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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Top 20 of 2011

Top 20 of 2011 (In no particular order)
  1. Haken: Visions
  2. The Magnificent:  Self-Titled
  3. Machine Head: Unto The Locust
  4. Opeth: Heritage
  5. Steven Wilson: Grace From Drowning
  6. Hell: Human Remains
  7. Iced Earth: Dystopia
  8. Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator
  9. Amaranthe: Self-Titled
  10. Ghost: Opus Eponymous
  11. Black Spiders: Sons Of The North
  12. Mastodon: The Hunter
  13. Trivium: In Waves
  14. Tracer: Spaces In Between
  15. Neonfly: Outshine The Sun
  16. Dream The Electric Sleep: Lost And Gone Forever
  17. Edguy: Age Of The Joker
  18. Mayan: Quaterpast
  19. The Answer: Revival
  20. Borealis: Fall From Grace

Well that's the last one of 2011! Thanks to everyone who has read this blog since I started it in May (Whether I know them in person or not) Cheers for letting me have this little ego trip... More to come in 2012 I promise. Thanks guys! Keep it Metal!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reviews: Metallica, Tracer, Haken

Metallica: Beyond Magnetic (Download-only)

This is a download-only release that compiles the tracks that were left off Metallica's last album Death Magnetic and was released to celebrate Metallica's 30th anniversary. It also continues in the same vein as Death Magnetic with 'Tallica returning to their thrash roots and also maintaining their modern touch. The tracks are also as long as they were on Death Magnetic with all of them well over 5 minutes. Kicking off with Hate Train the EP starts in powerful way as the song has thrash riffing before kicking into a Black Album-like groove on a song that has much in common with the track Fuel. The next track Just A Bullet Away has a relentless riff before it switches into a slower soaring solo section and then back into the main riff. The creeping (death) Hell And Back slows the pace a bit with its slow burning intro and the heavy mid-paced riffage on a track that could have easily had as much airplay as The Day That Never Comes. The final and longest track is the 8 minute epic Rebel Of Babylon which sees the band spitting venom on the razor sharp riffage before the chugging chorus kicks in and is followed by a face melting solo from Kirk. All of these tracks are top quality and could have easily replaced any of the tracks on Death Magnetic and would not have been out of place. A nice little stopgap that fills a void that Lulu has left and reminds people of the great band Metallica were/are/and still can be as long as they keep releasing stuff like this it is just a shame it's only an E.P. 7/10

Tracer: Spaces In Between (CoolGreen Records)

Tracer are a hard rocking trio that hail from Australia, they have released this album which is their major label debut and it rocks hard! Coming out like a mix of classic blues rock trios like Grand Funk Railroad and ZZ Top, before adding fellow countrymen Rose Tattoo and Wolfmother and then topping with a large dose of 90's grunge rock in the style of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. The band have released an album that rocks like a bastard. They have great guitars and bass handled by brothers Michael and Leigh Brown both of which are backed by the smashing (literally) drums of Andre Wise. Michael also handles the vocals which have much in common with Chris Cornell especially prevalent on The Bitch and Walk Alone. His brother Leigh handles the vocals for one track the bluesy and propulsive Louder Than This. The band where their hearts on their sleeve and on each track you can hear elements of them. The title track has a very Kashmir vibe and the opening track Too Much sounds like The Answer (no wonder it's doing the rounds on rock radio) and Devil Ride has a very QOTSA sound. Despite the similarities to other bands the band play every track with precision and enthusiasm and this shows on the album. All in all a confident album from a young band that I expect will go on to great things. 8/10

Haken: Aquarius (Sensory)

Released in 2010 this is Haken's first album and is a collection of fantastic progressive rock/metal tracks the album is just over an hour and features just 7 tracks all of which are over 5 minutes long with four clocking in at over 10 minutes. The album revolves around the concept of a couple that have a Mermaid daughter. Again all of the band play excellently with the guitars and keys of Richard Henshall being the main focus of the band as he is also the bands primary writer. Ross Jennings' superb vocals also take the forefront albeit with slightly less expression than on their latest album. Unlike their latest album the band use more extreme influences that are merged with their progressive mix they feature heavily on the first two tracks with Streams being especially jarring as it merges the Genesis like first part with a doom laden middle complete with Opeth style guttural roars which show the talent of Ross Jennings' voice. The jazz influence features heavily on the opening track The Point Of No Return which has changing time signatures and a jazz influenced middle eight. Third track Aquarium is a huge ballad that features some excellent guitar playing and has a huge scope in sound. Eternal Rain is perhaps the weakest track on the album as it follows the progressive rulebook by having changing time signatures and tight technical playing still excellent but defiantly the most 'generic' track. Drowning In the Flood has much in common with Dream Theater, with Sun following as an acoustic psychedelic track that brings a Middle Eastern vibe adding bongos and subtle playing from all concerned and a Pink Floyd guitar solo. The final track is the majestic Celestial Elixir which is both the longest and possibly the best on the album. It melds all of their influences of jazz, rock and metal and also adds the small offshoots and almost comedy asides to keep the track interesting. Much like their newest album Visions this is a fantastic album that is among one of the best progressive albums of the last 10 years and probably will still be one of the best in another 10 years. 10/10

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reviews: Wolfsbane, Haken, 3

Wolfsbane: Wolfsbane Save The World (Self Released)

Having released their last album in 1994 Wolfsbane the gap between that and this album has is longer than that of Chinese Democracy. However this album is superior to Chinese Democracy because unlike Guns 'N' Roses Wolfsbane have stayed true to their original sound, they limited modern influences and lastly they have actually released a good album. Kicking off with the anthemic Blue Sky you know that this classic Wolfsbane with the band playing with all the balls and power they always have. Blaze's voice is sonorous and powerful and his expression covers light and shade. Jase Edward's guitar playing is fantastic as is Danger's drumming and Jeff's bass. The band are partying like it's 1994 with the album sounding like a AC/DC with a snarling go-fuck-yourself punk attitude which actually brings to mind the early 90's rock bands such as The Wildhearts, Thunder and Skin. The tongue-in-cheek Teacher is a small reminder of the humour in early songs such as Kathy Wilson. The autobiographical Smoke And Redlight shows that the band were always the underdogs but were never really fazed by it, this is a cracking track as is the next track Illusion Of Love which starts out as ballad before turning into the soundtrack to a bar-room brawl and features the smoky female vocals of Midland's vocalist Givvi Flynn. If I had to make a criticism it would be that the production is a little raw but this adds to the do-it-yourself vibe of the album and that the songs do sound a little dated but hell this is goodtime rock n roll. So if you like Wolfsbane, Blaze (as a solo artist or when he was in Maiden) or bands like Thunder or The Wildhearts (especially The Wildhearts) then you’re going to love this album, however if modern rock and metal is more your thing then at least give it a listen you  might enjoy it. (I promise it's better than Chinese Democracy) 8/10

Haken: Visions (Sensory Records)

Haken are a progressive rock/metal band from London that was formed by members of the Prog/Gothic metal band To-Mera. This is their second album with their first Aquarius having been released in 2010, very little has changed since then with Haken's sound staying the same as it was on their debut, although before I criticise this I will have to stop as really I can't, Haken's sound is flawless progressive rock with such influences as Rush and Pink Floyd, with the addition of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree (especially in Ross Jennings' vocal delivery) and also a myriad of other influences ranging from jazz to world music. All of the band are virtuoso in their playing but they are not stuck in an up-their-own-arse groove they are writers of excellent songs that merge all of their influences and also add a real string quartet to flesh out their sound, this means that the keyboards and programming can insert random noises from Super Mario and horror movies to add to the overall effect of the music without detracting from it at all. The soloing and guitar playing is majestic and the bass and drums both technical and also perfectly placed, the production is also crystal clear meaning that no on instrument is given prevalence. To pick a favourite track is almost impossible as this is very much an 'album' with many of the songs merging into one another to create a fantastic vibe. If I was to refer someone I would plump for the 22 minute final/title track which brings in all of the bands influences showing Gilmour-like guitar solos, Ross Jennings expressive vocals which range from James LaBrie's to Frank Zappa's (and everyone in between). The song is upbeat and incredibly catchy as well as being incredibly technical and throwing more curveballs than a major league baseball player; this would be the track that encompasses all of Haken's sound however the album itself is far deeper than one song could allude to. This is truly a progressive (be it rock or otherwise) masterpiece. 10/10

3: The Ghost You Gave Me (Metal Blade)

Returning with their first 'real' album since 2007's The End Is Begun the self-proclaimed hybrid-band have created another creative, inventive and challenging album. The band effortlessly mix genres with Joey Eppard's Geddy Lee-like voice and flamenco influenced acoustic guitar being at the forefront. The rest of the band are all excellent with Daniel Grimsland's bass and Chris Gartmann's drumming providing the track Numbers with a fantastic and unique rhythm. The band play very technical and intricate music with very pop tendencies, I say pop rather than mainstream as you can hear it in the vocal harmonies and upbeat arrangements; this is juxtaposed with the dark lyrics. Overall the band have elements of Tool, Coheed And Cambria, Deftones and some Rush. Tracks like Sparrow, It's Alive and the title track all providing the heavy quota however tracks like One With The Sun and The Barrier having more of a ballad quality. The track Pretty has an almost Smashing Pumpkin's sound to it moving from heavy rock to dreamy psychedelia in an instant. A great album from a very talented band, not everyone's taste but still a very well realised album. 8/10

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Live & Dangerous: DevilDriver, Malefice, Collapse, Against Fate, Drain The Lake

This was off date from their tour with Machine Head so it was DevilDriver and Malefice with Collapse, and local bands Against Fate and Drain The Lake in support slots. (Cardiff Coal Exchange)

Drain The Lake

Shit 0/0

Against Fate

After that travesty finally a band that were at least musical, they are hardcore/metal band that hail from The Valleys. The six-piece played muscly hardcore with some groove influences. They were good at what they did but it was really nothing too special. They were also hampered by poor sound (an on-going theme). All in all they were an enjoyable band that the majority of the crowd seemed to enjoy. 6/10

Collapse

Collapses stormed the stage with a heavy brand of groove metal filled with tight riffing and kick drumming galore. Duncan Wilson's voice had power and his roars were excellent however again the sound was muddy and the mic he was using was giving terrible feedback which was a shame as they were an enjoyable that got the atmosphere going in the room inspiring pits vicious head banging. A band I would see again if I had the chance as they were great heavy metal hampered by dreadful sound. 7/10

Malefice

You know what you are going to get Malefice who are one of the best live bands on the scene playing their meaty modern metal to a now suitably refreshed crowd meant that they were causing pits with every song especially with Architect Of Your Demise and Awaken The Tides despite these two super-fast tracks being included, the band I think made a mistake by including The Haunting which is slightly too slow for a 30 minute set. Other than that they played a good set and got the crowd moving, again the sound was slightly muddy which was a shame but Malefice overcame like the professionals they are. 7/10

DevilDriver

The headliners burst onto the stage in flurry of riffs and blast beats that are End Of The Line and didn't really take their foot of the gas for the entire hour and a bit set. With favourites like Clouds Over California, Not All Who Wander Are Lost and Pray For Villains included they band easily won over the crowd, the band are all excellent musicians but it is frontman Dez Fafara that steals the show, he is a superb frontman and his voice is strong and very natural sounding when he screams (when you could hear him) he is also excellent at orchestrating a crowd as he controls the obligatory circle pits brilliantly even making one move in slow motion. Before the last two songs he opens the floor and the biggest pit of the night opens up while the band rips through Before The Hangman's Noose ending the set. 8/10

To sum up a great night of British metal topped by one of the best American live acts, unfortunately the sound could have been better and Drain The Lake should be shot. Overall 8/10