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Friday, 23 June 2017

Reviews: Anthriel, Greta Van Fleet, Moscow

Anthriel: Transcendence (Lion Music)

If you're a Finnish band that play neo-classical progressive power metal then you will immediately be compared to the genre leaders Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Wintersun, so Anthriel will have a mountain to climb from the first track. The Calling starts the record with Bowie/Floyd-like acoustic number as the synths shimmer giving a interstellar opening for the proceedings that lulls you in to the record as the orchestral elements swell and the riff for Under Burning Skies comes in like it's travelling on the wind and then the drums kick in and we have the first indication of Anthriel's true style, which is American sounding progressive metal with Symphony X and Fates Warning coming to mind.

You immediately focus on the technical riffs and virtuoso solos of Timo Niemistö who handles a fret board with the tenderness of a lover but abuses it like a metalhead does their liver. Behind him are the frantic rhythm section of Antti Horttana (bass) and Henrikki Markkula (drums) they control the changes of pace, the rampaging metallic sections but also give the lighter more melodic parts a deft hand, check out the aggressive opening of the 11 minute Oath Of Darkness which has all of this in one song the chunky verses, frequent tempo changes and a hook-laden chorus a towering guitar solo, impassioned vocals phrasing and a keyboard solo.

Those last to parts along with the shredding guitars are key to Anthriel's appeal, Antti Hakulinen's keyboards take the reins as a lead instrument in their own right duelling and soloing with it's six-string cohort in unison, on Siren's Song they take a more classic prog route but Painted Shadows is pure Stratovarius baroque-metal. Simo Silvan's vocals to round out the top class performances on this record, they are powerful, reasonably low and raspy but in this sort of music I prefer it to the soaring ear-piercing delivery of Timo Kotipelto, Silvan has similar elocution to Russel Allen of Symphony X thus the earlier comparison. Transcendence is the band's second album and it's a must buy for anyone that loves progressive/power metal. 9/10  

Greta Van Fleet: Black Smoke Rising (Republic Records)

"In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man" these are the opening lines to one of the most iconic debut albums of all time. Led Zeppelin I was the start of the biggest thing to hit rock n roll since The Beatles, in January 1969 the swaggering mix of classic Southern US blooze and rock n roll was brought to the nth degree with fuzzy guitars, thundering bass, powerhouse drumming and a blue-eyed soul howl like no other. Zep grabbed the population by the crotch and didn't let go until they were megastars. Well no it seems four young men from Frankenmunth, Michigan are trying to do the same, the mysteriously named Greta Van Fleet (who apparently is a Frankenmunth native) have arrived with four track EP that has balls bigger than the NBA, FA and NFL combined. The band is made up of three brothers Joshua, Samuel, Jacob Kiszka and along with Daniel Wagner they have written an EP that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, we've probably said numerous times on this blog so and so sounds like Zeppelin, well other bands may sound like, Greta Van Fleet are the closest you can get.

Jacob's guitars are loose and explosive, Samuel contributes the stomping basslines and the organs that drive the title track, while Daniel Wagner thumps the tubs like he hates them. "So far so what?" I hear you cry well on top of this nice classic rock noise are the astonishing vocals of Joshua, he is a dead ringer vocally for Robert Plant having the same phrasing and range as Percy, which is even more impressive when you watch their video for Black Smoke Rising and see that he is just the slip of a boy. The four tracks on this record all point to great things for the band, I've already mentioned the funky title track, well that's proceeded by the folky Flower Power which sits in the vein of Going To California and Gallows Pole. The heavy rockers come from Highway Tune which leaves you breathless before punching you in the goolies on Safari Song, both of these tunes are primal rock fury and in conjunction with the other two songs on this EP, Greta Van Fleet have the chops to go stratospheric, they know what it means to be a man, lets see if they can grow into something special. 8/10

Moscow: Queen Of Sin (Self Released)

Whether you call her Tsaritsa (queen) like the Russian fans do or you use Moscow – her nom de guerre in the international music scene, she certainly knows how to attract the bearded rocker to her cause, much like classic metal pin-up Lita Ford, the young and beautiful Moscow knows how to use her sexuality to sell her musical ability. Leaving Russia at a young age she trained for singing, acting and dancing in both Cambridge and New York this girl has rock n roll spirit that drew her to the Sunset Strip where her favourite bands lived in a maelstrom of excess and debauchery, this seemed to be the place for Moscow and if you watch the video for this EP's title track you can see she revels in the dangerous, overly sexualised, sleazy rock favoured by Motley Crue, GNR and Aerosmith with distinct modern sound of Asking Alexandria and In This Moment.

I've concentrated on her image a lot in this review so far, perhaps unfairly, it's blatantly part of the package of course but she can actually perform, her vocals are strong with Maria Brink an obvious comparison in both the cleans and the screams, she is called the Queen Of Rock by many of supporters and there is a royal charisma and confidence to her performances with a strong cast of musicians forming her studio band, Queen Of Sin does what a an EP should it makes you want to hear a full length and see the performer live, let's hope that's sooner rather than later. 7/10   

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reviews: Cheap Trick, Styx, Wizard (Reviews By Paul)

Cheap Trick: We’re All Right (Universal Music)

Having waited seven years for the arrival of Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, Cheap Trick is straight back at ya with album no.18. There is no real change of style with We’re All Right, just high tempo pop rock from start to finish. Robin Zander is on top form whilst the rock ‘n’ roll guitar of Rick Nielsen is scintillating. The opening salvo is classic Cheap Trick, You Got It Going On and first single Long Time Coming each just over three minutes each and pure bubble gum. There’s more than an edge of Flush The Fashion era Alice Cooper on the fast moving Radio Lover, the radio friendly Lolita is sure to become a live favourite and the continuing Beatles vibe that has always flowed through the band remains intact throughout.

Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo is reminiscent of the hard edge that Lennon, McCartney and co possessed but it’s the cover of Blackberry Way (originally by The Move) which really reminds you why the band remain known as the Japanese Beatles. Whilst We’re All Right may not have quite the initial impact that last year’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello did, it is still a demonstration why Cheap Trick remain one of the most loved rock outfits of all time. Their rare visit to Bristol at the end of this month should be quite an evening. 9/10

Styx: The Mission (Universal Music)

I’ve never had much time for Styx. Formed in 1972 in Chicago, their high-pitched harmonies and musical theatre style really didn’t push my buttons in any way. They were always there in the background, the odd-track appearing on Planet Rock but never really grabbing the attention, apart from the ghastly Babe. The Mission is their 16th full release, and arrives 12 years after their last album, Big Bang Theory. The Mission is a concept album about a mission to Mars. With most of the vocals delivered by guitarist Tommy Shaw, who was also the main composer, the album moves from the high paced and rocky Gone Gone Gone to the much more sedate Locomotive.

It’s a polished, beautifully constructed album, as you would expect for a band of such stature. The guitar work of Shaw and fellow guitarist James ‘JY’ Young is unsurprisingly of high quality, although the synthesizers tend to dominate on many of the tracks. The album moves smoothly through the story with tracks such as Time May Bend, the six-minute Red Storm and the operatic Khedive before concluding with Mission To Mars, another graceful, synth-led tune. I guess if you like the harmonies of Yes and ELO then you are likely to be a fan of Styx. I can appreciate the cleverness and musicianship. It just doesn’t float my boat. 7/10

Wizard: Fallen Kings (Massacre Records)

Formed way back in 1989, Wizard is a German power metal outfit who are about as close to Manowar as you could get without rubbing yourself in olive oil whilst dressed in a fur loin cloth and shouting “Death to false metal” whilst running down your local high street. This is album no.11 for the band, and a demonstration as to why the German nation love DeMaio and co so much.

We Are The Masses, track number 2 on this opus could sit comfortably on any Manowar release, so closely does it follow the blue print. Vocalist Sven D’Anna’s high pitched signing and the huge sound. Tracks such as Live Your Life, Brothers In Spirit and Let Us Unite will have you raising your arms in homage. It’s anthemic, rife with epic imagery and rather ludicrous to be honest. Competently performed, it’s all just a little contrived. I’d save your cash for something with a little more to give. 6/10

Reviews: Valor, Scarletborn, Jaw Bones

Valor: Arrogance- The Fall (Pitch Black Records)

Valor were formed in 2002 by ex-Battleroar members Vaggelis Krouskas (vocals) and Chris Remoundos (bass) who along with Spyros Soldatos (guitars) and Thodoris Andritsos (drums) they released their debut EP in 2004, Arrogance-The Fall is their third full length and it's another record that is chock full of epic power metal that marries heavy riffs with more orchestral elements since forming the band have added guitarist Vassilis Kourkoutas and keyboardist Thanasis Lois to their ranks and this means the songs gallop along at pace with harmony guitars and keyboards duelling throughout.

Most of the songs to seem to fly by in a flurry of galloping riffs, explosive solos and symphonic elements to give the record a layered texture. Although it's the songs that take the time to add a bit of crunch or groove such as Arrogant Fall or Another Time do resonate in the memory longer. The production of Vaggelis is bright and lets every instrument stand out while his vocals are powerful and clean sounding almost exactly like Blaze Bayley, Flying Away particularly could sit on X Factor or Virtual XI with ease. If you love the sound of dual guitar wielding tough power metal with restrained but ever-present symphonic touches then Arrogance - The Fall will be up your alley, the Greeks are able to deliver very strong power metal and Valor are another band that do it well. 8/10

Scarletborn: A Royal Hunt (Straight From The Heart)

Scarletborn are a three-piece from Volos in Greece. Their music is categorised as melodic death metal and that is pretty accurate as Ethan Tziokas vocals have duality associated with the genre he growls on tracks such as the heavy Imploring Giants which also features Wardrums Yannis Popadopoulos on vocals but also Ethan hows he can sing in a low clean on We Tore The Sun. Yannis is one of the four guests on this record with Nightrage's Marios Iliopoulos on guitar for the more melodic To Be Obscure, Bob Katsionis on Lethargos also lending their talent.

Musically the band are excellent, Aggelos Triantos is a frantic rhythm machine drumming up a storm on Antlers Crown (which features John McRis on guitar) with this many guest guitarists it's easy to ignore Fotis Tampas' contribution of all the guitars and bass that gives this record the musical foundations of In Flames and early Trivium. A Royal Hunt is a pretty strong debut from this trip, how this will translate live, the band seem to be sans a bassist and a second guitarist, is anyone's guest but on record at least they have all the boxes ticked. 7/10

Jaw Bones: Wrongs On A Right Turn (Sliptrick Records)

Thessaloniki's Jaw Bones are young and angry with a riff packed debut album, there's stoner, grunge and punk on this record as it opens with the attitude filled Communication is delivered like a megaphone in the face with Disciple having the groove of early Soundgarden which continues into Ego Tripper that has funkier tones to it but with the bands rawness still coming through. The Ride To Nowhere is a much more psychedelic affair as is the slow burning Song Of The Nightingale and Should Know Better ramps up the riffage. With Greek metal flooded with bands in the stoner style they need to adapt their style to stand out from the pack and Jaw Bones do this by adding doom on A Thousand Masks along with the punk and grunge sounds mentioned earlier. Wrongs On A Right Turn will be instrumental in taking Jaw Bones in the right direction. 7/10

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Reviews: Gov't Mule, Entrails, Temple Of Lies, Onegodless (Reviews By Paul)

Gov't Mule: Revolution Come Revolution Go (Universal Music)

Formed by Warren Haynes and Allen Woody back in 1994 as a side project from The Allman Brothers, the Mule have churned out releases more regularly than “that there” mule produces dung. Revolution Come Revolution Go is album number 10 and it is as laid back and awesome as all the others. The Allman Brothers were of course, one of the greatest Southern rock bands that ever existed, with a plethora of epic tunes that far exceed the well-known Jessica (Top Gear soundtrack for the uninitiated). With a revolving door of musicians when they play live, the nucleus of the band has been constant for several years, with Haynes and drummer Matt Abts the original members joined by Keyboardist Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson on bass. Revolution Come Revolution Go is a social statement on the current political position in the States.

Check out opener Stone Cold Rage for a fiery example. It’s an album that is worth investing time in, and time is what is needed with a running time of 113 minutes and 18 tracks. But what superb music it is, with the relaxed feel of The Allmans coursing through the album. It’s mellow but angry at the same time. Confidence oozes through the tracks, Haynes velvety deep South vocals melting into each song whilst the keyboards dip in and out, underpinning the quality. Meanwhile the guitar work is exemplary, dripping with soulful blues and Southern rock.

Listen to Pressure Under Fire, Louis’ swirling keyboards quite magnificent. The title track is a Black Crowes style funk soaked meander, a quite beautiful piece that builds slowly, pace changing as progress is achieve, the component parts combining to make it just magical with some sublime interplay as the track descends into an almost freeform jazz piece towards the final third. Gov't Mule make a rare appearance in Cardiff toward the end of October this year. I shall be making my way there to see this quite magnificent band in action. I strongly advise you to do the same. 9/10

Entrails: World Inferno (Metal Blade)

Although Swedes Entrails operated for several years in the 1990s, their recording history only began in 2008 when the band picked up the reigns again and reformed. Led by guitarist Jimmy Lundqvist, World Inferno is album number four, and in their own words is “death metal and no fucking else”. Whilst they clearly haven’t sorted out their grammar, Entrails deliver well on this release, which is a real slab of old school death metal in the veins of Entombed, Grave and Carcass.

The band also capture some of the real early thrash thuggery of Slayer and Metallica, such as on the mighty Condemned To The Grave, a real spine crusher of a track. World Inferno is a fine release, massively heavy whilst also laden with hooks, powerful as an armoured tank on the rampage. It is well worth grabbing a copy if you like your death metal hard and heavy. 9/10

Temple Of Lies: The Serial Killer Suite (Attic Records)

Midlands based Temple Of Lies third album doesn’t fuck about. It’s clear from the start that Monster Magnet feature highly in their list of influences. Throw in the stoner groove of Orange Goblin and the old school sound of Leviathan era Mastodon and you’ve got one hell of a mix. The band remind me of Texas Hippie Collective and Hogjaw, two US outfits whose groove laden riffing is comfortably matched here. 48 minutes of relentlessly heavy and impressive metal with a blistering edge, the combination Si Shaw, Jon Scranney, Jags and Alex Gamble effortlessly delivering some warped and twisted tunes. Tracks such as Epic Doom, Modeus Operandi and the pounding bass lines of single Skin are all sinister and yet appealing. Get down to the The Temple of Lies. It’s time for worship. 8/10

Onegodless: Mourner (Self Released)

Founded by Dutch bass player Robin Zielhorst (Cynic, Exivious, Our Oceans) alongside vocalist Pieter Verpaalen (Textures), Yordi Lopez (Red Eyes, 3D Monster) and Yuma van Eekelen (Pestilence, Exivious), ONEGODLESS play what they have termed “heavystonerluesgrooverockslugemetal”. To be fair, all those genres flash in and out of this heavy long player, with Zielhorst’s crazed bass lines battling with the heavy riffage of Lopez’s guitar. It’s solid stuff, with some powerful and brutal tunes. The chug of Unstable contrasts with the robust Burn the Sun, the consistent groove giving each track a pumped-up feel. Verpaalen’s vocals are a little one dimensional for me but fit the style of the band who at times have a similar feel to Midland’s groove masters Obzidian. It’s worth a spin. 7/10

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metal 2 The Masses Final 2017

Metal 2 The Masses South Wales Final 2017, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

In case you live under a rock and don't know what it is the Metal 2 The Masses is UK wide battle of the bands competition for unsigned acts. In each region a certain number of acts enter and are whittled down by audience votes until four bands reach the final. In the final the votes are cast by Bloodstock's Simon Hall and the winner is given a chance to perform on BOA's New Blood Stage among other things. Because of the nature of the event I think it would be unfair for me to give a score for each of the bands as Simon has probably got more experience doing this than I have, so with that in mind I'll just give my opinion on the bands and give a blow-by-blow of this great evening

The hot sun beat down on what was a glorious day in Cardiff, the majority of the crowd and indeed the bands were installed outside the venue with refreshments in hand, the venue itself was pressure cooker, many of us with a larger disposition roasting like a rack of lamb, but we dutifully filed into the performance area for the first of four unsigned, underground bands for the local scene.

The lots were drawn at random so it was Rhondda 3 piece Incursion that took to the stage first. Their combination of death/thrash metal was ideal to start the evening, having brought a large rambunctious crowd with them to the evening from the get-go frontman/guitarist Johnny called for pits with the crowd duly obliged and even got involved for a pretty good wall of death, the between song banter revealed that the band don't take themselves seriously and their hard hitting metal has the wall-of-noise heaviness of SYL and the groove of Devildriver, as you'd expect the band picked a set that displayed their strongest elements and at the climax the wall were sweating such was the action down the front. The gauntlet was laid down now it was up to the other three bands to equal or better it.    

Next up were Revival the Blackwood band are no strangers to these pages and the youngsters once again put on mature masterclass of classic groove driven metal, opening with the tried and tested trio of Madness, Season Of The Wizard and Captain's Quarters Finley, Luke, Alex and Dafydd play like a band twice their age and with the crowd building throughout they through everything at the show, hooking you in with their grooves, fluid soloing and excellent vocals, their stage presence is also super Dafydd smashes away, Alex prowls his side of the stage like a predator, Luke has a reserved otherworldly coolness about him and Finley just moshes like no one is watching. Revival are a refreshing band to watch playing old style music but with a youthful exuberance, they also received a great response at the end of their set, consider the gauntlet met.

Between the bands, most of the time was spent outside with fluid replenished and faces towelled off discussing the previous bands, it was great to see so many people involved int he event and actively discussing and debating about music and also supporting the local scene.

Back inside and it was time for melodic death metal from Cwmbran...yes Cwmbran, as Democratus took to the stage ready and raring to go with their politically inspired aggressive death metal that fuses dual guitar riffage and clean/harsh vocals. Those vocals come from Steve Jenkins a friend of the blog since his days with Counterhold and while Counterhold were good, Democratus are marginally different beast, their songs are more aggressive and complicated with Is This Fear and Deity pulled out to really incite the crowd to go nuts. Steve's imposing presence and experience as a frontman are the benefit to this band, he knows how to control a crowd and his voice is excellent moving from guttural roars to powerful cleans as the band behind play some top drawer melo-death full of harmonic guitars and grunt. Again the crowd went nuts with action in the pit growing until the end of the set.

Three reasonably aggressive metal bands down and one more band to go, everyone was revving up for the end and it came with the most unique band of the night, Cardiff band Malum Sky are a progressive metal act that draw on distorted riffs, soaring harmonics, odd time signatures, ambient textures and a varied melting pot approach to song writing. Drummer Joe Wilkes and bassist Saki Patsiouras drive the songs along with their dynamic rhythm section, they are in charge of the time and pace changes while Jon Evans and Michael Després bewitch with some incredible guitar prowess that rapidly shifts tone from clean ethereal notes to a metal crunch, as all of this is going on instrumentally frontman Ben Honebone conducts himself in the best way, getting down and dirty with the punters as he unleashes the clearest vocal phrasing of the night, however his vocals are used as and instrument in their own right never outdoing anything else. The music is well crafted and well received but stood out due the sheer difference of what proceeded it.

As the set came to an end there was a swathe of appreciation not only for Malum Sky but all the bands that appeared and then it was a time to compose ourselves and wait for the results. Happily we didn't need to wait in silence as what has now become customary at these events is that the previous year's winners headline the night. Last year's winners were the black metal madness of Agrona, who have gone on to bigger and better things since then and do seem to be adding members every time I watch them play, having witness their black ritual a mere seven days previous to this event I can confirm that they once again filled Fuel with riffs as sharp as a switchblade, more smoke than Stars In Their Eyes and heaving load of Satanic blackened metal to really destroy the venue properly after a night of quality metal. Very little I can say really as they were on the same form as they were the weekend before, they all perform so well it's hard to tear yourself away, things got tasty down the front leaving the venue very very moist.

With all the music due to be played having been played and the raffle drawn it was time for the decision, the tension was palpable but the announcement came and the winners were Malum Sky who will now play the New Blood Stage. Well done to them and to all the bands, it was a hard decision as all four bands played their hearts out and left it all on stage. What made it all the better for me though was the camaraderie between the bands, yes it was a competition but the mutual respect that existed between the bands was admirable and the high turnout to showed that despite predictions to the contrary live music and the underground scene in Wales at least is pretty good at least. Big thanks to Simon and the team at Bloodstock for tirelessly doing these competitions all over the UK to highlight how strong the British independent metal scene is.  

Reviews: Iced Earth, Furyborn, Analog Bandits

Iced Earth: Incorruptible (Century Media)

Iced Earth have never been a band where things have run smoothly they have an almost revolving door policy of vocalists and musicians throughout their 11 albums, however after their previous release Plagues Of Babylon the band seemed to be their most stable in years with singer Stu Block firmly in place, Luke Appleton the new bass player, Troy Steele on lead guitar and Jon Schaffer the anchor for everything, however after the release of the album the band took a break from touring due to Schaffer's cervical fusion surgery, in that time long-time drummer Brent Smedley returned to the fold and Steele left with Jake Dreyer of Kobra And The Lotus, Witherfall and previously White Wizzard taking over on the six strings.

The band started writing and the result of these sessions is the band's twelfth record Incorruptible Block and Appleton remain as of course does Schaffer which means that this record will sound like Iced Earth but where as some previous records have been bogged down by the Set Abominae concept this record has 10 individual tracks that all deal with different lyrical concepts, Great Heathen Army opens the record with the thrashy riffs of Schaffer cranking out at full volume as Block croons the story of Vikings, it's Iced Earth do Viking Metal and they do it well, Black Flag comes next an this is deep in the Running Wild trench telling of Pirates with a galloping riff and Brothers is about the relationship between Schaffer and Block.

Seven Headed Whore 
is vicious and nasty thrash metal while the epic finale Clear The Way is based on Irish Brigade at the Battle Of Fredericksburg returning to the Civil War motifs they played with on The Glorious Burden. As just a side note I've always enjoyed the way Schaffer treats history, it seems to be a genuine passion of his which as a historian myself is commendable. Anyway back to the album and it's the strongest record Iced Earth have done in along time, it dips a little in the middle but climbs back towards the end. It's certainly the best of the trio produced with Stu Block who gives his most definitive vocal performance so far, they have always been one of my favourite acts and to hear them giving their best performance in years made me bang my head in appreciation. 8/10

Furyborn: Dawn Of Leviathan (Self Released)

Five go mad in Dorset as the full length record from Furyborn graced my desk at MoM Towers. The band play in their own words 'weaponized melodeath savagery' and it's hard to argue as the intro Second Sun gives way to one of the heaviest records of the year, opening with the vicious title track Furyborn set out their stall early with razor sharp lighting fast riffs, heavy blast beating, some melodic leads and vocals that switch effortlessly between growls and powerful cleans, the title track grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go, shortening your breath not allowing you struggle free until the orchestral outro, it's only a brief rest bite though as The Reckoning brings the industrial stomp of Fear Factory stamping you in the face like Orwell's famous quote, the solos cut in for short bursts of virtuosity but then it's back to headbanging groove.

With the outright heaviness of this album, it's only after repeated plays you hear the Maiden-esque dual leads and the symphonic touches that weave their way through the record. Furyborn are Jut Tabor on vocals (both Jekyll and Hyde), Nick Richardson lead guitars (solos-a-go-go), Rob Walker rhythm guitars (riffs like a bastard), Timmy Hodgeson bass (ruptures your spleen) and Tim Coulson drums (gives artillery fire) together they play like they are far beyond later in their careers than seven years, there's a maturity and sens of purpose to the music, the band have found an identity that suits them it's this aggressive but accessible sound that will see them ascend rapidly in the UK metal scene. Melodeath Savagery? yes and so much more, bludgeoning breakdowns, soaring guitars solos and album that makes you pay attention. Now to watch the Leviathan rise and conquer! 9/10

Analog Bandits: Invocation (Self Released)

Analog Bandits cite their influences as Thrice, The Dear Hunter, Mastodon, Dance Gavin Dance, Dredg, and The Mars Volta so you can get a feel of what they sound like. Musically their mix of groovy progressive rock is very interesting and intriguing with changing time signatures, off-kilter melodies and very quirky style. For a three piece the music is technically proficient and polished mixing the rock and R&B in a cement mixer of prog weirdness, however the record does fall down with the vocals which are a bit Marmite, some will love them but others will hate the nasal quality to them. Invocation is a high concept record about two characters called Petrus and Stendention but you really have to listen to the record to figure out what the hell is going on. I'd say for fans of The Dear Hunter, The Mars Volta and Coheed And Cambria, Analog Bandits will be ones to watch, it's the sort of prog that could be played on BBC Radio 1 and that's not a criticism it's just more old school proggers will dismiss it which is a shame as the ability on display is of a high level, it just might be trying to please all of the people all of the time. 6/10  

Monday, 19 June 2017

Reviews: Nickelback, Bulletback, Edge Of Free

Nickelback: Feed The Machine (Sony/BMG)

Have Nickelback changed their sound? No, Will they ever? No, Do they need to? Probably not. However what we have on this ninth studio album from the Canadian band is not your atypical modern Nickelback record. Opening with the ominous riff heavy title track the album once again continues the theme of having hard rockers and mega ballads, unlike some of their previous albums though the rockier songs have more serious overtone than tracks like Something In Your Mouth and SEX with most of this album dedicated to lamenting politicians and the system.

There aren't any goofy throwaway numbers either so thankfully we don't have to endure another Rockstar or This Afternoon but what does remain are the ballads that have become the staple of US American radios. With eight albums under their belt on this record it sounds like the band are revisiting their past, there was period of after their previous album where Chad Kroger had to have surgery on his vocal chords, their tour was cancelled and they endured legal battles. This extra time and frustration has lent itself to the record being darker and angrier, like their breakthrough Silver Side Up and even their earlier records of State and The Curb.

The guitars are more down-tuned and heavier, Mike Kroeger's bass taking the lead on The Betrayal (III), Daniel Adair's drumming remains a key element of the band's sound and he really thumps away on this record, there's a renewed aggression to the band that means they can experiment with The Betrayal being a two song suite. Kroeger's vocals too seem in fine fettle as he shouts like the old days while For The River has a killer solo from Ryan Peake.

The things that made Nickelback an arena band are still here and it's these parts of their sound that have made them much maligned in rock circles After The Rain is the perfect example, but personally I'm liking the commitment to make this record harder like their first few albums. There will always be a fan base for Nickelback and they will always be counteracted by the people that hate the band, however you can't deny they are good musicians and they know how to write a song. For an older fan such as myself Feed The Machine is a throwback to the Nickelback I knew and loved. 8/10    

Bulletback: The Quest For New Horizons (Self Released)

Brazil is a hotbed of heavy metal, there aren't many countries that practically bleed metal, international bands get huge responses and as an offshoot the Brazilian metal scene is in rude health, bands such as Sepultura, Angra, Hibria and Krisiun all of whom rose to prominence outside of their native land, Brazilian metal bands are now tenpenny and Bulletback are here to make a statement. What a statement it is the three piece are wearing their influences on their sleeves, touches of Maiden, Megadeth and Accept creep in as the trio play distorted riff fuelled heavy metal, it's got modern heaviness to it with enough classic influences to please everyone.

Where Are The Angels is chunky riff with a big chorus, the title track blistering thrash as is Holy Words, while Faking takes a modern alt metal route. At the apex of the album Here I Stand is thrashy way to end in opposition to the dynamic Down And Out which opens it with hard rock hook. Raphael's vocals are as raw as his guitars with Aléxis and Fabio the powerhouse behind him. Bulletback are a really impressive band, considering this is their first album it's a mature, well crafted debut that screams quality, let's hope they continue this quality through to a second album then they can really make a splash outside of South America. 8/10

Edge Of Free: Edge Of Free (Digitally Sound Records/Kobalt Music)

The EPK that came with this record states that Edge Of Free is modern rock with a combination of acoustic riffs, heavy guitars and heart-felt lyrics. The band is the project of guitarist John Hussey and singer Scott Sneddon, the two men create dark melodies with soaring choruses that form songs that tackle depression, drug addiction and recovery with Sneddon singing of the pain these cause with a passion reserved for vocalists such as Chris Cornell and Layne Stayley. His anguished vocals are augmented by multi layered music of Hussey who along with producer Toby Wright (Alice In Chains, Korn, Tantric, Metallica) form the heavy rhythm section that sits under the lead acoustic guitar.

It's the acoustic guitar that takes pride of place on this record it makes the album stand out form the other alt/grunge bands out there, without it the Edge Of Free would be lost in the pack, however with it they are a unique presence in the scene. Pony, Higher and Pushin' The Needle are probably the best trio on this record but nothing really dips in quality with Sneddon's powerful vocals and Hussey taking the interesting step of letting the acoustic take the lead Edge Of Free is a record built out of damage, frustration and redemption, it's out of left field yes but it's interesting and heavy without having to be fully plugged in. 7/10

Friday, 16 June 2017

Reviews: Orden Ogan, Blackwater Conspiracy, Bloody Hammers

Orden Ogan: Gunmen (AFM)

I've had a soft spot for Orden Organ since their third record To The End the German band successful marry heavy power metal with a cinematic feel but in an unfussy way, they are not as over the top as bands such as Rhapsody but have the same pomp. The band is the brainchild of frontman Seeb Levermann who is the bands' vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/producer and writer he pretty much is the sound of Orden Ogan and his creates excellent power metal soundscapes, with the thunderous riffage, elegant keyboards, large backing choirs and his own deep powerful vocals tracks such as the dramatic Vampire In A Ghost Town, the Teutonic-metal of the title track and the epic final track Finis Coronat Opus which is just that an opus of operatic proportions.

Aiding Seeb are the band that have been with him since To The End guitarist Tobi, bassist Niels and drummer Dirk and they all are top flight musicians giving a really tight performance throughout as the songs twist and change numerous times during their relatively short run times, the amount of melody to metal is measured almost perfectly and on ballads seem muscular rather than airy Come With Me To The Other Side is the ideal example of this it's a great folk-influenced song that features Seeb duetting with Liv Kristine for maximum drama. Gunmen continues Orden Ogan's purple patch classy, heavy power metal with the occasional lighter moment added for a more rounded experience. 8/10

Blackwater Conspiracy: Shootin' The Breeze (Bulletproof 20/20)

Do you remember Million Dollar Reload? They released two albums and a live record between 2010 and 2013, highly touted as 'the next big thing' by the rock press their sleazy rock n roll was part AC/DC, part Guns N Roses. The comparisons were drawn mainly due to Phil Conalane's whiskey soaked Bon Scott-like vocals, the album's were very good and the band more than lived up to their press tag, however in 2015 the sleaze influences sank away and the music they were creating was much more laid back and blues-influenced.

Phil continued with vocals and strapped on a guitar and along with M$R bassist and co-founder Kie McMurray they added to their ranks the lead guitar wizardry of Brian Fallon, the tub thumping of Fionn O’Hagain and the keys of Kevin Brennan before deciding that a new name was needed and so Voilà Blackwater Conspiracy came about. This is their debut album and the years of service to rock n roll is written all over it, the songs bristle with energy that is captured by fellow countrymen The Answer.

The Gaelic spirit is writ large all over this record, as well as The Answer comparisons can be drawn to The Temperance Movement, The Quireboys and of course The Faces, Phil's raw vocals are particularly Rod-like on the breezy Blackwater Swagger and Roll The Dice, the band go a bit Skynyrd on Waitin' On Hollywood which teams a fuzz riff with church organs and A Penny For Your Dirty Mind continues in the soulful Southern vibe. Hanging Tree is a packed with soul bearing from Phil, '85 Rockstar builds on bubbling organs with an easy shuffle into a tale of self destruction that could have come from their previous incarnation.

Decadent Highway goes the other way by landing squarely in The Black Crowes territory matching boogie piano running with rock n roll guitar heroism. Recorded at Rockfield and Studio 2 in Portadown the album brims with confidence, intelligence and a real love for the music contained herein, Blackwater Conspiracy have spent time crafting an album that goes from slide-driven blues through to driving rock n roll via confessional country, it's a fantastic record that like all the best albums is British rock influenced by American blues, come and shoot the breeze it's comforting, familiar and boy howdy does it feel good. 10/10

Bloody Hammers: The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers (Napalm Records)

The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers is a vinyl only EP of Transylvania County goth, horror, schlock rockers Bloody Hammers. On their full length records they have slowly adapted their sound from doomy Sabbath-like rock to a more Cure-like goth styling and the six tracks on on this EP draw from both of those different style. The EP opens with the low down dirty riff of Gates Of Hell which is the heaviest track and has frontman/guitarist/bassist Anders Manga conducting the the ceremony with his resonant vocals and low end guitars.

His wife Devallia's organs come in on Blood which has the percussive melancholy of Type O Negative, it's on the synth heavy The Beyond that the band show their sexy gothic stylings. As a short slice of what the band can do The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers is a great EP that brings together the best of the band and takes it's place as a taster for their next album. 7/10 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Reviews: Municipal Waste, Secret Sphere, Anasarca (Reviews By Rich)

Municipal Waste: Slime And Punishment (Nuclear Blast)

Municipal Waste have always been one of the best loved bands of the thrash metal revival and their sixth album Slime And Punishment shows just why. It's been a five year wait since previous album The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space) and anticipation for this record is very high amongst thrashers like myself. Thankfully with Slime And Punishment Municipal Waste have not let us down. If you've heard previous Muncipal Waste albums then you know exactly what you're getting and that is a blast of short, sharp punked up thrash anthems.

The main difference on Slime And Punishment is the addition of Nick Poulos as second guitarist which has upped the musical prowess on display with exceptional performances all round. Muncipal Waste have never taken themselves seriously and this attitude is still evident especially on songs such as Breathe Grease, Shrednecks and Bourbon Discipline. Slime And Punishment is probably the strongest album Municipal Waste have released since The Art Of Partying and whilst it doesn't deviate from the formula laid down on previous albums it is 29 minutes of damn good thrashing fun. 8/10

Secret Sphere: The Nature Of Time (Frontiers Records)

Secret Sphere are an Italian progressive power metal band who formed back in 1997 and latest release The Nature Of Time is their eighth album. Secret Sphere are a band I have heard of but despite their longevity and lengthy discography I have yet to hear them until now. The music on The Nature Of Time is melodic power metal with progressive and symphonic influences. The performances on the album are fantastic with some jaw dropping lead guitar work from Aldo Lonobile, impressive keyboard work by Gabriele Ciaccia and truly outstanding vocals by frontman Michele Luppi. If you enjoy clean vocals in metal then this guy has to be heard as his vocals are out of this world and one of the strongest aspects of this album.

The songwriting is fairly good throughout the album with things starting very strong with songs such as lead single The Calling, the power metal leaning Courage and semi-ballad Kindness before the album takes a midway dip in quality with a bunch of forgettable and disposable songs. Things do pick up once again with the lengthy and epic The Awakening and impressive closer The New Beginning. The Nature Of Time is a very enjoyable melodic metal album though the midway slump does affect the flow of the album and the album does tend to have a few too many gentle moments for my liking. Despite these criticisms this is a worth checking out if you are a fan of melodic metal. 7/10

Anasarca: Survival Mode (Sevared Records)

The joy of reviewing is the discovery of new bands and especially the discovery of bands who play the sort of music that you absolutely love. Anasarca are my latest discovery - they are a death metal band from Germany and Survival Mode is their fourth album. The album is a re-recording of the 2015 demo of the same name but with an additional five new songs on there. Survival Mode is an all out old school death metal feast with a sound very reminiscent of the US scene in the early to mid nineties with influence coming from some of the greats of the genre such as Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation and Suffocation.

The band put in a extremely tight performance and very much know the art of good death metal which is violence, aggression and a certain degree of catchiness. If you like your death metal the old way then these riffs will be causing you neck injury. With Survival Mode Anasarca have put together a fine album of old school death metal worship which while lacking in originality is more than made up for in quality. Who needs originality in death metal when it sounds as good as this? If it ain't broke don't fix it. 8/10

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reviews: Jorn, Gentle Knife, Dream Tröll

Jorn: Life On Death Road (Frontiers Records)

There is an ongoing battle for who can really be considered 'The Voice' of rock but every time I'd throw my hat in the ring for Jorn Lande, the Norwegian Masterplan vocalist has carved out a name for himself as one of the go-to vocalists for many artists, he features in both the Ayreon and Avantasia projects and has had continued success in the power metal band Masterplan, personally I've always been more blown away by his solo career which has always carried a thumping hard rock grunt to it, now the quality of some of these records has varied wildly but on this his ninth studio album he sounds better than ever, his vocals are astounding, strong full of vigour and soulful but for the first time he has a backing band that are up to his carrying his talent.

The band in question are essentially all of Voodoo Circle, the pumping rhythm section are Mat Sinner (bass) and Francesco Iovio (drums) both of Primal Fear, the keys and organs are from Alessio Del Vecchio (Hardline) and the guitar prowess is unmistakable the Blackmore loving Alexander Beyrodt (also of Primal Fear), it's this line-up that recorded the last Voodoo Circle album and as that band does seem to be on a hiatus what better way to continue the Purple/Rainbow/Whitesnake vibes than with the man who could easily be the singer of any of those bands with ease, the aim of this record was to make the best album possible and that is exactly what they have done.

With an experienced musical team contributing all of the songs are the ultimate examples of what you'd want from a Jorn album. From the galloping title track, through to the heavy but melodic Purple-like Love Is The Remedy the album, the gutsy ballad Dreamwalker, the rifftastic The Slippery Slope (The Hangman's Rope), the AOR influences creep in on Devil You Can Drive and The Optimist is the proper ballad with a very heartfelt message. Life On Death Road is possibly the finest album of Jorn's career, a rock n roll masterpiece; Lande, Beyrodt, Vecchio, Sinner and Iovio have crafted 12 anthems and delivered a vital hard rock album. 10/10         

Gentle Knife: Clock Unwound (Caerlysi Records)

I gave the Norwegian progressive rock ensemble Gentle Knife a glowing review back in 2015 and now they are back with their second concept album, this time the eleven piece band have dealt with the relentless passing of time. In their words the record "delves into lives overshadowed by longing and disappointment. Plans go askew, lovers betray and dreams fade. Yet, as a sense of resignation descends upon a dystopic inner landscape, moments of beauty remain"

So perfectly normal for prog then, musically it's once again a very layered, intensely musical affair, picking up where the last album left off as the traditional instruments of bass, drums, keys and a trio of guitars are augmented by woodwind and brass (on the jazzy title track). It's the sort of progressive rock favoured by King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Yes, check out the folky Fade Away which washes over you displaying the duality of the male and female vocals and moves into the Smother which has Latin rhythms and huge organ stabs the battle with the parping trumpet. Clock Unwound is another piece of progressive near perfection from Gentle Knife, I really want to see the band in concert as I can see it being an incredible show with all eleven members translating the soundscapes on these records to a live crowd. 8/10

Dream Tröll: The Knight Of Rebellion (Self Released)

Leeds metal band Dream Tröll's debut record has cause a bit of a stir before it was released as it features guest vocals from Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon (who retained his Leeds East seat in the May 2017 Election fact fans). The press accused the band of being Satanic (really it is the 80's all over again) but when your band features songs about sorcery, mythic creatures, warriors and trolls I think Satan is pretty far down on the list. The mainstream press also said the band were inspired by Black Sabbath, well maybe overall but this record is stuffed full of NWOTHM, it's denim leather all over ladies and gents and it's of a high quality.

Tongues planted in their cheeks, the band set out their stall by playing melodic epics that draw from Maiden, Saxon, Dio and bands of that ilk. Galloping basslines, lead harmonies, melodic vocals, progressive tendencies and a slightly goofy D&D style, all make this record. It's this mix of technical precision and joyful heavy metal cliches that can't fail to put a grin on your face. With a new vocalist in tow, Dream Tröll look set to follow up this record, lets hope there are more orcs to slay and more quests to conquer. 8/10