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Friday, 29 March 2013

Reviews: Collapse, Neuronspoiler, Vanadium

Collapse: Arms And The Covenant (Transcend Music)

Collapse have been hotly tipped to be the "next big thing" in British metal and having seen them on the live circuit a few times I can say that personally every time they have impressed me with their stage presence and most of all their songs. So needless to say I was looking forward to hearing their debut album. Things kick off in furiously aggressive style with the full-on heavy as hell riffage of the title track which blends melodic and thrashy guitars lines; with a crushing bottom end and the explosive drumming of Rainer Gronholm & Scott Harris respectively, all of which is topped by the growled vocals of frontman Duncan Wilkinson who doesn't do the normal clean/screamed thing relying purely on the Randy Blythe like roar for the whole album. As far as comparisons go Lamb Of God is a good one, as are tour mates Devildriver (who's Mike Spreitzer handles the mix). Guitarists Andy Ongley and Christian Stevens are excellent peeling off face melting riffs and solos as well as knowing when to slow things down and just hit with a very heavy groove on tracks like The Cursed. The standout tracks on the album are the opening title track, as well as the ferocious Bloodlet, the groove filled Of Iron and the melodic metal assault of Heartwork. Collapse have always impressed me live and their live power is translated perfectly on this album with every track going for the jugular and not letting go until all the life has been drained out of you. This precision metal assault is bolstered by the crisp production which lets every track explode the speakers. My one gripe would be the track list as does seem a little fractured with a few things re-jigged the album would flow better. However this is only a small thing this is a very accomplished debut that more than supports the "next big thing" hyperbole, prime British metal! Play it loud and proud! 8/10

Neuronspoiler: Emergence (Self Release)

This is Neuronspoiler’s debut and unlike the other two bands in this review they peddle classic thrash inspired traditional heavy metal, full of duelling guitars, galloping bass lines, crashing drums and siren-like vocals. Opening track Through Hell We March perfectly distils this sound with the classic metal riffage of David Del Cid and Dave Shirman and the helium fuelled European metal vocals of JR, what follows is 10 tracks of top notch retro metal mixing Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and even some early Van Halen to great effect (especially in the solo's which are breath-taking in some places). The workhorse riffage of Take The Stage is a tribute to the road, Irreverent is a bouncy rocker with a killer solo, and Act Of Defiance brings an instrumental break that leads into the bass-led Invincible Man which is a fist pounding rocker with another superb solo. All of the tracks on this album are made for the live arena and hark back to metals glory days, Neuronspoiler play the same kind of retro- revivalist metal as Enforcer, Grand Magus, Cauldron, Screamer et al. but unlike a lot of the bands in the revival they do it very well by writing some great songs and not sticking rigidly to the genre boundaries meaning they are unafraid to adapt their sound where needed. They even have a ballad in the shape of the 7 minute Dying Worlds which has a change in pace worthy of a Maiden epic. For fans of any traditional metal this is a must however some may be put off by the vocals which can be a little bit overpowering and are sometimes not as strong in the lower register however for me this is great album full of some stunning fret board workouts and horn throwing tunes! 8/10

Vanadium: Heaven's Epithet Of Lives Lost (Self Release)

Vanadium hail from the shores of...Devon...but don't let that fool you into thinking of folky strumming, this is out and out heavy metal. The four piece have delivered an EP (of 8 songs which was a full album back in the day) that is full of some propulsive head smashing heavy metal. Things start off slow with the opening instrumental of Epithet before Nailstorm hits you like a bomb of its name sake, the riffs rip like a buzz saw and the drums hammer with a full on assault (I'll give the DIY puns a break now) The vocals too are very good; growled but audible and clear and sound a lot like the current wave of American metal bands like Machine Head or Lamb of God. The tracks bring thrashy riffs and big metal grooves (see final track Legion Of I) twinned with some Iron Maiden style twin guitar leads and complex progressive song writing. The EP is punctuated by short instrumental interludes which breaks from the relentless riffage (and makes the actual track count 5) but they aren't really needed meaning the album is broken up a bit too much. This is a great EP from a Devon based band that have all the hallmarks of modern American metal, but add some genuinely inspired progression to proceedings. A very good debut EP from these Brit metallers! 7/10


Saturday, 23 March 2013

View From The Back Of The Room: Jagermeister Tour

Jagermeister Tour: Ghost, Gojira, The Defiled & Revoker, Bristol O2 Academy

Once again into the horrible Bristol Academy and once more on to the balcony for 2013's Jagermeister Tour. With tickets at £5 last year’s sold out in record time, this year’s however hadn't that could be due to the niche and admittedly mixed nature of the bands on the bill. They cast a wide net with the 70's style occultist rockers Ghost headlining over Gojira who had their own headline tour earlier in the year. However the place was quite full mainly due to the price although the amount of people fluctuated throughout the night.

Revoker

All of the openers on this tour were local bands and Revoker are local to Bristol, apparently, even though they noticeably hail from the Rhymney Valley. All that aside they were a good warm up storming through a short set of their best songs and one from their long awaited second album. The band are tight and professional but still always seem a bit lost in big rooms. Still a good warm up act from this 'local' act. 7/10

The Defiled

A band that I've never seen and quite frankly I wouldn't want to see them again as they really did nothing for me. They came onto the stage like a militarised Goth band all black eyeliner and camo. The singer looked like Robert Smith/Nikki Sixx and sang like so many popular core bands which was completely at odds with his posh speaking voice. The rest of the band stood completely still in their delivery with only the preening 'keyboardist' AVD having any movement about him. As far as the music was concerned it mixed from breakdown heavy metal to self-hating emo-core. The Defiled had fans in the crowd I personally will not be seeing them again as they are a bit too boring for my tastes. 4/10

Gojira

Finally the band that the majority of the crowd came to see, and the first that were a dead cert to be liked by everyone. Gojira are possibly one of the heaviest live acts on the circuit and even when above the stage you can still feel the heavy down tuned playing and wall of sound riffage that these Frenchmen are known for. This was a celebratory almost greatest hits set with Backbone, Flying Whales, The Heaviest Matter In The Universe, Ourobouros and Toxic Garbage Island all included in the set with three also coming from the newest album L'Enfaunt Sauvage. All of the songs killed causing huge pits to form in the centre of the room. the band were as usual extremely tight with the Duplantier brothers causing hell on rhythm guitar and drums respectively while bassist John Labadie jumped around the stage like a mad man. Gojira played their nine song set to perfection and easily destroyed all of the fans in attendance with their very heavy metal, it was nice to see them play a concise powerful set as they brought the pain with every song as their man set can become a bit too much with the constant brutality. 9/10

Ghost

Then came the mass exodus, most of the venue emptied after Gojira's set showing that there are always perils with these wide net bills. Still the faithful stayed and after a lengthy set up the bells began to toll Ghost's arrival the intro of Jocelyn Pook's Carnival came over the P.A as the 5 hooded ghouls came to the stage and began busting out the hard rock riffage. The twin leads blazed and the organ was being flared up wildly for the first track Infestissuman which is the title track off their not yet released second album. They followed this with another new one in the shape of Per Aspera Ad Inferi both of these tracks fitted brilliantly and were explosive enough to get the crowd going from the off. The mysterious Papa Emeritus II (same man different character) still had the same slow theatrical stage crafted he exerts with cardinal outfit and skull mask still in place. His voice is highly vocoadered so and the band have lots of backing tapes so you can't really tell how good his voice actually is but Ghost are all about the presentation and they have a lot of that with their occult mystique. Most of their debut was aired with Death Knell, Stand By Him, Prime Mover, Satan Prayer and Ritual all still great live songs. However the real delight lay with the new tracks of which the two openers and Year Zero were the best but all of them bode well for a second album. Ghost can put on a great show and this has gained them a cult following, however they seemed out of place on this tour with three very heavy bands and they also need to get a slightly different stage shtick if they don't want to become a bit repetitive in the live arena. 8/10

View From The Back Of The Room: Biffy Clyro

Biffy Clyro - Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

Thanks go to Nick Hewitt for his review

So I went into this concert more as a follower than a fan of Biffy Clyro, meaning my expectations were somewhat hard to place having seen mixed live performances from videos online etc.

With the stage being surrounded by a simple white curtain glowing with a purple light there was almost a mood of tension in the air. Then, from nowhere Simon Neil appears sending the crowd into raptures as he breaks into the acoustic opening of Different People. As the chorus kicked in the curtain dropped to the ground revealing the remainder of the band (James and Ben Johnston) and a stage design the can only be described as tree shaped as the human respiratory system, this sent the crowd into mass hysteria.

The first couple of songs were very much from the rocky section of Biffy’s catalogue, with the lads showing off new and old tracks such as That Golden Rule, Sounds Like Balloons and the new track Black Chandelier, all of which bringing the crowd to the top of their voices for the anthem like choruses. Listening to these tracks the one thing I couldn’t get of head was; “this band are actually quite heavy!” the albums, although good, do not do this band justice. Breakdown after breakdown within the tracks showed off the talent and energy Biffy Clyro possess. James Johnston’s bass booming through the background giving the sound real depth… this is how live, rock should be. Eventually the crowd and band alike were given a break with brilliant emotional tracks that include Biblical, A Day Of and the outstanding acoustic God & Satan, but not before the bouncing track of Bubbles accompanied by smoke cannons galore!

As the 26 song set drew to a close the crowd favourites and anthems were pulled out of the bag… and with style. The lads proceeded to dish out classics such as Many of Horror, The Captain and Machines. Finishing with the world famous Mountains, led as to be expected, by the sold out Cardiff crowd. I have been to a lot of concerts in my time, but on very few occasions have I seen a band attack a set with such relentless energy and passion. Simon Neil was visibly flagging as he walked off the stage but still beaming with a smile, surely this is how live music should be? Biffy Clyro are a band that are clearly proud of the music they produce and want to deliver it with only the drive that it deserves, and WOW! Did they? Were we spoiled! My only criticism of the night would be that being a 26 song set there was very little interaction with the crowd, making the set feel rushed on occasion. But does this matter… not really. Leaving this gig I feel I am now a fan of Biffy Clyro and look forward to seeing them again the future. 9/10

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Reviews: Voodoo Circle, Serenity, Kvelertak

Voodoo Circle: More Than One Way Home (AFM Records)

Alex Beyrodt, David Readman and Matt Sinner return with their third album of classic hard rock. Since the previous record nearly their entire Rainbow sound and Blackmore style playing of Beyrodt has been stripped away to make way for a more bluesy based rocking in the style of Messer Coverdale and friends. This is not to say that they have lost any of their power, in fact they have gained a lot of bar room grittiness with some crunching guitars and soaring solos from Beyrodt who also plays the strings in Sinner's other bands Primal Fear and also Sinner. Speaking of Sinner he provides a driving bass beat which anchors the smashing drums all of which is topped by the huge Hammond organs and keys of Jimmy Kresic and the awesome vocals of Brit David Readman who is a dead ringer for Coverdale in the vocal department with his strong bluesy bellow, the songs all have a hard rock swagger with opener Graveyard City bringing to mind prime 1987 era 'Snake, the epic Heart Of Babylon having a very Still Of The Night vibe to it, however with Ghost In Your Heart is led by very Perfect Strangers style organ riff and ends with some Zeppelin orchestration. The band also has some 'Snake-like ballads with the acoustic Alissa and Cry For Love which features a searing solo. This is another great hard rocking album from Voodoo Circle who have been one of the most consistent new bands to come on to the scene in a while, three albums in and their song writing is still top notch with every member showing how skilled they are and how well they gel as a group. Let's hope that they can find time to tour between Sinner and Beyrodt's other jobs. 9/10

Serenity: War Of Ages (Napalm)

I have always been a fan of Austrian's Serenity and their progressive/power metal style that has much in common with Finns Sonata Arctica and American's Kamelot. However I've always thought Georg Neuhauser has a great voice and is more than capable of carrying the band by himself, however the band have always had female guest vocalists on their albums much like Kamelot have, but when I saw that this album featured Clementine Delauney (who was with them on their tour as a guest member) as a second vocalist, I was not shocked but a little surprised that they thought they needed to have dual vocal, when Kamelot still use either backing tapes or the occasional guest vocal from Simone Simmons (who is technically a band member!) All of my worries were dispelled when I played the record however as the band haven’t turned into Lacuna Coil style dual vocal band. The heavy riffing and powerful blast beat drumming is still in place and Georg still is the lead vocalist however Clementine provides extra vocals on the choruses and is purely there to bolster and counterpoint the dramatic power of Georg's voice and the orchestral backed, choir filled and music of the band. Clemetine shines when she is given the room too especially on the beautiful ballad For Freedom's Sake which is a duet with Neuhauser as well as her other lead vocals on tracks like Age Of Glory. She has a fantastic voice which not too overpowering but classical enough to match Neuhauser’s admirably. This is another excellent album from the Austrians with some killer guitars; double kick drumming, lots of complex orchestration and arrangements. They even have a great cover of Queen's beautiful Love Of My Life on the limited version. Serenity have added another string to their bow with a second vocalist and have pulled out yet another seriously good album for genre fans. 8/10

Kvelertak: Meir (Roadrunner Records)

Kvelertak (whose name is Norwegian for stranglehold) have always been something of an anomaly in the metal world as they fuse screaming hardcore/BM vocals with some punked up rock and roll riffage. This means that the band themselves always go for the throat with a very aggressive delivery see Bruane Benn which has a super speedy riff but some big classic rock style soloing. For a band that perform in Norwegian they have some huge hooks and some meaty riffage, which lends them a very good sound that is similar to Americans Valient Thorr mixed with some AC/DC (especially on Undertro). The songs are all a bit similar full of blazing riffage and the barked vocals of Erland Hjelvik but with a band like Kvelertak the similarities of the tracks doesn't matter this is a band that are purely exist so people can have a good time. The triple guitar sound is excellent with all three creating a deafening wall of noise as well as providing some country style acoustics on tracks like Spring Fra Livet and Evig Vandrar. This is an album of noisy rock and roll with a punk attitude and some cracking tunes thrown in, Kvelertak have the sound of a band made for the live circuit and if they are anywhere near as good live as they are on record they are worth seeing (shame I was working last time they came D'oh!) 8/10

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Reviews: Amaranthe, Adrenaline Mob, Lost Society

Amaranthe: The Nexus (Spinefarm)

Swedes Amaranthe have finally released their second album and again they have brought together melodic death metal, power metal and also huge doses of European electro pop to create a unique soundscape. The band is the brainchild of guitarist/keyboardists Olaf Morck, who brings the riffs and solos as well as the big electronics with some dubstep influences on opener Afterlife. The power of the band lays with their three vocalists; the saccharine pop voice of Elise Ryd who has collaborated with Kamelot, the hard rock styling’s of Jake E and the harsh barks of Andreas Solvestrom, this vocal trifecta separate the band from others trying to mix the metal/pop ideals, like I said the guitars are great as are the bass and drums but it’s the keys that make this band as on their own they would be more at home in trance club than on a metal record, but mixed with the traditional metal instruments it brings to mind a poppier more upbeat Rammstein style of industrial metal. This is another part of Amaranthes appeal they are very uplifting to listen to every song is full off poppy major keys and shout along choruses, see the title track (which features another very theatrical video) the pace is relentless with every song coming out of the speakers at 100 miles an hour in a wall of sound. Until the obligatory ballad of Burn With Me which features just Jake and Elize and is followed by Mechanical Illusion that has the kick drums and harsh vocals of the Gothenburg scene. People may see the obvious Nightwish influences (as well as some Kamelot ones) with the female vocals and power metal delivery (even the name is based on a Nightwish song) however Amaranthe have managed create their own niche by mashing up genres and creating a very uplifting and spirited follow up to their debut. 8/10

Adrenaline Mob: Coverta (Self Released)

This is a covers EP from metal supergroup Adrenaline Mob. The EP features some riffed up covers of rock classics, things kick off with High Wire originally by Badlands and it is very good cover full of hard rocking guitars and some funk bass from new bassist ex-Disturbed man John Moyer. Next is the first of three songs originally sung by the legendary Ronnie James Dio; this one is the freight train-like riff of Stand Up And Shout, the others are the Rainbow standard Kill The King and the final one is Mob Rules (which was the first song the band ever released and their namesake). There are some odd choices with Mike Portnoy's thumping percussion driving an adrenaline (no pun intended) fuelled version of The Doors Break On Through as well as Van Halen's Romeo's Delight which is the perfect showcase for guitar virtuoso Mike Orlando (and features a few choice guitar solos thrown in the middle). Heart's Barracuda is also an interesting, but excellent choice with that awesome riff propelling along at a hell of a pace and Russell Allen's vocals matching those of Ann Wilson. This is a nice throwaway stopgap EP that lets this virtuoso band show off their chops by paying homage to their heroes while avoiding resorting to covers of their day jobs. 7/10

Lost Society: Fast Loud Death (Nuclear Blast)

With an album title called Fast Loud Death Lost Society can only be a thrash band and when the opening track NWL kicks in you think that this could be classic Testament album. Lost Society come from Finland and after winning a global battle of the bands they have released their debut album and it has all the hallmarks of classic 1980's Bay Area Thrash, the band sound very similar to the aforementioned Testament, mixed with Anthrax and even a bit of Exodus thrown in. They play at a level that is far more professional than their years suggest (the average age of the band is 19) and shred with such tenacity that you can't help be impressed and very bloody jealous. This is strong album with some short, sharp blasts of light speed riffing, jackhammer drumming and some snarled vocals from Samy Elbana which add a little bit of a modern touch to proceedings. However the rest of the album is pure high top wearing thrash fury with tracks like the unbelievably fast Kill (All Those Who Oppose Me) and the blitzkrieg of the title track Lost Society have crafted an excellent thrash album that will stand up to anything from the era with its ballsy, hard partying ethos. The perfect album for anyone that loves running around in circles at festivals and drinking lots of beer! Pure Finnish, Thrash, fury! 9/10

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Reviews: Saxon, Clutch, Breed 77

Saxon: Sacrifice (UDR)

After toying with power metal, progressive metal and even big symphonic metal elements on previous efforts, on this their 20th album Saxon have decided to make a pure Saxon record full of stripped back, heavy rocking classic British metal. The guitars of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat rip and shred with tight proficiency, the drums of Neil Glocker smash like hammers especially on the Titanic (sorry) Made In Belfast and Nibbs Carters bass rumbles like thunder. Biff too is still on top form wailing and crooning like it was 1980. The return to the old NWOBHM style might be due to producer Andy Sneap who is a massive retro metal fan; he also loves a good solo of which there are loads on this album. The lyrical content harks back to historical with the Celtic-flavoured Made In Belfast, the Aztec worshipping title track, the Egyptian Guardians Of The Tomb which may have been pinched from Maiden's Powerslave album. There is also the obligatory song about motorbikes in the form of the speedy Warriors Of The Road as well as one about rock n roll with Stand Up And Fight and also signs that Biff is turning into a very grumpy old man by moaning about queuing on Standing In A Queue. This is an album that harks back to Saxon's glory days and is the perfect fodder for old fans and recent converts as it blends the modern production with classic songwriting. As their contemporaries Maiden and Priest move into more progressive places Saxon have looked backward and are back on their wheels of steel (sorry again) 8/10

Clutch: Earth Rocker (Weathermaker Music)

Neil Fallon and his Maryland rockers come back with their 10th album and their second on their own label. Sonically it's your normal superb Clutch fare with the title track kicking things off in fine style with a big country/blues riff and the strange vocal delivery of Fallon. Crucial Velocity has a powerhouse; unrelenting riff that bulldozes everything in its way and is a counterpoint to the organ drenched Mr Freedom that follows. Again this album blends blues, country, hard rock, stoner metal and punk sometimes in the same song but this is all part of Clutch's sound the mix of genres make you want to just grab something to inebriate you and just party. Every track full of great guitar riffs and funked up bass and powerhouse drumming, like with every Clutch album Fallon is the focal point, his voice is excellent and his lyrics are second to none with some very intelligent phrasing and some interesting mentions (like the large Hadron Collider in Unto The Breach) The first five songs are full on rockers but the album takes a break with the swamp blues of Gone Cold on which Fallon does his best Zappa-style croon, this is before The Face brings back the head banging with a low-down dirty riff and the trend continues from there. However none of my reviewing is relevant this is a Clutch album if you know the band then you know what it's going to sound like, if you don't know the band buy the album and experience one of the most exciting bands on the rock circuit (and then see them live!) 9/10

Breed 77: The Evil Inside (Frostbyte Media)

Breed 77 have been on the fringes of success for so long that some may think they will always be metals nearly men. Before they were more of a Latin based nu metal band now they blend flamenco guitars with some seriously heavy metal. This album brings the more serious and aggressive style from Insects and multiplies it. With tracks like Drown which has a metallic crunch that continues on the Fear and Broken Pieces. However Breed 77 haven't completely abandoned they're alternative metal roots with the very Creed like and possible radio hit Looking For Myself which is followed by the flamenco flavoured Bring On The Rain before the super heavy Low comes back to punch you in the guts again. The bass and drums bludgeon on every track providing an iron clad bottom end, topped by the great guitar work from Danny Felice and Pedro Caparros Lopez who meld the two genres brilliantly as usual and also pull off some fantastic solos, as usual Breed 77's real power comes from vocalist Paul Isola who is one of the most unique vocalists in metal. This is a very good album, that is hard heavy and weaves genres intricately together but with the right promotion (something that has eluded Breed 77) they could become a real power player 5 albums into their career. 8/10

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The View From The Back Of The Room: Breed 77

Breed 77, Left Unscarred, For The Imperium, Seven Deadly. Bogiez Cardiff

So another night in Cardiff for yet another cavalcade of bands. This time the headliners were Gibraltar biggest (only?) heavy metal band Breed 77. So with the lights going down it was time to start:

Seven Deadly

Many long-time readers will know about my affinity with Seven Deadly and their previous incarnation as Panic Cell. I was happy to see that they have changed very little since I saw their debut gig in the same venue but they have seemed to gained a lot more confidence as a cohesive unit with all the members playing with total skill, professionalism but most of all passion. In fact guitarist H got so passionate he broke the strings off his guitar Joey De Maio style. Bobby and Rob's rhythm section was hard and heavy, the guitars were rounded out by Dave Irving who also provides some good facial expressions and backing vocals, one of the keys to the bands appeal are the excellent vocals of Archie who seamlessly blends screams and clean vocals and is an extremely affable and laid back frontman. The set was a short one but it featured the hard hitting modern metal from their debut and ended with the awesome From This Darkness which is the best Killswitch Engage song they have never written. A great start to the night, just a full length now please! 8/10

For The Imperium

Hailing from Helsinki, For The Imperium play metal with an avant-garde tendency apparently, well form what I saw and heard the band were a mix of Korn style Nu-metal mixed with pop-punk. As I find Korn extremely boring musically (my opinion) and I'm not a huge pop-punk fan either, For The Imperium really didn't do it for me at all. While they were very boisterous and presented a very good live spectacle with lots of energy musically they were not my cup of tea. 5/10

Left Unscarred

Metalcore is probably one of the most divisive genres in music, for every great band there are in this genre there are also hundreds of crap ones and unfortunately Left Unscarred fall in to this category. The band played middle of the road, meat and potatoes, metalcore that for me lacked any style to set it apart from any other band. There was just trudging riffs and some long winded breakdowns, Left Unscarred just left me with an overarching sense of 'meh' I'm afraid. 4/10

Breed 77

Luckily they were followed by the excellent Breed 77 who have been honing their craft since the early 2000's but have yet to ascend to any major heights, due to a lot of management troubles. After coming back from the brink with the great Insects the band are now touring new album The Evil Inside. Only Breed could open the proceeding with a new song called Drown before going into the classic Blind which was followed by another newie Looking For Myself. Breed 77 were on fire with the new stuff being welcomed like classics and causing massive amounts of jumping, moshing and headbanging. This may have been because Breed were playing to a hardcore, partisan but small crowd, the explanation for this was that Cancer Bats were playing in the University. However Breed played like their lives depended on it with Battle Of Hatin causing a very strong pit. The instrumentation was excellent with the mix of metal and Latin still inspiring to watch however Breed's ace in the pack is the totally unique voice of Paul Isola who commands the stage perfectly and has one of the best voices in metal. Things took a sing along turn in middle of the set with a heavy cover of Alice Cooper's Poison thrown in before two new ones and the end of the set with two classics in the form of Insects and La Ultima Hora mixed with new song Low. The band returned for the encore of the mellow The River before trying to destroy the venue with their cover of The Cranberries' Zombie. Breed 77's new tracks were very good and I look forward to listening to the album but they showed tonight why they are such a great live band, catch them when they come again. 8/10

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Reviews: Steven Wilson, Lordi, Screamer

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing...And Other Stories (Kscope)

So Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson is now on his third solo album, in between Porcupine Tree touring and albums as well as mixing and producing for other bands. Wilson has experimented on his two previous solo albums but on this one he has brought everything together pitching the album somewhere between In Absentia era Porcupine Tree with some King Crimson and even some Jethro Tull flutes and woodwind on Luminol and The Holy Drinker thrown in to excite and bemuse. The genres are from a wide spectrum with rock, pop, jazz, folk, krautrock, electronica all catered for but mostly the album is a homage to the true 70's progressive bands like King Crimson (whose back catalogue Wilson remixed recently). Wilson really shows just how talented he is on this third solo record, opener Luminol is a 12 minute epic sprawling many different genres with jazzy guitars, huge Hammond and synths as well as some fantastic drumming from Marco Minnemann who shines throughout the album. In fact Wilson has acquired some fantastic musicians for this record with the lead guitars handled by Guthrie Govan who is possibly the best guitarist Britain has ever produced, as well as several musicians who are more jazz trained than rockers, keyboardist Adam Holtzman is the example. Wilson himself is no slouch as usual providing the record with his excellent vocals as well as mellotron, keys and all manner of stringed instruments. These virtuoso musicians put their sheer ability on display on every track; however there is no silly showing off, all of the musical muscle is tightly coiled to ready to be released during the course of each track. After the opener blows you away with its musical dexterity and sheer disregard for genre classification, the second track Drive Home has the acoustic pacing of a Division Bell era Pink Floyd track with a huge guitar solo crescendo from Govan. (In fact a lot of this album has elements of the Gilmour led Floyd) This moves into the jazzy, synth fuelled The Holy Drinker which has a solo from Alan Parsons, who also engineered the album (and a bloody good job he did too!). The Pin Drop follows and continues the twisted fairy tale theme that runs through the album, it is a very percussive song with a multi-layered Wilson vocal and is the most Porcupine Tree sounding track on the album. The Watchmaker is a haunting track built upon some folky guitar playing that screams Fairport Convention before the heavier guitars kick in and the track becomes almost doom like in its melancholic lyrics. Finally after the muscly build-up of the final moments of The Watchmaker the pace changes again with the title track which is full of swirling orchestrals and piano building up into an uplifting but at the same time heart-breaking song that resonates with beauty in its simplicity. This is record is not only Wilson's best solo album it's also the best album he's made in a long time. If I could give it eleven I would because it is simply flawless! 10/10

Lordi: To Beast Or Not To Beast (AFM Records)

Lordi are now on their sixth album and this time they are looking back to the horror metal of their first three albums rather than the more 80's sounding Babez For Breakfast. It has the trademark great riffage from Amen as well as the big backing vocal harmonies and Mr Lordi's evil snarl. Things kick off with We're Not Bad For The Kids (We're Worse) which is a speedy riff that is followed by the slightly weak I Luv Ugly both of the opening tracks have great solo's (something which seems to be a theme on this album as the solo count is through the roof). The first real monster (sorry) track is The Riff which is a schlock-horror rocker full of Lordi's B-movie metal. Since the last album Lordi have acquired two new members with the keys now handled by the zombie cheerleader Hella and new drummer Mana who replaced Otus (who passed away in 2012), who in turn was a replacement for long-time drummer Kita who unmasked and formed an 80's AOR band. This is a very Lordi album full of tongue-in-cheek humour and some very professional musicianship, however it's not actually a very good album with a lot of tracks that could be considered as filler with only Candy For The Cannibal, The Riff and I'm The Best being what you could consider above average. I am a Lordi fan however they have produced three sub-par albums in a row now and I'm starting to get a bit tired of it. There are obviously some gimmicks that can go too far, plus the album ends with a drum solo!! 5/10

Screamer: Phoenix (High Roller Records)

High Roller Records were the home of trad metal revivalists In Solitude, Ram and Zuul. This information will tell you what Screamer sound like. Coming from Sweden (where else!?) Screamer are a dual guitar wielding, bullet belt wearing retro riffing metal band. The dual leads have all the hallmarks of Thin Lizzy and early Iron Maiden with the vocals of Christoffer Svensson sound an awful lot like Diamond Head's Sean Harris with his croon, the band also have a lot in common with Diamond Head as they mix NWOBHM riffage with some more progressive passages with hard rock tendencies. With tracks like Demon Rider, Far Away From Home (which has lots of woahing, which is always welcome) and the title track, this is an album of excellently executed traditional metal album full of skilful guitar playing, galloping bass and some powerful and even soulful vocals see the tremendous Red Moon Rising. For fans of retro metal or anything that makes you want to re-live your 80's metal days but brought right up to date from a young and hungry band, this album will be right up your street. 8/10