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Saturday, 19 August 2017

Reviews: Devilfire, Portrait, Twelve Boar

Devilfire: Dark Manoeuvres (Self Released)

Devilfire is a band hailing from Birmingham formed by producer Alex Cooper (no relation to the master of schlock rock) and Uli Jon Roth drummer Lars Wickett they were working together on a project and set about recruiting guitarists Baz Blackett, Richard Bloomer-Davies and bassist Davey Bennett to create a fully formed band. they recorded the album in Long Wave Studios in Cardiff with Alex Cooper co-producing along with Romesh Dodangoda who also mixed the record. What has come out of those sessions is Dark Manoeuvres the debut album from the band who have called themselves Devilfire.

These songs have been forged on the road with the band taking part in a 10 date tour with Tarja Turunen playing to 2000 person sold out venues as special guests to the former Nightwish frontwoman before playing at Hard Rock Hell AOR earlier this year, not bad for your first tour right? You can hear that the band have meticulously honed these songs there is no wasted motion, not a note out of place, none of them go on for any longer than they need to containing every drop of talent this band have.

They are classed as a melodic rock act but that's a bit too simplified, the fist pumping opening track Ready For War is very much and AOR rocker with massive keys, guitars and chorus kicking the album off with mid paced rocker that explodes into tight guitar solo action. It's a statement of intent and on the basis of this song alone you'd be forgiven for thinking of Eclipse or Brother Firetribe but there is so much more to their sound, they go a little darker on this album than other bands considered to be in the AOR scene, Shes's Like Fire and Kill Your Love have the soulful Gothic darkness of The Cult, (In And Out Of Love) All Of The Time adds some filthy, flirty blues, Waiting For A Rockstar pairs a crunching riff with orchestral flourishes that bring to mind Sixx A.M.

It's an album that puts Alex Cooper's last four years on a plate for everyone to hear, he clearly loves this music but has the air of tormented rock god about him, through his moody appearance and vocal delivery which is a real revelation, he says himself that the record deals with "Love, loss, hate, jealousy, arguments, all thrown against a background of excessive drink, drugs, and ego fuelled behaviour." The music here pushes the boundaries of what melodic rock is. (You Gotta) Revolution is a defiant classic hard rock call to arms that channels Empire-era Queensryche, there's the Thunder-meets-Zep on Lay It On The Line, we get some sad Skynyrd slide on Tear Me Apart and Devil In Your Eyes has the Gothic metallic rock heart of H.I.M.

The rhythm section of Wickett and Bennett power along these brooding rock tracks letting Blackett and Bloomer Davies explore their six string mastery playing powerful head nodding riffs but also contrite, incendiary solos. Devilfire deliver British hard rock from a the end of the last millennium with a new millennial swagger, multiple listens are mandatory but immediate gratification given, don't give these manoeuvres the swerve. 10/10

Portrait: Burn The World (Metal Blade)

Ready for some nasty Swedish heavy metal? I know I am and there are few bands that skillfully capture aggression than Portrait, the band play dark, thrash inspired classic metal with razor sharp riffs, squawked vocals and plenty of horror imagery. Burn The World is the bands fourth full length and and their fist since 2012 and once again the music contained herein is violent speed metal that straddles thrash and black metal, think Mercyful Fate and Priest but with the aggression of Venom or Celtic Frost.

As you can tell from the title they are not the happiest of chaps and their music on this album reflects this, it's probably their fiercest album to date gripping you by the haunches and not letting you struggle free until it's done with you, but it does get more melodic and epic towards the end especially on the cataclysmic To Die For. Per Lengstedt has a large vocal range and displays it throughout as the rest of the band rapidly fly through the album at the speed of a bullet train. Helping out on the record are Kev Bower (Hell)  and Set Teitan (Dissector) who both add to the occult trad metal on this record. Burn The World lays waste to everything in it's path with traditional metal fury, it's Portrait's best album yet and for any discerning fan of pure heavy metal it needs to be heard. 8/10

Twelve Boar: No Forgiveness (Self Released)

The band formerly known as XII Boar return with an altered name but the same attitude as before, classified as a metal n roll band Twelve Boar play groove-laden aggressive rock n roll with a gilded metallic edge. No Forgiveness is the band's third album and their second in two year with Valley Of The Triclops released just last year and it maintains the band worship of stoner rockers such as Clutch but also they pay their respects in (ace of) spades to Motorhead, the record kicks off with Steppin' Up which is anchored by groove bigger than the Grand Canyon and pokes fun at the bands that expect fame without any sacrifice.

It's this playful style and infectious need to have a good time that have made the band a go to for festivals such as Bloodstock, their quirkiness is witnessed on Golden Goose which is a part rapped, funky track that tells the story of the titular goose and features schizophrenic vocals from Tommy who moves away from his normal Lemmy rasp on this track but it comes back in full force on every other track, Tommy is also the riff machine and shredder of the band playing the guitar backed by Adam who thumps his bass like he's Pepper Keenan.

Rounding out the trio (because three is always the magic number for bands like this) is drummer Dave who destroys his kit from start to finish. The music on this record is filthy, furious and freaking fast (check out the what I'd call Southern Black Metal of Elders From The Deep) with the exception of the title track which is a Southern campfire song with clean bluesy guitars and Snake On A Lead which has a jazz odyssey in the middle of it! If Clutch and Lionize were drinking a shitload of beer and jamming Motorhead track they'd probably come out with tunes that sound like this, call your friends crank it up loud and boogie Twelve Boar have rejigged their name but the song remains the same. 9/10

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Another View From The Field: Bloodstock 2017 (Review By Rich)

Bloodstock 2017, 10 – 13 August, Catton Hall, Derbyshire

The yearly pilgrimage of metal to Catton Hall was another brilliant weekend full of fantastic music, fantastic company and plenty of alcohol flowing. This was also my first time going VIP at the festival. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 edition of Bloodstock Open Air.

Thursday

With the horrifically terrible weather we have been having in the UK of late people were a bit nervous as to whether the site at Catton Hall would be a mudbath or not. Luckily our fears were put to rest at the sight of plenty of grass and blazing hot sunshine when arriving at the VIP campsite on Thursday afternoon. Once the tent was up and airbed inflated drinks were cracked open and Bloodstock had officially started. I am guilty of using Thursday evening more as a social event rather than watching bands and this year was no different with the majority of my evening spent chatting and drinking at the Serpents Lair bar.

I did manage to get to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch a good chunk of Gurt (7) who brought their dirty filthy riffage to a respectable crowd. A muddy sound meant that their normally powerful sound was lost but their performance cannot be faulted. The only other band I managed to catch on Thursday night were headliners Battle Beast (10) who were one of the absolute highlights of the weekend. Playing to a fully packed out tent their mix of power metal and traditional heavy metal really got the party started with the powerhouse vocals of frontwoman Noora Louhimo demanding a fervent response from the inebriated audience. Tunes such as Bringer Of Pain, Black Ninja, King For A Day and Touch In The Night had the crowd banging their head and singing along and you could tell the band were enjoying themselves just as much as their audience. An absolutely fantastic start to the festival and a brilliant way to bring the Thursday night party to a close.

Friday

Some of the definite perks of VIP camping are the nice 'proper' toilets, the availability of hot showers and the quietness of the campsite meaning that when you are done partying you can get yourself a good nights sleep meaning that when I woke Friday morning I felt refreshed instead of my normally repulsively hungover self. Friday was probably the weakest day of bands for me overall but I got into the arena early and caught a good chunk of Forever Still (6) who played an interesting but rather forgettable style of modern melodic metal. I stuck around to watch a bit of Chelsea Grin (2) but immediately regretted it. Chelsea Grin are one of those bands I had never heard but was aware of so thought I would give them a chance and ended up being the living personification of everything I despise about modern metal. A complete overreliance on soulless breakdowns, monotonous chugging riffs and a one dimensional frontman. I give them points for effort and that's it.

Next band I managed to catch were the Dani Filth fronted Devilment (7). These were a surprise for me again having never heard them previously. A nice mix of influences from heavy metal to thrash metal with gothic metal undertones the band played a varied and enjoyable set. Next up were one of my most anticipated bands of the day Sweden's melodic metal masters Soilwork (8). It had been a while since I had last seen Soilwork and they absolutely did not disappoint playing a fantastic set which covered a good chunk of their discography including songs such as The Ride Majestic, Bastard Chain, Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter to sing along set closer Stabbing The Drama. The band were on absolute top form especially the vocals of frontman "Speed" Strid. The sound was a bit muddy to start but improved as the set went on.

Next up were one of the highlights of the weekend the mighty Decapitated (10) who played an absolutely ferocious and flawless set. I didn't give an overly positive review to their latest album Antikult but the songs from the record performed live sounded absolutely vicious and sat comfortably alongside older songs such as Day 69, Homo Sum and Spheres Of Madness. This was a set of precision and brutality which absolutely floored the crowd at Bloodstock. Absolutely sublime stuff.

Being an old school thrasher the next band up was my most anticipated of the day - Bay Area thrash legends Testament (9). I managed to get a nice spot very close to the front which ended up being a massive plus as during the set a bit of a breeze whipped up affecting the sound quality for those further back in the crowd. For me the sound wasn't affected and I got to see a fine set from one of the best thrash bands in the business with new songs such as Brotherhood Of The Snake and Stronghold sitting alongside old school classics such as Into The Pit, Practice What You Preach and a rarely played Low. By the time they walked off stage my neck was tense and my voice was hoarse which is exactly how things should be at the end of a good thrash show.

Next up was the special guest slot and an absolutely triumphant return to Bloodstock of power metal legends Blind Guardian (9) who played an absolute blinder of a set. Opening with the epic The Ninth Wave from 2015's Beyond The Red Mirror album' from there on it was nothing but old school Blind Guardian much to absolute joy of the audience who were one of the loudest of the weekend. Ripping power metal tunes such as Welcome To Dying, Born In A Mourning Hall, The Script For My Requiem and Valhalla plus acoustic sing along The Bard's Song - In The Forest were performed impeccably with special mention going to lead guitarist André Olbrich and powerhouse frontman Hansi Kursch. This was a set which proved that power metal still has a massive part to play in Bloodstock and that we need more bands such as Blind Guardian on future lineups.

And then it was onto probably the most anticipated set of the weekend - Friday night headliners Amon Amarth (9). This was their first big festival headlining show and Amon Amarth brought all the goods with an epic stage show to match the epic Viking themed melodic death metal of their music. As the intro tape started the audience started going absolutely berserk with the excitement in the air like electricity. Amon Amarth hit the stage opening with the classic The Pursuit Of Vikings and a barrage of flames jetting from all over the stage. An impressive 90 minute set followed with a set that contained songs such as First Blood, Destroyer Of The Universe, Runes To My Memory, Death In Fire and all time classic Twilight Of The Thunder God. A huge section of the crowd (myself included) partook in epic Viking longboat rowing to the rousing Varyags Of Miklagaard which was an amazing sight to behold and one that I hope was caught by the film crew. This was easily the best I have seen Amon Amarth perform and they absolutely proved that they are capable of headlining a festival. They can only go up from here and they absolutely deserve it.

With Amon Amarth bringing things to a close on the Ronnie James Dio stage there was still one band left to go on the Sophie Lancaster stage and that was Colombian black metal fiends Inquisition (8). I didn't watch the whole set after being pushed around for an hour and a half during Amon Amarth I desperately needed a sit down, food and a drink but what I saw was an absolute crushing display of black metal might with savage riffing and a maelstrom of blast beats raining down like hellfire on the audience. For a two piece Inquisition made a lot of noise and a big impression on the crowd watching. A nicely violent way to bring the bands to a close on Friday night.

Saturday

Another hangover free morning and a wake up to glorious sunshine signalled a good Saturday at Bloodstock or as I called this day 'Thrasherday'. Things got started with Fallujah (8) who were determined to wake up the crowd with their progressive and technical take on death metal. A brilliant set with sombre melodies and atmospheric sections mixed in with some ferocious riffs and stunning lead guitar work that unlike a lot of tech death bands did not descend into wankery. A great way to get things started.

Next up were UK black metal heroes Winterfylleth (7) who played a rousing yet vicious set of atmospheric black metal which was unfortunately let down by poor sound quality. The band performed impeccably and with a good sound mix this could have been one of the highlights of the weekend. Then it was one of the many thrash metal bands of the day the first being Havok (8) who played a full pedal to the metal blistering set of politically charged thrash metal. The foot came off the pedal slightly for the funk metal influenced F.P.C. and 1984 influenced Ingsoc but the rest of the set was a blur of thrashing frenzy with songs such as No Amnesty and Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death whipping the crowd up.

A hop over to the New Blood stage to catch the brilliantly ridiculous Raised By Owls (8). Through their hysterical videos on YouTube and lots of word of mouth Raised By Owls achieved the largest crowd ever assembled at the New Blood stage with people literally piling up outside trying to get in. The band absolutely took it in their stride and played a blistering set of death metal and grindcore all themed around the silliness of British culture. We had such ridiculous sites as the crowd dancing to the Chucklevision music, a wall of death based on the two different ways of pronouncing scone and the brilliant hilarity of songs such as Ross Kemp On Gang Bangs, You've Been Mary Buried and Ainsley Harriot Advises You To Give Your Meat A Good Old Rub. This was one of the most talked about sets of the weekend and I'm sure Raised By Owls will be returning to Bloodstock in the near future.

After a little break I returned to the Ronnie James Dio stage for one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend - Canadian thrash legends Annihilator (9) who were making their very first appearance at the festival. The band played a generally old school set with songs such as Set The World On Fire, W.T.Y.D. and the classic Alison Hell. What was a big surprise was the inclusion of a brand new song entitled Twisted Lobotomy which is easily one of the most ferocious and aggressive songs Annihilator have ever done and leaves me feverishly anticipating their new album. Party thrashers Municipal Waste (10) arrived after that and proceeded to literally lay waste to the Bloodstock crowd with a high intensity set of high speed thrash. The crowd absolutely lapped it up with probably the biggest circle pits of the festival to thrashing anthems such as Beer Pressure, Sadistic Magician and Born To Party. Last time they played Bloodstock they attained the world record for number of crowd surfers during a song. Having since lost the record Municipal Waste were determined to regain it and with the assistance of a rabid Bloodstock audience they absolutely smashed the record with an amazing 711 crowdsurfers.

Next up were hardcore heroes Hatebreed (9). I'm not a massive fan of Hatebreed finding their albums dull and repetitive but these guys live are a whole different experience. A crushing set of all out violence as well as all out positivity this was a huge adrenaline rush from start to finish. Jamey Jasta proved himself as a first class frontman pumping up the crowd for blinding hardcore anthems such as Defeatist, Live For This and In Ashes They Shall Reap.

Then it was for me the finest set of the weekend the unstoppable German thrash horde of Kreator (10) who for the first time to Bloodstock brought a full stage show complete with impressive stage dressing, confetti, ribbons and plenty of fire. These were just minor enjoyments though in comparison to the absolutely jaw dropping performance by these German thrash legends. Unusually this was a set majorly made up of 21st century Kreator material which shows how strong their recent output has been. A set which featured modern Kreator classics such as Gods Of Violence, Satan Is Real, Phantom Antichrist, Civilization Collapse and Enemy Of God had the crowd eating out of their hands whilst old school classics such as People Of The Lie, the ultra violent Pleasure To Kill and Total Death off the debut album had the old school fans in an absolute thrashing frenzy. One of the most memorable and moving moments of the set was the performance of Fallen Brother off latest album Gods Of Violence which is a rousing metal anthem to all the musical idols we have sadly lost over the years. Images of the fallen appeared all over the screens on stage as Kreator tore through the song. A brilliant tribute. Kreator have always been an absolutely fantastic live band but this set was on another level. Easily one of the greatest sets of heavy music i have ever seen performed. Absolutely flawless. I really did not want them to leave the stage.

I hopped over to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch some of the recently reformed Xentrix (7). These old school UK thrashers have very recently gained a new frontman and guitarist in Jay Walsh of Bull-Riff Stampede. A very fine choice as the band performed a very tight set of old school thrash. After that set by Kreator this felt a little pedestrian but that's no fault of Xentrix who played excellently. I think any band playing after Kreator would have felt a bit weaker. The headliners on the Ronnie James Dio stage this evening were the mysterious Ghost but I am not really a fan so I took this time to get some food and then have a sit down and several pints of cider with friends in the VIP bar.

I resurfaced in a bit of an inebriated state and made my way to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch final band of the evening - murder obsessed metallers Macabre (8). I have been a fan of Macabre for years and this was my first opportunity to see them live. They did not disappoint. If you are unaware of Macabre all their songs are based around serial killers and mass murders. The music was a deranged mix of thrash metal, death metal and grindcore with the unhinged vocals of frontman Corporate Death echoing around the tent. There was a long monologue before the start of each song demonstrating the bands wonderfully dark sense of humour. We also got treated to the Macabre Minstels acoustic rendition of The Cat Came Back as well as the country influenced punk of The Bloody Benders. A lot of people were seemingly confused by this musical mixing pot and the dark sense of humour throughout but I absolutely adored every second. Definitely a band I would like to see return to the UK soon.

Sunday

Due to the excess consumption of alcohol on Saturday night I woke up on the Sunday morning feeling rather sorry for myself. After a very long shower I went back to my tent and sobbed for about half an hour before I picked myself up and dragged myself down into the arena for the last day of bands. I managed to catch the last few songs of Cardiff's own Venom Prison (7) who performed a vicious set of their hardcore inspired death metal. I have seen Venom Prison in small venues around South Wales so it was awesome to see them up on a big stage playing to a respectable crowd. The audience were a bit muted but I think the majority of people were suffering this morning.

After some food and a bit of the hair of the dog it was back to the arena for Brujeria (7) with their Mexican drug lord themed death metal and grindcore. Although they all wear bandanas across their faces for anonymity one of those playing was unmistakably Shane Embury of Napalm Death. The band played short sharp songs with a cool old school death metal groove helping the audience shake off the last vestiges of their hangovers. Next up were another of my most anticipated bands of the weekend - the godfathers of death metal Possessed (9). This was my first time seeing the band live and expectations were fully met. The band got things started with material off The Eyes Of Horror EP working back to the Beyond The Gates album before finishing with material from the legendary Seven Churches album. A truly ferocious set showing how relevant these 30+ years old songs are with select cuts being Confessions, Tribulation, The Exorcist and genre defining Death Metal. We even got a new song off their upcoming album which will be the bands first release since 1987! A wonderful set of extreme metal nostalgia.

Following Possessed were another death metal legend - Florida's own Obituary (10) who played one of the most blinding and heavy sets of the festival. A perfect sound helped the band bring absolute devastation to the Bloodstock crowds. There were no gimmicks just a straight up set of pummelling old school death metal. The set was very heavy on songs from the first two records Slowly We Rot and Cause Of Death which was very pleasing to the old school fans in the crowd. Material from new album Sentence Day sat comfortably with the old material as Obituary are not a band who have really modified their sound. They are a bit like the Motorhead of death metal but if it ain't broke don't fix it.

From a set with no gimmicks and showmanship to a set chock full of it next up were UK old school heavy metallers Hell (8) with their fire and brimstone set (and there was plenty of fire). Despite technical difficulties such as microphones and guitars cutting out Hell kept the show going and had the crowd enthralled with a set of theatrics, pyrotechnics and shit kicking heavy metal. David Bower is one of the most charismatic frontmen in metal always putting 100% and more into his performance. The theatrics of the set were fantastic with David Bower dressed as a 15 foot Satan, huge jets of fire and exploding bibles amongst other things. This didn't detract from the music though which is fist pumping old school heavy metal with a very English horror flair throughout. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

I really cannot stand Skindred so went and drank cocktails with friends for the duration of their set returning for Arch Enemy (8). It had been a good while since I last saw Arch Enemy with both Jeff Loomis and Alissa White-Gluz joining the band in that time. This was a set made up of half Alissa fronted material and the other half older material. You got songs such as You Will Know My Name, As The Pages Burn, My Apocalypse, We Will Rise and Nemesis. I was slightly disappointed that there was no very early material played but the band only had an hours set to play with. This was the final show of the War Eternal tour cycle and the band played absolutely perfectly with the dynamic between guitarists Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis being of special mention. Alissa also proved herself as more than a worthy replacement for Angela Gossow.

It was time for the final headliners of the weekend the legendary Megadeth (8). Landing myself a good spot at the front of the audience I was ready for a set of metal nostalgia. Megadeth were the second metal band I ever listened to and hold a special place for me. Seeing them live is always  transports me back to my 14 year old self and the excitement of finding all this wonderful metal music. This set was no exception. There was very little interaction from the band with them simply bombarding the audience with songs from throughout their long career. Kicking things off with the classic Hangar 18 they then jumped to recent album Dystopia for The Threat Is Real before a barrage of classic songs such as Wake Up Dead, In My Darkest Hour, Sweating Bullets, She-Wolf and a surprising performance of Mechanix (Tallica's Four Horsemen with different lyrics) from debut album Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good!. The performances from the band were second to none but special mention must go to lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro whose playing was one of the highlights of the set. An absolute jaw dropping display of guitar pyrotechnics and easily one of the best guitarists who has ever played in the band. As well as more songs from Dystopia and more classics dotted throughout the set we got a closing trio of Symphony Of Destruction, Peace Sells and a truly blistering rendition of Holy Wars...The Punishment Due. This was a fantastic set to bring about a close of festivities on the Ronnie James Dio stage.

There was however just one more band left to go and that was the mighty Wintersun (9) bringing the party to a close on the Sophie Lancaster stage. It's been a good few years since their last appearance at Bloodstock and Wintersun made sure they made up for that time by playing an absolutely epic set. The only new song played was opener Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring) with the majority of the set taken from the self titled debut album and previous album Time. We were treated to absolute feast of epic metal from Winter Madness to Starchild to Sons Of Winters And Stars and closing epic Time. This was an absolutely triumphant set and a fantastic way to bring Bloodstock 2017 to a close.

This was the biggest Bloodstock to date with a sell out crowd for the first time but also some of the biggest stage productions ever seen at the festival. There was a bigger diversification of bands playing with big mainstream acts such as King 810, Skindred and Ghost performing alongside bands such as Blind Guardian, Kreator and Obituary. This diversification can only be a good thing especially for ticket sales but there's always the worry that the organisers are now going to chase the big mainstream metal bands rather than the ones who actually fit in with the ethos of the festival. Whether this will happen only time can tell but things are already looking good for the 2018 edition of the festival with both Gojira and Nightwish confirmed as headliners

A View From The Field: Bloodstock 2017 (Review By Paul)

Bloodstock 2017 10 – 13 August, Catton Hall, Derbyshire

A mouth-watering line-up of some of best heavy metal around meant that for the first time the weekend camping at Catton Hall sold out several weeks before the festival started. With a decent weather forecast the weather gods shone brightly once more on the righteous and there was more demand for sun screen than ponchos and wellington boots.

Before getting into the music, a few observations about the event. The positives as always far outweigh the negatives.


  • The simple but oh so helpful ramp at the pedestrian crossing on the way into the festival site was a godsend. No more lugging precariously loaded trollies up and down steep steps. A real positive move and one that made accessing the site so much easier
  • Then there was the sensible idea to open the gates earlier than advertised to keep the crowds moving. Being in and pitched with a cold one in hand by 12:30pm was a fantastic feeling and as the queues mushroomed as the day progressed due to the necessary bag searches, it was impossible not to feel a little smug for getting the arse out of bed and on the road a little earlier
  • The nightmare scenes which have confronted every festival goer when opening that portaloo only to be confronted by a turd mountain are a thing of the past at BOA. The toilets were cleaned regularly and every one I visited was clean, stocked with loo roll and hand sanitiser and about as much as I could demand as a punter. Plus points to the team for a brilliant job (haha!)
  • Apart from one year when the Gestapo took control of security, it has always been friendly and well organised. This year was no exception with most of security, be it ShowSec or the Festaff volunteers, magnificent. My one complaint is minor but for the guys on the entrance to the arena, use the word “please” when asking to search my bag. It makes it much more pleasant and costs you nothing. Thanks!
  • The overall running of this event blows my mind every year. 2017 was fluid, smooth and ran to time in most cases. The sound was generally spot on, the visuals stunning and getting Sy Keeler from Onslaught as a compare was a stroke of genius. The impressive performances from those at the Explosive Ape weight lifting ring, improved range of food stalls and merchandise made the whole event incredibly professional. A superb effort and my hat is very much doffed in your general direction.

There are few negatives. My main beef is one I’ve taken up directly with BOA. The fairground next to the Sophie Tent has irritated me for years. My frustration peaked this year when all I could hear was fucking Sandman when watching Seasons End. Move it or mute it. Please. My only other real beef is with the campsite fucktards who give not one shit for their fellow metal heads. Five in the morning is designed for quiet. I’m happy to admit that I hit the sack by midnight on every evening. I’m not a fart, I just need my sleep. I’m expecting to be disturbed until the early hours by choosing to camp in Valhalla. But 5am? Really? Anyway, I’m looking forward to VIP next year.

Thursday

Thursday is regarded as party day at BOA. Having arrived and set up the main goal is usually to chill out and relax with mates whilst getting a few beers down the neck. The serious music starts on Friday. But kudos to BOA, they usually whet the appetite with a few decent bands in the Sophie Tent on Thursday evening. First up and with the honour of opening the festival was Edinburgh based Ramage Inc (6). Led by the affable Brian Ramage, the Scots progressive ambient metal was sufficient to get a fair crowd enthused and they gave it their all. However, the band sounded slightly disconnected at times and their complex style was a struggle to appreciate fully. Ramage appears to have adopted almost full Devin Townsend intonation which often distracts from the solid sound which the band are clearly capable of making.

The power metal of Pisa’s Wind Rose (6) promised much. With three full releases under their belts including this year’s Stonehymn, the Italians confidently took to the stage dressed like extras from the Dothraki scenes in Game of Thrones. That’s where the promise ended as the band’s schizophrenic sound which combined folk, thrash and more time changes than a Meshuggah back catalogue. A strong reaction from the metal hungry and alcohol fuelled crowd was encouraging but the band’s confusing output was ultimately disappointing.

Finland’s Battle Beast (7) have built a solid reputation over the years with supports to Nightwish providing them with a good amount of exposure. Their visits to the UK has usually been limited to the odd night at The Underworld in Camden. The crowded tent told you that this was Thursday night and the masses usually lap up anything that is on offer. The Finns certainly offered a strong show and their symphonic power metal was appreciated with the harder edged Black Ninja and We Will Fight inviting the necks to warm up for the weekend ahead. In between songs, it was guitarist Juuso Soinio who did most of the speaking, coming across very much like a Eurovision Song Contest compere. The band’s vocalist Noora Louhimo captures the attention with her strong clear vocals although the head of steam which had built up dissipated quickly with the ballad Far From Heaven.

Friday

Shaking the cobwebs at the ungodly hour of 10:30am, Swindon’s Merithian (6) kicked off proceedings in the New Blood Stage. The band have a sound which mixes KSE with Slipknot and their heavy groove was designed to blow out any remaining beer aches. Unfortunately, with frontman Liam Engel masked up ala Corey Taylor and a vocal style to match, the band’s chunky style didn’t quite work. I’m not sure about the image or the sound but there is promise within this band.

The Copenhagen symphonic metal of Forever Still (5) did little for me last year when they supported Lacuna Coil and I should say that unfortunately their generic sound did nothing to improve my view of them. Lead singer Maja Shining has a decent enough voice although lacking the power of other singers of this genre. Maybe it was a big ask for the band to kick off the day.

No such problems for the groove stoner rock of Bradford’s Iron Rat (8) who took their opportunity to showcase their filthy sound with both hands and didn’t let go for the full 30 minutes. Their doom laden riffage soon had the crowd in the Sophie Tent moving and their enthusiasm was infectious. Playing tracks from the new album Monument, Chris Flear and co were the first of many to deliver their own headline set.

The deathcore of Salt Lake City’s Chelsea Grin is a sound I cannot abide and their opening assault was sufficient to drive me to calmer areas of the site. Luckily it was to catch the sheer dynamism and energy of Leicester’s Internal Conflict (8) whose groove laden metal was deservedly catching a warm reception. Slashing riffs and some screaming vocals from enthusiastic frontman Adam Kyle were well appreciated and this is a band to watch out for. Certainly a plus point for a Friday lunch time.

Next up in the Sophie Tent was Bristol outfit Endeavour (8) These guys have been kicking on the door for some time and their latest release Bring Upon The Rising Day has been on the stereo for some time since its release back in May. Chris Hawkins is every inch the front man with his strong vocals and continued encouragement of the crowd. Their progressive metal was well suited to a festival like this and the head crushing pieces soon got heads moving. One of several outfits who played their sets with such passion that you could have sworn they were the headliners. Big things to come from these guys.

Hampshire outfit Dendera (9) are another outfit who have big things ahead of them. Two years ago they put in a blistering opening set supporting Death Angel and Queensryche in Bristol and their set was one earmarked from the day they were announced. In vocalist Ashley Edison, who also has the front of house gig with Power Quest, the band have a natural front man and one hell of a singer. Their classic yet totally current sound won over the very healthy and receptive crowd. The twin pronged attack of guitarists Stephen Main and David Stanton retain a very British approach. Tracks from the newly released Blood Red Sky EP segued effortlessly with older songs. One of the sets of the weekend without a doubt. Catch these guys soon. You won't be disappointed.

Back on the main stage, having avoided the squealing Dani Filth and the mundane melodic death of Soilwork, it was time to change gear and oh yes, it was pushed into sixth. Poland's Decapitated (8) have visited BOA before but this is a supremely confident outfit whose latest release Anticult is surely a contender for album of the year. Opening with a double from said release, the band rode out a minor technical hitch with ease and eased into a 40-minute masterclass in death metal. Kill The Cult sounded as crushing live as on album and that hook is just immense. Rafa Piotrowski's gravel soaked vocal barked out the lines as Waclaw 'Vogg' Kieltyka made it sound like there was at least two of him, such was the intensity of the shredding. Spheres of Madness helped close the set down far too early. Just superb.

Hampshire continued to rule in the Sophie Tent with a breathtaking set from progressive symphonic metallers Seasons End (8) making their fourth appearance at BOA. In Becki Clark the band possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the weekend which contrasted perfectly with the brutality on display across much of the weekend, whilst David Stanton pulled double duty after his set with Dendera; 20 minutes to turn around and then back on stage. A real trooper. The band's live sound is encouragingly heavy and the audience knew how to respond with huge cheers. With a follow-up to 2005's The Failing Light promised soon, 2017 should be a good year.

If Decapitated pushed the temperature up a level, the next band on the main stage stoked the furnace even higher. Californian thrash veterans Testament (9) are approaching their 35th anniversary but these guys show no signs of slowing down. This was an astonishingly impressive performance, effortless and intense. With a catalogue to die for, the only problem that Chuck Billy and co had is what to cram into their hour-long set. The band went balls out with four from last year's Brotherhood Of The Snake, including a scorching Stronghold before a smattering of classics got the old school members of the crowd roaring. Into The Pit ensured that the action at the front remained intense whilst Low, Practice What You Preach and Disciples Of The Watch allowed Chuck Billy to prowl the stage playing his microphone stand, hitting ever note of messrs Skolnick and Peterson's solos. Meanwhile it was once again a masterclass behind the drums as Gene Hoglan laid waste to the field with his machine gun performance. Testament should have headlined by now and I'd have cash available for a bet on them getting there in the next couple of years.

The UK thrash continued to be represented by Shrapnel (7) whose incisive shredding made ears bleed in the Sophie Tent. The Norwich outfit have been carving their own niche in recent years and a previous appearance at BOA had impressed. It was no different this time as the band thrashed through their set.

One of the most requested bands for BOA on social media for many years has been German power metal legends Blind Guardian (7). The band are capable of headlining Wacken with ease so it was somewhat surprising to see large gaps in the audience as the intro music to The Ninth Wave filled the air. A rather muted performance from a band who are usually so spectacular live was quantified when vocalist Hansi Kursch explained that all their show and gear had been lost by the airline flying them into the Midlands. Guardian continued making use of Amon Amarth’s warm up gear and performed admirably. Kursch has a stunning voice and interacted with the audience superbly. An interesting set including Nightfall, The Script For My Requiem and Mirror Mirror before the audience participation of The Bard’s Song and of course, Valhalla. This band deserve another go and hopefully they will be back before too long.

Occupying the ghost shift in the Sophie Tent, Maryland funk rockers Lionize (10) took their hour long set to the max. As the tent slowly filled, the groove of a rock band who have been on the road for several months must have surely enticed many. For the uninitiated Lionize are unique. Their fusion of blues, rock, reggae and funk is spectacular. Technically there was not a band on the weekend who got close to them. Picking their heavier material and beefing up some of their lighter tunes, the band started hard with Replaced By Machines and didn’t slow down until they hit the end. Guitarist and vocalist Nate Bergman, resplendent as always in his shiny bacofoil jogging suit, played some mean licks whilst the clever lyrics never fail to bring a smile.

To his right, the soulful Hammond organ of Chris Brooks who adds mean backing vocals whilst left side stood Henry ‘Hank’ Upton, all charged up energy and rampaging bass lines. Securing the back line, drummer Chase Lapp looked at times to have many more than two arms as he flailed all over his kit. Closing with a stunning ten-minute plus freestyle session, the band pulled out one of the sets of the weekend. You get the feeling these guys play as hard to two people as they do to 20000. Possibly the highlight of my weekend and an honour to watch.

Few bands work as hard as Friday night headliners Amon Amarth (9). A band that have served their time on the circuits around the world and are finally in the big league. Their headline set promised much and did not disappoint. More pyro than the US 5th Army, rampaging Vikings running around the stage with their swords raised high, a huge long-boat dominating the centre of the stage and even a sea beastie appearing towards the end; visually it was captivating. However, all the props in the world mean nothing if you don’t have the tunes and by Odin do the Swedes have a locker full of anthems ideal for this event.

As the sun set The Pursuit Of Vikings heralded 90 minutes of chaos, rampage and most of all fun. A packed main arena raised their horns, sang and chanted, gasped at the ridiculously glorious spectacle on the main stage and banged their heads in salute to the pure heavy metal that was in front of them. And then we rowed. Oh yes, the sight of thousands of metal brothers sat on the floor doing the death metal equivalent of Oops Upside Your Head was glorious. This is what BOA is all about. Johan Hegg is an ideal ring leader, grinning from ear to ear, cajoling the masses in front of him to pump the air every few minutes with horns or fists. It was magical escapism and by the time Twilight of the Thunder Gods had blown the final bits of dry ice into the East Midlands night there was nowhere any of that crowd would have preferred to be.

Saturday

Technically progressive death metal may not be everyone’s cup of tea at 10:45am on a Saturday morning but a fair crowd gathered in front of the main stage to catch San Francisco’s Fallujah (7). Having lost their singer Alex Hoffman under a month ago put additional pressure on the band but they did a fine job of crushing skulls and shaking that Friday night hangover out of the system.

No strangers to BOA, Manchester black metal masters Winterfylleth (8) took the tent by storm a few years ago with a massive headline set. Watching the band in the blinding sunshine is an unreal experience and as often happens, the band’s detailed technical metal sound initially suffered from a poor mix with Chris Naughton and Dan Capp’s guitars drowned out by the punishing drumming of Simon Lucas and Nick Wallwork’s thundering bass. Despite this the band delivered yet another stunning set although interestingly nothing from the latest The Dark Hereafter. Their winter tour should be nothing short of breath taking.

Birmingham’s Kroh (6) changed the mood to a more gothic feel in the Sophie Tent but their rather routine metal was of limited interest and attention soon wavered. Meanwhile the routine thrash of Havok (6) on the main stage encouraged a decent crowd to open the pits and as the sun continued to beat down early casualties slowly emerged.

If you wanted a lesson in how to thrash with quality, then Canada’s top selling metal band of all time Annihilator (9) proceeded to hand it out on a plate. Jeff Waters may be as nutty as that other crazy Canadian Devin Townsend, but he knows how to craft a tune and the band raced through 40 minutes of very new stuff via the unreleased Twisted Lobotomy and plenty of old school with WTYD, Alison Hell, the splendid Phantasmagoria and set closer Human Insecticide all receiving huge receptions from a very healthy crowd. Long overdue and an outstanding debut.

South Wales MTTM winners Malum Sky (6) had managed to gather a decent turnout in the New Blood Tent but sadly their progressive metal appeared to be griped with nerves as the band struggled to be cohesive. The Welsh theme continued in the Sophie Tent as Merthyr upstarts Florence Black (7) followed up their boisterous Steelhouse Festival appearance with a raucous set which had the trio sounding as heavy as I’d ever heard them.

If you want carnage, then you invite US thrash head cases Municipal Waste (8) to your party. 45 minutes of absolute chaos ensued, with the valiant security at the front hoisting 711 crowd surfers [that’s about 5% of the entire crowd folks!] The band’s no-nonsense approach really is an acquired taste but for those that like it, the taste is delicious.

All this paled into insignificance in comparison to THE set of the weekend which followed. With a huge stage set in place, German thrash legends Kreator (10) delivered an absolute monstrous set crammed full of evil brutality. From the opening Hordes Of Chaos to the concluding Pleasure To Kill, Mille Petrozza and co hit the throttle hard and then pushed the boot through the floor. Huge blasts of red and silver confetti may not sound particularly sinister but it worked magnificently. Fallen Heroes contained a montage of rock legends no longer with us with the faces of Lemmy and RJD looming large. This is a band who are at the top of their game. Imperious and confident, Kreator have a game plan which they stick to and it works magnificently. If these guys are not headlining in 2019 then not even Satan is real.

After the announcement of not one but two headliners for 2018, a quick hop to the Sophie Tent saw UK thrash icons Xentrix (8) really in their stride with new vocalist Jay Walsh looking comfortable and adding quality to the really good quality sound the band make.  

After that it was a bit of an ask for Ghost (8) to match it. However, the mysterious Swedes (if that is what they still are) did their best. An impressive church stage set, cleverly targeted lighting and enough dry ice to fill the Vatican added to the spectacle. Of course, the music is still the main thing and even though the band has incredibly only three albums to its name, there is sufficient in the catalogue to keep most happy. The purists were no doubt secretly loving it whilst standing arms crossed and scowling or back at their tents consoling themselves on yet another can of lager. Rumours abound that Dave Grohl was hitting the skins as one of the nameless ghouls but regardless who it was, the ghouls rocked hard and were more animated than I’d ever seen them before. What slowed the band somewhat was the theatrics of Papa Emeritus III whose narratives were lost towards the back of the field and some long pauses between songs. The arrival of the Sisters of Sin was another five minutes where we could have been rocking. There was the difference with Kreator whose assault didn’t allow time for air. By the time encore of Monstrance Clock arrived, I was ever so slightly bored.

Sunday

The final day and the sun was still blazing across the field. The Strong Men were in full swing with their huge guns lifting astonishing weights. One of the most anticipated bands for me were GraVil (8) whose two releases No More Forgiveness and Thoughts Of A Rising Sun have received regular airtime. The technical groove supplemented by Grant Stacey’s roaring vocals ensured that the earth moved early on a Sunday for the first time in a long while. Visceral riffs sliced through the air and those who made the effort were rewarded by a far too short 30-minute set which flew by. More GraVil as soon as possible.

Two years ago, the Jager Tent reverberated to the sound of Leeds rock ‘n’ roll powerhouses Blind Haze (9) kicking out all the jams with Ben Ward from Orange Goblin looking proudly on. The band, whose recently released Bastard EP is stonking were the perfect tonic with their old school approach hitting all the right notes. Front man and bassist Conan’s self-depreciating humour belies a magnificent attitude and the band delivered a set of rollicking good three-minute songs which sit very much in the Motorhead/Budgie/Goblin/Tank box. Whilst Conan grabs the attention, it’s fair to say that John Nicholson on guitar is the author of many tasty licks whilst drummer Jason Hope is very much from the Philthy Animal school of drumming. I expect big things from Blind Haze. If you get the chance, see them. They rock!

I really wanted to see Brujeira (3) but their cacophony of regurgitated vomit meant I lasted one song before fucking off. It was not something to tolerate when other options were around and instead I got the opportunity to catch some of Wretched Soul’s (7) fabulous set. The Canterbury thrash/death outfit had drawn a good number and their intense honest metal was refreshing. The band led by vocalist Chris Simmons were on fire, another outfit who were taking their opportunity by the balls. Deep cutting riffs, intricate hooks and good heads down thrash always does the trick. Another band I’ll be keeping an eye out for in future months.

There were very few bands I hadn’t seen before at BOA 2017 but one I was determined to see was the grandfathers of death metal, San Francisco’s Possessed (9). With sole original member Jeff Becerra accompanied by long time drummer Emilio Marquez, guitarist Daniel Gonzalez, bassist Robert Cardenas and new boy Claudeous Creamer, this wasn’t quite the old school line up but boy was it hideously good. Becerra may be confined to a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop the legendary vocalist from coughing up those horrifying guttural screams as he rolled around the stage, headbanging with all his might.

The first of a double whammy of death metal, Possessed captivated the crowd with an astonishing set comprising legendary tracks from Seven Churches and 1986’s Beyond The Gates. When the intro to The Exorcist cut across the Catton Hall turf the hairs on the neck just leapt up. There are few times when it really is a privilege to say I was there but to see such a revered band having such a great time was amazing. With Possessed signed to Nuclear Blast and promising a new album in 2018 the legends may be back on our shores sooner than expected. Mighty stuff.

As if having the legendary Possessed wasn’t enough, the afternoon hazy sunshine was shattered again with the arrival of Floridian death metal masters Obituary (9). With necks still aching it was time to get back in the pit. It’s been three years since the band played BOA and nothing changes. John Tardy and co walk out onto the stage, lay waste to all around and then walk off again. It is simple stuff but oh so clever. Bookending their set with two of three tracks from debut Slowly We Rot, this was a band in imperious form. Tardy says little between songs, saving his breath for the growling delivery synonymous with the band. Two new tracks from this year’s excellent self-titled release fitted into the setlist without a problem, Ten Thousand Ways To Die particularly gruesome. Slowly We Rot inevitably closed a mighty display from another absolute masterful outfit.

Having seen Hell earlier this year I used the opportunity to sort the final bits out for the return journey. By all accounts the pyro was off the chart although some new material would be welcomed. New material will be forthcoming soon for Newport’s finest, who were making their BOA debut. Unsurprisingly, Skindred (9) destroyed the entire field, and despite the controversy of booking them for an all-out metal festival, there is no denying that in the live arena few bands can get near them. Sound The Siren, Doom Riff, Pressure and Nobody kept the action intense in the pit and encouraged a fair bit of awful bopping at the outer reaches. As Warning arrived with the inevitable excitement of the Newport Helicopter, a premature ‘copter allowed Benji one more potty mouthed tirade before the entire field erupted. Full marks to the ShowSec crew who all joined in, to much mirth.

Having seen Skindred three times this year allowed me the opportunity to pop into the New Blood Stage for a final time and catch Mist (8). A fantastic decision too as the Solvenian doom outfit blew me away with their Sabbath influenced occult metal. Bone crunching riffs and the atmospheric soaring vocals of Nina Spruk spiraled those in the tent away from the ragga metal raging outside and to a different place. Mist have massive potential and I hope to see them again. The hunt for their album has commenced.

Sadly it was almost time to depart the hallowed halls of BOA due to other commitments, but I finished on a massive high with a blinding set in the Sophie Tent from Italian power metallers Arthemis (8) who may have been playing for one of the smaller crowds of the day but delivered a headline set of stunning quality. With a catalogue of eight albums including this year’s Blood Fury Domination to choose from the band had little difficulty ramping up the thrashier side of their sound whilst Fabio Dessi’s infectious enthusiasm was as brilliant as his clear sky rocketing vocals. A huge ovation from a band rarely seen on these shores. If you get the chance check them out.

So with a heavy heart I skipped the Arch Enemy set and made my way to the car park and the drive home. I was aching from camping and walking more than 40 miles over the four days (yes, seriously, my pedometer recorded it all). This BOA was superb for all the right reasons. 2018 can’t come soon enough.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reviews: Queens Of The Stone Age, Walter Trout, World Trade

Queens Of The Stone Age: Villains (Matador)

...Like Clockwork Queens Of The Stone Age previous album was dark and in parts ominous, Villains the band's sixth album is more upbeat and carefree, Feet Don't Fail Me Now starts with bubbling synth and builds into a funky as hell track that retains that QOTSA quirkiness as it changes into the desert rock leaning middle section, so with the darkness creeping a little on the beginning things go old school rock n roll for the first single The Way You Used To Do which has the twitching fuzz guitar and claps of The Black Keys. It's a record that brings together funk, soul and blues more than before.

Frontman Josh Homme said that the record was influenced by his interest in dancing, the song Uptown Funk and collaborating with that song's producer Mark Ronson. Villains is produced by Ronson and it has his normal production stamp, everything sounds like the early years of rock n roll but with modern techniques creeping in, the basslines are squelching (Domesticated Animal), the guitars jangle but maintain their early bite and the synths are more prevalent than ever before with Fortress and the industrial Un-Reborn Again. Queens Of The Stone Age have always made music on their own terms and are unafraid to experiment, this is a record that may be like Marmite to some, but there is no denying that Villains is ambitious. 7/10 

Walter Trout: We're All In This Together (Mascot Records)

Walter Trout shouldn't be here and for a while there wasn't going to be, the 66 year old battled and beat liver cancer, his trials and tribulations were documented on his previous record Battle Scars, so then We're All In This Together is more of a celebration, it's Trout looking back on his career and enjoying it but not being beholden to it, something chronicled on the rollicking Ain't Goin Back. Trout has always been very well respected by his peers so much like on his 2006 album Full Circle he has enlisted numerous high profile luminaries to help him out, he has written each song with the guest in mind which means that this record has 16 tracks of pure blues with each one a little different, obviously the binding factors are Trout's hang dog vocals, guitar prowess and his core band supporting him on every track.

Each song adapts to the guest players The Other Side Of The Pillow has Trout duelling with electric harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, She Listens To The Blackbird Sing has the rhythmic passion Mike Zito brought to The Royal Southern Brotherhood, it's a track that's sounds like an Allman Brothers piece, Allman alumni Warren Haynes appears on the groovy The Sky Is Crying. Elsewhere there is six stringing from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Randy Bachman and Joe Bonamassa, parping sax from Edgar Winter and the legendary John Mayall who blows the mouth harp on Blues For Jimmy T as Trout is a former Bluesbreaker having John himself on the record is a real coup. With so much talent on this record, it is a celebration of Trout's music and his legacy, Walter Trout is still here, he's still playing great music and respect should be given. 9/10       

World Trade: Unify (Frontiers Records)

Take a look at this line up, World Trade were first around in the 1980's and feature guitars and keys from Bruce Gowdy and Guy Allison both of Unruly Child, drums from Mark T Williams, son of John (every movie ever) Williams and bass and vocals from Billy Sherwood who is probably best known as taking both guitar and bass duties in Yes, he was a guitarist between 1997 and 2000, then hand picked as Chris Squire's replacement when he fell ill, equally Sherwood is now both the vocalist and bassist of ASIA assuming the mantle after the untimely death of John Wetton. So all members are very busy chaps but still they find time to reactivate a project that released two albums, one in 1989 and one in 1995, so with this new release coming in 2017 you can't fault the bands continuing sporadic nature.

For those of you that can't guess World Trade are a band that play the particularly radio friendly 1980's prog-pop, it's the style that Yes adopted for their hit records 90125/Big Generator with the bass as the funky lead instrument all dexterous jazz playing with the keys and guitars adding the swathes of melodic rhythms, the drums sound electronic giving the record that authentic 80's sound.The key songs on this record are the title track, Gone All The WayOn Target On Time and they are all delivered by Sherwood's Peter Gabriel like vocals but it's a strong showing from World Trade. Unify is a great record full of sharp, biting, insightful songs that skillfully balance prog and pop melodies. 8/10

Monday, 14 August 2017

Reviews: Triggerfinger, Kryptonite, Carousel Vertigo

Triggerfinger: Colossus (Mascot Records)

Triggerfinger are an odd band their music is a jarring mix of smoky blues, jagged alt rock and trippy desert rock influences, their albums can move from a heavy thunderous battery to shimmering psych in the blink of an eye. Now all this is wasted if you have no idea who the band are the Antwerp based band have been making huge waves across Europe with 200 shows in the last 20 months, they have played shows with Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Rolling Stones, Within Temptation, Clutch and Therapy, their popularity seems much greater in Europe than in the UK at Pinkpop festival in 2015 they were chosen as the replacement for headliners Foo Fighters when Dave Grohl broke his leg.

So with a little knowledge of the band behind us it's time to focus on the music which as I said is intriguing mix of styles the title track opens the record with (Monsieur Paul's) bass-led heaviness on a track that features 2 bases and a kookiness of bands such as The Pixies, Flesh Tight mixes the band's major soundalike QOTSA with the fuzzy blues of The Black Keys, with this element coming back on Upstairs Box. Colossus is the bands fifth album and it sees the band still taking risks that would deter other bands, there's a Sgt Peppers haze about Afterglow while Breathlessness is built around Mario's drums and Ruben Block's jangling guitars and reminds me of The Manic Street Preachers. 

This a record that may divide opinion every song is drastically different to the one that came previously it means that the record never gets boring but it doesn't find a groove either, I'd suggest building your way up from their debut as Colossus is their most accomplished but most complicated album to date, it sees the band taking a lighter touch than their earlier sledgehammer approach it's inventive, organic music drawn from the minds of three talented individuals. Check it out if you want something a little out of the ordinary that our European cousins are ahead of the curve on. 8/10

Kryptonite: Kryptonite (Frontiers Records)

Kryptonite are another collaborative project that has come to fruition under the Frontiers Records barrier the band are made up of Poodle frontman Jakob Samuel and Treat bassist Robben Egberg both are very familiar with the go to Frontiers melodic metal sound which is what you get with this record Keeping The Dream Alive brings the pounding pop rock of The Poodles with Fallen Angels and the horrible Knowing Both Of Us being the album's love ballads. Opener Chasing Fire is a latter period Dio-like song that puts Frontiers golden boy Michael Palace in the axe slinging Craig Goldy position, his playing is excellent throughout reinforcing his status as a modern virtuoso.

With Samuel and Egberg the band have name recognition but it's once again the backroom that makes these collaborative records work with Palace on guitars Mustasch's drummer Robban Back plays a lot softer than he does in his day job but still with a big powerful beat on the electronic rockers such as Love Can Be Stronger. The crisp production comes from long term Frontiers producer/keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio but a band is made by it's songs and there are one too many ballads and mid paced tracks on this album, when things get heavier on songs like Get Out Get Gone Kryptonite are dynamite unfortunately with these songs a bit few and far between meaning that this Kryptonite is more effective to Clark Kent than Superman. 7/10  

Carousel Vertigo: Revenge Of Rock N Roll (Molano Music)

Carousel Vertigo are here to save rock n roll and any band that gets the tag of "simply amazing" from "Whispering" Bob Harris are well on their way to bringing back our favourite type of music. The Parisian band draw heavily from the bluesy hard rock bands like Bad Company, Aerosmith, Grand Funk and Humble Pie Thunder fronted by Paul Stanley and that gives you something to expect. Revenge Of Rock N Roll is their second record and it's chock full of the typical sounds you'd expect from a blues based rock band. Frontman, the Gibson guitar endorsed Vincent Martinez is the nucleus of the band he sings with a range that moves from a whiskey soaked shout to a honey-hued croon that's the sum of two Paul's, Stanley and Rodgers.

As any real rockstar would he also combines singing with fretboard wizardry letting loose with his guitar when he sees fit and playing awesome leads on this record. His partner in crime is American Jansen Press who makes sure the foundations are taken care of Jansen is the walking blues beat on Honey Do and can switch to lead easily providing this record with a guitar partnership like Brad Whitford and Joe Perry or Marriott and Frampton. The songs on this record are great classic hard rock steeped in the blues, organs bubble on opener foot-stomping 80's riff of No More Hesitatin', there are brass parps on the title track which swings like a Thunder track, Hideaway is a slow burner with a solo that unveils it's majesty. They say rock is dead? Well long live rock! Carousel Vertigo are well on their way to saving it. 8/10

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Reviews: Quiet Riot, Klogr, Fifth Density

Quiet Riot: Road Rage (Frontiers Records)

"Bang Your Head! Metal Health To Drive You Mad" those lines are etched into many old school rockers psyche, Quiet Riot were at the height of their popularity in the 1980's (although they were founded in the 70's by Randy Rhodes) and it was Metal Health that was their anthem, the accompanying album of the same name it reached number one in the pop charts the first metal album to achieve this.

The band were a key mover and shaker in the US glam scene with big hair and big hits (two of which were Slade covers) and then like with so many glam acts things went wrong and they had a potted history since their 80's heyday, the band broke up and reformed numerous times but their real drama started after the death of original singer Kevin DuBrow.

What followed was the longest serving member and main writer drummer Frankie Banali forging ahead with the band aided by bassist Chuck Wright and their most recent guitarist Alex Grossi since their band leaders death they have performed with numerous vocalists including Love/Hate's Jizzy Pearl on their previous celebration record. However since that record they have managed to acquire the vocal talents of American Idol finalist James Durbin and decided to completely record the already released Road Rage with Durbin.

Now Durbin is no DuBrow, his vocals are a lot smoother but they are certainly strong, he sounds like a rockstar should an with an album of mature arena rock that stacks his sky-scraping vocals on top of big riffs. Road Rage is no Metal Health but it's not supposed to be, that album is 30 years old this is Quiet Riot for 2017 and it's the same old song and dance with a modern edge. Bang your head indeed! 7/10

Klogr: Keystone (Zeta Factory)

Italian-American band Klogr return with their second album of modern progressive alternative rock in the vein of A Perfect Circle, the band is led by Rusty who's vocals are angst ridden with a wide range, he croons mostly but knows when to angry things up when the guitars kick in even throwing in screams on Silent Witness. The guitars are played by both Rusty and PQ together they add heaviness and technicality, they are two major collaborators on the record and bonded over the 'Big Questions' about the universe mainly the arrogance of man.

Each song has a story behind it, Enigmatic Smile deals with the hidden meanings in art, Sleeping Through The Seasons is man turning off from the world letting it pass by while Prison Of Light and Technocracy are lamentations of the 21st Century apathy and reliance on technology. It's an album full of heavy themes luckily the music is equally heavy, Prison Of Light chugs, Pride Before A Fall has a Tool-like bassline and Something In The Air has the thumping grunge of Smashing Pumpkins.

It's not all heavy though Echoes Of Sin and Dark Tides are both more restrained more melodic tracks fleshing out the record from stomping metal. Keystone is an aggressive, intelligent record that weaves its spell over the course of 12 intuitive, progressive tracks, not as instant as it's predecessor but a look at what may be to come from this interesting band. 8/10 

Fifth Density: Dominion Of The Sun (Self Released)

Phoenix, Arizona's Fifth Density deal in conceptual progressive music, Dominion Of The Sun is a 77 minute rock opera with a storyline set in Ancient Sumeria with the characters struggling to find meaning in consciousness, it focuses on cyborg, a looming evil and winning back free will. If the storyline sounds bonkers then it's comforting the music is typical recent American prog metal with touches of djent throughout, the grooves come from twin brothers Johnathan (drums) and Matt Bond (bass) but the musical horizon is expanded by the jazzy keys of Derek Coulter who battles and augments the twin guitars of Jacob Bond and Tre McCracken, with this many members ever track sounds huge, vastly technical, cinematic in scope and sung with passion by Avidan Elijah Wolfgang Camey-Santana.

The record is a densely layered piece it take numerous listens to really sink in as there is so much going on on every song, The Ascent is a tribal instrumental that serves as an intro to the epic Reaching The Divine but both songs will make really take notice of the bands talents. If you love your prog metal full of conceptual flights of fancy and intense musicality then Fifth Density's second album will have to sit on your shopping list. 7/10

Reviews: The New Roses, Ruby The Hatchet, The Nights

The New Roses: One More For The Road (Napalm Records)

I cam across The New Roses reasonably recently and once I picked up their second album Dead Man's Voice it was on repeated for about a week afterwards. One More For The Road picks up what Dead Man's Voice set down, the record has 14 blues infused rockers which have the Southern American looseness and swagger of The Black Crowes, our own Temperance Movement adding the sleazy parts of Buckcherry on Dancing On A Razor Blade, funnily enough despite having a lot in common with the American and British rock styles The New Roses are from Wiesbaden in Germany not that you'd guess with vocalist Timmy Rough adopting a Southern drawl as he sings of heartache, whiskey and the road. One More For The Road starts as it means to go on with Quarter To Twelve which has sleazy similarity to Quireboys 7 O'Clock.

My Own Worst Enemy brings the heavy Southern swagger while Forever Never Comes is guaranteed to go down well on the live stage with it's woah refrain, repeating guitar riff from Norman Bites and a chorus with a big enough hook to catch Jaws. The record is 14 tracks long but it never seems that way, all the songs of course have similarities due to the genre they sit in but there is enough variation to keep your attention. There is little filler even Life Ain't Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair) could be a throw away track but it has a country rock emotion to it that makes it one of the album's best song, the country sounds also bleed through to boogie heavy Every Wild Heart and the torch song that is Fight You Leaving Me. One More For The Road is a heartfelt rock album from the German band, blues, country and booty shaking rock n roll all mix to form a hard rock soup that any rock fan will love. I can't wait to see the band in November at Hard Rock Hell. 9/10

Ruby The Hatchet: Planetary Space Child (Tee Pee Records)

Heads down folks it's about to get trippy, Ruby The Hatchet's newest release showcases seven richly layered songs that unite heavy, doomy psychedelia with acid-rock, proto-prog and melodic, hypnotic songcraft. Sean Hur's organs are the lead instrument adding spacey vibes to Killer as Johnny and Lake chug away. It's cornucopia of psychedelia as Jillian's haunting vocals sit atop the hypnotic riffs that back her, it's music that forces you to bang your head Pagan Ritual especially is guaranteed to give you whiplash, even when it breaks down into the tribal final part which sees drummer Owen bringing the band into a percussive frenzy. Planetary Space Child is a modern record that worships bands like The Doors, Sabbath and Hawkwind, like Blood Ceremony, Electric Citizen or are own much missed Purson, Ruby The Hatchet are the sound of the 60's with a thumping nod to the doom pioneers, good stuff. 8/10

The Nights: The Nights (Frontiers)

The Nights formed in 2015 when Sami Hyde (vocals) and Ilkka Wirtanen (guitar) brought their musical talents together, both were well known in the Finnish rock scene, Sami is a prolific writer contributing to songs by The Magnificent (one of my Frontiers favourites) while Ilkka has co-written numerous songs with Finnish glam rockers Reckless Love along with producing their albums. Together they bring their talents to the table on this their debut record and it's a melodic rock record of pristine guitar riffs, clear emotive vocals and pin-sharp production.

The record sparkles with pop sensibilities but has a metallic heart to it as Ilkka brings the fretboard fireworks of EVH or Steve Lynch (Autograph) to I Will Never Stop and the super smooth Juliette which balances the synth-led pulse with a crunchy guitar riff. The band have a similarity to fellow Finns and touring partners Brother Firetribe with a record of fist pumping anthems that sees the rhythm section Harri Kokkonen and Jan-Erik Iivari thump the heck out of things. It's really great to hear two immensely talented performers collaborate on what is a richly entertaining melodic rock album. 8/10

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reviews: Steven Wilson, Prong, Voodoo Highway, Serperus (Reviews By Paul)

Steven Wilson: To The Bone (Caroline International P&D)

The sixth solo release from one of workaholic Steven Wilson sees him return to the progressive pop inspiration of his youth. Wilson has focused on the influence of artists like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk and the result is another beautifully crafted release. Tracks such as Nowhere Now retain the hard rock edge of previous releases whilst the pure beauty of Pariah with its dark undertones is enhanced by the support of Ninet Tayeb on guest vocals. With the usual cast of stunning musicians including Nick Beggs, Craig Blundell, Jeremy Stacey and Adam Holzman, the quality is of the standard we’ve come to expect from the perfectionist Wilson.

There is sufficient variety in the album to either embark on the full journey or dip in and out. It’s an album that works on all levels. The elements of indie synth rock such as Radiohead and Depeche Mode are evident throughout To The Bone, such as The Same Asylum As Before whilst the pop infused Permeating could sit on The Seeds Of Love. Wilson doesn’t do mediocre and To The Bone sits comfortably alongside the quality of his back catalogue. 9/10

Prong: Zero Days (Steamhammer)

It’s album number 12 from the American crossover thrashers Prong and maintains the band’s recent output of an album a year. Like every other Prong album, Zero Days is reliable and enjoyable. Tommy Victor’s energy and enthusiasm cannot be faulted and opener However It May End sets out the next forty-odd minutes. Zero Days is full of crunching riffs, an assault and battery on the senses which is not at all unpleasant. There’s also plenty of melody in this album. Check out The Whispers for evidence. The return of former bassist Mike Longworth, replacing Jason Christopher is the latest line-up change whilst Art Cruz continues behind the kit. Anthems abound throughout. Prong fill a much-needed hole in the metal market. Their continued efforts can only be applauded. 8/10

Voodoo Highway: The Ordeal (EU Import)

If you like your rock steeped in history and influenced by the classic rock giants whose presence still looms over the scene, then Italian’s Voodoo Highway should be a must have. The Ordeal is a short eight track release which mixes bits of Zeppelin, Purple and Bad Company but most importantly delivers with originality. The stomp of opener Litha, NY Dancer blend sweetly with the calmer Quietude. Frederico Di Marco has a voice that could melt the coldest heart. Clever use of keyboards ensure that the hard rock edge is retained whilst the layered sound appeals to those who welcome the lighter side of rock, especially on tracks such as The Rule. The Ordeal is well worth checking out. 8/10

Serperus: Infernal Seasons (697096 Records DK)

Think back to Evile’s debut release, Enter The Grave. Plenty of promise but with some rough edges. I had the same thoughts when listening to Liverpool outfit Serperus’s Infernal Seasons. A battering ram of old school thrash, with lots going on in the technical department. It’s fast and furious, but with one major flaw. Vocalist Joey Farrell’s delivery. Such is the resemblance to Slayer’s Tom Araya that it is nigh on impossible to focus on anything else. The scream on Into Ruin was almost perfect. Add in the cover of Spirit In Black and Infernal Seasons becomes too close to the thrash legends for comfort. 5/10

Monday, 7 August 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics

Aaron Buchanan, Florence Black & Those Damn Crows, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff

Small sweaty venues are where rock n roll really shows it's appeal and it doesn't get much smaller or sweatier than downstairs at Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach. The room is pretty much just that but as with all of the venue the sound quality is always spot on (something a few venues could learn). Seeing three live wire rock bands on a sunny Friday is I think probably the best way to an evening so I hoped on a train with our photographer and we headed to the venue ready for the opening act, arriving at the venue with plenty of time to quaff a few cans of Tiny Rebel brewery's excellent pineapple infused ale Clwb Tropicana.

The opening act were Bridgend band Those Damn Crows (8) whose album was well reviewed on this blog, this was my first time watching the band live and they didn't disappoint, their modern Southern influenced hard rocking were treat to start the evening big crunching riffs, smiles all round and Shane Greenhall commanding the stage playing to the loyal crowd that had gathered for them. They seemed to have brought a lot of support and you can see why as they really play with a confidence of a band twice their size, with songs that sit somewhere between Foo Fighters, Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge the South Wales rockers banged their heads, shook their hips and sang along (Rock N Roll Ain't Dead) with band from the start to the finish of their set which comprised of cuts from their debut album and one new song that sounded huge. A triumphant opening act really encouraging the crowd to stick around and get involved, the strongly partisan crowd meant there were numerous and I do mean numerous selfies taken after their set, unfortunately during the other two bands' sets.

A short change over and Merthyr trio Florence Black (7) took to the stage, a relatively late addition to the set. Playing a set that was almost identical to their Steelhouse setlist a week previously (including their supercharged cover of Budgie's Breadfan) the band have been much maligned over last few months due to outside factors I'm not going into here but they have always delivered on stage, they excel on a small stage with hard rocking a wild solos the order of the day. The audience was noticeably thinner for them than it was for Those Damn Crows and the headliners but they didn't care they stormed through their set heads down and rocking. As the set finished the room was still rolling and rocking keeping the excitement high ready for the headliners.

A longer change over for the headliners but once all the kit was loaded in there was the briefest of soundcheck before Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics (9) kicked off with the storming Mind Of A Mute which was the touchpaper for the incendiary performance to come. Last time I saw The Cult Classics they were in their infancy with songs developing and growing, then they were very good, now they are stunning, everything is fully formed and played with a maturity rarely seen in a small venue like this.

This maturity is to with the confidence and stagecraft exuded by Aaron Buchanan, he is a natural frontman, keeping the crowd eating out of his hand from the off, bedecked in a silver jacket, his look, actions and incredible vocal dexterity are the reason why this band seem like arena headliners already, Buchanan has been there and done that fronting Heaven's Basement, but this project seems more real more natural working his way from the bottom up with just sheer talent.

On his right and left wing are six stringers Tom McCarthy and sister Laurie Buchanan who trade lead and rhythm guitars like the classic rock pairings of Robbo and Gorham or Moody and Marsden. The sweep in and out of dual harmonies and rhythms as McCarthy peels off the solos bringing the Brian May sound to the epic The Man With The Stars On His Knees (something that was confirmed as deliberate when I was talking to Aaron after the gig). Since the last time I have seen them they have had changes in the back room with Paul White battering the kit in the place of Kev Hickman, this gig also saw Fury's Martin Trail taking bass duties which I'm not sure is permanent fixture or not.

The two men provided the groove for Heaven's Basement track Heartbreaking Son Of A Bitch and Fire In The Fields Of Mayhem which is the live track only released as a B-Side but kills live especially when it follows HB's Fire Fire, there was a mix of Cult Classic and Heaven's Basement material meaning something for everyone as the largest crowd of the night filled the venue as the fans got involved by carrying Aaron around the venue as he crowd surfed from the 'stage' to the door and back.

The Cult Classics left it all on the stage a superior hard rock performance, in a few years time this gig will be one of those 'I was there' moments and when The Cult Classics are selling out arenas (which they certainly have the talent to do) this night in club will be seen as one of those 'classic' gigs you hear people talk about.

Kudos to Jamie and the team at Pity My Brain for booking this gig, they do seem to be able to get some of the best and most interesting talent in the UK to come to Wales, lets hope they are able to continue for a good while yet.  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Reviews: Absolva, Exit Eden, Blind Haze

Absolva: Defiance (Rocksector Records)

Metal it's funny old thing, with so many sub genres and hybrid genres sometimes it can be hard to keep up and work out what certain bands will sound like. Absolva are not like that, there are no sub genres, no melting pot of influences, no dilution, just metal 100% proof. Absolva have been around since the dissolution of Fury UK in 2012 they have made four records (including this one), the core line up is the trio Chris Appleton (vocals/lead guitar), Karl Schramm (bass), Martin McNee (drums) with Chris's brother Luke dividing his time between playing rhythm guitar for Absolva and bass for Iced Earth.

As well as being in Absolva the trio are also the backing band for Blaze Bayley so they are well rehearsed, oiled metal machine, something that is evident on this record, the riffs snarl with a classic metal leads as the Appleton brothers put their name in the great guitar partnerships (although live Chris handles both parts simultaneously) with shinning examples on Rise Again and Midnight Screams while McNee batters the skins on Life On The Edge and Never Be The Same (which sounds a lot like Be Quick Or Be Dead) but slows down on the groovy Eclipse, Schramm too plays the bass like a lead instrument creating the Harrisesque groove on Fistful Of Hate.

Obviously Absolva are influenced by classic metal drawing on Maiden, Priest and Accept but they also bring in Lizzyisms on Who Dares Wins and slow things right down on Connections which is all classical acoustic guitars, it may be a new dimension to the band for some but if you pick up the 2 disc edition of this record the second disc features acoustic renditions of some of their earlier songs. Defiance is another proper metal album from Absolva it beats it's chest and challenges all comers, the entire ethos of the record and this band is encapsulated by the title track which is inspired by the Bataclan attack with the motto of Liberté égalité fraternité shouted aloud. No matter what the genre music has the power to unite us all, Absolva know this and Defiance is a blatant celebration of the music they and we love. 8/10

Exit Eden: Rhapsodies In Black (Napalm Records)

About 10 years ago there was a band called Northern Kings, it was made up of four notable metal/rock singers from Finnish bands, the most notable were Nightwish's Marco Hietala and Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko, the songs were all vocal/metal reinterpretations of classic rock and pop songs such as Sledgehammer, Don't Stop Believing, Kiss From A Rose and We Don't Need Another Hero. The albums were very well performed and the songs chosen all worked in the metal genre, the real drawing power was vocalists involved and how well their voices mixed.

This brings me to Exit Eden which is a similar concept although this time it's the girls who take the lead and the band has a global feel, as with Northern Kings there are two perhaps lesser known ladies and two who regularly appear on records and tours. The amazingly talented singers are German American rock singer Anna Brunner, Brazilian Mariana La Torraca who fronts Phantom Limb, has played with Avantasia and has history on Broadway in Rent, the two recognisable names will be Parisian Clémentine Delauney who currently fronts Visions Of Atlantis and has sung with Serenity, Melted Space and Kai Hansen and finally rounding out the quartet is Amanda Sommerville who is no stranger to the metal scene singing for Avantasia, Epica, Kamelot as well as fronting Trillium and Kiske/Sommerville and frequently turns up on metal records.

If this wasn't enough Epica's Simone Simons features on Skyfall (originally by Adele) and Frozen (originally by Madonna) and Total Eclipse Of The Heart (originally by Bonnie Tyler) features Rick Altzi from At Vance. All four women compliment each others vocals perfectly and yet again they have chosen tracks that translate into metal very well Unfaithful (Rihanna), A Question Of Time (Depeche Mode) and Paparazzi (Lady Gaga) the best fits. This is fun project as it bridges the gap between mainstream pop and cheesy classics with symphonic metal, the whole project is given legitimacy by the four ladies involved. Like Northern Kings, Exit Eden could be throwaway but with the performances at such a high level it's hard not to appreciate the record. 8/10   

Blind Haze: The Bastards EP (Self Released)

There is no compromising with Blind Haze, the Leeds trio know what they like and what they like is LOUD. Their second EP, like their first, is a wall of relentless heavy rock riffs from beginning to end. It's the sort of music to make God bang is head, especially since that God is as we all know Lemmy. Blind Haze follow in the legendary footsteps of the man himself with Conan's Rickenbacker bass and bellowed vocals leading the charge while Jason Hope tries pummel his drumkit into oblivion. It must have been daunting for anyone to enter the hurricane of noise but John Nicholson is clearly mad, plugging his axe and letting rip with his new compatriots. The Bastards EP gives Blind Haze a few more songs to batter an audience with, play it loud with a Jack & Coke nearby it's what Lem would have wanted! 8/10