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Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Reviews: Allegaeon, Duel, Erebos, Hardline (Paul H & Matt)

Allegaeon: Apoptosis (Metal Blade) [Paul H]

It’s rare that a band evolves quite so beautifully as Allegaeon. Over ten years since their debut EP, the self-titled four-track which introduced their stylish brand of progressive technical death metal to the world. Two and a half years since 2016’s Proponent For Sentience, the band return with their most accessible, technical and perfectly crafted release in Apoptosis. Combining crushingly heavy death metal with their unique technical and progressive styles, Apoptosis is an album that can be played on repeat with delightful discoveries continuing every spin. The pulverising punishment that was a source of pleasure on previous releases is retained, but there is a creative, organic feel to this album which is the perfect demonstration of the evolution of the Colorado outfit. Vocalist Riley McShane’s second appearance on record is astonishing, his demonic roaring blending with some quite angelic clean vocals. Drummer Brandan Park, one of the most fluent and technically stunning stick men around in the scene today delivers a gold medal performance, flawless and blisteringly confident. There is ferocious lead guitar work from Greg Burgess, the only original member of the band, alongside Michael Stancel’s concrete rhythm work which links in an unbreakable cohesion with bassist Brandan Michael.

The album opens with a freeform jam on Parthenogenesis, with its underpinning thrash chug before acoustic guitar cools the breeze, an almost Opeth style intricacy weaving a thread around and then segueing into Interphase//Meosis, which erupts and yet maintains astonishing melody despite the spine crushing intensity of the track. The album continues to deliver shock after shock on its journey of just shy of an hour. None more so than the stunningly composed Tsunami and Submergence, a delicately constructed track which opens with an ethereal classical feel before the riffs kick in. With guest classical guitarist Christina Sandsengen adding relief on the exquisite Colors Of The Current and the album climaxing with the opulence of the intricate Stellar Tidal Disruption and the ten-minute title track, Apoptosis is an album of sheer creative magnificence. The absence of a Rush cover adds to the joy, although of the many covers over the years, their version of Subdivisions on Proponent was nowhere near the worst I’d ever heard. Joking aside, having seen the band perform live earlier this year, this was an album that I was waiting for with some anticipation. The wait was worth it. This is a piece of absolute perfection. 10/10

Duel: Valley Of Shadows (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt]

Weed smoking, beer chugging, Texan stoner/doom metal band Duel are no strangers to the pages of Musipedia Of Metal. We've reviewed pretty much all of their previous efforts and they've all been consistently impressive, this could be because they have an ear friendly stoner metal sound that many of us enjoy here. It sits between early proto-metal bands such as Pentagram and Steppenwolf with some of the rocking of acts like Thin Lizzy and more modern heavier acts like Corrosion Of Conformity or mainly Fireball Ministry. It's occult friendly, ritualistic guitar wielding heavy rock that you'd hear in a 70's dive bar as a black mass takes place in the back room like it's a Mario Bava movie. Hell the record even opens with Black Magic Summer which starts with some small bells (which also ends the record) and has the feeling of a Danzig song.

They've been categorized as 'dark boogie' by their label and that's probably as good of description as I can give them, Duel sound a little like Status Quo with a head full of Mushrooms especially on The Bleeding Heart and Red Moon Forming. Tyrant On The Throne has a strutting riffs from Tom Frank and Jeff Henson while Frank wails down the mic, as Henderson fires away some sweet solos. They ramp up the psychedelic witchery on I Feel No Pain which sees Justin Collins with his most evocative drumming on the record, as the grooves kick in during the chorus that follows the more atmospheric parts. This is Duel's most realised album yet a stoner metal masterclass that just wants you to spark up a blunt, make some mushroom tea and melt into its big grooves. 8/10

Erebos: A Flame That Pierces With A Deadly Cold (Northern Silence Productions) [Paul H]

The latest instalment of epic black metal from Polish multi-instrumentalist Erebos, or to give him his real name, Dariusz Lukasik, a prolific producer of music in recent years. A Flame That Pierces With A Deadly Cold is the fifth full release under the Erebos project, impressive given it only commenced in 2016. As well as Erebos, Lukasik is part of several other projects including Isolation, Narrenshyff and Srogość. So, what about this latest offering? Well, I’ve shared my dislike of this type of music before, mainly due to the often-absent emotion and feeling which these releases seem to suffer from. On the other hand, being able to create soaring epic black metal masterpieces as a solo artist is inspiring. Unfortunately, much of this isn’t soaring, epic or masterpieces but has an overall feel of being generated rather than born. Mists Of Ruin is case in point. Whilst the attempt to build both atmosphere and intensity slowing increases, the horrible keyboard sound totally deflates the hard work; it sounds like a busker in a subway.

Opening track The Onslaught Of Morgoth begins with some delicate piano and a dramatic violin section in the background, before building a dramatic seven-minute plus piece which combines grumbling black metal vocals, intense tremolo riffing and some stirring brass sections, fitting indeed for the fortress of Morgoth, part of the Siege of Angband in the early years of the sun in J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Of Dawn And Dusk owes much of its composition to the score written by Howard Shore for The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy and is once again blighted by the tinny keyboard sound. I don’t want to be too harsh, because this was an enjoyable listen; the tension is palpable at times, and the whole album is dramatic and imposing. Yet it somehow feels somewhat fake and shorn of real energy and enjoyment. Maybe I’m too harsh. But hey, that’s what we do this for. I’ll be generous. 6/10

Hardline: Life (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

Singer Johnny Gioeli has been the only constant member of Hardline since 1992 (although there was a 10 year gap after their debut Double Eclipse) since then the line ups have revolved for nearly every album however since their second album on Italian melodic rock label Frontiers, 2012's Danger Zone, keyboardist and producer Alessandro Del Vecchio and bassist Anna Portalupi have been a major influence in the modern day existence of the band. So what about Life their fourth record on Frontiers? Well it comes after the previous album Human Nature and a world tour that looked back at their world beating debut Double Eclipse, so with their debut in the rear view mirror this album was written to reflect their present and past together.

The first three songs on the record are what you'd want from the Hardline of old, new guitarist Mario Percudani has nailed the Neal Schon guitar sound of that debut having an equal amount of heaviness and melody with those little inflections that are writ-large through the Journey songbook. The rhythm section of Portalupi and new drummer Marco Di Salvia keep things nice and locked in bringing the gallop to Out Of Time while Hold On To Right has some Purple-like organ blasts. Halfway through this album I was still invested, sometimes these records can suffer from too many ballads, happily this doesn't, it's chock full of Sunset Strip rock anthems with an occasional emotional detour for a massive AOR ballad. This is a leaner meaner Hardline displayed on a song such as Handful Of Sand which is a a crunchy rocker. With Gioeli's vocals upfront, a voice I've eulogised about numerous times, this is solid return from Hardline a band I've always had a real soft spot for. Enjoy Life as much as possible, it's a rock solid album. 8/10

Monday, 22 April 2019

Ranked & Rated: Thin Lizzy (Paul H)

Thin Lizzy

Few bands were as constant in their delivery of albums as Thin Lizzy. Formed in 1969 in Dublin by Phil Lynott, Eric Bell and Brian Downey, the band produced 12 albums between 1971 and 1983, and released two live albums in that time. When you look back at the chaos that ensued around the band, with various line up changes, disputes and of course, massive drug addiction, it’s astonishing that the band managed to produce such quality throughout their career.

Rating Lizzy’s albums is a real challenge. The early albums saw the band developing, their Celtic folk and blues background influencing their first three albums, and it was only with the departure of Eric Bell in 1973 and the arrival of the duel guitar attack of Brian Robertson and American Scott Gotham that the band began to establish their ‘classic sound’. Even then, several of their albums contain some real duff songs, but the band has enough gems in their catalogue to truly warrant being rightly remembered as a magnificent hard rock outfit. Led by Lynott, who did much of the song writing, Thin Lizzy careered through the 1970s, blowing several cracks at the States due to a number of mishaps, bad luck and idiotic behaviour. By the time they hit the late 70s the band was creaking, Lynott’s addictions influencing his direction, style and behaviour and yet even at the end of the band in 1983, they were capable of cranking out some quality hard rock like the guitar heavy riffs of Cold Sweat, still an absolute killer track.

The hardest part was ruling out possibly the greatest live album of all time, the magnificent Live And Dangerous, a ferocious album that captures Lizzy at their height. Shows recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in 1976, Philadelphia and Toronto in 1977 and released in 1978, there is much mystery around how much of the album is actually live but bollocks to that, it’s a fantastic album that drew together songs from Nightlife through to Johnny The Fox and is a real statement of the force that Lizzy were in the live arena. Robertson and Gorham’s duelling axe work, the driving bass of Lynott, the rock steady drumming of Downey and of course, the Irish charm of Lynott that still makes me smile. But let us take a journey on those 12 albums. This is my view of course, and everyone who loves Lizzy will have a different take. Starting at the top.

1. Jailbreak
Released in 1976, Jailbreak had a bit of everything. The third album to feature Robertson and Gorham in tandem, there are few weak tracks and some absolute belters. The album opens with the title track, a straight-out rocker, Lynott telling stories as he always did in his own inimitable manner. Jailbreak contains one of my favourite stupid lyrics; “Tonight there’s going to be a jailbreak, somewhere in the town”. Oh, and that other memorable line “See, Me and the boys mean business, busting out dead or alive”. No words needed. But look past these lyrics and you get an absolute classic hard rock track. What a start. We also have Warriors, a song that lauds the heavy drugs users of the time, with a nod to Hendrix and Duane Allman, and then the most famous of Lizzy songs, The Boys Are Back In Town. Written by Lynott, this is possibly the perfect hard rock song. A riff more infectious than a Newport kebab house, great driving groove, instantly memorable chorus, duel guitar work, and the king of the story, Lynott once more narrating stories from home. A song that appeals to virtually everyone from the most devout black metaller to the granny at the wedding party, we all love this song and I never ever tire of hearing it. Just magic. After that, Fight or Fall and then the light intro to Cowboy Song, the delicate guitar and Lynott’s narration, before the track kicks in and the rock starts to roll again. Another great riff and chorus, with Downey laying down a solid beat to drive it forward. And then we get to Emerald. A monster. The epic which features possibly the best guitar work ever on a Lizzy album, the duel harmonies majestic, the solos fierce and full of class, and Lynott selling the tale with ease. A perfect end to the definitive Thin Lizzy album.

2. Bad Reputation

The final album to feature Brian Robertson, albeit on only three songs, and that was only solos, the album cover wasn’t designed by the band’s usual artist Jim Fitzpatrick and featured Lynott, Downey and Gorham with Robertson’s image only displayed on the reverse of the sleeve. With Gorham handling the bulk of the guitar work, Bad Reputation is lean and heavy, and improved on its predecessor, the lukewarmly received Johnny The Fox. Bad Reputation features the feisty title track with Downey in rampant form, clattering the drums for fun, layered guitar work and Lynott’s driving bass lines prominent as always. In some ways, he played the bass like Lemmy, almost as a guitar. The album also contains the magical Opium Trail, featuring Robertson’s slicing solo; a hypnotic mystical track, I remember having it on 12” single with Bad Reputation and Dear Miss Lonely Heart, and I was hooked. Lynott’s vocal performance fantastic, his husky tones haunting. And then there is some balance to the hard rock with the gentle Southbound, a track about returning home and a typical Lizzy hook in the chorus, before we get to the Lynott masterpiece, Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In the Spotlight). The opening bass line, the snapping fingers and that saxophone all add to Lynott’s superb tale of young love, and who hasn’t got chocolate stains on their pants? Almost disco, certainly danceable and influenced by Van Morrison, the Northern Irish star who Lynott loved.

3. Black Rose

Black Rose, released in 1979, is the only album to feature Gary Moore despite his three tenures with the band. Alongside Lynott, Downey and Gorham, Black Rose opens with the poppy Do Anything You Want To, Gorham and Moore’s harmony proving that the two could deliver. Despite the unhappiness in the ranks, with Moore Leaving once more shortly after the album was completed, many rate Black Rose as the band’s finest achievement. There are certainly some fine tunes here, the pomp of Waiting For An Alibi, the strangely endearing delicate tribute to Lynott’s daughter in Sarah, the melancholic reflection of Got To Give It Up and of course, Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend, the clever rearrangement of traditional Celtic songs, with some superb guitar work from Gorham and Moore.

4. Fighting

The opening riff of Bob Seger’s Rosalie, to become a staple in the band’s live set, kicks off album number five in the Lizzy chronological catalogue. Released in 1975, Fighting followed the weak Nightlife, and was the first real Lizzy album to feature what would become their trademark duel guitar sound. With Lynott now in full rock ‘n’ roll poet flow, his lyrics a joy to listen to as he weaved his tales. Alongside him Gorham and Robertson now in full synchronicity, and a heavier edge to the band’s sound. Suicide, Fighting My Way Back, Ballad of the Hard Man all contained the riffs and backbone that may have been missing in earlier releases. Fighting is an underrated album which paved the way for the later classics, hence its high position in this list.

5. Thunder And Lightning

The final album to be released by the band in 1983, and a special place in my heart for this bad boy. With Lizzy in meltdown, and about to implode, the band had recruited Jon Sykes from Tygers of Pan Tang to add some steel after the departure of Snowy White, whose blues style was considered too light for the band. The album kicks off in fine style, the rampant title track, huge riffs and an urgency that has become rare for the band. With Darren Wharton’s thick keyboards, Lynott’s rapid vocal delivery and Gorham and Sykes duelling like two fencers, this was a blistering start from a band in its death throes. Of course, Sykes gets credit for the heavier guitar tone, but his only written contribution was Cold Sweat, probably the heaviest song Lizzy ever released and still a song that gives me shivers with that opening riff as it takes me back to a 13 year old feeling my way into rock music. This was the album that Lizzy released when I was able to buy it on release day, and their gig on the Life Live tour at St David’s Hall remains one of my fondest memories to this day. Cold Sweat simply melts the face, with Sykes adding a fresh vitality to the band with some razor-sharp guitar work. Other tracks that worked well on this highly reflective album included the moody The Sun Goes Down and the prophetic Heart Attack which closed the album. Little did we know that Lynott would be dead less than three years later.

6. Johnny The Fox

With Lynott recovering from hepatitis, Thin Lizzy were on the verge of crisis again with Robbo threatening to leave once more as the band followed Jailbreak with album number seven. Johnny The Fox is an interesting album, with some underrated tracks, the brilliant Don’t Believe A Word which Robertson called “shite”, the lyrical wizardry of Fool’s Gold, another weaving story from Lynott and the sobering Massacre which contained the by now expected double guitar work. For me, it’s always been the funk of Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed that is the stand out track on this album. The thumping bass line, tidy drumming and the efficient guitar work combine to produce a track that always makes me smile. Like any Lizzy album, there were inconsistencies, with Old Flame particularly rubbish but despite the apparent guest appearance by Phil Collins, overall this is a release which deserves more recognition.

7. Vagabonds Of The Western World

The first of many Lizzy albums to feature the artwork of Jim Fitzpatrick, Vagabonds of the Western World, the final album to feature the original line-up of Lynott, Downey and Bell, contains some fantastic blues rock as the band moved further away from their Celtic folk song roots. The opening Mama Nature Said is a superb example, with Bell’s slide guitar fabulous. A confidence that was missing on their first two albums is clearly evident here, with the dark psychedelic sound adding to the quality ... Full of swagger and attitude, nowhere is this more apparent than on The Rocker, a solid reliable inclusion of their live set that remained until the final shows. Gritty and gutsy, Bell’s swirling guitar work stellar whilst Lynott and Downey kept everything locked down. Whilst the 1991 remaster included the band’s take on Whiskey In The Jar, this wasn’t on the original album, having been released as a single some months before Vagabonds was released. Certainly, the best of the three Bell-era albums, Vagabonds of the Western World is an album that should be played more often than it is.

8. Renegade
1981’s Renegade features Snowy White on guitar and Darren Wharton on keyboards. The opening track, written by Lynott and Wharton, combines a killer riff and sweet keyboards and remains one of my favourite Lizzy tracks. Angel of Death tracks the history of man’s folly over time, the carnage of world wars and the ever-present angel of death ready and waiting. It’s haunting vibe, chugging rhythm and solid guitar work as Gorham and White hit it off together along with the breakdown in the middle where Wharton takes centre stage on his keyboards and Lynott’s sinister vocals impose and threaten. This is followed by the melancholy of the title track, a song which would have sat comfortably on a Dire Straits album, it’s delicate crafted open quickly overridden by another fat riff as the song kicks in. It’s another classic hard rock song that only Lizzy could deliver. Sadly, there is quite a bit of filler on this album, as the band lurched onward. The Pressure Will Blow the most aptly titled song on the album, and one of the weakest tracks the band have ever recorded. Leave This Town, with it’s rock ‘n’roll groove is another poor track although one might applaud the band for taking a different stance. By 1981 Lizzy were in trouble.

9. Thin Lizzy
The debut album from the band, released in 1971, there is little here which resembles the band that finished Thunder & Lightning a mere 12 years later. Thin Lizzy is an underrated release within the band’s catalogue. Eric Bell’s sublime blues guitar work is at times phenomenal, whilst Brian Downey’s time keeping sets a benchmark which he maintained throughout the band’s tempestuous journey. It’s also the start of Lynott’s poetry in his songwriting, the stories based on his life as a young man in Dublin. Songs such as Look What The Wind Blew In, with its 60s feel and style, the sweetness of the Clifton Grange Hotel, the ode to the home country in Eire and the band’s home city in Dublin, all demonstrate the seeds of greatness which were struggling to germinate at this time. Thin Lizzy isn’t an extraordinary debut album, but looking back, there is plenty to enjoy. Appreciate the innocence of a band in their heady first flush of recording.

10. Chinatown

Snowy White had replaced Moore on guitar after Black Rose. Thin Lizzy introduced a 17-year-old keyboard player called Darren Wharton to add quality to their songwriting and sound. Released in 1980, the album encountered controversy due to the track Killer On The Loose, due to the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper whose killing spree was terrorising the Country at the time. I still remember the nightmares as a youngster that the news reports invoked. Aside from that, Killer On The Loose is probably the standout track on a fairly weak album. The title track contained a memorable hook, with White and Gorham combining neatly and the groove of this song infectious but other than that most of the tracks here are a bit hit and miss. It might be a mark of Lynott’s quality that now even some of the worst songs sound perfectly decent, but Chinatown isn’t a fantastic album.

11. Shades Of A Blue Orphanage

Having got their debut out of the way, 1972 saw the sophomore release from Lizzy and it opened in crazy style with Downey hammering away on the drums before Bell’s distinctive guitar kicked in on The Rise and Dear Demise of The Funky Tribes. A blues-soaked piece of psychedelic funk, this track no doubt appeals more today than it did 47 years ago. I suppose it was an early example of Lynott’s determination to deliver his own style of music. The album contains a touching tribute to his grandmother, who raised him, and Sarah mustn’t be confused with the song dedicated to his daughter on Black Rose. The meandering title track, with Lynott’s rambling story telling is possibly the best song on the album, a melancholic sojourn which showed both potential but just how far the band still had to go. Unlike the remastered versions, the original did not contain Whiskey In The Jar.

12. Nightlife

1974’s Nightlife saw the birth of the classic Lizzy duel guitar sound, something that would remain with them for the rest of the band’s career. With Eric Bell leaving and Gary Moore providing only a fleeting contribution, Lynott brought in help from outside Ireland. Scot Brian Robertson, who would later contribute to the underrated Motörhead album Another Perfect Day, and Californian Scott Gorham, who remain with Lynott until the end and continue the legacy up until the current day. A soulful, laid back album, the original version was blighted by a poor production which was described by Robertson and Gorham as “pretty naff’ and “ridiculously lame”. For me it’s the weakest album in the catalogue, although there are still flashes of brilliance, such as the pacy aggression of Sha La La, the groove of opening track She Knows, with it’s infectious rhythm and of course, Still In Love With You, with Frankie Miller’s vocals and Gary Moore’s superb solo. Overall though, it’s lightweight but did at least provide a hint of what was to come the following year.

Ranked & Rated: Rush (Alex)

Rush was one of the greatest bands in the history of Rock. In 2016, they gracefully announced their decision to retire. Who could blame them? Across 50 years, The Canadian trio formed of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, constantly evolved, flirting with a miasma of contemporary genres.

19. Presto (1989)

Forgettable and flavourless, Presto amounts to an hour of dull, tepid guitar rock. Although most of the tracks are five minutes or under, they drag greatly. Whatsmore, there is barely any character or colour to be found across the entire runtime - a feature not aided by soulless production choices. Presuming any hardcore Rush Fans want to hold me hostage (A distinct possibility, for reasons that will become apparent) don't ask me to hum a melody from Presto for my release – after multiple chances, I still can't remember anything.

18. Caress Of Steel (1975)

An initial misstep upon early ventures into prog, both of the so-called epics on here are weak, especially in comparison to forthcoming opuses. The Necromancer is made to feel laborious by Peart’s unintentionally hilarious narration, while Fountain of Lamneth is beset by transitions, none of which feel natural. While Bastille Day serves as a roaring opener, both of the remaining rock n roll ditties – Lakeside Park and I think I’m Going Bald - are entirely skippable. Nevertheless, for all the lackluster commercial and critical reception, Caress of Steel acted as a stepping stone for the trio. A crossroads, between vein commerciality or progressive artistry.

17. Roll The Bones (1991)

Chances are, if you have any familiarity with Rush fandom, you won’t have heard nice words uttered about Roll the Bones. Even I won't deny that the song to which the release owes its name, is a humongous embarrassment. Questionable tone choices, particularly Peart’s decision to rap - ‘’No maniacs in polyester slacks, Just the facts, gonna kick some gluteus max, It's a parallax, you dig?’’ - make the single a black spot, in a largely glistening body of work. There are also some throwaways, not worth your time. Looking beneath the awkwardness though, moments like Dreamline, Bravado, Ghost of a Chance, and Neurotica stand among some of Rush’s best 90’s work. A mixed and confusing piece for sure, yet not wholly terrible.

16. Hold Your Fire (1987)

Finally, Rush reached the final stage in their transformation into a synth-led act. Keyboards and bright, glitzy guitar textures have a tendency to become tiresome, with certain moments wholly lacking personality. While I appreciate the experiments with world music, they are not committed to, becoming hasty rehashes of past triumphs. However, where the joyous synth pop ideas are made to feel upbeat and positive, they dazzle. Look to the funk-laden opener Force Ten, the meditative Prime Mover, or the dramatic Lock and Key. Listen to one of my favourites from the synthpop era, Time Stand Still, and tell me Hold Your Fire doesn't have any heart. Although far from a perfect work of art, this piece stands as a grossly misrepresented album, in need of a re-evaluation.

15. Test For Echo (1996)

Amongst the fallout from the ’80s, declining relevance, and a string of critical failures, Rush found themselves confronted with a challenge. How were they to reinvent themselves? The two resulting albums emphasized songcrafting, rather than sprawling, conceptual pieces. Test for Echo holds up as proof of how these musicians can write catchy hooks while being technically multifaceted. Moments in the vein of Driven and Virtuality show their ability to write gnashing riffs, while The Color of Right and Totem are inspiring. Needless to say, the same praise could be given to the preceding album

14. Counterparts (1993)

Proving something of a reinvigorating piece, here's a fan favourite. In the film, Beyond the Lighted Stage, the band say they are immensely proud of their work here, and good for them! Animate and Nobody's Hero are outstanding moments of contemporary rock, while Cut to the Chance and Leave that thing Alone, are innovative and adventurous. We see callbacks to the ’80s splattered across these 11 songs. However, distinct from parts of Hold Your Fire and Roll the Bones, the synth additions are tasteful and engaged. Counterparts and Test For Echo are not going to be anyone's favorite Rush albums. However, they make up a discerning part in a discography which is wide-ranging and varied.

13. Power Windows (1985)

A common complaint often leveled against the ’80s, is its obsession with cheese. When applied to a group of prog musicians who spent the 70s wearing robes and waging a war to be weird, that really stands out. For all my tastes are worth though, I consider myself something of a cheese enthusiast, and I’m here to tell you that this album has gained an unfair reputation. Power Windows demonstrates courage, as every moment is brought to life with glimmering synths and energetic hooks - traits demonstrated by Big Money, Manhattan Project and Mystic Rhythms, among others. I’ll admit that there is not an adequate amount of flavours here to supplement and complement one another. Still, provided you’ve got a taste for cheesiness, give this album a try. Moreso than any release I’ve mentioned before, it's drastically overlooked!

12. Rush (1974)

Sans a few exceptions, Rush’s debut marked the only time in their career when they played straightforward Rock n’ roll! It’s the only album not to feature Neil Peart, a key dynamic to the acts future ambitions. Rather, John Rutsy’s style of drumming was appropriate for the riff-based, school hall swing vibe perfected here. Despite all that, Rush stands high, as a great album to supplement the urge for guitar rock, no pretensions needed! Furthermore, I would dare any Prog fan to tell me they don’t occasionally find themselves jamming’ on Workin’ Man or In the Mood. While naïve, this debut marks a glimpse into the humble beginnings of an act whose journey has taken them a long way.

11. Signals (1982)

Noted for beginning the Canadian power trio’s near decade long experiment with Synth Rock, here is also one of their darkest works. Live staple Subdivisions, reflects society-wide feelings of terror. The deep, abrasive synth textures seen on The Weapon and Countdown lend strikingly to the feelings of helplessness felt across the world. Meanwhile, moments in the vein of The Analog Kid, Chemistry and Digital Man, ruminate on the cyber age, their vivid compositions, sending the mind whirling with images of futuristic landscapes, always keeping an air of menace present. Signals took Rush’s sound in ambitious new directions while reflecting their socially conscious side. Nearly forty years later, it remains strikingly pertinent.

10. Snakes And Arrows (2007)

Who could have dreamed that Rush would end their career by making some of their most impressive music? Snakes and Arrows is another unified piece, encompassing forceful anthems – Far Cry, Workin’ Them Angels, Spindrift - contemplative acoustic moments – A Larger Bowl, Faithless, The Way the Wind Blows – and four instrumentals, each more impressive than the last. Further, in contrast to the more personal tone of the last few albums, here we saw them returning to their habit of ruminating on big concepts like morality, religion, and philosophy. Rather than becoming preachy, it demonstrates nuance and perspective. Far from being a depressive dirge, it’s detailed and hopeful. ‘That’s faith enough for me’

9. Clockwork Angels (2012)

Clockwork Angels was Rush’s final album. Set in a ‘steampunk-inspired world lit only by fire’ it follows one man's quest through the mythical and mysterious. Don’t fret If you don’t understand a word I just wrote, I don’t either. Peart released a novel accompanying the album and detailing the story. Compositionally, everything proves instrumentally intricate and emotive. Moments in the vein of The Anarchist, Headlong Flight, Wreckers and Carnies proved the trios ability to stay commanding. Meanwhile, Halo Effect, Seven Cities of Gold, Wish Them Well and The Garden gorgeously utilize orchestras. Overarchingly, this creation served as a fine ending to a musical livelihood, imbued with classics.

8. Fly By Night (1975)

A beautiful sense of humbleness surrounds album no.2. With one foot planted firmly in the stripped-down charm of their debut, and another in the envisioned nature of later works, it's difficult not to look back on the album and grin with enthusiasm. Anthem, Best I can and Fly By Night still show glimpses of the amateur naivety which made self-titled so fun, while By-Tor and the Snow Dog, Rivendell and In The End show steps towards concept-centered writing. Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have honed their craft thanks to a routine of non-stop touring, while Neil Peart adds an extra-special dynamic to the bands sound. While fans may have not realised it at the time, this album showed that Rush had not yet begun to impress. As far as showing potential is concerned, Fly By Night excels.

7. A Farewell To Kings (1977)

‘’For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of Paradise!’’ exhales Lee on Xanadu. Therein lies the crux of where Rush lay in their musical development. Arguably the strangest piece in their entire discography, A Farewell to Kings saw them in the midst of their prog days. One part futuristic and another traditionalist, this is one of their harder to broach creations. Yet it becomes an absolute delight once fully comprehended. The title track opens on a light plucking of classical guitar, before exploding into life with a poetic reflection on ancient civilisations. Closer To the Heart inspires with luscious acoustics and thoughtful considerations on creativity. Soon, we encounter Cygnus X-1-Book One-The Voyage – an epic about a space explorer whose ship loses control and plunges into a Supermassive Black Hole. Fascinatingly dense, brilliantly composed and a prelude to future achievements, for all the lack of accessibility, there remains heaps of ambition.

6. Vapor Trails (2002)

The late 1990s were plagued by tragedy for Neil Peart, seeing him lose both his daughter and wife. This immediately sent Rush into hiatus. It might have been permanent. Vapor Trails is an album of stoicism. Aside from painting an aural picture of overcoming pain, soaring anthems and instrumental ferociousness – properly brought to life by the remixed pressing - saw them proving why they still matter. From the exciting drum patterns opening One Little Victory to the inspiring harmonies which close Out of the Cradle, everything screams ‘’you will not write us off the page. We’re still here’’. Dealing brutally with the loss, as evidenced by Ghost Rider and Earthshine, the piece proves contemplative yet hopeful. The prevailing feeling is not one of despair, it's one of bravery. In reviewer circles, we often talk about comebacks – this feels like the release the term was invented for.

5. Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Experimenting with world, calypso and reggae influences, while keeping a hypnotically dark tone, Grace Under Pressure is a masterpiece. Distant Early Warning begins on an obsessively melodic note, the Police-esque beats lending a diverse quality, while the lyrics comment on the imperfections we all possess as humans. Afterimage is a striking song about losing a friend, The Enemy Within excellently deals with the subject of crushing inner doubt, while The Body Electric and Between the Wheels make a return to the themes of technological paranoia. Then there’s Red Sector A, a song about real life experiences Lee’s parents endured during the Holocaust. Our frontman once commented of his mother ‘’She didn’t believe that if there was a society outside the camp how they could allow this to exist’’. By no means an easy topic to write about, it's executed with care. Grace Under Pressure deals with difficult subjects, yet bears optimism. How do we survive difficult, awful and degrading situations? ‘‘not giving in to security under pressure, not missing out on the promise of adventure, not giving up on impossible dreams’’

4. Hemispheres (1978)

Despite only being only four songs in length, they serve as a beautiful indictment of the results of giving three Tolkien obsessed, technically skilled, innovative minded nerds, full creative freedom. Cygnus, Part 2 opens, describing in rich detail, our voyagers encounters, upon being transported back in time, past the event horizon, through the eye of the Supermassive Black Hole. Moving through multiple transitions, each more glorious than the last, the epic inspires sensations of wonder and awe. Circumstances is a sprightly, philosophically minded anthem. Soon, we are granted to a fascinating song about the adventures of the Trees, serving as a metaphor about man’s struggle with his oppressors. Finally, just to supplement the strangeness at its heart, the album finishes on a twisting and diverse instrumental titled La Villa Strangiato – An Exercise in Self Indulgence. Rush would soon go on to create a few albums which straddled the line between their intricately dense 70’s work and their pop-centered 80’s creations. Hemispheres was an excellent way to end an era.

3. Moving Pictures (1981)

Most Rush rankings tend to put this one at the very top, and I can see why! As well as bearing some of Rush’s most notable songs, Moving Pictures also has some of their most overlooked. The entire experience is joyous, thoughtful and carefully crafted, combining pop hooks with prog sensibilities. We open on the distinguishable Tom Sayer, the melodic phrases and instrumental flourishes, working their magic. Red Barchetta is amazingly playful, yet cleverly composed, the careful changes letting every musician shine, keeping the listener enticed. YYZ is a prominent moment, which despite being an instrumental is uniquely memorable and commanding. Aside from dazzling instrumentals, lyrics are poetic. Limelight and The Camera Eye, are particularly thoughtful, describing the tyrannies of fame, contemplating life ‘’outside the gilded cage’’, musing in one particularly relatable line ‘’one must put up barriers to keep oneself intact’’. Witch Hunt deals with the notion of racism, likening it to the superstition of medieval times: ‘’Quick to Judge, quick to anger, slow to understand, prejudice and fear walk hand in hand’’. Closing the album is Vital Signs, the ambiguous wordplay seemingly stressing how we are at our best when allowed to express creativity. Considering the ease with which this album adopts influences, stuns with intricacy or summons an emotion, I’d say Rush are suited to be the act delivering that message.

2. Permanent Waves (1980)

Electrifying riffage opens Permanent Waves with The Spirit of Radio transporting the listener to another world. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart set out their mission statement on this anthem: ‘’Making modern music can still be open-hearted, not so coldly charted it’s really just a question of your honesty’’. Every second inspires with its impassioned poetry about the glory of music, and precise, heartfelt playing. Even if you’ve never heard of this band in your life, you have almost certainly heard this song crackling over your radio. People often forget about the album as experience though. Freewill is equally as lively and encouraging as the opener, so much so that you tend to forget you are listening to contemplations on a tremendously intricate philosophical concept. Jacobs Ladder steadily twists and turns through moments of ambiance to seconds of trouncing punch. Following this, Entre Nous proves a rare case of a realistic love song, its stark melodies proving uplifting, while reflecting on the fragility of relationships. Different Strings is as serious as the album gets, the classical acoustic guitar strumming lending an air of mystery while the words play out like a mournful tale of days long left in the past. We end on Natural Science, its spiralling rhythms and variable transitions, lending magically to the images of natural phenomena described throughout the closer. The album as a whole is enough to leave anyone in awe at how something can be so simultaneously complex and accessible. That’s certainly the effect it has on this writer. Still, ‘’one likes to believe in the freedom of music’’

1. 2112 (1976)

Picture the scene. Rush, while courting a fanbase, are falling short commercially. They are facing the being kicked off their label and returning to a life of obscurity. Their last hope depends on them making an album with short, catchy singalong rock anthems, and less experimentation. By some act of mercy, the three-piece were given one last chance. How did the resulting album turn out? Well, Tears is a beautiful acoustic ballad. A Passage to Bangkok and The Twilight Zone are guitar driven, yet unique. Even Lessons and Something for Nothing are great, proving incredibly well written. Of course, these are hardly examples of their most accessible material, yet it would surely take a ridiculous amount of bravery to defy the label’s demands. Poignantly, said bravery might explain why Rush open 2112 with a 20 minute, conceptual, operatic opus set in a dystopian future, where creativity has been outlawed by cruel and vicious tyrants. Every section in the story, from our introduction to the Priests, to the eventual overthrow of the dystopian order, is performed with the utmost passion and defiance. Through sharp, abrasive instrumentals, each musician is able to capture in vivid detail, an image of a future, dictated by corporate megalomaniacs. 

Far from dragging, the piece takes you on a journey through the strange and stimulating, taking you to the heart of Rush’s mission to be genre-defining. At first glance, the concept seems ridiculous, yet considering execution and poignancy, we are willing to forgive an indulgence in absurdity. Everything feels sincere and earnest. Undoubtedly, the principal victory of 2112 is what it represents. Despite being doomed to failure, thousands flocked to buy the record and concert tickets. Notwithstanding their vein predictions, the managers and music publishers had lost, conceding defeat to creativity and handing Lee and co. complete creative control over future projects. Due to the legacy of this initially career-risking experiment, we are left with a body of work which is both miscellaneous and cohesive. Thanks to three Canadians willingness to take a leap into the unknown, we are left with an act whom, despite still being somewhat overlooked, are adored by dedicated fans around the world. ‘’Attention All Planets of the Solar Federation! Attention All Planets of the Solar Federation! We have assumed control, we have assumed control, we have assumed control’’

Sunday, 21 April 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ffrindiau Fest (Live Review By Paul H)

Ffrindiau Fest, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Was there a better way to spend Good Friday evening than at Ffrindiau Fest? I doubt it very much as a few of South Wales finest metal sons and some overseas brothers gathered at Fuel with the aim of celebrating friendship and enjoying some ridiculously good music. And possibly a beer or two at the end of a scorching hot bank holiday. Once again, Cardiff City Centre was awash with hen parties and groups of lads lads lads and the haven that Womanby Street continues to offer was welcomed despite only a short walk across the City. Greeting many a friend at the venue the night panned out in splendid style despite an embarrassing clash of t-shirt with one Julian Birch (who knew two people would wear Exhorder's Slaughter In The Vatican shirt on the same night!).

It’s become the norm to see Blind Divide (7) open proceedings these days which is unfair on a band whose performances are usually worthy of headliner status. Whilst they were dogged by some fading battery challenges, as always, the band ripped through a short 30-minute set with their usual snarly ferocity. In relaxed form, the band will be using their forthcoming gigs to fine tune their set for a very tasty semi-final in the Bloodstock Metal To The Masses competition shortly. If they maintain their intensity and focus, few bands will get near them on the night. One of South Wales most impressive and tight outfits, Blind Divide kicked off the evening in exactly the right way.

It’s been a little while since the death metal trio Cranial Separation (7) strutted their funky stuff at Fuel but with the band awakening from an early 2019 slumber with renewed vigour this was another chunky set which included a new untitled new song! As crushing as ever, the three members of the band took their usual irreverent approach and punched a hole in the roof with their thumping death metal. All the usual favourites were present, and a few left-over prophylactics thrown by bassist Chris towards a couple of select members of the audience was apparently the precursor to the band’s performance at the final of the South Wales Metal To The Masses event. Nothing says class like a sweaty bloke chucking a couple of condoms out of an Aldi carrier bag ...

A few weeks ago, the porn grind of Dirty Des and his Anal Floss Is Boss (7) nearly sneaked a place in the semi-final of M2TM. Des has been travelling across the UK and a long drive from Newcastle had at least got him back to Cardiff in time for the evening he’d promoted. If you haven’t seen this madman delivering his one-man show, then you really should at some point. Cleverly constructed, AFIB provoked laughter and smiles as Des serenaded the crowd with song about bodily fluids and other such delights. A show that concludes with a song entitled Death By Cock followed by Sospan Fach is always going to be fun.

Penultimate band of the night was Cerebral Enema (7) whose self-styled white trash grindcore certainly hit a note with many of the crowd. Pig squeals, balaclavas, underwear as a facemask and some intensive riffing supported by a programmed drum set and lyrically revolting. Yep, that was about the nature of their set. The Berlin crew are obviously part of a niche market, but the trio were certainly enjoyable if a little to the left of my usual tastes. And making the effort for a four-date run in the UK certainly deserves applause.

As the hour closed on ten, local black metal legion Pigtail Pandas (8) took to the stage to close out the night. This year is looking impressive on the gig front for the band, with a range of trips across the country and forays across Europe also in the diary as well as a well-deserved recent opening slot for Anaal Nathrakh and Akercocke. Despite their updated visual appearance, the band’s sinister black metal remains ferociously intense, and tracks including Storm’s End, I Chose To Burn and Immaterium are now firm favourites. The band’s onslaught rarely allows time for breath, although vocalist Taranis’ between song patter did offer brief respite. Closing with Summoning The Void, Agrona look to be working their way back to top form and closed out the night with style.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Jungle Rot (Live Review By Paul H)

Jungle Rot, Ultra Violence, Sodomized Cadaver & Voidcaller, Fuel Rock Club

Twas’ the night before the first of the two Easter Bank holidays and for only the second time in their history, Wisconsin death metal legends Jungle Rot rolled into Cardiff with their own brand of old school death metal. It was warm, it was violent, and it was bloody good too.

Opening the evening were local outfit Voidcaller (6). The band have been together for a couple of years and are slowly securing gigs and making a reputation for themselves. Last reviewed in these pages at The Green Rooms in Trefforest at the Halloween Bash 2018, where their death/hardcore blend impressed Matt, Voidcaller pulled a solid 25 minutes, with tracks from their recently released EP (available on Bandcamp) and new songs given a workout which warmed the early crowd up nicely. Vocalist George is the focal point, his guttural roars totally contrasting with his between song patter and his domination of the front of the soon to be raging pit. Snarling and spitting his way through the set, he was ably supported by some crushing riffage, the inevitable punishing drumming and by the time the final track, which was a thrashy number, the pit had exploded with an enthusiasm rarely seen at the venue in recent times. Plenty of potential and another name on the South Wales scene worth watching.

If you talk about the South Wales scene, then in terms of death metal Sodomised Cadaver (8) are fast becoming an institution. Regular but not too frequent appearances in South Wales are always guaranteed to draw a decent turn out, and with the band now down to a three-piece following the recent departure of Ollie Jones, they are as tighter than ever. There is always an air of chaos when Ryan, Gavin and Charlie hit the stage, but they know their death metal and tonight they killed it again. 30 minutes of total brutality, Gavin still beating on the drums like they had done dirty things to his good lady, Charlie fingering his bass with a worrying degree of depravity and Ryan demonstrating once more that his fret work can stand alongside the best. Sharing the vocal duties is working well, and tracks such as Vile Intercourse, Raped By Ebola and set closer Cannibal Butcher are all now firm favourites for an appreciative home crowd. With European dates as well as some prominent UK appearances (such as Incineration Fest in May) in the diary, the only thing that could improve for the Sodos would be some new material.

Completing their first decade as a unit, Italian thrashers Ultra Violence (8) delivered their third album Operation Misdirection last year and it was a decent affair too. The Turin outfit took little time in stoking the heat and a rabid crowd who were intent on thrashing to the death needed little encouragement to circle, slam and mosh throughout the Italian’s 40-minute set. With tracks from Operation Misdirection forming a healthy part of the set, it was noticeable that the band slowly relaxed and as they did, so their direct classic thrash sound improved. Diminutive vocalist Loris Castiglia often disappeared due to the raging inferno in front of him, but his old school style vocals were thankfully high in the mix. After a shaky start, his guitars and those of Andrea Vacchiotti started to cut through and by the end there were peeling guitar breaks cutting through. There is little new about Ultra Violence, but good thrash is good thrash and it was a privilege to catch these fiery Italians at such a small venue.

If you want old school death metal, then you won’t go far wrong with Jungle Rot (9). An hour of pummelling intensity, depraved brutality and a set crammed full of death metal classics. The band (along with Ultra Violence) have been slogging their way through numerous European cities, with a schedule as punishing as their music. Jungle Rot had already eased through Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium since the beginning of the month before hitting the UK for four dates, which culminated in this rare Cardiff gig. Full marks to Fuel for obtaining this gig, because it was fucking fantastic. Despite their gruelling schedule, Jungle Rot were blistering in their intensity. Front and centre, the legend that is Dave Matrise commanded the stage, applauding the rabid pile of human contortionists in front of him who gave everything during the set.

Matrise has a superb death metal delivery, genuinely old school in style and delivery. Alongside him, Geoff Bub and James Genenz nailed everything with touring drummer Spenser Syphers battering the kit into its last breaths. Combining tracks from 2018’s fine Jungle Rot such as Pumped Full Of Lead with older beasts, including a fine Eat Fuck Kill and a demonic Psychotic Cremation, this was a masterclass. By the time the band concluded their set with Circle Of Death/Jungle Rot, the crowd surfers and pit beasts were spent. With the walls dripping, and ears bleeding, Jungle Rot had done their job.

A View From Another Country: Aborted (Live review by Charlie Rogers)

Aborted, Cryptopsy, Hideous Divinity & Torturous Inception, The Knitting Factory, Brooklyn

The perfect addition to any holiday is, of course, an evening of high quality music. So when my better half noted that this show was happening during our trip to the big apple, it was immediately added to the itinerary. After a brisk walk from the subway, we stumbled across the Knitting Factory with plenty of time before doors opened. After spending this time in an interesting (read: decorated like an explosion in grandma’s living room) Belgian bar, we entered the venue in time for the local opener, hoping for more pitting than knitting.

Hailing from Staten Island, Torturous Inception (6) opened the show to a handful of enthusiastic fans, eager to lap up the local lads’ particular breed of New York death metal. We checked these guys out before departing from the UK, and were looking forward to hearing the material in real life. Unfortunately, the band seemed a little deflated, perhaps due to their regular drummer being unable to make this show and having a stand in at extreme late notice, or perhaps due to the poor sound quality that made it hard to make out anything other than kicks and vocals. Props to the drummer for attempting the material at such short notice - he wasn’t totally spot on, but it was a solid effort nonetheless. The parts that we did manage to pick out were executed well, and you can tell there’s potential for this band to go a long way in the death metal scene. In particular, frontman Tyler was entertaining and a great vocalist. His interaction with the small crowd was slick, cracking wise between the songs in a comedic self-deprecating manner that everyone enjoyed. The band clearly have a strong local following, with a few eager onlookers calling out for specific tracks such as Dominion. All in all, I hope to see this band again in a different setting, so that they can get a fair shake of the stick.

Up next, Italian death metal heavyweights Hideous Divinity (8) brought the show up to the boil with their highly energetic style. Launching into material from across their three studio albums, it’s hard to tell from this show in isolation that this band is actually on tour. With no sign of fatigue, the riffs and blastbeats relentlessly came at us from the stage. In particular, Giulio Galati’s drumming was absolutely monstrous, delivering an ear pounding that set the stage for the insane drum line up that we were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of that evening. Maybe the intensity of the drums were actually a little much however, as there were moments where the guitars were hard to pick out, calling back to some difficulties they experienced during soundcheck. Vocalist Enrico Di Lorenzo cut through the onslaught with his outstanding and dynamic roars, holding the audience captive with his performance for the most part. Despite the high energy and dynamism, the songs did tend to feel like they erred on the lengthy side, sometimes losing momentum towards the end. Perhaps a focus on shorter, snappier, tunes would’ve held the audience captive for longer, but the musicianship on show was outstanding nonetheless.

Canada’s finest gore masters Cryptopsy (9) took the energy from Hideous D’s performance and turned it up a notch. As the band launched into classics from their seminal album None So Vile, such as Slit Your Guts, Phobophile, and Orgiastic Disembowelment, it transformed the audience into a whirring throng of chaos. It was clear from the crowd’s response that the tracks from this era were better received than the newer material, but the tracks from their latest release The Book Of Suffering: Tome II still kept the crowd moving. An outstanding performance from all members, Matt McGachy’s terrifying vocals soaring across the insane soundscape and did the older material justice, highlighting his versatility as a frontman. Olivier Pinard’s bass playing showcased just how important the instrument is in extreme metal, and of course, Flo Mournier’s supersonic drumming always makes me question whether he is indeed a human being, or some sort of 30th century Canadian drum machine, sent back from the future to decimate posers. A stunning display of technical ability and musicianship, Cryptopsy undoubtedly deserve the adoration they receive.

Closing out the show with the gravitas it needed, Belgian bruisers Aborted (10) brought the blast beat party to it’s splattery climax. Diving straight into Terrorvision, the five piece opened the show with blistering tempo and maintained it for the duration of the set. Unbelievably so in the case of bassist Stefano Franceschini, who has been on double duty for the tour also playing in Hideous Divinity. Like Cryptopsy before them, Aborted have an extensive back catalogue of tracks to choose from, and have masterfully crafted a setlist that highlights the insanely high standard of material they have produced over the years. The pace doesn’t let up, sweeping from Meticulous Invagination through to The Holocaust Incarnate, then finishing up with The Saw And The Damage Done. The crowd gave it everything they had and pitted with untapped gusto, to the extent where my better half was thrown across the stage stairs not once but twice, and yet this did not deter her from headbanging like a maniac. This mix of older and newer material did not phase the crowd, and energy levels remained insanely high for the entire show. This energy was mirrored in the band, with Sven furiously pacing back and forth across the stage, headbanging and feeding off of the atmosphere. His vocals were fantastic, as was his between songs banter, dealing with heckles quickly and with unbelievable wit.

In my opinion, Sven is the top frontman in extreme metal right now, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not going to your closest Aborted show. He leads from the front, and the rest of the band fall in behind him, with stunning displays from both resident guitarist Ian Jekelis, and touring stand in Harrison Patuto from Vale of Pnath. The addition of a second guitarist while they search for a permanent replacement for Mendel Bij de Leij is very welcome, and is an improvement on their performance I caught back in Bristol in December with only one guitarist. And what can I say about Ken Bedene’s effortless drumming other than just “wow”. This tour package really is an exhibition of incredible drumming, and Ken brings it to a fitting close. Ending the show with an encore of Retrogore, Aborted have shown how modern death metal should be done, they are a well oiled machine and should not be missed.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Reviews: Solarus, Lucy In Blue, Black Sites, RXPTRS

Solarus: Darkest Days (Self Released)

Solarus' first album Reunion got a solid 8/10 from me when it was released, I mentioned in that review how much they reminded me of their friends and countrymen Borealis. Technically dexterous  progressive metal with a huge chunk of power metal melody thrown in for good measure, hints of Symphony X and Fates Warning permeate through the compositions of guitarist Lucas McArthur whose playing is bloody amazing coming from the Michael Romeo school of intense fret workouts that never overwhelm. He's once again joined by drummer Jacob Burton and singer Sarah Dee and they have expanded to a four piece with bassist Mark Feeney joining the ranks, also returning is Borealis drummer Sean Dowell adding the swelling orchestrations to really flesh out the songs here.

So what of the sophomore album from this Canadian now four piece? Does it stand up to the debut? The answer is an emphatic yes, it's progressive/power metal at its absolute best. With tracks like the brilliant Requiem For The Fallen Pt. II having the progressive elements that you want with some powerful double kicks and galloping riffs that edges into sorrowful piano at the end, the title track is the heaviest song on the record, while Limbo is more poppy. It's on Limbo, the cinematic Dear Saviour and the ballads such as Holding On and The Final Hour that really show off the spine-tingling vocals of Sarah Dee, she has equal amounts of power and fragility coming more from a more pop than classical style that normally plagues bands like this.

It's her vocals that immediately won me over with Solarus and here they are still amazing. On this second album everything has been tweaked a little so Solarus have begin to step out of their influences (and contemporaries) shadow to see them have a more defined sound of their own. When all the elements above are brought together you can hear that this album maybe called Darkest Days but Solarus are bright lights in the prog metal genre. 8/10

Lucy In Blue: In Flight (Self Released)

Reykjavik based psychedelic prog band Lucy In Blue are now on their second album and for 'true' prog fans (prog snob much?) this is a true must have album. In Flight is a lucious, evocative record with Steinþór Bjarni Gíslason (guitar, vocals), Arnaldur Ingi Jónsson (keyboards, vocals), Kolbeinn Þórsson (drums), Matthías Hlífar Mogensen (bass) all masters of their respective instruments meaning that tracks such as Respire simply take you away to the deserted shores depicted on the album cover. It's built on a bed of solitary pianos, stirring strings and a deep bassline before it transitions into soaring guitar solo at it's climax.

On Matricide things get a bit more trippy showing the breadth of this band as they switch between some mid-period Pink Floyd, (Meddle especially) on Alight Parts 1 & 2, with some driving jazz driven Krautrock on Tempest and even jangling ambient on the spine-tingling, synth drenched Nuverandi. In Flight is a mesmerising album from start to finish, instrumentally complex but with a tunefulness that never lets it become too introspective, it creates and emotional response that made my hair stand on end. A brilliantly realised prog record from the frozen tundra. 9/10

Black Sites: Exile (Hoove Child Records)

Coming out of Chicago's underground this band say they draw from influences as diverse as Black Sabbath, Queensryche and Paradise Lost. They are band steeped rock n roll history with modern edge, progressive but unpretentious at its core. It's' probably this lack of pretension that got them signed to Mascot Records for their first album but here they've gone back to a minor label for their second record Exiles. They've also got a new rhythm section in tow after the original left on amicable terms, whether they add anything to this record that the previous section didn't I don't know not having heard their last record (yet) but on the more chunky offerings such as To The Fire they remind me a lot of the excellent Audrey Horne, with some cutting riffs and a heavy grooves getting the head nodding in appreciation as it transitions into the sprint of Feral Child which has some primal grooves and nice funky instrumental middle eight.

With an album that opens with three riff driven numbers, fourth song Coal City brings those more progressive touches starting out slow before some acoustic guitars bleed into a stoner track where vocalist Mark Sugar squeezes every note out of his range as Ryan Bruchert (guitar), José Salazar (bass) and Garry Naples (drums) let rip with yet another brilliant bust of instrumental prowess (including some enveloping guitar solos) the Black Sabbath doom comes in again and stays for Dwell Upon The End both drawing riffs from Birmingham's favourite sons. Dream Long Dead  has some Type O Negative misery with smidgen of The Mission to illicit the correct post-rock/goth shapes. Black Sites seem to change their genre on a whim and much like Audrey Horne I'm perfectly ok with that as so many bands these days stick to tried and tested paths but Black Sites sound different, experimental but never to their detriment.

They really live up to the Queensryche comparisons with The Prolonging the closest to the Seattle natives. Exile is a very impressive progressive metal release, it doesn't stick to a traditional sound anywhere but with the distinctive vocals, a guitar driven sound and a expressive rhythms Exile could creep into my top albums of the year with a few more listens. 9/10 

RXPTRS: I EP (Self Released)

Bristol rockers RXPTRS have only been a band since 2018 but as soon as you listen to Vultures you can hear that in that short amount of time not only they have managed to establish themselves as one of the most ferocious acts on the South West scene, they have also crafted songs that live up to that billing. Vultures is a quick blast that opens this debut EP moving from the thrashier verse to the massive hooky chorus that breaks down at the end as it melds into the driving Parasites which has some fluid lead guitars and reinforces that this band have a genuine ear for a great melody mainly due to the robust vocals and tasty grooves on tracks such as the moody Temple and the previously mentioned Parasites where the vocals get a little more rasping.

As the rhythm section brings the head banging breakdowns on Bound which has the classic quiet loud dynamic of metalcore and pop edge on the chorus. As the EP concludes you think things maybe a little introspective but it bursts into the punkiest song on the record Blister, which kicks into a slower more deliberate furrow at the end. RXPTRS are Simon Roach, Ian Chadderton, Harley Watson, Sam Leworthy, Mat Capper and together with former Feed The Rhino bassist and producer extraordinaire Oz Craggs they have made an EP that displays what a modern, vital band RXPTRS are, check them out supporting Light The Torch in Thekla, Bristol April 25th. 8/10 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Reviews: War Curse, Three Dead Fingers, Animal Drive, Hammered Overkill (Paul H & Matt)

War Curse: Eradication (Svart Records) [Paul H]

Old school thrash is one strain of our beautiful music which when done well gets me very excited and happy. The early thrash of not only the big 4 but numerous other bands as I grew up worked its magic at an early stage. Of course, if it is done poorly, then it can be shudderingly awful. So how do you square the thrash circle? Well, one way would be to listen to War Curse, whose second release Eradication is just one big circle pit of excellence from start to finish. Stomping, chugging sections intersect the classic full throttle speed and roaring but clearly decipherable vocals all garnished with some vicious, lacerating guitar work. Not only those essential ingredients, of course, because you still need some solid songwriting which War Curse have managed with ease.

The album opens with great power, Asylum is a ripping flesh type of song, and features no less than guitarist Glen Alvelais who played on Forbidden’s debut album Forbidden Evil and laid down some sterling guitar work for Testament amongst others. Serpent sees a guest appearance from Heathen sharp shooter Kragen Lum whilst the classic raging Deadly Silence is stunningly enhanced by the vocal excellence of Exhorder’s Kyle Thomas. Whilst the guests add some girth to an already meaty release, the overall delivery on Eradication is first class, and in Blaine Gordon the band possess a top-drawer vocalist, ably supported by the duelling guitars of Joshua Murphy and Justin Roth and a blisteringly tight rhythm section of Jason Viebrooks and drummer James Goetz. This is old school thrash with all the right quantities of ingredients, competently performed and perfectly executed. Magical stuff. 8/10

Three Dead Fingers: Breed Of The Devil (Bleeding Music Records) [Paul H]

34 minutes of high-quality thrash and death metal superbly composed and performed. That’s the brutal summary of this debut album from Swedish outfit Three Dead Fingers. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that these guys are all aged 13-15 years old!! Well, fuck me, there is a maturity here that thousands of bands could learn a thing or too from. Powerful, tight and heavy, and with a variety which maintains the interest, this is an album that grows the more you play it. With a bank of influences threaded through this release, it’s unsurprising to hear Testament, Slayer, Death, Arch Enemy and Sepultura in the mix although the energy and sheer enthusiasm reminds me of the early days of Bay Area titans Death Angel who were all relatively young when The Ultra Violence hit the streets in 1987. There isn’t a duff track on this release but if I’m going to point you in the direction of something really gritty, I’d point to the raging A Virus Called Life, the fiery Into The Bloodbath and the crushing thrash of Nocturnal Gates. Quite simply, this is a stunning release. Whilst some bands think that because they are young the world owes them a living; Three Dead Fingers have instead raised the middle one and produced a quite blistering debut. 8/10

Animal Drive: Back To The Roots (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

That famous repetitive chorus from The Look gets engrained even to this day so have you ever thought: "What I want is a Croatian rock band doing a cover of this and making it sound like it was written by a Sunset Strip sleaze band?" Well you're in luck because Animal Drive have released a covers album and this is the first song on the record featuring a guitar solo and the gruff vocals of frontman Dino Jelusic duetting with Rosa Laricchiuta. This screams of stopgap release which of course it is, a way of keeping the band in the consciousness while they wait to release their second album. The remaining covers on this record are a moody version of Whitesnake's Judgement Day, Monkey Business by Skid Row the song that opened Slave To The Grind and Warrant's Uncle Tom's Cabin, they are nearly all faithfully done but the heaviness is ramped up a little on all of them, except of course Monkey Business which was about that heavy to begin with. It's a covers EP done by a talented band and there's nothing much else I can say. 6/10

Hammered Overkill: New War (Self Released) [Matt]

Hammered Overkill's third album is a picture of a leather jacket, covered in an anarchy pin badge and an Iron Cross, on their website there's an Ace Of Spades and the same image. Yes folks these Finns want to be Motorhead so bad it hurts! Unfortunately they haven't quite achieved it as even though the music is rapid fire punk n roll the vocals are almost undecipherable due to the poor production and the vocalist essentially mumbles, he's trying to have the same gruff tone as Lemmy but it's far too gruff. Musically too many of the songs outstay their welcome or are just a bit too simple to keep the attention. Put on 1916 and steer clear. 4/10

Review: Belzebubs, Texas Hippie Coalition, Shrapnel, Smoulder (Paul H & Matt)

Belzebubs: Pantheon Of The Nightside Gods (Century Media) [Paul H]

So, this was an interesting one to consider. Being an old fart and completely out of touch with the younglings in the world, I had to do quite a bit of research to bring myself up to speed about Belzebubs. A trve kvlt documentary in comic form, originating from a Finnish web comic produced by JP Ahonen and updated every Friday, Belzebubs has been doing the rounds for some time and secured a cvlt following. With the rather mysterious background, the long-expected debut release Pantheon Of The Nightside Gods arrived in the box and it was time to find out what all the fuss is about.

The band comprises Hubbath on bass and vocals, Obesyx on lead guitars, Sløth on guitar and backing vocals and newly joined drummer Samael. Journey into the Pantheon Of The Nightside Gods and what you will discover is 53 minutes of perfectly crafted black metal, similar in style to the likes of Immortal and Dimmu Borgir. Now, I have no knowledge of the musicians behind this project, but this was a very entertaining and enjoyable album which I would recommend for a listen. From the opening Cathedral Of Mourning through to the title track which closes this release, everything is present. Serious amounts of blastbeats, slicing guitar work and guttural rasping vocals combine with symphonic elements and haunting piano. Soaring crescendos, stunning arpeggios and tremolo riffing, and an overall piece of work which excites. Cartoon characters they may be, but Pantheons Of The Nightside Gods works fantastically. 8/10

Texas Hippie Coalition: High In The Saddle (eOne) [Paul H]

Yeehaawww! The thunderous dirty heavy metal of Texas Hippie Coalition is back, with their sixth studio album, High In The Saddle. Since 2016’s Dark Side Of The Black there have been a number of line-up changes in the band, with only vocalist ‘Big Dad’ Ritch remaining from the line-up that formed THC a decade or so ago. With Larado Romo (bass) joining his brother Nevada (guitar) alongside new drummer Devon Carothers and Cord Pool on guitar, it’s pleasing to report that the band’s massive ballsy sound remains as potent as on previous works. It was this sound, combined with the huge vocal of Ritch that had me hooked from early on and there is no change in the grove infested songs that piledrive the listener. Opening track Moonshine and the drinking song Dirty Finger set the scene, crunching riffs and a devil may care attitude which blow those speaker stacks from the opening chords.

Sometimes complexity is a guest I don’t want at the dinner table, preferring the meaty if unsophisticated approach of THC and the like. Bring It Baby is massive, rumbling bass, soaring guitar work and a catchy hook on the chorus all combine to get the head banging with gusto. Ride Or Die slows the pace, an emotional song recounting those who have passed to the other side, Ritch giving a storming vocal performance on a power ballad that knits the album together. Stevie Nicks refers to the Fleetwood Mac singer and connections with witchcraft (ironic given Nicks is an ordained minister) but it’s a corking track, whilst album closer Blue Lights On opens with wailing sirens and an addictive chug as the track pumps along. THC do what they do damn well, and sometimes simplistic balls-out hard rock and metal is what you need. Play it loud. 7/10

Shrapnel: Decade Of Decimation (Candlelight) [Paul H]

A sharp, in your face four track EP from the UK thrashers who have re-recorded three tracks from their debut EP alongside new track Live Vindictive to celebrate their 10th anniversary. One of the most consistent and hard-working bands in the UK, their powerful, ferocious thrash metal has long been a favourite and this EP captures not only the raw power of the early days with Warhead, Rider Of Black and No Saviours, but also the essence of UK thrash metal. Sure, the US influences of Testament and a million others are there but this has a traditionally UK style which works so well. Live Vindictive is faster than anything else on the EP, oozes quality and shades of Slayer and Exodus whilst the twin guitar work is as fierce as ever. With album number three on the way shortly, Shrapnel remain one of the most important UK metal bands. 7/10

Smoulder: Times Of Obscene Evil & Wild Daring (Cruz Del Sur) [Matt]

One member of Smoulder, specifically the one that writes the lyrics, which I assume is frontwoman Sarah Ann is obsessed with swords, so much that this entire album including the artwork mentions a sword or blade at some point. I'm not saying this a criticism mind you I do love a good fantasy lyric and these Canadian epic doomsters have shed loads of them, the superbly titled Times Of Obscene Evil & Wild Daring is a Frank Frazetta painting come to life set to the musical background of classic epic doom metal acts such as Solstice, it's got all the hallmarks, riffs that move from lumbering monstrous crashes through a city (Black Gods Kiss), to some fist pumping traditional metal (Sword Woman) with a palm load of atmospherics to truly immerse you in the fantasy narrative. 

The band are Adam (bass) and Kevin (drums) who give this album it's punchy rhythm section, Colin and Vincent are the guitar slingers while Sarah Ann's vocals are brilliantly evocative for all the might and magic that this album conjures. Times Of Obscene Evil & Wild Daring is the sort of album Grand Magus would write after a 14 hour D&D session but for the massive nerd in me this actually sounds like a bloody good idea. Unfortunately for the Swedish band, these Canadians have got in there first with this fine slab of epic doom metal, 6 tracks of massive riffs, swords, sorcery and some cinematic scoring as well. No Smouldering here this record is on fire! 8/10 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Replacement Weekender

Replacement Weekender, Moon & Fuel Rock Club, Womanby Street, Cardiff

This was supposed to be a different festival, it was announced last year but only a few weeks later the organisers pulled out leaving fans and bands stumped. Thankfully the folks at The Moon managed to schedule this replacement using many of the bands that were already confirmed for the previous incarnation. The catchily named Replacement Weekender took place across two nights on Cardiff's alternative hub Womanby street, on the Friday just in The Moon club, but the Saturday not only featured more bands but the acts were split between The Moon and Fuel Rock Club. Unfortunately other business meant I couldn't attend the Friday but I was there bright and early for Saturday's shenanigans.

Normally arriving at Fuel Rock Club at 4pm is invariably a precursor for Eradication Booking Agency's extreme metal fests, however there was a totally different vibe for this Saturdays, as Greebos, stoners, hippies and beardos all made their way to Cardiff's only rock club for the first band of the day. Positive Reaction (6) had the mammoth task of opening the festival what better music for 5pm on a Saturday than some hardcore influenced punk rock which mixed grooves and rapid fire vocals, if there were any DRI fans in the audience then they would have been stomping merrily however there weren't too many in the room (through no fault of the band) but Positive Reaction elicited just that, hardcore isn't my thing but on stage they really show what they are worth as their set flew by.

Next it was over to The Moon for Newport post-metal doomsters Kong Lives (8), a band that were a bit more my taste, having seen them before I knew what I was in for but they thoroughly blew me away in the intimate surroundings of The Moon, their mostly instrumental sound, brought huge monolithic riffs and lots of feedback, when the mics were used the three string playing members all untied in screams and growls using their vocals as another instrument. It was atmospheric and ethereal and also bowl movingly heavy gaining a pretty big audience, the heads banged in unison but slowly as the band played their elongated arrangements. It was going to be a very long day if all the sets were going to be as good as this! Back over to Fuel and something a little faster in the shape of Throwing Knives (7) not long removed from their M2TM appearance, the punk rock band got the still dazed denizens moving with their bodies to their sprightly punk-filled rock music that reminded me a lot of Rise Against and Rage Against Machine, the latter because of the almost rap-like vocal styling of Brett Davies, a speedy show that got the crowd in Fuel shouting at the top of their lungs so much so that after their final song the band were coerced into playing one more by the crowd, maybe it's all about timing but it seems here Throwing Knives were on point.

Back over to The Moon for the first of two brain melting sets, on the cramped The Moon stage Sheffield progressive sludge metal crew Kurokuma (8), crouched over their pedalboards and began to make some unholy sounds using just guitar, bass, drums and as many effects as possible, reverb, modulation, distortion and more, selecting tracks from their back catalog, not many mind you as they do know how to write an epic. Once again it was mostly instrumental, with the vocals dropped in occasionally, but when they can create cascading compositions that hook you in without any vocals at all, you do think that they may be surplus to requirements, their set flew by in a wave of noise and distortion with a few false finishes meaning many didn't quite know where to applaud, which did cause a few smirks to be honest.

Once it was over though a mighty cheer went up with many stopping to chat to the band before funneling out over to Fuel for the nastiest band of the day, Cardiff blackened sludgers Tides Of Sulfur (8), who hadn't played a home town show for a long while but as the initial chords kicked in I once again felt the familiar ringing in my ear that this band always brought, playing some older stuff and new stuff of their recent EP Paralysis Of Reason, most importantly they played Humourless Cunt which wins the award for most offensive song title of the day, I'm always amazed of just how crushing this band are Anthony peeling of riffs as Tom Lee (who was pulling double duty) battered his kit into dust at the back. On the other side of the stage Chris has the filthy low end, screams and lots of gurning together they scared any of the 'normals' that were out for a day of drinking (there were a few). It was excellent to see them again on home turf next time I won't leave it as long.

Back over to The Moon for the more traditional punk fayre of Not Since The Accident (7) who also featured someone on double duty guitarist Steve also plays bass in Throwing Knives, having not long seen them I knew what to expect and they delivered again with a fun filled set of Bad Religion-like snot nosed punk, which got The Moon bouncing, they served as delightful break in proceedings buoying the crowd up ready for the first return of the day. It was a big one as the on-again-off-again legends of the South Wales stoner scene Thorun (8) returned to the stage after a lengthy hiatus, they haven't missed a beat bringing their patented brand of thundering instrumental stoner metal to Fuel, this was the second largest crowd of the day (as you'd kind of expect) with many wearing their probably now vintage Thorun t-shirts, a more melodic offering than the other mostly instrumental bands playing the festival Thorun managed to recapture the magic of years ago with fluid melodic guitars over swaggering stoner riffs. Exiting to a thunderous ovation, we can only hope that this is start of a 'proper' return from Thorun.

With joy at it's fullest it was time for another reunion of sorts as Newport-ish stoner doom band Haast's Eagled (7) maintained the evenings returns from the grave, unlike the previous band this one featured a lot of vocals that had a massive range though to my ears, sometimes dropped out of tune, but musically it much more psychedelic, still heavy as safe full of ball bearings but with a flowing melody that made them the most like a traditional prog band on the bill, to enforce this they played their own interpretation of Us And Them from Pink Floyd's seminal Dark Side And The Moon. A great set from another reinvigorated band who I hope will also be around for a while to come, welcome back Haast's Eagled it's been a while. Over to Fuel for their 'headliner', it was a riotous affair as hardcore/thrash punk band Grand Collapse (7) managed to destroy Fuel as the masses started to filter in for the last two bands of the day, there was absolute anarchy in Fuel with some craziness from the crowd as this Cardiff band brought the maelstrom thrash riffs in the style of Hatebreed, Suicidal Tendencies and Biohazard with some chunky breakdowns as well, a pretty good way for Fuel to sign off for the evening.

Then it was over to The Moon for the the last band of the entire day and what better way to finish this stoner/psych/doom/noise menagerie than with Cardiff's premier purveyors of driving psych stoner rockers Lacetillia (9) who once again climbed onto The Moon's stage, both Michael and Lukas' faces obscured by amps (a godsend some may say, just joking chaps) it was vocalist Fry and bassist Ed upfront and center with Tom Lee once more installed behind the kit, unlike their previous show at The Moon, this one featured much more of the as yet unreleased material but it all sounds brilliant already, after these gigs they'll be perfectly honed for their second record (coming this year). This set had a bittersweet nature to it as Fry dedicated to the band's friend Adam who died recently (please go here https://bit.ly/2XhNK00 to help his family repatriate his body), on stage it drove the band to play an incendiary show which got rowdier as the great unwashed started to pile in to The Moon, both Fry and Ed were animated up front and the band were tight as hell cranking out riff after riff. Lacertilia always give a brilliant show and this capped off was quite a remarkable D.I.Y festival born out of disappointment but one that was a real triumph.