with the record.”
My thoughts on this wonderful song have not changed since I wrote the review of ‘Mask Of All Misery’, of which the above quote was a part. There is just something so gratifying and thoroughly addictive about this track that’s hard to explain. It is true testament to the power of a song that is heavy, ballsy and incredibly anthemic – the word ‘anthem’ is often over-used when describing music but on this occasion, I strongly believe that the adjective is well-placed and justified. Great stuff.
‘Spirits Will Collide’
I never got around to reviewing this album during 2019, principally because I found a lot of it pretty hard-going and not as compelling as I had hoped. Except for one track that is: “Spirits Will Collide”. This beautiful song was the one moment on the album that, for me, stood out by a country mile.
Not only does it contain a wonderful set of melodies, the kind that are euphoric and spinetingling, but the lyrics are so incredibly positive and life-affirming.
“So we rise!
Receive the pain, but this isn’t where this ends
Don’t forget that you are perfect
Don’t forget just who we are
We’re strong enough”
Some may deride the track for being cheesy or over-the-top but to me, it is an amazingly uplifting song with a positive message, something we could all do with more of these days. It has also become more important to me ever since hearing it performed live, in stripped-back fashion before Christmas after being dedicated to all those who are suffering or know others suffering with depression and other mental health issues. The sincerity from Devin as he sings the lyrics is unquestionable, adding yet more power to an already wonderful song.
When I reviewed the new Leprous album, ‘Pitfalls’, I wrote of the song “Alleviate”:
“Another favourite of mine is ‘Alleviate’ and, to a greater or lesser extent is similar to ‘Below’ in that it starts off softly with the synths and vocals up front and centre. It lasts for less than four minutes but its impact is greater than its slight lifespan. It builds, with each instrument entering the fray very deliberately alongside more lush string arrangements. You can sense the dam wants to break and it certainly does, with another agonised outpouring of grief and anguish from Solberg, backed up by his bandmates beautifully.”
However, in the months since, my love of this track has grown exponentially to the point where it is most definitely my favourite composition on an album chock full of stellar performances and killer songs. The sheer emotion and power that emanates from Solberg and the entire band is devastating but it is made all the stronger by the fact that the majority of the track is quiet, brooding and minimalist in many ways. The impact and contrast between this and the explosion towards the end of the composition is a thing of beauty and borders on genius, frankly.
“And what can you say about the spinetingling closer, ‘Voices’? It is a stunning folk-laced track of epic proportions, that demonstrates the art of a suspenseful build-up and crushing, moving crescendos. If you’re not moved by the power and melodic intent of this track, I don’t think you’re human.” – my review.
Not a ‘classic’ Borknagar track, but one that provided the biggest impact for me on the entire album. I had thought that songs like ‘Thunderous’ or ‘The Fire That Burns’ would be natural contenders for this accolade but, as it turns out, it’s the final song on the record that has grown on me to the point where I want to listen to it first before delving into the rest of the album. It has that brooding, contemplative quality to it that, despite the slower and quieter nature of it, gives it that edge; it’s a dark and ominous piece that also benefits from an irresistible melody as well as a bass that shakes the foundations and a glorious guitar tone that gets me every time I hear it as the song explodes into the choruses.
It is testament to a band when you could pick any number of songs to mention in this list. ‘Colours In The Sun’ is just that kind of album, with several tracks that could easily be referred to in this post. However, having lived with this record for some time and having heard a couple of tracks in the live environment, it just had to be the opening cut of the new record.
Why? Because it is just so damn infectious, fun, upbeat and, importantly, with its overt electro pop influences, it has forced me to reevaluate my own musical prejudices along the way. It never fails to make me smile and move, improving my mood every single time I hear it.
Here’s what I wrote in my review:
“’Colours In the Sun’ kicks off with ‘Colours’ which features a synth intro that would be as much at home in a Magaluf or Ibiza nightclub as on a metal record. However, the undeniably upbeat, euphoric intro soon gives way to a powerful riff that continues to build on the energy created in the opening section. Daniel Estrin’s unique vocals soar across the sonic palette with serenity and panache, whilst the quieter verses provide a counterpoint to the anthemic chorus. The churning, djent-y riffs make an entrance, offering quality headbang fodder but the track never sits still long enough to pin down. It’s the musical equivalent to a child on Christmas Eve, a bouncing, vibrant song that contains enough energy to light a small town for a week.”
Quite honestly, as with Voyager above, I could have picked several songs off this album to feature in this list. However, after much contemplation, I have plumped for the quite incredible ‘Presence’ for the honour.
To kick off, it is a song that contains enormous drama. I love the juxtaposition that exists within the song; the quiet introspection of the verses, dominated by Lauren Nolan’s vocals and pronounced electronic sounds, is in marked contrast to the more muscular and dominant chorus that brings the song to life via profound lyrics and a gorgeous central melody. It is the kind of song in which you can’t help getting immersed and moved in equal measure. As always, Vikram Shankar’s piano-playing is stunning, only further enhancing what is already a beautiful piece of music. Although it was a very close race, ‘Presence’ is the song that lives longest in my mind once the album has finished and the one that I find burrowed in my mind, creating a frequent and very welcome earworm.
‘The Ageless Whisper’
In the same vein as a few other tracks above, this choice comes from an album that I didn’t end up reviewing during 2019. But unlike ‘Empath’, for example, I really liked ‘Verkligheten’ by Sweden’s melodeath exports Soilwork. Unfortunately, it was released at a point where I really wasn’t in a good place and had completely lost my writing mojo. I tried so many times to review this disc but could never muster the words.
So it is a nice thing to be able to include “The Ageless Whisper” in my list of top songs from 2019. It is deserving of a place on my list too as it is a cracking song, full of bravado and swagger, not to mention an irresistible groove and a killer chorus that grows in stature with repeated listens. It is the ideal song to demonstrate the strengths of Soilwork when they are firing on all cylinders, reminding me why I do love this band and have done so for many years.