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Monday, 26 March 2012

Reviews: Primal Fear, Adrenaline Mob, Phase Reverse

Primal Fear: Unbreakable (Nuclear Blast)

Returning from out of a their experimental wilderness and back doing what they do best, which is balls-out Teutonic heavy metal. Let’s not beat around the bush Primal Fear sound like late period Priest ala the Painkiller era. Ralph Scheepers vocals are on top form as he wails and screams over the powerful backing laid down by drummer Randy Black and bassist/producer/writer and all around metal icon Mat Sinner. The shredding is provided by long-time guitarist Magnus Karlsson and new boy (and Mat Sinners long-time collaborator in Sinner and Voodoo Circle) virtuoso Alex Beyrodt who adds his free flowing style to the album. Starting out with the instrumental Unbreakable Part 1 before tearing listeners a new one with Strike and the pace doesn't relent with Give 'Em Hell, chunky rocker Bad Guys Wear Black and And There Was Silence. It's with Where Angels Die that everything slows as this is an overwrought ballad which really shows of Scheepers fantastic vocal range. This is a stunning return to the old school sound of one of Germany's premier trad/power metal bands, long may they reign! 9/10

Adrenaline Mob: Omerta (Century Media)

When Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater many wondered what route he would follow. After a false start with Avenged Sevenfold and his continuing work with Transatlantic, Mike has finally pulled his finger out and has returned with two distinctive albums. The Flying Colours album I will review next time however in this review I'm going to concentrate on the harder edged Adrenaline Mob album. The band are Portnoy on drums, Symphony X's Russell Allen on vocals and hitherto unknown (by me anyway) virtuoso guitarist Mike Orlando from Sonic Stomp. The band play crushingly heavy, melodic and technically proficient (naturally) modern metal. The sound is distinctly heavier than anything Dream Theater have done (although it's on a par with recent Symphony X output). After the E.P underwhelmed me even with the talent involved (this was mainly due to bad production) my expectations of the album were low, however from the muscular Nu-Metal riff of opening track Undaunted I was blown away. The production was faultless, Portnoy's drumming is stunning, Allen's voice has a vicious snarl that adds to the aggressive nature of the music and Orlando's guitar playing (he also handles bass) is jaw dropping, he has technicality but applies it sparingly knowing just when to take the track up a gear. The influences come from everywhere Undauted is like a super charged Disturbed, Indifferent and Psychosane have the progressive influences of Allen's and Portnoy's former day jobs. All On The Line is a ballad of Alter Bridge proportions and the rest of the album ebbs and flows excellently letting in BLS and others barely letting the pace and enjoyment slip (they even make Duran Duran sound like Dio fronted Sabbath on their cover of Come Undone featuring Lzzy Hale of Halestorm). This is a top class album from top class musicians (now featuring Disturbed's John Moyer on bass to give a crushing bottom end live). Definitely one for any fan of modern metal or any of the bands these musicians are in and any of the bands I've mentioned, or for anyone into metal in general. Cracking. Buy It! 9/10

Phase Reverse: S/T (Aural Music)

Phase Reverse are a stoner/blues metal power trio from Greece. They play a mix of AIC, Soundgarden and BLS with bassist/vocalist Tas' shout being somewhere between Zakk Wylde and Chris Cornell. They are the 'flesh and bones' of a rock and roll band and mix heavy stoner metal and powerful riff driven rock. The bass is the main rhythm of the band with the drums of Alex providing a pounding back beat, both of them underpin the chunky and reverb drenched guitar playing of John who also provides the crystal clear production. Songs like Cross To Bear, Crash And Burn and Death Ride show the power and musicality of the band, the pace barely lets up with Wide Awake, High Hopes and the progressive Long Gone giving a wider spectrum to their sound. A great album from a band that should get bigger because of this album. 8/10  

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Live & Dangerous: Serenity, Pythia, Lost In Thought

Serenity, Pythia, Lost In Thought (Bogiez Cardiff)

Lost In Thought

Last minute replacements for Nemesea were Swansea Prog-metallers Lost In Thought. Despite playing confident technically proficient metal, they really didn't do it for me as I thought they were trying a bit too hard to sound like Dream Theater with vocalist Nate Loosemore doing a good impression of LaBrie's vocals albeit without the range. Although the 20 minute set was fine they didn't win me over. 6/10

Pythia

Female fronted British symphonic metal band Pythia were next and they also were doing a good covers act with their slightly heavier Nightwish style. Emily Alice Ovenden has powerful classical voice that has good range and she is quite a confident front woman, the band were also very good bringing a classic metal vibe to the overarching symphonic keys. Accomplished and entertaining but not really doing anything new in a genre that is very overpopulated which may hinder their progression. 7/10

Serenity

Austria's Serenity are a melodic power metal band in a similar vein to Kamelot. They play full on prog/symphonic tinged power metal delivered with passion and grit. Vocalist Georg Neuhauser has great voice that is almost identical to Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko and the keys of Mario Hirzinger interplay beautifully with Thomas Burchberger's guitar playing which means they sound alot like both Sonata and Kamelot. The band stormed through a set of their back catalogue focussing mainly on the pounding speed anthems for the majority stopping only occasionally to pull out a lighters-in-the-air ballad that melodic PM bands do so well (I'm thinking Replica here). The band even brought along Whyzdom singer Clementine Delauney to handle the female vocals on tracks such as Serenade Of Flames (performed by Charlotte Wessels from Delain on the album). The band were excellent and pulled a decent enough crowd, they should get bigger on this evidence, and if they don't it would be a great shame because they are very entertaining. 8/10

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Live & Dangerous: Amon Amarth & Grand Magus

Amon Amarth & Grand Magus (Cardiff Solus)

In Solitude were the openers but due to the 'always correct' nature of the internet I managed to see their final few minutes unfortunately.

Grand Magus

The Swedish metal trio strode onto the stage and immediately set the place rumbling with their old school doom/trad metal. Their 40 minute set was comprised of songs from their last two albums Iron Will and Hammer Of The North with the title of the latter being the opening track, the band played a concise balls out metal show with storming riffs and vocals coming from frontman/guitarist JB, who has the customary Swedish rock star 'I the fucking man' attitude intact. The band were able to make the small crowd shout and chant like a crowd twice the size. Tracks like The Shadow Knows and Like the Oar That Strikes The Water were excellent in the live setting and the band were able to be nearly as heavy live as they are on record. Finishing the set with Iron Will the band looked to have visibly enjoyed the set and the warm reception they had received from the crowd. 8/10

Amon Amarth

Viking Metallers Amon Amarth had just finished a sub headline show at Hammerfest the day before playing Solus and the crowd there was perhaps 10 times bigger than the one that greeted them in Cardiff, (this was probably due to it being a Sunday night, the aforementioned Hammerfest and Wales Six Nations win the day before) however despite the small crowd Amon Amarth gave a great performance of their power metal influenced Viking metal. Johan Hegg (and his voice especially) focal point of the band due to his large commanding nature and his booming, guttural death metal roar (he even talks like that). The dual guitars of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg give the band its PM vibe and the crushing rhythm section flattened the crowd throughout. The set too was well thought out with 5 songs coming from newest album Surtur Rising as well as 4 from their previous and breakthrough album Twilight Of The Thunder God the band also brought in classics such as Pursuit Of Vikings and Cry Of The Blackbirds before ending the main set with Death In Fire. The two song encore consisted of the opening tracks from Twilight Of The Thunder God with the title track and Guardians Of Asgard ending the set on a high. This was a great set from a band that has an identifiable sound and do what they do very well. 9/10  

Live & Dangerous: Hammerfest Day 2

Hammerfest Day 2 (Pontins Holiday Park, Prestatyn Sands, North Wales)

After a night of drinking we reconvened and made our way to the fun house one more time.

Oaf (Queen Vic Stage)

Consisting of Metal Hammer writer Dom Lawson on Bass and Shouting and his mate James on the drums Oaf are the very meaning of DIY. With just the two of them they play proto-punk with achingly funny (but mainly indecipherable) lyrics. Lawson is a good frontman who uses his miserable and self-depreciating disposition to win the crowd over. Any band that can play songs called Tiny When Erect and O Yes Sir I Can Tina Turner are alright in my book and if there was any justice in the world Fuck Off Seagull would be a number one. 8/10

Collapse (Queen Vic Stage)

Staying on the third stage I saw Collapse who impressed me when they supported Devil Driver at the end of last year. They did so again with their brand of LOG style groove metal filled with crushing breakdowns and some killer solos. The vocals were also great and guttural and the band as a whole were really professional in their delivery. Catch them if you can. 7/10

Bit of a break in the proceedings for me as it was the Six Nations final and not much was happening so filled up on beer and rugby and proceed back once we had won.

Hell (Main stage)

After releasing one of my favourite albums of last year I REALLY wanted to see Hell live as I had heard they were awesome, however I did not anticipate how good they could be. The playing from Andy Sneap and Kev Bower was flawless with the rhythm in perfect sync. They merge NWOBHM with proto thrash and speed metal of King Diamond as well as adding keys and effects courtesy of Kev Bower. The complex song writing and all out metal assault is bolstered by the superb performance of frontman Dave Bower who is the obvious focal point, his numerous costume changes, vocal range and his passionate and theatrical delivery, means that the band are fantastically entertaining (if Lloyd Webber ever wants to make Antichrist Superstar then I nominate him as the lead) They managed to play almost their whole debut showing off how good it is in live setting. With another album under their belts Hell could (and should) be become everyone's new favourite band. 9/10

Wizard (Main stage)

Wizard are a German Power metal band and as so are trying to sound like Helloween and Manowar with lyrics about Odin etc. however they failed to make an impression on me. Lacklustre middle-of-the-road metal added to by the pauses because of the guitarist’s broken instrument (Not a euphemism). 4/10

Dream Evil (Main stage)

Having been around for years Power metal veterans Dream Evil brought their brand of OTT metal to Hammerfest and rocked it hard. Unlike Wizard they don't take themselves seriously with frontman Niklas Isfeldt admitting that his lyrics are clich├ęd before announcing the next song was Fire! Battle! In Metal! They played a tight fun set filled with PM anthems before ending with their signature tune The Book of Heavy Metal which got the crowd chanting along. 7/10

I skipped Amon Amarth because I saw them the day after in Cardiff

Skindred (Main stage)

With the Wales win earlier the masters of live performance were going to be bolstered to an even higher level and boy were they. Coming on to the Imperial March from Star Wars they burst immediately into Ratrace with the band playing with great precision but a looseness that indicated they were having a blast. Frontman Benji Webbe is a master of his craft, having the audience eating out of his hand by the end of the first song, his vocals are excellent and he has quite a range but it's his between song banter that makes people love him, he is a cheeky South Wales take on a 'Rude Boi' with great humour. A partial Sad But True riff gave way to Trouble and Cause A Riot before the band enlivened the crowd further with the sing-a-long Doom Riff. A brief pause for Benji to work his magic and introduce the DJ that started Tinie Temper's Pass Out which was mashed-up (if that's the correct term) with Selector and it worked excellently before merging seamlessly into Rude Boy For Life. After some more banter and a Heavy metal robot the set ended with the steam rolling quadrilogy of Pressure, Cut Dem (their tribute to Newport obviously), Destroy The Dancefloor and the explosive Nobody. Then came a rest but only until the encore which saw a Benji costume change, the 'Newport Helicopter', the entire crowd leapfrogging and Stand For Something followed by Warning which ended the set. Truly Skindred are one of the best live bands around they combine musicality with extreme level of enjoyment rarely seen (anyone who can get metal heads actually dancing is doing something right) they really are near flawless. As their outro by Carly Simon says "Nobody Does It Better" and on this evidence it's hard to argue. 10/10

Live & Dangerous: Hammerfest Day 1

Hammerfest Day 1 (Pontins Holiday Village, Prestatyn Sands, North Wales)

The Metal Hammer organised Hammerfest reared its head again and this year’s headliners were thrash titans Anthrax and Welsh ragga metals Skindred. After the 4 hour trip to get there we arrived in the middle of the afternoon so I missed Kyrbgrinder but got accommodation sorted and then went back to catch some bands.

Spriytus (Queen Vic Stage)

Funk-metal band Spriytus were the first band we saw and they played a good set of RATM like metal with the occasional cover thrown in to add to the mix (the inclusion of MC Hammers Can't Touch This with its slightly altered refrain of "Stop. Hammerfest" brought a smile to your face) there was nothing out of the ordinary about this band but for an enjoyable band to get slowly drunk to they scored points. 6/10

Heaven's Basement (Second Stage)

Having been around for a while and changing both name and line-up frequently I was looking forward to Heaven's Basement. Unfortunately I should have seen line-up changes for the omen it was as they were nothing more than mediocre Velvet Revolver-lite with many bands i.e. The Treatment doing a much better job of the classic hard rock sound they were trying. 4/10

Paradise Lost (Main Stage)

British miserablists Paradise Lost opened with The Rise Of Denial and proceeded to play a 'greatest hits' set relying more on their faster material from Icon and Draconian Times onwards rather than their slower doom-laden stuff. The juxtaposition of their songs and the way frontman Nick Holmes addressed everyone as 'campers' shows the innate sense of British humour that lies behind all of the gothic darkness. An excellent set from a British institution that should have had longer to show their full repertoire. 8/10

Anthrax (Main stage)

Always the underdog of the 'Big 4' Anthrax's reunion with Joey Belladonna has meant they have slowly become one of the elder statesmen of metal. Kicking off with two tracks from newest album Worship Music the band have no intention of looking back on former glories by coming out of the blocks with two modern tracks before due fully opening the floor with Caught In A Mosh. it's this seamless blending of new and old that is Anthrax's strength and their downfall as much of their set sounds very similar, punk-edged thrash with Belladonna's powerful vocals thrown over the top. Their cover of Antisocial came next causing more craziness before adding another two tracks from Worship Music that were split by the still-fucking crazy Indians (which had to be started twice because of the crowds inability to war dance correctly) before the main set closed with classics Medusa, Deathrider and Among The Living. The entire band played excellently (despite Belladonna still not knowing where the hell he was). The band reconvened for the encore of Madhouse, Metal Thrashing Mad and the perennial I Am The Law. Anthrax played what was a concert set at a festival which meant that not as many classics got an airing as they should (I'm still waiting for a live performance of Bring Tha Noise personally) and the crowd were a little lacklustre despite its size, however Anthrax persevered and delivered the goods. 9/10

Evile (Main stage)

Following one of your heroes would be hard for most bands but not Evile as they admirably followed Anthrax with their modern take on the classic thrash sound. having more in common with Slayer and Metallica. Evile are in a slightly different vein, but with three albums they have already acquired some bonafide classics songs with Thrasher, Killer From The Deep, Infected Nation and the huge Cult. With most of the songs drawn from their newest record they showed just how good they now are as songwriters and with their now established stage show and Matt Drake's perfected vocals they can only get bigger. Great stuff from the UK thrashers. 8/10

Monday, 12 March 2012

Reviews: Bruce Springsteen, Primal Rock Rebellion, Red Fang

Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (Columbia)

The man who both inspires and unites all American's whether Black, White, Latino, Republican or Democrat, returns with his most politically charged and passionate album in years. Drawing lyrics from the social and economic climate of the past few years, The Boss' everyman story telling is at full force from opener We Take Care Of Our Own which is a classic E-Street Shuffle (despite only some members appearing). However Springsteen brings other influences to the table with Irish folk: Death Of My Hometown, countrified the title track (dedicated to the now demolished Giants stadium) and also some hip-hop and electronic influences. This is The Boss at his most passionate, seeming angry in places. As far as great tracks they're hard to pick out just because of the sheer quality of the record, We Take Care Of Our Own is generic but fun, Shackled And Drawn is a politically motivated country rocker, Jack Of All Trades is a haunting protest ballad that features a guest guitar solo from Tom Morello, the title track is a racer and finally Land Of Hope And Dreams is powerful as it is poignant due to it being Clarence Clemons final performance. Wrecking Ball is the sound of The Boss going back to his roots and it makes you wonder why no-one has elected him President yet? 9/10

Primal Rock Rebellion: Awoken Broken (Spinefarm)

Formed by former SikTh vocalist Mikee Goodman and Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith. This unlikely alliance produces an even more unlikely album that draws influences from modern and classic alone. The key selling point is Mikee's schizophrenic vocals which range from a menacing scream to a Matt Barlowesque croon. The tracks as I said all differ in terms of style there is modern metal (No Place Like Home), RATM (No Friendly Neighbour), prog (Bright As A Fire) and spoken word rap (As Tears Come Falling From The Sky). Smith's guitar playing is stunning and varied (which has always been Smith's trademark in Maiden and his other side projects) he handles all the stringed instruments (and all backing vocals, most notably on I See Lights) with drums handled by another former SikTh man Dan Foord, also most of the tracks is the great Viola playing of Abi Fry who lifts many of the songs with her contribution (and does a Maiden rundown on No Friendly Neighbour). For those who are wondering whether Maiden features heavily well it's yes and no with it coming later in the album and mixed with Goodman's expansive vocal range it puts me more in mind of Iced Earth or Hell. A really good and different album that will appeal to fans of complex and modern metal. 8/10

Red Fang: S/T (Sargent House)

Originally released in 2009 Red Fang's debut has just been re-released (probably to coincide with their high profile support of Mastodon). This album is a collection of their first two E.P's. This Portland based band immediately state their intent on opening track Prehistoric Dog which has muscular riffiage and barking vocals from Bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam who sounds very similar to Viking Skull's Roddy Stone. This theme of heavy, hard rocking continues over the next two tracks with guitarist Bryan Giles' Josh Homme style vocal delivery giving a great harmony to the gritty vocals of Beam. Red Fang then open up a little on Humans Remain Human Remains which is a six minute stoner trip filled with atmospheric guitars and an overarching feeling of doom. Red Fang do share similarities with tour mates Mastodon but they have their own sound which has a slightly more punky edge to it especially on Good To Die. This is a good introduction to a band that are only going to get bigger as the years progress mainly due to their high profile support slots. Get the CD now. 8/10

Friday, 2 March 2012

Reviews: Meatloaf, Band Of Skulls, Foxy Shazam

Meat Loaf: Hell In A Handbasket (Sony Music)

Let's just get this out of the way The Loaf has never been able to follow up on the Jim Steinman penned Bat Out Of Hell. He has had his moments BOOH2, BOOH3 and Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself all featured some excellent songs and Meat in full baroque mode. Also with 2010's Hang Cool Teddy Bear there were some genuinely old-school Loaf songs however Hell In A Handbasket is not a good follow up, (and I am saying this as Meat Loaf fan) the album is particularly downbeat with the various writers not really getting the Meat Loaf sound. The ballads have always been overwrought and not depressing as they are on this album and the rockers are all a little mid-paced not crazy flights of fancy as they are in the past. What made many of the non-Steinman albums good was that they emulated the sound pioneered on the multi-platinum debut; the only songs that get close are Our Love And Our Souls, Fall From Grace and Stand In The Storm. The rest of the album just doesn't sit right it as it hasn't got that distinctive Steinman sound. All power to the band trying maybe trying something a bit different but when this is your 11th album you really want to stick to the sound you have. There is also a truly awful cover of California Dreaming which is just a travesty. I know it sounds like I'm going on about it but the Steinman sound really is part of the appeal now Meat's voice is not what it was. Please next time for everyone's sake get some writers who understand this; people like James Michael (Sixx A.M), Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), Eric Sean Nally (Foxy Shazam) and if humanly possible Steinman himself. Very disappointing. 4/10

Band Of Skulls: Sweet Sour (Electric Blues/Pias)

Southampton 'Electric Bluesers' (their description) return with their second album. This is similar to the first but has enough differences to make it an improvement, (which is a mean feat as their debut is pretty damn good). Starting out with the rhythmic and trippy title track the band lull you into a hypnotic vibe and with just hint of that extra note of heaviness; before they move into the Muse-like Bruises. The vocal interplay between guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson is excellent with Emma's bass and Matt Hayward's drums bringing the majority of the heavy beat and Marsden's psychedelic guitar noodling over the top. This can be seen especially on the very atmospheric and hazy Lay My Head Down, which means that there are three slower more atmospheric tracks one after another which lull you into a false sense of security before The Devil Takes Care Of His Own and Wanderluster bring the heavy garage-rock sound that the debut featured. This album hasn't got the immediacy of its predecessor nor does it have the tempo but the technicality is more technical, the writing is better and the heaviness is heavier. A cracker of an album but very much a grower. 8/10

Foxy Shazam: The Church of Rock & Roll (I.R.S Records)

Cincinnati rockers Foxy Shazam return with their fourth album and the follow up to the excellent last self-titled album. The album opens in fine style with the (Somewhat) title track Welcome To the Church Of Rock & Roll which has serves as an intro and is gospel-rock dripping with funk. This carries on with the very crude I Like It which is an ode to rear ends that is almost Fat Bottomed Girls part 2. Unlike on their last album which was almost a Queen record this record has very Queen overtones but blends, funk, soul, gospel, blues and even big band jazz especially on Last Chance At Love which shows off the fantastic horns of Alex Nauth who is the unsung hero of this album as he lifts many of the songs into an upper realm. Eric Sean Nally's voice is still pure Freddie with Sky White's keys jangling, jarring and adding some great effects to the tracks. The acoustic blues of Forever Together is followed by the slow burning Toto-like (It's) Too Late Baby turns into a guitar freak out at its rocked up crescendo with Loren Turner channelling his inner Brian May, Wasted Feelings sounds like a Prince doing a Stax record. All in all this album is as good as its predecessor if not a little more slow burning however it is still a great album from an immensely talented and downright entertaining band. Also the album is produced by The Darkness' Justin Hawkins who also co-writes all the tracks and does a good job as producer too (which bodes well for the new Darkness album). This is a good album from a band who should be so much bigger and hopefully due to their link with Hawkins’s they will be. Cracking. 9/10