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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Reviews: Evergrey, Winterstorm, Lacrimus Profundere

Evergrey: The Storm Within (AFM Records)

Evergrey are a band who are now on their ninth album and with the release of The Storm Within they are following up what many would consider to be their best album Hymns For The Broken, which is a lofty statement considering most of the bands releases are in the top tier of their genre. Now Evergrey have always been something of an enigma merging European progressive power metal with with a rich vein of emotion and darkness that stems from the mind of band founder Tom S Englund. After dealing with a lot of personal issues after The Glorious Collision, Hymns For The Broken was the band's first record in three years and it was not only their most accomplished, hardest hitting output in years but quite possibly the most impressive work of their storied career.

So how then do they follow it up? Surely The Storm Within can't stack up? Well it not only stacks up, in a lot of ways it's superior to it's predecessor (and stop calling me Shirley). Yet again the album is full of epic songwriting, with a cinematic feel from the first chord, the record melds intricate melodies with heavyweight progressive metal that is complex but not elitist, it's the kind of music Evergrey have always been masters of but they seem to be deep in a purple patch at the moment and once again the magic is evident.

The record opens with Distance which sets the tone for this ninth release, it opens with a haunting piano from Rikard Zander before the powerful riffage kicks in with Englund and Henrik Danhage handling guitar duties as Jonas Ekdahl and Johan Niemann provide the propulsive drums and bass respectively, the song is very modern feeling with it's chugging rhythm driven by the flaring drums, the down tuned riffs as the keys filter into the equation nicely behind Englund's impassioned vocal delivery, he has a rare gift for powerful emotive vocals. His rockier range is displayed on Passing Through which has some incredible guitar solos punctuating the hard rock. With two harder songs starting the album Someday allows the band to slow the pace with huge, uplifting chorus and a backing chant of "hey hey" that will sound simply stunning in the live arena, this is how modern arena metal should sound.

It leads into the excellent Astray which once again ramps things up but in the solo section it injects some passion as they put a choral touch to the final part. When there is so much talent on display sometimes it's difficult to take it all in and this is true about The Storm Within it's an album that grows the more times you listen to it, there's so much to discover as the record ebbs and flow there is polar opposition abound with tracks like The Impossible, which is led by a solitary piano and regretful vocal from Englund in direct contrast to the thunderous My Allied Ocean which is pure power metal full of pounding blast beats and dual guitar harmonies and The Lonely Monarch has the dramatic, prog sound that once again is written for stadia.

As the record goes into it's final part the the quality is maintained adding the two guests that appear on this record, first is In Orbit which is a stirring piece featuring Nightwish's Floor Jansen and on The Paradox Of The Flame Englund's wife (and long term vocalist) Carina adds her amazing vocals to the devastatingly beautiful orchestral piece. The Storm Within once again deals with internal and external conflict, mature themes and wraps it all up in some affecting, sensational music that doesn't just live up to Evergrey's previous feats it surpasses them and as the record comes to a close with the muscularly dense title track leaving you breathless but ready to replay the record from the beginning and basque in its opulence once again. You need to buy this album if you love intelligent, interesting metal music, it could just be the band's masterpiece. 10/10     

Winterstorm: Cube Of Infinity (NoiseArt)

The Germans do power metal better than most with such a wide range of acts singing about fantasy, wars and battles, with such a glut of acts coming from the country some can be over looked. Winterstorm thankfully are one band that won't be having released an album every 2 years since 2010 they have always challenged the Teutonic Power metal sound making it more progressive and adding the traditional folk elements heard in bands such as Sweden's Falconer or countrymen Blind Guardian and Orden Ogan.

With two new members (drummer and guitarist) the Bayreuth band has dispensed with many of the hard progressive sounds from their earlier records for a more direct approach this time round the record I believe is a concept piece based around the titular cube as many of the songs seem to form a story surrounding it, as I've said the songs are a lot more immediate than on previous records most don't creep over the 7 minute mark but they all feature some excellent fluid playing from all concerned.

The guitars in unison with the keys the rhythm section galloping away with harder edges than before, some of the tracks on this record could lend themselves to thrash acts such is the riffage. Winterstorm continue to develop their sound and it's this constant improvement that will set them apart from many power metal acts around. 7/10  

Lacrimus Profundere: Hope Is Here (Oblivion) [Review By Paul]

This is a real grower. On first listen the vocals of Rob Vitacca and the gothic overtures of the German outfit’s first release since 2013’s Antiadore was difficult to absorb but repeated plays have released substantial depth and context of a band that has slowly moved away from its death doom roots to a cleaner more mainstream sound. In fact, repeated plays have made it a 2016 favourite with the range of tracks completely in tune with my aural tastes for all things in the Paradise Lost and Anathema region. Add in some symphonic and classical elements and Radiohead influenced indie leanings and it is quite a fantastic album.

LP was founded in 1993 by Oliver Schmid. Hope Is Here is the 11th studio album from a band whose mix of styles switches from melancholic gothic to industrial to metal. Listen to the title track, Aramis, A Million Miles and the classical leanings of Awake for an illustration. Crushing Korn style riffs on A Million Miles still allow Vitacca’s individual delivery to be heard clearly whilst the addition of the symphonic element on Awake mixes it up quite brilliantly. In fact the vocalist who has been with the band for the best part of a decade has a quite stunningly miserable yet incredibly memorable voice that provides the narrative for Hope Is Here, a concept album about a young boy named Aramis drifting deep in a forest.

The band may have moved away from the darker doom delivery but the subject matter and delivery still allow the rainclouds to gather. It’s not all gloom though and this isn’t a plodder by any means. Short sharp tracks such as No Man’s Land race away with driving rhythm from Clemens and Christop Schepperle on bass and drums respectively. Schmid’s clever keyboards add layers whilst the guitar work of Tony Berger and Schmid is both delicate and amply aggressive when called for. Pageant strays from the metal scene with a mix of Iggy Pop, Bowie and Marilyn Manson, demonstrating the versatility of the band.

The highlights for me are the haunting penultimate track Black Moon with its acoustic delivery haunting, the title track which begins in similar acoustic fashion before soaring with a roaring chorus and the industrial stomp of album closer and remix Aramis (Eisbrecher Neuschnitt). However, there isn’t a dull track on this release and I realise that I am now on a mission to hunt out their extensive back catalogue and hope for a visit to the UK in the not too distant future. 9/10

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Reviews: The Pineapple Thief, Witherscape, Equilibrium (Reviews By Paul)

The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness (Kscope)

Since their formation in 1999, Somerset’s The Pineapple Thief has built a wide and loyal following, laying down solid foundations. Their tenth album, Your Wilderness continues to cement their reputation as one of progressive rock’s leading lights. Main man Bruce Soord, along with bassist John Sykes, and keyboardist Steve Kitch have delivered another superb record, which contains some of the year’s most delicate and intricate compositions.

As with 2014’s Magnolia, Your Wilderness is beautifully performed. In Exile and No Man’s Land build slowly before adding some steel to Soord’s hauntingly misery drenched vocals. Comparisons with other leading lights in the genre are impossible to ignore, but TPF are very much now leaders in the field. Although the band’s sound sits much more towards the indie and alt rock field, That Shore demonstrates that the band can still rock out. With drums provided by Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison, and guest appearances from Supertramp’s John Helliwell (clarinet) and Caravan’s Geoffrey Richardson who provides a string quartet, there is no doubting the quality. Add in some superb guitar work from Godsticks’ Darren Charles and this becomes one of the must buys of the year.

That Shore and Take Your Shot are both densely layered songs which provide all the evidence needed that Sykes and Kitch are integral components of the band. Harrison’s drumming is exceptional, working brilliantly on Fend For Yourself which allows Soord’s voice to combine with Kitch’s haunting keys and Helliwell’s mournful clarinet. The masterpiece on this album is the stunning penultimate track, The Final Thing On My Mind which ebbs and flows with ethereal elegance before a storming climax to a song that clocks in at just under ten minutes but which really flies by. The album closes with another melancholic piece, Where We Stood, which brings a fantastic album to a perfect conclusion. This really is a superb piece of work. Miss it at your peril. 9/10

Witherscape: The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)

If you like your death metal with a huge scoop of atmosphere and a side serving of progressiveness, then the latest release from Sweden’s Witherscape is going to be right up your street. With complex patterns, death and clean vocals, swathes of sweeping keyboards and a sound that fuses Opeth with early Dream Theater and some classic heavy metal, The Northern Sanctuary continues the story set in 2013’s The Inheritance.

It’s amazing when you listen to The Northern Sanctuary to realise that this is the work of just two men, multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö and Ragnar Widberg, who provides all of the stunning guitar and bass work. Looking into the history of Swanö is exhausting; the guy has been around the metal scene for a couple of decades and is best known for his work with Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale and Bloodbath. His discography is vast.

But what about the music? Although it is a concept album which appears obvious at certain times when the effects used flesh out the atmosphere, many of the tracks stand alone. Full of hooks, intricate time changes and variation in style, it’s almost schizophrenic in approach. Swanö’s vocal approach is impressive, switching between his death growl and clean vocals with ease. I personally prefer his clean delivery as he has a powerful voice which enhances the quieter sections. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than on the climatic fourteen-minute title track, which is a real epic. Huge riffs, powerful drumming and melodic keyboards all combine to produce a pretty epic conclusion to the tale, which switches from progressive to extreme metal several times. If you wanted a track that acted as a show piece to around ten genres of metal, this would be it.

As well as the clear Opeth comparisons, bands such as Amorphis and Symphony X also come to mind as you work through this release. Rapture Ballet contains a fine Opeth style stomp, whilst there are hooks galore on In The Eyes Of Idols. The quality of the musicianship is quite something; powerful drumming and 70s style keyboards from Swanö mixes brilliantly with Widerberg’s blistering guitar work. Album closer Vila I Frid changes pace completely, an emotional haunting piano solo bringing a quite unique and interesting album to a close. 8/10

Equilibrium: Armageddon (Nuclear Blast)

For those of you who like your metal with a healthy mixture of styles, get your heads around the fifth album from German outfit Equilibrium. Armageddon has to be one of the craziest albums I’ve ever heard, a fusion of folk, death, black and symphonic metal with the added flavour of a typical European style metal Eurovision Song Contest entry. Crushing drums and powerhouse riffs merge effortlessly with classical synthesisers and keys and a guttural vocal approach from vocalist Robse Dahn that brings to mind Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis. Some of the tracks as just bat shit crazy; check out the balls out Born To Be Epic if you don’t believe me. The folk element of Turisas and Eluveitie skips alongside all the chaos. It’s power metal madness with a dollop of high speed Greek dancing on Zum Horizont, which just gets the foot tapping and the body aching (more so than usual? -Ed) for a jig in the sun whilst guzzling down a cold beer. Yes, this lot should be on the main stage at Bloodstock next year for sure.

The album was solely written and composed by original member, guitarist, keyboardist and clean vocalist Rene Berthiaume and opens with the epic Sehnsucht (no, not a cover of their industrial countrymen), soaring keyboards and emotive hooks. It is the first album not to feature Andreas Völk and Sandra Van Eldik who left shortly after 2014’s Erdentempel. It’s also the first to feature some tracks performed in English. It’s a kaleidoscope of sounds and styles that has no right to work but it does so well. Erwachen, the stunningly good Heimat with the Eurovision stomp once more and the riff heavy industrial tinged Prey are just three examples. Tuval Refaeli’s drumming, Dom Crey’s guitar and Makki Solvat’s solid bass work combine with Berthiaume and Dahn magnificently to deliver some of the most insane tunes I’ve heard in a long time including the anthemic seven-minute closer Eternal Destination. Get out and pick this up now. It’s that good. 8/10

Monday, 22 August 2016

Reviews: Idlewar, Subrosa, Vader (Reviews By Paul)

Idlewar: Impulse (Self Released)

Last year Dig In, the debut EP from Orange County’s Idlewar received a decent 7/10 and a seal of approval from MoM Towers. A year later, the debut long player Impulse has arrived and it’s a goodie. Full of the same Zeppelin fuelled stomp as Dig In, Impulse has moved the band up a level, retaining those same influences and heaviness in the riff department whilst displaying a greater maturity. Criminal screams Zeppelin and Kings X, whilst All That I Got focuses on and achieves a more classical feel of a band rooted in London in the 1980s. James Blake’s heartfelt vocals are right on the money, with a great range. Innocent is a stormer, full of wicked hooks and opener Stone In The Heel has anthem all over it. With the stoner feel still very much in residence and adding to the groove, the drumming of Pete Pagonis and Rick Graham’s subtle guitar work enhance Blake’s delivery. With the band due to hit the UK later this year in support of Walsall’s Stone Broken (sadly not near South Wales) the UK rock fraternity will get an immediate opportunity to hear this fine album in the live arena. A fine debut. 8/10

SubRosa: For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages (Profound Lore)

Hailing from Salt Lake City in Utah, SubRosa’s fourth album is an atmospheric melancholic release. At sixty-seven minutes in length and just six tracks, it isn’t fast paced but at times is crushingly heavy. The haunting violins of Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack resonate throughout whilst Rebecca Pendleton’s psychedelic crashing guitar and angst filled vocals take centre stage. A fuzzy rhythm section supplied courtesy of Levi Hanna and Andy Patterson (bass and drums respectively) complete the outfit. Each track builds in strength and passion and whilst the pace at times is glacial, there is an intricacy and balance which becomes more apparent on each listen. Opener Despair Is A Siren is a perfect example, drifting from delicate vocals and simple percussion to pounding sludgy riffs. More For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages is a definite “grower” with many layers to peel away. It’s worth a few listens if you like the mix of ethereal eeriness combined with brain damaging heaviness tinged with a classical undertone. 7/10

Vader: Iron Times (Nuclear Blast)

Tibi Et Igni was one of the metal releases of 2014, an album that still gets repeated airtime. The much anticipated 12th full release from the Polish Death Metal Masters The Empire is preceded by this small but beautifully formed package. Consisting of four tracks including a pretty tasty cover of Motorhead’s Overkill, Iron Times contains few surprises but just over nine minutes of original works as well as Overkill. Pick of the other three would be Piesc I Stal, a stomping march with the band sounding exceptionally tight and Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek showing once again why he stands at the top of the death metal vocalist tree. Although The Empire has been pushed back to November, it remains one of the must buys of this year. This taster is a timely reminder of just how good Vader are. 8/10

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ministry

Ministry & Devildriver, Tramshed Cardiff

Two days removed from Bloodstock Open Air and with the festival blues kicking in hard, it was time for a little bit of hair of the dog. This was the first of only a handful of UK dates on the tour for the American masters of industrial metal Ministry who are still led by the eccentric genius that is Al Jourgensen. As I met up with Hutchings the younger and his lovely lady, as well of the excitable Retro Girls we took in a few Butcombe Golds and headed into the venue, taking residence on the balcony (having seen the support act a fair few times this is always the best vantage point) as we waited we once again admired the venue which is one of the best in Cardiff.

Then the waiting was over and the five piece wrecking machine that was Devildriver and as the instrumental pieces started to riff frontman Dez stormed the stage and we were off with one of the most aggressive performances I've ever seen from the band, Dez seemed intensely pissed off stalking the stage and barking the lyrics to End Of The Line and Not All Who Wander Are Lost and between the songs flipping the bird and encouraging the crowd to reciprocate the gesture. Devildriver have always been a band that live for the live arena, unfortunately many of those gathered don't realise that in a Devildriver show pitting is mandatory, so it was up to a couple of veteran fans to start the pits for Daybreak and the confrontational I Could Care Less.

Finally there was action on the floor so the band ploughed on but with little interaction except for Dez's occasional attack of the crowd for being stationary but this anger translated into a vicious setlist that contained Before The Hangman's Noose, Clouds Over California and wrapped up with the powerful Ruthless and Meet The Wretched. This was the most direct and violent I've seen Devildriver in long time and Dez himself seemed honoured to be supporting Ministry and claimed he would watch the band from the front with a bottle of wine in his hand (I thought they didn't allow glass in a venue?). Devildriver seemed to me to be an odd fit but it made sense at the climax of their set, it made the blood inside you heat up and got you ready for aural battering that was about to start. 8/10

So the stage was set and the bass started to throb, John Bechdel's keys and electronics providing an integral part of the Ministry sound, with the industrial stomp of the band on display it takes you by surprise just how much of a heavy prospect they are on stage. The dual guitars of Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, who is the latest to take up the mantle left by Mike Scaccia after his death in 2012, riffing together as one tight unit while the heavy bass rhythms of Jason Christopher is matched by Roy Mayorga's impressive drumming. The set kicked off with Hail To His Majesty (Peasants) which serves as the introduction to "Uncle Al" as he strode on stage with his mask hat and cane ready for the amassed peasants to worship.

The aggression didn't let up as Punch In The Face was accompanied by images of his Trumpness as Ministry aurally and visually assaulted the crowd with a mixed set including more modern tracks including the amazing Rio Grande Blood and a sprinkling of classics such as the colossal sounding N.W.O and Just One Fix. There was no let up with Ministry no chit chat just a barrage of pounding riffs and shout along choruses that Jourgensen spits through his vocoder as he prowls the stage while his band kick the crap out of the of you, occasionally he picks up a guitar and adds some discord to the madness showing why he is such and impressive multi-faceted  The sound in the arena was almost deafening, possibly one of the loudest gigs this year, luckily the venue suited for the noise however the vocals of both bands did suffer a little. Still the main set was 13 songs long and as Stigmata and Thieves finished the main event in fine style.

We were allowed to get the ringing out of our ears before the twisted sermon recommenced Jourgensen downing two beers before starting with Psalm 69 and So What which got the pits going again before Khyber Pass and Gates Of Steel finished everyone off one last time. An audio/visual treat, Ministry's influence can be seen in acts like Rammstein, Rob Zombie and Slipknot with this set being an amalgamation of all three of those acts but obviously as witnessed here, they are the original and they are the best! 9/10        

Friday, 19 August 2016

Reviews: Mitch Malloy, Preacher, Blind Saviour

Mitch Malloy: Makin' Noise (Self Released)

Mitch Malloy came to prominence by signing to RCA back in the early 90's releasing his debut record Mitch Malloy in 1992, he proceeded to release records throughout the 90's and into the 2000's chalking up some top 20 hits, an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even auditioned for the job of Van Halen vocalist after Sammy Hagar's departure (the job actually went to Gary Cherone and we all know how that went, so maybe he dodged a bullet). Malloy is something of a name in his native USA but he has never really broken this side of the pond. Well on the back of this his seventh solo album things are set to change as Malloy will set out on UK tour (including Cardiff), so does the album warrant the tour? Happily it does, if you love classic American hard rock then Makin' Noise will get you very excited, with nods to Bon Jovi, Tesla, Winger, the Red Rocker himself littered throughout, there's even some old school British rock present with Speak Of The Devil having the heavy organ riffs of Deep Purple.

The songs on this record are very strong, with fist pumping rockers like Rock N RollMy Therapy and Shook sitting pretty with ballads like It's Just A Word which is a little Beatlesesque and the Blue collar storytelling of the lighter-waving I Was Wrong which has a sound developed in the heart of Malloy's adopted home Nashville. What's impressive about this record is that Malloy, plays, sings and produces everything, there is real care and attention it's authentic hard rock music that was all over MTV in it's heyday, tracks like Alone conjure images of driving a muscle car through the desert with your luscious locks blowing in the wind and a smokin hot babe in the passenger seat.

It's decadent but with a working man's grit, for all the posturing that comes through there are tender moments as mentioned but mostly what is evident is the talent of Malloy, his vocals are practically perfect see Life Has Just Begun and his musicianship is incredible from the first chord. Makin' Noise is a great hard rock record and really whets the appetite for the upcoming live dates, pick up the album, learn the songs, get yourself down to one of the shows and get ready to party like it's 1995!! 9/10

Preacher: Aftermath (Self Released)

When you listen to Preacher you have to ask yourself a single question. Do you like Pink Floyd? If the answer is no then move on, however if it;s a solid yes then welcome to the best Pink Floyd album released since Division Bell. Aftermath is pure Floyd from start to finish, the emotive guitar playing backed by the swirling synths will bring to mind the legendary sounds of Gilmour and Wright especially on War Reprise with atmospheric music where the silence speaks just as loud as the sound. The eight piece Scottish band are heavy touring combo that features three guitarists, Greg Murphy only one playing the searing leads, the other two being Martin Murphy on rhythm and Ron Rodger acoustic respectively.

In the rhythm section they also have Gordon Munro on bass and Iain Duncan on drums echo the rhythmic power of Waters and Mason which is fused with the massive use of keys from Arny Burgoyne all of which comes together to create epics soundscapes not seen since the heyday of progressive rock. Vocally too the spirit of Floyd is worn all over Aftermath Martin Murphy's vocals simultaneously evoke Waters and Gilmour but also Bowie on Hold On and Mark Knopfler on the incredibly good Welcome To The Fray, Martin's smooth tones often give way to gritty shouting on the harder edged songs.

The record opens with the title track which is built upon a single piano piece and a haunting vocal as the synths bubble underneath, it's slow burning opening that explodes into an amazing guitar solo to end the piece as Angela Bell and Kerry McWhinnie provide the "ooh" choirs. This sophomore album harks back to the glory days of progressive rock with a massive amount of Pink Floyd but also King Crimson and Yes, if you love classic progressive rock then you must buy this album it's simply stunning. 9/10          

Blind Saviour: The Master Plan (Self Released)

Blind Saviour are apparently Malta's best and only power metal band formed by bassist Karl Friggieri, guitarist Aldo Chircop and drummer Robert Friggieri out of the ashes of thrash/speed metal band Phantom Lord. Along the way they were joined by singer Rachel Grech and guitarist Campos Gellel and after a brainstorming session Blind Saviour was born. The Master Plan is the bands debut release and follows the story of the Blind Saviour character so yes it's a concept album but one where the individual songs are used to tell the story rather than the Rhapsody-esque segues and spoken word sequences.

The power metal style is similar to that of Blind Guardian (a notable influence), Iced Earth, Freedom Call or really any dual guitar wielding heavy power metal band, there is not much room for keys relying mainly on the shredding, bass galloping and rattling blasts of percussion to power the sound. Musically it's been done before but Blind Saviour do it well with enough enticing riffs and solos for any discerning power metal fan.

They also have scored big time with vocalist Rachel who has a wide range soaring into highs from a powerful mid, similar to UK band Triaxis the band are not you usual female fronted mob this is fist pumping metal that just happens to have female singer. The Master Plan is a tough sounding, accomplished debut from a band that are both the originators and innovators of the sound in their fair country, hopefully those outside Malta will also take Blind Saviour to their hearts. 8/10  

Reviews: Sabaton, Gene The Werewolf, Electric Fence

Sabaton: The Last Stand (Nuclear Blast)

Swedes Sabaton are back with yet another record of more bouncy power metal based on yet more war themes. I suppose the lyrical content will run out when they run out of wars, but still they seem to find inspiration from somewhere. So what make The Last Stand different to it's predecessors well this is Sabaton so nothing, which will come as a relief to new fans but may irritate longer term listeners as they seem to be continuing with the lighter weight sound from their last few records. This record seems to be a lot more keyboard orientated than their live set, something that I think is lacking in their stage show, it would be a lot more representative of their sound much like it used to be.

Here they are a blessing and a curse as they make tracks like Sparta sound like an excellent symphonic film score but equally the synth bagpipes on The Battle Of Bannockburn turns an already weak song into a bit of a joke. The playing on the record is as usual good and Joacim still has a chest beating vocal delivery but this album just screams "reason to tour" i.e just an excuse to add new songs to their live show which is where the band shine, this isn't a bad thing by any means, stick with what you are good at but the quality of the songwriting is much lower than on Art Of War, Coat Of Arms and Primo Victoria, in places it's almost a pastiche of itself. The songs vary in quality and move from the sublime leg pounding classic Sabaton on Rorke's Drift to curveball of throbbing electro industrial of Lost Battalion then to the the title track where I defy you not to sing the theme from Chuckle Brothers during the middle section.

Like I've said I'm surprised about the extensive keyboard use on this record and I think they'd benefit getting a keyboardist in the band again, but that's not my call. There is a bit of a goofy laziness to this album, it's Sabaton doing what their newer fans expect; slightly silly by the numbers power metal with an ear to the pop mainstream. I urge you to get the limited edition version because even though the Judas Priest cover is not necessary the other bonus track Camouflage is actually one of the strongest tracks on the record. The Last Stand is Sabaton being Sabaton but at nowhere near their best. 7/10

Gene The Werewolf: The Loner (Self Released)

I loved Gene The Werewolf's first international release Rock N Roll Animal it's been played to death at MoM towers since I first heard the record. The bawdy, sleazy, fist pumping biker rock contained on it still puts a stupid smile on my face every time I play it. I must say I did lose touch a little with Gene and Co after the album, so you can picture my grinning face when I stumbled upon The Loner which is Gene's newest album, his first in 2 years and his third (in the US) album overall.

The Loner is an apt title to the record as Gene and his band of merry men are really iconoclasts due to the music they play, there is no urge to be famous or part of the crowd, they play music that is ingrained in the hard rock tradition, they do so for their own enjoyment mainly as there is not a shred of compromise to be had anywhere. It's the music they love, played their way and if you love it too jump on your Harley and come along, if not then keep walking while the rest of us bask in the hard rocking that take place from the opening swagger of The Walking Dead which has Gene covering the zombie apocalypse in his own unique style while Whitesnake/Winger axe man Reb Beach adds some scorching guest guitar solos (Beach is from the band's home city of Pittsburgh).

What follows from this are 9 tracks of pure unadulterated rock n roll harking back to American hard rock sleaze driven early 80's heyday think Motley Crue and G'N'R jamming to Ted Nugent, KISS and AC/DC this will tell you all you need to know. Gene handles the howls, croons, wails and screams of the vocalist position as well as playing a mean guitar (SG of course) aided and abetted by Drew Donegan also on six-strings, bassist Tim Schultz, drummer Nick Revak and Aaron Mediate bringing the keys/organs, he has assembled a supremely competent band to support him among more guests who rear their head throughout.

Once again I'm in awe of Gene's vocals, he has such an expansive expressive range to his Southern drawl, applying it with gusto on the cracking tracks that fill this album with the ZZ Top-like Too Kool For Skool which is full of blues harp and the honky tonk title track. The second half of the album moves away from the Southern sounds to a more classic hard rock feeling with Let It Loose and Fortune And Fame bringing to mind G'N'R. The Loner is another great album from Gene The Werewolf check it out if you love classic rock at it's best! 9/10

Electric Fence: Motorkiller (Self Released)

Electric Fence hail from Madrid but their sound is rooted deep in the late 60's early 70's hard rock legacy but with massive amounts of Southern rock power. Stole The Fire which opens the record sounding like lost Cream track but with a nod to Wolfmother with the riff and the howling vocals. Much like with the Gene The Werewolf record they have an eclectic sound the title track sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd mixed with driving AC/DC riffage. The album grabs you by the balls and doesn't let you go with it's fusion of modern meets classic sounds the guitarists play laid back slide blues on What I Am which also shows off the frontman's incredible soulful vocals very similar to Myles Kennedy but with a much grittier bottom end.

Motorkiller astounds on every song it's the Spanish band's third album and this shows, all of the songs on this record are well written played and most importantly produced, they just sound warm and welcoming bringing you into the record as the drumming work get hips shaking on Don't Dare while Red Moon Rising has a bass driven Zeppelin sound while Black Widow once again brings the heavy Country of Molly Hatchet. There are just so many sounds on this record that any discerning rock fan will find something they will love, especially those that love a Stetson wearing, whiskey drinking Southern rock

Electric Fence have bit of a duff name but their music is just that brimming with electricity and a fresh approach to classic rock as well as having the flavours to some of the biggest modern bands such as The Temperance Movement, The Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke, Airbourne and so many others. The album plays as almost a jukebox of classic rock music and yes there is a bit of a mish mash of sounds but they are all anchored by a love of rock music. Impressive stuff from the Spanish rockers, now let's organise a tour shall we? 9/10    

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A View From A Sunny Field: Bloodstock Festival 2016 (Sunday)

Bloodstock Festival - Sunday

Third and final day of Bloodstock, the mind was willing but body was falling apart as is only natural on the third day of bands (fourth day overall), but after yet another bad nights sleep it was an early start. The third day was a bit more hit an miss only really taking off towards the evening. Due to work constraints on Monday, this was going to be an early finish meaning that Slayer was going to have to be sacrificed. That was then this was now and we made our way into the arena after the obligatory bacon (at Bloodstock every morning involves bacon).

As we hit the main stage for Ghost Bath (4). Now on record Ghost Bath an instrumental band that play heavy blackened atmospheric doom with subtle background vocals, however live the atmospheric and frankly great music, however the banshees like squeals are brought to the fore and sounded comical cutting through the instrumentation, with a bit more balance they would be listenable but unfortunately it wasn't a great start.

Still lots to see and it was over into the Sophie tent for Desert Storm (7) and Oxford heavy blues metal outfit with a similar riff based style of Clutch and Orange Goblin and the whiskey soaked vocals to match, they managed to get some very sore heads banging in the early morning and were warmly received once their set had ended, finally things were back on track after the previous travesty and we were off and rocking.

Sticking in the Sophie tent, following Desert Storm was another UK band, I was intrigued to see what the alt rock styling of Sanguine (6) sounded like live and to be honest the band are reasonably generic almost rap style metal with songs that blur into one and other. In the New Blood Tent we caught the whole set from instrumental stoner Kahtet (9) who play excellent music that just makes you want to bang your head and lose yourself in the sounds.

Over to the main stage for Unearth (7) who's stage banner left you in doubt of who you were watching repeating the name five times in very large letters. Unearth are perfectly watchable modern metalcore, they don't do anything particularly new but to see a band that came out of the New Wave Of American Metal still pull a larger crowd is always heartening.

Back to the Sophie Tent for British bruisers Krysthla (8) who took to the stage and proceeded to destroy it with the primordial brand of heavy metal that batters you into submission. The riffage was loud and brutal the two guitars (Neil Hudson & Noel Davies) and the bass (Carl Davis) working together to punish the strong crowd that increased throughout the set as Wayne Minny's rapid fire drum beats, the big riff breakdowns and Adi's blood curdling roar all got fists pumping an heads banging. Playing songs from their excellent debut album the band seemed to be loving every minute and showed those that had not seen them before that they mean serious business, more of this soon chaps please?

After Krysthla had demolished the stage it was up to Divine Chaos (8) to burn the wood so there was no coming back and my gosh did they do that, their laser guided thrash metal ripped the last remnants of life out of the crowd as the blitzed them with supreme speed and breakdowns inciting as many pits as possible.

As I came out deafened by the two proceeding bands I began moving to the Main Stage it was time for Metal Allegiance (2) the all-star tribute group orchestrated by bass player and music mogul Mark Menghi has had numerous members take part in the two full length records and one EP that they have released so there was speculation about who was going to be playing. We already knew it wouldn't be Mike Portnoy as he is locked in to Twisted Sister until their tour finishes but with so many of the contributors all available, on the same day even, there so much potential for this to be something special.

It wasn't special not even in the slightest, in fact it was dire, bilge for the entire set. Behind the drum stool was Charlie Benante (my pick for the role), on guitars was Testament's Alex Skolnick, bass was obviously Menghi, and on the vocals was Death Angel's Mark Osegueda. They played just two songs from their album of originals and the rest of the set was made up of covers including some curveball choices of Wrathchild, Into The Void and Fast As A Shark.

The band are all great players but this was nothing more than a karaoke set on the main stage of a major festival where another band could showcased their own songs rather than a slightly self-indulgent set from established rockstars, hell I'd have preferred Testament or Death Angel. As the tribute to Bowie (Suffragette City) Lemmy (Iron Fist - featuring Gary Holt) and RJD (Heaven And Hell - one from the Anthrax repertoire) were all included I found my attention wandering wishing I was somewhere else.

What was most annoying though was that Mark insisted upon adopting the vocal mannerisms of the singers during the songs, this reinforced that this was nothing more than famous musicians indulging in a tribute act similar to the Hollywood Vampires project. Had they stuck tot heir own songs and thrown in the Lemmy, Dio and Bowie covers I think it would have been much better.

As it stands I left the stage as Heaven And Hell was playing to catch some heavy occult doom with Witchsorrow (8) who are possibly the most miserable fuzz filled band this side of Electric Wizard (there's a Sophie Tent headliner if I've ever heard one), they managed to clear my head ready for my next jaunt to the main stage.

In between the main stage bands there are always a few bands on the small Jagermeister stage, this year every band was an underground British band, unfortunately we only managed to catch one of the bands playing, who happened to be one of the best bands we'd seen all day. The band were the politically, ethically, socially and zombie motivated Outright Resistance (8) whose modern take on metal field with sledgehammer riffs, blast beats and the uncompromising no bullshit approach of vocalist Paige who channels her own transitioning and personal internal struggles into the songs creating a defiant unifying fuck you to anyone that cares to oppose them.

The music is aggressive, modern metal evoking bands such as Chimaira, Machine Head, Lamb Of God and Parkway Drive, as Paige jumped around the stage, bar and field barking her lyrics into the mic with her guttural vocals as the band battered the small but lively audience, they even made a wall of death which saw Paige actively participate in while singing. Outright Resistance are something of a eye opener I've seen very few bands with this much passion, sheer aggression and with such a revolutionary spirit for a long time. The MoM camp was right  next to their's too and despite their loud, late night discussions they were all very affable, lovely people. Check out Outright Resistance where you can as they have oodles of potential and better still they are a unifying force against hate.        
Mainstage time and band I've only ever seen once but can't remember at all so I was excited to see Satyricon (6) but as soon as the opening strains of The Dawn Of A New Dark Age kicked in myself and Mr Hewitt (who was probably more excited to watch the band than anyone) noticed something was dead wrong with the sound, the drums seemed to just swallow up everything else there were no keys at all, not the best thing for a 'symphonic' black metal band and the guitars were every low in the mix, in fact for most of the set all that was audible were the drums and Satyr's vocals.

The horrible sound made the set drag long as every song sounded the same even though we knew they weren't and the incessant and over loud drumming ruined the set that was drawn heavily from their Nemesis Divina album. I may have to see Satyricon again to make a proper judgement but here they suffered at the hands of the sound.

The gremlins continued into the next band meaning that British extreme power metal mentalists' Dragonforce (7) had to truncate what was supposed to be their triumphant return to just five songs, three newies including Cry Thunder and two classics ending with 'that' song (Through The Fire And The Flames) during the set the band did their normal ultra-speed riffing and metal posturing but once again the keys were inaudible and as the road crew frantically tried to fix it the consummate professionals Herman Li and Sam Totman not only solo'd their asses off but also handled the keyboard solos as well. Marc Hudson's voice gets better with every show (he recently had illness forcing him off stage) and the crowd did seem to really enjoy the shorter more focused set. I hope Dragonforce do a full UK tour soon as I love the band and this was nowhere near a full show.               
Running over to the Sophie tent I was just in time to catch a bit of Vektor (7) who were laying waste to the tent with their expertly technical progressive thrash coupled with black metal vocals and changing time signatures to make sure they kept everyone on their toes and more importantly moshing.

Then it was back to the mainstage for Americans Symphony X's (8) debut at BOA and they plowed through a set made up of the majority of the their latest album Underworld including one of the weekends few power ballads Without You. Symphony X were on winning form even with a couple of technical hitches they powered through their brand of muscular prog/power metal with particular kudos going to Michael Romeo and Russell Allen who are the focal points of the band on the live stage. Their set wound up with three classics leaving the audience very receptive and won over those in the group who had not seen Symphony X at all or indeed for a long time. During the set (the majority of which I had seen earlier in the year) I managed to catch a couple of numbers from Valous (7) on the New Blood tent and I was impressed with what I saw having missed them at Fire & Forge festival last year, ones to go on the list.   

Our final band of the day had the prospect to be very special, Memoriam (10) is a British death metal 'supergroup' made up of members of legendary Benediction and Bolt Thrower and serves as a fitting tribute to the latter after they have hung up their instruments for good. This was the first performance for Memoriam and the collected talent on stage was evident due to it's faultless nature. The stage dressing was affecting and horrific, depicting rotting soldiers in far flung battlefield, the intro music saw a piano piece played and the band took to the stage. The band are Benediction/Sacrilege bassist Frank Healy, Benediction guitarist Scott Fairfax, former Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale (who was replaced by the now tragically deceased Martin Kearns) and headed up by the thunderous definitive roar and white mane of Bolt Thrower's Karl Willets who received a heroes welcome as he strode onto the stage.

As with Bolt Thrower the songs are about war, death, sadness and grief, Willetts himself has said that the music is catharsis for dealing with the death of Martin Kearns. They drew the set from the as yet released debut record and what we heard was indeed new, to us and the band but was exactly as you'd expect, classic British death metal that chugs, roars and evokes evil with every concussive drum hit, crunching riff and scream. They played two tracks from their demo single War Rages On and Resistance which joined the excellent opening Memoriam, Dronestrike and Surrounded (By Death) as the new Memoriam material.

They also threw in some covers from their other bands in the shape of The Captive from Healy's influential act Sacrilege then in the middle of the set they plumped for Spearhead and Powder Burns from Bolt Thrower ending with another new song Flatline which had mine and Mr Hewitt's pulses stopping. The band were excellent but the show bittersweet, it was great to see the band on stage and especially Karl having an amazing time, but it reminded both of us that we may never see Bolt Thrower again, which brought a small tear to my colleagues eye, or that could have been the pain in his neck after head banging to this simply amazing new band full of old faces and a classic sound.

I wasn't going to go to Bloodstock this year due to life constraints and the fact that many of the bands playing I had seen on the touring cycle since BOA last year, however I'm glad I did as there were still so many "I was there moments" that I couldn't think of being anywhere else. The weather was perfect, the company was excellent (including some of my best and for the first time my oldest friend) the beer plentiful and the music, well it's the best in the world and all of this means that year upon year I will return to Catton Hall, putting up with the camping and the raucous, drunken noise at night to be in place where everything I could ever want is all together. For me personally this year had one notable exception but this won't happen again I'm sure. Bloodstock continues to cement itself as the UK's premier metal festival! (Tickets on sale now folks!!)