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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Reviews: Sacred Gate, Tower, Damaj

Sacred Gate: Countdown To Armageddon (Metal On Metal Records) 

They're back, a band that I have an affinity with despite many not knowing who they are, Countdown To Armageddon is Sacred Gate's third album of traditional power metal, however it is unfortunately the bands last album, as they split up shortly after recording the record, this is a great shame as yes it's standard fayre but they do bring a lot to the table. Think twin guitars, relentless drumming and passionate vocals and you are in the right ball park, much like Swedes Sabaton Sacred Gate deal with the themes of war but they are more adult, more serious sounding, Manowar would be proud as this is crunch driven true metal, so if you don't like it you know where to leave.

You could throw around names such as Accept or Helloween and you'd hear them in Sacred Gate's sound but equally there is a heaving load of Maiden especially on opener Angel Of Darkness which slows into a Harris-like chug in the middle, Legions Of The North takes from Priest even dabbling in skyscraping vocals and some grunts, this record sees them with a new vocalist who although good I prefer his predecessor. It's all very Anglo-Germanic in its sound as the Teutonic speed metal fuses with the NWOBHM for what is an excellent slice of proper heavy metal, as classic as it get's, a fitting tribute to the band's legacy, they have 3 solid records of heavy metal anthems and personally it's a shame they are no longer a going concern. 8/10 

Tower: Tower (The End Records)

As we've probably noted numerous times the rise of new bands that draw heavily from the late 70's scene where hard rock became heavy metal, this saw the rise of thrash in the USA but earlier still it was the birthing of the NWOBHM. There are literally hundreds of bands that are trying to reinvent and re-popularise this sound, if I were to list them it would number 100's so Tower from New York City have a steep mountain to climb as they have come late to the party, however they bring a lot of talent to the table, much like Thin Lizzy (Bad Reputation), Scorpions (Lovedrive) and Priest (Stained Class), they avoid the follies of the NWOBHM by taking from hard rock of the 70's and just making it quicker and adding an extra guitars. Looking at the band tells you all you need to know, tight bellbottoms, denim cuts, beards, waist length hair and a raven haired frontwoman decked out in velour, leather and tassles. 

Yep it's all here musically too there are axe harmonies, bass gallops and wild vocals from frontwoman Sarabeth who has killer husky hard rock vocal that's displayed when she sneers, croons and bellows over the big riffs of James and Zak who duel and harmonise like Robertson & Gorham or Downing & Tipton at their best while the rock n roll element is held down by the backroom of Philippe's bass and Justin's drums. The whole record rocks, grooving and riffing as Sarabeth really gets you believing the rock n roll gospel they are spreading, her voice is full of conviction and it bewitches converting you to their cause as soon as the first track ends. Tower is a great debut, classy, polished and with enough of their own charm to elevate them above many of the bands doing similar, put it on turn it up and rock out like it's '78! 8/10    

Damaj: The Wrath Of The Tide (Self Released)

Damaj are a Scottish heavy metal band and this their first EP it has an old school vibe, there's no glossy production or simmering ballads, just heavy metal like it was back in its early years of the American scene concentrating more on groove than outright speed. Much like Sanctuary or Annihilator the rhythms changes and progressive bent of The Wrath Of The Tide makes Damaj not just another thrash copyist, they are a very interesting prospect indeed. Dual guitars intertwining and a colossal rhythm section of David Douglas and Scot Macleod make for loud listening while the vocals of Daniel Stewart are clean and have hint of the Het although they need refining. It's the instrumentation that make this record, the solos of James Haggart are sublime and the riffs get the fist pumping and the head banging throughout. This is a great first shot from Damaj four songs that show what they can do, the four Scots in this band have hooked on to a sound that is rare, heavy but hooky and they deliver it well, I await the full length. 7/10

Friday, 2 December 2016

Reviews: Witchery, Bölzer, Avant Guardian

Witchery: In His Infernal Majesty's Service (Century Music)

Hail Satan! Now I've got that out of the way I can get down to reviewing what is Witchery's sixth album and sees them once again with a new vocalist as Angus Norder replaces Legion who was behind the mic on the previous record. Witchery was formed in 1997 by The Haunted co-founder Patrik Jensen who along with Richard Corpse and Sharlee D'Angelo (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Mercyful Fate) are still the main triumvirate of the band.

It's their three guitars that drive the blackened thrash metal of this and previous releases, it's frantic, Satanic and incendiary bringing to mind the occult driven thrash/speed metal of Mercyful Fate and Venom. Lavey-athan (Google the Church Of Satanism folks) starts with a roar from the bowels of the beast himself and bludgeons from the outset, Zoroast adds more classic thrash sounds with the dual guitars adding some clean Cali thrashing to the sound as Netherworld Emperor has a chunky industrially-tinged stomp and a great lead break, things get faster with black metal fuelled on The Burning Of Salem.

It's a heavyweight album that does what Witchery have always done, bring the hymns of Satan to the masses, if Black metal is a little too wild and thrash a little too tame Witchery may fill that void, equal parts classic and modern this is a nasty little treat for anyone that bows to the beast incarnate. 7/10

Bölzer: Hero (Iron Bonehead Productions)

Now we come to underground heroes Bölzer who hail from Switzerland, they play black/death metal that is furious and at times oppressive but also imbued with a sense of hope. Bölzer translates loosely to 'smasher' or 'bulldozer' and it's an accurate description of the band's it bludgeons you with it's animalistic force, what's more impressive about the sheer volume and noise on this record is that the band is comprised of two members, KzR takes the guitars and shouting while HzR has the drumming down to a fine art, frighteningly fast on the faster passages but equally can be deft and sparse.

It's the progressive nature of this record that's to it's benefit, the songs don't outstay their welcome and have enough changing time signatures to keep the interest and also makes it much more spectacular that these songs are performed by just two men. You can mention Opeth in terms of soundalikes but also there are touches of fellow Swiss band Celtic Frost with the death metal blending with the black metal soundscapes.

KzR's guitar work is also relentless the riffs come at light speed washing over the percussive backing with just sheer force, his vocals meanwhile are very varied moving between scarred barking and a booming shout. Hero is a very good album and will be enough to bring Bölzer into the wider metal sphere, disconcerting, oppressive and also musically intense, Bölzer are ready to take on the established names in metal and shake things up. 7/10

Avant Guardian; Metamorphosis (Self Released)

Californian band Avant Guardian are not the beret wearing version of German band Blind Guardian they are in fact a progressive metal band with elements of power metal but mainly their sound sits in the same kind of sound as Pagan's Mind or Seventh Wonder. For a band that have only been in existence since 2009 it's great to hear a band that are so technically solid after such little time, the guitars and keys merge with brilliance from the outset, the melodic leads of Will and Ivan weave in and out and are underpinned by the technical drumming and intricate bass playing of Denny and Luis, but the superior playing is all very par for the course.

Classical influences abound, the symphonic elements of this record come from Ryan's keys which are actually the major contributor of the record giving the band a nod to Stratovarius. Now for all the skilled musicianship on this album there is a fatal flaw, the vocals of Collin are not particularly good, he doesn't have much of a range and it detracts a little from the music, with another singer this could break through the countless other prog/power metal acts out there but at the moment no matter how talented they are the vocals dampen anything even when the female vocals come in on Stockholm Syndrome they are slightly off.

It sounds like I'm being overly harsh but trust me I have heard countless prog metal acts and no matter how brilliant the musicianship is without a vocalist to bring the correct emotion it can just break down into musical nerdery. 5/10      

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Reviews: Ritchie Blackmore, In Flames, Blazon Stone (Reviews By Paul)

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow: Memories In Rock: Live in Germany 2016 (Eagle Rock)

When the man in black announced he was returning to his rock roots for three dates in June this year, it was unsurprising that tickets shifted quickly. After all, this was Ritchie Blackmore, formerly of the parish of Deep Purple and Rainbow, two legendary bands in the history of rock.

Recorded at the two German dates that the band played, Memories In Rock is a memento for those who were quick enough to get tickets. It’s a high-quality recording of a guitarist who can still cut it with the best, whose legendary status is assured and who clearly does what he wants. And why the fuck not? However, despite the best efforts of Lords Of The Black frontman Ronnie Romero, it’s the vocals that are the Achilles heel on this release. That’s not Romero’s fault. He’s just singing songs which were originally performed by Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner. Some of the greatest rock vocalists of all time.

Opening with the classic Over The Rainbow the band launch into the first of six Deep Purple songs, the always blistering Highway Star. The band are tight, the rhythm section of bassist Bob Nouveau and drummer David Keith providing the platform for Blackmore to remind everyone just how bloody good he still is. All the tracks remain true to their original format with the keyboards of Jens Johanssen superb, bringing the sounds of the late Jon Lord and Don Airey back to life again. Blackmore’s duels with Johanssen a highlight of this release.

The set list is a real greatest hits package, with the odd curved ball. Spotlight Kid for example is not one of the more well-known Rainbow songs but it gets an outing here although Romero struggles with it somewhat. As the set progresses, the surprise is really the amount of Purple songs that feature. Given that Deep Purple are regularly touring, the crowd may well have expected to hear more Rainbow. Thankfully, only one Bonnet era song is here, the classic Since You’ve Been Gone with the set heavily focused on the Dio era, including a magnificent Stargazer and 16th Century Green Sleeves. Numerous medleys also feature, occasionally bloated and over indulgent but at times brilliant; a fantastic segue into Beethoven’s Ninth during Difficult To Cure case in point.

The problem with many live albums is that they rarely capture the full flavour of the event. The crowd response isn’t an issue on this album with the German crowds in Loreley and Bissingen enthusiastic from the start. However, given the classic rock crowd that this would have pulled in the UK, I’m happy to listen to it on CD in the comfort of my own home. If you were there I’m sure it is magical. However, as the recording ends on Black Night and Smoke On The Water, I’m left wondering where’s my copy of Made In Japan? 7/10

In Flames: Battle (Nuclear Blast)

Alongside Dark Tranquility and At The Gates, In Flames are considered originators of the “Gothenburg Sound” which merged mainstream metal with the heavier elements of death metal. Battle is their 12th studio release and follows on from 2014’s Siren Charms. It opens well with Drained and The End both characteristic of their usual sound, dual guitars, the combination of growling and clean vocals from Anders Friden and harmonies on the chorus.

My problem with In Flames is that their sound remains instantly identifiable but totally unremarkable, release after releases. If you are not a devotee of the band, then In Flames are of limited interest. Technically Battle is excellent, with the use of keyboards and programming extending their moves into the “alternative metal” sound (whatever the hell that is). The Gothic tinged atmosphere adds an edge to Wallflower and Save Me and anthems like The Truth are solid. It’s by no means a bad album. Just a bit more of the same from a band that are one of the dullest I’ve ever seen live. 6/10

Blazon Stone: War Of The Roses (Stormspell Records)

War Of The Roses is the third release from Blazon Stone, side project of Cederick Forsberg, a multi-instrumentalist from Sweden. Named after the 6th album by Running Wild, War Of The Roses is a quality power/speed metal release full of tales from history and war. Forsberg plays the guitar, bass and drums on this and the two previous releases whilst [brother?] Erik provides some timeless power metal vocals and new keyboardist Jan adds some layers to provide breadth and depth. It’s very good power metal with a heavy feel. Tracks like Black Dawn Of The Crossroads and Lusitania really gallop along in traditional style. Forsberg’s playing is exceptional, with the instrumental Welcome To The Village allowing him to cut loose with some prominent Iron Maiden style guitar interplay. 8/10

Reviews: Civil Wars, Deathspell Omega, Starkill (Reviews By Rich)

Civil War: The Last Measure (Napalm Records)

Civil War is a power metal band formed by ex-members of Sabaton and 'The Last Full Measure' is their third album. Much like Sabaton, Civil War play melodic power metal with a military theme (This is the third record based upon the a trilogy of books about the American Civil Wars by Jeff Shaara- Literature Ed) but Civil War's sound is more rooted in classic heavy metal and traditional power metal. Keyboards are still prevalent but more scaled back with more emphasis on the guitars and the wonderful melodic yet weathered vocals provided by the mighty Nils Patrik Johansson (of Astral Doors and Wuthering Heights fame).

Civil War play it fairly safe on the songwriting front with the majority of the tunes on here either being a speedy power metal number or a mid paced heavy metal anthem with big anthemic choruses galore. A few songs take a more symphonic approach which gives the album a bit of variety and lets a lot of the songs stand apart from each other. Although the songwriting approach is little uninspired you cannot fault tracks such as the insanely catchy Savannah, the absolutely ripping Gladiator and the folky curveball of Tombstone.

Civil War continue to step out from under the shadow of Sabaton and become recognised as their own band. The Last Full Measure is a further step down that path. It's not a perfect album as a few songs could have been cut and the running time reduced a little but it is a great anthemic power metal album. 7/10

Deathspell Omega: The Synarchy Of Molten Bones (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

After a four year absence Deathspell Omega return with another dose of their unique brand of black metal. Their previous release the EP Drought was a more experimental release but with The Synarchy Of Molten Bones Deathspell Omega return to their previously established sound at times taking it to further realms of extremity. Each of the four tracks seems to outdo the previous in terms of intensity and extremity with dissonant guitars, mind bending chord changes all barely held together by some of the most inhumanely intense drumming.

 The vocals sit somewhere between screaming and growling and sound truly hellish. With only four tracks and a running time of under 30 minutes, The Synarchy Of Molten Bones is over way too quickly but at least in this respect it doesn't outstay its welcome. Deathspell Omega are one of the few black metal bands around today whose music sounds intimidating and at times genuinely deranged. The Synarchy Of Molten Bones is absolutely essential listening for those who like their extreme metal terrifying, off-kilter and teetering on the edge of sanity. 8/10

Starkill: Shadow Sleep (Prosthetic Records)

I've stated in a previous review that a lot of modern mainstream metal fails to impress and leaves me feeling cold. Unfortunately Starkill are not an exception to that rule. Shadow Sleep is album number three for Starkill and is a 21st century take on melodic death metal sounding a bit like a cross between Soilwork, Children Of Bodom and Trivium. Chugging, groove laden yet melodic guitar riffs are mixed with symphonic keyboards, pedestrian drumming and the harsh and clean vocals of frontman Parker Jameson. There are some nice moments during the album and everything is very well played.

The backing and co-vocals by Sarah Lynn Collier add a dramatic and epic edge and lift songs such as the title track, Cloudless and Piece Of Paradise. There is some very nice lead guitar playing throughout the album as well. Unfortunately it all sounds so clean, polished and clinical that very little of this album sticks with you by the time it has come to an end. Shadow Sleep isn't a bad album but neither is it a good one. Despite enthusiastic performances from all involved it is just a very generic and forgettable album. 5/10

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Another Point Of View: Alter Bridge (Live Review By Stief)

Alter Bridge, Volbeat, Gojira, Like A Storm - Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

With the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena deciding to open doors at 5, it meant Nic, Dan and I got into the arena in time to catch the end of Like A Storm's (6) final song Love The Way You Hate Me. Pretty decent fare, and a band I'd probably check out another time.

However, when French Metal titans Gojira (9) take the stage, it's a whole other level, their brutal riffs and earthquake-inducing bass threatening to tear apart our quaint little arena. Starting with Toxic Garbage Island and L'Enfant Sauvage before treating the crowd to a triple whammy of heavy hitters from Magma, including the awesome Silvera. As the band close with fan favourite Vacuity, it's evident that many minds have been well and truly blown.

Volbeat (8) are another flavour altogether, tearing straight into The Devil's Bleeding Crown, their rockabilly inspired heavy metal sound causing an infectious wave of dancing and headbanging through the entire arena. Fan (and personal) favourite Lola Montez also elicits a similar reaction. Other noteworthy moments include a quick cover of Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire followed by Sad Man's Tongue and one of Volbeat's heaviest songs, Evelyn, where the vicious growls of Barney Green way of Napalm Death were adequately performed by Michael Poulsen who's voice is both powerful and soulful, the northern twang in most songs fitting perfectly with the Rockabilly vibe.

After an announcement that tonight's performance is being recorded for a live CD, Alter Bridge (8) take to the stage to tremendous applause, opening with The Writing On The Wall from this year's The Last Hero, following it up with Come To Life. The band give a good show, their performance including songs from throughout their career, from the aforementioned The Last Hero to debut album One Day Remains. Frontman Myles Kennedy has a brilliant stage presence, constantly engaging the audience and the man admittedly has a great voice, although it's not to my personal taste.

He's backed up vocally by guitarsmith Mark Tremonti, who even takes centre stage for Waters Rising. Tremonti's voice is excellent, and even when he isn't singing, his guitar work is brilliant. The band's sound is tight, with Scott Phillips and Brian Marshall keeping the rhythm on drums and bass respectively. Overall, an enjoyable night with some brilliant music.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Lazuli (Live Review By Paul)

Lazuli: The Fleece, Bristol

Last year the overwhelming highlight of an otherwise bloated performance from Fish at the O2 Academy was the support band, French outfit Lazuli, whose unique progressive rock fused with Eastern influences was quite fantastic. Their modest reaction to a massive ovation was quite humbling.

Roll forward almost a year and Lazuli (10) are back in Bristol, at one of our favourite venues, The Fleece. This was a gig we’d been looking forward to for some time and it proved to be ever so worthwhile. A sparse crowd of around 70 people allowed for plenty of space on the floor but that didn’t faze the Frenchmen who took the stage just before 8.30pm. Over the next two hours the band treated the audience to a masterful demonstration in pace, power and passion. Lazuli’s strengths are numerous, but a huge factor in their appeal is the eclectic sound. At times heavy and hard, often delicate and precise and always superbly performed, the band have few peers and deserved a much larger audience.

Opening with the beautiful Le Temps Est La Rage from their recent Nos Ames Saoules, Lazuli played a magnificently paced set which combined tracks from their latest album with older material, including several from 2014’s brilliant Tant Que L’herbe Est Grasse. With the diminutive Dominique Leonetti the focal point as vocalist and guitarist, the band demonstrated their skills throughout. Guitarist Gederic Byar was exceptional, his guitar work intricate. To Dominique’s right his brother Claude whose self-designed Léòde is still an instrument of mystery but boy can he play it. Behind the front three, drummer Vincent Barnavol whose percussion was a thing of beauty whilst keyboard and French horn player Romain Thorel added layers onto an already stunning sound.

The band appeared to be delighted to be playing live, with broad smiles and much laughter. Dominique apologised for his faltering English, something that there was no need to do at any stage. He read out some introductory pieces from a sheet of A4, taking the opportunity to demonstrate a wicked sense of humour. What also impressed was the crowd response which was first class. There may have been few of us there but the thunderous applause after each song demonstrated that there is an appetite for much more. Lazuli closed their set with two pieces of magic. An enthralling drum versus keyboard duel between Vincent and Romain before the band joined forces for their magical marimba finale, complete with a snippet of Heroes in the middle..

As the applause rang out around The Fleece I reflected on the similarities and differences between Lazuli and the incredible performance I’d witnessed by Opeth at Wembley the week before. Two bands who follow their own musical path, regardless of pressure. Both humble and modest in approach and performance, both musically magical and enchanting despite at times being poles apart in content. Sometimes live music lifts you to places where you cannot otherwise reach. This was another of those evenings.

Monday, 28 November 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Planet Of Zeus

Planet Of Zeus & Welcome Back Delta, Exchange, Bristol

A Saturday night in Bristol can always be hit and miss, mainly due to the traffic situation, however with a pretty smooth ride into the city we managed to arrive 15 minutes before show time ready for a night of gargantuan riffs. Many of those in attendance would have first seen Welcome Back Delta and Planet Of Zeus supporting Clutch and by the numerous Clutch T-Shirts (and one Clutch hat) you can tell that POZ and WBD made an impact. It also gives away the sounds of both bands, this is groove-laden, riff heavy stoner rock with both bands taking the riffs and giving them a good seeing too. There was supposed to be a thrid band Baron greenback on the bill but they apparently pulled out of the show so at 7:30 Welcome Back Delta took to the stage.

What was immediately striking about Welcome Back Delta (7), other than the additional Clutch shirt of frontman Joe Kelly was the extremely natty Xmas jumper worn by guitarist Rob Duncan (In November no less), we found out later this was due to a work enforced jumper day. (Still it's fucking November). WBD are four very affable chaps, they thoroughly enjoy what they do and don't take themselves too seriously, the stage banter was abound from the off as all four of them sparked off each other and we were let in on the joke, special kudos to bassist Phil Davies who did seem to be dying of Man-Flu but continued to bring the low-down grooves for tracks such as Jeremy's Iron and the colossal Thrones.

Playing most of the tracks off their most recent effort, Preacher brought a Clutch-like swagger while Dadgerous ramped up the heavy. Halfway through the set they got slinky as four white boys from the Cotswolds played the blues (their words not mine) and towards the end they filled the set with more riffage and bluesy, heavy rock. WBD were an excellent opener, getting the heads nodding and feet tapping ready for the Greek style stoner rock to come.  

With small change over the Greek four piece took to the stage, possibly the most Hellenic looking band I've seen, they clearly have an attraction to their fellow countrymen as they pulled in a lot of the Greek rockers from around Bristol and Cardiff. As the room filled with both enthusiasm and the use of Greek as a language increased with the band kicking off with the anthemic Loyal To The Pack the title track of their most recent album, which saw them gain a lot of recognition in the UK.

While it wasn't a sold out crowd much like the venues in their native country the response of the crowd for every song was rapturous, the pace rarely dropped as Babis' wild eyed, shouted delivery set them apart from their support, Planet Of Zeus (8) have a gritty, Southern metal swagger with songs about "rock an roll" as Babis put it, but they also have the more melodic, psych sounds of the stoner scene (I've talked about the Greek stoner scene before), think Sabbath jamming with Skynyrd as Danko Jones cuts in and you've got it. 

As Babis (rhythm guitar), J.V (bass) and Skye (drums) lay down the thick riffage, Yog contributes the simmering leads. The hairy, bearded bastards on stage were the mirror image of the majority of the crowd, this is probably why they have a devoted following they seem like an everyman band just plugging in and playing with cuts such as Sky High Heels, Your Love Makes Me Want To Hurt Myself, The Great Dandolos, Little Deceiver just small snippets of full impact set that allowed the riffs to flow over you. 

As the set wound up there was no drop in ferocity or enthusiasm the band had the crowd clapping, shouting and jumping right up until the final chord, then at 9:50 as quickly as they entered the stage they exited leaving the crowd shouting for more. Little gigs like this make doing this worthwhile, just over 2 hours of fat, thick heavy rock with admittedly small but responsive crowd making the band play at 110% "Efcharisto Poli!"  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Reviews: Dark Tranquility, Graham Bonnet, Scattered Hamlet (Reviews By Paul)

Dark Tranquility: Atoma (Century Media)

Melodic death metal legends Dark Tranquility, godfathers of the “Gothenburg scene” return with their 11th album and it’s a solid affair. Fusing Mikael Stanne’s traditional death growls with some rather tidy clean vocals Atoma contains a mix of all out brutality with many calmer and melodic passages. It is the first album without rhythm guitarist Martin Henriksson who left in March 2016 after 26 years with the band.

New bassist Anders Iwers makes his debut on this follow up to 2013’s Construct. Much emphasis is placed on the song composition with the synth work of Martin Brandstrom providing a nice counterfoil to the frantic drumming of Anders Jivarp and the scorching guitar work of Niklas Sundin. Tracks such as Neutrality, Forward Momentum and Force Of Hand provide all the evidence you need that the Swedes are still a major force in the melodic death metal arena. 7/10

Graham Bonnet Band: The Book (Frontiers)

Born in Skegness in 1947, Graham Bonnet still possesses on of the finest and most powerful voices in rock. The Book is a new album with 11 freshly recorded tracks by The Graham Bonnet Band along with rerecorded versions of 16 ‘classics’. For a man whose first hit was way back in 1968 with The Marbles (Only One Woman, written by Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees pop pickers), his longevity can only be admired. However, I have long taken umbrage with the word ‘legend’ that he has been labelled with.

On the plus side, he provided Rainbow and Ritchie Blackmore with fresh impetus and two hit singles in 1980. All Night Long and Since You’ve Been Gone have long sat in the classic rock file, although both are lyrically creepy. His sole album with Rainbow Down To Earth also contained two real solid other tunes, Lost In Hollywood and the stomping Eyes Of The World. His time with Michael Schenker in MSG was slightly less impressive. One album, the rather weak Assault Attack and one gig in Sheffield where he appeared pissed and with his cock out. Yes, legendary for all the wrong reasons. Alcatrazz contained more guitar virtuosos than he had a right to expect, with Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai and three albums failed to produce much unless you happen to be Japanese where the former crooner is idolised like CP3O at an Ewok Convention.

So, let’s get CD 2 out of the way first. A list of 16 reworked classics which includes the four tracks from his stay with Mr Blackmore, albeit devoid of the man in black’s bluesy Fender Stratocaster magic. A few from Bonnet’s sole MSG outing including Assault Attack, Desert Song and the pop-influenced Dancer, all of which suffer without metal Mickey’s guitar work. I had cause to put on the original Assault Attack track just to refresh my memory and it was so much better than this version. Still, Bonnet’s vocals hold up well to the original and if you get the opportunity check out the You Tube recording of Bonnet singing this with Schenker at this year’s Sweden Rocks. In fact, it’s his solo stuff that works best here with a blistering version of Night Games, which is still a brilliant tune; pop rock at its best.

The re-workings of his time with Alcatrazz and Imperllitteri, well, yeah, they are okay. It’s better fare on CD1, which has the original compositions. A throwback to the pomp of his Rainbow days, there is some good hidden amongst the 11 on offer. Of course, it’s a matter of taste, but Bonnet’s vocals performance is impressive. The classic rock vibe is really in evidence with Jimmy Waldo’s keyboards duelling with Conrad Pesinato’s fine guitar work in much the same way Blackmore did with Don Airey in those halcyon days of the first Monsters Of Rock. Opener Into The Night is a storming track, fluid and fast. Rider powers away, full of melody and pomp whilst The Book is a genuine rocker. I’ve never really liked Bonnet, his suited image and apparent self-importance always made me feel uneasy. Credit where credit is due, The Book is a very decent melodic rock release, full of the classic rock feel of the 1980s but with a modern angle. It really demonstrates that the man can still sing and write good tunes. Much better than I was expecting. 7/10

Scattered Hamlet: Swamp Rebel Machine (Buck Moon Productions)

No pretence with this lot. It’s balls out dirty whisky soaked blues hard rock with a red neck stomp. Hell, the band list a whole slab of bands who would have you breaking the speed limit if they popped up on shuffle and Scattered Hamlet nestle in there, nicely situated alongside the likes of Texas Hippie Coalition and Hogjaw. These boys play hard and if you like your music powered by Skynyrd, Hatchet, Clutch and Sabbath with a serving of New Orleans sludge then this is just for you. It’s not subtle, it’s not sweet but it does the fucking job. Grab a beer, get your cowboy hat and jump aboard the Swamp Rebel Machine. It’s one hell of a ride. 8/10

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Reviews: Maschine, Apollo, Baleful Creed

Maschine: Naturalis (InsideOut)

Pipes, Beards, Real Ale and Spectacles at the ready folks it's prog time and I mean 'proper' prog not this modern stuff, think the jazz influenced-likes of King Crimson, ELP, Genesis (with Gabriel and Hackett) and if you want to be recent Steven Wilson. Luke Machin is the band leader/vocalist and most importantly guitarist of Maschine and much like Robert Fripp in King Crimson, Maschine is his way of expressing himself totally. Machin has guested in other bands but none have been as traditionally progressively minded and defiantly non conformist as Maschine.

Along with the band leader, the rest of the band are all virtuosos at their respective instruments, behind everything changing the pace and playing with a hell of a lot of power but also nuanced spatial awareness that let's the longer songs breathe, is drummer James Stewart. Thickening Machin's guitar sound are the heavy riffs of Elliot Fuller who maintains the groove with bassist Daniel Mashal who's bass work is thick, funky and adds soul to what can sometimes be a stale, cerebral genre, just check out Resistance and Megacyma for a full display of his ability.

Finally rounding out the the band is Marie-Eve de Gaultier who adds the colour to these pieces with her soaring, honeyed vocal matching well with Machin's lower more spoken style as she also provides the keys, organs and flute to really make this record an eclectic piece. Building upon the ideas of their debut record and focusing them into a more cohesive, accessible but still unflinchingly complex unit, with an album dealing with man's devastating encounters with nature (something  actually happening outside of MoM towers at the time of this review). Naturalis is a sublime record and it puts Maschine at the forefront of the new prog resurrection. 9/10

Apollo: Waterdevils (Escape)

Many will be familiar with vocalist Apollo Papathanasio the Swedish (from Greek descent), singer is the current vocalist of Spiritual Beggars and is probably most well known as the frontman of Greek power metal band Firewind, he was the singer during their breakthrough and most successful period from Allegiance onward. Now however he has taken a break from contributing to other peoples music and has focused on creating his own record under his own name.

In what is a sharp contrast to the Firewind days Waterdevils is hard rock album with touches of classic rock and AOR defined by big choruses and chunky riffs, Apollo's vocals take centre stage as he really unleashes his full range emotive and triumphant he is a great singer with a unique delivery. Revolution For The Brave has nods to Spiritual Beggars with organ stabs powering the song, while I Need Rock N Roll wouldn't sound out of place on a KISS album.

There are various influences shining through on this record giving a rock jukebox feel, but the title of the record belays it's nature, Waterdevils are "a weather phenomenon. It's a small, weak whirlwind over water that's (sic) pretty rare. You never know where you'll see it or if you'll see it again" this record acts a tribute to the artists that Apollo has grown up with but also to the musicians from King Diamond, Gamma Ray, Arch Enemy, Grand Magus, MasterPlan, that contribute to the record. Will we see it again? I can't say but for now Waterdevils is a great accompaniment to the rest of Apollo's achievements. 7/10

Baleful Creed: S/T (Self Released)

Straight out of Belfast with fist full of riffs and a belly full of groove Baleful Creed are a band with a sound born in NOLA and created with help Mr Jack Daniels this is fuzzy stoner rock that has some psych vibes, low slung heaviness but also shovel loads of melody from the dual guitar interplay of Fin Finlay and John Allen weaving in and out of each other creating a thick seam of riffage as Stephen Fleming and Mark Stewart are the rock solid backroom driving the title track like a truck rolling down the highway, with nods to Sabbath (Thorazine), some Alice In Chains (Autumn Leaves), Fireball Ministry (especially in the vocals) and even the now finished Black Spiders.

This is guitar heavy stoner rock that relies on huge grooves, some trippy sounds, touches of rumbling doom and desert rock like blissed out passages, Crazy Man is a great demonstration of this with it's slow burning build and chord heavy chorus. I've been dealing with a lot of US and Greek stoner rock recently and happily it's nice see that bands this side of the pond can wade in with a strong collection of stoner rock riffs like this a great full length for those that love their music with double shot of bourbon and tonne of grit. 7/10
   

Friday, 25 November 2016

Reviews: Kentucky Headhunters, Herman Frank, Demon, Tiebreaker (Reviews By Paul)

Kentucky Headhunters: On Safari (Plowboy Records)

Any band whose opening track is called Beaver Creek Mansion should automatically receive a 10 rating. Kentucky Headhunters roots sit all the way back in 1968 when brothers Richard and Fred Young started Itchy Brother in Metcalfe County, Kentucky. Kentucky Headhunters become a thing in 1986 with lead guitarist Greg Martin on board. Debut album Pickin’ On Nashville in 1989 was widely acclaimed. The current line up is completed by Doug Phelps, lead vocals since 1995 and bass since 2008.

On Safari is a mixture of country, blues and rock with a metal edge. Tracks like Deep South Blues Again, I Am The Hunter and Lowdown Memphis Town Blues all flow with soul and passion, with some typically free flowing guitar work beloved of the Southern rock style. It makes you want to grab a cold one and stomp that foot on the porch. It's not all brilliant mind, with some of the more religious themes a little hard to stomach.

God Loves A Rolling Stone is not a homage to Jagger and co, but an evangelical tinged Jebus hymn which I could do without. This is probably unsurprising given the band's side projects include a gospel rock album (Martin was part of The Mighty Messiahs) Still, when the band do let go, the music is mighty fine and Phelps voice sits comfortably with the band’s southern swagger. 7/10

Herman Frank: The Devil Rides Out (AFM)

Guitarist Herman Frank is probably best known for his work with German legends Accept. Having left the band after 1983’s Balls To The Wall, he forged a career with Victory as well as producing numerous bands including Saxon. A return to Accept for Blood Of The Nations, Stalingrad and Blind Rage saw him leave the band again in December 2014.

It won't be a surprise to discover that his third solo release, The Devil Rides Out sticks pretty rigidly to the formula of the aforementioned metal outfits. Blistering solos, thunderous drumming and average lyrics are all firmly in place for a pretty formulaic release which ticks all the heavy metal boxes. Thunder Of Madness may be the stand out track with its ferocious speed and aggressive power.

Part of the difficultly is vocalist Rick Altzi, mouthpiece of several other bands including Masterplan, At Vance and Frequency, whose gritty gnarly voice just grates a little as the album progresses. On the plus side, Frank’s fretwork skills are stunning, shredding for fun with a sharpness that’ll cut you. Bonus track Forever is the obligatory power ballad and adds nothing. Average heavy metal by numbers. 6/10

Demon: Cemetery Junction (Spaced Out)

When I was 13 years old I was fixated by an album called The Plague by Demon. A family holiday in the Isle Of Man was made tolerable because of that album, on cassette, which spent the entire trip on a loop on my Sony Walkman. I was vaguely aware that the band had already released their two most highly rated albums, Night Of The Demon in 1981 and The Unexpected Guest the following year.

I don't even know why I loved The Plague so much as it really hasn't stood the test of time very well. After 1985’s British Standard Approved interest waned and it was with some surprise that Cemetery Junction appeared recently. It transpires that the band has maintained momentum since reforming in 2001, with three albums and an appreciative audience still out there to welcome them. I bet the Germans bloody love them.

With a pretty  stable line up in place, the band knit around original vocalist Dave Hill. Drummer Neil Ogden has been on board since 2002, guitarist Dave Cotterill since 2007 whilst bassist Ray Walmsley has previously played guitar for many years. Ken Wayne’s keyboards and Paul Hume’s drums complete the line up.

Unfortunately Cemetery Junction isn't very good. Opener Are You Just Like Me is okay, but second track Life In Berlin stinks. Musically the band are incredibly competent but it's just so pedestrian and rooted in 1986. This is the kind of stuff Magnum churned out around the Vigilante era (shudders - Ed). Turn On The Magic, The Best Is Yet To Come (if only) and Queen Of Hollywood are all Synth heavy average rock with Hill’s slightly strained vocal style possibly the only thing connecting the band with their past.

By the time you get to Thin Disguise it's pretty desperate stuff. The title track doesn't make it any better but I can see this lot going down a storm at Hard Rock Hell or some other nostalgia drenched festival. I'm astounded the band are still plugging away and full kudos to them for that. It's just a shame that the atmospheric intent never quite translates to top class tunes. 5/10

Tiebreaker: Death Tunes (Karisma Records)

Tiebreaker play Norwegian rock ‘n’ roll. Death Tunes is their second full release, following on from 2014’s We Come From The Mountains. With a mix of influences including a healthy dose of Pearl Jam, this is a pretty decent album full of Melody and power. Thomas E. Karlsen’s vocals are gritty and powerful, with his performance on Cannonball reminiscent of Chris Cornell in his prime. If you like guitar driven rock with a melancholic edge combined with the raw passion of early garage rock then check this release out.7/10