Best of 2012 - Hez's Choice

 
 
I have been told this should be the "Editor's Choice", but it seems big-headed to me to do that. I'm just the one who makes everything look pretty to go on the site, the ones slaving away writing the reviews deserve the credit. But if any bands mentioned on here want to tell people they are the Editor's Choice then I won't hold it against them ;)
 
 
Band of the Year

For me this year it can only be Iron Knights.
Originally named Stuka Squadron the band ran a pledge project for their new album and offered some amazing things on it for fans, without charging stupid amounts.
(I have to especially mention the patches as too many bands overlook them nowadays yes they are a fan favourite, and certainly a favourite of mine.)
After a series of problems with their bass player he was replaced (by the guy who had performed on the album) and the band carried on without a hiccup, until sadly the former bass player decided to trademark the Stuka Squadron name for himself.
This mean the band as it was could not continue. A truly sad thing as everything was ready for the album launch. But again the band defeated the hurdle in their way and announced a new name for themselves.
They altered the artwork for their albums and posters and all the other band merchandise, only delaying the album slightly, and the went ahead with the planned tour. And the best part of all?
They did it with dignity and respect, without lowering themselves into a public mud-slinging spectacle (take note Black Sabbath).
Of course it’s not just about the band, but the music. And the new album “New Sound of War” is an absolute cracker.
Despite the band having a concept, the album avoids the trap of being a “concept album” where you find yourself only listening to it on rare occasions. Instead NSoW is just track after track of quality songs that will go firmly on anyone’s playlist.
I have to especially mention “Tell me Strange Things” because it’s just so damn well done with a spooky edge perfectly suitable to the creatures of the night the band are.
 
 
Album of the Year
 
This was a very hard choice for me, and the aforementioned Iron Knights album was of course a contender.
But I think my absolute top album of the year has to be:
Hangfire -  “Shoot the Crow”.
Sorry metalheads, but my inner rockchick (who said rockbitch?) took over here.
I have literally driven everyone mad with this album, playing songs from it via my phone at every almost every gathering. Lucky I had no funerals to go to I suppose…
My only criticism at all with this album is that on certain tracks the chorus can sound a little “electronic” – the title track being the prime example. The producer of the album needs his wrists slapping there, especially as singer Max needs no help with his vocal range. 
Despite this, the album is amazing, all four members of the band are great at what they do, but I have to confess to being a fangurl over Lizzie's guitar work. And the songs are so catchy I keep randomly bursting into song with several of them - not something that is appreciated by others though.
 
Other mentions have to go to:
Iron Knights “New Sounds of War” (of course)
And Triaxis for the new album “Rage and Retribution”

 
 
Performance of the Year

Hangfire at Hard Rock Hell 6
Sorry to sound like a one-trick pony but this also has to be Hangfire.
The announcement that they would be at Hard Rock Hell was enough to make me act almost girly… I said almost! But I confess a small amount of squealing may have happened.
Despite it being past 1am, and singer Lizzie having been in hospital that day so unable to do the usual backing vocal, the band was quite simply, amazing.
The audience was bouncing, and anyone who goes to HRH knows that by that time of night most people are past the bouncing stage, so I wasn’t the only one to get carried away.
 
At the risk of raving too much about Hard Rock Hell, I have to also mention two other bands who played there who put on great shows..

Electric Mary
The Idol Dead

 
 
Best Song Title
 
There were actually several to choose from here surprisingly, many of them admittedly from the same band - Liverpool’s own Dr AIDS.
With so many to choose from it was hard to select just one from these guys, but at the Metal to the Masses this particular song really did make me laugh out loud.
"Ballad of a Pre-Op Tranny"

I also have to mention another band and their song as they were the only other ones to come close here, and that is Septic Fatality’s “Chuck Her in the Cooker”.

A nice family-friendly title with no obscenities, definitely one for dinner with Grandma. Or is that one for Grandma for dinner?
 
 
Best Cover Version
 
Again there were several choices for this one, and I've decided to do a live and a recorded for this.

Live has to be, without a doubt:
Savage Outlaw performing BSCs 'Blame it on the Boom Boom' at Hammerfest.
Despite it being a mostly metal affair (Savage Outlaw having won a slot through a national competition), the audience seemed to enjoy the band’s set, and this song raised the roof.
 
And recorded is the incredible:
'You're the Voice' covered by I Am I.
A lovely song in the first place, I Am I have taken this and updated it, bringing it firmly into the 21st century, yet not lost any of the feel of the original.
 
 
Your “Discovery” of the Year
 
Without a shadow of a doubt this year it can only be… Night by Night!
So far they have only released a single – the excellent “Time to Escape” but I am already on the edge of my seat waiting for a full album.
Sadly I missed their performance at HRH (caravans, grassy areas and wheelchairs do not go well together) but I am watching their website and if there is any gig even remotely nearby I will be there.
Seriously if you don’t know this band, you need to check them out.
 
Three other bands that are well worth mentioning here are:

Gridlocked
These guys came from Wales to play at the Metal to the Masses in Liverpool. A tough thing to do as the voting goes partially on audience votes – yet they made it through to the final. And there was no question of how they did it, they were just that good.


Electric Mary
Yes another Hard Rock Hell band sorry.
But in the run up to the festival I asked in one of the chat groups for suggestions on bands to check out at the festival (aside from the obvious headliners).
This name came up again and again, so sure enough I went and checked them out and I was not disappointed.
They are from Australia so not often to be found touring here, so if you see them advertised, make sure to get to the gig!
 
Damagescape
Yay, a none- Hard Rock Hell band.
I was lucky enough to be judge at the BotB for this year's SOPHIE festival in Manchester, and a lot of amazing bands played.
However it was the singer of this band who first caught my attention as she has one of the most fantastic voices I have ever heard. After the initial impact of that I sat back and listened to the rest of the band and bloody hell, they have what it takes too!
Not surprisingly they went through to play at the festival itself with a main stage slot.
 
High Point of the Year
 
This can only be Metal to the Masses finally coming to Liverpool.
Thanks to the amazing Sal of Whiplash Promotions, our city finally had the battle for Bloodstock, and damn the bands who entered made it a hard decision.
We were lucky enough to be able to cover the whole series of gigs for the site, and I can honestly say there wasn’t a bad band on there. Admittedly some may have been styles that weren’t really my thing, but they were still damn good.
I didn’t envy Simon Hall the job of judging the final, the four bands in it (KuRu, Entropy, Scare Tactics and Gridlocked) were all worthy of winning.
 
A mention here also has to go to Out of the Ashes.
This was a two-day festival in Ellesmere Port that featured an amazing array of talented bands - all of them unsigned. And with cheap tickets, two stages (indoor and outdoor) and camping included, it couldn't be faulted in any way.
 
 
And Now For Something Completely Different… (the best gimmick, quirk or general oddity)
 
When this category was suggested by one of the team I was very unsure what to choose. Many people see “Gimmicks” as a negative things, but this was meant in the positive sense – hence the slight change of title from “Gimmick of the Year”.
 
Probably not a major oddity, but something that really caught my eye this year was the stage wear for The Idol Dead.
The band all wear black but in their own style of clothing, so their individual personalities shine through, and then they each include something in luminous green.
A scarf, a tie, a wristband, it is down to personal choice, but it really makes them look the part on stage, tying them together with more than just music.
 
 
Recommended for 2013

I have chosen to edit this after releasing it as several people have commented that many of the bands I chose were mentioned in previous categories.
I suppose it goes without saying that all the bands mentioned previously are worthy of seeing, so excuse the edit but here's an updated version for you.

KuRu
Yes okay I mentioned them for the EP - but these guys are going to be showing up all over the place in 2013 and you really need to go see them.

Lazarus Syndrome
Hailing from Liverpool, this band stormed onto the scene last year and have gone from strength to strength. 

Previously a "Band of the Month" here on Phoenix Rising, this is a band to watch in 2013.

Entropy
Another Liverpool band, who I saw several times throughout the Metal to the Masses contest as they reached the final. Last year was an adjustment period for them as they had a new guitarist, but now he is settled in I am sure the band are going to be better than ever in 2013.

Pandemik 

Yet another Liverpool band here. I saw them for the first time last year and was impressed. Then I saw them again in November and was just totally blown away by them.

Absolva
A Manchester band this time. Absolva formed in May by Chris Appleton & Martin McNee (both of Fury UK), joined by Tom Atkinson (Vice) & Dan Bate (Point Blank Fury).
Already booked for Hammerfest and BOA, it's looking to be a big year for them.

Collibus
And last but by no means least, Manchester metal band Collibus.
I first heard these at SOS Fest in 2010 and to be honest, it didn't leave a lasting impression. But now two years later with a change in line-up they are back and better than ever.
Featuring Damagescape's Gemma Fox and Stephen Platt. But forget this "female fronted metal" tag that will be given to them, it isn't about the gender of the vocalist, it's about the quality of the band and this band is most definitely high quality.
 
For events, the ones to watch this year are:
 
Out of the Ashes Festival 2013
Coming back bigger and better - next year it will be a three day event rather than a two.
It has indoor and outdoor stages on each day with a choice of music for everyone, camping available on-site and yet again, cheap tickets - this really is a must-see event.
(And it's worth pointing out that Iron Knights, KuRu, Lazarus Syndrome and Savage Outlaw who have all been mentioned here are playing on this!)
 
Metal to the Masses in Liverpool (again thanks to Sal from Whiplash)
No official details as yet, but after the quality of the bands this year this is definitely going to be good.
 
 
Special Mention
 
For my recommendations for next year I was going to mention the return of Nightvision who after a recent break came back to the live scene and have loads of dates announced for next year already. I was also hoping it might be the lead-up to a new album, as their last release 'Consequences of Sin'  was my most-played last year.
Sadly on December 27th, bass player Dean Hocking was a passenger in a car involved in a serious crash and both he and another passenger were tragically killed.
I cannot claim to have been a close friend to him, but I met Dean several times and he was a lovely guy - friendly and so full of life and love for his music. On-stage he and the other members of Nightvision all gave off an incredible energy that dragged you into the show, and you could see how much he loved what he was doing, as so many of the photos being shared now reflect.
My condolences and heartfelt sympathy go out to his family, band members and friends at this time.
I sincerely hope this is not the end of the band and they are able to carry on and share his music with people, it would be a fitting legacy for this wonderful young man who will not be forgotten.
 
 
Final Mention
 
This year has had a lot of ups and downs for the music scene.
Personally I have found the “mainstream” part of the rock and metal world to be very uninspiring.
However the unsigned and small label scene has been incredible, and a huge amount of lesser-known bands have caught my eye – too many to mention here.
The best thing of all though is the variety of styles that have come back in. Sleaze, punk, metal, goth, it has all been here this year and I hope it continues next year.
 
On a personal note I want to take this opportunity to give out some thanks.

Firstly to everyone at HRH Towers (Chic). They gave us a chance almost two years ago to cover Hammerfest, and have invited us back every year for both that and Hard Rock Hell.
Having met with a lot of derision from other media and promoters when they hear we are focussed on the unsigned and independent bands, it is lovely that a company as big as them is willing to not only take us seriously, but help us out.
They of course also have the Highway to Hell competition every year which allows unsigned bands to compete for a chance to play at Hammerfest or Hard Rock Hell.
 
Secondly to all the people who supported me and us when we were going to close the site – especially the bands.
You guys are the reason we do this. It’s you who make the music and put on the shows. We’re just the messengers to tell people about you, but I’m glad that you seem to like us.
 
And last but not least to my staff/team at Phoenix Rising.
I can honestly say I have some of the most wonderful people working here. They get no money for this, and most of the time we pay for the gigs we attend, so it really is the love of the music that makes them do it.
You guys all should pat yourselves on the back…. No wait… I didn’t mean literally… Damn!
Oh well off I go to fill in some work-related injury claims…
 
Best wishes everyone, and hope you have a happy new year.
See you in 2013.