the semi-obligatory album of the year type thing (2022 edition)


It’s been a few years since I did an ‘album of the year’ post here, because in general I have to write them for other places and get a bit bored with the process, but this year I thought I’d do something a little different.

But first: albums of the year 2022

My album of the year, by a big margin was Diamanda Galás’s extraordinary Broken Gargoyles. I’ve written about it at length here and here, and had the privilege of discussing it with Diamanda herself here, so won’t say too much about it, except for one observation. People usually use the phrase ‘life-affirming’ to describe records that are joyous, uplifting or leave you with feelings of positivity and contentment. All good things, but Broken Gargoyles is not that album. Instead, it’s life-affirming in the sense that it heightens the sense of being alive and even interrogates the idea of what it really means and how it feels, to be human. It’s thrilling and sometimes beautiful, but also harrowing; and how many musicians even attempt anything like that?

My other favourites this year included Shiki by the Japanese avant-garde black metal band Sigh. It follows in the eclectic footsteps of their past few albums but whereas they blended bits of black metal, prog rock, jazz and so on with sometimes great, sometimes patchy results, Shiki blends them in a far more cohesive and successful way where every song is everything and not this genre-with-a-bit-of-that.

I also loved Beth Orton’s Weather Alive, which I wrote about here, and a very late entry in the AOTY stakes (I literally heard it this week for the first time) is Hjartastjaki by Isafjørd. One genre I have very rarely liked or understood the appeal of is post-rock, but this – a collaboration between Addi of Sólstafir (who I do like – they played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen by anyone at Eistnaflug Festival in 2011) and Ragnar Zolberg – gripped me from the first listen and I currently can’t get enough of it. Even though it’s not at all like it in any way, something about it – maybe just the epically mournful atmosphere – reminds me of Disintegration by The Cure, which is never a bad thing.

So much for 2022. But how much importance should one place on the album of any given year? Albums, like movies, books or any other form of entertainment stay with you if they are any good, and your feelings about them change over time. And some of my favourite albums of all time were released before I was even born, so their context presumably doesn’t necessarily contribute to their impact, on a personal level at least. I’ve been writing for myself since I first started my old blog in 2012 so for a kind of half-assed ten-year anniversary I thought I’d revisit my older albums of the year and see which ones had staying power for me. I’ll limit it to a few from each year so it doesn’t get out of hand.

Strangely I didn’t do one for my own site in 2012 and I don’t have the list I did for Zero Tolerance magazine that year to hand so let’s go from 2013 to 2019, since 2020 is only two years ago and ‘the test of time’ hasn’t completely been passed or failed yet…


My favourite album of that year was Ihsahn’s Das Seelenbrechen, and it’s still one of my favourite albums. I rarely listen to it all the way through at the moment, but various tracks, such as Pulse, Regen and NaCL are still in regular rotation

David Bowie – The Next Day: I loved this at the time and it felt like a return to form of some sort, but now, though there are some great tracks, it feels a middling Bowie record
Ancient VVisdom: Deathlike – good kind of pastoral black doom/blues (!?) album but haven’t listened to it probably for years at this point
October Falls – The Plague of a Coming Age – very nice, interchangeable with any other October Falls record. They are all nice, I don’t listen to them very often
Sangre de Muerdago – Deixademe Morrer No Bosque: I still play bits of this dark Galician folk album from time to time. It’s great but I’ve never got around to listening to any of their other stuff
Manierisme – フローリア I LOVED Manierisme, and the atmosphere and noise of it still really isn’t like much else. But it’s so harsh in its peculiar way that I rarely listen to it now
Beastmilk – Climax: worth mentioning this because Finnish post-punks Beastmilk (who changed their name to Grave Pleasures and lost their appeal for me pretty quickly) were a much-hyped band that year. It still sounds like a pretty good gothy post-punk type of record, but I had to check it out to remind myself of that


My favourite album of 2014 was Mondegreen by the avant-garde string quartet Collectress and I still love it and listen to bits of it quite often
Most of 2014’s list are just names to me now, though I’m sure they are pretty good: I quite liked Scott Walker & Sun O)))’s Soused but have never revisited it. I thought Mirel Wagner’s When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day was great but don’t really remember it – must check it out again. Nebelung’s Palingenesis has some really nice songs on it that I listen to occasionally.


My album of 2015 was Life is a Struggle, Give Up by Oblivionized. Putting it on again for the first time in ages, it’s still an invigorating, unique semi-grindcore album. Also kind of harsh and draining, so not a frequent listen, but an album worthy of rediscovery nonetheless.

Much easier to listen to but at the time outside of my top ten is the great Hustler’s Row by

surprise sleeper – Hustler’s Row by Gentlemens Pistols

Gentlemens Pistols. I would not have predicted that this would be one of the records that I’d keep returning to but it is: people who love 70s hard rock of the Deep Purple/Rainbow type who haven’t checked it out are missing a treat.

Otherwise, loved Jarboe and Helen Money’s self-titled album, but it’s not very strong in my memory now. The Zombi Anthology by Zombi still sounds great but I rarely listen to it. Ratatat’s Magnifique still gets an outing every now and then, but SUN by Secrets of the Moon and Syner by Grift, both of which I really loved and still think are great, seem kind of hard going to me now.
I went through a phase of really loving Venusian Death Cell (and still do, but don’t listen much) and Honey Girl, “released” that year may be my favourite of his albums. Tribulation’s Children of the Night is fun too, in a very different and probably more accessible way


I wouldn’t necessarily say I was aware of it at the time, but 2016 was a great year for music. My album of the year was Wyatt at the Coyote Palace by Kristin Hersh (which I enthused about here) and it became, as I thought it might, one of those albums I can still listen to at any time, pretty much: it’s great.
Otherwise, Zeal & Ardor’s Devil is Fine still sounds great (and is still my favourite Z&A release). I liked Komada by Alcest but now think it’s pretty dull. I was excited by some EPs by Naia Izumi too, but haven’t really checked out their work since then. I am, outrageously, still the ONLY person I know who likes Extended Play by Debz, and it’s still a unique little record and I love it.
I still think Das Ram by Rachel Mason – my other contender for AOTY that year – is great, but as with a few other things, it slipped off of my listening list at some point and I had to remind myself of it

surprise sleeper – Kaada/Patton’s Bacteria Cult

Kaada/Patton’s Bacteria Cult (Ipecac Recordings) is the Hustler’s Row of 2016, only in the sense that it entered my forever playlist without me expecting it to. I’m not sure a week has gone by since then that I haven’t listened to a song or two from this masterpiece

Honorable mentions

David Bowie – Blackstar 
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker 
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Jozef van Wissem – When Shall This Bright Day Begin
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Schammasch – Triangle 
De La Soul – …and the Anonymous Nobody…
Kate Carr – I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring
Jeff Parker – The New Breed


2017 had fewer standouts for me but my album of the year, the self-titled debut by Finnish alt-rock band Ghost World, which I wrote enthusiastically about here, still sounds fantastic. That said, though I was less enthused by the 2018 follow up, Spin at the time, that album is the one I listen to more now. But the best songs from Ghost World are still energised grunge-pop classics.

Otherwise, I liked Quinta – The Quick Of The Heart and a few of its songs are still played quite regularly.
I gave Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin by Julie’s Haircut a great review at the time but don’t remember it now, whereas I didn’t think Tarrantulla by Islaja would have much staying power, but bits of it still pop into my head and therefore onto my stereo every now and then.


I was hugely surprised in 2018 to find that my album of the year was an electronic one, Swim, by Phantoms vs Fire, a cinematic masterpiece full of woozy retro-futuristic sounds and melancholy atmospheres. Even more unexpectedly, it’s gone on to be one of my favourite albums of all time and something that I regularly listen to. All of the other Phantoms vs Fire stuff is fine, but for me at least, this is the one.

I was much taken with As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas by the Portuguese dark folk band Urze de Lume at the time but though I could still happily listen to it, I haven’t for a while.
By contrast, songs from all of these have unexpectedly been in regular rotation over the past few years: Ghost World – Spin 
Just Like This – Faceless 
Orion’s Belte – Mint
Oh, and Burn My Letters by William Carlos Whitten has been revisited far more than I expected and I expect his “Poor Thing” will remain in rotation for the foreseeable future


In 2019, I loved another Collectress album, Different Geographies but it didn’t replace or match Mondegreen in my affections. I can’t seem to find my album of the year strangely, but it might well have been Youth in Ribbons by Revenant Marquis, still my favourite of that prolific artist’s releases.
I also loved but rarely if ever listen to Cryfemal’s Eterna oscuridad, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou’s May Our Chambers… and Ulver’s Flowers of Evil, but the sleeper of the year was Henrik Palm’s Poverty Metal which I liked fine, but didn’t expect to still be listening to as regularly as I am.

surprise sleeper – Henrik Palm’s Poverty Metal

On the whole it seems to have been a year of songs rather than albums for me – I like the title track of Viviankrist’s Morgenrøde probably as much as anything from that year and bits of Cellista’s Transfigurations still sound great. But lots of the most-praised stuff of the year, albums by Alcest, Cult of Luna and so forth just don’t register with me now: still, can’t like everything.


a true state – cut and paste and the art of collage (Edinburgh, summer 2019)

Francesca Woodman, Untitled (1977)

2019 has, in many ways, not been a good year so far. But this summer, the National Galleries of Scotland had (well, has; they are still on) three particularly outstanding exhibitions that brought a bit of light and intelligence to a period of more-than-usual stupidity. At the National Gallery itself, there was the excellent, eye opening and brain-frying Bridget Riley exhibition (closes 22nd September), at the National Portrait Gallery the superb Self Evidence (closes 20th October) in which Francesca Woodman’s tiny, intimate, self-enclosed photographs vibrate balefully in their little corner, overshadowing (for me) the also (but in an entirely different way) intimate and at times frankly challenging monumental works of Robert Mapplethorpe* and, to a lesser extent, the brilliant but (I guess appropriately) don’t-quite-fit-in Diane Arbus portraits of the lives of people marginalised and made invisible by mainstream culture.

*though the Mapplethorpe pictures were the ones that moved me the least, they did provide the priceless spectacle of parents hurrying their curious kids past the notorious 1978 Self Portrait With Whip. They had been warned!

But for me, the highlight of the National Galleries’ summer programme is Cut and Paste: 400 years of Collage at Modern Two (closes 27th October).

Thanks to its inclusive definition of collage (which covers photomontage, traditional collage, plus bits of decoupage, pressed plant samples and even quilting) as well as its historical scope, the exhibition manages to be both focused and wide-ranging, and also (I found) surprisingly moving. What collage does, or at least amplifies – perhaps paradoxically given its use of found/ready-made materials – is that aspect of art that disappears most quickly in reproduction; the hand of the artist. This is art not only as a reflection/projection of culture but one that includes material culture itself.* There is, sometimes regardless of the picture/object, a poignant quality that comes from the materials used, in a way that doesn’t happen with paint, unless you are the kind of conservator who can isolate pigments used to specific periods (I’m not, unfortunately).

*I don’t think this is just pretentious bullshit; but you never know

Pablo Picasso, Bottle and Glass on a Table (1912)

I’m getting ahead of myself here, but a seminal collage that makes an appearance in the exhibition, Pablo Picasso’s Bottle and Glass on a Table (1912) is a classic/typical Picasso cubist/spatial experiment, but the use of newspaper – a very specific, dateable piece of ephemera (from Le Journal, 3 December 1912) – gives the work, instantly and inherently, a dimension largely absent in conventional painting. The feeling that the collage is both artwork and artefact; literally as well as figuratively multi-layered, makes a case for collage as a distinct and special art form, a feeling echoed by the Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi (represented by some outstanding works in the exibition), for whom the form offered clarification, where formal art training raised problems and questions: “Unlike the world of school where the universe was systematised in a certain order, the reassembly of this disparate material reflected a true state, both autobiographic and dynamic.” (quoted in the exhibition catalogue,  p. 126)

So anyway; the exhibition is arranged chronologically, in the usual Modern Two layout; in various rooms, up the stairs, through the corridors etc, always I think a layout that makes for an engaging, surprising way of looking at art. Partly deliberately (there were too many people in the first room), I went around the exhibition in reverse chronological order and in retrospect that seems like a good decision. This meant that the exhibition opened with the Chapman Brothers’ The Disasters of Everyday Life (2017), a spectacular-looking wall-like object consisting of 80 of Goya’s horrific etchings, The Disasters of War, with of course added bits and pieces, sometimes powerful, sometimes deliberately absurd, I think (though I’d have to go through again the other way) it serves better as a kind of abstract for what is to follow than it would as a conclusion, where peering at a lot of small images might have seemed a bit anticlimactic.
I’m not going to mention every picture in the show, though I can’t think of anything that doesn’t deserve a mention. The first thing to have a major impact for me was Lucy Williams’ 2015 Crescent House, as much a piece of model making as a collage, a strange, small scale (just under a metre long) recreation of a bit of postwar architecture, but simplified and made more colourful, giving it a feeling of harmony almost like a kind of 3D Mondrian.

Lucy Williams – Crescent House (2015)
Linder – Pretty Girl (1977)

Crescent House captures something of the intended optimism of the postwar new town planning that’s most often associated now with neglect and urban decay. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing (Williams is around my age), but for me there was something powerfully bittersweet about the feeling of an abandoned, never-quite-attained future, heightened by the realness of the work as an object.

The aesthetic of Crescent House – though that is far lighter in tone – makes me think of the late 70s work of Linder (Sterling), another exhibition highlight. Although similar in its reference points to the pop art collages of Richard Hamilton a couple of decades before (sadly his iconic 1956 collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing is not in the exhibition, though they do have a nice work by him, Desk from 1964), the feel of Linder’s work is far darker (it makes me think of the confrontational industrial work of Throbbing Gristle and COUM Transmissions around the same period) and the satire more pointed. Works like her Pretty Girl series(1977) exemplify a particular approach to collage. Using the detritus of everyday life; magazines, posters, advertising, it became a way of embodying in the art a criticism of the culture that it’s a reaction to as well as a product of. It’s a feminist criticism of the objectification of women that uses already depersonalised women (part of the problem) and merges them with actual ‘objects of desire’ from a patriarchal culture that above all else believes in commodification for its own benefit.

Craig W. Lowe, Bedroom Cupboard door covered with stickers, 1987-1997

Thanks to the exhibition’s open-minded and inclusive approach, there are some unexpected revelations (but aren’t all revelations unexpected? I mean, that’s obvious). While Craig W. Lowe’s bedroom cupboard door covered in stickers c. 1987-1997) may appeal most as nostalgia, the inclusion of Jamie Reid‘s original Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks cover collage (1977; copyrighted image so I’d better not share) opens realms of not-previously-considered information (at least to me) about one’s record collection. Firstly, the collage is black and white, and secondly, it isn’t just a picture or a ‘file’, it’s an actual thing. Like, presumably all album cover art (and book cover art etc) before the digital age, the NMTB cover in all its yellow and pink (or pink and green) glory, taken for granted forever, is not a picture, it’s a photograph of a picture. In its final form it’s been overlaid with colours, but that object there on the wall in Edinburgh is the thing itself. A strange feeling, like looking at the inscription on a ten pound note and considering that it is a representation of something, rather than ten actual pounds.

The Sex Pistols cover primes the viewer (at least the viewer going through the exhibition backwards) for the various bits of Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover that are on show – and, great though they are (and I like Sgt Pepper quite a bit more than I like Never Mind The Bollocks), without that priming, the Beatles items wouldn’t have the same impact; perhaps because the cover itself is clearly a photograph of objects and cut-outs and seeing them is very cool but not really revelatory, the whole is too familiar and iconic to give the frisson of a moment captured. In fact, Blake’s superb, possibly slightly twee The Toy Shop (1962) is a far more vivid time capsule; clearly pointing to Sgt Pepper, its a conglomeration of bits and bobs familiar to children of the 60s – but also to children of later generations as belonging to the same family as the bits & bobs of their own youth (in my case, comics, football stickers, sweets, TV tie-in toys (He-Man et al), but also the odd antiquated throwbacks that still existed, like bows and arrows and balsa wood or polystyrene gliders which came with a weighted plastic propeller so they flew when thrown – do they still make those?). It’s hard to imagine that there will be a generation that can’t relate to The Toy Shop at all, however virtual entertainment becomes, kids will always like stickers.

Peter Blake – The Toy Shop (1962)

But Blake’s pop art nostalgia – powerful though that is – is one of the few purely positive and joyous post-war works in the show. More typical are the mischievous collage book covers made by Joe Orton and his partner and eventual murderer Kenneth Halliwell. These were put on library books and returned to the library – an act that eventually cost them a six month prison sentence – and they exemplify the sense of the significant, perhaps subversive and illogical accident that drew the surrealists to collage a few generations earlier.

Kenneth Halliwell & Joe Orton – collage on library book cover (c.1960-2)

For the surrealists, collage was almost a manifestation of the galvanising quotation from Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror (1869) where a boy could be described as being “as beautiful as a chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” This aspect of surrealism is brilliantly captured in Max Ernst’s gothic ‘collage novels’ (one of the most exciting inclusions in the show is an unpublished picture from his 1934 collage novel Une semaine de bonté) as well as in beautiful works by Toyen and some of the collaborative exquisite corpse collages made by André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba and Yves Tanguy, where each artist could only see their own part of the work until it was complete. Again, what I hadn’t really anticipated was the difference it makes seeing these items in real life – for example, I had seen and liked (and own a postcard of) Roland Penrose’s untitled 1937 postcard collage, but seeing it, life size, and looking at the actual real postcards stuck to it, was a weirdly moving experience. But why? It’s something about the immediacy and associations of familiar things, the thought perhaps of Roland Penrose actually going into a newsagent and buying the postcards one day in 1937. Why that should be more moving than an artist using paint I don’t know, except that, like the scrapbooks owned by Tristan Tzara (very exciting to see) and the paper cutouts by Matisse (which until now I’ve never been a fan of) it brings the whole process of making art into an immediate, almost tangible one.

Roland Penrose – Untitled (1937)

The work of the Dadaists (Hannah Höch was the main reason I wanted to see the show) is less self-consciously unconscious (well, that makes no sense) than the surrealist works, but the element of satire and sometimes bitter humour – especially in John Heartfield’s iconic anti-Nazi photomontages – make them the spiritual ancestors of the works of artists like Carolee Schneemann and Nancy Spero in the 1960s as well as Linder and even Terry Gilliam in the 70s. Highlights for me were the selection of works by Kurt Schwitters, whose own version of Dada, Merz, even had a collage-like genesis, the word itself apparently derived from a fragment of text relating to a banking firm (Kommerz und Privatbank). The fact that the word Merz also has echoes in the words schwerz (pain) and ausmerzen (to weed out or discard) adds to the sense that this was a movement (if you can call one person a movement) for which collage wasn’t an entertaining diversion, but a central idea. The cumulation of meanings and associations in works like Merz 229: Heet Water (1921) makes these small works with their train tickets, textiles, playing cards – pretty much anything that could be cut up and stuck down – powerfully evocative, as well as decorative in themselves.

John Heartfield – Adolf the Superman – swallows gold and spouts junk (1932)
Kurt Schwitters – Merz 229: Heet Water (1921)












The section on the birth of modernist collage features a group of Picasso works including the the aforementioned Bottle and Glass on a Table, which form year zero of modernist collage, alongside works by peers including Braque (who may actually be the first modernist collage-maker) and Juan Gris (whose The Sunblind, 1914 is a highlight) and then the ripples spreading outwards from that explosive group of works, including the Russian constructivists and suprematists, the Italian Futurists and even the Bloomsbury group in the UK; I was very impressed to come across a painting by Vanessa Bell (Portrait of Molly MacCarthy, 1914-5) that didn’t immediately wilt into insignificance when surrounded by the big names of European modernism.

Juan Gris – The Sunblind (1914)

It seems obvious to say that collage is comparatively egalitarian insofar as you don’t need to be able to draw or paint to do it – and it’s true that works by generally non-visual artists like Breton and Joe Orton have a similar energy and atmosphere as those by more conventional artists, but it’s also noticeable that, pre-modernism, although the idea of collage existed and there was sometimes that same element of playfulness, the work is more notable for its skill and ingenuity – especially in the Victorian photomontages – than for any disruptive or ironic qualities. But collage being what it is, it’s here that the sense mentioned earlier of the collage as actual material culture comes into play again, sometimes – especially for me in the small character pieces by George Smart from the early 19th century – powerfully so. Somehow, these little watercolour paintings adorned with carefully cut out and arranged pieces of paper and fabric (irresistibly reminiscent to me of the ‘fuzzy felt’ sets I played with as a child) bring us closer to the artist than just paint on canvas would do.

This is perhaps art history as human interest and association rather than as aesthetics (this is especially true in the case of the Victorian scraps and scrapbooks, perhaps because the ready-made nature of the scraps themselves makes the objects feel less like the works of an artist and more like a hobby; nothing wrong with that, but as the sort of things you see in auctions and junk shops they have the aura of being ephemera, rather than using ephemera to make something else; a false distinction perhaps), but for me this exhibition brings those two aspects of art – the human/historical and the aesthetic/technical together in a deep and very satisfying way.

I have no real criticisms of the exhibition; it is thought provoking, beautiful to look at and put together with care and imagination. It might have been nice to have had something by some of the other artists most strongly associated with collage, like Romare Bearden and Wangechi Mutu; but if an exhibition leaves you wanting more that can’t be a bad thing.


Since I mentioned the anyone-can-do-it aspect of collage, I might as well mention that I went through a phase, especially in my student days of making collages, and while they are nothing special, they do have a kind of diary-esque subtext which has only really become apparent over time. Since it’s my website and no-one can stop me, here are a couple of examples, plus a more recent one.

untitled collage, c. 1998?
untitled collage c. 1998-9








untitled collage, 2019
untitled collage, late 90s

The Lucky Ones Were The First To Die! The 1980s post-Mad Max Apocalypse

Escape from Mad Max 2

However successful George Miller’s 2015 Mad Max movie was, for a variety of reasons it is unlikely to have the impact of the second (and by extension, the far superior first) one did; the release of 1981’s Mad Max 2 (known internationally as The Road Warrior) coincided with the boom in home video (specifically home video rental; those were the days when to actually buy a movie on VHS cost outlandishly vast sums) and the fact that it was set in a barren landscape with details (cars, clothes, technology) that were recognisably contemporary, but generally beaten-up, rather than gleamingly futuristic meant that its look and feel was easy to imitate on an extremely low budget. The storyline, too, was simple and dynamic in the style of a spaghetti western; requiring only a few key locations, a small cast and some action, it was apparently eminently imitable. Except of course, that George Miller is a masterful director and the pre-Hollywood Mel Gibson was an immensely charismatic and capable actor.

There was also the atmosphere of the early 80s; people may now, on the whole, be more scared than they were then, but the threats of the 21st century are rarely as monolithic and inescapable as the fear of nuclear war once was. The cold war, pre-Gorbachev, created a paranoia that pervaded not only obvious movies like Wargames (US) and When the Wind Blows (UK), but also silly flag-waving nonsense like Rocky IV. Not surprisingly, this is a feature of life in the 80s rarely acknowledged by the nostalgia industry.


Aside from Mad Max 2, the other cinematic progenitor of the 80s post-apocalypse straight-to-video movie was John Carpenter’s 1981 masterpiece(ish) Escape From New York. In fact, so influential are these movies that many of those that follow could (and will) justifiably be referred to as ‘Escape from Mad Max 2’ movies. Most of the classic derivative B movies can be easily identified by the presence of a post-Mad Max/Snake Plissken hero – lone, brooding, grizzled, leather clad, often with unacceptable hair.

Due presumably to it’s powerful final scene, the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes is evoked every now and then, albeit on a less epic scale; even less obvious, but arguably still there, is the distant influence of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, with its vision of a small ‘civilised’ ruling elite (Eloi) living in comfort and bestial devolved humanoids (Morlocks) roaming the wilds. A debased version of this idea; a small group of nice, civilised people terrorised by a group of not-nice, non-local people, helped by a nice, non-local person or people is so widespread in cinema (westerns, samurai movies, Night of the Living Dead etc etc) that it’s hard to say where exactly it originated (actually, probably somewhere quite obvious/well known, but I will look that up after it’s too late for this article).

Since the 1920s, most Hollywood movies have historically tried to sell themselves with a snappy tagline; as you will see, these movies have some of the best ever coined. So here is a selection of worthwhile post-apocalyptic movies that gives an idea of how varied even such a narrow subgenre can be…

Countdown to Apocalypse…

Technically pre-dating the 80s straight-to-video post-apocalyptic cycle (and influencing it?) but definitely worth a mention is

Damnation Alley (1977)
Tagline: You Have Seen Great Adventures – You Are About To Live One

damnation alleyBasically a bunch of TV and B-movie actors driving around the desert in ridiculous Robot-Wars-looking modified vehicles.  Many of the factors that would become clichés are firmly in place here; a shattered, post-apocalyptic world (cheap desert locations), a ramshackle group of survivors (though less fashionably ramshackle than in Mad Max 2 and its imitators), a pretty basic ‘quest’ style theme (in this case a search for fellow survivors).
In terms of general filmmaking competence and originality this, though not great, is far above the standard of the general 80s movie of this type.


Another early entry that sets the tone for what was to follow is…

Ravagers (1979)
tagline: 1991: Civilisation is Dead

ravagersIt really IS dead; in this yawn-apocalypse, Richard Harris tries to find a way to safety through a decaying post-civilisation landscape populated by warring gangs. It is far less exciting than one would think possible.





Post-Apocalyptic Raids

Not surprisingly, the true Escape from Mad Max 2 subgenre was defined by the work of Italian B-movie/exploitation directors. One of the true genre-setting movies, and pretty ubiquitous in video shops back in the 80s is Enzo G Castellari (director of Jaws ripoffs, horror movies and The Inglorious Bastards (1978))’s opus:

1990; The Bronx Warriors (1982)
tagline; The lucky ones were the first to die!


The disclaimer here is that there is no apocalypse as such; but the movie is 100% in the post-Escape From New York genre, with the Bronx declared a warzone and sealed off from the rest of the world, left to the feuding gangs that inhabit its decaying tenements and warehouses.

In fact, the movie is kind of an amalgam of several sources, most notably Walter Hill’s all-time great The Warriors (1979) and it owes as much to Romeo & Juliet and to spaghetti westerns as it does to the usual subgenre films. It is fun, more or less, but it has serious pacing problems (not to mention dubbing issues) that put it firmly in the z-list. The characters too are confusing – storyline-wise Mark Gregory’s ‘Trash’ should logically be the hero or the villain but isn’t really either. On the plus side, though, there is a character called ‘Toblerone’!  This movie was part of a seam of post-apocalyptic movies with ‘Bronx’ in the title, possibly influenced by the depiction of the Bronx as violent no-man’s-land in Paul Newman vehicle Fort Apache The Bronx (1981)? Bronx Warriors itself is followed by the very similar but not-at-all-better Bronx Warriors 2 (Escape from the Bronx). Everything you need to know about that one is on this better-than-the-movie poster:

bronx 2
Another, but better Escape from Mad Max 2 movie is Fred Olen Ray associate Steve Barkett’s

The Aftermath (1982)
tagline; Hell in the Aftermath; who will survive?

the_aftermath_1982Mad Max‘s bizarre mutant biker-gang leader was (strangely yet memorably) called Toecutter. The Aftermath has a gang of mutant weirdo bikers led by B-movie god Sid Haig’s ‘Cutter’. Despite the utter lack of originality, the story (slightly influenced by Planet of the Apes: astronauts return to Earth to find it a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited by gangs of violent criminals et cetera) and direction actually make this a very watchable B-movie.





Sadly, the same cannot be said for:

She (1982)
Tagline; Sandahl Bergman tempted Conan and now she is ready to take on the World

Even the truly great Sandahl Bergman (of Conan the Barbarian etc) can’t save this plodding post-apocalyptic updating of H Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novel She. There are lots of excellent and bizarre elements; werewolves, gladiators, mad scientists and so on – but (a key genre fault, this) the pacing is bad and the atmosphere flatter than a dust-swept wasteland. A sad waste of talent, especially since it was directed by non-schlock Israeli director Avi Nesher.






Similarly unambitious but more fun is giallo maestro Joe (Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals) D’Amato’s…

Endgame (1983)
tagline; For An “Endgame” Champion In The Year 2025, There’s Only One Way To Live. Dangerously


‘Escape from Mad Max 2’ again; this film shares many parallels with the later The Blood of Heroes (see below) and looks forward to The Running Man, but is much more fun than either. Telepathic mutants, violent game shows, warriors, what’s not to like?






Similar but SO much better; perhaps the ‘Escape from Mad Max 2’ movie of all time also arrived in ’83, in the shape of Italian exploitation master Sergio (La Montagna Del Dio Cannibale) Martino’s opus…

2019: After The Fall of New York  (1983)
tagline; Mankind will prevail if it can survive the year 2019…


After a nuclear war, naturally, (this film, like John Carpenter’s, actually names the – now alarmingly close – year, rather than giving the usual vague-but-infinitely-more-sensible date of ‘the near future’) society has broken down, technology has failed and gangs of radiation-infected mutants roam the ravaged wasteland blah-de-blah.
In this case, what’s left of society is being led by the evil and repressive “Euraks”, while a rebel Federation fights for the survival of the old ways of life (presumably those same ways of life which led to the apocalypse, but that’s people for you).

In a blatant ripoff of Escape from New York, the Federation hires a mercenary (though not a nothing-to-lose criminal like Snake Plissken) called, somewhat loftily, ‘Parsifal’, who, naturally owes allegiance only to himself and his own survival and *snoooooore* but nevertheless accepts the mission to travel into the heart of New York(!) to retrieve the only fertile female left on earth.
The key to this film’s enjoyability is its utter trashiness, and to be fair, the survival of the human race does seem like more of a ‘prize’ than the life of the President or fuel. Fun, nasty and definitely unboring, like B movies should be.

Speaking of ‘Escape from Mad Max 2’

Stryker (1983)
tagline; After the holocaust, nothing matters but survival also, perhaps better; The Odds are a million-to-one. And Stryker is the one.


Uninspired taglines for an uninspired movie; Filipino exploitation master Cirio H. Santiago (TNT Jackson, Nam Angels) directs this opus in which, after the inevitable apocalypse, the world is running out of water (of course), and a group of Amazons guard the last known freshwater spring but are attacked by a gang of blah blah blah, until moody, monosyllabic tough guy “Stryker” turns up to help them out. You know the rest.



more of the same in….



2020 – Freedom Fighters (1984)
tagline; When earth becomes an arena… murder becomes a way of life.

2020 Texas Gladiators_

Joe D’Amato again, but on much weaker form, this super cheap plodathon tells the story of a band of grizzled warriors fighting against fascism in post-holocaust Texas.










Business as usual in Bobby (The One-Armed Executioner) Suarez’

Warriors of the Apocalypse (1985)
tagline: They turned paradise into hell!

warriorsAlthough firmly in the Escape from Mad Max 2 mould, there is a welcome flavour of heroic fantasy in this movie. After civilization has inevitably been wiped out by nuclear war, a ridiculous leather-clad adventurer leads a group of wanderers on a search for the fabled Mountain of Life, on the way encountering mutants, pygmies, ladies in fur bikinis etc. FUN.





A very welcome if sadly very bad addition to the genre is…

Robot Holocaust (1986)
tagline; It’s machine versus man in the ultimate battle for the future!


Finally, someone (in fact Tim Kincaid, director of Bad Girls Dormitory and gay porn) realised that there might be robots after the apocalypse! In this timeless masterpiece (as much heroic fantasy as anything else) a ‘drifter’ called ‘Neo’ and his rusty robot sidekick battle evil authorities who are using slave labour to run their power station, with extremely low budget results.





More typical (but less fun, and shockingly an even weaker premise) is…

Steel Dawn  (1987)
tagline; there are several, none great. Best is probably In this frightening time, one man makes a difference


In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, an evil gang are menacing a peaceful group of survivors because they want to steal their water. *YAAAWN*, and then a ludicrously bearded warrior in the shape of the late, great Patrick Swayze(!) arrives to sort everything out. Yep, it’s ‘Escape from Mad Max 2’ again, only more good-natured and much less fun.

But what happens when you cross ‘Escape from Mad Max 2’ with the superior 70s sci-fi movie Rollerball, I hear you ask..?


The Blood of Heroes (ridiculously aka The Salute of the Jugger) (1989)
tagline; The Time Will Come When Winning Is Everything


The second half of the 80s produces especially threadbare variations on the post-apocalyptic straight-to-video movie and this is one of the worst; in this future, the ragged survivors of nuclear war aren’t looking for fuel, Presidents, ladies or even water; they are playing a nasty yet somehow extraordinarily dull version of football. ‘The Time Will Come When Winning Is Everything’ – hopefully not for a while yet though.






Fred Olen Ray got a brief mention earlier, and it would be strange if one of the ultimate Z-movie directors of the era hadn’t dabbled in a (presumably lucrative) straight-to-video genre: of course he did!

Warlords (1988)
tagline: He came out of nowhere. A stranger, a soldier… and maybe a saviour


Seriously cheap (though less so than Olen Ray’s Lovecraftian yawnathon, Phantom Empire) this endlessly boring Escape from Mad Max 2 movie has a cast of maybe 10 people, several of whom play handily-masked mutants that hero David Carradine despatches every 10 minutes or so. The ‘plot’; Warlord (Sid ‘the Cutter’ Haig) kidnaps a girl and takes her into the mutant-ridden wastelands. David Carradine rescues her. Even the fairly formidable quantities of gratuitous nudity that 80s B-movie directors revelled in fail to make this watchable to post-adolescent people.


Almost too late, but just about worth a mention is

World Gone Wild (1988)
tagline; 50 years after the end of the world the only ones left are nuked-out, zoned-out burnouts. The wildest adventure of all is about to begin.


Actually it really isn’t. A small role for Adam Ant as a bad guy is perhaps the most memorable thing about this ‘ragtag bunch of survivors protecting dwindling water supplies’ movie, but it is more-or-less watchable and fun.







More-or-less watchable and fun’ may be a modest achievement, but it is but an unattainable dream for the most recent additions to the genre. There are (leaving aside ‘big’ movies like The Road and The Book of Eli which, whatever their faults, are not B-movies in the usually accepted sense) comparatively few these days, but those that there are (that I have seen) are on the whole not even as enjoyable as the lamer entries here, and in some cases (Doomsday (2008)) fall into all of the old ‘Escape From Mad Max 2‘ cliches, without even the excuse of cashing in on a recent, fashion-changing blockbuster. And then there is the new Mad Max. But if Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and actually being released in cinemas just seems too commercial, there is enough of the 80s apocalypse out there (if not available on DVD, let alone Bluray) to keep even the most hardened leather-clad mercenary busy for some time...