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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Reviews: Helker, Junkyard, Morass Of Molasses

Helker: Firesoul (AFM)

Helker are probably one of Argentina's top metal acts, although kudos if you can name another without Google. Firesoul is their fifth full length album and it's been released on AFM records meaning that it will open the band up to bigger audiences on this side of the world. They are a band that do need to be heard by a wider section of the metal world, mainly due to the similarities in style and sound to the Dio's solo outings. It's ironic that I listened to this record on the anniversary of the great man's death and if you close your eyes and listen hard Diego Valdez could be RJD in another body, his raspy but soul driven vocals are perfectly suited to the fist pumping heavy metal witnessed on the melodic Stay Away, the stomping Where You Belong and the organ friendly The One all of which are so reminiscent of the Holy Diver/Sacred Heart era.

The record was produced by the uber-talented Mat Sinner and the thick production technique means the guitars of Mariano and Leo can bring tough riffs on Break Your Chains while the thunderous rhythm section of Christian and Hernan batter you on the title track. This record gets very heavy towards it's latter part and at 14 tracks that means that the final third of the record holds your attention as grinding Rise Or Fall adds the Black Sabbath tones to the Dio-worship before the transformation is complete with their spot on cover of Neon Knights. At 14 tracks it takes lot of patience but it is rewarded with classic heavy metal riffs and a instantly identifiable vocal style, pick up this album if you're sick of the two bands trading on Dio's legacy, Helker are doing no such thing and they are more authentic than any of the 'tributes'. As an extra buy the special edition that comes with the album recorded in Spanish which makes is equally as good. 8/10

Junkyard: High Water (Acertate Music)

Junkyard fromed in Los Angeles in 1987, the band featured former members of Minor Threat, The Big Boys, Decry and Dag Nasty and their punk fuelled rock n roll was enough to get them signed to Geffen Records at the same time as Guns N Roses drawing comparisons between the two back in the day. High Water is their first length album in 26 years and it opens with the snarling punk of Walk Away a short sharp shock of attitude that's followed by Faded which is Bon Scott AC/DC when they had a bit of danger about them. This musical trend continues throughout the record with a mix of bar room rock n roll, aggressive punk and a sleazy Los Angeles sound that has only really been replicated outside of the USA by The Quireboys, The Wildhearts and Danko Jones. Styrofoam Cup sees the band trying their hand at Country and they do it well especially on Till The Wheels Fall Off which was written by Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr.

David Roach's vocals are battle scarred he wails and sneers on tracks such as the swaggering Hellbound. In fact his vocals maybe the deal breaker for some as it is a very punk sounding voice. Underneath him guitarists Tim Mosher and Jimmy James are backed by Pat Muzingo (drums) and Todd Muscat (bass). Like I said this record has quite myriad of influences to it but with a country swagger, a punk rock grunt and a heaving load of rock n roll High Water is a strong return to the breech by these Sunset Strip survivors. 7/10

Morass Of Molasses: These Paths We Tread (HeviSike Records)

Lumbering into view like a Godzilla stomping through tar Morass Of Molasses are the audio equivalent of their namesake it's sludgy, angry and discordant and from the beginning of My Leviathan the band set out their stall with creeping riff, barked vocals and a woozy psychedelia, this is washed away with the thick stoner grooves of So They Work. This UK three piece marry sledgehammer heaviness with slow moving doom on Serpentine which slithers along like a cold blooded reptile and they bring bluesy elements to Centralia. With a melting pot of drug induced sounds Morass Of Molasses have foreboding sound that whispers one minute and shouts the next. Having seen the band live this power is translated to the record, if you love your metal with a hefty dose of ear splitting volume then Morass Of Molasses will be your new sweetness. 7/10     

Friday, 26 May 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Iron Maiden (Review By Paul)

Iron Maiden - Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

There was no getting away from the shadow of Manchester. An arena gig in the capital of Wales, two nights after the atrocities meant that everyone was on heightened sense of alert. However, in the words of the mighty Maiden, these colours don't run and arriving in the Capital four hours before the Irons hit the stage, those colours were everywhere. Iron Maiden shirts flooded the City Centre as Welsh metal heads joined forces with English, Scottish, Polish and Brazilian in a show of love and metal. Arriving at Fuel for the pre-Maiden Trooper session, Womanby Street was rammed with Maiden fans from across the globe, united in their love of one of the most iconic bands ever to have graced the planet.

I've seen Shinedown sufficient times to avoid most of their 45 minute set, arriving only to catch frontman Brent Smith urging the crowd to "jump up" on the count of three. After an impassioned plea to unite against terror, the band closed their set with their anthem, Sound Of Madness which at least raised the ante somewhat.

Matt - *Having seen all of the Shinedown (7) set, the whole thing was laced with their big hitters such as Devour, Cut The Cord, Diamond Eyes and mega ballad Second Chance it was hard to criticise the music, yes they use taped segments and audio enhancements to bolster Brent's vocals but we've said this before about the band so maybe it's time to just accept it as part of their show.

What put me off was the large breaks in the set to talk to the audience, the aforementioned jump up section had been preceded by Smith, splitting the crowd, giving a rambling explanation and talk trying to psych the audience up like a high school football coach. This section could have been cut for another song or two but I find this to be an all too frequent occurrence with American bands. Still the performance was energetic from all four members of the bound but it was dogged by the large gaps and the muddy at time painful sound mix.*

Forty minutes later and the strains of Michael Schenker and Phil Mogg filled the arena. Doctor Doctor has always heralded the arrival of the Irons and it remains not only one of the finest UFO songs of all time but also one that gets hairs standing on the back of my neck. And then there was Bruce, crouching over a steaming cauldron as the opening to If Eternity Should Fail commenced.

What followed was the predictable metal theatre that we've come to expect from Maiden (9). The lengthy tracks from The Book Of Souls balanced with a few old school classics, including Wrathchild, Children Of The Damned and a ball busting Powerslave. The newer material has weight and complexity but fails to captivate the audience in the same way that The Trooper always has. The older stuff just grabs the fans more aggressively. A ponderous Red And The Black was a typical example. Still, the Maiden outfit is a pretty strong beast and the double whammy of Fear Of The Dark and Iron Maiden brought a solid and spectacular show to a close.

To be fair to Maiden, the band were on fire, with Bruce flying across the stage, Steve Harris mouthing all the words as his rampaged from monitor to monitor, whilst Nicko McBrain just batters the shit out of his huge kit. The three pronged guitar attack of messrs Gers, Murray and Smith were muffled due to the notoriously poor sound in this shed of a venue. Backed by their always impressive stage set and enormous lighting show, the Maiden gig is always pure pantomime. Bruce never still, constantly urging the crowd to "scream for me, Cardiff". The arrival of the Mayan Eddie during The Book Of Souls, the usual Union Jack waving during The Trooper and a huge Eddie at the back of the stage as the main set closed All added to the show.

The triple encore saw a storming Number Of The Beast giving the old school something to get stuck into, whilst the impassioned speech from Bruce before Blood Brothers was well received, even if I couldn't hear half of it. Final encore Wasted Years was over in a flash and with a puff of smoke the band were gone. An amazing show as always, even if the set list wasn't as exciting as it could have been. Whether we ever see the band on a Welsh soil again is questionable but this is a band who ensure that Wales is included in their UK tour. A great evening. Up the Irons.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Reviews: Ursinne, Earth Electric, Running Death (Reviews By Paul)

Ursinne: Swim With The Leviathan (Transcending Obscurity)

What happens when you allow two death metal legends to combine on a project? Absolute brutality and one of the best old school death metal releases of the year, that’s what. Dave Ingram (Hail Of Bullets, Bolt Thrower and Benediction) has joined forces with Jonny Pettersson (Wombbath, SYN:DROM, Ashcloud) are Ursinne and Swim With The Leviathan is their debut release. It is, as you’d expect, crushingly heavy, huge swathes of bludgeoning riffs smash down relentlessly, with Ingram’s guttural delivery essential to the sinister sound.

From opener Talons to the absolute raging The Chimes At Midnight, this is vital listening. A monster of an album, with the bonus of some of the best curved ball covers I’ve ever heard. Death metal versions of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses, QOTSA’s Monsters In The Parasol are brilliant but when you get to The Vapors Turning Japanese I defy you not to lose your shit. Throw in Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Spellbound and you pretty much have the ultimate death metal party album. Blisteringly heavy. Thoroughly brilliant. 9/10

Earth Electric: Vol 1 – Solar (Seasons Of Mist)

The combination of Norwegian guitarist Rune Eriksen and an Italian stable consisting the impressive operatic voice of Carmen Simoes, Alexander Ribeiro on bass and Ricardo Martins ferocious drumming has delivered an intriguingly and enchanting debut release. Full of driving psychedelic hard rock, interspersed with dramatic time changes and the keyboard wizardry of Messenger’s Dan Knight, this is a breath-taking piece of work. At only 35 minutes it must get its message across sharpish which it really does.

There is no pause for breath as the tracks whirl by. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the manic yet perfectly controlled Solar, which envelopes into a cascade of trippy guitar work. It’s not all hippy shit though with some of Eriksen’s guitar work mesmerising. Simoes’ vocals are haunting, eerie and yet compelling at the same time. The stomp of Sabbatical Moons, enhanced by some chunky keys and retro guitar work challenges you to get involved; it’s irresistible. Quite a fantastic release. Well worth your time. 8/10

Running Death: DressAge (Punishment 18 Records)

Running Death are a no-nonsense thrash outfit from Kaufbeuran, Bavaria. DressAge is their second release, following on from their 2015 debut Overdrive. It’s functional thrash, with chunky fat riffs cascading over the usual pummelling drums and hyperactive bass lines. What is apparent from opening track Courageous Minds is that whilst guitarist/vocalist Simon Bihlmayer and Daniel Baar can shred, Bihlmayer really can’t hold a note.

Unfortunately, this distracts from the overall songs because I couldn’t get past the cat wailing that soars over each song. It’s not too bad on the Megadeth style of Delusive Silence, but when there is more focus on the vocal, such as the bizarre DressAge, then it’s oh so evident. It’s clear from the off that Running Death are influenced by Dave Mustaine’s lot alongside Testament and other heavy weights such as Annihilator. They just are not as good and the album cover, oh my god. What were you thinking? 5/10

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Reviews: Hate, Vandroya, Gurt (Reviews By Rich)

Hate: Tremendum (Napalm Records)

Hate are a long running Polish death metal band who formed back in 1990. They are a band I know about but am not too familiar with so with the release of their tenth album Tremendum it was my first proper exposure to the band having only previously heard odd songs here and there. On Tremendum Hate play a mix of death metal and black metal perfectly mixing brutality with atmosphere and with a nice mix of songs that range from blast beat riddled assault of Indestructible Pillar and Fidelis Ad Mortem to slower brooding numbers such as Svarog's Mountain and Numinosum

Frontman and guitarist Adam Buszko puts in a stellar performance with throat ripping vocals and some very tasty lead guitar work whilst drummer Pavulon puts in a tight and furious performance. With Tremendum being the first entire Hate album I have listened to the band have certainly impressed me and I shall be busy catching up on the bands extensive back catalogue. A fantastic album that combines the best elements of death and black metal in well crafted and memorable package. 8/10

Vandroya: Beyond The Human Mind (InnerWound Recordings)

Brazilian power metallers Vandroya return with their second album Beyond The Human Mind. This was the first time I had heard anything by Vandroya and as it turns out it was a very pleasant listening experience. Vandroya play a style of power metal in the vein of classic bands such as Helloween but also add in progressive influences in the style of Symphony X and fellow Brazilians Angra. The songs on Beyond The Human Mind are generally fast paced with plenty of melody and hooks especially evident in songs such as The Path To The Endless Fall and I'm Alive.

There are also a couple of ballads (one of which works, one of which doesn't) whilst the progressive elements come to the fore in the lengthy title track. Their sound is ably assisted by the immensely powerful vocals of frontwoman Daísa Munhoz and the fretboard wizardry of guitarists Marco Lambert and Rodolfo Pagotto. Beyond The Human Mind is a fantastic power metal album which combines all the best elements from the classics of the genre with elements from the more progressive end. If you are a fan of power metal or melodic metal in general this album is highly recommended. 8/10

Gurt: Skullossus (When Planets Collide)

Sometimes as a fan of heavy music you just want to be hit face first by a barrage of riffage. Gurt are the band for the job especially with their third album Skullossus out now on When Planets Collide. Gurt play absolutely filthy riff drenched sludge metal mixing in elements from doom metal, hardcore punk, classic rock and extreme metal. The music throughout the album is dense, malicious and should come with some sort of warning sticker but there's a tongue in cheek/sense of humour approach also running throughout the songs.

The album is also nicely varied with stomping crushing riff barrages such as Battlepants, Double Barrelled Shot-Pun and Meowing At The Fridge to the short sharp hardcore fury of Broken Heart Heroin Man and the funky jam of Existence Is Pain which sounds a lot like Primus. This isn't a groundbreaking album by any means but if you are after something to crank up with some friends and a shedload of beers on a weekend then Skullossus will do the job admirably. An unessential but immeasurably fun album. 8/10

The Big Story: Iron Maiden - Choices Of The Beast (By Paul)

Iron Maiden – The Choices Of The Beast
With the Maiden juggernaut about to hit South Wales for the first time in six years and reports of their live shows thrilling audiences around the UK and Europe, I thought it might be a bit of a fun to add to the anticipation and plough through the Maiden catalogue and pull out my favourite track from each one.

Iron Maiden – Running Free

The raw, punk edged debut which saw Maiden crash on the UK and World metal scene in 1980 contained several tracks that would remain staples for years and includes the anthemic Iron Maiden, the perpetual set closer for the band. However, I’ve plumped for the mighty Running Free. A song that encapsulated the wild spirit of a band blasting into orbit. The gritty riff, the drumming of Clive Burr alongside the galloping trademark bass of Steve Harris, the duel guitar work of Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton and of course, the voice of Paul Di’Anno. Featured on several compilations in the early 1980s, Running Free demonstrated the clear potential of the band.

Killers - Killers

The first Iron Maiden that I bought, or in fact was bought for me by my dear father who returned from the record store in Pontypridd where he worked with a couple of vinyl’s for me every other week. Amongst the precious early releases that Dad brought home were Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades and Love Gun by Kiss, but it was Killers caught the eye immediately with the sinister cover of Eddie having killed in the East End under the burning street lamp. The album, produced by Martin Birch, marked the arrival of Adrian Smith from Urchin and was a much more polished affair but retained the gritty punk attitude of the debut release. There are many great tracks on Killers but for me the title track stands out. The razor-sharp guitar riffs, electric solo work and the sheer pace of the track were just incredible at the time, capturing all the atmosphere and menace that was intended. Di’Anno’s performance is incredible, haunting and malevolent. It remains my all-time favourite Iron Maiden song.

The Number Of The Beast – Gangland

You may be surprised why Gangland is my choice on an album filled with killer Maiden tracks. The departure of Di’Anno had shocked many in the metal world at the time but the choice of Bruce Bruce (as he was known) from Samson was felt to be a good move. Now, I had a few discs by Samson, including the great Head On and Shock Tactics, which was the last to feature Dickinson so I was familiar with him. However, it was something of a shock when during my usual Friday night ritual of listening to the Friday Night Rock Show with the legendary Tommy Vance Gangland arrived out of nowhere. I can still recall the thundering drum intro, similar to Motorhead’s Overkill, the slicing guitars and the driving bass before Bruce opened the air raid siren for the first time in Maiden. It was a jaw dropping moment and I can still remember sitting there at 12 years of age going “fucking hell, that is something else”.

Piece Of Mind – Where Eagles Dare

May 15th 1983. Front row of the balcony, St David’s Hall, Cardiff. The lights dimmed and out of the PA came the main theme to the 1968 movie of Alastair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare, starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt. Minutes later Iron Maiden burst into view and the place went crazy. Having been forced to miss their Cardiff date on The Number Of The Beast tour due to the collapse of Sophia Gardens Hall roof, this was the first chance the hordes of Maiden fans had to see the hottest property in UK metal since their 1980 appearance at the Top Rank Club. Where Eagles Dare not only opens Piece Of Mind but is just a stonking tune, all six minutes 14 seconds of it and it set the bar for an album that I would say is better than Beast.

Powerslave – Powerslave

1984 and album number five, the Egyptian themed Powerslave and no sign of the band slowing down. Indeed, the tempo continued to increase with the double opening of Aces High and Two Minutes To Midnight, both absolute blistering tracks. However, it was the ambitious closing duo of Powerslave and the Coleridge inspired Rime Of The Ancient Mariner that caught the attention, mainly due to the length and complexity of each track. Mariner clocks in at over 16 minutes, and seeing that live on the World Slavery Tour, complete with moving mast lighting rig was something special. However, once again the title track takes my vote, mainly because it is such a rampant blast of heavy metal combined with the progressive elements that have now become traditional components of the Maiden sound. Once again, the duelling Smith and Murray provided the unique guitar style copied by many whilst Bruce was by now in full flow. Meanwhile the drumming of Nicko McBrain, now firmly ensconced in the engine room is massively underrated but incredibly skilful and Steve Harris was winning bassist of the year awards for fun.

Somewhere In Time – Wasted Years

By 1986 Maiden were the band to see and tickets to catch them on the Somewhere In Time tour were like gold. On October 6th 1986 St David’s Hall once again played host to the Irons and this time it was the theme to Blade Runner that opened proceedings. The cyborg Eddie which adorned the cover of Time was one of Derek Riggs’ best creations and the album maintained the high level of previous releases. The album contained one of Maiden’s anthems, the Adrian Smith penned Wasted Years. It has everything; squealing guitars, driving bass, Smith delivering harmonies on the chorus and sing-a-long parts for all. It’s also the only track on the album not to feature synthesizers. It is just an essential Maiden and no wonder it features in the set to this day. If you fancy hearing it acoustically, check out Daniel Cavanagh’s version on his covers album Memory And Meaning.

Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son – The Clairvoyant

Album number seven arrived in 1988 and yet again it was difficult to be disappointed. Moonchild, Infinite Dreams, The Evil That Men Do, the title track and Can I Play With Madness, with its video filmed at the majestic Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley, are all goodies that most bands would be proud of. The arrival of the synths that Steve Harris had begun to experiment with didn’t go down so well with the purists but most of the fan based lapped it up. I’ve chosen one of the less well known tracks on the album, the rampaging The Clairvoyant which did feature in their set at their first appearance in Newport Centre in 1988. It’s another strong track with the synths underpinning the melody which surges through the song. Double guitars remain at the forefront and Dickinson still hits those ridiculously high notes.

No Prayer For The Dying – Tailgunner

For the first time in several years the Maiden waggon began to wobble. Adrian Smith left the band after expressing his discontent with the direction the band were heading, to be replaced by Janick Gers, who I’d enjoyed very much in his time with Gillan as well as Tattooed Millionaire, which Gers co-wrote with Dickinson. There was a sparser collection of notable tracks on the album, but Tailgunner continued the Maiden tradition of a pacey opening track with the usual formula hitting all the right spots. Their live show in Newport remained a fantastic spectacle and the exposure of Bring Your Daughter … To The Slaughter ensured that Maiden remained in the field of vision.

Fear Of The Dark - Afraid To Shoot Strangers

With grunge and Indie taking hold Maiden released their final album with Bruce until his return seven years later. Fear Of The Dark is a curious album, with some superb tracks, such as the anthemic title track which remains almost untouchable on the tour set list and the powerful Be Quick Or Be Dead which opens the album. Fear Is The Key with its almost middle Eastern stomp and Gillan-like performance from Dickinson was a statement about the fear created by AIDs whilst one of my favourites is the penultimate track, the observation of football hooliganism in Weekend Warrior. The style of writing being influenced more by Gers, who co-wrote five of the 12 tracks. I’ve picked Afraid To Shoot Strangers mainly because it is a bit different to many of the other tracks on the album with a calmer, melodic element before it picks up. It’s written by Steve Harris and has the political theme from the first Gulf War. Obviously, most would plump for the title track but its overplayed and I detest it when the crowd sing it live (although I’ll no doubt be humming along this time around despite all that!).

The X Factor – Blood On The World’s Hands

Despite the panning that this release received from much of the metal media and a substantial number of the Maiden fan base, I find it to be one of the most consistent and reliable Maiden albums. Blaze Bayley’s voice is suited to the tracks and whilst it was clear when Bruce re-joined that they could transfer with ease to the returning frontman, the calmer, more paced and yet dark subject matter continues to please on every listen. Blood On The World’s Hands is a six minute track that contains all the traditional hallmarks of a Steve Harris composition. Alongside Sign Of The Cross, Lord Of The Flies, Man On The Edge and Fortunes Of War, Blood On The World’s Hands proved that there was much life left in the band.

Virtual XI – Futureal

Whilst The X Factor contained a lot of good stuff I found Virtual XI a more difficult release to deal with. Fewer memorable songs, less pace and more padding and Bayley’s vocal limitations were becoming apparent. He just isn’t as strong a singer as Bruce. Aside from The Clansman and The Angel And The Gambler, the strongest track on the album was Futureal, a three-minute belter that opens the album in style. It’s still a favourite of mine, hence my choice here.

Brave New World – The Wicker Man

The return of Bruce in 1999 was welcomed across the metal world. Anticipation was high for the first release which also included Adrian Smith’s return and the band’s expansion to a six-piece with a three-pronged guitar attack. Brave New World proved a real return to form with a much-needed increase in tempo, a more bombastic approach and a return to the older classic era. Regardless of what much of the media felt, this was a superb album with Blood Brothers becoming a staple in the live set. The title track is impressively powerful but it’s the Smith/Harris/Dickinson composition The Wicker Man with its killer opening riff which gets my vote. After eight years, the upturn in energy was evident for all to see. A great track.

Dance Of Death – Paschendale

Three years later and album number 13 Dance Of Death delivered just short of 70 minutes of Maiden metal. There was only one track I could select on here, despite my fondness for Rainmaker, and that is the epic eight minute Paschendale. Majestic, mighty and quite astonishingly good, Paschendale is superbly crafted with light and dark, soft and heavy sections and guitar interplay par excellence. Dickinson’s performance is exceptional, his story telling delivery chilling. The pure riff half way through screamed essence of Maiden. Another classic crafted by Harris and Smith, there isn’t a better track in the entire Maiden catalogue.

A Matter Of Life And Death – The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg

Maiden created some controversy with this album by taking it on the road and playing it in full. The hardcore fans loved it but many of the lightweights moaned like bitches when the band limited the number of classics to three. It was a brave move but I think it worked. A strong album with some great songs including These Colours Don’t Run and Different World, The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg is a thumping good tune, a killer opening which then smoulders before igniting into a classic Maiden paced gallop which builds to a crescendo. The irony of the internet furore about the identity of Breeg was brought home when it was revealed that the character was fictional.

The Final Frontier – Isle Of Avalon

I love this album. The ethereal feel of being lost in space oozes through the tracks and songs such as El Dorado, Coming Home and The Man Who Would Be King are memorable. There was much speculation about the title and whether it would be the swansong but the band soon put that to bed. Isle Of Avalon is my favourite song on the album. A nine-minute piece which has some magical hooks, melody and scintillating playing. Dickinson’s performance is brilliant whilst the bass runs of Steve Harris are incredible. The track ebbs and flows, climbing and diving at speed. It’s great. Only four tracks featured in their live show at the Motorpoint on 1st August 2011, the last time the band played in Cardiff or Wales.

The Book Of Souls – The Book Of Souls

The final piece in this jigsaw and what a way to end. The double album which stormed to No.1 in 2015 and swept up the awards for best album in the rock and metal worlds. A highly ambitious release, with several of the tracks real heavy weights on an album that is over 92 minutes duration. When I reviewed this behemoth for the Musipedia in September 2015 I stated that it was ‘a quite breath taking piece of work and one that demands repeated listens to really grasp its full scope and breadth’. I haven’t changed my mind. It is still as epic 18 months later. The title track for me demonstrates that far from being a bloated dinosaur, Maiden can still rock out with the best and their whole approach is to give one big finger to the establishment. My review said ‘Title track The Book of Souls is one of two Gers/Harris penned tracks on the album and it is another beast of a track. Using keyboards to underpin the Maiden sound has been a standard approach since the late 1980s and the Seventh Son album and once again it works most impressively. Weighing in at over 10 minutes and telling the history of the Mayan people, The Book of Souls, like all Maiden epics builds and builds, a solid pace to start with Dickinson’s vocals soaring the heights, before, at over halfway into the track things kick off with McBrain leading the charge with his battering ram of drumming, closely followed by the traditional guitar work and Harris’ bass powering away. It is once again classic Maiden and top quality heavy metal. Interestingly, unlike several of Maiden’s previous lengthy pieces, Dickinson remains involved throughout, adding verses as the track races to its conclusion’.

Come 24th May, the Motorpoint will be filled to the brim with fans, some who will be there for the first time, some like me will have been there since the early days and will be well into double figures and some will no doubt be in the hundreds. It will be an astonishing show and one of the highlights of the metal calendar. When Iron Maiden are in town, it’s always worth the effort. Thanks for reading and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

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

Riverside: The Marble Factory, Bristol

Few could have imagined the horror that Riverside would go through in 2016. Back in October 2015 we watched as the band, well into their 14th year together, glided effortlessly through a magnificent set at The Marble Factory in support of their recent beautiful Love, Fear And The Time Machine album. We now know, all too painfully, how on 21 February 2016 Piotr Grudzinski would pass suddenly and the band were sent spiralling into the depths of despair and grief. The outpouring of support for the band was so heartfelt that the band decided, in time, to continue as a trio. The release of Eye Of The Soundscape and the emotional live album Lost 'N' Found - Live In Tilburg earlier this year has no doubt helped.

The tour, 19 European dates as well as a few select gigs on home soil has been entitled Towards The Blue Horizon. No support act, just two hours of the band. Just before 8pm the trio entered the stage. Led as always by Mariuz Duda, flanked by drummer Piotr Kozieradski and keyboard player Michal Lapaj, the band stood unflinching whilst Duda explained. 2016 had been a disaster for the band, but they had finally decided to continue as a trio. The evening, and the tour, was intended as a cathartic experience for not only the band but for the fans as well. Two hours of music, descending into darkness at times before hopefully climbing into the light and allowing everyone to leave with a smile. Simple, yet oh so challenging. Duda introduced Maciej Meller, touring guitarist and long time friend of the band, who has actually recorded with Duda in the past.

What followed was nothing short of spectacular. Opening with a stripped down version of Coda, and backed by a clever light show, Riverside (10) delivered a stunning performance. well paced, with tracks carefully chosen to allow maximum expression, the majority of the audience (much larger than their last appearance) stood in genuine awe as the evening progressed. Second Skin Syndrome, Conceiving You and Caterpillar And The Barbed Wire were magnificent, with Meller fitting in perfectly, nothing flashy and totally at one with the rest of the band. I've raved about their exceptional musicianship before in these pages but it bears repeating that Riverside are masters of their art. The jam session at the end of The Depth Of Self Delusion allowed them to unleash their inner rock. One of many highlights from the evening was the semi-acoustic version of the opening track from Time Machine, a hear stopping Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?), slightly spoilt by some very noisy punters at the rear of the venue whose conversation was clearly much more interesting that watching the sublime performance of one of the best progressive bands around. Fools.

As the set headed towards its conclusion, Duda's voice showed no signs of cracking. His delivery is impressive, as is his bass playing, wild and yet fully controlled. Lapaj's keyboard work is almost wizardry, such is his movement and depth of playing. Meller's guitar work was exceptional and the whole thing is in the steady hands (and feet) of the Slayer shirted Kozieradski. The extended Escalator Shrine and Before closed the set before the emotional encore arrived. Duda commented on 2016 before the band launched into Towards The Blue Horizon, which had me on the verge of tears. the lyrical content of a song written before Grudzinski's death is so poignant, and so sadly apt. Watching the band you could see them calling on inner strength to get through and the audience willing them to do so. They did, and with a huge thank you concluded the evening with a different version of Coda. The audience provided an enormous ovation thoroughly deserved. It's going to be a tough ride for this band but they have the strength and support to get through it. A quite breath taking performance from one of the most important bands in rock today.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Reviews: Dragonforce, Danzig, Mark Slaughter

Dragonforce: Reaching Into Infinity (earMusic)

In the review for their previous album I said that Dragonforce MkII were going from strength to strength with Marc Hudson on vocals, the songs were faster, the solos madder and the vocals more intense than ever. Since then the band have released a career retrospective and clearly they have reverted back to type as their latest album seventh in total opens with the Ashes Of The Dawn which has the familiar blitzkrieg guitar riffs, thunderous million miles per hour drumming from Gee Anzalone, the twitchy electronics and speedy keyboard runs of Vadim, it's old school Dragonforce but distilled into their more recent trend of shorter songs.

I will admit having been following the band since the Dragonheart days this first song brought an instant smile to my face, it's an incredibly simple trick but 'play guitar fast' is one Dragonforce have always done better than anyone else. They also shake things up as the album progresses, they add the video game 8-bit chip-set to Judgement Day and Curse Of Darkness is an organ-driven horror themed track that stretches the band creatively and gives Marc a chance to show off those pipes. In what is a recurring theme Silence is a big power ballad slowing the album in the middle before they explode into the euphoric Midnight Madness and they once again switch styles to stomping thrash on War! which could be mistaken for Municipal Waste et al if it wasn't for the high vocals in the chorus. The records finest moment is The Edge Of The World a Maiden-like epic that sits as the albums longest track and even brings in harsh black metal vocals.

As usual the solos, lead breaks and riffs of Herman Li and Sam Totman are set to warp speed but it's the duels that have always been the material for air guitarists to emulate and there are tonnes of them here with every song having the classic Dragonforce solo section. Even Fredric Leclercq gets in on the act with a bass solo on Astral Empire. Reaching To Infinity is a Dragonforce album and it sounds like how you'd expect it to sound, for fans it's a sparkling return to former glories with one foot firmly in the present. Feel the force and get widdling ladies and gents! 9/10

Danzig: Black Laden Crown (AFM Records)

He's back, 7 years since his last solo record Deth Red Sabbaoth the man they call Danzig (or Glenn to his mum) returns with his first album since hell froze over and the original Misfits line up reformed at Riot Fest last year, on the back of this Danzig has confirmed his own festival called Blackest Of The Black that also features Ministry, Suicidal Tendencies, DevilDriver and CoC. So with his stock so high it's about the right time to release a new album and as a heavy metal fan that's a good thing as Danzig's solo output has always been nearer the heavy doom and classic metal circles than the punkier Misfits music.

The first thing I'll get out of the way is that the cover art is awful looking like something from a D.I.Y Mercyful Fate style band the large breasted woman has been done over and over again. Danzig has had H.R. Giger create cover art for him in the past so this is a let down but hey never judge a book so onto the decks of death it went. Both the title track and Eyes Ripping Fire are slow moving doom rockers with Danzig bellowing over the top but his vocal does seem a little weaker than it used to be, this might be because of the production which is poor at best. I was expecting so much from this record but it's not what I expected at all the music is ok moving between Sabbath doom and Doors psych (Last Ride) but this is record for die hards only. Sorry Glenn I've got something to say, I think you've lost it today. 6/10

Mark Slaughter: Halfway There (EMP Label)

Mark Slaughter is probably best known as the singer of American glam rock band Slaughter their biggest hit was probably the 1990 single Up All Night. Halfway There is his second solo album and it takes from his old school rock sensibility with modern techniques. Hey You opens the record with the glam rock stylings he is known for it's an upbeat number that opens the album, he adds more 90's sounds on Devoted and Conspiracy which lends a nod to Alice In Chains due to Slaughter's reverbed vocals on both tracks, the heaviest song on the record is the lumbering Reckless and Disposable has a hint of Beatles-psych to it.

As he's an offshoot of the glam rock scene in the US you'd expect there to be a ballads and the title track is a rock ballad up in the best, whereas Forevermore is slower and built for waving lighters. A good hard rocking album from this veteran of the radio rock era, Halfway There might be the album title but he's been there and done that which shows on this album. 7/10     

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Reviews: Astral Doors, Ghost Bath, Bare Infinity (Reviews By Rich)

Astral Doors: Black Eyed Children (Metalville Records)

Swedish heavy/power metallers Astral Doors return with new album Black Eyed Children which is their eighth album and out on Metalville Records. Astral Doors have previously merged together traditional melodic heavy metal with power metal but with Black Eyed Children the power metal elements are scaled right back and almost completely absent with this being a very straight up melodic heavy metal record. This is an effective approach with songs such as God Is The Devil, Die On Stage and Slaves To Ourselves being impressive melodic metal anthems but the albums failing is that it is too straightforward in its approach and the songwriting generally is quite mediocre for a band of Astral Doors standing.

 One strength throughout the album are the vocals by powerhouse frontman Nils Patrik Johansson (also of Wuthering Heights and formerly a member of Civil War) whose soaring, melodic yet gravelly vocals never fail to impress during the duration of the record. Overall this is a disappointing release from Astral Doors where an attempt to write a more straightforward heavy metal album results in a rather dull and mediocre affair. A few highlights here and there but generally quite forgettable. 6/10

Ghost Bath: Starmourner (Nuclear Blast)

Starmourner is the third album by depressive black metallers Ghost Bath and their first release for Nuclear Blast Records. Ghost Bath are a very divisive band within the metal community from their early claims that they were based in China when it turned out the band are from North Dakota to the extremely polarising vocals from frontman Dennis Mikula. To their credit though they must be doing something right to get signed to a large label like Nuclear Blast. Personally I don't mind Ghost Bath and Starmourner isn't a bad album. It is unfortunately a very bloated one. The band continue where they left off on previous album Moonlover with a sound mixing atmospheric black metal with shoegaze elements albeit performed in major key resulting in a sound sitting somewhere between happiness and melancholy.

The band definitely need to learn to edit their songs as a good few on the album either overstay their welcome or just get nowhere and achieve nothing. There are songs though which do work well such as Ethereal, Celestial and Luminescence. The wailing screaming vocals by Dennis Mikula are easily the most disliked part of Ghost Bath's sound but on Starmourner they are placed quite low in the mix and as such don't drown out the rest of the band (unlike 'that' set at Bloodstock) managing at times to compliment the music. All in all Starmourner is a flawed album with an excessive running time and songs which drag on too long. When at its heights the album does stand out and impress but there are not enough of those moments throughout. 6/10

Bare Infinity: The Butterfly Raiser (Blackdown Music)

The Butterfly Raiser is the second full length album by Greek symphonic metallers Bare Infinity. This is also the first release with a new line up including vocalist Ida Elena who has replaced Angel Wolf-Black (who has gone on to front Wales' very own Triaxis). The music on The Butterfly Raiser is as standard for female fronted symphonic metal. Guitar riffs are standard chugging with the songs being carried mainly by the strong melodies from the keyboards including some folk and middle eastern style melodies and the impressive vocals of Ida Elena who goes for a more pop rock style similar to Charlotte Wessels from Delain rather than a classically trained or operatic approach.

It's all fantastically produced and sounds very pleasant to the ears but it's basically treading ground covered by many bands before albeit very well but it really offers nothing new. The material on the album isn't strong enough throughout to justify the hour plus running time though songs such as Race Of Destiny, Hear Me Out and the title track stand out more than others. If you are a fan of female fronted symphonic metal bands then there is something for you to enjoy with this album but this style has been done better and with more originality by many other bands within the genre. 6/10

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Reviews: Solstafir, Backwood Spirit, Distillator (Reviews By Paul)

Solstafir: Berdreyminn (Seasons Of Mist)

It's been three years since Icelandic metallers Solstafir released the stunning Otta, an album that really put them on the radar in the U.K. Live performances at Damnation in 2014 and a U.K tour the following year along with further festival appearances enhanced their reputation as a superb live band. 2015's rather acrimonious departure of drummer Guomundur Oli Palmason didn't do them any favours but the band has since recruited Hallgrimur Jon Hallgrimsson who is superb and at last the follow up album is here. 

If you've never heard Solstafir it's quite difficult to adequately define their sound. Sung in their native language provides a totally different dimension to the tracks, which regularly vary between the crushingly heavy and the beautifully delicate and fragile. Berdreyminn contains all of these elements, and has taken a step forward from Otta. Opening track Silfur-Refur builds slowly, twangy steel guitars and haunting tones in the background before the band crash into full flow. Aoalbjorn Tryggvason's straining emotional vocals combine with some ferocious riffs whilst Hallgrimsson's drums demonstrate how well he has settled. It's a powerful opening which is underpinned by some shimmering guitar work. The industrial feel of Isafold follows, a more serene almost indie rock sound in comparison. It's an immediate change of pace which works well. The ominous intro of Hula conjures images of swirling mist across windswept lakes, whilst the calming feel of the track is beautiful. A mild tempo, with piano adding depth and melody. It's a cracking song, echoing vocals and a simple, almost ghostly style at times. 

Solstafir rarely do short songs, allowing each track time to breath and grow. Naros is a classic example, with Tryggvason's opening vocals accompanied by a lone drum beat and atmospheric electric guitar. It's finely layered and very dramatic. After three minutes the song takes off, driving guitar work and the pounding bass lines of Svavar Austmann pushing the track forward whilst retaining the intensity. Naros is almost rock pop in it's feel but there is so much more to it. The alternative break downs, the relentless bass lines and solid drumming provide so much interest. A doom laden piano intro for Hvit Saeng fits perfectly with the string arrangement before the band let rip once more with a powerful and uplifting second half. Repetition is used to great effect with a fuzzy guitar sound complementing the intricate solo work. Saepor Marius Saeporsson and Tryggvason's guitar playing is fantastic with duel vocals adding fire once again.

Dyrafjorour lifts the album still higher with sparkling violins and piano complimenting the baleful progress of a darkened track. Yet pockets of light shine through it and it becomes quite uplifting in places, with the arrangement just stunning. Once more, it's almost impossible to find the right words and penultimate track Ambatt continues the theme, brooding piano and muzzled guitar mixing with Tryggvason's melancholic vocals. It's simply stunning. Album closer Blafjall's contemplative organ and angst filled vocals combine with a simple bass drum, all adding to the mix before the guitars slowly increase in tempo and intensity as the song builds. Blafjall is a slow burner, with more understated but essential keyboard work really providing depth to the sound. It's an epic way to close what is one of the best releases of the year. Captivating. Spellbinding and thoroughly enchanting. 10/10

Backwood Spirit: Self Titled (Pride & Joy Music)

Take a trip back to the 1970s with Backwood Spirit, a five piece from Orebro, Sweden whose self-titled debut is firmly rooted in the classic rock style of Free and Bad Company. Opener Give Me Good Lovin’ is about as close to that sound as you will get. This is in no small part due to the astonishingly Paul Rogers sounding vocals of Goran Edman, who spent time with Yngwie Malmsteen and Europe’s John Norum. His soulful vocals are full of blues rock and complement the band’s sweet sound. Founder member Kent Engström delivers some delightful guitar work whilst the rest of the band pitch in to bring a retrospective flavour.

The keyboards of Tobias Aslund (now replaced by Peter Emilson) tinkle in the background, whilst a robust organ fleshes out the sound magnificently. See Piece Of The Peach for example. There are lashings of other influences in amongst the tracks, Zeppelin and most evidently The Black Crowes whose riffs are stolen with gay abandon on the opening to both When Love Comes Around and Soul To Soul whilst the effects at the start of Water Of Change/Rainbow bring Rush’s Xanadu instantly to mind. If you relax and open your mind, Backwood Spirit is a perfectly solid album which transports the listener back to a simpler time, of rainbows, vinyl and inappropriate lyrics. It’s worth the journey. 7/10

Distillator: Summoning The Malicious (Empire Records)

Almost a year to the day, Dutch outfit Distillator earnt 6/10 for their opening slot for Metal Church at The Underworld in London. At the time I reported that they were honest in their endeavours but a little bullet belt heavy and dated. Well, album no.2, the ludicrously named Summoning The Malicious has now arrived and it's exactly as you'd expect. Old school thrash metal is a beautiful thing when it gets going properly. Unfortunately the problem with this album is that it doesn't get onto the starting blocks that often. 

Opening track Blinded By Chauvinism is one of the most confusing titles I've ever heard but it kicks hard. And to be fair most of the album does exactly that. The problem is that it's all a bit routine and predictable. The better tracks include Enter The Void, closing track Megalomania and the fantastic Algorithmic Citizenship. If you like your thrash in the meat and two veg variety then you may well like a bit of Distillator. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, apart from the cover which is just awful. 6/10

Friday, 19 May 2017

Reviews: Seether, Sabbath Assembly, Apocalypse Orchestra

Seether: Poison The Parish (Canine Riot)

I like Seether I really do, but the last few albums have been a bit too lightweight moving away from their Nirvana-like grunge stylings they favoured in their early work. But with Poison The Parish they have said goodbye to the radio for a darker heavier approach, Mr Seether himself Shaun Morgan has said that this record will have "heavy guitars" and "loud drums" and he's right tracks such as Something Else has a grinding riff with the light and shade of Fragile but also features a reverb drenched solo with Morgan playing some of the best guitar of his career.

I'll Survive starts slow and gives way to the chunky riffs of its latter part and the creeping Let You Down makes things darker. However it's also got lighter moments with the anthemic Against The Wall and the angst ridden Let Me Heal both moving more towards the radio-friendly rhythms until the riffs lumber back in on angry Saviours. Shaun Morgan clearly hasn't chilled out at all with most of the songs rallying at something or another but for old school Seether fans this record takes them back to their heavy roots with Dale Stewart and John Humphrey the thick as steel engine room (see Nothing Left) they have added lead breaks to most of the songs to give them a more classic metal sound. After lingering in the doldrums of the alt rock seen for a while Seether are back, bigger, badder and more pissed off than ever. 8/10  

Sabbath Assembly: Rites Of Passage (Svart Records)

So what do you think they sound like? This review could write itself really as Rites of Passage is the fifth album from psychedelic/doom band Sabbath Assembly and it once again has lighter end of Iommi and co stamped all over it with Kevin Hufnagel and Ron Varod riffing, David Christian (drums) and Johnny DeBlase (bass) contributing the low end to the slabs of heavy doom. The swirling psych touches really give a woozy feel to the album highlighted by Jamie Myers' bewitching vocals on the trippier tracks such as Angels Trumpets and I Must Be Gone. Its occult mystery from the get go on Rites Of Passage the band straddle the line between crushing doom and Hawkwind-loving space rock with lyrics from the book of Crowley. It's nothing new from the band but for those that ascribe to the alternate spiritualism Sabbath Assembly will soundtrack your next coven well. 7/10

Apocalypse Orchestra: The End Is Nigh (Despotz Records)

Never has a band had a more suitable name than Apocalypse Orchestra, their fusion of devastating doom metal and medieval folk, the 8 minute plus The Garden Of Earthly Delights opens the record with low bagpipes serving as a base layer and creating a discord for the rest of the song to build on, it's disconcerting stuff alright and it allows the band to build layers of bass, drums, guitars and other authentic medieval instruments such as cittern's, lutes, hurdy gurdy etc. The drama of the opening builds until the heavy doom riffs are unleashed halfway through, it's a mostly instrumental track but the low vocals do appear howling out the cries of anguish, Flagellant's Song is another creeping doom riff but with Latin chants, plenty of hurdy gurdy and a chamber feel, it's like Ghost if they were more morbid. Lyrically we're in HELL territory with Plague doctors, fire and brimstone but these Swedes forgo the NWOBHM for a doomier vibe but it's suits giving this record the feel of a soundtrack to Armageddon (no Aerosmith or Bruce Willis here). The End Is Nigh I hope is a starting point for this band (it is their debut after all) their folk metal sound is authentic and merges well with the lumbering doom making for an interesting listening experience. 7/10