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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Reviews: Scorpion Child, Huntress, Monster Truck

Scorpion Child: Scorpion Child (Nuclear Blast)

Rock bands come and rock bands go but some stay around forever, one of the main bands of this ilk are Britain's own Led Zeppelin whose influence you can still feel in music today. Well Scorpion Child follow this line of influence to a tee. Hailing from Texas the band sound an awful lot like Plant and co. Straight from the first bass riff of Kings Highway the Zeppelin influence is evident with the slow burning rocker before the relentless battering ram riff of Polygon Of Eyes reinforces the comparison while also bringing in elements of Free, Humble Pie and dripping with 70's psych evidenced on The Secret Spot. This band have many things going for them but the main thing is hooks, loads of them, with the clarion call of "I Come From The Mountain" (Dio influence?) in Polygon Of Eyes leading the battle cry. The band have a heavier sound than Page's as they feature two guitarists in the shape of Tom Frank's chunky rhythm and Chris Cowart's soaring leads, see Salvation Slave for the slower more expressive playing he possess, however guitarists are only as good as their backing and Shaun Avants and Shawn Alvear provide the Paul-Jones and Bonham rumble and smash of bass and drums respectively, witnessed on the very Boogie With Stu style Liquor where Alvear smashes the living hell out of his kit. However it's not all heavy rock bluster they can turn their hand to slower more folky passages with Antioch which is very LZ III. I think the Zep influence can be drawn mainly from vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black who has an uncannily Plant-like voice whiskey smoked mixed with honey, that matched with the power blues of the bands songs means that as I have said they sound an awful lot like Zeppelin, however rather than being just a rip-off merchants they add a modern style and bring in elements of other bands like American's Clutch seen on the groove sledgehammer riffs of Paradigm before returning to the acoustic strumming on the opening of the Zep-like Red Blood (The River Flows) before the album ends with the slow deliberate doom of Keep Goin'  which changes from Sabbath into Deep Purple in a matter of seconds. If you are following the retro rock revival featuring Rival Sons, graveyard and The Sword you will fall in love with Scorpion Child as they are so retro it hurts but they also write some amazing songs that will have you harking back to the days of bell bottoms and wild hair. 9/10

Huntress: Starbound Beast (Napalm)

So this is the second album from Californian thrashers with a taste for the occult. The band’s debut was a nonstop slice of head splitting metal with the twin shredding of guitarists Blake Meahl and Ian Alden which all act as a backbone for front-woman Jill Janus' expansive four octave vocal range. Well not much has changed on this sophomore release the riffs still coming thick and fast with a blend of classic thrash and NWOBHM present on all of the songs and each track has a commanding performance from Janus who exerts her range over the tracks moving from a doom howl on the title track to a demon-like scream on I Want To Fuck You To Death and everything between on Zenith. The occult overtones are still there with all of the songs all about the Wiccan culture and they all still have the mix between doom and thrash. Still despite the heavy riffs and Janus' vocals the band still don't really do it for me, yes they are talented but it all just sounds a bit samey and it does sound like a King Diamond tribute band in places which is not a bad thing however there really is only one King and he doesn't need replacing. Yes they also so a pretty good cover of Priest's Running Wild but other than that Huntress have just released another adequate album of fast paced metal. 5/10  

Monster Truck: Furiosity (Dine Alone/Universal)

Monster Truck hail from the shores of the Ontario and with a name like Monster Truck you probably have an expectation of their sound in your head, well the band sound like a bar fight at a truck stop with some heavy fuzzed guitars and big hitting riffage. Starting out as a side project for the members to just shut up tune in and play after their first two EP's and relentless touring the band finally have released their debut album. The band contains the massive pounding drums of Steve Kiely, some heavy Hammond from Brandon Bliss, fuzzy head banging riffage from Jeremy Wilderman and some voodoo bass lines and a mega blues howl from Jon Harvey. They truly wear their influences on their sleeves and they have a sound that encompasses Southern rockers Fireball Ministry who deal in the same style of riff centric hard rock as well as having some similar sounds to Black Stone Cherry, the RATM feel of Power Of The People a trippy Clutch-like blues stomp of Oh Lord which is followed by the bayou swing of For The Sun and they even have a riff that was surely pinched from Leslie West on Sweet Mountain River. You can hear that the years of touring have honed this band’s sound to the point where they can imitate Southern sloppiness while maintaining a tight delivery. These Northerners are one of the best Southern sounding bands I’ve heard for a while for fans of any of the bands previously mentioned this will stay on the stereo for a while. 8/10



Thursday, 27 June 2013

The View From The Back Of The Room: Vintage Trouble

Vintage Trouble, Glee Club Cardiff

So fresh from supporting The Who at the Motorpoint the R&B revivalists have put a few headline sets in to their touring schedule. These have usually taken place in small venues and Cardiff was no exception, with this set taking place in the small dark, Glee Club. There was no support for the band just a DJ spinning classic Stax soul and blues records providing a very club-like experience, as the place slowly filled with all manner of people it struck me that Vintage Trouble have a huge fan base that ranges from parents taking their kids to their first gig, through to men on a boys night out, women on a girls night, all the way to long haired heavy metal fans. So with the crowd suitably lubricated and ready for a boogie the band came out with all guns blazing.

First out of the gate was the bluesy bluster of Low Down Dirty Dog which immediately set the room on fire with the funky bass of Rick Barrio Dill and the head-down percussion of Richard Danielson driving things along nicely with the ending crescendo meaning that Danielson got a bit over-excited and threw his stick into the ceiling meaning it remained there for the rest of the gig. It was straight into the sexy Pelvis Pusher which got frontman Ty Taylor working his magic on the female contingent and inspired the first sing along of the night with the chants of "1,2,3 push your pelvis with me" the band then slowed the pace with the heartfelt breakup song You Better Believe It  which featured a fantastic guitar solo from Nalle Colt, who plays with more soul than many guitarists I've seen, the pace came back with the hip shaking boogie of Strike Your Light (Right On Me) which inspired more crowd participation. It's at this junction that I should say what a fantastic frontman Taylor is he literally has the crowd eating out of his hand for the entire gig and was at one with all of the Troublemakers (their name for their fans) in the crowd, he danced, jived, screamed and sweated like the rest of us. Run Outta You was next before the soul love song of Nancy Lee and a cover of Joe Tex's Show Me which ended the first part of the set in rip roaring style

 There was a set change with stools coming out and acoustic instruments given an airing, Taylor invited us into the bands 'living room' for a three song acoustic performance as he said they needed to "sit down" (and who could blame them?) they then proceeded to showcase the injustice fighting ballad Not Alright By Me, new song 24/7 365 Satisfaction Man which was full of smouldering sexuality before ending with You Save Me. We left the cosy room and went back to the sweaty speakeasy for the hot-headed lust of Jezzebella where Taylor entered the crowd getting 'up-close and personal' with some of the female contingent, back to the stage for Before The Tear Drops worked its way into Run Like A River and the still excellent Blues Hand Me Down ended the main set with aplomb. Short of breath, covered in sweat and exhausted the chants, clapping and stomping continued as the band re-appeared for a two song encore of Nobody Told Me and the, dirtier than Motley Crue, Total Strangers which left everyone baying for more when the last chord hit. Vintage Trouble are one of the best live bands on the circuit and they keep showing it again and again, they give 110% to every gig and because of that their fans reciprocate in kind, this is how live music should be. Period. 10/10

Another Point Of View: ZZ Top (Review By Paul Hutchings)

Review: ZZ Top – Hammersmith Apollo 24 June 2013

The sacred halls of the Hammersmith Apollo (or Odeon to call it by its correct name) were rammed to the rafters when we arrived. Having grabbed a bit of merchandise and stunned at being charged £4.60 for a can of Murphy's we arrived at our seats shortly  after support act the Ben Miller Band started going through their paces. To quote their website (www.benmillerband.com): ‘Hailing from Joplin, Missouri, The Ben Miller Band is a one-of a kind trio that combines the frenetic energy of bluegrass, the soul of the delta blues and the haunted spirit of Appalachian mountain music. Band members Ben Miller, Scott Leeper, and Doug Dicharry create a unique and modern sound while continuing the tradition of blending together many different musical styles, which has long been a trait of their native Ozarks’. I don’t think I can put it any better so why try. Suffice to say, they were great fun, thoroughly enjoyable and had the packed Odeon lapping up their enthusiastic delivery. Top quality musicians playing something a little different but so in keeping with the night. Check out their album Heavy Load. It’s on Spotify. 8/10

During the break I recalled that selling out the Hammersmith Odeon was the pinnacle of a band’s career in the 1970s and 80s. The legendary ‘No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith’ live album from Motorhead was recorded here; as were numerous others. I have fond memories of this venue; especially chucking up in the toilets between Anthrax and Metallica on the Puppets tour in 1986. Too much vodka that night as Brett Perry will no doubt recall. Anyway, I digress. The house lights go out, the band are introduced by a female voice and there they are Tres Hombres, launching into Got Me Under Pressure from the Eliminator album. ZZ fucking Top; as cool as cool can be. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill out front, Stetsons, glitzy jackets, shades and of course, the beards!! Meanwhile Frank Beard (without facial hair as everyone knows) lays down a simple but oh so effective beat. Gibbons is a master axeman, peeling off those bluesy solos effortlessly, striding around the stage and interacting with Hill. They follow on with Waitin' For The Bus followed by Jesus Just Left Chicago. Absolutely brilliant stuff. You can check the set list out for yourself, but suffice to say this was a show which just took your breath away. Gibbons displayed super humour, referring to the “same three cords” that the band had been playing for 45 years. 45 years? Oh my god. These guys are older than Lemmy and even cooler. Four tracks from the excellent La Futera including Flying High where we were convinced the band were blowing incredibly strong weed into the crowd, and a storming cover of Hendrix’s Foxy Lady before finishing the main set with Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. As we waited for the encore it struck me how simplistic yet incredibly compelling this band are. Their current stuff sits comfortably alongside tracks from the first album, and yet still appears fresh. I found myself actually absorbing the entire experience which happens so rarely these days.The Top finished with a triple whammy; Tube Snake Boogie, La Grange and Tush leaving the crowd baying for more. An excellent show; top quality musicians and an appreciative crowd. 45 years and still going strong; in my year of classic rock it’s going to take something incredibly special to beat this. 10/10

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Reviews: Amon Amarth, Queensryche, Orphaned Land

Amon Amarth: Deceiver Of The Gods (Metal Blade)

Viking's Amon Amarth load their longboat full of songs and have once again come to pillage the metal hoards with another collection of metal anthems about war, drinking and pillaging! This is their ninth album and features more of their signature brand of melodic death metal, Amon Amarth have always sounded to me like Maiden fronted by seven foot Viking, which is by no means a criticism as the band are a ferocious live act that have always managed to still be as powerful on record. The title track gets things moving with the traditional dual guitar attack that merges trad metal and thrash with Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen pulling out the heavy riffs and shredding solos on top of the powerhouse blast beat drumming and Johan Hegg's powerful death vocals that boom through the maelstrom of metal. Deceiver Of The Gods is another strong album with the melodic As Loki Falls coming next ensuring that the full force attack along continues with Father Of The Wolf, the galloping Under Siege (not about the Segal movie unfortunately) and the Slayer-like Blood Eagle which has a lovely gory beginning full of squelching gory death! The band also mix things up a bit on the industrial sounding Hel which has lots of samples and keys as well as a guest performance from Messiah Marcolin from Candlemass who brings his high pitched shriek to dual with Hegg's guttural roar before the album wraps up with the 8 minute Warriors Of The North which ends the main bulk of the album. With its powerful guitars, heavy death metal rhythms and Hegg's great vocals this yet another excellent album from Amon Amarth with Andy Sneap giving his perfect production job. It is on the bonus disc that things get interesting it is called Under The Influence and it features four songs done in the style of classic bands, first is the Priest-like Burning Anvil Of Steel, then the Sabbath doom of Satan Rising, the snarling Motorhead bass riffage of Snake Eyes and finally Stand Up To Go Down which is AC/DC by another name. This little detour is a very interesting and adds to an already great album full of Norse thunder as it gives the band a chance to flex their muscles and Hegg to adapt his voice to those that he is emulating showing they are more than a one trick pony. 8/10

Queensryche: Queensryche (Century Media)

So after Geoff Tate left/ fired the band the mudslinging and back biting of the whole thing was in full swing leading to two bands and two albums. The first out of the blocks was the Tate fronted version who unleashed Frequency Unknown first and while that was not bad it was a little bit weak in places and was essentially a Tate solo record featuring the experimentation that made the last two Queensryche albums a challenge to listen to and made Dedicated To Chaos frankly crap. So it was up to the other version of Queensryche to redress the balance and show which version can be considered 'definitive'. This version is essentially the instrumental part of the band with founding members guitarist Michael Winton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield providing the same melodic metal that Queensryche have always been so good at (showing who was the cause of the experimentation) after the evil metallic intro of X2 the twisting rhythm of Where Dreams Go To Die kicks things off in a powerful style having all of the hallmarks of classic 'ryche, the melodic guitars that switch instantly to some heavy riffrery, the technical bass foundation and the thick drum sound. Key however is new frontman Todd La Torre who thankfully sounds almost exactly like Tate but has enough of his own inflections and vocals nuances to stop him sounding like a tribute singer, he also has a few stylistic similarities to Nils K Rue from Pagan's Mind. What is noticeable about his album unlike the latter Tate years is that the band have gone back to their earlier more metallic roots, the band are once again mixing strong powerful riffs with anthemic choruses and melodies, with songs like Spore, the stirring orchestral ballad of A World Without and the propulsive Vindication all of which have the guitar harmonies that the band are known for. This is most definitely a strong album full of the complex, melodic metal that Queensryche have always done so well. It is not perfect however the production is a bit bass and drum centric, and the album is a wee bit short clocking in at just over 35 minutes meaning there doesn't seem to be much room for the more progressive sides to Queensryche's sound, still this is good album and more importantly it seems far more authentic than the Tate fronted band, which was probably the ultimate intention. 7/10

Orphaned Land: All Is One (Century Media)

A major question arose on when I got this album: How do they follow the last one? Well by doing almost the opposite of their last opus, this time the Middle eastern band that contains both Jewish and Muslim members have released a focused, dark but and accessible album devoid of a lot of the death metal growling present since their debut The Beloved's Cry. I for one loved the previous effort The Never-ending Way Of ORWarriOR it was the perfect mix of death metal, progressive rock and Middle Eastern culture, so this release caused a lot of interest for me. The album explodes from the off with the traditional instrumentation of Ouds, Bouzouki’s, Saz's all combined with the persistent riffage of the electric guitars. Both string players Chen Balbus (rhythm) and Yossi Sassi (lead) provide some massively heavy riffs and Sassi's solos are sublime. The opening title track also features a choir that increases the scope of the track tenfold an makes it an uplifting opening to the album that continues on The Simple Man which is far more folky than the heavy opening track and prominently features the Middle Eastern chants and instrumentation. Kobi Fahri's vocals are excellent and even without the guttural roars his melodic croon is haunting and enchanting and evokes the spirit of his heritage; however the roar does reappear on Fail but for the most part its clean vocals all the way. Much like most of Orphaned Land's discography the lyrical content focusses on the mixture of Jewish and Islamic culture (the band is notably made up of both) and denotes the struggles between the two culture but ultimately their similarities something which is used to great effect on the orchestral Let The Truce Be Known. These strong lyrics are matched by the extremely strong musicianship which features the aforementioned guitars and traditional instruments but also some strong bass runs from Uri Zelcha and also some very excellent drumming from Martan Schmuley, the band have also the occasional female vocals, this time performed by Mira Awad (who herself was the first Israeli-Arab to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest), she features prominently on Through Fire And Water. This is another superb album in the Orphaned Land discography the sound of a band that is bringing their heritage together with metal to create a very unique sound continues to inspire on every album. Truly a testament to the all-inclusive power of music! 9/10 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Reviews: Jorn, Voodoo Six, Sound Of Contact

Jorn: Traveller (Frontier Records)

So the big Nordic Duke returns with a new collection of original tracks. Once again this is heavy rock delivered at full volume with Jorn's voice still at fine fettle he adds the right amount of bombast to proceedings with his croon soaring over the hard rock base in places, he has an element of the great Ronnie James to him see the excellent The Man Who Was King which is about the aforementioned Legend but also some David Coverdale to him as well especially on Make Your Engine Scream, Jorn has been a great vocalist for his entire career and shows no intention of stopping now. The band too do a fine job with both guitarists Jimmy Iversen and particularly lead guitarist Trond Holter both supply the pounding riffs see the title track or the Lizzy-like Widow Maker and Holter pulls off some searing solos, and the rhythm of Bernt Jansen's Bass and Willy Bendiksen's drums provide the hard as granite groove, long time collaborator Tommy Hansen who provides some sturdy keys and production. This is a strong album full of some well delivered hard rock that delivers where it needs too, however it can all get a bit samey in the second half still another good addition to The Duke's discography. 7/10

Voodoo Six: Songs To Invade Countries To (Spinefarm)

Right three albums into their career and this album title says something about how far the band have come. Ok as Bassist Tony Newton is friends with Maiden's Steve Harris the band were always going to have some high profile support sets, which could be why they sound as strong as they do but it seems that they set on becoming headliners in their own right. After the loss of their original singer and their triumphant rebirth with new and current frontman Luke Purdie the band have come back with possibly their best album yet. From the opening bass run and bouncy riff of Falling Knives it immediately shows that the band are targeting the arenas, the riff dirty and heavy and the chorus hook is huge with its "Keep catching 'em" refrain, this track as well as the snotty punk vibe of Sharp Sand and the funk-fuelled Stop were all featured on their previous stopgap EP so many will already know that the quality of these songs is very high so it's up to the rest of the album to keep up the quality and it does so with gusto,  All That Glitters is a heavy riffer again showing the talents of axe-wielders Chris Jones and Matt Pearce and it's typical of Voodoo Six's heavy rock sound bridging the gap between bluesy hard rock (Brick Wall) and metal (Higher Ground). Lead Me On is a fantastic song that kicks off with an uplifting, orchestral backed intro, turning into bass driven verse before the euphoric chorus brings to mind those arenas and then evolves into a massive solo and closing chorus, one for the live set definitely. Purdie has a tremendous voice equally rusted and soulful like he comes from the American West, and in a few places very similar to Chris Cornell but with some added British grit. Newton's bass playing is superb lots of flair and not your regular four on the floor rhythm, this also means drummer Joe Lazarus can also stretch a bit. Production wise it's big and ballsy giving every instrument what it needs, the guitars rock, the bass rumbles, drums smash and the vocals are the whiskey soaked cherry. This a true call-to-arms for fans of powerful British heavy rock, an album full of songs that will lead Voodoo Six to a few dictatorships around the world! 9/10

Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut (InsideOut)

Question: name a prog rock band with a drummer who also sings? I'm assuming you all said Genesis right? Well Sound Of Contact have elements of Genesis (an early incarnation recorded a version of Keep it Dark), Marillion, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree and blend them into one adding space rock and some pop as well. Well the two main members of the band are David Kerzner on keys and soundscapes, a man a who has worked with Steve Hackett and Steve Wilson as well as producing for others and the other is drummer/vocalist Simon Collins (yes son of Phil) who is the brainchild of this conceptual work. Yes conceptual where would prog be without it? Well this story revolves around a man who travels through time, space and dimensions the he is the Dimensionaut of the title and this is a story revolving around him. Things start with the acoustic PT-like Sound Of Contact before seguing into Cosmic Distance Ladder which is a driving instrumental that shows off the bands obvious chops, the synths are layered beautifully and his solo spots are excellent in their delivery, the guitars of Kelly Nordstrom shred and weave intricately through the piece, the bass of Matt Dorsey pulses and drives everything along and Collins has the power and precision of his father providing some great fills. Pale Blue Dot gives his first vocal performance and shows that he has a tremendous one, equally melodic in the higher register and can also provide some grit when needed. I Am The Dimensionaut is a huge ballad that has many elements of Simon's fathers solo career, albeit with a meatier soundscape behind it. This a band that encompasses many bands styles, with Not Coming Down sounding like PT or Pink Floyd at their most reflective. The production of Kerzner and Collins is excellent with everything shining brightly, the slight dub elements on Beyond Illumination show this mix of styles well too and features the voice of the Wishing Tree's Hannah Stobart, the album ends with the amazing 19 minute Mobius Slip which brings this album to a fittingly euphoric conclusion. Yes ok there are lots of nods to Simon's father (and also Marillion) and lyrically it is a bit wishy-washy but all in all this is an excellent album that features some great songs crafted to make an intensely musical concept album it is performed by some highly professional musicians and it shows that Collins does indeed have (an Invisible) touch! (Sorry) 7/10 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Another Point Of View: Bon Jovi (Review By Paul)

Bon Jovi – Cardiff City Stadium June 12 2013

As a 17 year old, I stood in a crowd of 60,000 at Castle Donington and watched one of the leading lights in rock and specifically the genre of ‘hair metal, bring the 1987 Monsters of Rock Festival to a close with a cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band. The day had been graced by such metal luminaries as Cinderella, WASP, Anthrax, Metallica and Dio and during the final song Jon Bon Jovi was joined on stage by Paul Stanley (Kiss), Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) who provided a very jovial finish to a great day. 26 years later, I arrived at my spiritual sporting home, the Cardiff City Stadium, in time to take my (cheap) seat as Bon Jovi took to the stage. Now, one thing is obvious. The path Bon Jovi has followed since 1987 is pretty different to the other bands who shared the stage at the MOR festival all those years ago. Opening with That’s What The Water Made Me, one of four tracks aired from their latest album, the band played two hours of radio friendly pop rock which was lapped up by the healthy crowd. First sing along of the night followed with You Give Love A Bad Name, which was quickly followed by Born To Be My Baby and full audience participation of Raise Your Hands
 The stage set was impressive with the front grill and bonnet of a 1959 Buick Electra, dazzling lighting and three large screens to allow those anywhere further than about a metre back the opportunity to see Jon’s Hollywood smile in all its glory. Bright? I’ve still got retina scorching. Whilst the crowd around us lapped up every word and the band seemed happy enough, there was one thing missing. The absence of Richie Sambora (perfectly adequately replaced musically by Phil X) massively reduced the on stage interaction and it appeared just a little bit flat. Original members David Bryan (keyboards) and Tico Torres (drums) did their best but Sambora has a presence which really helps. Jon Bon Jovi’s voice remains as good as it ever did, even if he has morphed into Cliff Richard physically (check out some of the pictures from the gig). Bon Jovi are very good at what they do. No band sells 130 million albums without having something. The problem is that, when you hear 15 tracks back to back they all kind of merge. Plenty of sing along moments during the set which included a seamless segue during Keep The Faith into Let Me Entertain You (sadly the Robbie Williams version and not the belter from Queen) which got many of the females in the crowd very excited (maybe because they actually recognised it?). This appropriately illustrated the audience that BJ now attract. Pink cowboy hats, best outfits on whilst clutching their pints; it was like being at rugby international or a Sterophonics gig. Attention waned during the slower part of the set before audience participation ramped up again for set closers I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and Bad Medicine. At this point I have to say I’d seen enough and we exited before the six song encore. I’m not sorry I went as it’s rare to get tickets to see a stadium band for £12.50, but I’m glad I didn’t pay any more than that. They do what they do very well. No question about it. Their crowd annoy me more than anything else and I think that having members of the valley commandoes (female pink hat branch) collapsing before the band came on stage and sleeping through the entire gig may have clouded my judgment a little. I fear that Bruce Springsteen next month will attract a very similar audience. 6/10

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Reviews: Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath: 13 (Vertigo)

Firstly let me make this clear if you don't know who Black Sabbath are then stop reading this blog until you have listened to everything they released and then come back (even the Tony Martin years). Right now that that is out of the way we can continue, 13 marks the return of 3/4 of the original Sabbath line up (Bill Ward refused to join after contract problems) still Iommi, Butler and Osbourne are all back for their first album together since 1978's Never Say Die and from the opening doom laden riff of End Of The Beginning you can tell that this is classic Sabbath as they start off slow and menacing before Iommi switches tempo and brings the gallop middle, solo and then the melodic outro. As an opening track this mixes all eras of Sabbath starting off on the debut before moving through the pacier Vol. 4 era and then ending in the more melodic Never Say Die territory. A perfect encapsulation of the Sabbath sound in one song. 

 The band sound revitalised, Geezer plays his bass like a lead guitar as per usual, drummer Brad Wilk (RATM) does a great job of doing just enough to emulate Bill Ward but doesn't really have the flourishes that the great man had but is a perfect fit for the album, Ozzy is on fine vocal form with his unique delivery sending a shiver down the spine and then finally there are Iommi's riffs and I do mean riffs, there are at least four different ones in every song, he really is the sound of Sabbath and on the descending scale of down tuned notes on God Is Dead? kick off you are transported back to the evil roots of the debut and realise that doom would be nothing without these same sounds that Sabbath pioneered all those years ago.

 God Is Dead? then turns into a gritty heavy riff at the end to really get the heads banging. Unlike the newest Purple album this is pure old school Sabbath heavy riffs, rumbling bass, and the haunted wail of Ozzy, backed by some progressive time changes and intelligent lyrics (we've come a long way from rhyming masses with masses). The fuzzed voodoo of Loner has some of the classic Paranoid charm before everything goes all Planet Caravan on the bongo fuelled Zeitgeist which brings to an end what used to be side one. Here it is time to note that the production is absolutely perfect sounding old school but also crystalline, Rick Rubin has outdone himself again but the engineers and mixers also deserve a hand too for making this album sound huge.

 Side two begins in earnest with the stone age bludgeoning of Age Of Reason which has some backing choral effects to make it sound more gothic than it already is. The immediacy Live Forever with its percussive drive has to be the sequel to Fairies Wear Boots. The album ends in fine style with two 7 minute epics the first is Damaged Soul which has the Ozzy vocoder at full delivery making his vocal sound wounded on the slower bluesy number that features some superb solo's from Iommi who shows his slow stuff is as good as his faster stuff and ends with Ozzy honking on bobo in the true blues tradition. The final track is the epic Dear Father which again twists and turns through Iommi riffage and brings together all of the Sabbath hallmarks even ending with the thunderstorm and bell chiming that so memorably opened their debut. I have mentioned the word classic here a lot and that is what this is it's the sound of a band using their heritage to their advantage and have created something that is both original but also sounds exactly like the Black Sabbath that you remember and this is a hard trick to pull off but one that Sabbath have done masterfully! 10/10 (could it be anything else?)  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Out Of The Beyond 27

ReVamp: S/T (2010)

ReVamp is the solo project of former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen (currently the interim vocalist of Nightwish) so you can expect the opera-metal styling's of her previous band but also she has a much wider range of influences, opener Here's My Hell is the track most like After Forever as it has the huge orchestral keys, heavy riffs and features some guest growls from George Oosthoek. Sweet Curse is a piano ballad that sounds like Evanescence and features Symphony X's Russell Allen on vocals; there is a technical metal feel to Distain which features Speed from Soilwork on co-vocals. The album is full of strong symphonic metal that is only right considering the musicians Jansen has drafted in to help all of the guitars (lead, rhythm and bass) are handled by Waldemar Sorychta who brings the thrashy riffage to the heavier end and also the acoustic strumming of the slower tracks, the drums come from Koen Herfst who blast beats his way through the album, the major contributor however is After Forever keyboardist Joost van der Broek who brings the pounding synths, keys, pianos, programming as well as being the producer, engineer, mixer and arranger of the classical quartet that supports them on the majority of the tracks. the album moves between fast paced melodic symphonic metal and slower ballads featuring Jansen's superb vocals, and do believe me along with Amanda Somerville and Simone Simmons, Jansen is one of the best vocalists in metal having a strong powerful mid and a huge mezzo-soprano high. This is a good album for fans of female fronted symphonic metal however if you don't like the genre then you won't get much out of it. 7/10

Powerwolf: Bible Of The Beast (2009)

Powerwolf are a German power metal band that are a major juxtaposition as they play upbeat power metal full of galloping bass and drums, bombastic keys, shredding guitars and strong vocals, however they also wear corpse paint have Gothic overtones and pretend to be Werewolves. Imagine Sabaton if they sang about Satan instead of war. Powerwolf are a good band and come from the Helloween school of speedy, OTT, metal that also has some seriously melodic keys, after the scene setting intro, Raise Your Fist Evangelist has a Latin spouting intro before a chunky riff gets things going backed by a Gothic organ. The guitars are dirty and match frontman Attila Dorn's strong, almost operatic, vocals that do sound a lot like Joakim Broden from Sabaton, things then move into the hammer (and sickle) pounding rhythm of Moscow After Dark. As you can probably tell the band don't take themselves very seriously with titles like Catholic In The Morning...Satanist At Night, Panic In The Pentagram and the very silly Resurrection By Erection. This is a silly, well performed, darkened power metal that has some great playing and also big hooky sing along power metal anthems. 7/10 

Painside: Dark World Burden (2010)

I will be honest I had never heard of Painside and I bought this album on a bit of a whim, well I'm glad I did as this is a great album, full of proper heavy metal that bridges the gap between traditional heavy metal and thrash. Painside are from Brazil but sound like latter period Judas Priest full of heavy thrash-like riffage and some killer soloing. The band have heavy pounding modern metal in tracks like Where Darkness Rules, bass led Iron Maiden style metal on Collapse The Lies which even has the whoah's in the centre. What strikes you about this debut is that the songs are really strong, the riffs of Carlos Eduardo Saione snarl like caged animals and the solos of Eduardo Fernandez melt the fret board (see The Deviant) the drums destroy, the bass rumbles and the vocals are excellent equally adept at crooning and some helium filled high notes that in places sound like Rob Halford and in others sounds like Bruce Dickinson/Tobias Sammet kudos to singer Guilherme Sevens for being able to effectively move between these two greats. It's not all metal bluster though as This Dark World shows with its acoustic intro and massive bridge before speeding up into the heavy middle section again full of fret wankery. This is simply stunning album that I have played repeatedly it is the perfect mix of, classic and modern metal with tracks that sound like Maiden/Priest and others that bring to mind the more aggressive styling’s of LOG (Serpents Tongue). Like I said a great metal album that sums up everything that is awesome about metal and any album that ends with a duet featuring Chris Boltendahl from Grave Digger is ok in my book. Seek out this album! 9/10

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Reviews: Black Star Riders, Buckcherry, Evile

Black Star Riders: All Hell Breaks Loose (Nuclear Blast)

So the band that have been touring as Thin Lizzy had a reshuffle and a rename before releasing this album of new material, mainly out of respect for Lynott's legacy. This is a noble idea but the song, as Zep said, remains the same. That's right much of the musical output on this record is similar in style to Thin Lizzy's recorded output. With the only original member in the band being guitarist Scott Gorham it means that a lot of the dual guitar riffage he helped invent is present meaning that this coupled with Ricky Warwick's uncanny Lynottisms, this album has the Lizzy hallmarks. From the first four tracks this is obvious with the strutting title track opening things in strong style, before Bound For Glory is all hard rock bluster with a riff half inched from Waiting For An Alibi before the Celtic flavoured Kingdom Of The Lost makes everything sound very Emerald and also has a massive helping of Over The Hills And Far Away by former Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, before the heavier delivery of Bloodshot makes everything go a bit like Massacre. Musician wise Jimmy DeGrasso does his best to be Brian Downey (who declined to take part in the recordings) providing the thunder (and lightning) on the heavy rockers and also a subdued backing on the slower, Marco Mendoza does what he does and provides some sterling bass work playing it like a six stringer, Gorham is as usual excellent but special kudos goes to Damon Johnson who is Brian Robertson, Gary Moore and John Sykes all rolled into one and also to Ricky Warwick who has a great voice with enough Lynott-like delivery to make it authentic but enough of his own grit to make his contribution more than just a cheap rip off. It's not all Lizzy though as Kissing The Ground You Walk On sounds like The Almighty but for the most part this is twin-lead flailing classic rock that has all the trademarks of the previous namesake. A rose by any other name? Very much so Black Star Riders are just classic rock class with a new moniker. 8/10

Buckcherry: Confessions (Eleven Seven Music)

L.A sleaze rockers Buckcherry return with a new album after their strong showing on 2010's All Night Long which took them back to their hard party attitude and this continues on Confessions but they also vary there sound too. The opening punky riffage and repetitive hook of Gluttony is pure rock and roll reverie and this continues on the violent Wrath but things slow down on The Truth for the album’s first power ballad. If you haven't guessed from two of the tracks this album is based around the Seven Deadly sins which become part of an overarching concept that encompasses the anti-capitalist cry of Greed, the piano and orchestral ballad Sloth, the country tinged exorcism of Pride and final one-two of the bass propelled Envy and the hard rocking Lust. As per usual the performances of guitarist Keith Nelson and vocalist Josh Todd are excellent with Nelson peeling off riff after dirty riff which are bolstered by Stevie D's rhythm playing as well as Jimmy Ashurst's snarling bass and Xaiver Muriel's wild drumming, at its most volatile on Seven Ways To Die. As usual Josh Todd is commander-in-chief with his unique voice leading the charge on all the tracks. This is a more adult album than the party hard ethos that was on All Night Long and their self-titled debut, the conceptual nature means that they can spread their musical wings a bit but still maintain their hard rock ethos and because of that this album is not going to be played in strip joints around the world (much like their hit Crazy Bitch has been) but it does show that the band have some serious musical chops and can adapt their sound if they need to. 7/10

Evile: Skull (Earache)

Four albums into their career and it seems Evile have to once again prove their thrash credentials after the 'mainstream' approach they took on Five Serpents Teeth and especially its first single Cult. Well it looks like the band have taken offence to the accusations of mainstream pandering as right from the off Skull tries to rip your face off with pure thrash fury, things kick off with the furious maelstrom of riffage that is Underworld which immediately lays out their stall with its Slayer like ferocity and stomping bridge that turns into some super-speed soloing from Ol Drake. In fact the King et al influence has been plain to see in Evile's albums since the debut and this album is the first since the debut to be faithful to the old-school thrash of Slayer, Testament etc. Underworld is an excellent start to the album hitting you like a battering ram right out of the gates before things continue on the title track that is driven by Ben Carter's drumming and tells of alien worlds and has a chant along middle section straight out of the Hetfield playbook. Speaking of Hetfield it is worth mentioning that Matt Drake's voice is at the best it has ever been on this record he truly sounds like a frontman now with a clear but rough edged delivery. Things slow a bit on The Naked Sun which features an acoustic intro and outro Head Of The Demon gets heads banging again (albeit slower than on the wind-milling openers). Evile have raised their game again on their fourth outing mixing everything they have learned together meaning that they can easily move from the furious thrash, to more complex arrangements like Tomb which has got a little whiff of One to it with the multi layered electric and acoustic guitars, slow burning opening and then the dramatic increase in noise where everything gets much louder before a massive solo brings things to a head. This is a strong album that shows that you can aim for success while still maintaining your underground roots and Evile have merged all their previous efforts together and thrown in a few nods to their influences to produce another excellent album. 8/10

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reviews: Christopher Lee, White Wizzard, New Device

Christopher Lee: Charlemagne: The Omens Of Death (Charlemagne Productions Ltd)

With this being Sir Christopher Lee's second album I was expecting more of the symphonic style metal of his first Charlemagne album, unfortunately two things struck me when I pushed play, the first was that the narration and orchestral parts that made the first album very good had gone and they had been replaced by just the few guest singers and some strong Judas Priest style metal (which could be because the musical arrangements come from current Priest axe-man Ritchie Falkner) while this has streamlined the album, it does mean that it seems a little less like an event which suited the performance style of Lee, who is at his best when he has large film-like orchestral swells with a metal edge. The second thing that struck me is that this album isn't new, it is not a sequel to the first album  I thought it was going to be. It's the same album; I mean EXACTLY the same, the same songs, in the same order (albeit with different names) with the same lyrics and guest singers as there were on the debut. This was very disappointing as it seemed a bit of a cop-out that this album is just a more metal rehash of the first album. yes the music is good and Lee has a very strong voice for a man of 91 but if this had been the debut then it would have been good however because the debut already exists this just seems to be money making exercise aimed at those who thought the first album wasn't 'metal' enough. 6/10

White Wizzard: The Devil's Cut (Earache)

White Wizzard have returned and they have changed their line-up yet again since their last album Flying Tigers with a new singer in the form of the screamer Joseph Michael, a new drummer and two new lead guitarists. The only member remaining is Bassist/rhythm guitarist Jon Leon who makes no bones about White Wizzard being his band which could be the reason for many line up changes but I digress. On the previous release White Wizzard split the album with half being their brand of galloping early Iron Maiden like heavy metal and the second half being more of their more progressive latter years. This album is shorter than it's predecessor but it mixes the more progressive aspects on the opening salvo of Strike The Iron which is full of time signature changes and lots of little electronic samples, the middle track of the slow burning Steal Your Mind and the final track of a 9 minute epic in the style of Hallowed Be They Name it's these three tracks that are the most progressive pacing the album excellently, the rest of the tracks are full pelt, rampaging heavy metal with Leon providing the meaty bass and rhythm guitar riffage, Giovanni Durst doing his best McBrain smashing and the twin leads of Jake Dreyer and Will Waller pull solo's galore on tracks like Lightning In My Hands, Storm Chaser and the title track. I do hope that White Wizzard maintain this line up for future albums as it is strong especially with vocalist Michael who has tremendous voice. Another strong album in the White Wizzard catalogue yes they are generic but they are also fun. 8/10

New Device: Here We Stand (Abstract Sounds)

London band New Device have come back with their first new album since 5 years and it's the same but different. The line up has changed but singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist Daniel Leigh remains and as New Device is his brainchild it's only proper that he does. As far as sound goes New Device are aiming straight at  the American radio with a sound somewhere between Buckcherry, Metallica, Fall Out Boy (mainly from Leigh's vocals) and 30 Seconds To Mars. The band have a distinct heaviness with a three guitar attack providing the big metallic riffs on the title track, Away From Here, On Your Knees and Feel The Wrath but they also have some massive hooks especially vocally Leigh has a fantastic voice which are the obvious high point of the band. The band are not just about heavy hook filled metal they have a soft side as well with lots of chart bothering ballads like New York, the orchestral Do Or Die, and the massive arena anthem of Another Life which is where the 30STM influence comes in. In between this there are some more hard rock style tracks like the single Save Your Life which does have all the hallmarks of a number one. This album is a bit ballad heavy, which could be because of their aim to be arena headliners and if they keep evolving and mixing the heaviness with the more radio-friendly stuff then they will achieve that goal. 8/10

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Reviews: Anvil, Children of Bodom, Artlantica

Anvil: Hope In Hell (The End Records)

Since their biographical expose Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, the Canadian metal bands have had something of resurgence in popularity. With Juggernaut Of Justice the band then saw their first release since 2004 and it was another slice of the bands hard hitting, tongue in cheek hard partying metal. This is there 15th album and it's an if it isn't broke don't fix it approach as even though long term bassist Glenn Five has left core members, frontman/guitarist Lips and drummer Robb Reiner still remain the main creative force, meaning that this album retains the classic Anvil sound of driving heavy metal all of which features some superb drumming from Reiner. Things kick off with the Sabbath-like title track before the pace picks up on the trashy Eat Your Words. This continues throughout with mid-paced heavy rockers mixing with the speedier metal passages meaning that the album mixes things up throughout but maintains the Anvil trad-metal sound with every song giving off the strong but familiar style and tone of some of Anvil's older material. Sure the lyrics aren't Shakespeare (in fact they are from it!) but this is no frills meat and potatoes metal at its best from a band that don't take themselves seriously, and yes some of the songs are a bit too silly in places but the Canadian comeback rolls on and the band still manage to churn out some big, dumb, heavy metal. So grab a beer (maybe a vibrator) disengage your brain and enjoy! 7/10 

Children of Bodom: Halo of Blood (Nuclear Blast)

Alexi Laiho and his melo-death crew return a new album full of their particular brand of power metal influenced death metal. The band have been revitalised since Blooddrunk  and this rise from the ashes continues on Halo Of Blood which starts with the keyboard powered Waste Of Skin that has the classic COB sound that is full of razor sharp riffs and Janne Wirman's excellent keys. The title track takes a different tack by going full death metal with furious thrash riffage and Laiho's scarred screaming vocals and it's from here that the pace rarely lets up with the odd time signatures of Transference through the keyboard driven Bodom Blue Moon (The Second Coming) before the mournful Dead Man's Hand On You shows that they can work well at a slower pace and still be a formidably heavy band. Laiho is still clean and the songs are still very song matching the bands hedonistic heyday with new found focus. Technically the album is flawless as usual with the twin guitars of Laiho and Roope Latvala providing the main power to the songs with the extremely dexterous playing topped by Laiho's fret melting solos, the drums and bass provide the living dead backbeat (sorry) and Wirman's speedy keys match Laiho's solo's perfectly contributing much to the band’s sound as they always have. Through these 11 tracks ending with the retrospective Crazy Nights COB show that they are still one of the best melo-death bands around. Yet again these Finns have created another strong album full of hard riffage and killer melodies that contribute to some excellent songs. 7/10     

Artlantica: Across The Seven Seas (Steamhammer/SPV)

Artlantica are a new band and this is their debut album however when I first listened to them they sounded a lot like American prog metal crew Artension. After some research I found this is probably because this band features John West (sense a nautical theme?) on vocals and Roger Staffelbach both of whom were the vocalist and guitarist of Artension respectively, this album also features Artension bassist Steve DiGiorgio as the special guest bassist for the album. As far as the band's sound goes this is prime Neo-classical metal in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen, Symphony X and Artension (of course) that American bands seem to do very well. The songs feature lots of super-fast shredding, galloping bass and drums, melodic classical keyboard runs and some multi-octave vocals from West who has a superb voice. What hits you about this album is how strong it is, obviously Artlantica are not a 'new' band per-se but it is quite striking how accomplished they sound on what is essentially their debut album, they sound an awful lot like Symphony X who are one of my favourites so I was bound to like the album but with tracks like the Neo-classical rampage of Devout, You're Still AwayFight For The Light and the piano-led ballad Ode To My Angel which shows off West's invocative range but also features a restrained but excellently played solo from Staffelbach who is a fantastic guitarist providing some supreme licks and serious soloing. Across The Seven Seas is a very strong neo-classical metal full of virtuosic playing but also some very strong songs which is the testament of a good band. Admittedly some may be put off by the ludicrous amounts of guitar solos, seen at their best on Demon In My Mind and on the instrumental Return Of The Pharaoh Pt.III or the helium fuelled vocals but if you are a fan of Artension, Symphony X or any kind of progressive, neo-classical metal then you will lap this album up in spades. Quality progressive/power metal that the Americans seem to do very well. 8/10

Monday, 3 June 2013

View From The Front Of The Room: Evil Scarecrow, Counterhold & Darksite

Evil Scarecrow, Counterhold & Darksite: Mojo's Newport

Into Newport for another night with Nottingham's premier purveyors of stupidly entertaining blackened metal, replete with silly names, silly costumes and silly songs. So it was into the bowels of Club Mojo (originally it was supposed to be 200 Club but this closed shortly before the gig) for a night of Stirling local supports and shameless masochism.

Arriving late we missed most of the set of openers Effigies Fate but from what I could hear, which was hard because of the poor sound that totally lacked bass, they were your typical modern metal fodder full of blast beats and screamed vocals.

Darksite

I last witnessed Darksite playing their final gig with their first singer. With a new vocalist in tow the Welsh groove metallers brought an uncompromising set of tracks full of heavy riffage and some screaming vocals that showed off the bands ferocity and their huge amount of talent. However they would have been much better had it not been for the sound which meant that they sounded very muddy and made their set blend into one long song which is a big shame. Despite this a nice warm up for the rest of the night and they managed to pull people into the venue to see them ensuring that for the next band there was a reasonable crowd. 6/10

Counterhold

Locals Counterhold were that next band and this was a case of deja-vu as they supported Evil Scarecrow last time they played South Wales in Cardiff. However this time they were joined by their lead guitarist Dave Birbeck who was missing last time. This added to the bands brand of powerhouse melodic metal as they had the dual guitar riffage (with Dave joined by Karl Silverthorn) and the band’s sound was complemented by a heavyweight rhythm section, special kudos goes to drummer Ryan who completed the gig despite being extremely ill. Ploughing through a set of strong songs including The Beast Within, Disease, Charred Remains and the awesome Children Of A Lesser God the band were clearly loving every minute and the hometown crowd were receptive and appreciated the bands tour worn professionalism. Throughout the set frontman Steve conducted the proceedings like a general prodding, poking and bellowing for the crowd to shout along before showing everyone how it should be done with his fantastic set of pipes. A well-deserved hometown victory for Counterhold who should get bigger as soon as their album (called All Of Them Slain) is released. 9/10

Evil Scarecrow

The sight of five people covered in costumes and ghostly corpse paint in the middle of dance club (complete with THREE! disco balls) is interesting to say the least but it added to the ridiculousness of Evil Scarecrow. After the intro on which many shapes were pulled the band dove straight into Choose Metal which showcased the scarred black metal guitars of Dr Hell and Brother Pain, the rumbling bass of Viking like Kraven Mordeth, the blitzkrieg drums of Monty Blitzfist and the atmospheric keys of Princess Luxury. This was perhaps the most serious song on the set list which rapidly descended into madness from second song Vampyre Trousers. There was then the epic War And Seek which features some great time changes showing that despite their parody metal tag they are all very good musicians. The in between song banter was funny and slightly surreal in place with however the band didn't have many of the props they usually do, still they managed to put on an excellent show with Helldog being followed by ThunderCat's Theme (which should keep the RSPCA happy). Then towards the end of the set Evil Scarecrow showed one of the major reasons for their success, they inspire lots of crowd participation, which varied from the Black metal claws of Morbid Witch the side to side scuttling of new track Crabulon, the crying and wailing of emo anthem Blacken The Everything, before things really kicked went mad with the synchronised(ish) Robot dancing to favourite Robototron which ended in a stage dive from Brother Pain at the end. For a band that are madder than a box of frogs, they had met their match in the Newport crowd who actively took up every chance to participate before masochistically calling for the Final Countdown cover which meant everyone had to can-can for the entire song. The band seemed a little overwhelmed by how nuts the audience was and when all was said and done both band and crowd went home happy. Another fine showing from one of the best live bands in the country they are consistently brilliant and leave you smiling from ear-to-ear and there aren't many bands that can do that! 10/10

 (Just as a little side note the sound got better as the night progressed)