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Friday, 31 January 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Skindred

Skindred, Soil & Viza O2 Academy Bristol

So once more over the bridge to Bristol and after a few coffee's (your intrepid traveller was not at his best) and into the already crammed O2 for the final parts of Viza who sound a lot like System of A Down with the whole American/Armenian shtick mixed with nu-metal, good enough for two songs but I can't give them an unbiased review so onto band 2. 

Soil

So Soil returned with Ryan McCombs in 2012 and since then they are picking up where they left off after 2004's Redefined. The band came out to the normal opener Breaking Me Down from their debut and then straight into Loaded Gun from their latest release. I must say I didn't notice the join between old stuff and new stuff as Soil are one of those bands who just do what they do, this is Southern groove metal. The band are driven by heavy bass lines, chunky riffs and McCombs great vocals. The band moved through their tracks from the McCombs era albums and threw in a cover of Ram Jam's Black Betty which wasn't needed but was still pretty good. The band were very professional and played their set with aplomb, after a particularly long changeover. The finale came with that staccato riff of Halo which started the mass sing-along and left the capacity crowd on a high. 7/10

Skindred

Skindred always known as one of the best live bands on the circuit and as the intro tape of Thunderstruck and the Empire Theme from Star Wars blared through the P.A the band made their way to stage, bedecked in their Skindred branded suits and moved headlong into the rush of Rat Race which was followed up by the shout along of  Stand For Something both tracks keeping the fans jumping, moshing and pumping their fists with glee, this followed into Doom Riff and it's "whoa" chorus before the first song from the new album came in the shape of the excellent Ninja. With those first 4 songs Skindred showed that they have more talent and can generate more excitement from frontman Benji's sunglasses than many bands do in their entire set. The band throughout were on fire with Mikeydemus providing the riff rock riot (sorry) and Dan Pugsley driving the rhythms on his bass, special mention has to go to drummer Arya Goggin and DJ/Samples Dan Sturgess who I'll mention later in detail. Still the band's driving force is Benji who oozes charisma and is somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Del Boy Trotter (if he was from Newport of course!) his between song banter is second to none and you genuinely don't know what he will do next. The Ragga was brought to the front on State Of Emergency and Selector and the dub infected Cut Dem which led into oldie Babylon and the heavy as hell Bruises which destroyed that dared to pit. So after this was mid set intermission which involved a drum solo mixed with a sample mash up section which saw House Of Pain, The Beastie Boys, Queen and The Prodigy mixed together and turned the O2 into a club like atmosphere and allowed Benji to return to the stage after a costume change before moving into two new ones with Kill The Power and Worlds On Fire set to become future set main stays, after another mash up of Macklemore with metal the band started to play Sad But True which moved into the classic double whammy of Trouble and Pressure. The final part of the night is where things went a bit strange, the band played Saturday from the new album which just seems to be a bit made for radio and sounding like weak pop-punk, not the music Skindred should be making at this point in their career and it shouldn't be played this late into the set especially when it was followed by the still venue levelling Nobody which ended the main set. So 11pm and the band were running over a brief intermission another costume change and then they arrived back on stage with newbie We Live which seems was better in the live arena, but it does seem to be a rare misstep for the band as it does sound like AOR (and not in a good way) still all this was washed away with the final hurrah of Warning which featured the now legendary Newport helicopter and a wall of death. With the final chord echoing throughout the arena the opening strains of Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better rang through the O2, it is hard to argue with it as the band get better every time. Not bad for a band that are perfect!! 10/10     

Monday, 27 January 2014

Reviews: Skindred, BlackWolf, Mustasch

Skindred: Kill The Power (BMG)

Benji and the boyos bring the noise again with their fifth album, with the dub infected title track starting things off nicely promising a "Resident Evil attack" which it delivers along with a Kanye West sample. This moves into Ruling Force which is heavy at the beginning but breaks down into electro throughout. The dub (step) is here with Playing With The Devil as is the rock with World's On Fire and Ninja which is heavy as hell and very tongue in cheek.  So have the band created an album better than their world beating effort Union Black, the album that saw them elevated in status and even festival headliners. In a word no, yes that album is good but is doesn't seem very cohesive, yes the album has the reggae, ska and rock all fusing brilliantly once again to create some unique rock/metal but it does start with a bang and then burn out towards the end. The band have created to ballads with The Kids Are Right Now which is good but We Live does sound a bit too much like 30 seconds To Mars for my liking. The albums latter half just tends to fade out a little bit towards the end with the duet Opened Eyed being one of the better tracks. Benji's voice is still cracking he can growl, shout, croon and rap with the rhythm section of Pugsley and Goggin driving things along and the guitar of Mikey Demus bringing the odd off kilter riffs. This is Skindred doing what they do but yet again a studio album fails to capture the bands fierce live performance, maybe one day an album will but Kill The Power is not that album, still it does add a few more tracks to the Skindred showcase. 7/10

BlackWolf: The Hunt (Self Release)

BlackWolf fly the flak for real rock n roll, having witnessed their stuff live a few times, and they have always impressed and with tours supporting The Temperance Movement, The Union and Voodoo Six. Their EP was a small slice of the bands talent so it was with great to hear they were working on a full length debut. So The Hunt has arrived and it's pretty damn good. things start strong with the funky blues bluster of Mr Maker (the first single) which features the bands trademark modern hard rock with Jason Cronin's riffs cranking out like Acca Dacca on a very good day and John Greenhill's solos screeching and crying over the songs with aplomb, things keep rocking through Keep Moving On, Moving Mountains before things slow down with the laid back blues filled Zep alike Faith In Me. Ben Webb and Thomas Lennox-Brown keep the rhythm fast and furious on tracks like Trouble with the Webb's bass providing the anchor and Lennox-Brown's drums brimming with fury and lots of Cowbell! When brought together with modern retro riffs and solos the instrumental part of this band is pretty flawless so it takes a pretty special vocalist to finish things off thankfully Scott Sharp has the pipes to do so equally soulful and powerful thundering on Only Said In Silence. Blackwolf are a band that has a lot of similarities to The Answer (a band they tour with this year) with enough classic sounds to keep the old-school pounding their fists and nodding their heads but has a distinctly modern flavour too. This is a storming debut album that will (hopefully) set BlackWolf on the path to greatness, bluesy, ballsy and rocking!! 9/10 

Mustasch: Thank You For The Demon (Gain Music/Sony)


Mustasch are somewhat of an odd band hailing from Sweden they play heavy stoner metal full of massive truck rolling riffs and huge shouted choruses. I have always maintained that Mustasch sound like Metallica stuck in their black album period and after the slow intro to Feared And Hated the riffs kick in with force, the down stroking is prime Hetfield with Ralph Gyllenhammar driving the song with both the rhythm guitar and his powerful vocals, the powerhouse drumming of new boy Jejo Perkovic and the always rumbling bass of Mats Stam Johansson providing the big metal riffage that David Johannesson can solo over. Like I said Mustasch have always been a bit of an enigma merging stoner metal (Lowlife Highlights) with doom (The Mauler), some hard rock and also a weird electronic dance mix on the suitably named I Hate To Dance, to build their sound before adding some intelligent lyrics and lots of classical backing tracks that add an extra dimension to the tracks, see the title track. This album is a marked improvement on their last album it sounds more like their earlier works with lots of hard hitting songs that clobber you around the head with their full pelt riffing, the tracks on this record make you want to raise your fist in the air and moves you on All My Life. Mustasch have again released a strong metal album that will be ignored en masse but for those that seek it out will be rewarded. 8/10

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Reviews: Alcest, Blackberry Smoke, Within Temptation

Alcest – Shelter (Prophecy Productions) (Review By Paul)

At Bloodstock in 2012 I watched Alcest headline in the Sophie Tent and amidst the clouds of weed marvelled at a band whose roots lay ensconced in black metal and yet delivered some of the most delicate and beautiful music I had ever heard. Two support sets with Katatonia later that year encouraged me to familiarise myself much deeper with the French duo of Neige and Winterhalter. 2012’s Les Voyages De L’ame provided the clearest indication that their direction was heading about as far away from their earlier leanings and the latest release, Shelter has continued the journey. The album opens with the instrumental Wings before the delicate Opale provides a sweet taster for what is to come. Dreamy passages, clean lyrics and graceful time changes are very much the staple throughout and La Nuit Marche Avec Moi continues the theme of hope which is very much in evidence. Neige has referred to his childhood experiences as an influence on his writing and there is a poignancy which runs throughout this tender gentle piece of work. Alcest has been described as ‘shoegaze’ and there are clear influences; My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive come to mind on first listen (indeed, Neil Halstead from Slowdive guests on Away). L’Eviel Des Muses soars and dives, dipping in and out of the clouds whilst carrying the listener along before the title track, measured and serene bring a smile of joy as it washes over you. The album’s stand out track is saved until last; Deliverance, which provides more wistful lyrics from Neige and a passage which contains a string section and can only be described as breath-taking. This is an album which will lift your spirits when you are feeling down, an album that evokes warm feelings and quite simply makes you feel released from every care you hold. Put it on whilst relaxing in front of a warm fire with a glass of red and it will refresh your soul. This album is nowhere near metal, or even close to its predecessor but one of simple, fresh and fragile music. Quite simple: listen and enjoy. 9/10

Blackberry Smoke – The Whippoorwill (Southern Ground) (Review By Paul)

I must confess I had not heard of Blackberry Smoke until Team Rock played a session from the Atlanta outfit on Nick Horne’s Classic Rock show late last year. Being partial to a bit of Southern rock they quickly caught my attention and I took a punt on their 2012 offering The Whippoorwill. What an album it is. Released in the UK shortly, the opener Six Ways To Sunday sets out the blueprint. This is straightforward Southern country rock with Charlie Starr’s soaring vocals providing the focus throughout. Pretty Little Lie has some sterling guitar work and whilst this is nothing new, Blackberry Smoke provide a new slant on a genre which has seen some of the world’s most awesome musicians. Lovely tinkling keyboards from Brandon Still are a welcome and essential addition to tracks such as Everybody Knows She’s Mine. As with all great Southern bands, the rhythm section of bassist Richard and (drummer) Brit Turner provides the backbone on which the rest of the band can demonstrate their range, with elements of bluegrass, soul, arena rock and even a bit of gospel all thrown into the mix. Like many of their compatriots, the emphasis is on good time rock ’n’ roll with heartfelt stories such as One Horse Town. The title track is much more of a slowed down tune but still retains heart and soul and a beautiful 70s blues feel. Vocal harmonies are always a feature of Southern rock and Blackberry Smoke are no exception with Starr’s lead vocals complemented by Turner and guitarist Paul Jackson. There isn't a bad track on this album. However, penultimate song Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost is already a favourite with a large amount of radio airplay on Team Rock and you can see why. A real foot stomper with driving guitar and a real feel of one of my Southern favourites Molly Hatchet all over it. Closing track Up The Road is a beautiful country ballad which moves into gospel territory and I am sure would be a smash in all those country bars down South (and I don’t mean Bournemouth!) Blackberry Smoke have been around for over a decade but their third album, which will finally arrive in the UK in February delivers everything you could want in a Country/rock album. Well worth a listen. Now to see them live! 9/10

Within Temptation: Hydra (Nuclear Blast) 

Dutch symphonic metal legends Within Temptation and much like the titular monster this album has many different heads and spans a wide range of styles all of which are anchored with the bands symphonic metal past. This is nothing new the bands last album The Unforgiving was much more hard rock than symphonic metal however unlike that one this does not have an overarching concept it is just a collection of very strong metal tracks. The band have seem to done what is popular currently and added various guest vocalists on the record, after the chunky modern metal opening of Let Us Burn (which still has big choirs and orchestral passages) the next three songs differ wildly and they all feature guest vocals. Dangerous has the unmistakable vocals of Mr Howard Jones who provides the super speed metalcore style track with some classic metal style crooning, next up is the symphonic-rap-metal madness of And We Run which features Xzibit in the verses spitting rhymes over the piano led track that Jay-Z and RUN-DMC would be proud of. The third song in this trifecta is the first single Paradise which is a symphonic metal fans wet dream as it features vocals from Sharon den Adel and Tarja Turunen in a dramatic, OTT, orchestra backed, opera-metal that both artists have done excellently through their careers (and yes it does sound like Nightwish). The rest of the album is filled with more symphonic influenced metal with some killer riffage from Westerholt (no longer a touring member) and Ruud Jolie who also provides some Maiden-like solos on tracks like the galloping Silver Moonlight which has to be a Grand Magus song surely? There are also some more left field choices with Edge Of The World having the sound of a modern electronic chart hit ballad, like some Katy B mixed with Imagine Dragons. Tell Me Why is a progressive song from the bands past full of harmony vocals and Westerholt doing a good guttural roar, the album closes with another guest this time Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner who provides his rasp to the Celtic sounding ballad The Whole World Is Watching. Within Temptation have matured on this record, they are now comfortable with their past and are looking forward to their future; this may be one of their career best albums. 9/10            

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Reviews: Axel Rudi Pell, Animus Complex, Dragonhammer (Nick Hewitt)

Axel Rudi Pell: Into The Storm (Steamhammer)

16 albums in a career filled with nothing but highs, well… maybe the one low; Axel Rudi Pell returns in fantastic style here with Into The Storm. More vocally focused than previous offerings but still filled with the signature crunching guitars and eponymous solos we've come to know and love. After the standard brief instrumental intro Axel introduces us to his new album with a fierce boom, Tower Of Light. Filled with the aforementioned guitars and vocals, Tower Of Light sets the album up perfectly leaving me hoping to any higher being that cares to listen that there is much more of this to come. Into the next few tracks Long Way To Go and Burning Chains that provide what I was hoping for; Axel at his sheer best. Two slightly more melodic songs here, but certainly not lacking in the crisp sharp hallmark riffs that we expect from the German metal master. A brief few minutes of calm are served next with the first of two new ballads When Truth Hurts. Throughout Pell's career I've always appreciated the slower ballads that he produces, sometimes for all of his wondrous skills on the guitar the vocals can go unnoticed, and this for me, is a tragedy, as at times Jonnny Gioeli's voice can be so magnanimous in expression and contributes more to his music than people realize. If the second ballad Hey Hey My My (A Neil Young cover. Matt) doesn't prove this then what will? ...Beautiful. Following both ballads the album proceeds to pick up and kick you in the face once more with Changing Times and final track Into The Storm. Accompanied by the slow pounding drums the mix between harsh riffs and perfectly melodic solos epitomize the album. Brimming with sounds that a heavy metal album should deliver yet at the same time served with style and calm that allows you become easily hooked, Into The Storm is an outstanding addition to Pell’s discography and should be to your own collection too. If you haven't been lucky enough to discover this genius yet, this is a great place to start. Metal as it should be constructed, with thought and care. 10/10.

Animus Complex: Animus Complex (Advancing Art)

Animus Complex combines intelligent groove and soaring melodies to make for a mysterious audible adventure with a slight djent edge. Opening with a crunching rip roaring track Admission Of Guilt the band from Arizona set out what they stand for… pounding relentless bass and as already mentioned, endless soaring melodies. Layered nicely throughout the dual vocals of Jeremy Davis (clean) and Matt Turkington (growls) provide this album with a solid depth to keep your ears pricked from start to finish. The album persists with the ear bashing until the more progressive tracks Survive and From The Bottom Of Your Soul enter the frame which highlight the versatility this band have, yet at the same time keeping the pace and tone of the album constant. Within these two tracks, especially Bottom Of Your Soul Davis really shows off a strong at times powerful voice that is able to deliver real emotion. The Forest sends the album back into crushing guitars that make you want to bend your knees and bang your head Till Lindeman style at times, this time Turkington rasping his throat and lungs to bring the darkness and power back into the album. The eight-song debut does have some flaws, mainly The Way Things Should Have Been which quite simply does not belong on this album. Slow, stagnant and well… totally out of place. Finally sliding into the final two tracks I.D and Astral Projection the album finishes where it began shredding melodic solos and endless bounding bass. Not a perfect album but for a debut its brave consistent and damn good! Some good potential shown here, definitely worth checking out as it could satisfy many different tastes of metal. 8/10.

DragonHammer: The X Experiment (My Kingdom Music)

Hailing from Italy DragonHammer (one word) is your plain and simple no frills power metal band, nothing more and nothing less. Riffs, solos and fantasy galore this is a fun album. Opening with a sombre instrumental the album slips nicely into the first track The End Of The World; keyboards and guitar together offer what you come to expect from any power metal album, symphony and melody supporting powerful higher octave vocals supplied by frontman Max Aguzzi, who sounds a little like an Italian Kiske at times (not necessarily a bad trait). The album carries on in much the same vein throughout with heavier tracks such as Seek In The Ice and title track The X Experiment, the latter being dominated by flickering keyboards and grungy riff, finishing with a decent solo from Giuseppe De Paolo. The stand out track from this album is Escape, filled with a multitude of different pace and depth this beauty of a ballad manages to combine power metal riffs with a thrash base, throw in Aguzzi’s voice and this particular song really is a treat. From here on out the album reverts to similarity, tracks such as My Destiny and Follow Your Star although solid and delivered with aplomb really do not break any boundaries, and here lies the problem I have with this album. This album is very much for your avid power metaler, it delivers what it says on the tin and nothing more, which for me is a disappointment. DragonHammer clearly posses some talent but they seem to be content delivering what they have always produced; fun honest power metal without breaking any new ground. If you're a power metal fan grab your air guitars, as this will not be a disappointment, if not maybe look elsewhere first. 7/10.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Reviews: Bruce Springsteen, Suicidal Angels, The Brew

Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes (Colombia)

So what can the Boss do on his 18th album that he hasn't already done? Well on the previous record Wrecking Ball he made a pseudo-concept piece tackling economic injustice so this time he lets his hair down so to speak by creating and album of covers and never recorded and reimagined songs from his past. This makes the album span multiple genres and styles a fact that was added to by its hotchpotch recording history with Springsteen recording when he could while on the road during the mammoth Wrecking Ball tour. This myriad of genres means that the album has a rougher and ready sound than some of his previous releases, but this is not a criticism far from it. Things start well with the title track (originally by Gothic bluesman Tim Scott McConnell) which has R&B shuffle too it that makes your hips want to shake, obviously Springsteen is joined by his E-Street Band with Lofgren, Talent, Van Zandt, Scialfa and Weinberg making up the major players, with the dark noir-like Harry's Place featuring departed member Clarence Clemons on some smoky sax. Still the major contributor in terms of sound is the unmistakable guitar sound of Tom Morello who puts his funk-rock stamp all over this record with a killer guitar solo on previously unreleased live favourite the haunting American Skin (41 Shots). Morello contributes to 9 of the 12 tracks and his stamp is all over them most notably on the reimagined version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad which moves away from its introspective acoustic roots and turns into a guitar solo filled stadium rock epic with both Springsteen and Morello trading guitar solos and vocals (Morello sounds a lot like The Boss vocally). The rest of the album is made up of electronic-country ballads like Down In The Hole which features the late Danny Federici contributing some scintillating Wurlitzer, the gospel of Heaven's Wall, Celtic battle cries with This Is Your Sword and love letters to small town America with The Wall. This is pure Springsteen Americana condensed into a selection of choice cuts from his vaults as well as some well-chosen covers. So 18 albums into his career The Boss is still just that! 9/10       

Suicidal Angels: Divide and Conquer (NoiseArt Records)

Suicidal Angels are a thrash band who hail from the Greece the land of Firewind. No power metal here though this is for fans of Kreator and Slayer with speed of sound riffage and lighting fast solos that break into the middle of the song much like Kerry King's mob. The songs are all based on horror, gore and war the subjects of King and Petrozza, from the opening of Marching Over Blood the band immediately lay down their baton with shouted vocals, great thrash riffage and the barked vocals of Nick Melissourgos before moving into the marching stomp of Seed Of Evil. The songs do this throughout the record, moving from face melting speed metal through fist pumping classic metal, Control Of A Twisted Mind starts out with a classical opening and moves into some strong thrash. I am at a loss to say anything else really because if you are not a fan of Slayer, Exodus and Kreator then you will love this if not then you will find it very samey and repetitive pit causing thrash. 6/10   

The Brew: Control (Jazzhaus Records)

The Brew are a classic rock influenced trio hailing from Grimsby and this is their fourth album and quite frankly I'm disgusted with myself that I haven't heard of this band before, they are staggeringly good. Lots of blues based fuzzy guitar riffs, powerhouse drumming and driving bass lines that are reminiscent of Cream (Mute and Pause) Jimi Hendrix on Repeat, The Who on Fast Forward and lots of Zep especially from Kurt Smith's drumming. Obviously they don't just stay in the classics they bring forward a more modern vibe which shows that the band are drawing on their influences rather than copying them wholesale. Guitarist/vocalist Jason Barwick has an anguished blues howl an squeezes as much emotion out of his guitar as possible, this along with Kurt's drumming and Tim Smith's voodoo bass lines see Repeat, give the band a hip shaking, hard rocking modern rock vibe but with just enough retro to keep the Classic Rock crowd happy. The band have obviously drawn on their extensive touring schedule with bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chickenfoot and the Tres Amigos ZZ Top as this record is chock full of great rock and roll songs that burst to life thanks in a big part to Toby Jepson who has become somewhat of an extraordinaire and makes this album crisp and bright in the producers chair, obviously the other half of the bands power comes from their excellent song craft and supreme musicianship. This album is a hell of a record and has everything I like from a hard rock band, personally I will be seeking out the bands back catalogue but for now I just going to play this one until my neighbours hate it!! 9/10     

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

World Of Metal 3: Toxic Waltz, Type V Blood, Echelon

Continuing our journey through independant metal from around the world

Toxic Waltz: Decades Of Pain (Self Released)

Toxic Waltz are thrash metal at its most volatile from Germany. All the normal hallmarks of Teutonic Thrash are here, the classical guitar intro which bursts into electrified life on the opening title track before the classic thrash riffage tries to cram as many riffs into a song as possible. So what do they sound like? Well the obvious links would be Kreator, Sodom and Destruction who are the big three and the links are all here the face melting solos of Jimi combine with the explosive rhythm section to create some heavy hitting thrash with lots of time changes and shifts within the songs see the twisty turny World Of Hate as an example that has big marching riffage and a slower acoustically backed middle section before shooting into super-fast soloing, the vocals of Angelo are ragged and almost deathy in style meaning they share more than a few genre traits with their elder statesmen as well some of the Bay Area brawlers like Exodus and in places Slayer. This is a well-produced album full of some top quality thrash and with songs like Suicide SquadObsession To kill and Priest Of Lie that does what thrash does but does it well with a lot of pit inciting tracks full of lightning fast licks, shredding solo's, barked vocals and some killer razor sharp thrash metal. Another German thrash band showing that our Teutonic cousins can do thrash as well as any of the bands from the California Bay Area! 8/10  

Type V Blood: BeastKiller (Artificial Sun)

Type V Blood are somewhat of odd one, this is industrial metal at its finest, big electronic loops, beats and samples with everything held together by crunchy metal riffs and guttural roars. The band are like a Russian extreme metal version of Ragga-Metal heroes Skindred, although with the ska and reggae replaced by drum & bass and break-beat. The band are made up of Smith on guitar and programming and Star on vocals, the guitars are heavy and rarely let up in terms of ferocity, the drums are electronic and relentlessly march on through the political anthem Shocksong, the techno metal of From The Heart Of The Sun, the drum and bass led Sexyberia. This album has many different soundscapes going through it with every song just different enough to stop it from becoming repetitive, this is a bit of a shock to the system as it is just powerful industrial metal the bludgeons you into submission with every single EBM laced track. This is a good album that despite not being really my everyday listening but this is a strong album with some pulsating synth based metal music. 6/10            

Echelon: Vivito! Creato! Moritor! (Self-Released)


Echelon are an Austrian Avant-Garde black metal band who try to push as many boundaries as possible with an album by creating a concept album that links the works of philosophers Jacques Callot, Francisco de Goya, Éduard Manet and Otto Dix and how they searched for the true portrayal of war. To be honest I couldn't tell you if this is what the album was about or whether it was the bands laundry list as they sing mostly in Austrian. This doesn't detract from the whole album as they are a very talented band that play progressive black metal rather than the avant-garde tag they have given themselves. The songs have light and shade with faster passages leading into slower more doom based parts. For the most part they are screamed vocals, super speed drums and guitars that are the hallmarks of black metal but the band also have many classic metal influences on Des Teufels Bluthund and Die Grauen des Krieges (which does have a sound of later Iron Maiden with its orchestral passage). This is a strong album that shows that metal can be intelligent, intuitive and also heavy as hell. Good stuff! 7/10     

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Reviews: Iced Earth, Skull Fist, Seven Deadly

Iced Earth: Plagues Of Babylon (Century Media)

The American metal machine rolls into town again, this is their second album with new vocalist Stu Block, who managed to defy the critics on Dystopia by having his own style but staying true to the vocal delivery of long time frontman Matt Barlow. Things start off with the triumphal intro of the title track which begins like a metal funeral procession, before the trademark Schaffer riffage kicks in picking the pace up and starting things off in familiar territory lyrically with the continuing story of the Set Abominae (Iced Earth's mascot), and the hints to ancient Egypt, 6 tracks are part of the "Something Wicked Saga" and the other 6 are standalone tracks. Plagues Of Babylon is Iced Earth to the core with the relentless razor sharp riffs of Schaffer driving the songs along with a thrash-like ferocity, backed by the lead guitars of Troy Steele and the muscular rhythm section of Raphael Saini on drums and Brit Luke Appleton on bass. Key to the sound too are the excellent vocals of Stu Block who still has the perfect voice for Iced Earth and is a better replacement for MB than Ripper ever was (sorry Tim). The Set Abominae theme is the first half with songs about genocide, slavery, plague and zombies being the major lyrical themes of this continuation which ends with the 7-minute The End? this provides a cliff-hanger to the saga for further continuation Onto the stand alone tracks then and they a varied between the creeping horror of Cthulu, the Western-metal of Peacemaker, the political rallying cries of Spirit Of The Times (previously recorded by Schaffer's side project Sons Of Liberty) as well as a cover of Highwayman which features vocals from Michael Poulsen and Russell Allen in the other two roles, finally the band have an obligatory ballad with If I Could See You which features Schaffer's Demons & Wizards cohort Hansi Kursch. This yet another great album from Schaffer and co it has all the Iced Earth hallmarks that make the bands great, excellent riffs, massive gang chorus vocals and some seriously good songs. 8/10        

Seven Deadly: Obliviation (WEMC Productions)

Seven Deadly rose from the ashes of Panic Cell and stormed onto the scene with a four track stunner of an E.P (reviewed in these pages many moons ago). So now it's time for the full length debut, some line-up shuffling has gone on with PC bassist and founder member Bobby now concentrating on other ventures, however the rest of the band are still the same with H Virdee and Dave Irving dealing with the six strings bringing the hammering riffs and massive breakdowns, Rob Hicks smashes the hell out of his skins, new boy Murillo Rassi brings the groove on bass and Archie Wilson shows off his diverse vocal delivery easily soaring in the clean melodies and then roaring like a demon in the screaming parts. This is muscular modern metal at its' finest and it shows that it's not just the Yanks that know how to do this stuff we Brits are pretty good at it too. The album is made up of 12 killer tracks with the anthemic From This DarknessBlood On Your Hands and Allegiance coming from the E.P albeit with a much more muscular production and arrangement here. The band mix modern metal sounds of Lamb Of God, Devildriver and Trivium with the more groove based sounds of FFDP and Disturbed who are also alluded to in the electronic samples used throughout the album. From This Darkness is still a massive track and its melodic outro is followed by the heavy as hell Posthumous, the band drive the melody home with Pure Steel which would feel at home on a FFDP album. Throughout the album the band walk the line between heavy and melodic with H and Dave's guitars weaving intricate leads/solos with crushing riffs, the rhythm section driving the songs along at 100mph, special mention to Rob Hicks' drumming which is superb, Archie's vocals too are amazing, he has an expansive range that is part David Draiman part Randy Blythe see the title track. This debut is a monster filled with massive slabs of modern metal that get better as the album goes on and better again on repeated plays. Hopefully the strength of this album will see Seven Deadly headlining arenas soon!! 9/10         

Skull Fist: Chasing The Dream (Nuclear Blast)

Skull Fist are one of the main bands to have come out of the Canadian NWOBHM revival along with Cauldron and Axxion. There has been a gap of 3 years since the band’s debut Head Of The Pack the reasons for this are numerous, the most major being frontman Jackie Slaughter's broken neck from Skateboarding, but the band are back with a much bigger sound than on the debut which had a very trad sound in terms of the full pelt speed metal riffs and the D.I.Y production. This second full length has a similar style with super-fast riffage coming from Slaughter and Johnny Nesta, who kills with his face melting solos. The rhythm section too are a well-oiled machine with galloping bass and drums driving every song and provide Slaughter with a traditional metal base for his helium filled vocals. With any bullet belt revival band it's all about authenticity and not being too much of a copycat band, Skull Fist are neither of these things yes their songs homage the greats of the 80's when white hi-tops and harlequin spandex were the order of the day but Skull Fist expand their sound a little bit bringing in a bit of Sunset Strip style sleaze on Bad For Good which wouldn't sound out of place on a Ratt album. This is another excellent album from the crazy Canadians and with tracks like the title track, Call Of The Wild the super-fast Sign Of The Warrior, the fret wanking instrumental Shreds Not Dead and the explosive finale of Mean Street Rider. For anyone that was there the first time this is a great album to reminisce to, for those who weren't it is fast, furious metal madness. 7/10 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Paul's Review Of The Year

Review of the year 2013

So here I am listening to Voodoo Six’s Songs to Invade Countries To, one of the many albums that passed me by in a quite brilliant year for our genre, whilst reflecting on some of the events that made 2013 so memorable. Bear with me as I reminisce a little. After all, it won’t be long before I won’t be able to remember stuff like this; I am getting on you know.
2012 had finished with a double helping of Alcest and Katatonia in London and Bristol, and 2013 was already shaping up nicely with a number of classic rock artists lined up or rumoured to be touring. As it turned out, 2013 was indeed a year for the old guard to flex their muscles and keep the youngsters at arm’s length.

My first gig of 2013 didn’t arrive until 27 January and also involved my first visit to The Limelight venue in Belfast. Having been distraught at having to miss Orange Goblin at Clwb Ifor Bach due to work commitments, my joy at discovering that not only were the mighty Goblin in town when I was there but also that my hotel for the week, the god awful Holiday Inn in Ormeau Avenue, was directly across the road from the venue, was substantial.  Two sterling warm up sets from local band Triggerman and Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell led to a crushing evening from Ben Ward and co with the metal fraternity of Northern Ireland rocking out in frantic style.

 An early contender for one of albums of the year arrived around the same time in the shape of Audrey Horne’s Youngblood. A straightforward classic rock album with shades of Lizzy and Maiden, this remained on my playlist all year and deserved a better rating that the 7 given in Metal Hammer. Another release notable of praise around the same time was The Divinity of Purpose from Hatebreed. I don’t really care what others think, this band mix their hardcore with metal perfectly and whilst they are certainly a little formulaic, the Connecticut outfit usually do it for me. They will be welcomed back to BOA in 2014.
Deep into February now and a night of pure class at the Coal Exchange as rock legends UFO rolled into town. This is a band that means a great deal to me, having been only the second band I ever saw live (sandwiched between Saxon and Thin Lizzy with Lynott). A healthy crowd of mainly middle aged males assembled in Cardiff Bay to watch Greek outfit 4Bitten kick off the evening before a stunning set from Mogg, Moore, Parker, Lehmann and Raymond. Think UFO and you think of Doctor Doctor or Rock Bottom, but this band have a massive back catalogue of top quality music. The following night saw us head to Bogiez for an evening of Swedish Metal with the fantastic Grand Magus ably supported by speed metallers Primitai who put in a workmanlike shift before the packed house enjoyed some traditional heavy metal from a band that never disappoint. The sight of JB and Fox urging the crowd in sing-alongs with some of their anthemic tracks from Iron Will and The Hunt was just brilliant. As a certain Editor stated, ‘you could watch them every week and never get bored’.

A plethora of new releases arrived in February: These included the Andy Sneap produced Sacrifice from Saxon which is surely one of their finest ever works, Lights Out from Swedish outfit Graveyard and power metal at its finest in the shape of Nemesis from Finnish veterans Stratovarius. However, one of the albums of the year also arrived at this time in the shape of The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) by prog lord Steven Wilson.  Later in the year I was lucky enough to see him live. This album grew and grew on me throughout the year and was another that hit my top ten. Not quite so breathtakingly brilliant was the decidedly average Temper Temper from Welsh outfit Bullet For My Valentine which limped to a 6 in Hammer. I was thinking about BFMV recently, and realised that amongst all of our crew that frequent gigs with me, these are about the only band which generates universal apathy. The next great hope for UK metal don’t do it for any of use apparently. A couple of other releases that are also worthy of mention at this point: The bluesy debut from Mikey Moody’s Snakecharmer and the psychedelic fuzz of Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats Blood Lust. Both bands would feature in the live arena for me by the end of the year.
Moving into March and due to a nightshift which couldn’t be changed I missed out on the chance of seeing Charlotte Church in Clwb (Yes, you did read that correctly … and I would given half a chance) and so made do with Gibraltar’s own Breed 77 back at Bogiez two nights later. Now I often found myself half cut by the time I got to Bogiez to see bands and this event appeared to be no exception as I have a t-shirt from support band Seven Deadly which I had no intention of buying. Anyway, our usual cohort rocked up in good time for a change to witness a cracking performance from the ex-Panic Cell outfit which was just as well as the next two outfits Left Unscarred an For the Imperium were pretty dull (obviously fuelling my alcohol consumption). Luckily Breed 77 put in a top performance with their rather unique Latin/metal crossover sound lapped up by a small but enthusiastic crowd.

Another month and another storming album arrived. This time the Metal Hammer 2013 album of the year, Earth Rocker from Maryland outfit Clutch. And oh my god, what an absolutely incredible album it is. In my opinion this album is fully deserving of the accolade of album of the year; from the title track with its groove laden anthem, sure to remain a favourite on their set list for many years to come, through to the catchy choruses of Mr Freedom and the hard rocking Unto the Breach this is a masterpiece and sits nicely alongside the legendary Blast Tyrant in their catalogue. Super stuff. Of course, for ever masterpiece that arrives, a truckload of crap usually accompanies it and this month the winner was Anthrax for their cover of Rush’s Anthem on Worship Music/Anthems. Whilst I will admit it isn’t as bad as MFH’s cover of Witch Hunt it still sucks. No-one should cover Rush. Period. I missed a few albums this month. Apologies to Finntroll and Kvelertak in particular whilst I’m not at all disappointed at allowing KSE, Buckcherry and Bleed From Within to pass me by.

Back to the arena and the next gig saw us decant to our regular haunt at the O2 academy in Bristol for the Jagermeister Music Tour. Welsh rockers Revoker made a decent start to the evening before The Defiled bored me shitless. Luckily it was time for the French organ rearrangement known as Gojira to follow and as usual with these guys it was time to strap down your spleen whilst they blistered through 45 minutes of ear splitting classics. Following Gojira is a pretty difficult task but the nameless ghouls and Papa Emeritus who comprise Ghost did the job. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly impressed with them at this gig but found them a much more entertaining outfit supporting Alice in Chains later in the year.

Moving swiftly into April and a couple of early gigs to get the blood pumping. First off, a welcome return to the magnificent Coal Exchange and a chance to renew my acquaintance with Dave Brock and Hawkwind. The main set comprised of the 1975 classic Warrior At The Edge Of Time and a rather splendid show it was too. A very good turnout were given a real treat with dancers and the lightshow that the Hawks always provide. The following night it was back to Bogiez for a very different kind of evening. The always brilliant Bloodshot Dawn kicked of proceedings; the first of three gigs I would see these guys at during 2013, quickly followed by the kick in the nuts that is Beholder. At this point it is worth pointing out that Simon Hall, the man mountain that is front of house with Beholder, managed to encourage one of the most incredible sights ever seen in Bogiez … a four man mosh pit that included Nicholas Hewitt and your good self. A once in a life time opportunity which should have been captured on DVD for prosperity. Maybe not! Headliners Scar Symmetry were a bit of a let-down with their technical metal not really floating my boat but a pretty good evening overall.

Despite the 30 odd gigs I managed this year I also missed a couple of excellent shows. A couple of the most notable being the Von Hertzen Brothers a couple of nights later in support of their excellent Nine Lives album, the Zeppelin-esque Rival Sons and thrash veterans Ill Nino. Such is life. April also provided some very good releases which included the bubblegum trash Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from shock rocker Rob Zombie, Elvis infused Metallica style Danish metal from Volbeat in the form of Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and Infestissumam from Ghost, an album that has grown on me throughout the year. The final Cathedral album, The Last Spire was also released around the same time and proved to be a fitting swansong for one of the doom genre’s greatest bands. And whilst I’m wittering on about other releases, don’t forget Earth Blues from Spiritual Beggars, complete with ex-Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio. A solid slab of 70s rock which is well worth a spin.

Finishing the month were two contrasting gigs. First up, california’s Counting Crows who played a breath taking Country/AOR set at the acoustically brilliant Colston Hall in Bristol before the month finished with a blast as Barnsley tea drinkers Saxon bludgeoned the capacity crowd at the O2 Academy in Bristol with nearly two hours of new stuff from Sacrifice and of course a plethora of old favourites.  As a certain Mr Brett Perry says, you never get a bad show from Saxon.
Missing the carnage of Hatebreed at the Solus the following night (how was the place still standing after that?) and avoiding KSE at the start of May my next gig actually took a whole month to arrive in the shape of Canadian legends (and my all-time favourites) Rush at the LG arena in Birmingham. This came directly after an incredible four day break in Venice so I was well rested and full of cheer as I sauntered from our hotel to watch three hours of sheer quality. Every time I see Rush I realise why I fork out a large wedge of cash for the privilege. Their shows are simply stunning and the addition of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble for the middle section of the show was inspiring.  From the sublime to the ridiculous a few nights later as I finished a sparse month gig wise in the dirty ‘Port to see Cwmbran outfit Counterhold deliver a storming set before the Nottingham loons Evil Scarecrow delivered their usual set of parody combined with high quality metal. A brilliant warm up to one of the most enjoyable sets at BOA later in the year.

New albums continued to arrive during May and these included a real grower in the latest release from Alice in Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here which did little to start but developed into one of my favourite releases of the year. Alongside this, Deep Purple proved that there remains plenty left in their tank with their Now What?! Release, heavy on Hammond in tribute to Jon Lord but also a pretty rocky release overall. Tesseract dropped in a contender for album of the year for many with Altered State, with more traditional fare from Airbourne and a return to form for Queens of the Stone Age.

Moving swiftly into June and again a slow start for gigs but not for the music with the arrival of a slab of the heaviest metal of the year in the shape of 13 from Black Sabbath. The return of the behemoths of heavy metal was welcomed in every quarter, and unlike many other heavyweights there is simply no-one I know who doesn’t love this album or this band. From the first single God is dead? To the sinister tolling of the bell at the end of the album this was a work of absolute quality. No wonder it won many of the awards for album of the year. They say timing is everything and unfortunately for Megadeth they put out Supercollider at around the same time. Some collision! Still, it will be interesting to see them headline at BOA next year won’t it? Won’t it? Other notable releases around this time included Furosity by Monster Truck. The self-titled Scorpion Child release as well as Skull by Evile.

Time for a bit of stadium rock next and a trip to the Cardiff City Stadium to see the pearly whites of New Jersey’s favourite sons, Bon Jovi. As regular readers will know, I saw this lot headline at Donnington in 1986 and this gig was about as far removed from that as it was possible to be. Having been thoroughly disappointed by the Tiny Rebel brewery’s offering in the City Centre the good CMH and I were confronted by the nightmare of a Bon Jovi crowd; all women in sparkly cowboy hats and pissed up on cheap cider, accompanied by the type of bloke who hugs his male friends at Sterophonic gigs. As for the music, well, there is a review on MOM; suffice to say it won’t make my top ten gigs of the year. A couple of weeks later however, we were fortunate, no honoured, to make our way to the legendary Hammersmith Odeon to see Southern boogie at its finest as those good ‘ole boys ZZ Top laid on my gig of the year. Stunning in simplicity and yet technically awesome.  Disappointed to miss the quality of Vintage Trouble in Cardiff two days later but sometimes things have to give.

Meanwhile the albums continued to fly out as we began the crew’s countdown to our annual pilgrimage to the hallowed turf of Catton Hall. New arrivals included All Hell Break’s Loose from Black Star Riders and the unnervingly Lynott sounding Rick Warwick, eastern offerings from Oprhaned Land and Viking tales from Amon Amarth. Obviously, checking out the blog is the easiest way to track the releases; I’ve just pointed out some of my favourites. The last day of June arrived and two new recruits for BOA were confirmed in Alex and Chris, fresh from the hell of Download earlier in the month. Despite the usual crap weather and exhaustion that goes with Download, they managed to see the Maiden England set including THAT spitfire. A good start to their festival days and more was to come.

A return to the Forum in Kentish Town was next on the agenda and a sold out show from Clutch. An extremely hot and sweaty gig with a very aggressive and raucous crowd saw the Maryland outfit deliver a near perfect set including nine numbers from Earth Rocker. The following night it was back to Bogiez for the Head Bangers Balls, the annual charity gig which saw me renew acquaintances with Bloodshot Dawn as well as witness some fiery old school from Reign of Fury and a super set from Triaxis who always impress. Two weeks later it was another chalk and cheese session, with Bloodshot Dawn (again!!) and the technically masterful Scandinavians Wintersun in the sauna known as the O2 2 in Bristol. I have only ever sweated once as much as that gig and that was at CF10 watching Sylosis a few years ago. Brilliant music, disgusting venue. The following night it was the marathon session which passes as a Bruce Springsteen show. Three and a quarter hours and the man was still going as we headed down Westgate Street. One of those to tick off the list for me; no doubting the man is brilliant but I got the feeling at the end of the show that he was actually enjoying it more than the crowd.

The end of July saw the inevitable change from the hot weather just as Brett, Matt and I embarked on our first trip to Ebbw Vale’s Steel House Festival. Matt has reviewed this one in depth but I’ll take a minute to reflect. What a brilliant festival this is and what a line up we had. Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons national park on a working farm, the camping was just so easy, a two minute walk to the arena, local real ale from the Tudor Brewery ( a mere two miles down the road) on draft at a reasonable £3 a pint with decent food at tidy prices. The line-up was pure classic rock with a load of cracking newbies included too. Highlights for me: The Temperance Movement – storming rock in the vein of The Black Crowes, Trucker Diablo from Northern Ireland, Snakecharmer who delivered a healthy smattering of old school Whitesnake along with tracks from their aforementioned self-titled release and the headliners. Saturday night in pouring rain saw the return of THE FUCKING EAGLE as Saxon delivered a ball-breaking hour and a half of classic NWOBHM and Sunday evening finally (after a typical delay – who said the Germans were efficient) concluded with The Michael Schenker Group performing a really smorgasbord of old school MSG, Scorpions and UFO tracks. The huge advantage of this festival was that, as it had continued to rain for most of the weekend, we had packed up all our gear and headed for home as the final notes blasted out. Home in 30 minutes from a festival is not to be sniffed at. However, the rain did provide us with the idea of a hydraulic gazebo, and Saturday afternoon at Steel House saw the bizarre sight of the three of us successfully bidding on such an item in time for BOA. Excellent work and we were now festival ready for ever!!

Just for a change there was a limited amount that tickled my musical buds in July although special mention to The Wild Hunt from Watain that really grew on me with repeated listens. As for Five Finger Death Punch, I just can’t deal with these guys which is a real shame having seen their first UK live performance several years ago. They just leave me flat although the overexposure in Metal Hammer probably doesn’t help.
Anyway, onto the business month of the year and the return to Bloodstock Open Air. This year we thought we were virtually unbreakable in our preparations. Tents – check. Gazebo – check. Chairs – check. Table and fold out benches – check. Bacon – check. Beer – aarrgghhh! Ran out on Sunday morning. This led to your hero sat outside a Tesco express at 8:30am on the Sunday morning having casually strolled in to purchase beer only to be told by the assistant in no uncertain terms that Sunday opening prohibited the sale before 10:00am. Fuck. You have to remember that this was long after the corn beef tin incident and the visit to Burton A&E, the most metal A&E unit in the UK and the only one to get a review in a heavy metal blog. Apparently the offending corn beef was hovered up by a camp mate before we’d even got to the taxi. (you know who you are!) However, what a weekend. Beautiful weather, a great crew and some top notch music. My highlights included Evil Scarecrow’s crazy show in the tent, Slayer’s dignified tribute to the recently passed Jeff Hanneman, the teutonic metal of Accept, the old school thrash of Death Angel and Exodus and the triumph of Hell, complete with Brett’s now legendary tears. All in all this year BOA hit all the heights and I’ve already got my grubby mitts on my ticket for next year. Even with Megadave.

After a refreshing break in Turkey, which was about as far removed from BOA as possible, the next gig arrived in the form of Rome and Egypt albeit in Bogiez once more. Yes, the Maurizo Iacono driven side project Ex Deo were in town and following their set at BOA I was eager for more. They didn’t disappoint, unlike Nile who had blown me away at BOA in 2012 but for once really failed to connect in a much curtailed set (due to a schedule that involved catching a ferry I am led to believe). As much as Nile was a let-down,  the next band I saw were an absolute inspiration. Fleetwood Mac at the O2 arena in London were simply beautiful and two hours passed in seconds. Ignoring the usual twats in an arena crowd who were clearly there for the “event”, the Mac were just brilliant. Highlight for me: Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar playing. The man has a severe dose of Asperger’s but he can shred like few around him. And then there was Stevie. Enough said. *sigh* (I wholeheartedly agree Ed)
And that was it gig wise for September. What about the releases I hear you cry. Okay, September unleashed a massive load of metal that gushed all over us (enough of this smut). They included the rather good Feast from Canadian thrash merchants Annihilator, This Savage Land from the Black Spiders, the number one H classic rock tribute Hail to the King from AX7, Dream Theater’s self-titled release, The Temperance Movement, an absolute stormer from Bristol’s Onslaught in VI and the heavy hitting Fortress from Alter Bridge. Phew. I need a tissue. Oh. And I forgot Surgical Steel by Carcass. Ouch.

October promised much but started with an evening of absolute farce as White Wizzard disappeared up their own arse at one of the last Bogiez gigs. I’ve never seen such comedy before and all hail Monument and singer Peter Ellis who rescued something from the ashes. The diatribe that followed on White Wizzard’s facebook page in the following weeks was absolute comedy gold. Good luck in rescuing this situation Jon Leon. A couple of nights later it was off to another type of Odeon to watch Through the Never, the Metallica film. In summary, the music was great; the film was a bag of hairy balls. There. Luckily order was soon restored to my galaxy as Matt and I ventured to Bristol once more (we should rent a bloody flat there for everyone to crash at the amount of time we all spend there) to the Colston Hall for the quite magnificent Steven Wilson and his band. A quite superb evening of musical entertainment with only two moments to disturb me. One was the length of the queue at the gents halfway through the set (you get the idea of the audience demographic from that) and the other was seeing Nick Beggs on bass. Yes, the Nick Beggs who I had seen with Kajagoogoo in the mid-1980s at St David’s Hall when my sister had needed an older escort (yes, that is my story and I’m sticking to it *hums ‘too shy shy, hush hush, I do I’ quietly*).  A change of scene two nights later with an evening with Jeremy Hardy providing some excellent comedy before a rare visit to the soulless hanger that is the Motorpoint Arena for the triple bill of Halestorm, Shinedown and Alter Bridge. All I’ll say is that if you are going to do six songs, don’t include a drum solo and don’t EVER try and do Dissident Aggressor as a cover. Even Slayer struggled compared to the Metal Gods. Shinedown were great fun in the Great Hall last year although I reckon that might have been influenced by the amount of beer we’d had. This time they started brightly and then bored us senseless. At one point I saw the second member of the crew weeping at a gig this year as Matt broke down when they covered Skynyrd’s Simple Man. Alter Bridge did what Alter bridge do, and they played Blackbird so I don’t care.

After a week away with work in West Wales and our inability to get tickets to see The Answer in The Thekla, I trooped along to see something very different in the form of Ozric tentacles at the Globe. Great venue and next year The Answer will play there. I’ve already got my tickets this time. The Ozrics were ace. Totally spacey and a nice change. Three nights later and my father’s day present finally arrived although I had to travel to Wolverhampton for it! A great present though at the smashing Wulfrun Hall with an evening of gothic metal; Katatonia playing Viva Emptiness in full, Lacuna Coil delivering a great set before Paradise Lost blew away my memory of their last sound plagued set in Cardiff with a 25th anniversary set that was just incredible. This was another heavy month for new releases with gems from In Solitude, Fleshgod Apocalypse, a quality release from Trivium and an absolute belter from Motorhead with Aftershock. This album has become my best buddy in the gym. Ideal for training with, laced with a bluesy feel and some of Phil Campbell’s most soulful guitar playing. You have to check this out. It made my top ten.

Into the home straight now with new releases from Satyricon and Hell catching the ear in November. However, this month was all about endurance for me with a meaty four gigs in six days in three different countries. First to Belfast to see Satyricon in majestic form at the Limelight. Frost wins my award for the scariest drummer in metal, not to mention one of the finest and this was another of my top ten gigs of the year. Two nights later I was at the Garage in London to finally catch Israel’s Orphaned Land and I wasn’t at all disappointed. An excellent night with some cracking supports on a truly multicultural bill. Roll on Friday and it was off to the O2 in Bristol (inevitably) for the Hammer Defenders of the Faith tour. Now, I went purely to see Hell and thanks to Brett and his O2 phone we got in and on the barrier to witness a mere 25 minutes of pure quality. I haven’t washed my head since Dave Bower cast the devil out (not that he did a very good job). Anyway, we retreated quickly after that and suffered as Bleed from Within did their shouty thing before my first ever viewing of Liverpool’s finest Carcass which was far more enjoyable. I’m pleased these guys will be at BOA along with DOTF headliners Amon Amarth who delivered a set the Thunder Gods would have been proud of. Finally, the week ended on a massive high with great sets at the Newport Centre from The Walking Papers, Ghost and a fabulous Alice in Chains who I felt delivered their best performance I had ever seen from them.

Annoyingly I was too slow to get tickets to see The Temperance Movement at the Globe a few nights later (although I have made a quick move to secure tickets for next year at the Great Hall) and so it wasn’t until early December that my next gigs arrived. The annual December visit from Detroit’s magnificent Electric Six to the Glee Club duly arrived along with the guaranteed hang-over the following morning (too much Guinness your honour). Straight off to London to the underworld the following night (hangover still kicking me occasionally) for a kill or cure evening with bay thrashers Death Angel who were excellent. I missed the latest visit of Triaxis and Counterhold as I was on a Tolkien trip (good it was too) before the final gig of the year. And what a way to finish. A trip to the LG Arena in Birmingham in the Sabbath mobile to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer deliver one of the sets of the year. Stunning all round. The return trip was driven heroically by our inspiration Brett who managed to negotiate, wind, rain, hail, fire and diversion to get us home in one piece despite a lousy cold (which he also shared with me … thanks L).
So there you have it. My year in review. I’ve deliberately avoided commented on some of the deaths that affected the world of metal or some of the other topics (Randy Blythe for example) as they don’t need my comment.

As 2014 comes tearing towards us, I’m looking forward to a lot in the world of music. New releases, gigs (already a number are booked including The Eagles in May) and a bigger, better and even more prepared crew for BOA 2014 which will include the first visit of a certain female member of our gang. On top of this, a house move, a few short holidays and the constant uncertainty in the workplace will ensure life is never dull.

Thanks for reading – A happy new year to you all.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Top 10 of 2013

So it's that time of year again where we find out what the readers and contributors list as their top ten albums

Matt Bladen’s Top 10 of 2013 (In no particular order, except for number 1 & 2) 

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Hell – Curse And Chapter
Black Sabbath - 13
Gary Clarke Jr. - Blac And Blue
Haken – The Mountain
The Temperance Movement – The Temperance Movement
Dream Theater – Dream Theater
Alter Bridge - Fortress
Audrey Horne – Youngblood
Ayreon – The Theory Of Everything

Special mention to The Walking Papers, Leperous, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Scorpion Child

Pauls' Top 10 (In no particular order) 

Clutch - Earth Rocker
Black Sabbath - 13
Audrey Horne - Youngblood
Hell - Curse and Chapter
Motorhead - Aftershock
Orphaned Land - All is One
Satyricon - Satyricon
The Temperance Movement - The Temperance Movement
Avatarium - Avatarium
Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing

Nick's Top 10

1. Hell - Curse & Chapter
2. Autopsy - Headless Ritual
3. Death Angel - The Dream Calls for Blood
4. Avantasia - The Mystery Of Time
5. Stratovarius - Nemesis
6. Avatarium - Avatarium
7. Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam
8. Amon Amarth - Deciever of the Gods
9. Saxon - Sacrifice
10. Justin Currie - Lower Reaches ...(So sue me)

Steve Jenkins' Top 10 

Killswitch Engage - Disarm The Descent
Soilwork - The Living Infinite
Ghost - Infestissumam
Alter Bridge - Fortress
Carcass - Surgical Steel
Trivium - Vengeance Falls
Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies
Black Sabbath - 13
FFDP - The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1
Stone Sour - House of Gold and Bones Part 2

Neil Lewis' Top 10 

Falling In Reverse - Fashionably Late
Asking Alexandria - From Death To Destiny
Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal
The Defiled - Daggers
Hollywood Undead - Notes From The Underground
Sleeping With Sirens - Feel
Carcass - Surgical Steel
Alter Bridge - Fortress
Gama Bomb - The Terror Tapes
Zebrahead - Call Your Friends

Chris & Alex Hutchings' Top 10 

Ghost - Infestassium
Black Sabbath - 13
Avenged Sevenfold - Hail To The King
Trivium - Vengeance Falls
Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor
FFDP - Wrong Side Of Heaven...Vol 1
Korn - The Paradigm Shift
Saxon - Sacrifice
Amon Amarth - Deceiver Of The Gods
Clutch - Earth Rocker

Rhod Davies' Top 10

Carcass- Surgical Steel
Soilwork- The Living Infinite
Black Sabbath- 13
Amon Amarth- Deceiver of the Gods
Dream Theater- Dream Theater
Helloween- Straight out of Hell
C.o.B- Halo of Blood
Fleshgod Apocalypse- Labyrinth
Trivium- Vengance Falls
Motörhead- Aftershock

Lee Burnell's Top 10 (In no particular order)

Trivium - Vengence Falls
Alter Bridge - Fortress
Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Bovine - The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire
Phil H Anselmo & The Illegals - Walk Through Exits Only
Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Killswitch Engage - Disarm The Descent
Amon Amarth - Deceiver Of The Gods
Russian Circles - Memorial
FFDP - Wrong Side of Heaven and Righteous Side Of Hell vol 1