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Thursday, 25 July 2013

The View From The Back Of The Room: Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

So here we go the second time The Boss has headlined the city’s largest venue and there was a sense of anticipation in the air, there are fewer names bigger in music than Springsteen and there is always a sense of occasion whenever he descends on a city. The show was due to start at 7pm so as I knew there would be no support act (a bit of theme for The Boss) I came into the stadium at around 6:45, I was surprised by how empty the stadium was, in full rugby mode it can hold 75,000, however the stage itself took up half of the arena so there was more like around 30,000 tonight. Although it was not a sell-out. I was near the soundstage and had a lot of room to move about which was a relief due to the stifling heat in the city and the closed roof (rain was expected though never materialised). So the crowd waited...and waited...and waited. Finally at about 8:20 the show kicked off to a rapturous applause. The 16-piece band made their way to the stage and started to play before the leader himself emerged to an even louder ovation. They kicked off with This Little Light Of Mine which got the stadium clapping and singing like some kind of revival. As the night wore on this comparison would become more apt but I digress.

The major part of a Springsteen concert is that no two are the same, this is due to the sign request idea, which is where members of the front row have song requests on signs and Bruce picks them and plays them, which is surely a testament to how talented his band are as they may never know what songs are going to be chosen so obviously have to have a repertoire of over a thousand songs! First though were Long Walk Home and Adam Raised A Cain, in which The Boss showed off his guitar prowess doing his best Hendrix impression, which is again a testament to The Boss as he is backed by two amazing guitarist in the shape of Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren he is still first and foremost the lead guitarist So then we were plunged into request territory with the emphatic statement of Prove It All Night which gave Lofgren a chance to show off and the live premier of T.V Movie before this jukebox section of the show ended with Cynthia. Roulette was next and then we had a Wrecking Ball mini-suite with three songs coming from his latest album including We Take Care Of Our Own and the title track, this was followed by a bit of explanation about The Boss's past before we got to the meat and potatoes of the set with two classics in the form of Spirits In The Night and Hungry Heart and the reflective My City Of Ruins.

It's here I think I should mention The E-Street Band who are such a major part of The Boss's sound, I've already mentioned the contribution of the six stringers with Lofgren the silent partner and Van Zandt Springsteen's right hand man on guitar and co-vocals, the ivories were tickled by Roy Bittan as usual and the familiar faces of Gary Tallent and Max Weinberg kept the rhythm in check with bass and drums respectively all were augmented by the recent (well 2002) addition of Soozie Tyrell on violin and Charles Giodarno (2008) who took over the organ stool from the departed Danny Federici. There were three backing singers a percussionist and a horn section which was led by, in possibly the biggest change to the band, Jake Clemons who admirably filled in for his late uncle on sax and general larger than life joie-de-vive. A notable absence was Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa who was not present.

 Back to the music and we were back to the covers with The Animals We've Got To Get Out Of This Place featuring special guest Eric Burden which segued into John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom and was closely followed by Summertime Blues (which has to be one of the most covered songs in history?) After this is where the show headed for the home straight as it were with the performances getting ramped up and an almost vaudeville element creeping in. Shackled And Drawn was an ode to the slavery and Waiting For A Sunny Day was the Boss at his most cringe worthy inviting a 7-year old on stage to sing with him (before handing him back to his weeping father) this was followed by The Rising and the euphoric Badlands to end the first set. We were deep into the second hour when the band returned for the encore but no rest bite was given with Born To Run, Ramrod, Tougher Than The Rest and Dancing In The Dark in which members of the crowd were invited on stage before the finale of The Isley Brothers Shout (with full Blues Brothers histrionics) and a reprise of the opening gospel tune finished the encore at three hours. So we had witnessed a multitude of songs from a huge back catalogue, you may not always get what you want to hear but you always get a good show from a man who has being doing this for nearly 50 years, part rockstar, part preacher the shows are loud, boisterous and full of some big songs.

 However after all the bluster it was in the second encore that Springsteen earned his reputation as The Boss, it was him alone on the stage with and acoustic guitar and a harmonica around his neck, like his hero Bob Dylan, and he brought silence to the crowd with his rendition of Janey Don't Lose Heart who were awestruck before the cry arose when he started to play the opening chords of Thunder Road which lead to a mass sing-along before Bruce said his goodbyes and left. If any moment in the whole 3 and a bit hour show encapsulated what The Boss is about it was that medley, it showed that for all the above Bruce Springsteen is a songwriter and a bloody good one at that! 10/10
  

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The View From The Back Of The Room: Wintersun

Wintersun & Bloodshot Dawn, O2 Academy 2, Bristol

So upon arriving in Bristol, through some fantastic road works, we took up residence in Trenchard Street car park (which is perfectly placed above the venue) and found the last remaining space. We then descended the staircase and searched for refreshment in The Hatchet, where discussions began in earnest. After a few pints we then made the final pre gig ritual of Sausage and chips before walking into the O2 Academy. We were a bit shocked to find that tonight's gig was upstairs in what I was told was the 'metal room' at the local club night, so we ascended the stairs and were thrown into a long thin corridor of a room filled to the brim with black t-shirt clad hoard. Making our way to the back during Savage Messiah's set, we first set out to acquire some merch from Bloodshot Dawn and then once the purchases were done we proceeded to watch Savage Messiahs final songs and also began to sweat profusely (More on that later).

It would be unfair to score Savage Messiah based on two songs but having seen their brand of revivalist thrash before I knew what to expect and the band played their music with gusto and with better sound than the last time I'd seen them.

Bloodshot Dawn

Next were Portsmouth's Bloodshot Dawn who strolled on to a hero's welcome. This is a band that get better every time I see them, their brand of technical death metal is flawless in a live setting and from the opening of Beckoning Oblivion the wind milling began in earnest, with sweat flying like a sprinkler form those who were adverts for L'Oreal. Bloodshot Dawn blend together just the right amount of brutal (br00tal?) death metal vocals from frontman Josh McMorran, ferocious blast beats and guttural roars from drummer Doug Anderson, razor sharp riffage and face melting solo's from McMorran and Ben Ellis whose guitar interplay is nothing short of mesmerising. The guitar fans were happy, the pit starters were happy (despite an abysmal wall of death) and those of us that enjoy quality music also had grins on our faces and our horns held high. The band quickly worked through their set with Vision and Illusion Aesthetic coming in succession before the set ended with the pit inciting The Quantum Apocalypse and the flawless anthem Godless which brought things to a close. In some respects Bloodshot Dawn were the perfect support for Wintersun as they have the same level of intense technical musicianship albeit with none of them orchestral flourishes that the headliners bring. This is just heads down (or spinning) virtuosic no frills metal. 8/10

And with a brief rest bite to cool off we took in some more fluid and gathered ourselves ready to watch the headliners.

Wintersun

The heat in the room was now oppressive, even the females in attendance were covered in a reflective sheen as the venue was starting to resemble a large oven. Still we metal fans are a hardy bunch and as the intro music of When Time Fades Away rang out in its Eastern influenced tones the crowd were cheering at the top of their lungs. 2 and a half minutes later the band launched into Sons Of Winter And Stars which got the baying mob shouting along from the off. What immediately hits you about Wintersun is just how 'big' they sound, despite using backing tracks for a lot of the keys, synths, strings etc. their guitar, bass and drum sound is flawless and they seem to pack more riffs into every song than many bands have in their entire set list. They are also a bit of an enigma drawing fans from the Pagan metal crowd, probably due to the lyrical content and main man Jari Maenpaa's Ensiferum connection, but they also draw fans from the guitar virtuoso crowd because of their intricate and jaw dropping guitar prowess, it was slightly weird to see fans with Korpiklaani shirts standing next to those decked out with Steve Vai shirts. Anyway I digress, back to the set and the band played every song from their fantastic recent album Time I (which I reviewed in an earlier blog) although the album only has 5 tracks, and they also played nearly every track from their debut bar one, the closing 10 minute piece Sadness And Hate. After Sons Of...the Finns followed with Land Of Snow And Sorrow completing the first three songs of Time I in doing so before looking back at the debut with the super speed Battle Against Time which has to be a Nordic Dragonforce track before they changed down a gear to the waltzing pace of Sleeping Stars and then came back up a gear to Beautiful Death which completed the first retrospective part of the show. There was very little audience interaction from the band like there had been in both Savage Messiah and Bloodshot Dawn's set, possibly because the band don't need it they are quite prepared to let the music do the talking. The second intro of Darkness And Frost (the shortest track of the night) signalled a return to the new album with the 12 minute closing statement of Time which sent the crowd into raptures. By now the room crowd were staring to boil and this became a test of wills with a band that do not play 4 minute songs, these were all long complex pieces and I was surprised how many stuck around in the oppressive heat to watch the band and also how many ventured to the front! It was back to the debut for the last four songs and the anthemic Death And The Healing was first before more super-speed metal in the shape of Winter Madness which did indeed incite full pit starting hysteria (or that could have been the heat!) the theme of high speed metal continued to the end with Beyond The Dark Sun and Starchild (not an ode to Paul Stanley unfortunately) both providing dual guitars and speed metal riffs that Blind Guardian would be proud of! Then like a flash of (winter) lighting it was over the exhausted, soaking wet bodies of the crowd threw their final horns and reached out to congratulate the band on a simply incredible show. We filed out back to the relative cool of the outside and as one of my gig companions put it "They were much better than I expected" I couldn't agree with him more I'm not sure what I expected and I was anxious to see whether they could replicate their album live and I was extremely pleased to see that they could and were possibly better than I could have ever predicted, consider me extremely pleasantly surprised and about three stone lighter! 9/10     

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Bands To Check Out BOA 2013

Just some bands that I think you should check out at Bloodstock (not including the headliners)

Thursday

Tragedy
Oaf
Bull Riff Stampede

Friday

RJD Stage

Death Angel
Municipal Waste
Voivod
Accept

Sophie Lancaster Stage

Absolva
Cypher 16
Xerath

Saturday

RJD Stage

Stormbringer
Beholder
3 Inches Of Blood
Hell
Gojira
Sabaton
Avantasia

Sophie Lancaster Stage

Vanderbuyst
Neonfly
Powerquest

Jagermeister Stage

The Earls Of Mars
Incassum

Sunday

RJD Stage

Sacred Mother Tongue
Amorphis
Exodus
DevilDriver

Sophie Lancaster Stage

Grifter
RSJ
Evil Scarecrow
Breed 77
Wolfsbane

New Blood Stage

Fury

Jagermeister Stage

Andy James
Phil Campbell's All Star Band





Friday, 19 July 2013

Reviews: Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Hinder, American Head Charge

Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals: Walk Through Exits Only (Housecore Records)

So here it is the full length debut of former Pantera and current Down vocalist Phil Anselmo, this solo album was proceeded by a split E.P with thrash band Warbeast who are signed to Anselmo's record label (the one through which he's released this album). Now I did enjoy the E.P. but it's only through listening to this album that I now know why, it's nice and short. Yes sorry folks but over the 8 tracks of this album Anselmo's fiercely underground aggression and noise heavy aural battering does start to grate on you and after about the third track Betrayed everything just gets a little bit samey. Though 'The Illegals' do try and mix it up with their instrumentation there are only so many times you can listen to super speed hardcore riffs backed by furious death metal drumming before it gets boring. The lyrical content to is also a bit too much in places with Anselmo ranting at music media, the government and all the usual targets but in places he just seems a little like a child having a tantrum to be taken seriously. Yes Anselmo has one of those unique metal voices however I find that he is better suited in Down who are in their prime at the moment. It is admirable that someone like Anselmo wants to hark back to the underground with a release that encompasses hardcore, punk, death and sludge metal (seen at its fullest on the final 12 minute track Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens) but this album doesn't appeal to me personally and I find to be a bit like him making noise for noise sake rather than creating an album of well-constructed songs. 5/10

Hinder: Welcome To The Freakshow (Republic)

Hinder! A band that I am still following mainly because they keep releasing solid quality albums of Amercian Radio Rock, and while Buckcherry, Black Stone Cherry and others are further up in the food chain Hinder have continued to release radio friendly rock since 2005. Welcome To The Freakshow is another such album and kicks off with the hard rock punch of Save Me which has the bands signature hard rock riffs mixed with some powerful percussion, mixed with a half rapped vocals and a sneaky part of Kashmir thrown in. The twin guitars of Joe Garvey and Mark King are the core riff sound of the band but the highlight are the unique vocals of frontman Austin Winkler who leads the band in there album that encompasses loss, love, sex, lust and lots of drinking! There is however a problem with this album and it's one I've noticed with a lot of American bands more recent albums. This is that there seems to be a lot of  ballads I counted 5 on this album of 11 tracks they range from electric power ballads to acoustic love songs with Talk To Me and Get Me Away From You two examples of the latter coming one after another, it all does get a bit over powering in places, however when they rock they rock hard with the title track and See You In Hell being two examples although it does seem in short supply on this album, still its well performed and well written but it just needs a bit more rock. 5/10  

American Head Charge: Shoot (Self-Released)

After splitting in 2007, Industrial metal band reformed surreptitiously in 2011 and embarked on a 10 date tour of the USA and in the middle found time to record this 5 track E.P. And from the slow burning opening track we see that the band haven't missed a beat the riffs are low down and dirty, the bass is very heavy and the keys swell during the latter half of the track. This throws you immediately into the bass led heaviness of Set Yourself On Fire which has a vibe of Korn meets Marylin Manson with its shouted vocals, down tuned bass and eerie keys, the band also manage to throw in some Deftones with a the swirling middle and psychedelic vocal bridge. The hard rock stomp of Sugars Of Someday comes next and has the definite Korn vibe to it, before things get heavy, heavy, low, low on Sand which has a bass sound to rupture your bowels before the E.P ends with driving cover of Patti Smith's Rock N Roll N*gger which sticks to the all-out bluster of the original but is in keeping with the bands industrial style. The band are a very much stuck in the early 2000's but that doesn't matter as  their nearest sound-alikes Korn have moved into different avenues the fans that 'prefer the old stuff' will definitely get their thrills from AHC as they purvey the same style of music that made Follow The Leader a huge success. So if that sounds like your idea of heaven then give Shoot a shot, however if it fills you with dread then you may want to reload and avoid the gunfight (I'm sorry about the puns) 7/10

Monday, 15 July 2013

Another Point Of View: Clutch (Review By Paul)

Clutch – HMV Forum

General

Arriving shortly after 7:30pm we entered the Forum on a sweltering London evening to watch opening band General from Coventry deliver a solid  half hour of heavy stoner rock very much in the Down/COC/Orange Goblin style. A strong stage presence commanded your attention and their groove laden tunes soon had appreciative nodding and moving from the early arrivals. Some excellent musicianship was on display and the band, who were apparently invited on the four date UK leg of the Earth Rocker European tour following a chance viewing of their YouTube video Bullet Train, made sure that they took the most of the opportunity. A number of tracks from their debut album, Where Are Your Gods Now? were aired and it would be fair to say that, given I knew nothing about them; they were a welcome addition to the night. 7/10

Sons Of Icarus

Whilst I’d never heard of General, the name Sons of Icarus was familiar to me, although not their music. A bit of internet research told me that they had won a Marshall Amplifiers Ultimate band competition in 2010 and I recalled them being at both Download and Sonisphere in recent years. Musically Sons of Icarus are more of a straight down the line rock band, very much in the mould of The Answer but with a Soundgarden edge. Indeed, at times, lead singer Andy Mason’s sound certainly made me think very much of Chris Cornell. They played all the tracks from their EP You Want It All, with the stand out track Sick To The Teeth featuring some sterling lead guitar from Steve Balkwill. Sons of Icarus received an extremely warm response from the audience and these guys are well worth a listen; most certainly ones to watch for over the next few years and a great choice of support. 8/10

Clutch

What can you say about Clutch? Underground favourites for so long, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them. You want tunes? These guys have got tunes. You want aggression? Man, the mosh pit was ferocious. You want musicianship of the highest order? Yeah, they are called Tim Sult, Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster. This band is no-nonsense rock at its finest. Show piecing the latest album Earth Rocker, the band opened with the tile track before launching into a further six tracks from it in succession. Not many bands could get away with that but this was Clutch and the crowd loved it, screaming along to every word, pitting and jumping throughout the gig. Neil Fallon is so many things; a poet, lyricist, ringmaster and antagonist but he is also genuinely humble and appeared quite overwhelmed at times at both the reaction and the fact that the Forum was totally sold out. This is the same band who have played TJs and Pontypridd Municipal Hall in recent years … how they have progressed is a joy to see. Clutch then launched into a raft of older tracks including Burning Beard, a quite stunning The Regulator followed by my favourite, Pure Rock Fury which it certainly was. Neil Fallon always commands the attention but Clutch are a cohesive unit who drive each other along. Tim Sult’s guitar playing is quite breath-taking at times whilst Maines and Gaster lay down a beat so solid and heavy your fillings rattle. The main set closed with three more new songs. Yes, that was ten in total. A brave move and one that totally warranted the reaction received. The new songs are quite simply some of the best stuff Clutch have ever done and the slow paced Gone Cold confirmed this. A storming encore of The Mob Goes Wild and Electric Worry/One Eye Dollar concluded the evening. Soaking wet and emotionally exhausted, and evening with Clutch continues to be entertainment of the highest quality. Maybe next time a visit to these parts would be included? We can but hope. 10/10

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review: Evil Masquerade (Guest review by Nick Hewitt)

Evil Masquerade – Pentagram (Dark Minstrel Music)

Having always been a massive fan of Firewind I was nothing short of gutted on hearing the news that lead singer and energy of the band Apollo Papathanasio had left by “mutual consent”. So, I decided to follow one of my favourite personalities in the business and checked out his other offerings to the metal industry. In doing so I came across Evil Masquerade; a Danish outfit set up by Henrik Flyman (Formally of Lacrimosa) and their 5th and new album Pentagram. Pentagram opens up delightfully with the title track offering a pounding galloping riff that the likes of Iron Maiden and Deep Purple would be proud of. Shortly the rough yet tuneful voice of Apollo's that I have come to love kicks in with a heavy rock sound. The track rolls on with some simple but beautiful solos from Flyman and speed changes that hook you into the darkness that album delivers. Without a seconds’ break the album slides flawlessly into A Silhouette, this grungy track drops the album to a darker level with Apollo and Henrik combining to make the track flow wonderfully with the slow sharp drumming from Dennis Buhl perking up your ears and keeping you enveloped in the journey.

The next few tracks; Perfect Disgrace and Spirits Of The Dead pick up the pace of the album, again with the earlier sprinklings of Iron Maiden and Deep Purple present and now the lyrical undertones of which the late great Ronnie James Dio. The Spirits Of The Dead is a highlight of this album as it demonstrates the brilliance of Apollo's voice. The sheer anguish he is able to deliver really pulls you into the track, particularly when accompanied by a thrilling solo courtesy of Flyman that further compounds the emotions the band are trying to convey. As a band they are trying to take you on a musical journey, as they have done on previous albums they are very much an album band rather than one making a collection of songs. The dark emotion filled track Moonlight Fantasy hits you right in the guts and slows the pace of the album.

At this point in the album we reach somewhat of a lull in the journey as tracks such as Unholy Water, Pray For Mercy On Our Souls and Soul Taker chug on through dragging slightly. Despite the talents of both bass’s player Thor Jeppesen and keyboardist Artur Meinild adding a little more melody to the tracks they fail to grip you as previous chapters of Masquerades journey did which does become slightly annoying. Although this is by no means the end as the band once again pick up the dark pounding grunge influences and power into On A Bed Of Thorns. Which starts out slow but bursts into a track full of raw emotion, anguish and defiance this track is another particular highlight.
The journey comes to a slow but eventually thumping end on When The Fire Dies and instrumental track Golden Ratio are released. Meinilds’ keyboards take centre stage at this juncture as Apollo’s vocals bring the sense of ending to the journey. The general feeling of When the Fire Dies is that of a retrospect of the album, as it mixes all the power, grunge and melodic elements of the album into one lump, eventually summing up the tone of the journey and album with the climactic instrumental Golden Ratio, leaving Flyman to have the final say on his guitar with a thundering statement of closure.

This being my first true listen to any Evil Masquerade material I have to say I am very impressed. The entire band has talent… this is obvious. Their ability to be able to draw the listener into the journey is brilliant. Many albums have done this to me but the combination of Apollo’s expressive vocals and Hendriks’ poignant guitars are able to make you feel a little more than most albums. The down side is that there are one too many songs in the album that seem a little irrelevant compared to the majority of the songs on offer and really stagnate the journey that Evil Masquerade attempt to take you on. This for me is a great place to start when considering Evil Masquerade, quality dark powerful emotive music clearly influenced by some of the greats. 8/10

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Reviews: Melvins, Andrew Stockdale, Oliva

Melvins: Hooray For Sausages (Ipacec)

The alt-metal masters’ return with their 19th album and this is a covers album that in true Melvins style mixes strange song choices with some odd arrangements. King Buzzo and co open the album with Venom's Warhead which is very true to Cronos' original, albeit with cleaner production. Much of this similarity comes from addition of Neurosis' Scott Kelly on guitar and vocals; yes this album features more guests and also sees the band perform as Melvins Lite on a few tracks much like they did on their previous album Crybaby. Next up is Queen's You're My Best Friend which is given an 8-bit makeover with the electronic keys at odds with the May-like guitar, which leads in to a percussive take on the rockers favourite Black Betty before a still trippy but more grungy rendition of The Scientists Set it On Fire which features Mudhoney's Mark Arm on vocals. The first elongated piece is Bowie's Station To Station which seems to be a perfect fit for a band like Melvins as it has the right element of weirdness as well as some sprawling soundscapes to encompass, and although it is the original arrangement they have made it more electric than the original with Osbourne providing some fuzzy guitar for the track and Australian J.G Thirlwell giving a suitably off-kilter and snotty vocal performance that Bowie would be proud of. The more progressive element is wiped clean on the next track which is a punky cover of The Kinks lesser known track Attitude which actually sounds like a Melvins track, the double bass driven Female Trouble comes next and has all the pseudo-sexuality of John Waters' original but just amped up a bit, what we get next is straight up version of hippy band The Fugs Carpe Diem, into more punk in the shape of the garage stomp of Timothy Leary Lives before the mood comes crashing down again on the sinister monologue of In Every Dreamhome A Heartache which was originally by Roxy Music, but this version features the ghostly vocals of Jello Biafra. This is great covers albums with some inspired choices that play to the bands strengths however it will have its detractors that will always prefer the originals but hopefully it will open up people’s minds to both the Melvins and the less well known bands they cover. 8/10

Andrew Stockdale: Keep Moving (Universal)

The man who 'is' Wolfmother has finally laid to rest his former band and set off on his own. After the period of uncertainty that followed his band's last release Cosmic Egg it’s nice to see Stockdale return albeit under his own name, however the name is all that's changed the music is still the same, Stockdale handles all the guitars and vocals and he still is stuck firmly in his 70's fuzzy hard rock groove topped by his helium fuelled sheep vocals. He has assembled a fine set of musicians with Ian Peres (who was the other final member of Wolfmother with Stockdale) handling the bass on all the tracks except two and also contributing Wurlitzer, Moog synth and Fender Rhodes on the other tracks, the album has three drummers contributing as well. Things hit the ground shaking with the first three tracks all rip roaring; hip shaking 70's rockers the title track also injecting some funk into the proceedings. The songs range from fuzzy garage rockers, to the Lizzy twin leads off Meridian, with some serious riffs and also some great solo's from Stockdale, who also adds some proggy and psych leanings to the songs too most notably on Ghetto which is drenched in Wurlitzer as well as some acoustic folk with Suitcase (One More Time) he also brings some bluesy mouth harp to She's A Motorhead. I will say that this album is good and has got some good songs however at 17 songs it also means it has quite a lot of filler too and flags towards the end going into too much experimental territory at the end a bit with a few less tracks this could be a killer as like I said a lot of the tracks are big stompy rockers that come straight out of the Wolfmother songbook as well as the odd folk thrown in but there are just too many of them for sustained listening. I conclusion the first half is excellent the second not so much which is a shame. 6/10   

Oliva: Raise The Curtain (AFM)

Jon Oliva is the mastermind of Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Jon Oliva's Pain. This is surprisingly Jon Oliva's first solo album and it harks back to the classic progressive rock era days right from the opening of the title track which features ELP like organ from Oliva and has a euphoric call to arms that is truly stuck in the era of big organs and capes galore. Oliva has numerous musicians contributing mainly on guitar and keys, most notably Iced Earth collaborator Jim Morris on guitar and Jon Oliva's Pain drummer Christopher Kinder hammering the skins however most of the music comes from just Oliva who naturally handles the keys but also the guitars and bass, this album is his debut as lead guitarist and obviously he provides every track with his amazing voice that usually sits as scarred scream but is capable of mimicking many vocal styles. Like I said this is not metal it is firmly rooted in classic 70's prog with Hammonds, Wurlitzers and Moogs galore all steeped in Oliva's flair for the dramatic, see the horn filled soul of Ten Years, the acoustic balladry This is a very personal project for Oliva as it is the final album to feature the unrecorded work of his brother Criss the former Savatage guitarist maestro who died age 30 in a car accident, so you this album is almost like Oliva exorcising the final demons of his past and he does it in fine style with every track different and the tracks penned by his brother are some of the strongest on the album, which is not to detract from Jon's writing at all but the Criss co-penned songs have that dusting of magic that was always present on the early Savatage albums. Personally I love Savatage and also TSO but Jon Oliva's Pain never really did it for me however this album merges the first two excellently and throws in a shedload of prog to boot! A classy album of dramatic, propulsive prog rock! 8/10