Platinum Al’s Top 10 Rock & Metal Albums of 2021

Over the last year, I’ve reviewed a fair few albums for my pals at Ever Metal, and also continued on my never ending odyssey to explore new music. Old bands, new bands, from the big hitters to the up and comers. But what Rock and Metal albums were my favourites from 2021?

This list answers that question: here are the albums that I enjoyed the most from last year:

10. Stoner – Stoners Rule

9. Here Lies Man – “Ritual Divination”

8. Bloody Hammers – “Songs of Unspeakable Terror”

7. Melvins – “Working with God”

6. Acid Mammoth – “Caravan”

5. Barbarian Hermit – “One”

4. Red Fang – “Arrows”

3. Son of Boar – “Son of Boar”

2. Green Lung – “Black Harvest”

  1. 1968 – “Salvation, if you need…”

Another strong year for new music, 2021 managed to deliver that much, at least. There were plenty of other great releases from other artists, this is just my pick of the best – and it certainly wasn’t easy to narrow down to just this ten.

All of the above are superb records, and I’d strongly advise you to check them out. Read the full reviews on Ever Metal (where applicable) and also on here too, in the near future.

Let’s raise a glass to more great music in 2022 – and who knows, maybe some more gigs?!

The Best of 2021

That title seems like a bit of misnomer, doesn’t it? “The Best of 2021“. Following the unprecedented nonsense of 2020, last year we were all anticipating returning to normal, or as close as possible. Small victories were made during that time, but here we are again: a pandemic that seems to loom ever worse; the threat of lockdown and restrictions still a possibility; working from home if you can; vaccination after vaccination; and the same bumbling charlatans in charge of it all.

Hopefully it will all get better. It can’t get much worse (at least in terms of the virus, the post apocalyptic hell of Brexit is still to be reckoned with).

During 2021, Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub still aimed to entertain and inform. Sometimes we made it, sometimes we ballsed it up. But much of the blog content shone through regardless.

In the spirit of sharing success – and smiling in the face of adversity – here are the blog posts from 2021 that were most successful, in terms of views.

10. The Halloween Horror Fest Don’t Die

Halloween Horror Fest was another October highlight this year; this review featured The Dead Don’t Die and Hammer’s The Mummy.

9. Platinum Al’s Top 10 Rock & Metal Albums of 2020

My other gig is writing reviews for Ever Metal – many of my reviews cropped up on this 2020 album list of favourites.

8. The Plague of Halloween Horror Fest

The last mini horror mvie reviews of 2021 featured The Plague of the Zombies and The Crow.

7. Bucket of Halloween Horror Fest

Another Hammer classic, with this review of The Gorgon.

6. Ryuko Interview

Published back in January 2021, this interview with alt rock band Ryuko at last years Pentre Fest originally appeared on Ever Metal, before it graced the Virtual Hot Tub.

5. Sci-Fi Weekender – Back to the Future

SFW was sadly destroyed like Alderaan due to the pandemic – but I dug up a few unseen pics from previous years to ease the pain.

4. Liverpool Comic Con 2021

As the year progressed and we appeared to be making a tentative return to events, I filed this report from Comic Con in Liverpool.

3. How Do Fossils Form? by Eloise Jones

The third most popular blog of the year was written by my super talented daughter. I might just hand the whole thing over to her…

2. Hawarden Limerick

A silly limerick about a local village, it proved popular for some bizarre reason.

And the number one, most popular blog of the year was…

  1. Millennium Falcon – The Greatest Toy Ever

Photos and memories of my vintage Star Wars Millennium Falcon toy, I think this blog is a justified winner! A fantastic toy and something I’m very proud of.

With a lack of events again in 2021, it’s no surprise that other blog subjects rose to prominence. Maybe the escapism of movie and toy reviews appealed to our audience this troublesome year.

We don’t know what will happen in 2022. Fingers crossed, the future looks brighter. But rest assured, Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub will be here for you. If you need a friend, or just some heavy metal reviews and photos of old toys, we’re never far away.

Christmas Tat 2021

In the continuing tradition of sharing some tacky Christmas baubles, here’s the single addition for 2021. Yes, just one new acquisition for the tree this year – I’ve really not seen as much silly, tacky nonsense on my limited travels recently. But fret not, this one’s a beauty!

Here we have a Christmas dinosaur: a bright blue triceratops adorned with sequins and jewels. What could be more festive than a dinosaur? Unless you’re an evolution denier, of course.

Whatever, I hope you like this latest addition to the Virtual Hot Tub Christmas tree.

Christmas dinosaur ball ball

And I’d also like to thank all the readers of my blog, the legendary Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub for your continued support. Please keep reading and let me know what you want to see in the year ahead.

Merry Christmas to all, and a wonderful New Year!

Cocktail Time: Absinthe

Over the years of my adventures as a bounder and general ne’er-do-well, I have occasionally been known to frequent the more bohemian and hedonistic establishments to be found in town and city. Relaxing in the company of poets, artists and dancing girls, one finds the nerves relaxed and the mind expanded – particularly when imbibing the Green Fairy, la fée verte: absinthe.

Absinthe has a formidable reputation. It’s been made illegal in many countries in the past and has been blamed for murder and madness. But if we take things carefully, I’m sure we’ll be OK. Though potent, it’s not as intimidating as considered – and is very enjoyable when prepared correctly.

Preparing absinthe is in itself a ritual, and requires certain specifically designed items. The glass is usually ornate and stemmed, sometimes with a small reservoir at the bottom. The spoon is perforated or slotted.

I’m no expert, but the following steps explain the method I’ve found to prepare and enjoy this drink.

  • Pour approx 1 ounce of absinthe into the glass; some guides recommend turning the glass to allow the liquid to coat the lower area.
  • Place the absinthe spoon across the top of the glass (mine has a small ridge to keep it in place).
  • Place an ice cube on the spoon.
  • Slowly pour ice cold water over the ice cube so it flows into the glass, dissolving the ice cube – 4 to 5 ounces is recommended, but experiment to find your preferred taste (maybe not too much in one sitting, though).
  • Mix any ice cube into the liquid, it should turn cloudy (which is known as louche). You’re then ready to drink.

The liquorice taste of absinthe (or other similar spirits) is not something I wasn’t a fan of originally, but I’ve learned to like. The ritual of preparation – and the paraphernalia – as well as the history, adds a lot to the experience.

Absinthe is now widely available in the UK. The version in the photos is from Andorra, and slightly higher percentage than found on these shores at 85%…

Enjoy your drink, friends – but please treat absinthe with the respect it deserves and drink responsibly!

Ungraven/Slomatics – EP Review

Ungraven/Slomatics – Split EP

Blackbow Records

Release date: 05/03/2021

Running time: 31 minutes

Review by: Alun Jones

8/10

How did you spend your time during the pandemic?  Did you learn a new language or a musical instrument?  Did you get out there running, hammering marathons and getting super fit?  Or, like most of us, did you hang on there by your finger nails, just about keeping it together and escaping the monotony?  Well luckily for us, these two bands – Ungraven and Slomatics – decided to put their talents to creative use and deliver some music to keep us all sane in these bizarre times.

This is one EP, two bands and six songs in total.  First off, we have Ungraven, who despite only being formed in 2019 feature musicians of fine pedigree: Jon Davis (Conan), David Ryley (Fudge Tunnel) and Tyler Hodges (Tuskar).   “Defeat the Object”, their first offering, features a reliably sturdy riff to nod your head to.  Next track, “Onwards She Rides to a Certain Death” comes galloping out of the gates like an armour covered battle horse – it’s no nimble dressage, more like a cavalry charge into a frenzied battle.  Ungraven’s final song, “Blackened Gates of Eternity”, has a grinding intensity that has an industrial feel.

Slomatics pick up the baton and start off with the brutally heavy, atmospheric “Kaan”, which seems to move sideways rather than forwards.  Slow and hefty, I’ve seen ox bow lakes form quicker than the pace of this monster.  “Proto Hag” follows a similar style, but you’ll be glad to learn that it’s even more intense.  Slomatics have been building their reputation for some years now, and these tracks confirm their prominence.  Their final song, “Monitors” – probably my favourite on the whole EP, though I feel bad singling out one track – only pushes their reputation further.  The music is almost trancelike, with a magnetic melodic element.

This split EP is dense and compelling.  Both Ungraven and Slomatics impress with their conviction and integrity.  The only down side is that 31 minutes just isn’t enough.  This is a very enjoyable starter, but it just makes me hunger for a full plate of whatever these two immense bands can serve up.  Please sir, can I have some more?

Check out Ungraven on Facebook and Bandcamp.

You can find Slomatics on the interweb, Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter.

Visit Blackbow Records here or on Bandcamp.

This review was presented to you by Platinum Al in association with Ever Metal.

Singles Night at the Virtual Hot Tub #24

One of my favourite types of night in: a random stack of 7 inch vinyl, and a big old crate of booze. I’ve not held a Singles Night at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub for a little while, so allow me to put that right.

You see, I’ve got a load of 7″ singles that I haven’t listened to yet. They come from various sources, though most are second hand. So I play ’em through, A side then B side, and enjoy the sonic delights. Accompanied with a tipple of two.

Here’s the latest batch:

  1. Mudhoney – “Warning” / Meat Puppets – “One of These Days”
  2. Cockney Rejects – “The Greatest Cockney Rip Off” / “Hate of the City”
  3. Metallica – “The Unforgiven” / “Killing Time”
  4. The Shipbuilders – “Silk Road” / “La Fee Verte”
  5. Huey Lewis & The News – “Stuck With You” / “Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me”
  6. The Archies – “Sugar, Sugar” / “Melody Hill”
  7. Boney M – “Painter Man” / “He Was a Steppenwolf”
  8. Twiggy – “Falling Angel” / “Virginia (And the Circus Side Show)”
  9. Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe – “Barcelona” / “Exercises in Free Love”
  10. Yes – “Going for the One” / “Awaken Pt. 1”
  11. Bad Manners – “Special Brew” / “Ivor the Engine”
  12. Kylie Minogue – “Better the Devil You Know” / “I’m Over Dreaming (Over You)”
  13. The Jam – “Going Underground” / “The Dreams of Children”
  14. Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Cities in Dust” / “An Execution”
  15. Gary Numan – The Live E.P.: “Are “Friends” Electric?” / “Berserker” / “Cars” / “We Are Glass”
  16. Del Shannon – “Runaway” / “Jody”
  17. The Smurfs – “Silly Little Song” / “Little Smurf Boat”
  18. The Proclaimers – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” / “Better Days”
  19. Stray Cats – “Stray Cat Strut” / “Drink That Bottle Down”
  20. Eurythmics – “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty Four)” / “I Did it Just the Same”

From Metallica to the Smurfs, there’s a right old mixture in that playlist. A nice wide coverage of genres from pop, disco, ska, prog rock, punk and – wonder of wonders – even some opera. Not to mention all the various subgenres on the list (Goth? Post punk? New Wave? Make your own conclusions).

Another fine evening of music, I can recommend a Singles Night for the variety and fun. Dig out your old singles collection and have a knees up!

Liverpool Comic Con 2021

Exhibition Centre, Liverpool

13/14 November 2021

How long is it since the last time I went to a Comic Con? Any Comic Con? It must be pretty much exactly two years. The pandemic ruled out mass gatherings of this type completely over that time. Now, we’re back – a long overdue visit to the wonderful city of Liverpool and it’s excellent convention.

Our only initial bad luck was arriving to find massive queues snaking back for what seemed like miles. We had purchased early bird tickets for a 9am start, however arriving on schedule at nine left us in a long line with hundreds of other punters. It took an hour before we were finally inside the exhibition centre, which wasn’t a great start.

This was a case of Queue Hard, with several sequels including Queue Hard 2: Queue Harder – and finally, Queue Hard with a Vengeance.

When we were in the building, however, all was swiftly forgiven. I think we can accept some teething troubles in getting this event back up and running. It was great to finally be indoors at a Comic Con, and we gleefully threw ourselves into the experience with enthusiasm.

There were many guests signing on the day, but none that were of particular interest to myself. So, I braved the throngs of convention goers to view the treasures on sale at the stalls, purveying all type of nerdy goodness. As always at Comic Cons, there was far too much merch for me to buy it all – though I made some fine purchases, there were oodles more a timely lottery win would’ve made mine.

I picked up a couple of Star Wars The Vintage Collection figures that I needed, and a Mego Wolfman action figure that I couldn’t resist. Plus, the Christmas shopping commenced with some unusual items I wouldn’t have been able to pick up elsewhere. The only disappointment was a total lack of ReAction figures.

Of course, the main highlight of the day was the varied and spectacular costumes worn the attendees. Cosplay was alive and well, which was great to see. Hopefully these photos will give you some idea of the skill and splendour that was on show.

Despite a dodgy start, Liverpool Comic Con was a great day out. We came, we saw, we took photos and bought tat – a fine time was had by all. I’d recommend this convention as one to visit, and I’ll definitely be back.

Have a look at the Liverpool Comic Con webnet here.

Barbarian Hermit – Album Review

Barbarian Hermit – One (Reissue)

APF Records (For the Lost PR)

Release date: 29/01/2021

Running time: 49 minutes

Review by: Alun Jones

9.5/10

Writing these reviews for Ever Metal isn’t easy, you know.  I’m sure I speak for the whole writing team when I say that we pour our heart and soul into all our prose.  Each of us lives with the fear of the dreaded Writer’s Block, gnawing at our bones.  So, I decided that my review of this reissue of the 2016 debut album by Barbarian Hermit, released by the mighty APF Records, would need some help. 

But who could assist with such a task?  Why none other than my old friend, Volkrugg the Decimator – barbarian warlord of Ages Long Forgotten.  Of course: no-one is better qualified!  And seeing as I’ve basically been a hermit for the last year, between us we should have it covered.

Take it away, Volkrugg…

“Greetings, people of the 21st century!  I am Volkrugg the Decimator – warlord of the Mist Realm, conqueror of the Thorspian cities, leader of the barbarian hordes of Vossk.  My good friend, Al, has begged me for my musings concerning the recorded work of Barbarian Hermit, and lo – shall I render it unto thee with vicious glee!

“From the very start, these seven songs burst forth like an army of Ionian Thrask Vandals!  They wield their war axes with vengeful power, surging down from the mountains on thundering hooves of hell.  The brief respite of sometime calmer moods offer shelter from the maelstrom of war, yet always the majesty and power of conflict lurks temptingly!

“Verily, hearing these odes, I was mindful of my fallen brothers from glorious battles past – gone but ne’er forgotten, proudly drinking and brawling in Valhalla!”

There you go, I couldn’t have said it better myself.   “One” is a great, sludgy, fuzzy celebration of relentless force and mesmerising intricacies.  Both Volkrugg, his band of berserker warriors and myself are all big fans.  You’d be a fool of mythic proportions to miss this album, and be warned – Volkrugg fed his last court jester to a tiger.  Barbarian Hermit reviewed by a barbarian and a hermit – you can’t get a more honest opinion than that.

Seek Barbarian Hermit on Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter.

Heed the word of APF Records on the internet here, or visit them on Facebook, Bandcamp or Twitter.

This review has been presented to you by Ever Metal and Platinum Al.

The Plague of Halloween Horror Fest

Halloween may be over, but Platinum Al’s still got a couple of movie reviews for ya! Well, I didn’t get time to write ’em up before bed time on the 31st – so here they are!

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

In a small, remote village in Cornwall, a series of deaths from a strange disease has baffled local doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams). He requests assistance from his mentor, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), who is accompanied on his journey by his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare).

When exhuming the plague victims graves reveals a lack of bodies, the doctors are stumped even further. Adding further complication is the tragic and mysterious death of Peter’s wife, Alice (Jacqueline Pearce). Soon, it becomes clear that the local Squire Hamilton (John Carson) – and his band of hedonistic goons – are mixed up in proceedings; with a mixture of voodoo and black magic…

Fans of the Walking Dead, or other modern zombie movies, may find this Hammer production somewhat tame by today’s standards, but there’s a lot to enjoy. The Plague of the Zombies takes a more traditional path with its tale rooted in voodoo, with a clever script that veers away from the usual Gothic creatures employed by Hammer.

Neither Lee or Cushing make an appearance, sadly – but the acting is particularly good never the less, with Andre Morell shining. The Plague of the Zombies is successful entertainment and shows Hammer trying to be innovative with it’s output.

8/10

The Crow (1994)

Our final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is a 1990s classic that made a massive impression on me, when I first viewed it in the cinema.

In a city overrun with crime, musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée are ruthlessly murdered by a criminal gang. One year later, Eric is revived through the spirit magic of a crow, to enact revenge on the killers. One by one, the perpetrators meet brutal ends, but the complicated web of crime continuously unravels, leading Eric to the gangster overlord, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott).

The Crow is a magnificently macabre, dark tale – a violent, action-packed revenge story with gothic supernatural elements. It may not be pure horror, but this twisted superhero drama is definitely pure Halloween. Brandon Lee is the soul of the movie, he’s both prefect and unforgettable in the role of Eric. Sadly, his accidental death during filming adds a haunting tone to the film. Even so, The Crow is a fine testament to Lee.

Visually stunning on the screen, the soundtrack is also fantastic: one of the greatest soundtrack albums ever compiled, it’s a classic of it’s time.

The Crow still has an incredible emotional impact. It’s a simple, moralistic fable wrapped up in a bloody revenge movie – with a sympathetic anti-hero and melancholic tone. Absolute class.

R.I.P. Brandon Lee

10/10

Mid Halloween Horror Fest

Midsommar (2019)

Written and directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is both very different from the usual horror films, and is utterly captivating. At nearly two and a half hours long, the movie takes it’s time to slowly build a feeling of inevitable dread and reach it’s finale, but I was engrossed.

Dani (Florence Pugh) is grieving from the death of her sister and parents, finding little solace in her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Though their relationship is ending, Dani accompanies Christian and his anthropology student friends on a research trip to Sweden, to observe the mid summer rituals of a remote community. Every 90 years is a particularly special celebration, and this year is one of those – thus it’s a rare opportunity for them all.

The friends are welcomed into the commune, and begin to observe their practices and lifestyle in a land where the sun shines almost all day in summer. Gradually, the rituals become more unsettling, as the pagan rites become more and more bizarre and deadly. The isolation of Dani and her friends escalates, as the motivations of their hosts adds to their confusion.

I don’t want to give too much away about this film, as it really is superb. Some viewers will find it too long and drawn out, and the events too obscure and unexplained. But resisting the urge to rush into situations, taking time to develop the painfully unsettling atmosphere and sense of unease is handled spectacularly, I thought. There’s a level of detail in the onscreen clues and themes that is painstaking and engrossing.

Midsommar is folk horror, and comparisons to the wonderful The Wicker Man (1973) are only to be expected. There are a few scenes of brutal violence, but onscreen shocks are relegated to the minimal, sacrificed for an unbearably apprehensive descent to the conclusion. Pugh’s performance is phenomenal, her experiences are heart-breaking and disorientating and she bleeds emotion from the screen.

Deeply disturbing, yet fascinating, this particular folk horror is part mystery and part break up movie. Midsommar has been masterfully conceived and produced, it’s one of the best films – horror or otherwise – I’ve seen in a long time.

9.5/10