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Saturday, 26 May 2012

Reviews: John Mayer, Blaze Bayley, Viking Skull, Headspace

John Mayer: Born and Raised (Colombia)

So the transformation is complete, the fresh faced All-American singer songwriter has all but disappeared and has been replaced by Neil Young (albeit with a smoother voice). Correction Neil Young in his Harvest years mixed with some Clapton, Allman brothers and nearly every Nashville based singer you can think of. That's right Mayer has finally become the country/blues player he has always threatened to be and to be honest he pulls it off well, his voice is still like silk on chocolate and his guitar playing is beautifully understated. Going back to the Neil Young references it's clear that even Mayer himself is aware of the change as he mentions Young's 1972 on the opening track Queen Of California and employs liberal use of the harmonica on Whiskey, Whiskey Whiskey which also features heavily on the brilliant title track which also has backing vocals of Young alumni (and 70's country rockers) David Crosby and Graham Nash. Mayer's writing has improved tenfold since his slightly naive early releases, the folky The Age Of Worry and Walt Graces Submarine Test, January 1967 are a testament to this, however some of the Mayer radio fodder is retained in Shadow Days and the very poppy Something Like Olivia. This is another probable number one album for Mayer (especially in the USA) however he does seem to be confused over whether he wants to be the next Young/Clapton or the first Mayer. 8/10

Blaze Bayley: King Of Metal (Blaze Bayley Recording)

The former Iron Maiden, former and current Wolfsbane singer (and all around good egg) Blaze Bayley returns with his latest solo album which follows on from the face crushing Promise & Terror which followed the more hard edged sound that Bayley has always favoured in his solo bands. However this album will divide opinion as it is one of two halves. The opening title track is a thrash riffage bluster that is promptly followed by a groove metal ballad called Dimebag which is a tribute to the guitar legend and although it is a good song it feels misplaced so early in the album, business is resumed on Black Country which is a homage to metal's birthplace and sounds like Sabbath the first half album then follows this traditional heavy fare until the truly God-Awful piano ballad One More Step which is so bad it sounds like a crap version of Meatloaf. Then the second half of the album has more than a modern Iron Maiden tinge to it with Fighter sounding like something off one of the last three Maiden albums as it is over 7 minutes and even features the gallop heavily. Business is then resumed with last two tracks before the acoustic Beginning ends the album (Ironic don't you think). Blaze has never had a brilliant voice but it always suited what he was singing over however this album is plagued by a bad track organisation, some horrible balladry and weak production. There are some good tracks but really if you want to know how good Blaze can be check out The Man Who Would Not Die. 6/10

Viking Skull: Cursed By The Sword (Transcend)

British metallers Viking Skull return with their third album proper and it's more of the same with rifftastic hard rock about drinking, fucking and rocking. With song titles like You Look Like I Need A Beer, My Bitch Talks To Much you know exactly what you are going to get. The guitar playing is tight and heavy as fucking lead; Roddy's voice is as rough as the morning after the night before. The best songs on the album are the title track, Five Fingers Of Steel, Pumped! (which has a hint of Long Live Rock & Roll) and the final slow burning Stoner Doom of final track Sleepwalk. It's not big and it's definitely not clever but any fan of heavy riffing, hard rocking rock will get a kick out of this. Put it on turn up the volume and rock out! 8/10

Headspace: I Am Anonymous (InsideOut)

This is a progressive metal album from a band I have never heard of (despite the fact they were formed in 2006). This is not good way to start a review but bear with me as I know this concept revolves around inner discovery so very deep. I have however heard of the lead singer Damian Wilson who was in Threshold and Arjen Lucassen's Star One. The Keyboards are provided by Ozzy man (and Rick's son) Adam Wakeman and he is the obvious focal point for many of the songs his keyboard runs add a melodic and technical overlay to the metallic backing. Wilson's voice is excellent throughout giving the album great light and shade. The rest of the band are relatively unknown (in the metal world) but are clearly technically gifted. The guitars are chunky, heavy and very tight. The drums of Richard Brook (various including Avril Lavigne, Roger Daltry and Adam’s dad Rick) are the basis of the time changes and the percussive back beat that work in conjunction with the bass of Lee Pomeroy (more commonly known as the bassist for Take That) provide a heavyweight rhythm section. The album itself is heavy with a very metal style; it has influences from the aforementioned Threshold as well as some Queensryche and even Nevermore at their most introspective. The 10 minute plus Fall Of America is an epic that ends with guitarist Pete Rinaldi (formally of Justin Hawkins Hot Leg) showing off his chops. Headspace are not afraid of long songs with the majority of the tracks being over 8 minutes except for the vocal/piano ballad Soldier that clocks in at just over three minutes. The longest track is the 15 minute Daddy Fucking Loves You which is a really epic track filled with time signature changes and some really great solos from Wakeman and Rinaldi. This is an accomplished album from two prog/metal veterans bolstered by a set of fine musicians and it is certainly one for fans of brilliant progressive metal. 9/10

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