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Friday, 22 June 2018

Reviews: The Darkness, Zeal & Ardor, Satan's Empire, Null 'O Zero

The Darkness: Live At Hammersmith (Cooking Vinyl)

The Hammersmith Apollo is a legendary venue in the annals of rock history Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Ted Nugent, Kate Bush and countless others have all recorded live albums in this historic venue and now Lowestofts purveyors of rock and roll debauchery The Darkness have added their catsuited mark to that list. Playing a set familiar to anyone who saw them on their most recent headline tour last year, this is the brothers Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and Rufus Taylor in full glam rock splendour in front of a baying crowd. Kicking off the show with the explosive Open Fire we're off and running with chugging dual guitar riffs, a swaggering rhythm section and Justin's still amazing vocal gymnastics. Funded through Pledgemusic Live At Hammersmith has an old school touch, sounding like it was recorded on The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in the height of the 70's there is a crackle and an echo to the record that is pure 70's magic.

Open Fire moves into the big hitter Love Is Only A Feeling which highlights Rufus' more delicate drumming and also gives the crowd a chance to belt out the memorable chorus with aplomb. Justin's between song banter is still bonkers, baiting photographers  but he sounds like a man loving every minute of his time on stage. The rampaging Southern Trains is followed by the crunchy Black Shuck (that dog still don't give a...), One Way Ticket is a cowbell fuelled AC/DC rocker (cowbell supplied by Frankie), riffs supplied Dan Hawkins who locks down the show on every song especially on this heavier start to the show keeping the pace high with Givin' Up (cue more singing), All The Pretty Girls and the chest beating Barbarian.

With tracks from Permission To Land all the way to Pinewood Smile along with some deep cuts the fire is lit and burning bright the entire set but obviously towards the end of the set Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Growing On Me, Christmas Time (it was in December after all) and I Believe In A Thing Called Love get the loudest reactions of the evening but Live At The Apollo perfectly captures the raging fire that is a The Darkness live show, if you missed it in December pick up this record, turn it up loud and dance in your pants (shiny or not)! 9/10

Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit (MKVA)

Swiss/American Manuel Gagneu has expertly led Avant Garde metal act Zeal & Ardor through 2 full length albums. It's rare these days that metal really takes you by surprise by being totally different to anything else around but this is totally at the end of the spectrum. It's a fusion that shouldn't work but the mix of black metal fury and African American spiritual music sounds like it shouldn't work but it not only works it's bewitching to hear, thumping gospel tinged blues mixes with furious extreme metal shredding on Don't You Dare it's like Gary Clark Jr fronting Immortal (which I'd pay to see) and singing about Lovecraftian horrors, Servants is a bit more clean but Fire Of Motion is just pure Satanic fury featuring a sample from Aleister Crowley.

At 16 tracks it may seem long but four of those tracks are instrumentals that build on the already established dark atmosphere but Row Row is infused by Motown handclaps but adds frenetic heavy guitars and is followed by it's sequel the chanting Ship On Fire. There is a concept running through the album is complicated and bittersweet but it revolves around death and insignificance with the message hidden in the sometimes indecipherable lyrics. Stranger Fruit is a dark and unsettling record with blast beats and screams sitting as comfortable bedfellows with gospel, soul and blues, it's arresting and begs for repeated lessons to really open up it's magic, it's an impressive follow up to a brilliant debut which will peg Manuel as a world beater in the coming year. 9/10 

Null'O'Zero: Instructions To Dominate (Rock Of Angels Records)

From Athens Greece Null'O'Zero bring their second album Instructions To Dominate to Rock Of Angels Records and it's a heavy record based in the later Megadeth style but with some Symphony X virtuoso flourishes and especially vocally with Geo Sinner having the melodic viciousness of Russell Allen. The sound of this record is massive, production wise everything is in overdrive you can hear every slap of the bass, pound of drum skin and impressive technical guitar riff can be heard from the groove of My Last Disguise, through the widdling Imprisoned In The Dark, the slow burning Until The End Of Life and the thrashy The Last One. It's well performed aggressive metal but it fails to leave a lasting impression and after one listen you'd be reluctant to give it a repeated spin. 6/10 

Satan's Empire: Rising (3Ms Music)

Coming out of Dundee Scotland it's the return of NWOBHM band Satan's Empire after 30 years, those who were around the first time may remember Soldiers Of War on the Neat Records released Leadweight compilation album. So after 30 years they have brought some old and new songs (including Soldiers Of War) and finally released their debut album which is full of gritty NWOBHM could have been anthems. The current membership is a reunion of their 'London' line up and as Slaves Of Satan opens with a distorted NWOBHM gallop and a vocal uncannily similar to Biff Byford, it isn't Biff (he's busy lets be honest) but close your eyes and Derek Lyons embodies his style perfectly.

Elsewhere Wayne Hudson brings the distorted bass with the singular titled Magpie behind the skins (who's the bands newest member), the dual guitars (which there has to be by law on any classic British metal record) here are Paul Lewis and Sandy McRitchie who play their best on the progressive Soldier Of War and Dragonslayer which pinches from Diamond Head. It's formulaic yes but for NWOBHM fans the return of Satan's Empire will prick up a few ears. 7/10

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Reviews: Yob, Lizzy Borden, Black Fast, Thunder Horse (Reviews By Paul Scoble)

Yob: Our Raw Heart (Relapse)

Our Raw Heart is Yobs 8th studio album, and follow up 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend. So, how do you follow up one of the best doom albums ever made? An album that has insanely heavy and aggressive parts, but was featured in Rolling Stones top 50 albums of 2014? An album so good that the world outside of heavy metal sat up and took notice? Yob have always had an enigmatic, impenetrable, quality to them. They are almost the definition of an acquired taste. Their dense, demanding riffing style took effort and time to properly appreciate. If you gave the songs the chance to get into your psyche, to allow them a few listens, they would unravel themselves, and you could properly appreciate them.

This slight difficulty, this lack of accessibility, has led to their being loved passionately by their fans, and bemusing everyone else. I gave them a bit of time, and am happy to admit to being a fan. 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend showed a new direction, with the song Marrow. The first 3 tracks on the album, fit broadly into the style of doom that was characteristic of Yob, although the songs were getting softer, and more meditative as the album progressed. But with Marrow the 18 minute closer to the album, Yob seemed to be taking a new direction. The song features riffing that is more open and expansive than Yobs previous style. Less jarring rhythms, more of a flow to the structure. Mike Scheidt’s singing style was much softer and melodic that before, lyrically the song was less angry, more contemplative. Don’t get me wrong, Marrow isn’t a ballad, it’s still heavy, but it’s a different kind of heaviness. After the anger and pain of the first 3 songs of the album, Marrow feels like healing. 

Now 4 years later, how have Mike Scheidt, Aaron Rieseberg and Travis Foster followed Clearing The Path To Ascend? The 73 minute album is a bit of a juxtaposition. It’s broadly in two halves (although this is a bit of a simplification), the first coming from Yob’s more traditional dense, impenetrable style, the second half is in a more Marrow style direction. The first 3 tracks leave you in no doubt that Yob are still heavy and aggressive when they want to be. Second track The Screen is driven by one of the angriest, nastiest riffs Yob have ever used. The riff’s rhythm is slightly off kilter, giving it a lurching, staggering feel. In some ways it sounds a little like the main riff to Pantera’s Shedding Skin, but without the syncopation. This strange, urgent rhythm makes this just about the angriest thing I’ve heard from Yob. The song does have a few more tuneful, looser moments, but as soon as they arrive, they’re gone again as that angriest of all riffs, comes crashing back. 

The song Lungs Reach feels like a median point in the album, between the older style, angry, dense Yob, and the newer Marrow style material. The first half is quiet and delicate, but has a noisy, heavy ending. After Lungs Reach we come to the more meditative, expansive, sweeping style of material (although the track Original Face is quite a fast, aggressive version of this style). The second half of the album contains what I feel are the best 2 tracks on the album; Beauty In Falling Leaves and the amazing closing, title track Our Raw Heart. Beauty In Falling Leaves starts slowly, the relaxed pace at the beginning gives the song a reflective quality, that is answered by a heavier passage, that although heavy, is warm and musing, rather than angry. The song going between these moods, feels like the song is searching for answers, rather than feeling rage that all is lost. 

The final track Our Raw Heart is a fitting closer for what is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Its a blissful acceptance of life with all it’s faults. Mike Scheidt nearly died after contracting Diverticulitis, and then again from a post operative e-coli infection last year. Coming so close to death seems to have given Mike a different view of the world. He seems to be more aware of the positive, affirming aspects of life, he’s still angry, and depressed at the state of the world, but seems to have gained an insight into not missing the beauty and love. Hence we have Anger and Acceptance, Rage and Understanding, Depression and Joy. And Our Raw Heart is a perfect reflection of this. Yob have followed up one of the best doom albums ever made, with a doom album that is even better. 9/10

Lizzy Borden: My Midnight Things (Metal Blade Records)

Lizzy Borden has been making music since 1983, so has been doing this for 35 years. During the 80’s he was at the forefront of the shock rock/metal scene, making several successful albums before grunge came along to stop people having fun. Although Lizzy was successful, and made some fine albums, he was always a little overshadowed by W.A.S.P. and was sometimes (unfairly, I’ve always thought) considered to be a bit of a novelty act. As someone who was around, and into metal in the 80’s, I thought Lizzy was a little harder than W.A.S.P., basically more metal, I thought he was unjustly lumped in with the glam rock that was big at the time.

So, 35 years later, and 11 years since his last album (Appointment With Death), what has Lizzy Borden served up for us in 2018? We get 11 tracks that are on the cusp between hard rock and heavy metal. It’s a softer sound than a lot of his 80’s output, the production is very slick, with a little more keyboards. The songs themselves are really good, title track My Midnight Things is a thumping rocker, with great riffs and a monster chorus. In fact all the way through this album the choruses are HUGE, they’ve clearly worked on making sure every chorus is an enormous singalong. The track Long May They Haunt Us is as good as anything from David Lee Roth's 80’s output (you know the 2 great albums I’m talking about), with a chorus about the same size as Jupiter. Run Away With Me is another huge track, every bit as good as anything that was around in the 80’s, with a melody that gets into your head, and has you humming it to distraction.

The album does feel like it sags a little in the last third. I don’t think the reprise of the title track is needed. Doing it softly with keyboards and piano, doesn’t add anything to the album, maybe a softer section to the original song might have been more effective. However, this does feel a little like quibbling. My Midnight Things is a great, fun album. If your still listening to bands from the eighties (Guns N Roses are headlining Download as I write this), then you should definitely give this a go. If you are an existing Lizzy Borden fan, then this is essential. 7 / 10

Black Fast: Spectre Of Ruin (Entertainment One)

The publicity blurb that comes with this album proudly proclaims: “There isn’t a single clean passage, moody interlude, orchestral intro, or shoegazing break on Black Fast’s unapologetically destructive third album, Spectre Of Ruin.” And it’s not wrong, from the word go this album is a blast of crossover thrash. The St Louis quartet go for the throat from the first track, the incendiary Cloak Of Lies opener to the pounding, relentless closer Husk this album doesn’t let up once. The style is kind of a cross between Power Trip and Municipal Waste with a bit of a blackened edge to it (Famine Angel is a little reminiscent to early Skeletonwitch). 

The riffs are fast, and rip along at a neck wrecking pace, everything about this album feels energised, and alive. The solo’s fit the songs nicely, they’re fast and tuneful and never outstay their welcome. The vocals are fairly harsh, from the Bobby Blitz Ellsworth, Steve Souza, Tony Foresta school. The rhythm section do exactly what you want a thrash rhythm section to do, and beat the living crap out of you, it’s full on attack from start to finish. The album is produced by Hate Eternal main man and producer Erik Rutan, who does a sterling job, as this sounds fantastic, heavy as anything, but is still crisp and punchy. This is a great thrash album. Keeps your head banging throughout, and when its over you just want to go strait back to the beginning and start again. Great fun. 8/10

Thunder Horse: Thunder Horse (Self Released)

This is the first album from San Antonian 4 piece Thunder Horse. So, what do we have on offer from these Texan hooligans? On offer is 6 tracks of huge sleazy doom, with a touch of psych and blues. The main sound here is doom, massive riffs that drip with sleazy swagger, with a lovely dose of blues and rock and roll. Black Sabbath are an obvious influence here, the opening of the track Demon Speak has a definite Children Of The Grave feel to it. The sleazy rock and roll side of this band brings to mind Orange Goblin, and Goatsnake, with maybe a little Eyehategod in there for good measure. This is clearly a band who are open to lots of different influences, and are happy to incorporate many different styles into a sound that, although references a lot of different bands, is unique and their own. 

There is even a touch of early nineties alternative rock in this album, the vocals occasionally seem to be channeling Jane's Addiction. What this album has is great songs, all the tracks on this album feel complete and well rounded, I get the impression the band has lived with this material for a while, and spent time developing them. The beautiful, bluesy guitar solos are a case in point. They fit perfectly with the songs. This isn’t one member of the band showing off, each solo is an integral part of the song, the songs would be poorer without them. So, huge riffs, great grooves, massive swagger, brilliant solo’s, all handled with composure and grace. The album comes to a close with the track Pray For Rain, a mellow, blissed out blues workout, which acts as a very satisfying end to the album. Really great album, highly recommended. 8/10

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Final 2018 (Live Review By Paul H )

Metal To The Masses – South Wales Final, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

What a night. What an incredible night. There was tension, there was drama, there was tears and there was laughter but most of all there was the fabulous sight of a rammed, and I mean rammed Fuel Rock Club supporting the South Wales Metal Scene in the most passionate way I’ve ever seen. An incredible turnout meant that Fuel was pushing capacity by mid-way through the evening and when the announcement of the winners hit after Malum Sky’s set it was hard to get through the door.

Rob Bannister from Bloodstock was on judging duty, and impartiality was assured. Most of you will know Rob from his stage announcements on the RJD stage at BOA, and a nicer and more highly qualified guy you couldn’t meet. He was straight talking and knows his metal inside out. With the bands loaded in, the draw was made and the running order for the evening saw Blind Divide take the opening slot, followed by Incursion, then Cranial Separation and Democratus closing out the competition before Malum Sky delivered their guest slot.

Backed by the most vociferous and lively support of the evening, Blind Divide (8) hit the stage with similar power and drive to their semi-final when they were streets ahead of their rivals. The band’s Lamb of god style groove metal combined with the screaming vocals of James Birkett impressed me in the semi-final and did so again. Tight, competent and full of passion, the band went full bore from the off, with tracks from their debut EP including the thunderous Scourge Of Humanity inciting ferocity in the pit. The band has been around from some time, but in recent months has really upped its game, focusing more on the polishing of songs which usually hit all the right spots. Overcoming an early problem with the bass pedal on the drums the band worked hard through their set. If there was one criticism from their show, it would be that a couple of the tracks failed to really hit the jugular, and with their style focused on one area, this could improve.

Saying that, the rabid crowd was howling their approval and you couldn’t fault the band for real effort and determination. A hugely impressive start to the evening and Blind Divide will go from strength to strength. They support Sodomised Cadaver on 14th July and if you are not throwing dad shapes with Danny Bowes and Thunder at Caerphilly Castle you should really be in Womanby Street to catch a band that has masses of potential.

A breathless start and the pace was maintained by the hard thrashing trio who form Incursion (7). The Rhondda boys had battled hard to reach a place in the final, and with their effort levels set to destroy, Jonny, Adam and Robbie set about their set with intent. Huge thrashing tracks got the place moving, with Jonny and Adam constantly shifting and urging a response. The audience which was now crammed into the room roared their approval. However, and I’ve said this before, a couple of negatives slightly took the gloss off an overall solid performance. We noted in the past that Jonny’s clean vocals don’t work, in comparison to his rasping guttural delivery and once again, during the clean passages the tone was off. There was also a couple of loose sections which detracted from the overall performance and maybe with nerves putting pressure on Jonny’s delivery the early favourites were clearly Blind Divide.

In the semi-final we struggled before putting Cranial Separation (9) through, with the lads just edging out And The Sky Darkened on the night. Tonight, the death metal trio were just astonishing. On their game from the opening riff, the band powered through their set with an intensity that even the headliners at Eradication Festival failed to display. The ever-crazy antics of guitarist and vocalist Ray Packer captivate, his indecipherable guttural delivery perfect alongside Chris Machin’s wild bass lines and drummer Sam Heffernan’s bludgeoning full throttle drumming. 

With improvised ZZ Top style choreography adding to the chaos, the band’s humour was infectious but take nothing away from these guys, their power and delivery nothing other than professional. The piece de resistance was the distribution of some penis shaped water pistols which provided several moments of deep enjoyment in the pit during the love song Fucked By A JackHammer. An awesome set, and one that set up a dramatic conclusion to the evening.

What can you say about Democratus? (8) This band just get better and better. Their tunes are well crafted, they change style mixing up their delivery and learn from every show. Once again Joey Watkins defied the pain barrier to deliver an assured and confident performance, Zac Skane’s assured drumming anchoring everything and allowing frontman and main focal point Steve Jenkins to do what he does best; command the front of stage. I couldn’t think of anyone who wanted the victory more than Steve and he put in hell of a shift in his attempts to keep the crowd moving and engaged. 

Hell, he even survived an attempt by bassist Stu ‘Spoon’ Rake to embed his bass in Steve’s head. With a much-changed set list freshening up their set list (top marks for mixing it up), and maintaining interest, it was a performance that caught the eye and ear once again (although the Semi-Final show was even tighter). A few stage props made things visually interesting, although the already been done party popper segment before the killer closer Life For A Life was a bit flat and needs to be dropped. Like all the bands on the bill, Democratus received a huge audience response and it was over to Rob to think through the options and choices.

After Malum Sky had delivered their set, it was over to Rob to announce the winners. First, a few well deserved rounds of applause were afforded to Tim and Alyn who organised the whole competition, Tim on the sound who maintained a stunning level of sound in the room throughout and to Fuel for hosting the competition. A packed room demonstrated that the South Wales scene is vibrant and there was much to celebrate. However, the announcements were what everyone was waiting for and first up, the surprise announcement that there was a second spot on the Jagermeister Stage. This was deservedly awarded to Cranial Separation who were stunned. The boys will cause a sensation on the small stage close to the main stage in August and it was a just reward for a performance that on the night was probably the best out of the four. Make sure you don’t miss them. Yeah Man! 

The final announcement was for the coveted place on the New Blood Stage; having missed out to Malum Sky last year, there was unbridled joy when this was awarded to Democratus. The tears flowed, both from joy and upset; much disappointment for Blind Divide and Incursion. In some ways, the disappointment was reassuring, as both bands have the potential to return stronger and fitter and their understandable upset only demonstrated how much these guys want to win. Whilst music, heavy metal music was the winner, it was totally understandable how gutting it was for them. Metal To The Masses – South Wales was a huge success and it will return in 2019 bigger, stronger and even more competitive. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, Principality Stadium, Cardiff

While my colleague Paul was enjoying some black freaking metal, I opted to take a steady walk to Cardiff's biggest arena for a band who have been performing for over 50 years! Now I had never seen Mick, Keef, Ronnie and Charlie live so I grabbed my old Mum (who has saw the Stones 12 times, back in the good old days) and bang on 5pm went through the gates and took our seats. Seeing what is our national rugby stadium empty was a particularly odd site, I’d only ever been on the pitch area when it was empty so from our vantage point my mother pointed out that it “didn’t look very far to run”. Still fans slowly trickled in the floor separated by an enormous barrier about a third of the way up that kept the normal punters from those who had paid astronomical amounts of money to be in the No Filter Pit (e.g. the part nearest the stage and Ego ramp).

Christ what a long wait it was two as support band Elbow (6) took to the stage at 7pm. So here’s my problem with Elbow supporting, one could we have not had a Welsh band in support? Two can Guy Garvey shut the hell up about it, having him saying “We’re Elbow, all the way from Manchester and we’re supporting the Stones” after every song ad nauseam to little or no response got really grating. We know who you are, you know who you are, we know who you’re here to support, now be quiet and play some maudlin songs. That’s the largest gripe I have, Elbow are a little twee and slow to be supporting the Stones most of their songs romantic string laden ballads which was at odds with the majorly hammered audience looking for some good time rock n roll. The only real reaction they got was for One Day Like This and Grounds For Divorce which were at the end of their set. It was over and while we had another 45 minute wait it was a little better than having to hear Guy Garvey slur into a microphone anymore. If The Stones or a band of their calibre play Cardiff again, I’d suggest picking one of the big rock acts we have here to support you, if not ask for Budgie!

The anticipation built and for those of us who had the higher vantage point we saw when the private cars arrived and the band headed to the backstage area, within minutes the lights went down the PA went up and the iconic blues riff of Street Fighting Man kicked things off with a bang, almost immediately the level of showmanship was tenfold that of Elbow, or any other band for that matter as four main members of The Stones betrayed their Septuagenarian age group by working the entirety of the stage, Mick strutting, dancing wildly, with those moves that have been sung about, as Ronnie darted back and forth leaving Keef to just saunter with an effortless cool. Behind the kit the one man dynamo Charlie kept ever song note and beat perfect his stone-faced playing style a counterpoint to the joyous looks on his comrades, they rapidly powered their way through It’s Only Rock N Roll (But I Like It), Tumbling Dice and Paint It Black the crowd lapping up every moment, my mother especially was pretty much horse after just four songs!

Mick Jagger is the archetype of frontman, having obviously been given some local insight beforehand he told the crowd how they had seen the blue lady, had chicken off the bone with curry sauce half and half (it’s a Cardiff tradition) and when asking about who was in the audience that evening singled out people from Splott as the heaviest partiers. (He was given accurate information anyway). He also reminisced about their legendary cancelled gig in 1973 at Cardiff Castle and said that they played the blues then so this easily slid into the Buddy Johnson song Just Your Fool which led to the fan requested Get Off Of My Cloud.

Backed by a brilliant band the kudos have to go to Chuck Leavell (keys), Darryl Jones (bass), Matt Klifford (keys and other stuff) and Sasha Allen who owned Gimme Shelter being the only non-Stone to be allowed on Mick’s ego ramp, With You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Honky Tonk Woman polishing off the first part it was time for Mick to sit down while Keef took lead vocals for You Got The Silver and Before They Make Me Run, I always find the Richards led material to be a lot closer to the original blues sound The Stones had in the 60’s but live it does lead to a little restlessness from the crowd. Luckily to bring the crowd back to boiling point the supremely theatrical Sympathy For The Devil came next as Jagger channelled the devil himself strutting down the ramp bewitching the loyal fans around him. I’ve never seen The Stones but I found myself in awe of their ability to keep a crowd in the palm of their hand, it’s something they have clearly mastered over 50+ years but they do it not by rolling out the same old song and dance but by still loving the music they play.

This is best witnessed on the sprawling Midnight Rambler which had solo trade off’s throughout again this stretched things out leading to the mighty trio of Start Me Up, Jumpin Jack Flash and Brown Sugar cueing mass sing-along’s and some terrifying shapes thrown by those who know better. With a “yeah yeah yeah woo” the main set came to an end and a (thankfully) short  break came back to the percussive beat of Gimme Shelter before (I Can’t No) Satisfaction brought it home, cue an entire stadium on their feet for about 10 minutes of applause. Making our way out there was no negative comments made, we were all in agreement that it was fantastic, it was also one of the best behaved crowds I’ve seen despite the alcohol flowing freely (at £5.50 a pint!), even my hard to please mother was in her element saying that the gig had made her feel 18 again!

Their legacy intact you do wonder how it must feel to be a Rolling Stone (they covered the Dylan classic in probably the evenings most meta portion) universally adored but still able to make mistakes (starting Jack Flash in the wrong key brought a giggle especially with Mick saying "forget that bit") none of us will never truly know what it's like to be a Rolling Stone but they seem to suggest it's only rock n roll and happily everyone seems to like it! 10/10

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

Zornheym, Agrona, In Which It Burns, Fuel Rock Club

With the Rolling Bones playing across the road on the same night, it was a brave move for Eradication Booking Agency to go toe to toe with the geriatric appreciation society; not that there was much cross over in fan base but because of the utter ball ache of getting in and out of the city centre on such a night.

With Ante Inferno unable to fill their slot, Pembrokeshire four-piece In Which It Burns (8) stepped in at the last minute and for the small crowd who arrived early enough to catch them it was well worth it. The band formed in 2016, and comprise Steve Flynn (lead guitar), Dan Mayhew (drums), Michael Thomas (bass) and Wayne Mayhew (rhythm guitar and vocals). IWIB don’t conform to the usual metal stereotype appearance, although there is sufficient there to ensure you could have a good guess about what they play. Frontman Wayne Mayhew does look the part, and his snarling delivery was impressive, fitting the band’s aggressive social commentary superbly. The band play hard thrash to great effect and sounded tight despite the intense heat which the band clearly felt. With two EPs under their belts, the band has a good set of material which was well received. Issues of racism and social injustice are amongst the topics addressed; good stuff. Hatred In Disguise was the stand out track but there was plenty here to demand a repeat viewing. Hopefully the band can get back soon because they deserve a bigger audience.

Having launched the magnificent Realm Of The Fallen a mere two weeks before, this was Agrona’s (9) third appearance at Fuel within a month. Not that you would have known, as the South Wales black metal monsters delivered yet another blistering set, sufficiently imposing and confident to headline a venue ten times as big. With the sound even better than recent shows, the band blasted yet another hole in Fuel’s ceiling as their gathering commenced with The Treacherous Dead and celebration of all things evil commenced. Vocalist Taranis once more orchestrated proceedings from the pit, the faithful gathered at his feet for the ritual. Supported by the ever-fiery vocals of Adara, the spewing bile flowed with ease. Short one member, the band made light of being short one member, Phoenix’s lacerating guitar cutting through the mix.

Alongside him bassist Kreulon displayed a terrifying new mask, one that proved to be a little too oppressive by the end of the set. Some adjustments needed! Meanwhile drummer Ankou was on double duty, racing off after his set to get to Swansea to play with Cranial Separation. The man is a machine. With their music now established, it was a challenge to pick out highlights but Storms End never fails whilst Unbound and Summoning The Void were both immense. This was the band’s last South Wales show for a while, but they have gigs across the South West coming up, so get across the border and support one of the most exciting bands on the UK scene now.

Following Agrona is always a challenge but Swedes Zornheym (8), making their Welsh debut and only their second UK appearance were up for it. With duel guitars and no bass, the band’s melodic extreme metal relies heavily on loops and tapes and there were a few challenges during the set, which were resolved thanks to the excellent sound tech and a little help from Alyn Hunter (who gets a bonus point for his efforts!). The band’s first album, Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns is a bit of a monster and the band’s efforts in the live arena allowed the tracks to translate well. Vocalist Bendler is an imposing sight, muscular and tall and equipped with pipes of gravel. Alongside him, lead guitarist Zorn seemed unaffected by the heat, throwing out solos and riffs for fun, ably supported by fellow guitarist Scucca. Meanwhile drummer Angst was rarely on his drum stool, and between songs spent much of his time standing on top of the stool peering out at the audience.

I’d like to see these guys in a setting where they had more space to express themselves and with the sound gods on their side. As usual, Fuel opened the doors to all and sundry towards the end of the set, meaning that the room filled up with punters who had been to see the Stones. With Metal 2 The Masses to follow the next evening, and the band close to completing their set, I made a quick exit. Once again, a superb night’s entertainment, for the princely price of ten Welsh pounds. Thanks to Gavin for persisting with these shows; a shame that the scene isn’t as well supported as it should be as this was great stuff.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Reviews: Khemmis, The Heretic Order, Deus Vermin, Born Of Ire

Khemmis: Desolation (Nuclear Blast)

Denver based doomsters Khemmis have been whipping up the riffs for a long time now but it's only on their previous record Hunted that they became a noteworthy outside of Colorado, their style of music is quite a modern take on the doom genre, it's slow heavy concrete riffs one minute but then galloping harmonised leads the next. There's a little something for everyone and while the tracks such as Bloodletting are long winding mini epics but they grab a hold of your attention before taking you on a journey. On this third album they have refined their sound even more adding more classic metal influences where they can.

Take a track such as Isolation it's got that battle metal bounce of Grand Magus as Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson trade solos while their voices mesh (although Phil takes most of the lead vocal cues and great he is too). Clad in a cover with strong fantasy imagery the songs take the same cues of wild flights of fancy evoking soundscapes of distant shores and battles fought long ago. It's heroic classic metal born out of the doom scene, if you're a fan of The Sword or Magus then buy Desolation, simple as that! 8/10

The Heretic Order: Evil Rising (Massacre)

The second album from The Heretic Order is a bit of revelation who knew that an occult/classic metal band formed by one of the guitarists of Breed 77 would be so damn popular? Yet here we are and the band yet again are corpse paint amalgamation of Sabbath (Omens), Priest (Unholy War) and of course the master of occult metal himself King Diamond/Mercyful Fate. Evil Rising isn't a drastic departure from their debut record it's some NWOBHM-like riffs with the odd doom passage thrown in to get a steady headbang on and there's also some crepey theatrics you'd expect on Under The Cross Of Pain which also has one of the best solos on the record. Having listened to the band on record and watched them live I have to say i prefer their live show as by the middle of this record I was losing interest a little. I'll listen to both records, watch them at Bloodstock, then listen to them again and see if I change my mind but for now it's: 6/10

Deus Vermin: Monument Of Decay (FHED)

Nice to see respected underground label FHED still promoting heavy music and their latest release is from Leeds blackened death metal band Deus Vermin who kindly emailed me due to our reviews of their buddies Agrona. So it was without hesitation that I put the EP on and it's the dirtiest thing to come out of Leeds since Don Revie and Norman Hunter, a violent maelstrom of thunderous blastbeats, guttural vocal screams and down tuned guitars Monument Of Decay has tasty analogue sounding production to ramp up the feeling of filth, in fact it's so analogue that it is only released on cassette (limited to 50 hand-numbered copies).

Swarms and Inquity take you by the scruff of the neck and choke the hell out of you and it's only with the monolithian fret-slide filled Worms where things slow as doom laden riffs are met with Gojira grooves. These six tracks whizz by in flurry of total organised chaos but as an extra the seventh 'track' is in fact a full live performance from Temple Of Boom festival. Monument Of Decay is a bit more raw than Agrona's symphonic stylings but it shows that the UK extreme scene is at it's hottest ever. 7/10

Born Of Ire: S/T (Self Released)

Born Of Ire are a two piece with Cal taking guitars and Duda on drums and they are kind of like a thrash metal jukebox with the overarching influence being the big slabs of Metallica on Marionette, Spire and the elongated instrumental At The Foot Of The Mountain, there's a Slayer-like battery on InFiction and Liar's Rhythm has the stop-start speed riffs of Annihilator. It's all very well performed and reminds you enough of their influences without slavishly copying them, what I also noticed was it's very well produced for a debut self released title which really adds sound. Born Of Ire is a reminder that the UK does great thrash metal and it's sets them up as ones to watch. 7/10

Sunday, 17 June 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Psychedelic Furs (Review By Paul H)

The Psychedelic Furs - Tramshed, Cardiff

Mrs. H has always been a bit of an indie fan. And when I say indie, I mostly mean the art/alternative rock and miserable post-punk gothic leanings which includes everything from The Mission, My Bloody Valentine, Suede, The Cure to The Smiths and the oratory style of Sir William of Bragg, not the boorish leanings of Oasis and the like. She’s always loved Richard Butler and The Psychedelic Furs, and I regularly discover the band blasting in the house, especially their most famous song, Pretty In Pink, used in the John Hughes directed film of the same name. The Furs formed in 1977 and delivered their debut album, a self-titled affair was released in 1980 with their final release World Outside released in 1991, just over a decade later. The band went on hiatus after that release before reforming in 2000 and continuing to gig. A rare opportunity to see them up close at the Tramshed was on offer and as I had two gigs more to my liking at the end of the week, I was for once the +1 on a sticky night in the capital.

Sometimes it is rather enjoyable to attend a gig where a) you have limited interest or knowledge of the band and b) you are open to everything that comes at you. Having caught the tail end of the main support we didn’t have to wait too long before the Furs hit the stage and launched into Dumb Waiters. The band has been touring for several weeks and was tight and crafted, with Richard Butler afforded a hero’s welcome as he strode on to the stage, his long black coat and shades providing a gothic tint and making a mockery of the heat in the venue. Alongside him, brother and bassist Tim Butler, resplendent in a deep maroon coat, provided much of the visual impact, mouthing the words with real passion and moving incessantly, his dark glasses rounding off the coolness of image. The early part of the set contained some of The Furs darker and more gothic edged tunes, with Into You Like A Train and Mr Jones particularly fine.

Whilst the Butler brothers remain the undoubted stars of the band, there was much to appreciate elsewhere, with saxophonist and clarinetist Mars Williams belying his small stature with a giant of a performance. Amanda Kramer, in a spectacular teal coat and fabulous top hat provided the subtle but essential synth touches. With the crowd lapping up every word, and the band limiting their communication with the audience to a “thanks” at the end of each song, it really was an evening where the music did all the talking. Sister Europe and a brilliant Love My Way continued in a set crammed full of highlights, as the band moved comfortably to top gear without breaking stride.

Set closer Imitation Of Christ and Heaven were both superbly executed, the former with its dark overtures allowing guitarist Rich Good to flex the strings to great effect. Of course, the obligatory encore could only contain one thing and after a brilliant India it was singalong time as Pretty In Pink finished a rather top evening of entertainment. Fair play, for a band I’d had very little interest in previously, this was pretty good stuff and a refreshing change from the usual ear-splitting cacophony that usually floats my boat. 8/10

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Reviews: Trillium, Refuge, Cryonic Temple, Fire Down Below

Trillium: Tectonic (Frontiers)

Since the first Trillium Amanda Somerville has been involved in numerous projects including Kiske/Somerville, Exit Eden, Serenity, Avantasia (Live) and of course motherhood. So to say there's been a lot on her plate is to underestimate the size of plates, but now she's back with her second 'metal' album the Trillium project is another side to Somerville's amazingly wide vocal range as she leads a heavy metal band formed of Andre Borgman (drums), Erik van Ittersum (keys) and husband Sanders Gommans (guitar/bass), (except track 3 has bass by Mark Burnash & 2nd guitar solo by Paul Owsinski, track 11 guitars by Paul Owsinski).

When I say heavy metal there's a bit of AOR and some of the symphonic stylings of her other projects, but Tectonic is a tough metal release with galloping riffs, chunky breakdowns, some theatrical touches and Amanda's brilliant vocals linking it all together. The digestion period of this album has been about 7 years and it means that this album has moments like the industrial and sultry Hit Me, the symphonic Shards, the theatrical Cliche Freak Show with the the beautiful Eternal Spring closing out the album, you get a sense of all of the soundscapes Somerville can turn her hand to although it never strays to far from a distorted metal crunch. No earthquakes here but it will get your house shaking when played at full volume. 7/10  

Refuge: Solitary Men (Frontiers)

Peavy Wagner, Manni Schmidt & Christos Efthimiadis are probably best known to metal fans as most successful version of longstanding German metal band Rage. In the current incarnation of that band only Wagner remains but in 2014 the three reunited under the banner of Tres Hombres to play songs from that era of Rage (Noise Records 1986-1994). From there Refuge evolved into another offshoot of Rage running concurrently with the current more symphonic version of the band. Wagner states that this is not a professional project as the members all have day jobs, so Refuge is a “hobby band” that has become real band writing their own material.

Whatever it is when you press play you can’t deny that the magic is still there, taking their name from a song on Rage’s 1993 release The Missing Link Refuge are a return to the balls out classic German metal of those early albums but with a brilliant modern bite. Wagner’s bass gallops and booming vocals are instantly memorable as Schmidt riffs and solos his way through the tracks effortlessly away sending your fists high, to the beat of Efthimiadis laying down a barrage of battery from track one that never really seems to retreat.

Just sounding like Rage would be too easy so for every power metal anthem like The Man In The Ivory Tower, there’s a propulsive hard rocker like We Owe Life To Death, a rip snorting thrasher like From The Ashes or a thundering doom lick like Living On The Edge Of Time. It’s a cascade of these three men’s best creative juices flowing freely, whether Refuge stays as a hobby project or continues as a full band Solitary Men is up there with some of the best material ever written by this trio! 8/10

Cryonic Temple: Deliverance (Scarlet Records)

The sixth album from the Swedish power metal band Cryonic Temple has a striffing symphonic opening but where on familar territory as Rise Eternally Beyond has thundering blastbeats, melodic fast paced riffs and more solos that you can ever need. Deliverance continues the concept, started on their previous record which means that between many of the songs there are cinematic pieces splitting the record and propelling the storyline.

For anyone who are not familiar Cryonic Temple and I'll admit that I wasn't until their previous release, they are on the heavier style of power metal having a lot of Hammerfall and Iron Fire influences but with the keys and synths fleshing out the sound a little, where Cryonic Temple also shine are the powerful vocals of Mattias who has a tough lower register but goes to squealing highs on the title track. Deliverance is a little long at 14 tracks but other than that it's a strong power metal record from these Swedish veterans. 7/10

Fire Down Below: Hymn Of The Cosmic Man (Ripple Music)

We come across a lot of stoner rock here, with varying results, more often than that not though the bands are exactly the kind of fuzzy, riff worshipping music we like here at MoM Towers. One such band are Belgian rockers Fire Down Below who are really interesting, the four piece are a cosmically aligned riff heavy band who play a very good style of twisting desert rock, made up of Sam Nuytens (drums), Jeroen Van Troyen (rhythm guitar/vocals), Kevin Gernaey (lead guitar), Bert Wynsberghe (bass).

The record moves from shoegazing haziness on Nebula to the kaleidoscopic Ascension, the heavy riffing of Ignition/Space Cruiser which strats the album off and the epic 11 minute finale of Adrift In A Sea Of Stars. If the more ethereal desert rock style is what excites you then turn down the lights, crank up Hymn For The Cosmic Man a drift away on the sonic seas of stoner brilliance. 7/10

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Reviews: Don Airey, Subsignal, Infared, RSO (Reviews By Paul H)

Don Airey: One Of A Kind (earMusic)

One of the unsung heroes of the hard rock scene, Don Airey needs no introduction. If you don’t know who he is then you really need to brush up on your rock history. As well as keyboard player for Deep Purple for many years, taking over the late great Jon Lord’s place, Airey has played with some of the biggest bands in rock. You know that huge swathe of keyboards at the start of Ozzy’s Mr Crowley? Yeah, that’s Airey. Throw in Rainbow, Sabbath, Whitesnake, Gary Moore and many others and you get the picture.

So, Airey, in between the huge tours with Purple has found time to deliver his fifth solo album, One Of A Kind, and it’s a solid slab of classic rock that features Carl Sentance on vocals, Simon McBride on guitar, Laurence Cottle on bass and drummer Jon Finnigan on drums. Unsurprisingly the album is thick with the traditional keyboard sound which personifies Airey’s work, with Sentance hitting the Gillan high-pitches with ease. Sentance has a decent pedigree of course, from his work in Persian Risk through to Nazareth and he delivers a fine vocal performance. McBride is another guitar hero in the making, and of course is currently a member of Snakecharmer.

The title track is one of the highlights of the album, a mighty majestic piece that builds with strings adding to the AOR feel. Children Of The Sun is one of the heavier numbers, and has Purple stamped all over it. A fast paced, free flowing track, Sentance works his vocals hard; the interplay between Airey and McBride subtle and sweet. The bonus edition gets you four live tracks; the best of these being a riotous Pictures Of Home. This is an album for the classic rock fan, and if you like your rock with large banks of Hammond organ and quality guitar work then it is worth picking up a copy. 7/10

Subsignal: La Muerta (Gentle Art Of Music)

Having formed as a side project to Sieges Even, Subsignal is now an established and popular band, which consists of original members Arno Menses (vocals) and guitarist Markus Steffen, long term bassist Ralf Schwager and more recently keyboard player Marcus Maichel and drummer Dirk Brand. La Muerta is the fifth release by the band, and very pleasant it is too. Combining the best in progressive rock, metal and even pop, with an AOR feel that isn’t riddled with the fromage which invariably plagues other AOR outfits, this is an album that should appeal to fans of Marillion, Yes and The Pineapple Thief. 

Instrumental passages display an emotive and intricate style which I admit, took several plays to appreciate; meanwhile, Menses’ vocals are crystal clear, smooth as honey and easy on the ear. The title track is captivating, the acoustic instrumental Teardrops Will Dry In Source Of Orig beautiful whilst The Bells Of Lyonesse is possibly one of the most perfect AOR tracks you will ever hear. An impressive release which gets better after every listen. 8/10

Infrared: Saviours (Self Released)

So, back in the 1980s in Ottowa, Canada, four teenagers were intent on making it in the fledgling thrash scene. Fully influenced by the Big 4, the band failed before their chance came. Scroll forward to 2014 and three of those hopeful young men, now older and wiser, reunited for Infrared’s second assault. Debut release No Peace completed, the band, Kirk Gidley on guitar, Armin Kamal on guitar and vocals, Alain Grouix on drums and new bassist Mike Forbes moved onto sophomore release Survivors. So far so good … but then of course, so what! 

Well, honestly, this is a routine piece of thrash metal which certainly pays homage to the 1980s Big 4, although mainly Megadeth and Metallica, and has a huge slab of countrymen Anvil included as well. The tracks are monstrous in composition, huge chunky riffs and thundering drumming is usually fine with me, but I do need a vocalist that can deliver and here there is a problem, Kamal’s groaning vocal is a weak spot of some magnitude and sadly detracts massively from the solid thrashing speed which powers through tracks such as All In Favour, Project Karma and The Fallen. A shame that an album with some promise is marred in this way. Sorry. 5/10

RSO: Radio Free America (BMG)

The acclaimed (by who remains questionable) duo of former Bon Jovi Richie Sambora and former Alice Cooper guitarist Orianthi, RSO, released their genre-spanning musical project Radio Free America earlier this month. With Sambora in control, there was little chance that this was going to be a ball breaking head splitting release, and it really fucking isn’t. 15 duet tracks that encompass elements of rock, blues, pop, R&B and country, this is just horrible in every way. You know that bland pop which gym classes seem to have on endless repeat? Yep, some of this rhino crap would fit right in there. 

Sure, it’s slick, it’s glossy and has about as much soul as a paper plate. One Night Of Peace invokes a children’s choir, which is akin to sticking needles in your ears whilst the Sonny and Cher cover of I Got You Babe provokes the gag reflex and nothing else. They may be talented virtuoso guitarists, but holy shit, this is dreadful. I’m sure that music for mothers is a thing – the equivalent of dad rock maybe? All I know is that Stief, who should have reviewed this, will get something very nasty in his sleeping bag at Bloodstock because of this. 2/10

Reviews: TNT, Toledo Steel, Monolith Grows!, Kilmore

TNT: XIII (Frontiers Music)

Norwegian rockers TNT have been have been kicking out the jams for a long while now, 1982 to be exact. XIII is their thirteenth record and their first with new vocalist Baol Bardot Bulsara who replaces the bands most consistent vocalist Tony Harnell, he's backed as ever by founding members Ronni Le Tekro (guitar) and Diesel Dahl (drums) who are alongside bassist Ove Husemoen. After 13 albums TNT know what work so don't expect to hear anything wildly different than the melodic rock the band are known for, expect fretboard fireworks, soaring vocals and anthemic hooks. We're Gonna Make It is very Journey due in a huge part to Baol's Steve Perryesque voice, Fair Warning has slower sleazier sound, It's Electric is funky and there are a few saccharine ballads that slow the pace. I've always found TNT a little lightweight as an act and XIII hasn't done anything to change my mind, one for AOR aficionados or Journey super fans. 6/10

Toledo Steel: No Quarter (Dissonance Productions)

"Toledo steel, which is from Toledo Spain is historically an unusually hard form of steel that was primarily used for sword making in the Roman period" So steel is the name of the game and with this band there's some proper British Steel going on. A throwback band hailing from Southampton, this rough and ready mob are riding that NWOBHM influence with some Priest, Accept and Saxon on this decidedly retort release. No Quarter opens with Behold The Machine a 6 minute twisting track that has the gallops and twin leads any faithful NWOBHMer would be silly to ignore. It's all decidedly retro with some Brit grit at the heart of it, the album is extremely reminiscent of the glory days and it stands above many of the bands playing in this new wave, perhaps because there's no blatant copying, the songs borrow from a style rather than brazen copying. At just 8 tracks No Quarter gives and expects none back, it's a shameless celebration of a distinctly British genre that is in resurgence with Monument currently leading the charge, it's on the shoulders of Toledo Steel to be at the head of the chasing pack. 8/10

Monolith Grows: Black And Supersonic (Burning Wax Promotions)

Progressive stoner metal is perhaps a slight misnomer as stoner usually relies on meat and two veg riffs but prog welcomes a buffet of sounds. However Italian band Monolith Grows have brought the two together in a powerful drive of dirty grunge rock, swathes of stoner grooves and some intergalactic desert rock, with Satan Monday Bureau shifting into the self explanatory Interlude With Synths And Clean Guitars, a calming couple of minutes in an otherwise raucous album. Black And Supersonic tries it's hardest to conjure the wisened musical muscle of multiple Chris Cornell with the heaviness layered on So Fresh! and the bass heavy Low the two most Cornellian tracks on the record as the layered hazy riffs heave. If you're not a Soundgarden/Kyuss fan then you won't get Monolith Grows, if you are these vibes are the best. 7/10

Kilmore: Call Of The Void (Self Released)

Riffs and more riffs from Halifax Nova Scotia, I'll say this now I like this band a lot, there a bit Zep and bit Soundgarden, with the funky 70's (Dawn To Dusk) dancing with the gritty 90's grooves Kepler Star and a bluesiness that holds it all together like glue. As Heather howls with a soulful sassy shake she's also riffing up a storm with Dan on the six strings, in the background Neil and Lor are the expressive rhythm section loading up the low end but also when things get a bit lighter and slower they have the job of adding a heaviness, with Seven Seas they are the crunch behind the Coheed & Cambria-styled riff. The more I listened to this album the more I think Kilmore are the band Halestorm should be, just check out Dark Matter and you'll understand what I mean. They've managed to get the ingredients right on their debut record Call Of The Void, the two years taken to create this record have meant it sounds great full of modern/classic rock riffs. It's difficult to write much more as you need to just buy the album to really understand how good Kilmore are. 8/10