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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Reviews: Insomnium, The Sword, Operation Mindcrime (Reviews By Paul)

Insomnium: Winter’s Gate (Century Media)

Shut the gates! Bolt the doors! Lock up the children and prepare the mead. Winter's Gate, the seventh album from Finnish melodic death metallers has arrived and it is an absolute beast. Consisting of one epic forty minute track split into seven parts which tells the story of a group of Vikings who follow a quest to find a fabled land through treacherous weather, Winter's Gate is without doubt the finest album Insomnium have ever made. 2014's Shadows Of The Dying Sun was fantastic, but this is just stunning. The album builds from part 1 to part 7, with the climax combining some of the heaviest and delicate elements.

Pounding guitars, crashing drums, death growls mix with soaring harmonies and gentle melodies. All are fully in the mix before part 7 delivers the mightiest of assaults on the senses. It is magnificent. The band are tight as a gnat’s chuff throughout, Markus Hirvonen’s drumming astonishing, the acoustic guitar work of Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala intricate and gentle whilst their electric work is just brutal. Niilo Sevanen’s bass work solid whilst the vocal performance is exceptional. Winter may well be coming. In fact, it may well have already arrived. Light the fires and enjoy one of the best albums of the year. 10/10

The Sword: Low Country (Razor & Tie)

Just over a year ago we reviewed The Sword’s fifth studio album, High Country, which moved massively away from their Sabbath tinged doom/stoner feel and introduced all kinds of crazy shit including jazz and electronica. It grew on me massively through the year and hit my top 10 of 2015. Low Country is not a new album in the purest sense, containing ten stripped down acoustic versions of tracks from High Country. It was recorded before High Country was released and produced by bassist Bryan Richie.

What Low Country does so well is allow John D Cronise to flex his vocals, with a number of the tracks well suited to the acoustic approach. After opener Unicorn Farm, Empty Temples provides the first real feel to the album, country fused with Americana acoustic. With added harmonies throughout, The Sword have produced a worthy piece of music which stands alone as a main or as a very tasty side dish to High Country. Kyle Shult’s guitar work is excellent and when the band add in additional musicians to enhance the tracks, it becomes even better.

High Country, Seriously Mysterious and The Dream Thieves benefit from the backing female vocals of Jazz Mills whilst the Aerosmith stomp of Early Snow has the additional enhancement of trombone (Mark Gonzales), saxophone (Josh Levy) and trumpet (Gilbert Elorreagab). Buzzards introduces a simple synth, drum pattern and some haunting electric guitar to stunning effect and closing track The Bees Of Spring is a perfect gentle conclusion to an album that compliments the previous release. This one will grow and grow. 8/10

Operation Mindcrime: Resurrection (Frontiers)

2015’s The Key saw the first in the trilogy of albums from Geoff Tate's post Queensryche outfit. The fall out has been well documented and was covered in the review of The Key so let's move away from that straight away. Tate has always possessed one of the greatest voices in progressive metal so it’s good to have him back doing what he does best. Resurrection contains the same stellar assembly as The Key with the core writing team once again Tate and, guitarists Kelly Gray and Scott Moughton. Gray and Tate have also produced this album and have done a decent job. 

The first thing you notice about Resurrection is the change in tone. It is much more progressive than the first album, the songs in general more restrained and contextually deeper. The Fight is almost a ballad, with some cracking acoustic work and harmonies on the vocals. Piano, synths and keyboards all feature heavily with credit to Randy Gane's skills on the ivories. Gray and Moughton add depth with their guitar work, whether it is on the power riffs on Healing My Wounds and the powerful first single Taking On The World which features fellow bearded baldies Blaze Bayley and Tim “Ripper” Owens. Avoid the video though, it's dreadful.

Of course, being a concept album, the tracks sit tightly in formation, although they generally would stand alone too. Invincible is a seven minute smouldering beast, allowing Tate’s epic vocal to build slowly along with the track which gains momentum splendidly along with some superb guitar work. With the bass of Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson and Disturbed’s John Moyer laying the foundations in conjunction with drummers Simon Wright (ex AC/DC), Scott Mercado and Brian Tichy (The Dead Daisies), there is no doubt that this is a house built with solid shoring's. 

At over an hour in length it's a piece of work that requires commitment. A Smear Campaign is one of the heavier tracks on the album with some chunky riffs combining sweetly with Gane’s sweeping synthesisers. In fact the album gets longer as it progresses, with the final five tracks all clocking in at six minutes or more. Which Side You're On sits with Dream Theater in its grandiose sound, keyboards once again leading the groove of the guitar riffs as the track builds impressively. Into The Hands Of The World is the second longest track on the album at seven minutes long, some interesting tempo changes and styles providing a real progressive feel to the track, with more than a passing glance in parts to the late David Bowie before the industrial tinged Live From My Machine brings this intriguing album to a close. 7/10

Friday, 30 September 2016

Reviews: In The Woods, Skreamer, Jinjer (Reviews By Rich)

In The Woods...: Pure (Debemur Morti)

It was a complete albeit lovely surprise to find out recently that the legendary In The Woods... had not only reformed but were releasing a brand new album - their first in a whopping sixteen years since the compilation album Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage (and their first full length album since 1999's Strange In Stereo). This brought up many questions with the first being how would it sound? Would the band recapture their early atmospheric black metal sound or pick up where they left off sixteen years with another album of majestic prog metal? Who would still be in the band from the previous line up? And most importantly would it sound any good?

The majority of the classic line up return. Guitarist Oddvar A.M. sadly passed away in 2013 and frontman Jan Transit has pretty much retired from music. Fronting the band as well as playing guitars and keyboards is the very able James Fogarty (of The Meads Of Asphodel, Jaldaboath and countless other projects). Musically Pure kind of picks up where they left things in 2000 although with a less avant-garde sound than Strange In Stereo. A stunning blend of dark melancholic doominess and classic prog-rock with some extreme metal elements mixed in.

The band doesn't retread old ground though with this album sounding very current and even forward-thinking. I won't recommend individual songs as like the previous albums in the In The Woods... discography (and like any good album) this needs to be heard in its entirety. So sit back, turn up the volume and be prepared to be taken on a musical journey through light and shade and through hope and sorrow. A huge welcome back to In The Woods... 9/10

Skreamer: King Of Crows (Self Released)

London metalcore heavyweights return with their second album King Of Crows and have released the album as a free download with a lot of coverage from major 'metal' magazine. The album is chock full of brutal groove heavy metalcore anthems with a scattering of nu metal influences throughout. The songs on King Of Crows are short, sharp and straight to the point wasting no time in bludgeoning your senses which like the rest of the album has a unrelenting political edge.

They are also nicely varied in style from the driving groove of The Awakening, the grunge-influenced introspection of Vacancy, the rap rock of Welcome To Paradise to the all out nastiness of Pig Feed. Even with all these different sounds and influences coming together the album has a nice flow to it and doesn't sound disjointed. It's both equally accessible and brutally heavy and should appeal of fans of mainstream and underground metal alike. 7/10

Jinjer: King Of Everything (Napalm Records)

King Of Everything is the second album by Ukranian band Jinjer and their first release on Napalm Records. Jinjer's sound can be described as a mix of djent-esque groove metal and metalcore with cleanly sung choruses and a few extreme metal influences. The big question is does this mixing pot of styles work? Unfortunately not. Considering the amount of styles mixed together this album just sounds completely uninspiring and bland. The guitar riffs are of the standard chug-groove style with a few flourishes of technicality here and there but nothing that really grabs your attention.

The cleanly sung choruses are distinctly uncatchy and unmemorable. The only songs that really show any promise are the singles Words Of Wisdom and I Speak Astronomy and the very different samba-esque closer Beggar's Dance but these cannot salvage this album. There are some positives though, drummer Vladislav Ulasevish puts in a great performance with an impressive use of double kick and blast beats but the real stand out is vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk who has an incredible range from deep deathly growls, throat ripping screams to impressive clean vocals.

Despite good performance and one or two interesting moments King Of Everything is a underwhelming and unmemorable experience. These guys definitely have some incredible talent but sadly haven't released an album that realises their potential. 4/10

Reviews: Airbourne, Brujeria, Gong (Reviews By Paul)

Airbourne: Breakin' Outta Hell (Spinefarm)

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. To be honest, I could end this review there. The fourth album from Aussie hard rockers Airbourne follows exactly the same pattern as their previous three. Let's see, themes of drinking, partying, drinking, sex, drinking and rock ‘n’ roll. Yep, all present and correct. High speed rock ideal for breaking the motorway limits. With tracks such as When I Drink I Go Crazy, It's Never Too Loud For Me and I'm Going To Hell For This, it isn't subtle and it never was going to be. Thin The Blood allows Joel O’Keefe to really let loose, whilst the homage to cunnilingus on Down On You, including the stunningly sensitive line “it's everything a woman needs” must have taken about five minutes in the pub with a Chubby Brown DVD. It's pretty basic near to the knuckle stuff that Bon Scott and co managed to do with so much more class back in the 1970s. If you like Airbourne then this one will tick the required boxes and it does add to the repertoire available at their next live show. Solid and well played, O’Keefe’s lead guitar remains impressive whilst the remaining members, brother Ryan, Rhythm guitarist David Roads and bassist Justin Street do exactly what is required. It's formulaic, repetitive but good fun. 7/10

Brujeria: Pocho Aztlan (Nuclear Blast)

Pocho Aztlan is the first album in 15 years from Brujeria, a death/thrash/groove/grindcore outfit formed by Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares way back in 1989. The current line up contains numerous known and not so well known faces but has included Napalm Death’s Shane Embury (since 1992) and El Cynico, Otherwise known as Carcass voice and bassist Jeff Walker. Full of anger, speed and groove and completely sung in Spanish, Pocho Aztlan follows the themes the band has become renowned for, immigration, narcotics, law and order and politics. With craziness compulsory, this is the album that The Muppets Animal would drum on. The vocals of Juan Brujo, Pinche Peach and Fatsoma interplay with superb effect, the Mexican slant essential. Gritty, uncomfortable yet compelling, Pocho Aztlan is a raging slab which is well worth a listen, if only to hear the chaos in Plata O Plomo, the blistering middle section of Satongo and the closing track, a cover of The Dead Kennedys California Uber Aztlan. 8/10

Gong: Rejoice! I'm Dead! (Snapper Music)

If you don't know about Gong then this album might be a bit of a belated introduction to a whole world of psychedelic space rock. Formed in Paris in 1967, Gong has been active in a variety of line ups, with founder Daevid Allen present until 1975 and then again from 1990 until his death in 2015. The band are probably best known for their 1973-4 trilogy Radio Gnome Invisible although with so many spin offs and side projects it's impossible to nail this perfectly. 

Allen apparently urged the band to continue after his death and although the line up bears no resemblance to that of the 1970s, Rejoice! I'm Dead! is a fitting tribute to Allen. Indeed, one might argue that this album, incredibly no.28 in the catalogue is as contemporary as they've ever been and a high quality exemplar of the genre. Unsurprisingly the album contains a number of lengthy meandering tracks, with Rejoice! In particular a fine ten minute noodle with some super guitar work from Fabio Golfetti, a stunning solo from one time member Steve Hillage and meandering saxophone courtesy of Ian East. Model Village and Beatrix feature posthumous vocals from Allen, his narrative adding a slightly surreal feel to two gentle tracks which allow Kavus Torabi to excel on main vocals. East’s saxophone soars perfectly whilst Didier Malherbe’s subtle contribution with the duduk adds feeling. Beatrix is slightly more disconcerting, with Allen’s eerie French being accompanied by a lone piano and then East’s mournful saxophone. 

The album contains two more lengthy tunes. The 12 minute Sojurn Of The Unspeakable Stands Revealed which gives you more than a clue as to some of Opeth’s current influences with waves of synths and keys supporting the soulful sax and flute of Ian East. Cheb Nettles smooth jazz style drumming underpins the whole track, allowing the psychedelic tones of Torabi, ably supported by Dave Sturt And Golfetti, to wash through the track. Album closer Insert Yr Own Prophecy dips in at just over nine and a half minutes and is a fantastic rocking tune with some wacky vocals and runaway saxophone. It's hard to really be objective about Gong and whether the purists would even class this as Gong is debatable. However, it is a quite addictive release, one which will demand repeated plays. 8/10

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Spotlight: Psychostick (Live Review and Interview By Stief)

Psychostick, The Globe Cardiff


Before the Psychostick gig, the Musipedia were lucky enough to catch a few words with bassist Matty J Moose and guitarist Josh "The J" Key.

Stief: This Is your first headlining tour in the UK, how does that feel, and did you ever expect to get to this point?

Josh: I'd say we hoped for it, but you never really can expect anything that's ultimately out of your control, you can only just do your best and hope that things work out, but things worked out.

Matty: Like, what did you think in 2000 when you were in Tempe, Arizona, trying to put these songs together for the first time, was this even remotely a thought?

Josh: Even, hell just getting a CD out was an achievement, you know? just getting a CD done was like, you know, at that point was like the proudest achievement of my life.

Matty: When you're climbing a ladder, you know, you're not focused on what's 7 rungs up that way, you're focused on getting your hand on this one and pulling yourself up to the next thing, so, I mean last year was a complete mindfuck just coming over here with Dog Fashion Disco.

Josh: Yeah, like 'I can't believe we're actually here, you know? we're doing well enough to actually be here!'
Matty: And then we get here finally last year and we're absolutely shocked, I speak for everyone when I say how shocked we were that there are so many fans here that rabidly love us and support us like all the time, and that really made it apparent, we're like 'oh man, maybe we should like, come back here all the time. Maybe we can do a headlining tour here' so this is more of an experiment than anything else, trying to get it done and with Green Jello unfortunately dropping off the tour, it's just us. Made it a little bit more difficult, but I'm still flabbergasted it's working.

Josh: Yeah, still having a good time.

Matty: People keep showing up to shows, and promoters keep paying us [laughs]

Josh: Keep drinking lots and lots of beer. Seriously, like, last year when I came here for the first time, I hadn't drank like that since I turned 21, the legal drinking age in the US, and uh, you can say the same about this tour too [laughs] so much beer!

Stief: Is our beer any good?

Matty: Oh yeah! This stuff's awesome!

Josh: I'm trying all this different shit I've never heard of.

Stief: what's your favourite so far?

Matty: It's hard to pick one, I mean, we put Guinness on our rider because we loved it so much last year, and it tastes so much smoother and richer here than it does back in the states.

Josh: Even though everybody says its even better in Ireland.
Stief: Yeah, I've heard that, my friends have said it's awesome in Ireland. (It is - Beer Ed)

Josh: It's already so much better here than it is in America.

Matty: People have been bringing us all kinds of stuff that I can't even begin to list it, I mean, this is our 7th or 8th show and we've probably sampled 20,30 different beers already.

Stief: Awesome, how do you feel the UK audiences differ from the American and Canadian audiences?

Matty: For the most part, they care more. To sum it up kinda broadly, I see kids just go all the way, whereas in America, somebody might hang out back by the bar, watch the show from the bar, enjoy it, they might not come up and say hello afterwards. They might show up, watch the show and leave without ever saying hello or buying any merch.

Josh: Americans are like, I dunno, some people can just be too cool. It's hard to get them to loosen up and just enjoy themselves.

Matty: That's a good way to put it, crowds are a lot more easy going here, they're here to have fun, not to be cool or be seen or anything else, they're here to throw down.

Josh: One thing I see here that I don't see in America is like, for example, if someone is really, really into metal here, like death metal or something like that, they don't automatically just shun all other music and just hate other music that's not metal. It's just like 'I just love the shit outta metal' it's not like 'this defines who I am.' I appreciate that, because I love my metal, but I don't feel like I have to follow a certain set of rules, like 'if you like metal you have to wear these kinds of clothes and you have to be this kind of person and you have to do these kind of things' it's not so much like that here, and it's really nice.

Stief: Following on from the first question, this is your first time playing Wales. How's Wales treating you?
Josh: Great!
Matty: I can't understand a thing, it's amazing.

Stief: Do you want to learn some welsh? I've got some written down that might be helpful. 'Oes Tafarn Yn agos i fan hyn?' which means 'is there a pub nearby?'
[Both laugh]
Matty: You don't even have to ask that question, the answer's always yes.
Stief: Any news on a new album or any new songs?

Josh: Mhmm, we actually just finished recording a song right before we came over here, and when we go back we're gonna record some more. We have a lot of music we wanna just get out.

Matty: I feel like we've been mining songs for a while, so we have a lot of song ore, and now it's ready to be smelted down and stamped into actual songs, so we have, too many ideas, too many.

Josh: We have like seven or eight that are close to done, we just agree on the final order, just learned the new song and recorded it.

Matty: We're playing one tonight, we're playing a new one on this tour so...

Josh: We got a little behind because we had to move our recording studio and we lost some time having to do that, but we're back on track and we actually just recorded our first thing in our new studio, sounds great. He was making sound panels like, literally two weeks before the tour [laughs]

Matty: We kinda shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. Preparing for this tour's, I'm gonna say a lot of work, preparing for any tour is a lot of work, but especially an international tour, especially a -headlining- international tour with buses and money, I mean I'm dealing with dollars, pounds and euros on this tour, so I've never had to do that before and that's got my head spinning. At the same time we're recording songs, at the same time we're building a studio, at the same time.

Josh: We're shooting music videos.

Matty: Shooting music videos, like all that happened in the last two weeks, so let's not do that again [laughs] let's take our time next time.

Josh: sounds good to me.

Matty: But It's fun, we've got a lot of fun stuff coming in, I'm excited, I wish I could tell you more.

Stief: Don't worry, I won't pry anymore. Finally, what's your favourite sheep?

Matty: [looks at the selection of sheep.] Ooh, pretty girls. [laughs] Just looking at them, immediately, I'm gonna have to go with the Suffolk because that's the county I grew up in, and it looks smaller, and more manageable. I dunno how much you can just grab onto a blackface or a dalesbred? I dunno.
Josh: Gimme that, I wanna see. [Takes the

Matty: But Jacob looks like the guy I'd hang out and have a beer with him. [laughs]

Josh: Let's see here, I dunno, I'm just drawn to Portland.

Matty: Portland yeah? that's my second choice.

Josh: [Laughs]

Matty: We were just talking about this yesterday, about how lamb is much less prevalent in the United States. There doesn't seem to be shepherds and that sort of thing over there, where it's really more beef based, a lot more cow, so it's nice to come over here and have so much lamb just everywhere, have that option.

Stief: Lamb and mint?

Matty: I love it...I love eating it, I don't wanna go too crazy with the love, y'know. [Laughs]

Josh: [Laughs]

Stief: [laughs] Anyway, thank you guys


The crowd is sparse at the globe tonight, but that doesn't stop self-confessed 'sexually confident' local boys Among The Dead (8) blowing the roof off the place. The band are energetic, and show that a band can be both brutal and hilarious. Lead singer Gavin Robinson's banter with the crowd puts a smile on my face, both during songs and in between. The band don't take themselves seriously, but they take their music seriously, with heavy bass and drums from Jamie Morgon and Shaun Hodson, backed up by excellent riffage from Scott 'Dotty' Morgan.

Overall, this is a band I'm going to keep my eye on, and from the looks of the crowd, they've gained a lot of fans tonight.

The same cannot be said however, for Incursion (3). They have their fans, with a few members of the crowd wearing their merch, however, I think the fans end there. It's hard to tell if the band are actually playing the instruments, and the fact their drummer is in fact a Pop Vinyl figurine of Ant Man doesn't help much and two songs in, I decide to get some air.

I return half an hour later, and the room is a lot more crowded, ready for the hilarity of Psychostick (9) With the 'Jelly' aspect of the tour, Green Jelly, having had to pull out for personal reasons, it's up to the american foursome to take over the stage. Opening, naturally, with Welcome To The Show, the band work through their classics. With most songs such as Obey The Beard and Girl Directions, the crowd are singing along, with an impromptu kazoo orchestra during Bruce Campbell surprising even the band themselves. There's a cover of a song from a cartoon (The Doom Song from Invader Zim) and We're even treated to a new song, Adulting, which gives a good idea of what to expect soon from the quartet. Frontman 'Rawrb' Kersey leads the band through every song with aplomb, and although his voice isn't the greatest, he can growl and scream with the best of them. Josh Key is great on guitars, and Matty J Moose's slap bass skills are something to see, with Alex Dontre providing the percussion. The band are just as heavy live as on album and as I walk out to the wonderful We Ran Out Of CD Space, I can't help having a huge smile on my face. At the end of the day this band is stupid, but that's why everyone here loves them.

Monster Review: Opeth (Review By Paul)

Opeth: Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)

From their death metal roots of Orchid through to the creativity of Damnation and Deliverance and the recovery of Pale Communion after the relatively negative response to Heritage, Opeth are a band that has never stood still. Now in a position where they can sell out Wembley Arena, it's a long way from the mid 2000s where they played pubs and sweat boxes throughout Europe. It's been a steady, hard earned rise and one which most of their fans welcome. Their individual and imaginative style has rightly made them one of metal’s best kept secrets for many years. At long last the band are achieving international recognition with Pale Communion hitting 14 in the UK and 19 in the Billboard charts. Sorceress is therefore a heavily anticipated release.

What their rise in popularity has done is allow them to follow their own path. Studio album number 12, Sorceress demonstrates the sheer determination of a band unaffected by fashion, fads or the usual demands of the music industry. Recorded just down the road from us at the legendary Rockfield Studios, Sorceress fuses more of the 1970s progressive rock which has become the main flavour of recent albums with heavy dark riffage and more than a nod to the jazz world. We've been teased with the title track and its crazy looping intro for a few weeks now and the recent Damnation style Will O The Wisp single with its huge nod to Jethro Tull continued to whet the appetite.

The difficulty with reviewing any Opeth album is that it is now incredibly difficult to approach it with the impartiality that you would with an unknown band. Is Sorceress a creative masterpiece or a rather mixed palate with some rather uninspiring songs? Tom Dalgety’s production is not fantastic. Now, whether the 1970s inspiration rubbed off on him is unclear, but Mikael Akerfeldt’s vocals are often disappointingly lost in the mix.

So to start at the beginning. Persephone, a two minute acoustic number opens the album, book ending with closer Persephone (Slight Return). A deliciously fragile piece although one begins to wonder where the band are going with it. I expected Robin Hood to appear from the forest as it progressed. Sorceress follows, and having already played it to death I'm a big fan of the crazy meandering opening, the thick keyboard and rolling bass along with Martin Axenrot’s avant garde drumming before the massive crunching riff kicks in. Akerfeldt's voice is instantly recognisable, his clean vocals (no death growls on this album baby) fitting the haunting lyrics to perfection. Next up is The Wilde Flowers, a six and a half minute stomp with Joakim Svelberg’s keyboards rampant. The 1970s progressive rock feel of Camel and and Tull are present, whilst the heaviness of the opening retains some of the old school Opeth. Some excellent guitar work pops up half way through with a juicy hook on the chorus making this a memorable track.

Will O The Wisp takes us back to Harvest on Blackwater Park. More acoustic guitar, Martin Mendez’s comforting bass lines and some lovely layered synth chords underpin the whole track. It's either a routine average track or a thing of some beauty. Repeated listens lead me to the latter. Massive crashing riffs and frantic vocals launch the band headlong into Chrysalis, the second longest track on the album. There are flashes of real old school Opeth here with the galloping thump given extra emphasis with the gorgeous harmonies. For all the detractors who bemoan the recent changes in Opeth’s direction there are many more who are now beginning to appreciate the complexity and progressiveness of this band. 

To me, Chrysalis, with its massive nod to the duelling guitar/keyboard battles that Messrs Blackmore and Lord had in Deep Purple’s glory days, is a glorious example of the evolution that the Swedes have undergone, retaining the heaviness of Deliverance whilst maintaining the melody throughout . Slowing the pace towards the end of the track allows the guitar work of Akerfeldt and Fredrik Akesson to shine before the fade. So far, so very good. Sorceress 2 is next. A melancholic piece which slows the pace in the middle of the album, allowing the listener to catch breath and recover thought. Another huge nod to those prog influences, although I would say this is one of the weaker tracks on the album. Kudos to Akerfeldt and co though, with the arrival of a sitar on The Seventh Sojurn. A slow burner, reminiscent of the Eastern fusion which Led Zeppelin tasted in the mid 1970s, my problem with this five minute tune is that it takes forever to go anywhere and then when the piano riff kicks in, the vocals are strangely subdued before it dies.

Strange Brew is the longest track on the album at just under nine minutes. A slow opening with Akerfeldt’s vocal echoing eerily, a crafted piece of guitar followed by a wild jazz influenced assault. Intermittent time changes and Svelberg's Hammond organ swarm over the track before the guitars crash back in along with a monster out hook. Strange Brew is hard work on first listen but slowly grows, the variation of pace and tempo surprisingly comforting. However, it fades badly at the end, to real disappointment. A Fleeting Glance, complete with harpsichord introduction is completely confusing. Some uncomfortable high pitched opening vocals make it difficult to enjoy although it recovers with gusto with some soulful guitar work as it moves towards the end. Penultimate track Era opens with a solo piano before careering out of control with some of the heaviest riffs on the album. A fast paced track, some delicious harmonies and a hark back once more to the days of Blackmore and co. This is a real grower. With the calming piano of Persephone (Slight A Return) bringing things to a close, Sorceress is on first listen quite a difficult album.

However, although Sorceress is difficult to warm to at the beginning, repeated listens and time has provided more opportunity to sit back and appreciate its many layers. With much more use of harmonies in the choruses and vocals and a wider variety of unorthodox instruments, there is too much going on to appreciate all the subtle nuances in a mere couple of hits. The musicianship is of a very high standard, with Svalberg in particular prominent throughout. Whilst I fear that this will receive mixed reviews from the metal community, I'm excited to have a ticket for their Wembley show and the opportunity to hear a couple of these tracks in the live arena. Not my favourite album of the year but not far away. 9/10

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Reviews: Alter Bridge, Neurosis, Sumerlands

Alter Bridge: The Last Hero (Napalm) [Review By Paul]

After their respective sojourns with Slash and solo careers, Messrs Kennedy and Tremonti reunite with Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips for Alter Bridge’s fifth studio album. It's a darker, heavier sound than previously heard on Fortress with Mark Tremonti’s fret work as ferocious as ever. A move towards much more political themed comment is apparent from the opener, the riff heavy single Show Me A Leader through to bonus track Last Of Our Kind, with its pounding bass lines and edgy guitar. 

Of course, what distinguishes Alter Bridge from Tremonti the solo vehicle is the quality of Myles Kennedy’s vocals, which are as clear and impressive as ever. The Last Hero contains 13 tracks, most of which are classic heavy rock. Marshall and Phillips lay down the concrete foundations which provide the theatre for Tremonti and Kennedy to cut loose. it's good stuff, heavy enough to give you a neck ache, with thumping tunes such as The Writing On The Wall, Poison In Your Veins and Crows On A Wire and the crushing Island Of Fools all perfect for the live arena. In fact, it's just possible that when it comes to solid heavy rock, Alter Bridge are about to enter the real big game park and step up to the plate as successors of the behemoths of Maiden and Metallica.

Yes, I think that these boys are now in that sector. With their anthems raging against governments and global warming inaction, the band have upped their writing substantially. Sure, there are a couple of weaker ones including the pretty ghastly You Will Be Remembered which raise the flag to the fallen of the U.S. forces but overall this is a big slab of meat which holds its head high and swats away challengers. Whether it can be reproduced in the live arenas where sound is often just soup is debatable but The Last Hero may just be the release that gets Alter Bridge a deserved Champions League placing. 9/10

 Neurosis: Fires Within Fires (Neurot Recordings)

The masters of sludge return with their latest album, it's their 11th record, their first in four years. It sticks with the sound they have become known for. It's a piece of noise heavy, slow and deliberate post metal, moving from mind altering lighter passages augmented by Noah Landis' synths and keys to the bone rattling sludge riffs.

There's an organic sound to the record, in places it has a harrowing feel too it. There are only 5 songs on this record but all come in at over 6 minutes long, Bending Light builds from a psych opening into the slamming heaviness of it's final part Scott Kelly shouting atop the discord. A Shadow Memory slows with clean guitars from Kelly and Steve Von Till, as Jason Roeder thumps out a beat and Dave Edwardson down tunes his bass to a low fuzz. This track has the loud quiet dynamic Neurosis do so well.

I would say if you listen to this album do so on headphones as its a better experience you can hear every nuance of the songs due to the unrivalled production of Steve Albini, in some parts the record can be quite disconcerting but that's part of the appeal of Neurosis, they produce music to challenge you from an emotional and spiritual standpoint.

Fire Is The End Lesson is probably one of the most straightforward songs on the record, barked lyrics from Kelly on guitar and synth filled heaviness before drifting into an instrumental mid section as thick as molasses and eventually taking off into a ear piercing feedback assault. Broken Ground melds Hawkwind space rock with a heavy assault and Reach the final track is the longest, a labyrinthine song that ends the record with an emotive punch. Fires Within Fires is a powerful hard hitting record from Neurosis, it's uncompromising and pulls no punches, just as you would expect. 8/10

Sumerlands: Sumerlands (Relapse Records)

American heavy metal that takes its cues from the 80's but rather than the normal influences of Maiden etc they take their cues from bands such as Queensryche (The Seventh Seal and The Guardian) which could have come from Empire especially vocally where they are touches of Geoff Tate. The other big influence on this record is Ozzy which Sumerlands also having nods to Ozzy's solo records on Timelash which has some Jake E Lee style guitar playing on it without the blatant commercial sound, especially on Haunted Memories, which takes the more romantic Ozzy sound.

Much of the Ozzyisms come from the vocals of Phil Swanson, who is the direct vocal foil for guitarist/producer/band leader Arthur Rizsk who's guitar prowess on this record is immense he is flashy without being too virtuositc. This debut record harks back to an era of 80's American metal that avoided the big hair and the sleaziness by drawing from the 70's hard rock era, it's not NWOBHM, thrash or indeed glam it's just honest, slightly progressive American metal and it's a great listen. 7/10

Monday, 19 September 2016

Reviews: The Quireboys, Svvamp, Die No More

The Quireboys: Twisted Love (Off Yer Rocka) [Review By Paul]

Longevity appears to be a particular trait of rock bands. The Quireboys are no exception. Formed in 1984 and a permanent fixture since their reformation in 2001, the band have been particularly productive in the last few years with relentless gigging and an almost production line approach to album releases. Twisted Love is their tenth studio release, and it's a pretty decent affair. Bolstered by the blues tinged backing vocal of Lynne Jackaman and a stabilised line up, this is the kind of stuff you want playing in the bar or on a hot summer night. Spike’s vocals remain as raspy as a forty a day Rothmans smoker but with as much soul and feeling as he had back in 1990 on A Bit Of What You Fancy.

Sure, it's still the combination of The Faces, The Stones and The Black Crowes but The Quireboys follow the blueprint with a panache that is often absent in rock these days. The Union’s Dave McCluskey lays a solid foundation to work with bassist Nick Malling although the undoubted star of this album is Keith Weir’s stunning keyboard work which stands out on tracks like Ghost Train, Gracie B (Part II) and Midnight Collective. Underpinning it all is Spike’s vocal and the dependable guitar work of Paul Guerin, whose interplay with Weir on Shotgun Way, Life’s A Bitch and the foot stomping Torn And Frayed is excellent. Throw in Jackaman’s backing vocals and this is a real good time album. Grab a whiskey, throw on those shades and enjoy. 8/10

Svvamp: Self Titled (Riding Easy Records) [Review By Paul]

Retro sounding blues rock is all the rage these days and the debut album from Swedes Svvamp gets a huge “come on in”. With the emphasis firmly focused on the sounds of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, early Lizzy and more than a smattering of Zeppelin, this is a thoughtful, beautifully composed album which opens with the meandering Big Rest, Adam Johansson’s soul filled vocals immediately demanding your attention. It's an interesting way to start an album, without the usual power and pace of a traditional opener but still captivating. The Roy Harper-like Set My Foot and Leave follows, Johansson’s calm tones mixing sweetly with the acoustic work of Henrick Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren.

The 70s feel continues with Free At Last, before we finally get a muddy riff or two on Oh Girl. Things really hot up with the southern stomp of Blue In The Face, surely the bastard offspring of a long forgotten one night stand between Graveyard and The Sword. Bjorklund’s guitar howls like a beaten child whilst Johansson’s crashing drumming and change of style match perfectly. Down By The River conjures up the blues tinged rock of Neil Young and Crazy Horse whilst my favourite Serpent In The Sky contains a hypnotic riff, gutsy guitar work and a variation on the vocal again, with some Jay Buchannan style work. Indeed, Rival Sons are one of the bands that come to mind when listening to this album and that is not a bad thing at all. A band to watch out for. 7/10

Die No More: Destruction Complete (Self Released)

Carlisle is probably not where you'd think classic sounding, thrash edged metal would come from but Die No More are out to change that. Destruction Complete is their second EP and comes 2 years after their full length debut Elected Evil. In this time DNM have clearly honed their skills in the live arena as this EP is a lot smoother the riffs slicing like scissors through silk, the drumming relentless but not all consuming, there are far more NWOBHM sounds to this EP than there are outright thrash madness, opener Save Yourself and the excellent The Enemy Within has all the thrash you need with distorted riffage and stone cold grooves to get the head banging, the disharmony of the instrumental sections are offset by Marc's clean Hetfield-like vocals, which also add to the classic metal sounds forgoing the normal barking thrash vocal.

The growing maturity of the band is at it's best on Mirage which has a progressively tinged opening due Kev's lead guitar, but as soon as you've settled in to it the rhythm section of Marc, Martyn (bass) and Steve (drums) kick you in the spleen and all hell breaks loose with solos galore. The four songs on this EP are all very strong but the best is saved for last, the title track clocks in at just under 8 minutes and is a Herculean example of the bands musical talent, progressive, technical and in parts downright mesmerising, it ticks all the classic metal final song boxes. Forgoing a bit of the thrash metal sound has paid off for Die No More they have made themselves sound more seasoned. One criticism is that it's whet my appetite now so I hope it won't be too long before the second album comes out, as it has the potential to be very, very impressive 7/10         

Reviews: Kai Hansen, Ghost, Lordi

Kai Hansen: XXX - Three Decades Of Metal (earMusic)

XXX - Three Decades In Metal is a celebration of Helloween, Gamma Ray, Iron Saviour and Unisonic founders thirty years in heavy metal and hard rock music. This is Hansen letting loose and displaying why he is so revered in metal circles and of course why his career has spanned 30 years. He has brought together many of his friends and former band mates to add their talents to this record. As a guitarist he is extremely talented and vocally he has developed his own style over the years, but he has worked with some of the best so the majority of the guests on this record are vocalists, starting out with two of the finest in Piet Sielck (Iron Saviour) and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear/Gamma Ray) on Enemies Of Fun, we get Twisted Sister's Dee Snider on Contract Song

Making Headlines has Edguy/Avantasia's Tobias Sammet, who also belts out the lyrics on Stranger In Time which sounds like a Avantasia song as it features former Helloween/current Unisonic man Michael Kiske and current Gamma Ray vocalist Frank Beck. Getting away from chest beating masculinity, Visions Of Atlantis/former Serenity vocalist Clementine Delauney adds her classical styling on Fire And Ice contrasting Hansen's nasal gruffer vocal and Richard Sjunnesson's (ex Sonic Syndicate) harsh screams. 

With so many guest vocalists on the record including Heaven Shall Burn's Marcus Bischoff and Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch, it would seem to be guest overload, however they all contribute with out detracting. He also has some six string assistance from Helloween's co-founder Michael Wekiath on the heavy Fire And Ice and also from Masterplan/Ex-Helloween man Roland Grapow on the Maiden-like Stranger In Time.

With so much talent does the record stack up? Well yes it does, Hansen plays with the type of music he was influenced by and the clearly defined styles he helped popularise and innovate. Born Free is an autobiographical thrasher with a fist pumping chorus that sums up most of Hansen's life and career Enemies Of Fun is a bouncy headbanger from the Helloween glory days, Making Headlines is a classic power metal anthem that is pure Gamma Ray. Left Behind is a slower more symphonic sound that leads into All Or Nothing which is rock ballad that would sit well in his Unisonic work
This album is a celebration of one mans life's work and demonstrates how important Hansen is to metal's legacy much like the NWOBHM and the US thrash scene. Kai Hansen was at the forefront of Teutonic speed metal and this record is him cementing that legacy. 9/10

Ghost: Popestar (Loma Vista)

Before the next full sermon the Swedish occult rockers return with their second covers EP, this time they yet again cover non rock artists but unlike If You Have Ghosts they add a song of their own to this EP. It opens with Square Hammer, which is the only original song on the record and it stands up to the rest of the Ghost repertoire fueled by pounding drums and bass from the Nameless Ghouls, some twisting organs, drawing from the more recent style they prefer mixing 70's prog rock with the more radio friendly sound. Still Square Hammer is a rocker with dual guitars duelling with the organs and getting heavier in the solo section, it's a good way to open the album and gives the rabid Ghost fans some new material to chew over.

The rest of the EP are covers as I've said they take an odd turn as they are all covers of electronic/new wave/synth pop and post punk acts, firstly they tackle Echo & The Bunnymen's Nocturnal Me moving away from the folky sounding original and making the song their own with a more dramatic, doom style driven by a big drumbeat. I Believe is a cover of Simian Mobile Disco and once again Ghost change it replacing the tribal electronic beats with a sparse arrangement, synth pips and even something that sounds like a harpsichord meaning Ghost's version of I Believe is more akin to Chamber Music than electronica.

On the final two tracks the band take the sound further once again picking tracks that fit the band's innuendo filled ethos and inverted religious imagery. Missionary Man was originally by The Eurythmics and while it still has the simmering sexual aggression of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart but with a Ennio Morricone flavour featuring harmonica from Brian Reed and hollering female vocals of Fia Kempe. Finally the EP is rounded out by a cover of another Swedish act Imperiet, they were a post punk outfit but this song is a piano led, almost whispered ballad dripping with emotion and Ghost keep it similar to the original and sees Papa give his best vocal of the record especially when it turns into its euphoric chorus, mark my words this song will take centre stage in their live show.

Another set of interesting covers from Ghost allowing them to display their varied sound and also give fans a brand new song to bolster the collection. An excellent stopgap release that will allow them to get to the live arena again with some more tunes. 8/10    

Lordi: Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy) [AFM Records]

Just when you thought Finnish monster metal couldn't get any sillier they return with their maddest album yet. The record and indeed the new costumes that accompany it are half & half, the first 6 songs are normal hard hitting Lordi glam/hard rock filled with schlock rock lyrics and horror imagery, songs like Hug You Hardcore (which has a very NSFW video), Down With The Devil, Sick Flick and Let’s Go Slaughter He-Man (I Wanna Be the Beast-Man in the Masters of the Universe) all have the stomping hard rock sound of classic Lordi as Mana and Ox thump in the rhythm section and Mr Lordi uses his rough vocals to tell the morbid tales.

As I've said this is a record of two parts and for those that may have felt Lordi are a little lightweight and perhaps too stuck in the Twisted Sister/Kiss style of music then Monstereophonic may change that idea as the second part of the record is a more progressive, heavier, metallized concept piece that features changing time signatures faster almost sometimes thrashier songwriting that all showcase the impressive guitar playing of Amen who due to the longer running times can show off his soloing prowess as Mr Lordi sings with as much variation as he can muster.

Most of the songs on the second half are over 5 minutes long and really show a different side to the rock monsters especially the final act The Night The Monsters Died which takes just Hella's plaintive keys and matches them with an emotional vocal from Mr Lordi, it's strangely remorseful end to the album but one that suits the concept that has been acted out in the second half. Eight albums in and Lordi show everyone that they are more than Eurovision and that they can adapt their sound to a much more mature sound than many of their fans are used to. 8/10

Friday, 16 September 2016

Reviews: Iron Fire, Noveria, Tardive Dyskinesia

Iron Fire: Among The Dead (Crime Records)

The kings of Danish power metal once again bring a speed metal assault to the masses, Among The Dead is their 8th record and their first as a three-piece with vocalist Martin Steene taking up bass, he's joined by Gunnar Olsen on drums and Kirk Backarach on guitar. As soon as the intro fades we a thrown into the title track which is more downtuned than before. On this opening rager the band show they have become a much leaner, angrier band they were before, Steene still has a low rougher vocal than many of his speed metal peers, he even does some growling on the title track, but it's only on this record that his vocals has really fit the music.

Among The Dead sees the band channel the thrashier elements of their sound moving away from the power metal sound they had early in their career. It benefits tracks such as Tornado Of Sickness, Higher Ground, this newest album still focuses on the theme of war and battle putting the band lyrically in the same boat as Sabaton but as I've said a heavier sound. Iron Eagle is a fist raising shout along, The Last Survivor has backing shouts on the modern thrash sounding song. Iron Fire have been doing this stuff for a long time now and there is little chance of any change, yes their sound is probably a little more aggressive than before (except on When The Lights Go Out) and the cover of Whom The Bell Tolls adds nothing really, but really the record is just another Iron Fire album. 6/10    

Noveria: Forsaken (Scarlet Records)

Noveria are an Italian progressive metal band that take their cues from the progressive power metal scene with the keys and guitars the major elements in the music much like Symphony X and Pagan's Mind. Forsaken is their second record and the band say the record "is a concept based on the theory of the five stages of death by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross" It was "written in memory of a brilliant young woman who was taken away from her family by an aggressive cancer with each track describing the different states of mind of a person facing a fatal illness".

It's a heavy concept then and delivered in the style you would would only expect from a band that plays this type of music. With thumping rhythms given by DGM's Andrea Arcangeli on bass and Omar Campitelli on drums, the heavy riffage of Francesco Mattei, electronic/symphonic passages with Julien Spreutels and sky scraping wide ranging vocals from the incredible Francesco Corigliano all the members of the group are all excellent musicians and play with a fluidity and style of many of their peers and influences. The record also features some guest vocals from Kelly Sundown Carpenter (formerly of Firewind), Claudio Pietronik (Ancient Bards) both of whom give their own contributions to this record. Noveria will have very big career ahead of them if they carry on like this, their second album is a so strong it will be near the top of a lot of people's progressive power metal albums list. 8/10    

Tardive Dyskinesia: Harmonic Confusion (Playfalse Records)

Tardive Dyskinesia are a progressive/experimental band from Athens, Greece and they sit uncomfortably in many genres with the album drawing a lot more on it's experimental rather than progressive nature, there are lot of time signature pass-the-parcel throughout the records as songs get faster and slower sometimes in the same section. In fact the album's title is very apt in describing the musical endeavour, there seems to be a confusion in what style they want to be but they do what they do very well indeed. If Mastodon took more risks they would sound like Tardive Dyskinesia, (the name comes from a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary movements of the jaw and face) with the cacophony of noise topped with Manthos Stergiou's vocals that sound like Troy Sanders at his noisiest and Brent Hinds in his more melodic moments.

From the off this album throws riffs upon riff on you each song featuring extremity and experiments in equal measure, there's death and tech metal styling but also prog rock, hard rock and even jazz type rhythms present. Opening an album with an instrumental is always a risk but when it's the palm muted riffs of Insertion it sets you up for the fiendishly heavy Fire Red Glass Heart which is the first song to have the quiet loud dynamics with the Mastodon style heaviness going into the more stoner passage in the middle while The Electric Sun is one of the fastest tracks on the record with intricate guitar playing and a barrage of heaviness. Tardive Dyskinesia are a band with a sound that draws from the more extreme sounds with technical ferocity and experimental spirit, great stuff! 8/10

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Reviews: Dark Forest, Asguard, Hannes Grossmann (Reviews By Paul)

Dark Forest: Beyond The Veil (Cruz Del Sur)

The last thing good that came out of Dudley was a holiday romance I had in about 1988. Ah, I hear you cry, what about Dark Forest? Of course, one of the UK’s premier power metal outfits, singing about history and mythology since 2002. Beyond The Veil is album number four and it stands alongside the best that Germanic outfits like Helloween and Freedom Call can currently offer. And In these uncertain times of European exit, surely Britain needs to support its own power metal kings.
Opening with all the speed and passion of our European cousins the band crash through Autumn’s Crown before hitting the title track early, riffs and harmonies at the ready. Skip through the album at your leisure, it's pretty good stuff if you like rampaging power metal. Blackthorn, not an ode to that most horrid of ciders gallops at 100mph with soaring guitars and the excellent vocals of Josh Winnard right on the button. Of course, power metal has its roots in the Priest and Maidens of our world, so it's no surprise that Earthbound contains all the stomp of a Maiden classic, with the duel guitar attack of founder member Christian Horton and Patrick Jenkins reminiscent of Walls Of Jericho era Helloween.

With their history themes prevalent, the medieval interlude of Ellylldan sits nicely although the acoustic Lunantishee doesn't feel quite as comfortable with a horrible Celine Dion moment. If Winterfylleth didn't beat your arse quite so heavily, then Men An Tol might well nestle within their ranks. It's a real foot tapping instrumental soaked in the forests and countryside. Surging bass lines courtesy of Paul Thompson combine with the hammering drums of Adam Sidaway whist the interplay between Horton and Jenkins is definitely a throwback to the duels of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray at their height. I love the medieval feel to the track, conjuring images of iron horses, archers and trebuchets, moats, fires and portcullises. In fact the whole album creaks of the giant oaks on England’s green and pleasant land. 

On The Edge Of Twilight has more than a passing nod to the epic Blind Guardian and as any fool knows, that can only be brilliant. It is one of the best tracks on a thoroughly enjoyable album, which provokes magical imagery throughout. The Lore Of The Land switches back from electric to the acoustic, Winnard taking on the role of the Bard with his story telling. It's cheesy stuff … but cheese is good, right? (Agreed - Dairy Ed) 7/10

Asguard: Hidden God (Self Released)

I have to admit I know little about Asguard who bring Melodic Death Metal from Belarus. In fact, I don't know anything about them! According to my research the band were active from 1998 to 2009 when they split so it's a mystery how some seven years later Hidden God has found its way to Musipedia Towers. The band apparently had quite a reputation in their homeland with numerous supports to heavyweights such as Sanatorium, Behemoth, Vader and Mayhem. Hidden God is their fourth album and it's, well, it's chaotic. Opener Conscript is a fusion of about seven different styles, whilst Daemon Cavaclade has elements of Rammstein, Depeche Mode and Soil in the mix with a hook suitable for a Eurovision entry. In fact, it fits neatly into the industrial zone with growling guitars underpinning a quite infectious keyboard riff. Meanwhile the vocals of Alexander Afonchenko, whilst an acquired taste fit the sound perfectly,

More electronics for the title track with a cyber based opening before the band crash into a BFMV vocal. The keyboards on this track really underpin it, with guitars of Oleg Maslakov and Andrey Tselobenok relatively understated. However, things really hot up with The Outpost, a crazy mash up of Rammstein, In Flames and Scar Symmetry. It's both great and terrible at the same time with huge power chords crashing down, a simple keyboard hook and angst ridden screaming vocals that switch between calm and angry at every turn. Album closer Where Everything Was Different is almost pop in parts, a funk bass line setting up the beginning of the end, more powerful riffs and weird vocals. Overall, Hidden God is one well weird album, a smorgasbord of styles and influences. Worth a listen even if just for the bat shit craziness that flows through it from start to finish. 6/10

Hannes Grossmann: The Crypts Of Sleep (Self Released)

German drummer and multi instrumentalist Hannes Grossmann has been influential in the technical progressive metal scene through his work with Alkoid and extreme metallers Obscura who he left in 2014. The Crypts Of Sleep is his second solo release, self written, arranged, produced and recorded at his own Mordor Studios. Containing a number of his old band mates from Obscura, Alkaloid, along with lead vocals from Moreau of Dark Fortress and additional guitar work from Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry and ex-Morbid Angel’s Erik Rutan, this release is as technical and complex as you'd expect. Numerous intricate tine changes, masses of guitar solos, blast beats and crushing riffs as well as some of the filthiest bass runs known to man dominate with Hail Satan possibly the pick.

Unfortunately, much of the album appears to follow a similar pathway and after a while it becomes a little repetitive. Technically brilliant,there are some highlights. Ocean Born Master at least bucks the trend for a minute with an acoustic intro before the polyrhythmic patterns return, Moreau’s guttural roar impressive and a slightly more melodic change of pace which is soon shattered. Album closer Anima Inferna opens with a lone solo, builds with heavy riffs and then erupts into a blast beat fest. Ultimately The Crypts Of Sleep suffers from a lack of variety and the absence of any real soul. It really does have the feel of a solo project and whilst you have to admire the work that has gone into this release, it's hard to really warm to it. 6/10