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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            

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