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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Reviews: Alunah, Cryonic Temple, Impavidus

Alunah: Solennial (Svart Records)

Solennial is the fourth record from East Midlands Doom troupe Alunah, led by the bewitching vocals and feedback drenched guitar of front woman Sophie Day, the band have been playing atmospheric, mystical, pagan folklore influenced doom metal for a while now and they have really made a name for themselves on the UK scene building their following and their maturity as a band with every album cycle. This record is their most accomplished with every song having the distinct fuzzy guitars of Sophie, David Day adds the melodious Iommi worshipping leads most recognisable on The Reckoning Of Time and the potent Fire Of Thornborough Henge.

It's doom how it should be done with massive rhythm section as the very low end of Daniel Burchmore fits like glove with drummer Jake Mason both giving a great account of themselves on the ominous Petrichor and in direct opposition to the haunting vocals of Sophie. Alunah have always been able to tell a story in a short time not relying on the mammoth playback times of many of their peers they do more in four minutes than some bands do with twelve.

Lugh's Assembly is the album's longest song at 7+ minutes and is followed by a cover of The Cure's A Forest where the band make the song their own. Solennial is a superior doom album showing that there just seems to be something about it raining all Spring and Summer that makes British bands so good at doom and it's the rich heritage of the country that Alunah's so damn satisfying. 8/10

Cryonic Temple: Into Glorious Battle (Scarlet Records)

Into Glorious Battle that is a title that leaves nothing to the imagination, Swedes Cryonic Temple are power metal through and through, every single note they play has leather, sweat and caress of steel pumping through it from Micke Dahlkvist's frenzied double kick drum pairing so well with Roland Westbom's deep bass licks. Their powerful rhythm section drive speedier tracks such as All The Kingsmen and the storming Prepare For War setting the foundation for the dual guitar harmonies of Markus Grundström and Esa Ahonen to really impress.

Like all good guitar pairings their axes are in perfect sync giving these tracks solos and lead breaks Dragonforce would be proud of. In fact Cryonic Temple sound more like Dragonforce than they do say fellow Templar loving Swedes Hammerfall. If Herman Li is listening to this album he may want to ask for some writers credits as this record sits very comfortably in Dragonforce's extreme power metal bracket. Much of this comparison is due to the synths and orchestrations of the unknown keyboardist called Miss U on the band's Facebook.

Cryonic Temple had their formation back in 1996 but this is their first album since 2008 and their first with the powerful pipes of Mattias L, his gritty vocals add gravitas to slower numbers like Heroes Of The Day (a song that has touches of Metallica's Unforgiven) which also features Karin Fechner bolstering the backing choirs. At 14 tracks and over an hour this album could be real slog but track after track Cryonic Temple deliver quality power metal in spades, it peaks and troughs well with every three or four hell (bent) for leather songs there are slower, cinematic pieces that serve as records stopgaps from the heroic battle metal that populates the rest of the record.

 Into Glorious Battle is everything you could want in a power metal album, it even has a track called Mean Streak which despite not being a Y&T cover contains more Meniketti-isms than is decent, I suppose to be critical I could say that the production is not as sharp as it could be but that's not important, most of the time you are too busy getting your face melted off to care. A magnificent album, pretty much perfect, buy it, grab broadsword and ride into battle with Crom in your heart! 9/10

Impavidus: Eradication Of Mankind (Self Released)

Manchester groove mob return with their second EP hot on the heels of their first in 2016, starting with thunderous drumming the EP kicks off in fine style, due to the production the bass and guitars are low in the mix but you can hear them clearly. The impressive drumming of Chris O'Rouke is unfortunately a second place in terms of what grabs your attention as that award goes too vocalist Michelle Adamson who has some of the finest dual vocals I've heard, guttural vocals that come from the depths of hell but also keening almost operatic clean vocals. Eradication Of Mankind has four excellent death/groove metal tracks, thick, fat riffs, bludgeoning drumming and binary vocals that are both angel and demon in one voice. Keep an eye out for Impavidus they may just become a serious contender. 7/10

Friday, 24 March 2017

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

The Record Company, The Fleece Bristol

Those with good memories will recall that Los Angeles based The Record Company supported Blackberry Smoke on their 2015 UK tour. If your memory is even better, you'll remember that we were blown away by their set at the London Forum where they gave the headliners a real run for their money in front of a packed house.

The band have finally returned to UK shores with a brave headline tour taking in one of my favourite venues, The Fleece in Bristol. On a night fraught with traffic problems thanks to the nighttime closure of the M32 and M4, the band helped ease the trauma with a 70 minute set which once again oozed quality.

A sparse crowd made up largely of students there to see the indie tinged support band were treated to an energetic performance by Chris Vos, Alex Stiff and Marc Cazoria. The band played a wide selection of tracks from their debut release Give It Back To You, switching between country, bluesgrass, rock and the blues with ease. Stiff's Fender bass is the platform for the band, with the opening song so solid in the rhythm section that Vos was allowed to leave the guitar in the rack. In London, Cazoria spent more time climbing the front of the drum kit and whilst he was a little calmer in approach he still managed to break off his foot pedal in the penultimate song. 

This didn't cause Vos and Stiff any problems as they improvised with ease until he had repaired the damage. Vos is a exceptional guitarist, whether bluesing it up during their homage to John Lee Hooker or when ripping the crap out of the lap steel. Those in the audience who were intent on listening to the music gave the band a deserved ovation. This band deserved a far bigger audience and one that paid full attention. Too many pissed students talking loudly throughout the set irritated immensely. However, The Record Company were superb and next time they are in town you owe it to yourself to check them out. 9/10

Reviews: Steve Hackett, One Desire, Hydrogyn

Steve Hackett: The Night Siren (InsideOut)

After 2015's amazing Wolflight legendary guitarist Steve Hackett returns with his twenty-fifth (!) solo album, according to Hackett this record is "a bird's eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit." The record was driven once again by the collaborative team of Hackett his wife Jo and co-producer keyboardist extraordinaire Roger King, the music was recorded direct to computers meaning that it is record that retains it's heaviness but is not intrusive.

The world-music influences are abundant throughout with Hackett not only giving his usual stunning guitar and vocal performance but also adding a sitar from India, a tar from the Middle East (played by Malik Mansurov), the charango from Peru fleshes out this record. The Night Siren features musicians from Iceland, Azerbaijan, Israel and Palestine, with vocals coming from Orphaned Land's Kobi Fahri, Arab Israeli singer Mīrā ‘Awaḍ, Hackett's touring singer Nad Sylvan, drums from Nick D'Virgillio (ex-Spock's Beard), uilleann pipes from Nightwish's Troy Donockley.

Martian Stream is Middle Eastern flavoured instrumental that leads into the spacey Fifty Miles From The North Pole which has some excellent classical strings that also drive the ominous percussive El Nino which has some great guitar playing from Hackett. Other Side Of The Wall is beautiful acoustic song with a political heart, one that beats heavily too on West To East, the whole record is reminder that music is the great unifier. The Night Siren is yet another excellent progressive rock album from the man that was the distinctive sound of Genesis for so many years. 8/10

One Desire: One Desire (Frontiers Records)

Hurt the song that sets this album off immediately gives you everything you need to know about One Desire, the huge keys, bouncy rhythm and emotive vocals firmly sit One Desire in the AOR category. However as Apologise brings a thumping Shinedown sound it's clear this is 21st Century AOR, the production is like cut glass, the songs sit between pop and rock, there is no room for distortion or jam sessions every part is measured for maximum impact.

Love Injection has the current trend of bringing in electronic touches, Turn Back Time is a fist clenching rocker and its followed up by the synth heavy ballad Falling Apart which could have been number 1 in 1985, while Where The Heartbreak Begins is a showstopper Bryan Adams would have trouble knocking off the number one spot. One Desire are a Finnish band who share similarities with fellow Finns Brother Firetribe and Reckless Love, the vocal hooks are huge, the songs bombastic and the whole package of this debut record is equally modern and retro. One Desire sees AOR being brought bang up to date while still clinging to its roots. 8/10

Hydrogyn: Redemption (HighVolMusic)

I've defended Hydrogyn for years, their mostly generic metallic hard rock was saved by vocalist Julie, who had a superb voice. A band that seemed to lose their way a few times during their career they have become another piece of evidence in why you should never work with your spouse as Julie left the band in 2016 after splitting with guitarist husband Jeff. The band however carried on recruiting Erica Parrott behind the mic and announced this record was going to be heavier than any of it's predecessors, well yes it is heavier, it's also terrible. Very little melody, overly crunchy guitars so they sound like white noise, the tracks seem roughly cut together and Erica unfortunately isn't sure what to do vocally, in parts she cackles as she tries to growl and then she tries to croon like Julie poorly, it's all a bit of a wreck really. No amount of divine intervention could give Hydrogyn Redemption, avoid if possible. 3/10

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Reviews: Fen, Destroy She Said, Synaptik, Light Freedom Revival (Reviews By Paul)

Fen: Winter (Code666 Records)

It's hard to know where to start with Winter. Perhaps the most beautifully crafted black metal album for many years, the East Anglians fifth album is an astonishing mix of textured soundscape which envelopes the listener and transports them into a different place. Technically fantastic, the album ebbs and flows, ranging from blisteringly heavy black metal to delicate fragility. For a three piece to make this sound is incredible. Winter is divided into six sections, I to VI, all of which capture different parts of the season. 

They are lengthy too, with opener I (Pathway) a 17-minute epic. Each track segues perfectly into each other, providing the listener with an intertwined stunningly dramatic piece. Whilst there is the heaviness associated with black metal including blistering drumming, massive thrashing guitars and death vocals of Grungyn and The Watcher, there is so much more to this release. Part V (Death) is a perfect example. Repeated listens make this album more incredible. You should not miss one of the best albums of not only 2017 but of this century. Essential listening. 10/10

Destroy She Said: Origins Of O’Detta (Hellfire Records)

If you didn’t know, you’d quickly realise that Destroy She Said are from Australia. With a sound that combines the rawest elements of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, the Melbourne five piece’s latest release is a gritty, raucous affair that delivers some of the dirtiest rock ‘n’ roll since Dirty Deeds dropped on the turntable. Now, it’s not ground breaking in any respect but what it does have is that filthy snarling soundtrack for the bar room brawl which countrymen Airbourne have polished out of their sound. It is blunt and crass, with tracks like Squirter (yes, really) Fat Lizzy and Hookers Don’t Kiss leaving nothing to the imagination. The Sabbath like stomp of You Might Think I Love You diverts slightly from the routine heads down approach in the other tracks, with a vocal performance from Simon McCullough that fuses Iggy Pop with Jim Morrison. Apart from that, with a band that is so adult that two of the members are called Scampers and Youngy what else would you expect. Crack open a tin, punch your mate in the face and bare your arse at the world. Destroy She Said. They certainly have. 7/10

Synaptik: Justify & Reason (Divebomb Records)

Norwich outfit Synaptik's 2nd album is a real hybrid beast. Elements of progressive metal, thrash, melodic death and power metal are all present. Whilst experimentation and incorporation of different genres is an admirable objective, the results here are mixed at best. The playing is excellent with lead guitarist Jack Murton shredding like his life depends on it. Vocalist John Knight has a strong clean voice which is a joy to listen to. In places the album is quite impressive, with some real cohesiveness, for example on the slower paced Conscience which builds majestically over its 9 minutes. However, some of the other tracks are just a bit too busy, with so much going on it's difficult to know where to listen. Human is a case in point. Huge riffs, some Iron Maiden style melody but then there is some djent type bass lines, numerous time changes and varying patterns which begin to make the listener really have to work to keep up. It sounds messy. There is some real potential here. The band are tight and talented. Whether they can push their complex sound into a saturated market is debatable. 6/10

Light Freedom Revival: Eterniverse Déjà Vu (Positive Imagination Media)

‘From the perception of the Light Omniverse, right now each of us are consciously or unconsciously, passing through quantum stargates by simply making decisions about where our lives are going, and our minds are slowly learning to use a sort of a holographic customized reality operating system, leading us into the kind of future we would like to experience. I know I’m headed towards this exit timeline, where Earth evolves to become the centre of a gigantic crystal space city of light called the Avatar that represents the point of focus for the entire Light Creation with a sealed cornucopian light society template. That is for me the true Ascension into the Eterniverse and I wanted the songs to reflect that!’

That’s the explanation from John Vehadija, Vancouver based singer songwriter about the debut (and hopefully only) album from Light Freedom Revival, with prog rock luminaries Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). I’d really like some of what he’s been taking. The album is utter shite, a horrible bastard that should have been aborted at conception. With a sound that appears to have merged the worst of Asia, Weezer and Mike Oldfield, I can find nothing enjoyable in it. Vehadija’s voice is one of the most irritating I’ve ever heard, nasal mucus soaked in saccharine and wildly over produced. With Marisa Frantz’s harmony vocals attempting to smooth the sound but accentuating it, I was reaching for the knitting needles to ram in my ears after song number one. Anyone that enjoys this needs therapy. Utter bilge. 1/10

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sonata Arctica, Striker & Triosphere (Live Review By Paul & Matt)

Sonata Arctica - Tramshed, Cardiff

Paul- Having checked that all vital organs were still located where they were meant to be after the battering that Gojira gave them the night before, we headed the Tramshed in Cardiff for a night of total contrast. It's very rare that the UK gets a visit from the power metal Finnish outfit Sonata Arctica but combined with an even more rare appearance from Triosphere and Striker meant this was one not to be missed.

Unfortunately the metal crowds of South Wales clearly didn't feel the same as there were some rather large gaps in the venue. Kudos to those who made the effort on a Sunday night. Their noise for each band made it feel like the venue was full and we were rewarded with an evening of high quality as a result. With the battle for Womanby Street beginning, you do sometimes wonder whether the metal fraternity of South Wales gets what it deserves. Make sure you cram into the cowshed for Slipknot, Korn and Alter Bridge but don't support some of the hardest working bands. It makes my piss boil at times. Anyway, rant over and on to the music.

Norweigian four piece Triosphere (8) hit the stage promptly at 7:30pm and delivered some fine symphonic metal with a much harder edge. For a band that started out as a thrash band, their sound has certainly developed and anyone who has been wise enough to give 2014's epic Heart Of The Matter a listen will know that this is a band who can mix up their styles. Bassist and vocalist Ida Haukland may be diminutive in stature but her playing is solid and her voice, well, just fantastic. It's impossible to listen to her without comparing other leading metal ladies but alongside Cristina Scabbia and Kristie Kirby (ex-Triaxis), Ida has one of the most impressive voices around. Her soaring range, ably enhanced by an excellent sound (well done at the back!) ensured the band gained some new fans.

Flanked by Marius Silver Bergesen and Tor Ole Byberg and with Kenneth Tarneby pounding the skins Triosphere raced through their allocated slot, focusing mainly on tracks from their most recent release but with a dip into the past with Gunnin' For Glory from debut Onwards and Human Condition from sophomore release Road Less Travelled. Bergesen ensured that Haukland wasn't the centre of attention with some stunning guitar work, especially the bluesy solo on Breathless. He knows he is a rock star and adopts every pose in the book overdoing the posing a little for me at times. Closing with The Heart's Dominion Triosphere were worth the admission price on their own.

Fifteeen minutes later and Canadian traditional metallers Striker (8) crashed onto stage and proceeded to play as if they were headlining Download. Similar to Triosphere, Striker wasted few seconds in their set, careering around the stage and gurning in that goofy way only Canadians can. Imagine Anvil as a five piece, but with some decent songs and the energy of fellow countrymen Exciter in their heyday. It really was great to see a band having such a great time, playing quality heavy metal and loving it. And so was the crowd, who once again made a massive amount of noise for such a small gathering.

Dan Clearly is a charismatic frontman with a really powerful voice. Guitarist Adam Brown is hyperactive, climbing on monitors and generally acting the fool. It was engaging stuff and there were huge smiles all around. The band focused most of their set on their most recent two albums, the new self-titled release and 2016's Stand In The Fire. they even had the cheek to do the most Maiden style sing-a-long at the end during Fight For Your Life, which worked perfectly. A super live band with some solid songs to support the show.

Matt - Then it was time for the main event as the numbers of the crowd swelled a little, the mix of old-school rockers, lace covered goths and leather studded metallers was an overview of the style of music Sonata Arctica (8) play, it's heavy, dramatic, symphonic and joyous. Having last seen them in Cardiff in 2011 I was anticipating a similar level of energy and quality as then. As the intro tape of We Are What We Are played each member of the band took to the stage Tommy Portimo hidden behind his immense drumkit, Elias Viljanen stage right with his guitar held aloft, in fact he probably only had it horizontal twice during the show, the imposing Pasi Kauppinen was on stage left with keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg behind him cradling his keytar.

Portimo hit the switch and the set kicked off with Closer To The Animal and Life from the latetst album The Ninth Hour, just as the opening chords of Closer...hit frontman Tony Kakko swaggered on to the stage and started to belt out the words with his incredible voice, in fact the first four songs all came from their most recent releases with the excellent The Wolves Die Young from Pariah's Child and the furious In Black And White from Unia leaving the crowd breathless from fist pumping, singing and clapping. The songs demand participation but we were given a chance to breathe with the gorgeous ballad Tallulah that saw the first mass sing-along and even grown men cry such is the power of the song, it was a moving sight to see but the band effortlessly build the pace back up with the satirical Fairytale from the latest album that was followed up by going back to the beginning with classic FullMoon from Ecliptica.

There was genuine joy on the stage with Tony leading proceedings guiding the crowd through the motions, Pasi banging his head throughout and Henrik and Elias trading solos at blistering speed. As an old school Sonata fan the inclusion of Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited was very much welcome especially as it was sandwiched between the symphonic new tracks Among The Stars and We Are What We Are which carries resonant message about protecting the Earth we have. The main set ended with The Power Of One and the band were off stage for only a short time before returning because Tony "forgot his drink". The encore was made up of three songs two old favourites one modern classic and as Misplaced commenced the crowd went nuts, it sounds as good now as it was when it was released, I Have The Right sat in the middle as a clarion call, the set wound up with their normal final song the awesome Don't Say A Word and the breakdown into Vodka after a bit of crowd call and response.

Sonata Arctica are one of the top power metal bands in the business and this show deserved a bigger crowd than it actually got, three great bands for a good price, in a great venue (that still needs aircon) As Paul mentioned at the top, to really save the local scene we must attend these shows in larger quantities otherwise they may disappear all together.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reviews: Pallbearer, Eclipse, GraViL

Pallbearer: Heartless (Nuclear Blast)

Having only recently discovered Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer I have avidly listened to their two previous records and I really think that they could be one of the best bands around today moving away from the abrasive sometimes overly slow delivery of other bands in the doom genre. Pallbearer add a much more psychedelic, melodic sound to their songs, yes they sprawl with most of the songs over 5 minutes long, two clocking in over 10 minutes but the musical dynamics involved means that the minutes fly by as the dual harmonic guitar playing from Devin Holt and Brett Campbell is reminiscent of bands such as Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy along with more modern purveyors like The Sword and even Mastodon. Lie Of Survival is prime example of this with fly away clean guitar riffs moving into the deliberate, heavy riffs associated with doom bands.

On the title track they display everything that makes them great, fuzzy bludgeoning riffs, a heavy low end from Joseph D Rowland (bass) and Mark Lierly (drums), shifting time signatures and sounds that are augmented by Campbell's excellent clean vocals. Heartless only has 7 tracks but they are all incredible, the first four blend so beautifully that you'd be forgiven in thinking they were one song, the album builds and builds releasing every single ounce of emotion on the incredible A Plea For Understanding, clocking in at just over 12 minutes it's a magnificent piece that serves as a fitting climax for a monumental album from the US band. I may be late to the Pallbearer bandwagon but I can see it gaining an awful lot more momentum on the back of this fantastic record. 9/10

Eclipse: Momentum (Frontiers Records)

Those of you that follow the Scandinavian melodic rock/AOR scene or indeed Frontiers records releases will have heard of Erik Mårtensson the vocalist guitarist is a key member of W.E.T, Nordic Union and his main band Eclipse. He also writes for and produces many of the albums released by Frontiers, clearly a man with a Midas Touch for gleaming melodic rock (and a huge work rate) it's only been two years since Eclipse last released a record and now their sixth is ready to drop. Once again it's probably some of the best melodic rock around, continuing Eclipse's upward trajectory as the worthy successors to bands such as Journey.

Since their last record they toured almost relentlessly for two years and having seen Eclipse live I can tell you that this Journey comparison is not hyperbole, they have the ability and most importantly the songs to make it big. Momentum builds just that raising the stakes established on Bleed & Scream and Armageddonize with a sharper focus, huge hooks, impressive guitar work from Mårtensson and long term collaborator Magnus Henriksson that mean that the songs on this record resonate in your mind for a long time. Opening with Vertigo they kick things off in style with a fist in the air rocker, one of many, it's music that makes you want to just go wild, shout along and air guitar with abandon, cue No Way Out.

This record is fun from beginning to end rarely dropping in quality, Black Rain is a heavy one, swaggering and moody it still has a glorious chorus and orchestral elements, The Downfall Of Eden is one of the records best tracks, immediate and driving with a slight folk influenced dramatic track that actually could represent Sweden at Eurovision (it even works in the acoustic version bonus track) even the ballads are tough, Hurt is a darker ballad that could have come off a Sixx AM record with the lush symphonies and sparse delivery but it's the superior hard rockers that frankly litter this album that will make you stay. Momentum is a truly great melodic rock album and I can't wait to see them in Bristol on the 23rd April. 9/10

GraViL: No More Forgiveness (Self Released)

London melo-death mob started out as just two men, since then the membership has expanded and changed with the one constant being frontman Grant Stacy, it's his evil vocals that are the link between this album and the early EP's, the first one I heard being Age Of Corruption which I got in a Darkstore (R.I.P) goody bag. They really found their feet on 2013's Thoughts Of A Rising Sun expanding and rounding out their sound very well and this has continued on this second full length, noticeably darker (if that's possible) than their first record the band has always been politically/personally charged and with the current state of the world this record is angry and remorseful in equal measure but with hope cutting through.

According to frontman Grant "There is a massive sub-context of loss within the new album, with 2016 notably being a brutal year, however No More Forgiveness pulls in a lot of strength from negativity." That brutality is reflected in the songs, it's pummelling death metal with furious guitar solos, bullet train speed drumming and industrial touches (Locate The Traitor) that means the tracks stomp, crush and groove in equal measure.

With the furious riffage of I Am Blood, the grinding riff of Plagues, Thieves And Murderers and the symphonic curve-ball of Fractured, Divided which adds soaring female vocals. GraViL are still a major force in the UK underground scene but I can see No More Forgiveness taking them to that next level, four years on from their debut and GraViL retain the high quality melodic death metal heard on their debut. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gojira (Live Review By Paul & Nick)

Gojira - O2 Academy Bristol

A sold out crowd in boisterous mood meant that this was an evening of high intensity for start to finish. Securing a place on the balcony early doors gave a great view and a much more bearable temperature for the evenings fun and games.

New Yorkers Car Bomb (5) kicked off the evening with the audience still filling the venue but already a high percentage had decided it was worth getting in early. Car Bomb are an acquired taste, their discordant polyrhythmic mathcore at times a disjointed cacophony. The band are high on intensity and aggression, which is conveyed in their sound. The buzzing crowd responded positively, although they made no impression on me. The band have toured with Gojira a number of times so it's likely that Car Bomb will be back.

Confidence is not something that Code Orange (6) lack. Hitting the stage with a swaggering arrogance that only American bands display, the Pittsburgh based outfit blasted the Academy with their blistering uncompromising hardcore approach. Drummer Jami Morgan is bizarrely the focal point, his screaming vocals and constant coercion to the enthusiastic pit strangely endearing. Amidst all the chaos of a set that was disjointed and chaotic, which I guess is part of the approach, Reba Meyers took lead for the one clean vocal track, but chaos soon returned with tracks like Forever from the album of the same name turning all those on the floor into a gibbering mess. "This is the new shit" screamed Morgan towards the end of the set. Hmmm. If that's the case I may stick with the old. But then I am old!

2016 was the year Gojira (9) really moved into the premier league. On the back of their brilliant release Magma, the band has developed into a slick headline band who have sold out virtually every show on their tour including Brixton Academy. No mean feat. Recent visits to these shore saw a blistering special guest slot at BOA and a show stealing support to Alter Bridge during the autumn whereby all accounts they blew both the headliners and main support Volbeat to shit. Judged by tonight's showing it's no surprise. The Frenchmen were imperious, laying waste to the venue with a set as intense as I've ever seen. The wall of sound these four men lay down almost defies description. Heavier than anything that had gone before, their sound envelopes you and sucks you in. Industrial, brutal and totally absorbing.

Gojira now have a set list to rival any of their peers. Six tracks from the monumental Magma were greeted like old favourites, whilst the veteran tunes from Ocean Planet and From Mars To Sirius elicited the mightiest roars. Opening with Only Pain and segueing right into The Heaviest Matter In The Universe the band didn't drop the pace for one minute. With Mario Duplantier destroying his drum pedals, the only cessation in the assault was due to technical support. The rest of the set list almost wrote itself, with the mighty Flying Whales, complete with beautiful footage of a humpback on the screen behind was just mesmerising. The new tracks sit comfortably in the set, with set closer Pray rivalling a pulverising Backbone for song of the evening.

My only complaint as is my usual beef was the inclusion of a drum solo. If ever there was a band that didn't need to showcase the drumming it is Gojira. However, there are always reasons and as solos go it was decent. Joe Duplantier, who has emerged as a Goliath frontman noodled a little at the start of the encores before Oroborus and Vacuity closed a phenomenal set. Bassist Jean Michel Labadie finally came to a stop as the show ended, having put in another energetic show whilst Christian Andrew never stopped smiling. As the sweat dripped off the walls of the venue, the band vowed to return soon. they proclaimed Bristol the best crowd of the tour and whilst bands often say that this time there was real truth. The crowd were as intense as the band, feeding off the energy of each other. A fine evening from one of metal's most exciting bands.

The Hewitt Perspective:

Gojira have been a favourite of mine since seeing them in the Cardiff union a few years ago, and no matter how much I prepare myself for their gigs I am always taken back by the sheer power and heaviness that they offer up, which, more impressively is never diminished by the astonishing volume they present it with. These guys are the epitome of a perfectly well oiled machine that clearly love what they do, pouring their heart and soul into every album and live performance. Throughout the hour and forty five minutes Gojira dipped into their entire back catalogue providing us with a plethora of songs including The Heaviest Matter Of the Universe, L'Enfant Sauvage, Toxic Garbage Island and the ever phenomenal Flying Whales which satisfied all fans old and new. From the Duplantier brothers Joe and Mario to Christain and Jean-Michel each member of the band showed their skills and tightness across the entirety of the set. Testament to this was the synchronicity in which the crowd banged there heads to the heavy bass laden riffs and breakdowns that Gojira constantly threw our way all night. 

Circle pits and walls were breaking out left right and centre with little encouragement from the band. Halfway through Mario lost suffered a heavy loss of a bass pedal (unsurprisingly) which thankfully was quickly replaced as that pedal is the centre of what the band do. Seamlessly working their way through the eighteen song set there was little time for chit chat, however Joe did seem a little taken aback at to the crowds reaction at one point, leading him to highlight the fact that last time Gojira were in town they had to cancel as they only sold four tickets! Sounds crazy I know, but this just shows the work this band have had to put in to earn their greatness and support... damn don't they deserve it??! 

Sadly the evening had to come to an end but it was done in style with a three track encore consisting of a guitar solo followed by a beefy breakdown and then bone crunching but brief songs; Oroborus and Vacuity. I left the venue like most people present; with a slightly broken body, buzzing ears but with a massive smile on my face which still remains as I write this. Gojira somehow manage to build upon perfection every time I see them, I cant wait for their next visit... next time hopefully in Cardiff.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Reviews: Obituary, Svart Crown,The Crawling, Axxis (Reviews By Paul)

Obituary: Self Titled (Relapse)

The teaser EP Ten Thousand ad Ways To Die which signalled the return to the studio of the Floridian Death Metal legends back in November 2016 was a tasty morsel which really left a desire for more. Well, the wait is over as album number 10 has arrived and what a monster it is. Absolutely packed with vicious riffs and skull pounding death metal, the masters have once again shown that age is no obstacle to class. 2014's massive Inked In Blood was a brutal bastard but in my humble opinion Obituary kicks harder, stronger and more impressively.

With the pace changing from track to track, one thing that doesn't vary is the sheer heaviness. Opener Brave finds John Tardy on stunning form, racing his distinctive vocals at top speed. End It Now and Turned To Stone are just two highlights of the sheer power of one of the best bands in the genre but it's on Straight To Hell and Ten Thousand Ways To Die that the band really hit top gear, brooding sinister and absolutely unstoppable. In a year with some of the best death metal releases hitting the shelves (see Hour of Penance, Immolation, Benighted and Memoriam for examples) Obituary has delivered a contender for the top spot. Buy it. Crank it up. Split the skull. Magnificent. 10/10

Svart Crown: Abreaction (Century Media)

Blackened death metal of French outfit Svart Crown return after 2013’s Profane with a blistering release. Abreaction is full of cascading riffs, threateningly evil vocals and blisteringly heavy drumming. The band has been around since 2004 and they know what they are doing. JB Le Bail’s guttural grows adds a sinister edge to tracks like The Pact: To The Devil His Due which drips with haunting malice.

Opener Golden Sacrament nods the head to doom whilst Carcosa is a thrashy beast. With slicing vicious guitar work courtesy of Le Bail and new guitarist Kevin Verlay added to the powerhouse battery of Kevin Paradis’ drumming and Ludovic Veyssiere’s driving bass lines, Abreaction has plenty of slower pieces, drifting perilously close to the death doom metal line at times; Upon This Intimate Madness is a behemoth crashing along.

A hugely powerful industrial sound changes pace on Tentacion before leading nicely into the head splitting Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy. This is not music for the faint hearted. Svart Crown are crushingly heavy, dangerously brutal and clearly give zero fucks. 7/10

The Crawling: Anatomy Of Loss (Grindscene Records)

Anatomy Of Loss is the debut release from Northern Ireland’s The Crawling and it’s a mix of death and doom. The three piece make quite a noise and three years from their formation have started to find a sound which will appeal to fans of the death doom genre. There are elements of the melodic death metal sound similar to In Flames and Arch Enemy in places and a vocal delivery on a par with Angela and Alissa. Acid On My Skin is case in point. Doom has always verged between exciting and powerful (Candlemass) or a bit on the ponderous over bloated sound. The Crawling currently sit somewhere in the middle.

Stuart Rainey’s vocals fit comfortably with the more crushing and plodding elements whilst Craig Beattie’s thunderous drumming provides a powerful backdrop. However, it’s when the band really let loose, such as the middle section of closing track Catatonic that it gets a bit more fun and guitarist Andy Clarke can let rip. The difficulty with the death doom genre is that so much of it is just a bit average and repetitive. Few can match the power of Finland’s Vainaja who to my mind changed the blueprint with their recent releases. The Crawling have potential. Whether they can achieve it is up for debate. 6/10

Axxis: Retrolution (Nuclear Blast)

Axxis have been around since 1988 and this is album number 15. Original members Bernard Weib (vocals) and keyboardist Harry Oellers are currently joined by long serving bassist Rob Schomaker, drummer Dirk Brand and 2015’s addition guitarist Stefan Weber. Described in some quarters as national legends, the band do a great deal of charity work in their home town Lünen. (Cue Smashie and Nicey - Ed) 

I must admit my first thought was more about the use of Retrolution as an album title. For the uninitiated Retrolution refers to a right-wing reaction against modern society and politics. Phrases such as ‘taking my country back’ are associated with this. However, I’m not sure whether the Rhine Valley’s heavy metal veterans are extreme right wingers or not. Reading some of the blurb about the album release would suggest a more naïve explanation which is that they’ve merely merged the words retro and revolution to capture the current increased demand for vinyl in the rock world and the continued interest in older bands. Let’s hope it is that one.

So, what about the Axxis sound? Well, in the main, it’s routine and tepid Germanic hard rock. You won’t get the power metal surge of Primal Fear or Helloween or the onslaught of Kreator, Sodom or Destruction. No, Axxis sit firmly in the bland inoffensive section. Like the bloated commercial excesses of Scorpions, tracks such as Do It Better and the ballad Burn Down Your House are ponderous and unexciting. The acoustic Queen Of The Wind is the lighters aloft moment. It’s a decently constructed song, and Bernard Weib’s distinctive voice (a kind of hard rock Jon Anderson) copes admirably with the soaring range required. 

I just find all acoustic ballads a bit disturbing. Seven Devils and Somebody Died At The Party are just drivel. However, it’s not all bad. The pumped-up power of This Is My Day motors nicely and when the band put the foot down the output is pleasingly comforting, a bit like Scorpions in their prime. It just doesn’t happen enough. Unfortunately, overall this is just a bit bland. 5/10

Reviews: The Silent Wedding, Dead South Dealers, Quadrus

The Silent Wedding: Enigma Eternal (FYB Records)

Greek progressive/symphonic metal band with a male singer, sounds a bit like Kamelot or Serenity with the melodic metal sounds intertwining with cinematic synths (see Under The Veil Of Grey). The dramatic intro leads into first song Shadows & Dust which sets things in motion very well as it has changing time signatures, a crunchy riff and floaty keys and really displays the range of vocalist Marios who has a melodic but lower register voice much like Khan (Kamelot) or Georg (Serenity) that entirely fits the musical style there's a certain sadness to his vocal and it does wonders on the melancholic style of the band. This is the band's second album and it is a step up in songwriting as the tracks on this record are more complex and carry a gravitas that make you invested in them, this is helped by the production which is crisp if a little thin, it displays all of the facets of this bands talents. The Endless Journey has impressive double kicks, buzzing industrial electronics and the excellent vocals again. The other big influence I can hear in this record is Evergrey so it's fitting that Tom S Englund comes on board to add his weighty baritone to the Gothic A Dream Of Choices. I really like this record, it's the sort of mature, bittersweet, intensely musical I enjoy having named three of my favourite bands as influences I guess it's only natural that I'd like it. High quality progressive/power metal with an emotional punch. 8/10

Dead South Dealers: Walk Through The Line (Sliptrick Records)

Southern heavy metal that reeks of bourbon and beer, Walk Through The Line is the kind of bar brawling music favoured by the Stetson clad tattooed Dean Razorback wielding members of the NOLA crew. It may come as a surprise then that Dead South Dealers come from Athens Greece as their brand of blues-influenced dirty Southern metal sounds very authentic. D.S.D is a highlight of the record dripping with chest beating machismo and reverb drenched soloing layered over the groovy rhythms. Lost Within Time is a slower piece successfully pairing an acoustic opening with crawling riffs, Walk The Line has more acoustics and takes things into slow-moving impactful territory. DSD are as near to the Southern metal favourites as you can get, you can practically smell the bayou on Fairies Of The Swamp and if you love the NOLA blues influenced stoner metal then I urge you to Walk Through The Line as soon as possible. 7/10

Quadrus: Entropia (Self Released)

This an interesting record, sounding like a film score orchestra and a death metal band having a fight, John Galanakis is the brains of the outfit giving this record the rhythm guitars, orchestrations with the harsh/brutal vocals, he takes a similar role to that of Mark Jansen in MaYan or Epica, sound-wise Quadrus share similarities with Epica and Wintersun. However unlike those bands the sound quality of this record is shocking, it sounds like Epica and Wintersun playing together at the same time, but they are playing totally different songs. With operatic vocals, cinematic synths and furious riffing all the elements are there but they are so randomly placed and poorly produced but everything's a blur. Entropia tries to be so much but fails unfortunately. 5/10

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reviews: Sumo Cyco (Review By Neil)

Sumo Cyco: Opus Mar (Self Released)

“Listen to raggapunk” read the slogan on an old school Skindred t-shirt. This would be good advice if there were any bands other than the Dred making music of that genre (well, there was Zeroscape I suppose but let’s overlook their failed attempt to start a musical feud with Benji & co). Fast forward a mere decade or so later and enter Canadian four-piece Sumo Cyco whose style is probably best described as punk laced with elements of dance hall and who clearly owe a very large musical debt to Skindred and – by extension, as they are still a going concern today – Dub War.

Despite singer Skye “Sever” Sweetnam’s recent assertion that without Skindred there would be no Sumo Cyco rest assured they are no mere clones. Sprinkling their influences into their own musical melting pot they manager to evoke similar sounds yet clearly have their own musical identity. Much of this is down to Sever’s distinctive vocal style, effectively combining moments of rapid-fire delivery (as on The Broadcasters) with melody (Kids Of Calamity) and aggression (Anti-Anthem) all of which gives the Cyco's their own unique sound. Couple this with guitarist and co-songwriter Matt “MD13” Drake’s knack of writing catchy, spiky riffs (such as on Sleep Tight) and killer choruses (Free Yourself) and we have a very tasty musical feast here on their sophomore PledgeMusic-funded album.

Opus Mar’s lead single and opening track, the aforementioned Anti-Anthem, is in many ways the quintessential Sumo Cyco song, showcasing as it does Sever’s vocal flexibility, MD13’s riffing, the signature dance-hall-flavoured breakdown and of course that all-important killer chorus, all underpinned ably by the rumbling bass of Kenny “Thor” Corke and the rhythmic drumming of Matt Trozzi (who, oddly, isn’t credited as a full-time member of the band in the CDs notes, even though he played on every song bar one). The dance hall elements of SC’s sound appear to be more emphasised on this release than 2014’s debut Lost In Cyco City but in this writers opinion it’s to the benefit of the album as whole giving some of the albums quieter moments (such as during Brave II, a successor to a song on that debut) a funky swagger and attitude all their own.

There is also second single Move Mountains which features a guest verse from none other than Benji Webbe himself which is yet another highlight amongst a very strong set of tracks. It’s probably safe to say that if you enjoy the two singles released thus far then you’ll enjoy the rest of this album. Upon it’s release on March 31st, I strongly suggest you take the advice adorned on that Skindred t-shirt. In fact I’ll give you some more specific advice – listen to Sumo Cyco. 9/10