Retro review: Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II - the ultimate edition

Band: Guns N' Roses
Album: "Use Your Illusion I" "Use Your Illusion II"
Style: Hard rock
Release dates: 1991-09-17
Origin: U.S.A.

Why do a retro review of two albums that are more than 20 years old you ask? Well, in all the reviews I've seen for these two albums, people have always complained about how there are much filler on each of these double-albums and that it would have been better to just release one album with all the good songs. But just really what are the the good songs from these albums? That's exactly what I aim to investigate in this review. With first going through each and every song off the two albums -that's 30 songs all together - and deciding whether they fit my final setlist and then present and evaluate my ultimate collection of UYI-songs. To make things more interesting, I've decided on a maximum of 15 songs and if I'm not entirely sure about a song, it will go in the undecided-pile and battle with another song in the end.
 Everyone onboard? Here we go!

1. Right Next Door to Hell
At the time the album was released, Guns N' Roses was amongst the largest bands on the planet and the anticipation for this album after the successes of "Appetite for Destruction" and "Gn'R Lies" was enormous to say the least. The choice to then place "Right Next Door to Hell" as an opener is questionable to me. It's not that the song is bad or anything, but it's just OK compared to a lot of the other 29 songs. It's a straight-up fast-paced rocker that wouldn't have made the cut had it been ready for the Appetite-sessions a couple of years earlier. I still enjoy it though, but I'm having a hard time trying to decide whether it should be on my ultimate edition.
Verdict: Undecided.

2. Dust N' Bones
A slow moving, bluesy track where Izzy provides lead vocals. Izzy's a cool cat and all but he's no Axl when it comes to the vocals. The song is alright I guess but it's overall mood actually feels distracting from the rest of the album.
Verdict: Nah.

3. Live and Let Die
A cover-song is next up, originally by Paul and Linda McCartney. What can I say, it's boring as fuck and has nothing to do on a Guns N' Roses-album even though it and it's "brother-cover" from the other Illusion (I'll get to it later), are some of the most famous songs by Gn'R. Astonishing if you ask me.
Verdict: Not a snowball's chance in hell!

4. Don't Cry (original)
One of the bands' most known ballads and one that I myself slowed danced a lot to back in my early teens. How does it hold up today then? Well, it feels very 80's* and most rightfully so. In other words, it hasn't aged like fine wine exactly, but as opposed to track #3, it is a classic and a must on the ultimate edition.
Verdict: Yes!

5. Perfect Crime
A fast-paced hard rock attack without any excuses. What could go wrong? Well, it's over almost even before it has begun and that's a complaint from my side. But on the other hand, a longer running-time would've probably made it boring. So there's no excuse not to have this along for the rid.
Verdict: Yes!

6. You Ain't the First
No. Just no. I'm sorry but apart from the very end of the second Illusion - this is by far the most dull song on all the albums. And it's not because I just like the faster songs, on the contrary! But this one has no build-up, no reward and is honestly a weak attempt at a campfire-song that never should've made it onto an actual album, despite it's short track-length.
Verdict: Fuck no.

7. Bad Obsession
This mid-tempo song with it's catchy groove is always a song I've hade a hate/love-relationship with. It's cringe-worthy at certain parts but still I cannot say I don't like it. I don't know why and for now, I'll let it fight it out with another song in the end.
Verdict: Undecided.

8. Back Off Bitch
This is a mid-tempo travesty written by Axl and that dude that more or less forced Slash out of the band. I thought it was crap when I was 13 years old and I think it's crap now - the only thing that is mildly amusing are the "woah-oh-oh-oh's". This song might have been a cool idea for an EP of oddities or something like that but it has no right whatsoever to fill up space on a Gn'R-album in my world.
Verdict: Hell no!

9. Double Talkin' Jive
An amazingly catchy and headbanger-friendly tune. For 1 minute and twenty seconds that is... Then comes one of Slash's most boring solos and then it's all over with that dull fucking fade-out. I don't know.
Verdict: Undecided.

10. November Rain
It's almost 9 minutes long. It's an over-bloated epic with so much pretentiousness that it only could've been written by one mr. W. Axl Rose. And surprise, surprise - it is. I love it, from the beautiful intro with the strings and the flutes, to the emotional vocal-delivery and the crappy rhymes all the way to the superb Slash-solo and the ballsy ending with yet another amazing solo and Axl sounding like only Axl can sound.
Verdict: Most definitely.

11. The Garden
This is a weird oddity. The verses are almost haunting and very effictive in their simplicity. Then comes the chorus with the old fart Alice Cooper and his boring voice. Totally lacks any emotion or feel. When you have one of the greatest vocalists of all time in your band, letting Alice Cooper sing on your song is a stupid idea.
Verdict: Undecided.

12. Garden of Eden
It's a short and quite stupid song, yet I enjoy it's simplicity and ferocious feel. My initial thought was a given on the ultimate edition but when I re-visit it again for the first in a long time, I'm not so sure. Damnit! I have to put yet another song in the undecided-compartment.
Verdict: Undecided.

13. Don't Damn Me
As far as I know, this one has never been played live. A monumental shame if you ask me since I find this to be one of the most (if not the most) underrated of all Gn'R-songs. Ever. It's so damn groovy, the lyrics and vocal-delivery is spot on and it always makes me long for a beer or five when I hear it. Yes, it's simple compared to many of the Illusion-epics but that's what makes it so good. As much as I love the epicness of Gn'R, once upon a time there was only this hard rocking band that had one album in their backpack. What I'm trying to say is, "Don't Damn Me" would've fit like a hammer upon a hamster on "Appetite for Destruction". Hard rock at it's finest.
Verdict: Oh yes!

14. Bad Apples
Along with #11, this is another odd song and it's bluesy feel is not really my cup of tea. The piano grooving is cool and all and there's not anything really wrong with the song, but in the end it's just too weak to be on an ultimate edition album.
Verdict: Nope.

15. Dead Horse
That acoustic intro is wonderful and always fills my heart with a warmth. The rest of the song isn't horse-shit either and even though it doesn't have a part that makes the hair on my arm stand, it wins a lot with it's overall catchiness.
Verdict: Yes.

16. Coma
This 10-minute epic is one of my favourite Rose/Slash-compositions and who could really disagree? It manages to be both catchy and epic at the same time and that slow tempo in the middle of the song always catches me off guard. I love it that we get a new build-up and it's almost like a new song starts even though we instantly recognize it. Alright, I'm blabbering now and should stop. It's a total "yes" from my side.
Verdict: Hell yeah!

1. Civil War
A cherished live-staple for the band as much as it is remembered as ex-drummer Steven Adlers last performance with the band before he was replaced by the human poodle Matt Sorum. It's not a surprise that it became a well-known song for the band, but compared to many of their other "classics" - this one still holds up very well today and is always a joy to listen to. It's not like hearing "Sweet Child O' Mine" for the 1000th time and just want to put a bullet in your head.
Verdict: Definitely.

2. 14 Years
Another quite bluesy and catchy number with lead vocals from Izzy and lots of piano, sort of like a combination between "Dust N' Bones" and "Bad Obsession". I have always had a soft spot for this one, but is it A-material? Not quite sure to be honest.
Verdict: Undecided.

3. Yesterdays
This was a released as a single and I assume it's one of the more known songs from this era. Strange, since it's not a very strong song in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with it but it's just a weaker and more uninteresting song than many others here. I feel kind of sad that it won't be included but I must be strict here and have a maximum of 15 songs.
Verdict: Sadly, no.

4. Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Here it is then, the ugly cover-brother of "Live and Let Die" from the other Illusion, this time it's a somewhat well-known Bob Dylan-track that gets the Gn'R-treatment. While neither cover is performed badly in any way and the band does a good job of making each song sounding like their own, it's just that they're so damn boring compared to so many Gn'R-originals.
Here's my thoughts:
In an optimal world, "The Spaghetti Incident" wouldn't be a boring punk-rock cover album. Instead, it would include "Live and Let Die", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", "Nice Boys", "Mama Kin" and a collection of the band's other favourites, how about something by Queen or Hanoi Rocks? That would've been so much more interesting.
Verdict: Fuck no!

5. Get in the Ring
When I was 13, this song was the shit. And by that, I mean that I really loved this song. Much was of course due to the profanities uttered which I obviously learned by heart and still today are etched into my backbone. Today, "Get in the Ring" feels more like a half-finished song and a quite pathetic attempt from Axl to make the press seem like the really bad guys and himself like our lord and saviour. No matter how much I adore the man's rock n' roll aesthetics, phenomenal voice and often interesting lyrics - I cannot defend him when he spurts out crap like this.
Verdict: No.

6. Shotgun Blues
Some might lump this together with faster stuff such as "Garden of Eden" and the dreadful "Back Off Bitch" but I disagree. I think it's better than both those songs as it has a rough edge that feels closer to the Appetite-era and works in the same context as "Don't Damn Me" - while not being as good as said song. Difficult wheteher it should be included though.
Verdict: Undecided.

7. Breakdown
Now wer're talking. This is one of the more under-appreciated songs from the Illusion-albums and like "Don't Damn Me" and "Coma" before, there's no doubt in my mind whether this one should be included or not. It's a fantastic track that has so much going and yet it never feels like it's incomplete or distracting. In other words it feels like the band had different pieces that needed to be placed together in order to make sense. In the end, we got a perfectly laid puzzle.
Verdict: Hell yes!

8. Pretty Tied Up
"The perils of rock n' roll decadence". If you take the piano out of the equation, this one feels like it would've been right at home on "Appetite for Destruction" and even the lyrics takes one back to the bands' early days. It's a live-staple and a Gn'R-song that's made classic because of it's merits - not because it's immediately great - but because it's a good song that still holds up.
Verdict: Yes.

9. Locomotive
Some claim this one has elements of funk metal which I find weird and not exactly true. Anyway, along with "Breakdown", it is a long and winding song with many twists and turns and I think that the astute reader by now have understood that I really like those songs. "Locomotive" is no exception and it is a given.
Verdict: Fuck yeah!

10. So Fine
A ballad sung by bassist Duff McKagan in honor of the late Johnny Thunders with lyrics so embarrasing that I'd like to kill myself - does that sound like a keeper? If you answered "yes" - you're dead wrong.
Verdict: No way José.

11. Estranged
Some people claim that this is the finest moment from the post-Appetite version of Guns N' Roses and I am inclined to agree. It works as both a ballad and a monster of epic proportions and towards the middle and end it is so perfect that I remember having tears in my eyes when I heard this song the first couple of times in my life.
Verdict: Abso-fucking-lutely!

12. You Could be Mine
If I remember correct, this was one of the first single from the Illusion-albums and was used to promote a certain little movie called Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is also in the category of "classics" and was played a lot during the Illusion-tours (and still today). It was written a long time ago, even before "Appetite", but it sounded very "modern" (at least for 1991) and would have sounded out of place on said album. It is a good track but I'm not all fire and flames about it and there are infinitely better songs here.
Verdict: Undecided.

13. Don't Cry (alt. lyrics)
Oh, come on! There's little to no point to include an identical song with different lyrics here. I understand that Axl was satisfied with both versions but this is bordering on idiotic. I remember a friend of mine owning the single with the original, alt. lyrics and demo version of the same song. That in itself just reeks of money-grabbing but to flesh out an already bloated double-album with an identical version is just retarded.
Verdict: No point.

14. My World
From what I understand, Axl and some other dudes (not Gn'r-members) we're quite fucked up on mushrooms when they decided to record this travesty. I guess that's fun and all but to include it on your bands' album without the other members' knowledge and the fact that it sucks donkey balls is something that only Axl can do. Megalomaniacs unite!
Verdict: Of bloody course not!

THE "UNDECIDED" - eight must be four
All in all, there were 8 songs that I didn't know whether they we're right for the ultimate edition. Lucky for me that 8 was the number, both that it was even so 4 could battle against 4 and because I realize I've chosen 11 already and 15 was my roof. So let's do battle!

Right Next Door to Hell vs Garden of Eden
Both songs are quite face-paced and furious rockers. What little advantage Garden... has in forms of lyrics and it's sing-along-factor, is destroyed by the fact that Right Next... is a more fleshed out and "complete" song than it's opponent. An easy victory when I think about it.
WINNER: "Right Next Door to Hell"

Bad Obsession vs 14 Years
Now this one is a lot tougher. Both songs are catchy and neither should be ashamed of it's existance. In the end, I think that the harmonica in Obsession... is a bit too annoying for my taste. It's not that it doesen't fit the song, it's just that I feel they overuse it. Plus 14 Years is a fine example of just how well Izzy's voice can work with Axl's, if he's just given a good song. "Dust N' Bones" is on the other side of the spectrum.
WINNER: "14 Years"

The Garden vs Shotgun Blues
As much as I do enjoy the overall weirdness of The Garden and the fact that it is so different from many of the other songs here, I cannot underestimate the power of Shotgun... It has more twists and turns than what one initially thinks and it's a powerhouse that I feel must be on the ultimate edition.
WINNER: "Shotgun Blues"

Double Talkin' Jive vs You Could be Mine
Now this is difficult. If only Double talkin'... was better crafted, skipped that boring outro and added something worthwhile there instead - it would have been an easy victory. On the other hand, the only real good thing You could... has got going is the part after the second chorus. The chorus itself actually drags the song down instead of lifting it. I am really torn between these two and in the end, I simply took a blind pick. I could've actually gone either way and I'm gonna miss You could... on my final tracklist but rules are rules.
WINNER: "Double Talkin' Jive"

1. Don't Damn Me
2. Breakdown
3. Pretty Tied Up
4. November Rain
5. Right Next Door to Hell
6. 14 Years
7. Perfect Crime
8. Don't Cry (original)
9. Locomotive
10. Dead Horse
11. Civil War
12. Double Talkin' Jive
13. Coma
14.Shotgun Blues
15. Estranged

This was a more difficult task than I first anticipated. Is this the ultimate edition for Use Your Illusion? For me personally, yes it is. Starting with one of the best Appetite-songs that wasn't on Appetite and ranging between soft ballads, hard hitting rockers and epic mastodonts. Sure, the two originals did the same but I believe that the order above is infinitely better and there are no unnecessary hauls inbetween. The decision to end with "Estranged" was of course an obvious one since the ending of the song leaves you exhausted, yet satisfied and is a perfect end to an album. I'm pleased.

As I finished writing these lines, I discovered that there is an official compilation album released by Geffen Records in 1998 simply called "Use Your Illusion". It of course includes the two crappy covers, both versions of "Don't Cry" (sigh!) and oddly enough "You Ain't the First" but no sign of "You Could Be Mine" which I thought would be a given. I guess it's a decent representation of the two albums but it doesn't dig deep enough. Like my "version" does ;-)

* = For those of you too young to remember or those of you that deny the whole, here's the deal:
The 80's as we know it - and by that I mean the fashion, the style, the attitude and much of the music - was born sometime around 1985/86 and died when grunge made it's debut in the mid-90's. In other words, when the two Illusions we're released, we we're pretty much knee-deep in the midst of unholy feathery boas, tight spandex, keyboard overloads, mullets, yuppies and glitter - fact!


Top-7 of 2016

A top-7!? Why the fuck would I only list seven releases from this year you ask? Well, the shameful reason is that I haven't had the time to listen to much new music this year. Work and other minor quibbles (such as life) have effectively gotten in the way. But in my own defense, not many of the bands I listen to have released much new music and even though I'm certain that my list lacks some major releases that I'd probably enjoyed had I heard them, I think it's safe to say that 2016 was nothing compared to 2015, as I still listen regularly to the first 7 of my top-10 list from said year. From this years' list, I can honestly only see myself spinning the first three on a regular basis. Anyway, here's my personal lackluster-list of the dreadful 2016.

7. Dark Tranquillity - Atoma
Style: Melodic death metal
Origin: Sweden
Melodic death metal - I've known you for so many years yet never really cared for you. Well, not really true if you can count At the Gates' monumental "Slaughter of the Soul" into said category. Nevertheless, I've tried to get why people like In Flames but failed, I've always though Soilwork was rubbish and a friend of mine introduced me to Dark Tranquillity in the late 90's. Now while I appreciated the music, it never stuck with me and "Atoma" isn't likely to do so either. But perhaps, just perhaps this album will make me dig deeper into the band's discography. Here's the thing though: DT for me has always been great musicians, interesting and thoughtful lyrics, good artwork, competent vocals (with a sober approach to the dynamics between clean- and growls) and sometimes melodies and hooks in the music that make me raise my eyebrows. The thing is that I never seem to come back to their music. It's honestly a mystery as to why, because just as the case is with Opeth, on the paper I should enjoy the utter fuck out of this band, but I just don't. There's something here that I cannot put my finger on as to why I cannot fall in love with this. Maybe I'm just too old now? Maybe I would have loved this if I actually heard "The Gallery" when it was released in the mid-90's? Hmm.... To be continued...

6. Myrkgrav - Takk og Farvel; Tida er Blitt ei Annan
Style: Black/folk metal
Origin: Norway
I remember back in 2005, when the one-man project Myrkgrav just had released it's demo and was about to unleash it's first full-length "Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning". The hype was enormous and you could cut the tension with an average-sized black metal-knife. The debut album was released and my reaction was kinda... "Wow - this is great! Well, this is sorta meh... This is alright. Okay. Where's my beer?" Ten years later, the sophomore fare-well album is released and my reaction is pretty much the same. Sure, the vocals are improved and the overall feel of the compositions also feel more coherent. But the thing is that it has been 10 years and although I still enjoy black/folk metal from time to time, my taste in music has changed and I demand so much more nowadays. Had this been released in the early 00's, I would have loved this album utterly, but now I just feel that it's a competent work that lacks that certain magic that I got from the first albums of Otyg, Lumsk and Ásmegin back in the days. Also, four instrumental tracks is at least five too many IMO.

5. Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct
Style: Heavy metal
Origin: USA
So what can I say that everyone else hasn't already said about the most anticipated metal album of 2016 from the planets' biggest (are they still?) metal band? I can tell you exactly what I feel about each and every song - that's what. The title track could at best be described as boring thrash metal but when James sings the chorus it goes beyond boring and quickly enters the embarrassing territory. But behold (behear?) children! It is by far the worst song off the album and as we enter "Atlas, Rise!" with it's Maidenesqué twin guitar-melodies and mid tempo comfort zone, I feel at home and can relax. "Now that We're Dead" is catchy and leaves a lasting impression even though it's honestly quite dull and almost nursery-rhymelike in it's execution. "Moth Into Flame" could've been the best track on the album due to it's interesting shifts in dynamics and unexpected riffs but those cringe-worthy lyrics cannot be excused. Still, it might be the best song I've heard from Metallica since 1991. "Dream No More" is sort of a mix between "The Thing that Should Not Be", "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Sad But True" - sort of like a combination of the most uninteresting songs from Master, Justice and the Black Album. Though boring, I'd rather listen to this one than the title track but the fact is that Metallica has never been good at making slow, heavy songs interesting and this is no exception. Next up is "Halo On Fire" and while being at least 3 minutes too long, is a competent semi-ballad with some interesting changes and catchy melodies. "Confusion" is a mish-mash of ideas that really shouldn't work on paper but it somehow does. Much of this has to do with some of the best Hetfield-riffs I've heard since 1988. The chorus drags things down but the song never becomes boring and it's one of my favourites on the album. "ManUnkind" is sort of the opposite, a boring rock n' roll-song with a chorus that's gets stuck on one's brain while still being annoying as fuck - impressive! Next up is "Here Comes Revenge" that easily has the best of the videos to any of the songs on the album. Musically, it has some interesting ideas combined with some really dreadful ones. With it's 7.17 minutes in running time, I feel that it could have been a great song with some editing (which can be said about many of these songs). Now it's just good. "Am I Savage?" is the song that I keep forgetting about and there's probably a good reason for that. It's the dullest of mid-tempo-dull I've heard in a long time. It's 6.29 and that's about 4 minutes too long. Now everyone knows that "Murder One" is the tribute to the late god that is Lemmy and lyrically it doesn't try to hide anything. Musically, it has nothing to do with Motörhead though and my initial reaction was a sound "meh...". But for some damn reason, this is the only song on the entire album that actually grew on me. Most of the other songs I could find something really cool or interesting immideatly but this one was just a huge "meh..." and I thought it was a missed opportunity. I don't know what happened with this song, why it grew so much on me, only to become one of my favourites. The closing track "Spit Out the Bone" seems to be everyone's favourite and I too can appreciate the frenzied thrash metal with great dynamics and melodies that it in fact is. But I have to say that it's 7.09 minutes could have been trimmed by one or two minutes and the song would have been even better.

All in all, it's a middle of the road-album to say the least. Yes, I find it to be way more interesting than "Death Magnetic" (2008) and the most coherent and interesting thing the band has done since "...And Justice For All" two decades earlier. But in 2016 I listen to more bands than Metallica and Guns N' Roses (which was the case in the late 80's/early 90's) and the competition is way too hard for "Hardwired...to Self-Destruct" to be able to stick out the way this album would've done in... say 1994. I'm surprised I liked the album as much as I did and I must say that I'm interested to hear what these soon-to-be senior citizens will come up with in the future.

4. Aenaon - Hypnosophy
Style: Avantgarde/black metal
Origin: Greece
The matter of fact that Greece - a completely retard metal country (apart from, let's say Rotting Christ) - could produce something like this is a mystery to me. I read somewhere online that this band was black metal with saxophones and that always makes me interested. Imagine Dødheimsgard without excessive blast-beats, Arcturus' more aggressive parts, a bit of Sigh-insanity combined with coherent and interesting song writing and you're quite close to what Aenaon does. It is progressive and avantgarde black metal with lots of twists and turns, though not as broad as the twists on Arcturus' greatest works in 1997 and 2002. "Hypnosophy" is a great avantgarde/black metal that manges to sound interesting and fresh even though some parts of it aren't thought-through completely. Definitely looking forward to what this band will produce in the future.

3. The Vision Bleak - The Unknown
Style: Gothic metal
Origin: Germany
I must've been high on crack/cocaine when I placed ze Germans in The Vision Bleak on second place on my top list of 2013 with their previous effort "The Witching Hour". It really hasn't aged well if you know what I mean and today, the only track I sometimes listen to is the catchy "The Wood Hag". "The Unknown" is infinitely better and way more thought-through. Sure, there are some lesser songs here such a "Ancient Heart" and "The Whine of the Cemetary Hound" but that is all made for with exceptional tracks such as the heavy-hitting "From Wolf to Peacock", the catchy (and very Tiamatesqé) "The Kindred of the Sunset", the sombre "Into the Unknown" and the dynamic "The Fragrancy of Soil Unearthed" - hell, even the bonus track "The Ghost in Me" is great! The only problem is, if you've heard The Vision Bleak before - you know exactly what to expect. And the band still doesen't come close to their magnus opus "Set Sail to Mystery" (2010).

2. In the Woods... - Pure
Style: Progressive metal
Origin: Norway
Before I get on to the actual music, I want to introduce my readers to a time of yore, to a dark mystic past called.... 1996... or was it -97? I really can't recall.
Anyway, back in 1996/1997 there were five different albums from five very different, yet somewhat alike, bands that really got me hooked on the music I listen to today. Four of those were (in no specific order):
My Dying Bride - Turn Loose the Swans (1993)
Therion - Theli (1996)
Tiamat - Wildhoney (1994)
Moonspell - Wolfheart (1995)
All some of the most well-known albums from each band respectively. And then there's was this odd little gem by a virtually unknown band called In the Woods... and their debut album "HEart of the Ages" from 1995. And yes, that's the proper spelling of the album-title since the band couldn't decide if the album should begin with "Heart" or "Art". Neat. The three dots after the band name is also correct. Moving on...
The only track I actually liked from said album was the epic title track and I still stand by that fact. In retrospective, it's kinda weird that only one song could affect me the way it did. A couple of years later, I discovered the band's second album "Omino" (1997) and that album made me a fan big-time. Around that time, the band had released it's third (somewhat hit-and-miss) album "Strange in Stereo" (1999) and of course chose to disband. Just like most bands do when I discover them. Fast-forward ca two decades and the band is back with what feels like the natural continuation of "Omino". It is avantgarde and weird at some points - yet never weird for the sake of being weird like some bands I listen to (hello Solefald!). Most of the times though, it's very atmospheric and almost Pink Floydian in it's execution - whilst never sounding like said band. When reading these lines, I get that that they make no sense, but perhaps that is for the best since ITW... really doesen't make much sense either. All I know is that I love their music and that "Pure" might be the best comeback I've heard in a long while. The title track, "The Recalcitrant Protagonist", "The Cave of Dreams", "Cult of Shining Stars" and "Mystery of the Constellations" are all great tracks on an album that really doesen't have any weak spots at all. Also, that cover-art is ace!

1. Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder
Style: Black/heavy metal
Origin: Norway
If #2 on this list had the one of the best cover artworks of 2016 - this one might be the absolute worst. It reminds so much of a photo I took with my phone back in 2003. The font of the title is also something that I used to add to my imaginary album-covers I made (don't ask).
Artwork aside, everyone and their mother knows of Darkthrone by now and their status is far beyond legendary in the metal scene. And that's not just the black metal-scene anymore - since the musical transition from black metal into punk/crust/metal territory that began in 2006 with "The Cult is Alive" the band has undergone change after change and their old-school heavy/power metal-album "The Underground Resistance" (2013) was IMO a great album with catchy and fun tunes such as "Valkyrie", "The Ones You Left Behind" and the epic "Leave No Cross Unturned". Now I understand there are many people that shun the band's latter musical pieces and claim that Darkthrone shouldn't be "fun". I get you people as well. I certainly do. I love me some "Under a Funeral Moon" and especially "Panzerfaust" every day as any normal person into black metal. "Transilvanian Hunger" can go and fuck off by the way.
But this is the present after all and while "Arctic Thunder" isn't black metal per se, it might be the closest the band has come to it's classic sound in 10 years or so. To be more precise, it sort of mixes the best pieces of it's predecessor with it's classics. To my ears, this is pure joy to hear and from the opener "Tundra Leach" via the title track to the superb closer "The Wyoming Distance", it is great from start to finish. My only complaint is that there might not be any song that sticks out from the pack. But who can really complain when Gylve and Ted delivers one riff after another that just screams metal? Well, I get it if you complain but I don't. That's the whole ordeal if you know what I mean...