The Best Reissues/Live Albums/Compilations of 2017

10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Lovely Creatures – The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Mute)

Here’s a great example of how great a best-of compilation can be. Although Nick Cave’s sterling career is far from over – last year’s Skeleton Tree was resounding proof – this 45-track set offers a comprehensive overview of his work over the past 35 years. It’s a perfect introduction to new listeners, featuring all of his most famous tracks, from “The Mercy Seat” to “Higgs Bosun Blues”, but even for longtime fans it’s an immensely rewarding experience hearing Cave and his band evolve over the years from a savage blues/noise hybrid to a singular, formidable presence in rock and pop music.

9. Celtic Frost, Morbid Tales / To Mega Therion / Into the Pandemonium / Vanity/Nemesis (Sanctuary)

Although Tom Gabriel Fischer wasted no time disowning the reissue project of his old band Celtic Frost over an issue with the liner notes – typical of the mercurial Mr. Warrior, to be honest – it’s impossible for any listener to find any fault with these splendid re-releases. Fischer oversaw the remastering of each album, and the sound quality is outstanding, but most importantly, it makes these key Celtic Frost albums available to the public in beautiful, definitive physical formats. Morbid Tales remains a primitive heavy metal classis, To Mega Therion is a towering masterpiece, and Into the Pandemonium dared to steer metal music toward the avant-garde. I wish the much-maligned Cold Lake was reissued as well, but considering Fischer’s hatred of that record, its omission is understandable, if a bit frustrating. Such is genius.

8. Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (Iron Maiden LLP)

Another year, another Maiden live album! Some folks think it’s tiresome of a band like Iron Maiden to release a live album after every world tour, but personally I love it. It serves as a great little time capsule from every era, and it’s a terrific memento for the hundreds of thousands of people who got to see the band in person. This live album takes a different approach from past efforts, in that each track was performed in a different city on the band’s 2016-17 tour. The album, which is modeled off the setlist from the Book of Souls tour – save for “Tears of a Clown” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, bafflingly – ties all the tracks together nicely, with no gaps. Of course you get the standards like “The Trooper” and “Wrathchild”, but the real treat is hearing performances of Book of Souls tracks.

7. Rammstein, Paris (Live) (Universal)

I have no idea why Rammstein has such a negative stigma among music critic circles. All they’ve done over the last quarter century is revolutionize industrial heavy metal, completely rewrite the rules of arena rock, and amass a gigantic following across the globe. Well, the elitists can keep fellating fad bands like Car Seat Headrest and The War on Drugs while the rest of us can enjoy some truly great heavy rock music. Recorded in Paris in 2012, this live Blu-ray/CD set is stunning. In fact I’d go as far to say it’s one of the coolest concert films I have ever seen. Using at least a couple dozen cameras, director Jonas Åkerlund does a dazzling job capturing the intensity, ferocity, humour, and heat of a Rammstein show. And give the band full credit too, their performances are tight and throttling.

 

6. Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition) (Sony)

The Singles soundtrack was one of the biggest albums for me in 1992, a perfect snapshot of grunge and alternative rock at the time. In fact, its legacy has long outlasted the likeable Cameron Crowe movie it originally accompanied, introducing many young people to the likes of Screaming Trees and Smashing Pumpkins, let alone showcasing some of the best songs Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden would ever record. Toss in a pair of pretty, poppy Paul Westerberg compositions and a classic Mother Love Bone track, and you’ve got as good an album as any that came out that year (I think I had it at #2 that year, between REM and Faith No More). This expanded reissue is wonderful, featuring a remastered soundtrack album and a bevy of bonus tracks, including a bunch by the late Chris Cornell.

5. Bob Dylan, Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Sony)

Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series continued motoring along in 2017, this time with a collection I’ve been craving for a good 25 years. His Christian rock era remains greatly misunderstood, and has been something I’ve taken a very long time warming up to, but it’s a crucial era of the man’s music. This is Bob Dylan at his most defiant and confrontational: at a time when audiences were expecting the same old Dylan standards, he instead forced everyone to hear a couple hours’ worth of praise songs. And for all the controversy, these performances are absolutely smoking. Dylan had assembled a wicked backing band, and you hear renewed vigour in his voice. He would ditch the Christian tunes for good in 1983, and that fleeting flirtation makes you wonder is it was either a passing interest or a gigantic put-on, but it remains fascinating to hear, and this collection, no matter the format, is a fitting document of Dylan at his most wackadoo.

4. Ramones, Leave Home: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino)

As important a role the Ramones played in the evolution of punk rock, when the band was at its best the music evoked classic rock ‘n’ roll better than anyone in the late-‘70s. Arriving on the heels of the band’s groundbreaking 1976 debut, Leave Home still had the band’s wicked, irreverent sense of humor on tracks like “Carbona Not Glue” and “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”, but the bulk of the record expands upon the band’s preoccupation with the 1960s, from the girl groups, to the Beatles, to garage rock. This wonderful reissue dives headfirst into late-1976 and early-1977, presenting the album in two distinctly different mixes, as well as boasting a bevy of rehearsal tracks, B-sides, and alternate mixes. And just to reassert the band’s stunning power as a punk rock live act, a complete live recording from CBGB in April 1977 is included, the band blowing your ears out right after Leave Home wins over your heart.

 

3. Judas Priest, Turbo 30 (Sony)

A commercial success upon its 1986, Judas Priest’s tenth album Turbo was nevertheless a divisive one among hardcore metal fans who took issue with the band’s focus on mainstream-friendly songwriting and production, as well as reliance on the Roland GR-20 guitar synthesizer. More than three decades later Turbo has aged surprisingly well, its exuberant party rock offset by some daring songwriting choices, namely on the two standouts “Turbo Lover” and “Out in the Cold”. What makes this reissue particularly strong is the inclusion of a complete live performance from the summer of 1986. Contrary to the bloated, overproduced double live album Priest…Live! released in 1987, this show is raw, energetic, and powerful, a snapshot of the heavy metal legends at their most uncompromising.

2. Can, The Singles (Mute)

Not only is a compilation a good way to offer an overview of an artist’s best work, as a summation of a career and a primer for new listeners, but in the case of this hugely entertaining collection, showcase a side of a band that’s gone rather unappreciated. The influence of German innovators Can towers over the rock and electronic music landscape to this day, with – justifiably – the lion’s share of attention being paid to such landmark albums as Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi. What this new singles collection does so well, however, is showcase the band’s more playful side. Comprised of 23 tracks released between 1969 and 1990, it’s a wildly eclectic journey that takes the listener through garage rock, classic early-‘70s krautrock, funk, disco, and jazz. As serious musicians as Can were, they weren’t above having fun, and The Singles is a whimsical, valuable document for longtime fans and curious neophytes alike.

1. Metallica, Master of Puppets: Deluxe Edition (Blackened)

Universally regarded as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, Metallica’s third full-length Master of Puppets has gained such stature among fans that its deification is something the band has had to come to terms with. As frustrating s it may be for any artist to live under the shadow of work they created in their early-20s, the members of Metallica grew up as heavy metal fans themselves, and they knew that an expanded reissue of Puppets would have to be done with great care and attention to detail. And to the band’s great credit, no stone was left unturned on this glorious, 15-volume set that examines the band’s evolution from 1985 to 1987: riff tapes, rehearsal footage, rough mixes, live recordings, the final performance by the late, great bassist Cliff Burton, audition tapes featuring replacement bassist Jason Newsted, a hardcover book, and of course, a beautifully remastered version of the classic album. It is a veritable treasure trove, arguably the finest expanded reissue heavy metal has seen thus far.

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The Best Albums of 2016, #4

band014. Metallica, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (Blackened)

A few months ago it dawned on me that I have not thoroughly loved a Metallica studio album, from start to finish, since 1988. Nearly 30 years. Time flies, I tell you. They’re still a band that’s very near and dear to me – though my naming S&M my 1999 album of the year was more a result of a life in serious flux, spent removed from a great deal of new music – but oh my, what a slump they’ve been in. Ever since side two of the Black Album (I listened to it the other day and it is still awful!) Metallica has been so painfully inconsistent, always giving in to self-indulgence, cramming albums with too much filler. When I finally heard their tenth album this fall, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but the crazy thing was that it never happened. Sure, things wavered a tiny bit, but it was a cohesive listening experience. I was dumbstruck. Indeed, Hardwired…To Self Destruct shows audiences a side of Metallica that’s been sorely missing for the last 29 years: fiery, focused, aggressive, disciplined.

Yes, disciplined! Metallica has always crammed its albums to the gills with content – at 47 minutes Ride the Lightning is the shortest album in the discography – but starting with side two of the Black Album the sharp focus slipped to the point where every subsequent album would be bogged down by filler, partially a product of the CD era. This time, the 77-minute Hardwired has been split into two distinctly sequenced halves, which in turn allows the listener to ease into the large volume of music instead of taking it in all at once.

“Hardwired” is a glorious return to the thrash metal sound the band helped create. Propelled by Ulrich’s loose-but-steady double-time beats and held together by Hetfield’s trademark muscular rhythm riffs, the song’s angry sentiment (“We’re so fucked, shit out of luck”) feels unfortunately relevant considering the tumultuous year the world had endured. In direct contrast, “Atlas, Rise!” and “Moth Into Flame” exuberantly revisit Hetfield’s and Ulrich’s early-‘80s metal fandom, channeling Diamond Head, Mercyful Fate, and Killers-era Iron Maiden by adding melodic flourishes to a strong sense of groove, yielding a pair of the band’s catchiest fist-bangers in ages. Speaking of hooks, though, the mid-paced chugger “Now That We’re Dead” is built around a brilliant, crisp little marching riff and rides that groove for a full seven minutes. Its simplicity echoes the Black Album at its best, and features some of Hetfield’s strongest vocal work on the entire album. “Halo on Fire” starts off melancholic but builds to a wonderful climax, featuring an up-tempo coda built around a blessedly simple riff and an expressive solo by Hammett that echoes Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi. And in an inspired touch, Master of Puppets’ Lovecraftian colossus “The Thing That Should Not Be” is alluded to on the stomping, crushing “Dream No More”.

The second half of the album is more of a mixed bag. “Confusion” bears a strong similarity to Death Magnetic, in how it tries to find an even ground between atonality and melody, but it succeeds mightily thanks to very strong interplay between the lead riff and vocal melody. Despite its unfortunate title, “ManUNkind” is a wicked Southern rock jam that features Trujillo’s finest bass work, and echoes the better deep cuts from Load and Reload two decades ago. “Here Comes Revenge” swings hard, alternating between creeping menace and anthemic vitriol, while “Am I Savage” neatly releases its building tension with a clever ascending riff in its chorus. “Murder One” is arguably the album’s weakest moment, as the band’s heartfelt tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister falls slightly flat, but the ship is righted immediately after as the dystopian “Spit Out the Bone” closes things with another ferocious, angry blast of speed.

As much time as it took for Metallica to rediscover that old magic, though, upon hearing the end result it was well worth the wait. More than anything, Metallica sounds like they’re having fun again. You hear it in those little touches throughout Hardwired…To Self Destruct that pay homage to their old favorites, and even in those extended passages where they keep going just a little longer because the groove feels too good. The subject matter might be bleak, but there’s a lust for life on this album that will leave a big smile on the faces of their millions of fans, and even on a few of those grumpy old ones. Including yours truly.

The Best Singles of 2016, #4

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4. Metallica, “Atlas, Rise!”

The best song on Metallica’s best album in 28 years finds the band going back to the music they grew up with, capturing that energy, and coming up with a track that shows they are big, nerdy fans just like the rest of us. They’re in full early-‘80s mode on “Atlas, Rise!”, the riffs sharp and melodic, the drums groovy, the bass deep in the pocket, the vocals assertive. As good as the first half is, things really take off during the solo break, which pays obvious homage to circa-1981 iron Maiden and early Mercyful Fate. The “back to basics” gimmick is such a cliché in music, but it can result in truly transformative moments, and in some cases kick off a creative rebirth. This song sounds just like that.

The Best Reissues/Live Albums/Compilations of 2016, 5-1

band055. Tad, 8-Way Santa (Sub Pop)

There isn’t much grunge music that I care to revisit anymore, but when it was announced that Sub Pop was going to remaster and reissue the seminal early work of power (and do I mean power) trio Tad, my ears perked up. Tad is one band whose music has aged well, perhaps the best of those early grunge bands, because their music skewed more towards metal than anything else. Listening to their classic second album 8-Way Santa today, you can draw some parallels between the nascent sludge metal sound, the hooky songwriting of Therapy?, and the proto-metal sounds of the Stooges and MC5. Recorded by Butch Vig right before Nevermind made him famous, this is actually a superior album in a lot of ways, especially in how its power and force feels a lot more primal than Nirvana’s high-gloss breakthrough, with loads of contagious hooks underneath all that heaviness. (Spotify)

band044. David Bowie, Legacy (Sony) 

It’s not exactly in keeping with what most rock critics (and music obsessives) feel, but I love a good compilation, especially the ones that create a distinct arc of an artist’s complete career. David Bowie’s death back in January was a huge, huge loss for popular music and culture, and it was inevitable that a new career retrospective would surface. Give Sony credit, too, because they have done a lovely job with the two-disc version of Legacy, whose 40 songs cover a sterling run that lasted nearly 50 years. All the essential tracks are there, with every album (save his eponymous debut) represented, creating a glorious, glittering arc from “Space Oddity” to Blackstar. Sure, I would have gotten rid of “Dancing in the Street” and replaced it with “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, but that’s only a minor complaint. This is as close to perfect as a Bowie compilation can get, a perfect primer to younger listeners who might be unfamiliar with the man’s diverse, endlessly enthralling body of work. (Spotify)

band033. Budgie, The MCA Albums 1973-1975 (Universal)

Budgie had been a curiosity of mine for nearly 30 years, going back to the time Metallica covered “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” back in 1987. But, North America being what it is, it was always difficult to get my hands on the albums whenever the mood struck me to search. Thanks to filesharing, though, I was able to get into the Welsh trio’s groundbreaking heavy metal, which equaled the brute force of Black Sabbath and foreshadowed the nimble groove (and high-pitched vocals) of early Rush. Thankfully 2016 saw the release of three of Budgie’s most important albums from the early-‘70s – Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, Bandolier, and In For the Kill! – in a tidy little box set. I had no idea it had even come out until I literally stumbled across it in Toronto one day, but I sure am glad it exists, It serves as a fantastic introduction to one of the wickedest, and woefully underrated, rock band in history. (Amazon)

band012. Dio, A Decade of Dio (Rhino)

If there was one body of work that needed some critical reassessment, in my opinion anyway, it was Ronnie James Dio’s output with his band Dio. At its best, it rivaled Rainbow and Black Sabbath, and throughout the 1980s, was bigger than either band. Thanks to the fine folks at Rhino, the first six albums Dio put out have been remastered (which was long overdue) and collected in a nice little box set. 1983’s Holy Diver and 1984’s The Last in Line are indisputable classics, featuring one of the best bands ever assembled (Dio, Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain, Vinny Appice), while subsequent albums Sacred Heart and Dream Evil are less consistent but still worthy of appreciation. Whether you’re looking to upgrade those old CDs or tapes or if you’re a younger metal fan eager to explore the solo career of the greatest singer heavy metal ever knew, this collection is perfect. (Amazon)

gif1. Metallica, Kill ‘Em All Ride the Lightning (Blackened)

When Metallica bought their back catalogue and set up their own record label, you knew that reissues of their classic albums would be inevitable, and true enough, the first two did not disappoint in the least. The deluxe editions of 1983’s Kill ‘Em All and 1984’s Ride the Lightning, two of heavy metal’s most important and revered records, were absolutely crammed with multimedia extras, but while those are all great, I was most interested in how the new 2016 remasters would sound. The old CD masters never felt right, and frankly, I had always thought Ride the Lightning sounded a little too trebly. These new versions do not disappoint in the least, both beefed up nicely to conform with modern standards, but which don’t veer into brick-walled territory. Best of all, though, Ride the Lightning sounds brilliant, with significantly more bottom end, so Cliff Burton’s bass work shines through better. These two albums have had a colossal influence on myself, not to mention millions of other metal fans from the 1980s, and I appreciate the care with which their reissues were handled. When Master of Puppets comes out, I’ll probably flip out even more. (Kill ‘Em All on Spotify) (Ride the Lightning on Spotify)