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Friday, 21 July 2017

Reviews: Carach Angren, Limbonic Art, Execration (Review By Rich)

Carach Angren: Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten (Seasons Of Mist)

Dutch symphonic black metallers Carach Angren are back with their fifth album Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten. Carach Angren seem to be a very polarising band in metal at the moment being either adored or despised and that opinion is unlikely to change with this new album as Carach Angren stick to their tried and trusted sound.

If you haven't heard Carach Angren before their sound is very much in the style of melodic Scandanavian black metal mixed with a classical, symphonic sound. They take the most melodramatic parts of Cradle Of Filth and the most epic parts of Dimmu Borgir and mix them together. This is a sound that has worked for them on four previous albums and they don't stray from it here. Also like previous albums there is a concept behind the album. This time the story involves a young girls obsession with a ouija board.

Whilst still a very enjoyable album most felt that previous album This Is No Fairytale was a weak point for the band with the material being very formulaic and less inspired than previous albums. Although Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is an improvement over the previous album it still falls into a lot of the trappings where many of the songs are easily forgettable and the band feels like it is going through the motions. Where this album does work though is through the stunning symphonic arrangements which are equally epic, bombastic, dark and haunting.

Carach Angren have released another enjoyable album which although is an improvement over the disappointing This Is No Fairytale does not match the bands stunning early albums such as Lammendam or Death Came Through A Phantom Ship. 7/10

Limbonic Art: Spectre Abysm (Candlelight/Spinefarm)

Norwegian black metal fiends Limbonic Art return with their first album in seven years Spectre Abysm. Finding out information about this new release has been difficult with very little information being released as to who is currently in the band. (Since their previous release Limbonic art have been essentially a solo project of main founding member Daemon - Ed). All I do know is that this is a belter of a black metal album and a much welcomed return for Limbonic Art.

The music on Spectre Abysm is the perfect fusion of the more atmospheric and aggressive sides of black metal. Layers of keyboards add a feel of real dark malevolence whilst savage tremolo riffs and blastbeats tear your face off. There are seven tracks here of black metal majesty with highlights being Triumph Of Sacrilege, Omega Doom and Ethereal Traveller.

My only criticism of Spectre Abysm is that two of the tracks are pretty much wasted only really serving as an interlude or introduction to the track that follows but overall Limbonic Art have made a triumphant return with an album that mixes old school black metal ferocity with mood and atmosphere. 8/10

Execration: Return To The Void (Metal Blade Records)

Although well known for its black metal Norway has a very good death metal scene with one of those bands being Execration. Return To The Void is the fourth album by the band and is a very interesting take on the death metal sound.

There are an array of influences evident as well as death metal with a sound that incorporates elements of black metal, doom metal and progressive metal. It's an album that mixes moments of sheer aggression with moments which can only be described as psychedelic.

It's a very unique take on death metal and proves the genre still has a few tricks up its sleeve but unfortunately it's not an album that really sticks with you. Being such an intense listen and with so much going on this is an album that will likely take several listens to truly get it. Regardless it's good to hear an alternative and progressive take on a genre that many people say has run out of ideas. 7/10

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Reviews: Kabbalah, River Black, Impure Wilhemina (Reviews By Paul)

Kabbalah: Spectral Ascent (Twin Earth Records)

Spanish trio Kabbalah play retro occult rock. It’s an unmistakable sound, one which will either get you excited or pass you by. Sabbath style doom laden riffs, harmonies a plenty and an underlying current of evil, it’s all here. The band make a sound much larger than their number. Check out the show stopping The Reverend with its unmistakable fuzzy guitar sound, or the White Stripes stomp of The Darkness Of Time, both rather splendid in their 70s sound, and both supernaturally different. It’s the haunting Dark Revelation which steals the plaudits for me, slightly longer with several changes of tempo, it undulates and manoeuvres through a sinister path, reeking of malevolence. Reminiscent of many occult bands doing the rounds, Kabbalah are closer to Lucifer, Orchid and Witch Mountain than the more commercially accessible Ghost. Atmospheric, ominous and full of character, Spectral Ascent is a worthy release. 8/10

River Black: Self-Titled (Seasons Of Mist)

Coming at you hard and heavy from the East Coast of the USA, River Black is a punishingly aggressive metal/hardcore outfit comprising stalwarts of the scene Mike Oldener, Dave Witte, Brett Bamberger and John Adubato. It’s terrifying in parts, Oldener’s visceral delivery intense and brutal. Huge sledgehammer riffs courtesy of Adubato and machine gun intensity drumming from Witte combine to deliver the aural assault that you probably didn’t need but are sure as fuck going to get. Most of the tracks are short, to the point and bristling with anger. South X South, the stomping Move and the mighty album closer Everywhere are all bruisers with additional forearm smash. The pits for this mob would be substantial, frightening and far too extreme for an old man like me. Still, if it floats your boat, it’s rather tasty. 8/10

Impure Wilhelmina: Radiation (Seasons Of Mist)

Another day, another band who have been around for years ploughing their artistic pathway. In the case of Geneva based Impure Wilhelmina, that’s over 20 years. Radiation is their latest release, the sixth album in their catalogue. The band is led by Michael Schindl, vocalist, guitarist and main composer and lyricist. The band specialises in a more eclectic emotional brand of hard rock, tipping across the line to a more metal approach on occasion. This release is no different with a myriad of sounds from The Smiths to Anathema all buried in the mix. Every track is a complex animal, with multiple layers and complex arrangements. Shcindl’s melancholic vocals wring with emotion. It’s a soul-searching album, intelligent and clever. If you like alt-rock with a harder edge, it is certainly worth investing the time. 7/10

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reviews: Desolate Plains, Soulskinner, The Shadeless Emperor

Desolate Plains: Practicing The Inner Arts (Molon Lave Records)

Athens act Desolate Plains are a two piece that seems to be the project of Lampros Potamianos who plays guitars and bass as well as also writing all of the music and lyrics, he is joined by Aliki Katriou who takes the mic as well as contributing lyrics and music, the band's music deals with "the human spirit and its continuing evolution through the centuries" they do this by playing very impressive modern metal tracks move between crunching groove metal to classic orchestral thrash, Shadow Of Eternity especially could have come off any of the latest Metallica albums, it serves as just a small part to what this band can do they successfully merge black, death and thrash metal with the symphonic swathes of black metal coming through on top of the double kicks of session drummer Hugo Ribeiro.

What makes the band an entertaining prospect is that Potamianos is a very talented guitar player and composer creating complicated musical pieces for Aliki to sing over, they get much more elaborate as the album progresses adding layers of acoustics and the aforementioned orchestral touches to Taming An Inner Storm. It's in the vocals where Desolate Plains are really interesting Aliki's vocals are so low you'd be forgiven if you didn't realise shes a woman, she snarls and screams on tracks such as Being Of Despair and Beneath My Skin but she also has a low clean vocals that is really alluring for the listener. Desolate Plains is a perfect name for this band their songs are full of a ringing desolation starting out with faster more aggressive songs before they slow things down into swaying bleak doom-laden grooves Crippled Black Phoenix would adore. As I've said Desolate Plains are intriguing their music is difficult and takes a few spins to really grab you but when it does it rewards you with progressive, genre spanning heaviness. 8/10

Soulskinner: Descent To Abbadon (Xtreem Music)

Unlike Desolate Plains their is no subtlety in Soulskinner's fourth album, they play gut ripping brutal death metal with touches of grind to really crush your bones to dust. The Athens based band have been bludgeoning the Greek scene since 1997 (when they were known as Terra Tenebrae) but they have only been in this incarnation since 2000, in that time they have released four studio albums and plenty of splits meaning they are well versed in battery and they aren't going to change tact yet the record opens with Fratricide which moves into Soul Of Death seamlessly the drumming not dropping a beat and the shredding attacking your vital organs.

Clearly the band are influenced by bands such as Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Benediction and Autopsy as they are comfortable riffing at lightning speed as they are slowing things down for thundering doom on Nemesis. Heavy as a really heavy thing and twice as angry Soulskinner are like an artillery barrage, loud, raucous and earth flattening if you like your death metal as pure is it can be descend into abaddon with this Greek death machine. 7/10

The Shadeless Emperor: Ashbled Shores (WormHoleDeath Records)

Ashbled Shores is the debut record of Larissa based metal band The Shadeless Empire they play style of melodic death metal that incorporates some epic folk elements from the outset, the record opens with the title track which has a middle section which has some hot flute action from frontman Ethan which comes back on Shades Over The Empire. Their music is like Amon Amarth very heavy but with melodic touches throughout, they have classic metal, death metal and as I've said folk tendencies in their music the dual guitars of Tasos and Chris are excellent, riff happy and progressively dexterous they lead the charge of this record and also add the acoustic guitars that sprinkled in and out of the record.

In the rhythm section Thanos is blastbeat happy but can also give heartbeat to the acoustic parts while Filippos has a big bottom end, the record is grandiose with a piano interlude in the middle of the record before Helios The Dark brings back the heavy as Ethan roars over every track with a vengeance and plays a mean flute too as I've mentioned. The Shadeless Emperor have a lot going on on their debut record, it's interesting, heavy and will appeal to anyone who like Amon, Enisferum and Insomnium. 8/10

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Reviews: Sivert Høyem, Shadowside, Bearpit

Sivert Høyem: Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens (314 Records)

Norwegian singer/songwriter Sivert Høyem made his name in the Alt-Rock band Madrugada, he was the singer of the band until the untimely demise of guitarist Robert Burås put paid to group, however since the Høyem has gone on to forge a successful solo career with his latest solo effort Lioness being released in 2016. (Metal fact he also sang vocals on Satyricon's 2013 self titled album) Now you will be forgiven for not knowing any of this as Høyem has never really broken out of the Norwegian music sphere with the exception of a few shows in Holland and Germany his major spheres of influence are the Nordic countries and oddly Greece, having played the country on virtually every tour he (and his band before him) have amassed a devoted following in the country so much so that recently he was special guests to Placebo at the Rockwave festival in Malakasa Greece (a festival that's on our must do list).

Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens 
is a 2 disc live album from the historical monument that is in the shadow of the Acropolis, the album records Høyem's headline set from his 2016 Lioness tour, he is accompanied by his solo band as well as a string section meaning the music on this record is suitably as epic as the surroundings. My advice is to listen to the album first then watch the DVD, this way you can really concentrate on the music being played without the, admittedly gorgeous, visuals to distract you. From the start of the record you can hear from the crowd noise that this was special event there seems to be an electricity in the air, Høyem takes to the stage and the band dive into Lioness itself with his acoustic guitar the the base layer for the rest of the instrumentation to build on, all of the arrangements on this album are lush and lavish, some of the songs have been tweaked to fit the more classical setting but it improves the songs no end.

Now anyone who has listened to The Tea Party, The Tragically Hip, Anathema will naturally gravitate towards this album each song is so different from the previous one but they all retain a collective individuality, from the countrified Black And Gold, through the powerful duet of My Thieving Heart which features Norwegian jazz/pop artist Marie Munroe, the sadness of Honey Bee and the psych-rocking Give It A Whirl he and his band craft beautiful music which takes blues, soul and jazz as it's groundwork and adds quirky pop, Pink Floyd guitar lines and a rock n roll spirit, there is an emotion to these songs mainly due to the devastating, low, deep and resonant vocals of Høyem himself who sings every line like his heart is breaking. Live At Acropolis... is a great record, not a great live record a great record full stop, you fell as if it's happening right in front of you, not a note is dropped and no quarter given, nearly an hour and a half of incredible music and then you get to watch the DVD too. 10/10

Shadowside: Shades Of Humanity (Spiritual Beast)

Shadowside are unlike the numerous female fronted bands around, they play a thrashier style of power metal favoured by bands such as Crystal Viper and Benedictum, they play a faster more sabre-rattling kind of power metal with furious drumming, distorted thrash riffs and gruff vocals from frontwoman Dani displaying the bands knack of mixing the melody with savagery, check out a track such as The Crossing which has a frenzied riff in the verses but moves into a hooky sing along chorus. There music has a very cerebral nature to it, this record deals with depression, abortion, the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil (Stream Of Shame) and mankind`s moral values, weighty subjects that reflects the band's heavier style, if this was bouncy power metal it wouldn't work as well, they experiment a bit with the feel of what is their fourth record, there is a nu-metal feel of Disturbed to What If, a steady groove to Parade The Sacrifice, electronics galore on Drifter and Alive is massive track that closes out the album where Dani and guitarist Raphael really show their chops from the ghostly opening to the typical symphonic metal sound of the song itself. Rounding out the band are Fabio on the drums and former Hammerfall bass player Magnus Rosen and together they make Shades Of Humanity another good release from this Brazilian band. 7/10

Bearpit: Blacklist EP (Self Released)

Bristol mob Bearpit play a ferocious kind of metalcore that really slams you into the guts then breaks down to get you banging your head.The band is composed of Rory Field and Rob Tygree on guitars, Dan Brotherton on bass, Kurt Thompson on the skins and the excellently named Maximus Day on vocals, they are a young band and as such their debut EP is brimming with youthful exuberance, all six songs fizz with electricity opening with Eclipse they have dual leads driving their sound as Rory and Rob play fleet fingered leads over the heavy rhythm section. With musical nods to early Lamb Of God and Machine Head. Bearpit really know how to make an impression, .

The action picks up and Maximus screams his lungs out, but there is no angst here just fury, his vocals are strong with the music behind him having the right level of epicness to it, they dabble with progressive touches throughout having a bit of bass break on Eclipse before all hell breaks loose again on the raging thrasher Hands That Feed and Human which is the most 'hardcore' feeling track on the album. Now I'm usually one for metalcore or 'core' bands in general but I know what I like and with a mix of modern heavy metal, technical prowess, metalcore groove, nearly all harsh vocals (some cleans appear on Human) and most importantly the fact that the production, songwriting and performance sound like band that have been doing this for years. The Blacklist EP is a real statement from Bearpit, it proves that the British D.I.Y scene is probably the strongest around. 8/10  

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reviews: Stone Sour, Five Horse Johnson, Ulvedharr (Reviews By Paul)

Stone Sour: Hydrograd (Roadrunner Records)

It’s been four years since the double concept release The House Of Gold And Bones Part 1 & Part 2 was released. Since then Jim Root has been the most notable departure of the engine which fuels much of Corey Taylor’s creativity. The resurgence of Slipknot with several world tours in between along with his spoken word efforts and his creative writing made him appear almost as busy as Dave Grohl. Album number seven has now arrived, a 15-song beasty crammed full of delicious hooks and melody whilst retaining the aggression and cutting edge that the band has always possessed. It’s one that really requires repeated listens to appreciate the quality. 

From the reggae fused Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb And So Am I), the killer opening tune Taipei Person/Allah Tea to the hook laden single Song #3, there is much to appreciate and enjoy here. Taylor’s voice, surely one of the best in the business, is on top form, snarling one minute, crystal clear smooth the next. Guitarist Christian Martucci has slotted in perfectly, his riffs brooding and dangerous. 

The obligatory ballad St Marie sees backing vocals from Pearl Aday (that’s Mrs Scott Ian folks) but one thing that Taylor can do well is a heartfelt ballad. Full of slide guitar, it’s a real country sound which fits surprisingly well. As with most albums containing 15 sons, there is a little filler and it tails away slightly towards the end. Overall, this is a solid and reliable addition to the catalogue. They band play the Motorpoint Arena on 5 December. Live, they are tremendous and I shall certainly look forward to how the new stuff translates. 8/10

Five Horse Johnson: Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone Recordings)

I should admit I knew nothing about this band. Jake Leg Boogie has changed that. This is album number eight for a band who are now 20+ years in the making. Blues soaked hard rock ‘n’ roll if you must pigeon-hole them. Cross early the grit and guts of early Aerosmith, throw in a large spoon of Clutch, a pinch of George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the ball smacking sound of Orange Goblin and you’ll have a fair idea. 

There’s the smoulder of Little Lonely, the stomp of the title track, the driving rock of Hard Times and the harmonica drenched Overload. Eric Oberlander’s voice reeks of unfiltered cigarettes, whilst Brad Coffin and Phil Durr lay down the riffs with as much soul as the Grim Reaper after a good night’s work. It jumps, it glows and it kicks ass. A beauty of an album. 8/10

Ulvedharr: Total War (Scarlet Records)
Old school death metal is having something of a resurgence with a slew of cracking releases this year. If you like the battery of Entombed, Unleashed and Obituary and the Scandinavian scene then Italian outfit Ulvedharr’s third full release Total War should sit comfortably in your collection. With skull crushing riffs from start to finish, frantic fretwork and an assault and battery from the thrashing of Mike Baid’s drumming, Total War is as brutal as you would expect.

Ark Nattlig Ulv’s guttural vocal delivery fits perfectly for the merciless onslaught. It’s occasionally mellow, providing welcome space and atmosphere, such as the pause in Flagellum Dei, which divides the six-minute track superbly. There is some quality guitar work amid the chaos, with Ulv and newish guitarist Guiseppe Ciurlia shining. Powerful, imposing and full of strength, Ulvedharr’s latest release is a fine addition. 8/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Another Point Of View: Sunn O))) (Live Review By Charl)

Sunn O))), SWX Bristol

Having been a fan of Sunn O))) since the beginning, it may come as a shock to most that this is the first time I've seen them live. Two and a half hour performance. My fucking God. It's honestly difficult to review their live performance. Perhaps if you were in a sweat lodge with a shaman chanting over you with two speakers attached to your face, you'd understand. I was disappointed on learning that the gig had been moved from Trinity centre to SWX, but I can now see why. Not only the demand for tickets, but Trinity's roof would more than likely have crumbled to bits.

Sunn O))) are a sonically challenging experience live, and the only way to describe that it *is* an experience. Ever breathe a frequency? Fuck, I have now. My eyeballs shook and I can honestly say I cried like a little bitch. I'm not entirely sure what emotions I was having. Excitement mixed with fear? Joy? Arousal? Possibly all of these. At one point the sound is so thick I can feel it pushing against my skin, forcing my head down. Sexy drone suckjob. Glancing about the immediate area, all I see is heads bowed and hands clasped in front of people, like at a sermon, and it honestly does feel like some sort of ritual.

Atilla gutturally invoking and gesturing, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley shrouded in smoke in the background, raising their arms and crashing them down brutally upon their bass. I occasionally catch a glimpse of Anderson's face and by God if the man isn't grinning with pleasure at the crushing noise he's causing. Bless. There are several 'costume' changes by Attila, starting out relatively normal .. cloaked up, cloaked up with a melting face (unless I was tripping balls from the vibrations, entirely possible) and signalling the end of the set, what appears to be a gimp statue of liberty, covered in glass, spikes and lazers. It honestly comes as no surprise. And then it's over. Smiling, they bow, wave and leave. Two and a half hours has felt like mere minutes. 

Perhaps I went into some sort of different realm at some point. I felt like I had my soul well and truly fucked by vibrations and noise. My nose was leaking a tiny amount of blood and my legs feel like jelly. I needed a moment to get my bearings. Everyone around me looked in a state of confusion or near catatonia. What's just happened? Was something fucking special, that's for sure. 10/10

Note - keep the earplugs in. Out of curiosity I removed mine for less than a second and thought my head was violently collapsing inwards. Which I'm pretty sure it was.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Reviews: Riverdogs, Scardust, Next To None

Riverdogs: California (Frontiers)

The Riverdogs were originally formed in in Los Angeles at the end of the 80's the band are notable in that they managed to tap the then Dio, ex-Sweet Savage, ex-Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to produce their EP, going one better he joined the group only leaving when he became a part of Def Leppard in 1992 replacing Steve Clark. The band split up in 1993 but reformed in 2011 with three of the founder members; Campbell, bassist Nick Brophy and vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamonthe joined by the bands second drummer Marc Danzeisen, this is the line up that has continued through to this their fifth album coming six years after their previous effort. Obviously the gap is due to other commitments of Campbell but it has made the band rediscover their roots tapping into the sunny blue-driven hard rock heard on their debut.

The songs on this record shimmer with a blues rock base that moves into melodic rocking, in fact with the intricate leads Campbell lets loose on American Dream and The Revolution Starts Tonight paired with Lamonthe's soulful vocals means they will appeal to fans of their label mates Mr Big as it's the sort of virtuoso-yet-radio friendly music they have always delivered.  The blues is plainly the major influence to tracks such as Something Inside and Welcome To The New Disaster while Golden Glow is the de-rigueur ballad.

The Heart Is A Mindless Bird starts out slowly and ramps up in the end into a guitar solo masterclass that continues into the hard rocking Searching For A Signal. California is brilliant album from a band who many may have thought had put their glory days behind them, I hope the busy schedule of their lead guitarist doesn't get in the way of another album or some live shows as Riverdogs are a band right up my street. 9/10

Scardust: Sands Of Time (Self Released)

Israeli progressive metal act Scardust used to be known as Somina but after their formation they discovered a band had trademarked that name they changed it to Scardust (which I think is better) but anyway enough about the history lets get down to the record itself. Scardust are female fronted with Noa Gruman having classically trained vocals that are very strong and have a wide range moving between soprano highs and guttural roars, her vocals are a revelation, better than many of her higher profile contemporaries. She is complimented by a choir and orchestrations and the band themselves play highly technical progressive metal with odd time signatures, frequent changes, a thundering rhythm section (with a drum solo), complex guitar and bass riffs (and solos) and melodic keys.

Their music is busy and incredibly well performed, the album opens with a five part title track concept which like all of the songs on this record were written by Noa along with the bands 'ghost writer/composer' Orr Didi and they have really captured the cinematic nature of Epica and Devin Townsend. The concept starts things as they mean to go on, from the Overture that sets the scene right up to the final epic part Sands Of Time it's an exercise in the bands obvious talent, outside of the concept Out Of The Strong Came Sweetness is a tough but operatic duet, Arrowhead more straight ahead prog metal (with a bass solo) and Queen Of Insanity takes things back to the symphonic heaviness of Epica. You can hear that Sands Of Time is a good album from the first few bars however only after numerous listens can really hear how good it is you pick up every nuance, every time signature change and you are continually astounded by Noa's insane vocals. Israel has great pedigree with prog metal and Scardust are the latest act to enter the fray bringing a superb debut full length with them. 9/10

Next To None: Phases (InsideOut)

"Watch this space" that's how I ended my review of Next To None's debut album in 2015, the young band had oodles of talent and also name recognition due to drummer Max Portnoy but their album only showed glimpses, they were a little rough around the edges but everything was in place for them to both improve and explode as a new name in modern day progressive metal. So album number 2 is finally here and have the band done this? Well the first tick in the box is that they have maintained the same line up with Portnoy Jr behind the kit again with Derrick Schneider on guitar, Kris Rank on bass and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, this time they have drawn on their touring experience and time as band to craft an album that has given them a definitive sound rather than just a result of their influences, which was one of the things that let them down on their debut.

Here they take their own path, 13 opens the record with a haunting solitary piano piece before the downtuned heavy riffs kick in, it builds and builds getting faster as the piano runs increase, then it explodes into a percussive palm muted riff Slipknot would proud of. So ok their influences are still there in droves but I hoped they were being used to add familiarity rather than complacency. The Apple starts with a drum break from Portnoy before bringing in more palm-muted guitars and even some scratching which I thought went out of fashion in 2001 and once again it's Slipknot, by Beg their seems to be a theme developing and the nine man wrecking machine may have to launch an investigation into copyright infringement. Alone takes us away from Iowa and into the realm of Tool with a moody nine minute piece punctuated by screaming parts that ruin it for me.

The virtuosity is still here, the four of them a incredible musicians there is nothing that can diminish that but this album just sounds like Slipknot there is very little variation, Thomas' vocals have changed but not for the better now he screams well but his cleans are of the angsty pop-punk style which really annoys me. Phases for me doesn't see Next To None improve for me, the musical performances are of a high quality but the songwriting grew stale in 2008. Next To None? In Taylors shadow more like! 6/10

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Reviews: Manilla Road, Pristine, Nekromant, Adrenaline Mob (Reviews By Paul)

Manilla Road: To Kill A King (Golden Core)

Manilla Road have been about in numerous guises since the late 1970s. The sole remaining original member, Mark "The Shark' Shelton continues to drive the band forward. Now, I'm not particularly familiar with their sound, but one listen to their latest release, To Kill A King provides immediate confirmation. The band sit firmly in the Cirith Ungol/Manowar epic fantasy metal camp. The title track opens the album, a soaring riff setting the scene before the song commences its 10 minute journey, a calm setting belying the rage to come.

Time changes a plenty, rolling drums and a clipped vocal style narrating the story before Shelton's superb guitar work takes centre stage. Conquerer is almost BLS in style and delivery whilst The Arena is a thrashy power trip. To Kill A King comprises many elements of the metal scene, thrash, progressive and old school. It's certainly worth catching a copy of a band who have been on the scene for over 40 years. 7/10

Pristine: Ninja (Nuclear Blast)

First impressions count. Norwegian psychedelic outfit Pristine create a good one. Opening album number four is You Are The One, and immediately comparisons are made with their neighbours The Blues Pills. Ironically Pristine have been around much longer, and their blend of alternative rock, blues and psychedelia is delivered incredibly well. This is a band that has been together for some time and has gelled well. Lead singer Heidi Solheim is the driving force, being the main writer and lyricist since the band's inception.

Tracks like The Parade and the Hammond heavy title track would warm the coldest heart with their honesty and passion. Solheim possesses hell of a voice, very much in the Elin Larrson and Lynne Jackaman style. It's not all blues rock though, with some of the more delicate tunes such as the delicious Forget which change tack completely amongst the most memorable. A discovery this year for sure. A real find. 8/10

Nekromant: Snakes & Lies (Transubstans Records)

Having listened to about three minutes of Snakes & Lies was ample time to identify yet another Swedish stoner doom outfit. Very much in the vein of The Sword and many others, the raggar-doom, as it's categorised is the product of a powerful trio, Adam Lundqvist, Mattias Ottosson and Joakim Olsson. Previously known as Serpent, there is a huge Sabbath/Pentagram sound on several tracks including opener Funeral Worship with a filthy riff which the dark lord Tony Iommi himself would enjoy. There is much to enjoy here if you like all things Sabbath, such as the riff from A National Acrobat which has a fleeting appearance on the rampaging Mardrom. Ultimately, it's the final track, Spelmannen, sung in their native tongue which provides the standout song on an album that is well worth a listen to. 8/10

Adrenaline Mob: We The People (Century Media)

This is album number four by the supergroup originally formed by Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, Mike Portnoy and guitarist Mike Orlando back in 2011. The current line up includes Allen, Orlando and new members Jordan Cannata on drums and bassist David Zablidowsky. 13 tracks of hard, heavy and bombastic American metal, with a massive sound which allows Allen to show his chops. It's hard radio friendly metal in its composition with stomping bass lines, shredding guitars and angst ridden vocals. Orlando is on fine form, especially on the title track. Easy listening if you like your metal hard, heavy, dripping with hooks and not too complicated. 7/10

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reviews: Mr Big, The Midnight Ghost Train, Dead Soul Communion

Mr Big: Defying Gravity (Frontiers Records)

They're back, Gilbert hits the riff the immortal line of "OK We're Rolling" is sampled and like that Mr Big are back with Gilbert and Sheenan trading fleet fingered leads on guitar and bass respectively, Pat Torpey still keeps the funky beat and Eric Martin's voice hasn't diminished at all, however there is a little bit of reserve on Open Your Eyes, it grooves but it doesn't instantly hit you like the title track that follows it, swap these two songs around and the record sums up everything Mr Big can do, yes they are always going to be defined by 'THAT' song (much like Extreme) but I've always loved how Mr Big can easily pair accessible Californian radio rock with technical prowess most bands would never be able to achieve.

As I've said Eric Martin can still belt it out, his voice is unique and soulful, Gilbert knows when, to coin his phrase, shut up and play yer guitar, adding flourishes in the main riffs then letting loose in the solo sections, the same can be said of Billy Sheenan who is not your average bass player not content to sit and pluck he is constantly trying to out virtuoso Gilbert even getting his own solos on Mean To Me. They bring New Orleans soul to Everybody Needs A Little Trouble Gilbert indulges his Beatles fetish on the breezy Damn I'm In Love Again, the songs on the record are your normal Mr Big fodder with rock, soul, funk and even pop all catered for.

The worst of the bunch though is the dreadful Forever And Back followed by Shes All Coming Back To Me Now, it spoils the record a bit for me and while Mr Big will be able to revisit their glory days of their heyday, something they poke fun at on the heavy rocking 1992 where they lament having a hit single, they still produce quality music and their more recent output is better than anything they did after 1997 until their breakup in 2002. Mr Big are still Mr Big, yes we are still rolling but the songs remain the same. 7/10       

The Midnight Ghost Train: Cypress Avenue (Napalm Records)

I've heard a lot about Buffalo, NY natives The Midnight Ghost Train but I've never listened to any of their albums, so it's about time I rectified that starting with their fourth album Cypress Avenue. It's an intelligent record that straddles stoner, sludge, blues, funk and classic rock, this three piece have their influences with Sabbath, Kyuss with Brandon and Mike thundering in the engine room, there's the spirit of old bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly imbuing Steve with a voice that sounds like he has eaten gravel and washed it down with whiskey as he plays the huge riffs on Tonight and the Clutch-like Red Eyed Junkie Queen.

As the album progresses they shake up their sound with the parping horns on The Boogie Down which pairs funk with NY street rap from Sonny Cheeba of Camp Lo. They dabble with psychedelic country on The Watcher's Nest, New Orleans swing on Break My Love, a depressive, sparse, blues shuffle on Black Wave and creeping blues on I Can't Let You Go. The Midnight Ghost Train are referred to as metal band but on the back of this record I'd say that they are so much more, full of metallic bluster they also are rooted deep in the delta blues and it makes for a very expansive, engaging listen. 8/10

Dead Soul Communion: S/T (Self Released)

Dead Soul Communion is the new project of Devilment founder Daniel Finch, that project has continued with vocalist Dani Filth, but Finch has gone on to pastures new, Dead Soul Communion are a different beast to Devilment, this is melodic groove metal with power clean vocals working with harsher roars. Musically Finch and his ex-Devilment bandmate Dan Jackson are the riff machines behind this record but with Kev Jackson (ex-Fifth Season) and Simon Dawson (Steve Harris British Lion) in the rhythm section the album has a thick heavy groove throughout it that reminds me of Machine Head, this comparison is due in part to Edwin Mascorn's vocals sounding remarkably like Robb Flynn, check out The Last Grains Of Sand and it could easily have been on The More Things Change.

What sets the band apart from the large amount of groove metal acts out there are the bans use of synths, these I believe are from multi-instrumentalist Paul Jensen who brings the orchestral layers on Masked Deceiver, Ghosts and Suicide Lullaby it's these parts of the bands sound that counteract and in my opinion compliment the massive riffs. Finch has dabbled again with a lot of the sonic experimentation present on the Devilment record but I prefer Dead Soul Communion mainly due to the vocals, as I've said before that Filth's vocals really grate on me, this is modern metal with a progressive edge and it's a very strong debut from Finch's new project. 8/10     

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Reviews: Gods Of Silence, Wraith, Ward XVI

Gods Of Silence: Neverland (Rock Of Angels Records)

Gods Of Silence are a melodic metal band based in a Basel, Switzerland, their musical influences are clearly audible from the off with Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and even Edguy all equally comparable, heck I'd even go as far to say Unisonic who's Dennis Ward produced the album with his usually quality. The band are five piece with solitary guitarist meaning the bass playing is more like a rhythm guitar and the keys taking a prominent role still the band have a heaviness that is offset by their excellent melodies clean guitar solos and intricate keyboard patterns. As is only right for a band such as Gods Of Silence the quality rarely drop the orchestral Intro builds up the cinematic tension meaning Army Of Liars can kick things off with a chunky riff and drumbeat powering it but this like a lot of the record twists and turns with progressive elements creeping in here and there.

The orchestral elements continue throughout, Against The... is more AOR styled and lets Gilbi show off his vocals, they get heavier and proggier on the creeping Neverland, in fact they change styles regularly meaning the songs never repeat or grow stale from the classical touches of Full Moon (which is about Werewolfs) to the careening muscular melodies of the Iced Earth-esque Demons. Neverland is a very strong record from this Swiss metal band, for fans of progressive melodic metal it's a real treat. 8/10 

Wraith: Revelation (Ice Rain Records)

Let's party like it's 1989! This was when Wraith's debut EP was released, they were hailed as the newest thing in UK melodic metal/hard rock, they had Lemmy singing back up vocals on that record and they were affiliated with both UFO and Waysted. However with many of hard rock bands facing the onslaught of grunge the band split in 1998, joining other projects or opening bars in Spain, guitarist Gregg Russell joining Tigertailz. There was demand for them to reform so reform they did for an album in 2007, since then the drummer they tapped for that release succumbed to cancer and the band stopped again.

Finally the latest chapter was written when they reformed for a one of concert in Nottingham which has led to this record, still led by Gregg and a very tight cast of musicians the band are back with an album of swaggering sleazy mid nineties hard rock, they have a touch of Motley Crue about them, mainly due to the vocals but also in their songwriting check out Under The Hammer which is the ideal track for sashaying in your leather pants and perm. The music is heavier than say acts like Little Angels, with distorted guitars the order of the day, but the band are unafraid of a ballad, Leaving Me Again is very Def Leppard-like and you'll either sing along or you'll want to stab needles in your ears, however they make up for it on No Respect which riffs like a bastard. There seems to be a lot of hype surrounding Wraith and their legacy but you're only as good as your last record and this is solid album. 7/10 

Ward XVI: The Art Of Manipulation (Rock N Growl Records)

Preston act Ward XVI‘s debut album The Art Of Manipulation is a 12-track concept album telling the intraspective story of a female psychopath locked away in a high security asylum. As such it's an avant-garde theatrical record that mixes hard hitting metal with theatrical elements, think Alice Cooper and Wednesday 13 playing songs with Lordi and In This Moment and you're on the right track, layered instruments, hazy psychedelia are par for the course on Take My Hand which explodes into riff heavy thrash, this moves into the the bludgeoning title track and from here the songs become stranger, heavier and more intriguing, The Flight has a pumping synth that is reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat theme, while Crystal Ball is the music to the kind of carnival you'd read about in an R.L Stine book.

As with all concept pieces the songs tell a story with little interludes driving the narrative along, the band take the personalities of the characters with protagonist Psychoberrie on vocals, Lex Whittingham and Dr. Von Stottenstein playing guitar, Jake has drums, Min adds the keys/accordion and Beardy McStumble is the bassist, with all of them taking the roles in the storyline, it's great to hear how they all enter and are even dispatched within the concept. Ward XVI are taking their metal sound to the furthest reaches of it's capabilities, with bands such as Avatar and the aforementioned In This Moment all dabbling with the theatrical and the baroque it's great to hear a British band having the balls to attempt something different. By all accounts their live show is something else, well their recorded music ain't half bad either! 7/10